July 16th, 2014, Wednesday
1284.3 to 1297.1
|There was also a historic stamp mill near our campsite.|
We dragged ourselves out of our sticky-with-humidity sleeping bag as early as we could the next morning. The sky had grown cloudy, but otherwise everything was exactly the same as the night before: hot humid air and a strange gray half-lighted world all about us.
Still, we hadn’t been hassled by cops, robbed by a homeless man, or mauled by a bear, so we were doing all right.
Catdog was awake as we packed up, and we asked her if she was coming with us. “No,” she said, munching on a protein bar. “I need a day off. I’m going to zero here.”
I couldn’t imagine a worse place on trail to zero, but it was the last civilization for a few days. I looked at her and felt sad, knowing that we would outpace her for the rest of the trail if we got ahead now.
Catdog told us that she had decided to hike northbound until she reached Bend, Oregon, her hometown. Then she would skip up to the Canadian border and hike southbound from there in order to beat the snow in the Cascades.
“Maybe we’ll see you again, then,” I said.
“I hope so,” she said, giving us a small smile.
I looked at her: her square jaw, her no-nonsense expression, her gray eyes behind her tinted glasses, her wispy gray hair, her hat with the upturned brim. We had hiked with her more consistently than we had hiked with anyone else thus far, and I didn’t want to say goodbye.
“Well, take care,” Zach said.
“Enjoy your zero,” I said.
And then we said goodbye, and Zach and I returned to the trail, leaving Catdog in the valley I never wanted to return to.
Zach and I started forward, trying to take advantage of the clouds as long as we could— we saw that we’d be hiking through a burned area ahead, without shade.
My whole body felt leaden, weighed down with the stifling heat. My native town of St. Louis is renowned for its miserably humid summers, but in a typical summer, I had a solution for that: air conditioning. Here, there was nothing to do but hike on and try not to think about how miserable it was.
So we hiked, on a path that took us through manzanita groves, through massive charred skeletons of trees, in and out of folds of the mountains, through scattered live and dead trees: 4,700 feet of elevation gain in 13 miles, a slog that lives in my memory as heat and cloudy light and sweat and the smell of burnt wood and the powerful, drenching feeling that I could not take one more step. Zach describes it in a similar way, saying that the trail wasn’t that hard, but he felt like every step was going to be his last.
At last we neared the top of the ridge of mountains, and found ourselves walking through open forest or clumps of bushes. I was feeling so heavy that I could barely walk, and stole Zach’s phone to listen to music to try to keep myself going. I plugged the headphones into my ears and shut out the world with the Beatles’ Revolver. The lyrics of each song drew me deeper into the world of my own mind, and for quite a while the bright and cloudy world around me was a dream— a strange, close, hazy bright and sweaty dream that lacked any sort of reality.
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream
It is not dying
It is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining
It is shining…
As I listened to this song, I felt my legs start to melt into to jelly. My will to move those legs was floating downstream. It was not dying, it was not dying…. Tomorrow Never Knows trickled off into its psychedelic conclusion, and then I silently pulled out the earbuds. John Lennon was right: everything was shining. The sun had come out, clearing the humidity, and the heat had broken, leaving me in a beady sweat. But I still felt like I was slowly melting into the faded watercolor painting that was reality.
“Zachary, I don’t think I can go on.”
|Slightly-mislabeled 1300 miles at the top of the climb.|
Zach didn’t argue. We aimed for the next spring, and soon found a campsite beneath some great firs, with the spring, trickling through a grassy clump of bushes, nearby.
I sat down on the ground, blinking, trying to come back to reality. Zach began the camp chores, and I soon helped out, volunteering to gather water since it was a more meditative task. I placed the bottle in a narrow slow-sleeping stream, staring fixedly at the water.
Zach and I ate dinner in silence, then clambered into the tent and read a chapter of Lord of the Rings, which was drawing toward the end.
In my journal, I record that night that I was “super demoralized,” although I mostly remember just feeling blasted out, like I was living in an overexposed photo. Depression seeped in on me as I laid back on our sleeping bag, staring up at the pleasant trees above us. It was still way too hot, but at least it wasn’t as humid anymore. Small mercies. But still, what was the point? Why were we still hiking? Why were we putting ourselves through this? I said nothing of this to Zachary, hoping that a new morning would make me feel differently.
Wiping sweat from my forehead, I tried to get to sleep. I turned off my mind, relaxed, and floated downstream. It was not dying…