One of the Universe’s funnest games is to prove me wrong in whatever I claim to know about myself. In my last post, for example, I claimed to have thru-hiker super-powers. I can walk 30 miles a day and sustain 4 miles per hour, I told my friends. The next day, I walked across the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River, the border between Oregon and Washington and found out that a villain had planted kryptonite in the thick green underbrush that accompany the trail for most of Washington. My God, Washington is steep! Suddenly completing a 20 mile-day was an impossible feat.
I had heard that Washington was the hardest section, but I assumed this stemmed from a trail burnout state of mind. This was partially the case for me. Entering Washington felt like the beginning of the end. The exuberant joy of my desert days were a thing of the past, the stage where the trail felt like my living room was fading, the next stop actually was Canada. Canada – wow! My friend Weathercarrot had come to the bridge of the Gods to wish me a happy birthday and walk a few miles with me. When he pointed out that I had less than 500 miles to go, I broke down into tears.
With 500 miles to go, I felt heartbroken to have to leave the trail, ever. But the trail provides all that is needed, even if what is needed is the incentive to leave it. With 400 miles to go, I grew more excited about the prospect of a real bed and flush toilets. With 300 miles to go, I had to acknowledge how tired my body was and began fantasizing about sleeping for entire days once the trail was over. With 200 miles to go, I became tired of the solitude for the first time. I joined a group briefly, but that didn’t work for me either. I longed to see my off-trail friends. With 100 miles to go, I did not want to do *this* at all anymore. I didn’t want to walk, or dig a hole to poo, or eat another fuel-stove meal, or have another nuts and fruit snack break. I was done. Except I wasn’t, so I kept on going. Whereas at the beginning of this journey I berated myself for missing even the tiniest part of the trail to day-dreaming, music playing or other mind-distracting activity, here I was in one of the most beautiful sections of the trail doing all I could to forget where I was. I turned to ipods, internal mind-games, even counting marching ants (they go walking one by one, hurrah, hurrah …). Occasionally I stopped and looked around, then invariably felt guilty for my lack of appreciation and apologized to the trees and mountains.
For months, I had loved every step, sight and day on the trail. With 100 miles to go, I hit the proverbial “last mile”. Quitting wasn’t an option for me. It actually never even entered my mind. I might have been done, but I wasn’t about to not complete the trail. Instead, I found ways to distract and entertain myself. One day, I climbed on a ridge to get cell reception and called my off-trail friends (and discovered that all of them were at work – wait, what day is it?) The next day, I stopped for two and a half hours by Greg and John’s fire. They were two hunters with enough food for a small army. Not only did they cook me a sumptuous meal, including elk sausage of their own hunt, but also loaded my food bag with cheese, chocolate, nuts and yummy gummy bears. The next day, I laid on a grassy meadow with my friend Bow Leg and didn’t leave for several hours. I also slept in, stopped before dark, and indulged in long flower photo shoots. I didn’t hike more than 17 miles a day that whole stretch. After all these short days, I felt deflated. I wasn’t sure I still had the walking super-power of which I had boasted just a few weeks prior, and I was falling dangerously behind on my schedule if I wanted to meet Deborah at Rainy Pass on time. So, the next day, I walked 40 miles.
Next … the 40.