Our alarms go off sooner than we'd all like. But each of us are stirring and whispering to one another in the dark. A headlamp bobs past us just on the trail, someone is night hiking, or starting early just like us.
Soon, myself, Little Engine and Bananas are ready. I take the lead and we begin to make our way up our first climb. The air is cool and the heat from yesterday radiates off the sand and rocks. It smells dry and hot. We spot a few small mammals and we swing our heads around looking for eyes in the night.
A few days back, Second Wind heard the same chirping sound I did, followed by what sounded like a screaming woman. Cougar. We all go, "chirp, chirp!" In greeting to one another now.
Bananas chirps out into the darkness and makes up a story about how the cougars are really here to release us from this pained life into a glorious afterlife. He described them as speaking poetry and standing on their hind legs. As we climb, the moon hangs bright and orange to the west. To the east we see city lights.
We touch cool pockets of air when we walk past drainages along the mountainside. We're sweating a little, but comfortable.
We reach a saddle, and I have to do an emergency poop. The natchos didn't quite agree with me. Afterwards, I clean my hands and we stand and eat a few snacks. We agreed to meet everyone at a stream about .6 miles off trail and we're about 11 miles away, with some more climbing and descending. I get into serious hiking mode and put in my headphones and then I'm off.
I keep a good steady pace for a long time and before I know it, I'm entering a wash right before a road, where I'll do my next climb up and take a small break at a trailside spring. As I move into the wash, I see the biggest poodledog bush I have ever seen. The center stalk is like a paddle. It's very healthy and a beautiful specimen.
I shove some candy into my mouth and take a swig of electrolytes. I push on up out the climb, where I pass small cave entrances. I peer into them warily. I don't like caves very much. Being inside the earth is a strange thing to me, like she could swallow you at any moment.
I keep moving on until I hear the trickle of water. a small spring spits out of some rocks and right on the trail. I stand quietly for a moment and hear the beat of wings and see an elusive rock wren patrol around me, looking annoyed that I'm standing right next to the water. I spot the lizzards on a stump and take a video of them. As I do so, the small lizzard rshes up to the bigger one and sort of nuzzles and nudges it. It's like their cuddling, or preforming some sort of mating ritual. The bigger lizzard moves around and does pushups. Then they slip away and disappear. I excitedly send the video to my boyfriend as soon as I have service.
Bananas and Little Engine walk up, while I sit on my tiny pad in the dirt, eating snacks and filtering water. Engine sits with her pack on and falls asleep. Bananas pokes at his food.
We're 6 miles out from the stream and it'll put us at 15 miles for the day. We'll take a long siesta and finishes with another 6 miles before we call it a day.
The sun begins to beat down, so I attach my umbrella before we head out. For whatever reason getting started again is hard for me.
The wind picks up and the breeze is cooling. The further we hike, the more we notice bugs and flies that bite us. They leave large welts that eventually ooze and bleed. They itch like crazy. I come into a good spot of service and I send the cuddling lizzard video to my boyfriend. "It's us babe!" I text him.
The flies increase with each mile and I begin to hike with urgency. They swarm anytime I stop and they follow me like a cloud. Bananas takes off running in front of me. The oppressive bloodsuckers are relentless.
The trail gets thick with brush and I fly through it not caring about my legs getting scratched up.
Bananas calls to me. We're a little confused where the rest of our little trail family is siestaing and we realize we're in the wrong spot.
We leave a note in sticks to Engine and tell her it's the next source.
Bananas and I fly. We find the trail junction and take the switchbacks down into an errie abandon camping and picnic area. It's overgrown and the pit toilets like little shit shacks for flies and gnats.
"Hey!" We hear.
It's AJ, Second Wind and Baloo. Each of them lounging in their shelters without the rain fly. Bananas begins to pitch his while I put on my wool tights to protect my legs, which doesn't work because they can bite through it. I stomp around in a circle until Bananas has his tent pitched and I dive into it. He's got just enough room for two people. I lay down and as he talks to AJ through his mesh, I doze in and out of sleep while their voices weave into semi lucid nap dreams.
When I can't nap any longer, I make a little food of my lentils and rice, with smoked sundried tomatoes I found in a hiker box.
The fly situation dies down and we all move to the picnic table where we eat and slowly our our things together for the remaining few miles.
We all hit the derelict campground road and climb up and out, back home to the PCT.
The trail runs along the slope of a mountain, mostly grasses and oak trees. It's about 4pm and the light is shifting into the golden hour. Gnats hover around my face, but I ignore it. The trail is beautiful and I love the rolling ups and downs. I hike at a good even pace for a while. Stopping now and then for a picture. I come to a spot with particularily good service. The others are just behind me and a few of them calling a loved one and family.
I call my boyfriend and he picks up, he's on his way home and I agree to try and call him when I get to camp if I have service up there. His tone sounds serious, like when he's in work mode, or in that tone he gets when he's explaining something that's important to him.
I miss him immensely and I hope that i have service when I get to camp. Communication is difficult out here.
I hike on into the golden light and take the sharp turn up into a primitive camping area. Baloo is right behind me and as we crest the hill, we see a guy we've been trying to avoid for a while now. A creep and a mooch.
"You both should put your jackets on right now. Your sweat is going to get cold fast and ou'll be shivering." He tells us.
Baloo snaps, "are you my dad? I don't think you are. I've been doing this for a month now and I think I know my body pretty well."
"Wanna go find that water, Baloo?" I ask.
"Yes, let's," she says in a huff.
We set off to find the water, which is about a half mile up the mountain on th back side, in what is called a guzzler, or water catchment system. Apparently we will have to fish for it with a stick and container attached to it.
The sky is burning bright as we climb up and up without our packs. On one side of the mountain, we see more mountains and the red pink sky with beautiful cloud formations. On the other, city lights spilling away into flat nothingness. The grasses swish in the wind and the oak leaves rattle. It's a beautiful evening.
Baloo and I find a sheet of tin roof and under that a covered pit that you can barely make out rippingly water inside of it. It looks a little scary. Next to it is a long stick, some cord and a cut off water jug attached to it.
You have to get on your hands and knees to shove it in. I untangle the stick and push the plastic container in. My braids and knees get caked in mud as I pull out each batch of water. The container has so many holes that we lose a lot of it, but after a while, we get enough. I carry out 4 liters, two for me and two for sharing with the others who were behind us.
Baloo and I walk back down in the waning light and find everyone arrived and setting up for the night. The wind blows, but not so hard that it makes things uncomfortable yet.
I get my tent pitched for a bit of a wind break. And get my stove out to cook some dinner in the break of a fire pit.
I have service, so I call my boyfriend.
He picks up, and I hear a deep nervousness in his voice.
"Are you OK? You sound so shaken, what's up?" I ask.
Before he speaks I feel a drop in the pit of my stomach.
"No, I'm not OK. I... I don't think I can do this relationship anymore." He tells me.
Immediatly I break down and start to cry. I ask why. The answer I get is simply that he can't wait for me to be done on the trail, and the possibility that I may want to hike again would just be too hard for him to bear.
Waiting 1.5 months until I am in Oregon and another 1.5 until I get done is too much. It's just too hard for him.
I don't believe it. He assures me that there's no one else and that he even still loves me.
It seems so absurd to me, I almost don't believe it. The promises we made to each other. Hearing him tell me over and over again that this would be worth it to him. That he wants to do this with me. The plans we made about getting a place to live together. He wants to throw it all away, because waiting is too hard.
"Is this actually going to make you happy, not being together will make you happier?"
And he tells me that if he doesn't have to deal with an absent partner in the long term, it will. I stare bleakly at the moon with tears running down my face the wind rushes around me, the stars come out, distant city lights flicker.
"This is fucking temporary! You haven't even given me a fucking chance! How is this different anyway? We were already long distance and I couldn't visit you because of your ex! You're seriously going to throw away something this amazing because you can't fucking wait? I don't want to keep hiking after this, I want to make a life with you! Is it because you're scared to leave camp?"
"No." he says flatly. "Britton..." He says pleadingly. I can hear a clink of glass in the background and my assumption is that he's drinking, I can hear his intake of breath from his ciggarette.
"No! Fuck you! This is fucking weak. You're weak for not being able to do this with me. After everything we've said to each other and all the commitment we've made? The way we met, what we have between us. That really means so little to you? I love you and I wanted to build a life with you. Its because you're scared of your parents isn't it? Because I don't fit their mold."
His tone goes defensive and denies any fear. But the truth is, weeks ago he called me in a near panic attack that his religiously and spiritually intolerant parents found my instagram and blog, and he feared that they would find out who I really am before they met me. That they would disown him if he chose to be with me and he confessed he was afraid it might come to an ultimatum between me and them.
"It's an aspect of it, but no, not the whole of it."
I'm floored. This is such a weak reason and I know there's something more to it. Either that, or he's just in such disparity that this is the only way he can act out and feel some level of control in his life.
In the weeks leading up to me leaving for the trail, we fought a lot. When I got on trail he would grow frustated by my new excitement of trail life and wanting to share it with him during phone conversations. He didn't want to be another audience member he told me, and didn't like getting information about what was going on with me via social media, he wanted it directly. But I couldn't call him to tell him too much either because he felt the conversation was too one sided. He called me out on it and I did my best to fix it, I toned down my excitement and I shared less with him. I could hear resentment on his end, if there was too much background noise when I called him. If the conditions weren't perfect, it felt like he would be mad at me. I couldn't do anything right in his eyes, and I tried.
A noose was tightening around my neck. I wanted to respect him and his family and be loved and liked by him and them because I loved him and I wanted to be a part of a family. I wanted to build and share a life with someone. I could make compromises. I wanted to. The likelyhood was that they would never accept me, because I am other.
Because I am a witch.
Rider couldn't accept me as I was, even though he himself had strayed from faith and worshiped nature just as I did. He cowered in their shadow, and I could hear it in his voice every time he spoke about it. He told me I was the first person he felt like he didn't have to make compromises with, when it came to his relationship with the natural world, and now my own is too much a compromise for him.
I worked too hard, for too long to be comfortable with who I was to slip back into hiding.
"You always kept me hidden. And honestly, I always saw myself moving to Eugene alone. Keep the bed." And I hang up on him.
I want to find more reasons, I want to know the why. Why he is unwilling to love fiercely in the face of opposition, or of challenge? To give up so easily on something that could have been so beautiful is so against the very fabric of my being, I just can't comprehend.
I collapse onto the picnic table in tears. Everyone already knows. Baloo, Engine, Bananas and Second Wind listen to me quietly. Engine touches my shoulder as I explain things to them.
I fumble for my rolling tobacco in the dark and roll a cigarette with shaking hands. My whole body trembles. Bananas brings me his quilt, Second Wind makes me some ramen that I can barely eat.
I breathe deep and stare out into the dark night. The loss swirls around me, and I don't quite know what to do with it.
It's late and we have many miles to do the next day. I know I'm not going to sleep well, but I crawl into my sleeping bag anyway and lay there. I feel like I can't get warm.
Between the loss, the anger, the fear, the cold, the abandonment... the noose loosens around my neck and I can see the whole of the universe unfurling and swirling before me.