September 6, 2022
Campsite at mile 2438.8 to Mig Lake at mile 2457.7
I wake up grudgingly. I’m not looking forward to today after how painful yesterday was. I hear Jumbo moving around but ignore it for as long as I can until the peer pressure incites me to start moving. Ugh. I’m going to miss so much about this trail, but beginning to move in the morning is not one of them.
We start moving around 7:15, the trail looping around the meadow and down the hill below Cathedral Rock. Neither of us is moving well today. Jumbo especially struggles on the downhill, and he lets me go ahead. We have a semi-intense water crossing, then a short uphill to a nice campsite on soft soil where we decide to take a break, even though we’ve only gone a bit over four miles. We get talking about our houses and Christmas and start sharing photos, and it makes me think about being warm and cozy inside with a cup of tea and endless hot water. Damn. I know I’ll miss so much about this trail and this life, but right now I’m ready to be sitting on a couch, comfortable.
Jumbo goes ahead while I crawl into the woods for a very fly-intensive cathole. Then I get water from the next creek and continue upwards. Finally, the climb levels out and I’m hiking normally, chill, through the trees.
As I walk down this mercifully flat bit of trail, it opens up into a sort of dirt road. And suddenly, something about the position of the trees and the sun and the feeling of the day reminds me of the day before Big Bear, the one where I walked 20 miles with Jumbo, who was DLT then, an easy day full of pines and soft paths and nonstop conversation. We didn’t know each other well then. I didn’t know that he hated sandwiches or that he couldn’t handle the heat. His hair was still brown. Mine was still dark blond, no trace of weird blue. There was no emotion and no drama. Not yet. Nothing. Just potential energy. Just early tenuous connection to him, and to everyone in the tramily, and to everything about this long thin place I was just beginning to call home.
I was still so high on the sense of starting and the entire trail, the entire world, all these people being open to me, possibilities upon possibilities. My feet didn’t scream every time I took a step. My knees didn’t hurt, and neither did my heart. I had an entirely different wardrobe and my first pair of shoes. It was all still fresh, and the spring light of the desert sang through every ribbon of me.
It’s not that time anymore. We’re ragged and run down and let down. There have been fires, friends, feelings. Changes. Elation, euphoria, excitement, disappointment, exhaustion, acceptance, rinse and repeat. There have been forests and coffees and so many mountains, books and music and laughter. I have learned wildflower songs and bird calls, the shape of a mountain in a burn zone at sunset. I’ve learned the solidity of friendship compared to the more fragile varieties of connection. I have learned the peace of trees covered in moss and the beauty of tinkling obsidian shards in the gloaming. I have loved. I have wanted. I have hurt. I have lived out here. I have lived so hard. I don’t want to hike anymore, my body is done, and everything is falling apart, but I don’t want to not be on this trail. I’ll miss so many things about the PCT that I can’t begin to name them.
As I stand in the clearing pondering this, I hear Tribute and Feather coming up the trail. They stayed back at the lake last night, and they seem to be pretty rested today. We continue as the trail makes a slight upward turn through an area full of flowing creeks. I finish my second listen of This is How You Lose the Time War. (My god. How is that book so beautiful. I’m definitely going to buy a hard copy.) Then I start a new book, No One is Talking About This, but I don’t really like it so far so I sort of zone out until I end up at Deception Lake for lunch.
Jumbo has already been there long enough to go for a little swim. (How am I so slow now?) I gather a few things I want to rinse out in the water and head in. It’s very cold and the sand sucks at my Tevas, but I feel a little bit cleaner. Then I make a lunch of bagel with tuna, and while doing this I discover that a mayonnaise packet has totally exploded all over my condiment and tea bag. Picture me sitting there next to a beautiful lake wiping sriracha packets and tea sachets with a wet wipe to get the errant mayo off.
Ishay comes rolling up just as Jumbo and I are about ready to leave. He swaggers up to us in his usual way, chill and confident, and heads right into the water. Jumbo and I keep going up the second part of the climb, talking so much that the mile flies by and then we’re coming down the other side of Piper Pass.
It’s a long downhill, Sierra style, with mountains looming high above us. We find a good stream and take a break. Ishay catches up soon, having just accidentally taken a side quest up Surprise Mountain and back down. Tribute and Feather catch up too, and we sit there talking for a while. Then Jumbo, Ishay, and I continue downhill and then up an absolutely evil hill. It’s only 0.6 miles, but the grade is so steep and the stupid little switchbacks are seemingly endless. At the top, drenched in sweat, we take a needed break to eat and hydrate.
Jumbo and I finish up the last four miles of the day together, talking about potential plans for an alternate to the end of the PCT, marmots, and other topics, but always circling back to the fire closure. It’s all he’s been thinking about. Every conversation starts and ends with thoughts about the closure or bits of news and rumors we’ve heard about the size of the fire and its containment.
It’s interesting to me how much of his hike rides on touching that terminus. Now he’s been getting emotional thinking about the end of the trail and what he’ll miss, whereas before he was tunnel vision focused on touching that wooden monument. He was bound and determined to “walk the length of America from Mexico to Canada,” as he puts it often, and now the idea that we might not be able to make it to Canada is wrecking his dreams for what this hike was meant to be.
I don’t think my mindset has changed much, in contrast. I’m disappointed, obviously. I want to end my hike at that monument just like everyone else. But I’m still out here experiencing this trail, and I know we’ll figure something out to make the end special. We just have to roll with the hand we’ve been dealt.
Coming down from the last climb, we spot Feather Blue and Tribute bent over some bushes, making very happy noises.
“Look at all these blueberries!” Feather exclaims.
Looking around, we can tell both that there are in fact a lot of juicy blueberries and that these two have done a pretty great job of decimating them.
“I have a whole ziploc bag!” Tribute says proudly.
There are even more blueberry fields at our campsite. We roll up to Feather and Tribute literally sitting down in a blueberry field, picking and eating. I join in. These blueberries are so fat, so juicy and tasty.
Dinner is polenta tonight, which I always leave for last because it’s not my favorite, but it tastes pretty good for once. I throw whatever I can in it: tuna, edamame. Chunky. Ishay rolls up as we’re eating and joins us in the clearing. We lay out our ground sheets for Cowboy Sardines and share photos and videos from today, mostly of pikas.
Everyone goes quiet around 8:45. I look at the figures of my friends here in the blueberry fields beneath an increasingly star-spattered sky. And it hits me again how lucky we are to be doing this. How much we are living out here. How much we hurt, yet how much we go on.