Sky Ranch to 144
Leaving Sky Ranch took longer than we wanted it to: we generally felt like we were moving in slow motion, and the sun was starting to rise earlier and earlier! It was pretty hot by the time we set out, and the brutal cloudless sky showed that it was going to get hotter.
The landscape stayed pretty monotonous: hills/mountains, brush, sand, stone. By noon we felt the heat rising in shivering waves off the sand onto our faces, and we decided to take a siesta at the nearest water source: a spring that had been piped into a convenient pump just a bit off-trail. We took the detour and found that almost a dozen people were gathered there already, huddled on their Tyvek ground-cloths in the spattered shade of the desert trees (which are, in some cruel twist of irony, really lousy shade). We were feeling a bit hot, but a cold drink of water (and a splash on the back of the neck) made us feel better and we settled down to siesta. Several of our friends were there: Smokey, Sad Fish, Anchor, Banjo, Goosebumps and Pinch. I even met another woman from St. Louis!
Everyone shot the breeze as they sat, smoking tobacco and weed and listening to music and talking about which books they were reading. People talked about the entry into Canada forms— we had to fill out all our personal information and submit it to the Canadian government to gain permission to cross the border in the middle of the woods. Some people had had their applications denied, but were thinking about crossing the border anyway. Zach and I had sent our forms but hadn’t heard back yet. Oh well, we thought. It’ll be months before we have to think about that.
We had summer sausage and hummus wraps. I could barely eat them. The summer sausage, with its glistening beads of fat, made me feel sick to my stomach. The hummus was lumpy. And I dropped dirt onto the summer sausage by accident (a surprisingly easy maneuver when you’re using the ground for a table), which almost made me cry, even though I didn’t really want to eat the summer sausage in the first place.
When the sun became more bearable, we set out again, trudging up a steep incline. Zach was depressed, and I had little in my arsenal of emotional energy to try to cheer him up. The one bright spot in the day was seeing our first rattlesnake. It lay out in a torpid line on the trail, about three feet long. Its rattle, like the rest of it, was brown. We stared in fascination while it eyed us without any particular interest. We stomped on the ground until it finally oozed, rather than slithered, off the trail.
That night, we raced to get a good campsite among mammoth boulders before other hikers could take the good spots (getting a campsite was difficult in the desert). We claimed a nice sandy flat spot under the lee of a huge leaning boulder. We set up our tent but didn’t bother making supper— too much work. We ate Snickers instead. I went and sat on a boulder overlooking a wide valley as twilight seeped into the sky.
Far below, miles away, the golden lights of a town twinkled. I stared at them, and my eyes began to fill with tears. The starry sky was coming to life above my head, with vast constellations and a clear view of the Milky Way— but all I could do was stare at that town and its beautiful twinkling lights. Lights that meant people were at home, and people were climbing into soft beds with cotton sheets and kissing their children goodnight and living in civilization. Lights that meant there were people in the world doing normal things.
Zach came and sat next to me, putting his arm around my shoulder. We both felt a little beaten down, and a little guilty for feeling so beaten down even with all the amazing trail angels who had been helping us out. But it was nice to sit on a boulder and look down at the lights.
Finally I said, “Stars are beautiful, but you just can’t beat the lights of a city.”
Zach smiled and said, “Yeah.” And I felt happy, because it meant that he understood me. Even if no one else on the whole trail could comprehend why I’d rather stare at a bunch of artificial lights instead of the Milky Way, Zach understood.
I knew I had married him for a reason.
We retired to our tent, and snuggled in, looking at the boulder looming above our head. And we were reminded that we really weren’t out here alone, because the last winsome sounds of nature I heard before I drifted to sleep was Anchor saying, “I hope Smokey gets here soon. I want a fucking cigarette.”