June 23rd, 2014, Monday
982 to 1003.6ish
The sun was already high in the sky by the time we crawled out of the tent. A pleasant pine forest surrounded us, but it was also chilly. We spent several minutes dumping out our packs and re-sorting everything, especially the food. We counted up our meals and calculated what we needed to eat each day. Things weren’t as tight as they had been on our last stretch, but I was still not happy with our meager rations.
Zach also took a look at the soles of his feet, which were developing a spongey, scary-looking pink rash on them that spread out in tendrils. We figured it was probably a fungal infection of some kind, one that made his feet very tender. There was nothing to do but wash them and hope they didn’t get worse.
The first thing we had to do that day was cross a freezing river. My feet felt numb afterward, which didn’t help the overall sick and exhausted feeling that washed over me. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, holding out for our mid-morning snack: another peanut-butter-honey-chocolate tortilla. It was all I could do to keep going, though.
We saw some people on horses approaching, so I stepped off the trail to let them by. Doing so, I completely lost my footing, and crashed face-forward into the ferns. My body slammed against the ground, and a split second later the top of my backpack slammed into my head.
“Are you okay?” the horse rider asked anxiously.
“Fine!” I mumbled, face-down in the ferns. I wasn’t hurt at all, but I was trying not to cry. “I’m fine.”
After a steep climb, the trail plunged downward, then mostly leveled out, leaving us walking along the edges of meadows and between massive peaks. For some reason, though, the trail seemed harder than usual. I suspect, in retrospect, that this was for several reasons: we had assumed the hardest part of the trail was over, but it was still a few hundred miles to the official end of the Sierra; the trail had a lot of ups and downs, and it was more closed in, making it harder to see where we were going; and finally, we were malnourished and exhausted from the past couple weeks in the Sierra.
It wasn’t just us. Everyone we talked to that day felt the same way. One hiker, resting in the shade of a tree, shook his head and said, “This trail is just kicking my ass.” We agreed, and this sentiment was made more frustrating by the fact that the trail was smooth and well-graded. It should not be this hard!
Late afternoon, after a mild ascent and descent, we noticed that we had reached the 1,000 mile mark. To be honest, I had thought this wouldn’t be a big deal. “Whoopie, one thousand miles. And we’re not even close to halfway there.” But when I saw a smooth boulder where someone had arranged some pebbles to say, “1000,” I felt a surge of happiness. A thousand miles. One thousand miles! That was a huge accomplishment! Some people don’t even hike that far in a lifetime!
“Zach,” I said, “we have to sing the song.” I had been talking about this for ages— I’d meant to sing the song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) at the 500-mile mark, but had forgotten, so I had my heart set on singing it for the camera at the 1,000 mark.
Zach, however, was in no mood for theatrics. “You sing it,” he said.
“I don’t want to sing it alone. C’mon, we both have to sing it.”
“I don’t want to,” he said.
“Fine!” I snapped. “Let’s just keep going.” I stormed after him, but I hadn’t gotten five paces before I burst into tears. Then I whirled on my heel and stormed back. “I want to sing that song, dammit!”
Zach pulled up short, since I almost never swear. Then he calmly stood by my side. “Okay, I’ll sing with you.”
I held up the camera, and we sang probably the most angry and depressed-sounding version of the song ever created. When we finished, I checked the camera and realized that I had pressed the wrong button, and it hadn’t been recording. It broke the tension, and we both laughed a little. Then I hit record, for real this time, and we made a video.
Oh, I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door!
After I turned off the camera, I thanked Zach for going along with me, and he patted my arm in a humoring way. I smiled, and then unexpected tears started to my eyes.
I swatted away a mosquito. “Zachary,” I whispered, “I want to go home.”
It was the first time I had said those words. I had resisted saying them a thousand times, but now they slipped out. But even as the words left my lips, I realized that they were only half true. I did want to get home. I did want to stop the malnourishment and the mosquitoes and the twenty miles a day and the backbreaking climbs and the cold nights and everything else. But I didn’t want to go home until we had accomplished what we set out to do. We were considerably less than halfway there, but we had made it this far. We had set out to hike the whole trail, and that was what we were going to do.
“I know,” Zach said, and then we kept hiking. Despite my moment of weakness, neither of us even questioned the fact that we were staying on trail and sticking it out to the end.
We crossed a stream on a log bridge and sat next to it to cook dinner— curry flavored mashed potatoes, which turned out more like really weird turmeric soup, which we ate by edging our spoons underneath our head nets to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes.
We walked (read: plodded) another few miles, which were easy and smooth in fact, but seemed grueling. I felt so weak that I could barely walk. I was thankful when we at last set up camp, drank some hot chocolate and tea, and passed out. We had a thousand miles under our feet. Maybe we would be less exhausted tomorrow.