In the night I jolt awake to the sound of a series of chirp like screams. Immediately I know that it is not a bird or frog like creature, but a mammal with fangs and claws. It's a cougar. The chirp moves through the woods, from north to south.
Chiirrup! Chiirrup! Chiirrup! Chiirrup! Chiirrup!
I lay wide awake and shockingly not very afraid. I know it won't mess with us in camp and soon I go back to sleep.
Light begins to creep in and I'm up and moving about. It's a town day and I'm excited for not trails foods and a shower, oh a shower! And getting my resupply box full of good foods and putting my feet up and washing my hair.
Soon, I'm on trail and hiking fast, fast, fast. It's a perfectly cool morning in the forest. I fall behind Pedia, Cowboy and Pitstop. Pitstop gives us a play by play of a movie called Sunshine. It's sort of like watching a movie on trail, but with hiker words instead. Then we play a game of naming an actor and then trying to name films they've been in. Whoever last the longest wins. I have a hard time of it since I don't watch too much TV. I name things from a slightly older time, since I'm 6-8 years older than them. The games turns to Disney TV only movies and I fall completely out of the game. Soon the conversation turns to highschool, band, college and what clubs they participated in. I feel so exasperated by it. For whatever reason, it strikes a nerve and I slow my pace to drop back. Why is this so irritating for me? What gives? I poke at my period tracker on my phone. I'm 4 days away and definitely PMSing.
I gotta figure that out. Is it the age gap? The experience differential? The feeling of being left out? The desire for community I seem to be having a hard time of finding? Or is it just that I am totally out of my little weirdo Portland bubble of herbalism and queer witch folk and I need to adjust? Am I just an overly sensitive bitch? I don't even know.
Where the fuck even are the queers out here?
I'm a little homesick I think. I miss my old friends, Team No Trust.
We all reach the road. On each side is a turn out for cars to park and folks to reach the trail head. We gotta do a little hitch. For some reason, Skippy, Cowboy, Pedia and Pitstop all gather at the far end of the turn out, not a good place for an on coming car to see them and stop. They're looking up trail angels for a ride. I walk to the front of the turn out and put my thumb out. I get us a ride in less than 5 minutes.
When we load into the car, they're very loud in the back while I try to make polite conversation with the man who picked us up. I can't really hear him. My irritation grows. I kind of want to tell everyone to shut the fuck up for 5 seconds so I can tell him thanks for picking up four smelly hikers and ask how his day is going.
He drops us off by the hostel, which is closed for a special event and I'm going to figure out how to get my box from them later.
We walk our way to a breakfast spot called Grizzly Manor. It's clearly a place for locals and visitors alike. The walls are covered in stickers from ceiling to floor and our server sasses us with her Amy Winehouse style eyeliner. We each order a breakfast burrito and it's the best breakfast burrito I have ever had in my life. I devour it in minutes. Pitstop and I split a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream and it's gone in less than 2 minutes. My mood, is much improved now.
Was I just hangry?
Two other tables of hikers are near by, they dump their leftovers on us and we eat all of that too. Bruce, the guy I hitched with a few days ago shows up shortly after we finish. He tells us how alone he was, and that he thought we were ahead of him but we were behind him by several hours the whole time. He's a cousin of Pitstop.
We all agree to get a hotel together. I debate getting my own room, because I am socially tapped out. I do some calling around. Black Forest Lodge is just across the street from us so we go to check that out. It's only $22 a head for the 5 of us, a price I can't say no to. Three beds, a kitchen, living room and shower! The old blonde German lady at the front desk puts us in a chalet called Lidas Haus. The whole hotel has a dark German theme to it. It's a little run down and cute.
We open the door and it's huge. Our stink fills the room and we leave our shoes outside. We explore the rooms and kneed the carpet with our feet like cats. We do a lottery on who gets the shower in what order and I get first!
Banana texts me. He just hitched into town with a sore foot.
"Come to our chalet," I text him back.
I melt under the heat and soap. I stain a small wash cloth grey as I scrub my body, the dirt seems to be never ending. I come out feeling new. We pile up our laundry and wash it all together. One by one we get clean and then Bananas is at the door.
Peida and I decide to find an Uber to the grocery store as it's cheap and we don't feel like walking at all. I buy salad greens, tomatoes, shredded carrots, avocado, blue cheese dressing and a roast chicken along with some good Northwest hoppy beer. I also grab some lotion, my skin is so very dry. I eye a few things for a resupply, which I think I'll buy tomorrow. I am undecided if I want to take a full zero day (a day of rest and no hiking). But I lean towards it.
When I get back it's just Bananas and I and it's finally quiet. I assemble a huge salad and I complain to him for a little bit about feeling strange around the others. About the schooling and experience differential. Bananas and I have been hiking on and off together since day one and he, along with my other friends who are scattered to the wind right now are the ones I feel OK around. Or at least understood and not weird and strange.
"You've got a chip on your shoulder, you know that right?" He posits.
"I do, I know." I admit. It's absolutely true. And I've got plenty of miles to work it out and understand it. But right now, I have a salad of my dreams to eat and so I do. I wonder about my resupply box and how I'm going to get it from the closed hostel. I called a few days ahead and was told I could call at any time to get my box, but no one has been picking up. I'm stressing about it. I have a lot of food in there I need.
Eventually, everyone comes back and another hiker shows up. There's seven of us crammed inside. They turn the TV on and it gets loud and hectic and it rattles my nerves.
I decide to walk to the hostel to see if I can't get my box. Bananas comes with me for support. After calling several times, I finally get an answer and the hostel guy is on his way. We wait on the porch and dig through the hiker box. I find a few amazing treasures while I wait. A camo bug headnet! A zlite sit pad, that for the weight, I decide to try it out and if I like it I'll keep it. A few tampons, since lady time is fast approaching and some high end Bumble and Bumble shampoo and conditioner packets. Just then, the hostel owner shows up. I flash him my ID and my box is in my hands.
All is right in the world. We head back to the hotel, where the TV blares and I sort my food. I slip in and out of an introversion extroversion hole. I need some time alone, my psyche needs it. Is this my problem, or am I in a herd of hikers? How do I mitigate the need for humans and alone? Will this be my eternal PCT quest?
Bruce and Pitstop tells us horror stories of working at a skiing resort and the associated deaths. I sip my beer and listen with despair of words involving "compound fractures" and "decapitated" "pelvis shattered" ... then it veers into an interesting in depth drama of NASCAR for an hour and a half.
Where am I even? What is this life?
I seek out my ear plugs and crawl into one of the beds in the loft. I can hear the muffled voices through the foam in my ears. I just want to be alone, quiet. Silence. Rest. Eventually, I am lulled into sleep.