Dying seems less sad than having lived too little. —Gloria Steinem
The morning comes before it gets light with my camp mates packing up under headlamps. The lovely men carry on in lowish tones about the day’s prep.
“Do we need water?”
“It’s a long way to the next spring.”
“But I got water last night.”
“I think we need more water.”
“Do you want me to get water?”
No sleeping through that, so I finally just go ahead and get up, pack and have a large tuna packet with my coffee before shoving off. Bat is already in the lead.
This section is definitely what people meant by flat. I cruise along even if my right hip is a tad sore from carrying more weight. My IT band or whatever it is that runs down the outside of my thigh is as tight as a rock. Sculpted, but painful. It works its way out as I move thinking of Grandma Gatewood and how she said she was like a machine – if she stopped, it was sometimes hard to rev back up.
I slip on small ballbearing-like stones and right myself with my sticks. She also said when asked why she thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, “Because I wanted to.” I like that answer. Simple, no fuss, nothing deep, just focused on being curious about it. I feel exactly the same. What will I see? How will I feel? Can I do it? It beats working in an office, at least right now.
My rhythm is so good, Mozart’s Prague is cranked in my head as I march along, fully in the ‘green tunnel’ right now, where my attention has to turn to little things – crinkly, rough, bark; filtered sunlight; pinecones, big and tiny; witch’s hair everywhere; tiny flowers; a woodpecker’s work.
I come to the turn off for Little Crater Lake – a practice session for what’s to come in a few weeks. Artesian springs pushed away the soft siltstone from below, creating a toilet bowl cleanser blue ‘crater’ of the cleanest water you can imagine. I walk here on boardwalks creaking under my weight. A squirrel scolds me with a loud clackety chatter.
Later, I follow the shoreline of Timothy Lake, reminding me of the Boundary Waters. Campsites abound, most full. A boat trolls slowly as two men fish. I think about how pleased I am to be walking now and wonder if I appreciate enough the things I have while I have them.
It never occurred to me that a professional musician could one day have their brain turn off as to how to move their fingers. I think I knew – and appreciated – the skill I had and enjoyed what I could do for as long as I had.
My legs are strong and I am walking well, but one day this won’t be possible. I am very grateful to be strong and to walk without even thinking about it.
After a road, I turn right on a spur to Joe Graham Horse Camp for the advertised trail magic. Bat is there with two men – they’re sporting the whole thru-hiker look, but have trimmed their beards quite attractively. Only sodas are left, but I take three with loads of sugar and caffeine. Here I just get finished saying how lucky I feel to be healthy and I plunge right in with the most unhealthy choices available – even when V8 is on offer. It is the prerogative of a full time pedestrian to consume anything while on trail.
While I grab my drinks, a few other hikers come and ask me if I am helping. “Helping myself!” I query our group why it is so many people assume I am not a hiker. The consensus is my shirt looks far too stylish, pressed (it’s a ‘wrinkle-free fabric’) and reasonably clean. I guess I don’t have the overly tan, hungry look yet. They did add I look like I know what I’m doing, though I never figured out if they meant doing hiking or doing something else.
I push on as three women take off with gorgeous horses – one of each, blond, brunette and a red head. I enter a long, weird, woodsy section that crosses numerous dirt roads. There’s no water for miles. Really, no nothing but one squeaky rodent as I pass.
I enter the Warm Springs Reservation as I climb up, seeing numerous side pull outs from the trail – all where rushing water has drained from the trail, presumably in a downpour, though now things are dusty and dry.
I’m a bit spooked until I come to the top and the wind sings to me in the pines. I cross under huge power lines popping and crackling and find masses of plump huckleberries. I tell a passing German couple how good they are and they tell me that another couple ate them all, just as I pick seven with one hand and plunge their succulence in my mouth. You kinda gotta look for ‘em.
At last I reach a stream and cook up another Mountain House dinner for 2.5 people. I share the space with another German called ‘Outlaw.’ She flipped from Southern California where she had a nightmare hike of ice storms and destroyed phones. She gave up the minute she realized this hike was meant to be ‘fun.’ I like her style. She even painted her hiking shirt since it was a drab tan.
The sky is getting gray now as I begin a long ascent. Another German crashes into me as I pass. Up here are red huckleberries, perhaps even plumper and tastier. The trail sidles right along a mesa on a huge ramp. Near the top, a young man assures me I should camp at the first spring. I ask him to relay this to Bat as she is behind me and the first spring is off trail.
As I descend, I see the dark clouds appear to be concentrated on the mesa. I enter a spooky, burned forest with many stumps, too. Fireweed grows everywhere. A man with braids and full beard by the name ‘Sherlock’ assures me I need to go to the second stream, so I ask him to tell Bat to keep going.
It’s not far at all and he is right – the stream is moving and is clear, cool and delicious. It abuts a meadow with many widow-makers, so here’s hoping there’s no wind tonight. I choose a tiny one-tent spot right on the stream so I am close to the swampy sounds, including swarms of mosquitos. The actual site is huge with benches – and empty at the moment – but I prefer solitude this night.
Dinner was quick with my blood-sucking friends, who are all posted on the tent awaiting my departure. It was a long day – and even if not as hard work as Washington, miles are still miles and it takes me all day to get here. But I feel so happy in the alicoop, cuddled in with a high pitched buzzy sound and dreaming of what tomorrow will bring.