Always be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of someone else. – Judy Garland
Gretzky wakes me, but he is incredibly quiet. I guess just knowing he’s up and out around 5:00 has me stirring too. The mosquitos are legendary this morning, dive-bombing in squadrons. They have their own civilization and are at top form. It’s a quick breakfast and pack up while Gretzky gives me a winning smile covered head to toe for protection.
A hiker with a penetrating voice comes over to ask how to get to water. I speak in low tones and say I think G-Punk is still asleep but to follow me. He keeps talking full on and when I say “shhh.” He says it right back to me and says he really doesn’t need water. Good grief.
I’m feeling mighty annoyed by the lack of manners out here. The crashing into a tent site when it’s clear people are tucked in and marching around, talking loudly with zero consideration.
I didn’t mention that when I was at Big Lake Youth Camp, a couple guys showed up nasty dirty and smelling awful. The camp offers a free shower and they eschewed cleaning up and headed straight for the lunch line. One guy showed me his filthy hands. I was shocked and said at least wash your hands before handling the shared serving spoons. Nope. Couldn’t be bothered.
I march up the twisting, turning trail through the forest, then back down again getting more and more worked up about so many entitled brats out here, unable to appreciate that people went before them to save this place and set it aside as a wilderness and to build this trail just for our pleasure. They jam in headphones, use incomprehensible names and act like this is a fraternity.
I’m seething and then I catch up with gentle Gretzky, a young man who asked, “Do you mind if I join you?” before setting his tent. Not that I have a right to refuse his presence, but it was just the right thing to say and an oasis of kindness. He also wanted to make sure he didn’t wake me and laughed off the mosquito nightmare before taking off. I didn’t know they made kids like him anymore.
Come to think of it, in my first hour of walking, every person I’ve passes has been lovely – the Dutch man with a big smile and equally big ‘good morning!’ the guy in the yellow Lucky Leprechaun shirt who tells me he found the shirt in the hiker box and it’s ‘clean-ish,’ the young women all in bug burkas laughing because we appear to be in mourning.
I was almost ready to quit walking over ill-mannered fellow hikers and then a whole raft appear as though placed in my way to prove a point – that there are loads of awesome people here. And one of them is G-Punk who catches me up. She is fast, but I follow on her heels and we talk away the morning.
We commiserate on yesterday’s crabby bunch of NOBO’s but also acknowledge how anxiety-producing not just this trail is, but life in America at the moment. We talk about choosing to be a south bounder or SOBO for the ‘solitude’ and are finding the crowds too much. We talk about walking and how crazy it is to be doing this intentionally and how it’s really boring sometimes. We talk about loneliness and sorrow and how people seem to appear just when you need them. We talk about our careers and creativity, our families and what we miss. We talk and walk, grab water at the last lake for six miles, then talk to the next lake which turns out to be one of the most beautiful yet.
I can hardly believe how fast and far we go just talking, right through another wide open burn zone, 100% mosquito-free. She is a wonderful and thoughtful person; I am so lucky she showed up when she did today, before I took a sled ride down cranky hill.
Several of us stop for lunch at Charlton Lake. I conjured up view, shade and wind on the trail and it all came to be. We lean on our backpacks and a huge beetle crawls up Punk’s thigh. Afterwards, we swim in the clean, refreshing water. The place feels so special, people speak in low tones. Audubon and Jenny try out a trail name on me: Andante, the musical term for ‘walking’ tempo. I think it might work. Your thoughts?
All good things must end, but I feel tired. I walk about a mile with Punk, then peel of to walk ‘Andante non troppo.’ It’s twelve miles to water and I am not quite getting my energy. I study my surroundings – let’s just put this out there, Oregon has a lot of trees. But I’m not exactly in a ‘green tunnel’ at least not in the way the Appalachian Trail is totally covered. It’s dry here and so not nearly as thick. The canopy opens to crystal blue sky and I can see small mountains now and again – completely carpeted with trees. A lake appears far below, I can just make out the blue through tree trunks. Every tree has its share of witch’s hair, tiny plants with tiny leaves act as ground cover, the trail is soft on my feet.
I go down and down before heading back up steeply, stopping briefly at a beautiful ski hut where I run into Callum, the lovely Englishman from many weeks ago. He looks well but says Oregon is punishing his body. His friend ‘Space Mat’ concurs, shocked that easier walking is actually more damaging. I think we all believe we can go more miles here and our bodies finally scream ‘Uncle!’ from the constant pounding.
We walk together a bit more up to a stunning view – the first all day of the three Rosary Lakes and Giant Odell, pines right up to their shores and blue mountains into infinity. As we descend, I feel a pain – my left shin. Argh! No! I take it slow, but down is down and it rattles my muscles, tendons, bones and nerves. It’s not far to an isthmus between North and Middle Rosary where I plan to camp and suddenly I hear my name.
G-Punk made her dinner here and waited for me. And that kind soul pulls out a magnesium mixture used by ultra-marathoners to ease sore muscles and gives me a bag – plus a handful of vitamins. Then, she’s off for the resort while I set up at this glorious place, an emerald lake under a rock spire. I take another quick swim, cook dinner and drink Punk’s concoction before cuddling into the alicoop and giving my body the rest it needs