If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it. – Erma Bombeck
I wake up all on my own, just the gurgling, splashy creek next to me and the sky lightening. It got chilly at night, so I zipped up the footbox, put on my hood and tucked in.
I approach the day tired and unsure about seeing through this enormous undertaking. I don’t know what will happen or what I will learn about me, but I do know that if I quit, I will always wonder what might have been.
So I put on the ripped REI pants, button up my $1 shirt, lace up the newish La Sportivas and get ready to head south. Several hikers are camped between my spot and the road, and I warn that I am not a mountain lion – or a bear – as I pass. The road is busy and I’m grateful the stream covered the sound, but no trail magic, toilets or cache awaits, so I just cross.
It’s cold enough to see my breath as I walk a long section carved through huge boulder fields. It’s truly astonishing the work that’s taken place here and I wonder how they did it – with explosives? By hand? The trail is cut through the rock and while little stones make walking difficult and a bit painful, it’s mostly an even ‘sidewalk’ of trail.
I come to the land of beautiful, shaggy trees with branches pressing down like hands or maybe more accurately, square dance skirts starched into a slumping shape. It’s also the land of giant pinecones, and I know the two are related but I don’t know the name just yet.
Again, my walk to water is further than I anticipate, though I still have a quarter liter when I arrive at a dry creek. But these two miles to the next source are loaded with huckleberries and a few sour and crunchy thimbleberries, too. A man gathers berries with a special rake and warns me bears also feast at this buffet.
For so much of my life, I have wasted a lot of time seeking approval from just about everyone, though most often from the people who are the least able to give it. My dad seesawed between sharing with me the incredible accomplishments of others – thus making me feel pitiful by comparison – and showing no interest at all. I figured my goings on must have been pitiful or he would have shown interest.
For reasons I can’t grasp, people like me tend to gravitate not to positive influences, but to familiar ones, ones like my dad. As I stated at the outset, I wasted a lot of time on this and I do find it interesting that I am out here alone with every choice and decision my own. It does have a way of building the esteem, grounding me with less of a need for approval.
That being said, the trail provides as I walk the little spur trail to South Brown Mountain shelter where water is available by pump. The pump has no handle and it’s requires a strong grip – which was happily provided by Benjamin who seemed to be waiting exactly at that spot for me to walk to. With water, I cook up some mashed potatoes for second breakfast and relax at the picnic table.
It’s another nine miles to the next water source, all in a lovely wood with one stiff uphill. Hikers come my way, one reminding me we’re living the dream out here. Another comes down with several others and tells me, “Six or seven more are coming down.” I wonder who ‘or seven’ is?
It’s the first time since the North Cascades that the forest feels alive with cackles, caws and hoots. I go up and up with absolutely no views, arriving at a gate – or at least the opening for a gate which has been ripped down and thrown to the side of the trail where a sign is posted warning of consequences should anything be willfully destroyed.
Views do open up as I go down a bit, almost magically into a new world of meadows, Wizard of Oz trees, arms reaching out but their heads snapped off, and wave upon wave of blue mountains, Mount Shasta lording above. I hear Cantus singing ‘Wanting Memories’ as I come to a pasture of wildflowers with a few cow pies and a sign sending me to a piped spring.
Like England’s Coast-to-Coast, there’s a gate with a reminder to keep it shut. It creaks loudly, so I hear the young NOBO behind me, who calls himself ‘H-O-P’ (Horn of Plenty) because, he tells me, he has a bit of everything in his pack.
I really enjoy him, especially after he tells me how sick he is of the trail talk – how many miles people walk and how fast they go. He could care less and is making this hike all his own. We agree we’ve met some characters, like Tim who told him he had sexy legs, or Stephanie, the trail name of a man who fought in Fallujah. I’m impressed he’s walked this far from Mexico, right through the Sierra, no flipping. I passed a sign telling me I’m over 1/3 finished but have 1,700+ miles to go. But HOP says I should feel better with more to walk and not want it to end. He encourages me to find like-minded people who help me walk.
Good advice for life, too.
I say goodbye and continue the last few miles to a campground on a lake. The wind whispers in the treetops and I cross many roads, always hoping for – and loudly trying to manifest – something like, “Ten massage therapists on retreat waiting for someone to practice on. Chips, a coke, sushi, ice cream…” But no such luck, so I march on.
It’s funny how you can read up, research, ask questions but you can’t really know about a place until you get there. So the best thing to do is not to worry and let things unfold, trusting everything will come together and make sense in time. HOP tells me he wishes he had camped at Klum Landing, so I take the short detour to a totally and creepily empty campground. Bambi and his mother stand in the trail, only bouncing away as I get within a few feet.
It’s lovely looking down on a lake that appears at a low level, the pungent odor as I approach confirms it and maybe that’s why it’s not popular. But the bathroom is clean and stocked and there is a hot shower! I set up and have dinner when the first hiker arrives, mostly interested in toilet paper. Two more arrive unwilling to pay. I decide to move from the center of the action and put myself closer to the water, on a bluff with a view of the sun setting, turning the sky purple.
Somehow this morning I lost a tent stake. This is a minor catastrophe because my tent is not free-standing. Just as I try to set with rocks in the wind, a couple drives in. I ask if they might have an extra. They seem unsure at first, but later I discover this is only because they have a brand new tent – and it just happens to be supplied with an extra stake! They present it to me ceremoniously with obvious delight helping me out. Such kindness from people who later vanish. Were they only here to help me?
The stake hardly matches, but it holds the tent in place – and I add a few rocks to all corners. I’m crawled in now and it’s dark before 9:00 as the summer wanes. I felt it was an easier day, but I still went far and saw many things. I am so pleased I met the people I met and was reminded how lucky I am to be here.
More awaits me tomorrow, too!