I jolt awake at 4am, my heart pounding. Lucky Charms stirs in her tent not far from me. I roll over on my sleeping pad in the still warm dirt and can see the dim city lights and wind turbines in the far valley off to the east. The sun barely making a hint on the horizon. When I grab my phone and turn it off airplane mode I get a massive text from my ex-boyfriend, Rider. He's mad about what I wrote about our breakup. His words are panicked and he threatens me with poor legal language, but nonetheless, even though I know in my logical brain I have done nothing wrong but write of my experience, it disturbs me deeply. Panic grips me as I sit upright my mind darts back and forth and a rage begins to bubble up. I pop my morning caffeine pill, even though I feel like I don't need it.
I have to hike, I can't do this now. I have to hike to water, to my next place to sleep. How does he expect me to deal with this? Why is he putting all of this on me?
Tearfully, angrily I start shoving things in their designated sacks. I look at the text again. I have the urge to respond, but I know I'll just lose these precious cool hiking hours. The sky and stars are light enough that I don't need my headlamp. I shoulder my pack, grab my trekking poles and turn to the trail. Dragon Fly swings in his hammock that he set up between two fence posts directly on trail. It doesn't bother me and I smile weakly as I walk by.
The air is cool and I shiver even though I shouldn't be. I pick up speed and I hike fast telling myself I'll walk off the fear, anger, the feeling that I can't control anything happening in the parallel universe that seems to ram its way into mine on occasion.
I reach for my water bottle and feel for my warm fuzzy hat that I sleep in, where I had shoved it in my side pocket. I don't feel it, and I stop and turn around. I look down the trail and it's not there. Panic. Oh no, not this, this is my hat! I need my hat. This hat is special...
I backtrack. If there's one thing a thruhiker dislikes, it's backtracking. After a few minutes, I find it. Lying innocently in the dirt. I turn on my heels and fly. Tears fill my eyes with frustration and fear. He can't actually do anything. I'm OK. But the fear says otherwise.
I speed around a long curve and the desert is more beautiful than I've ever seen it. The lavender colored mountains rise and fall perfectly as the sun slowly peeks out and the sages glow a soft green. My heart and mind feel miserable, but at least I am here.
The sun touches me and I stop to shed my layers. Stranger Danger comes up behind me and we talk about my predicament. I seek comfort and assurance, I feel panicked and frightened. He is very unbiased, and genuinely asks me if I may have overreacted in my writing.
"Everything I said was true," I tell him. "I didn't blow it out of proportion. I'm writing the story of my experience. How could I leave out something that is deeply affecting me for the sake of his comfort?"
I learn that he has never been broken up with, and I tell him that I once too was a person like that. The kind who always did the breaking up, never had their heart broken. And not that I wished it on him or anything, but I tell him that someday, it might happen. We aren't invincible, or exempt from heartbreak. It happens. We learn, we grow and move on. Hopefully, it brings us clarity about who and what we really want in our lives when it comes to love. Hopefully, it brings us truth and clarity about who we really are to ourselves.
He hikes on, being much faster than me. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. The trail shifts down and I can see a small road, with a car parked and a few people standing around. Trail magic! A few hikers mill about with big smiles on their faces. The man doing the magic is called Brewhiker, known for brewing beer while hiking in a smartwater bottle, using a culture he developed right on trail. He offers me orange juice, fresh brewed coffee and makes me a breakfast burrito from his small propane stove. He fills it with potatoes, peppers, onions, eggs and cheese. I inhale it, realizing I didn't even eat any breakfast. I drink a rootbeer too. My stress melts a little with the jovial conversation and good food to eat.
I stand leaning against a fence and decide to let it go, like actually let it go. I see myself like a bird taking a bath, shaking off droplets of water. They scatter around me and evaporate in the hot sand at my feet.
In front of us is a big climb. 2000 feet in a fairly short distance. The trail switchbacks right up. It's already 10:30am and warm. I feel determined and the need to burn off tension. I thank Brewhiker and give him my spare change to feed the next round of hikers and I turn up to the trail.
I press on and up for a good while and the sweat quickly drenches my body. I can feel the very beginning stages of butt chafe. I made one promise to myself: I will not ever get butt chafe on this trail. I continue up and up, I feel mildly faint and tingling. I stop to cool off for a moment, knowing if I push it, the heat exhaustion will catch me. My butt protests. Fine. Fine, we'll take care of it. I look up and down the trail, both caring and kind of not if someone sees me.
I do a backcountry bidet. I attach the open nozzle cap to my water bottle pull my pants down and clean my butt with the water. It doesn't take much. I dry off with my pee rag and then dust myself down with some Goldbond. My buttcheeks feel brand new and I power up and up.
I come to a curve, to the top of the climb and as I look out I can see mountains on the horizon. Mountains with snow. Sharp peaks that means business. I stare in disbelief, it's the southern Sierra! I realize how close I am now and tears begin to well up in my eyes and happiness fills me. I'm doing it. The heat and sun are intense now and it's time for a siesta.
I come to some shade under scrubby pines, where I find Dragon Fly and Stranger Danger. I join them. We languish in the heat. Snacking speckled with intermittent conversation. Spice shows up and he pitches his tarp for extra shade. The sun moves and the shadows slowly retreat. One of them borrows my umbrella to scout for more shade.
The three of them relocate across the trail, I stay in my little alcove. Curled up in the dirt and eating candy. I check my phone and I magically have service. I decide to respond to Rider and as I begin to carefully craft my words he calls me.
My voice shakes but I know I've done nothing wrong, and I tell him as much. It's my first voice conversation since he broke up with me. Our volume fluctuates and the silence I hear from the three across the trail, I know they can hear and I know they know what's up. I take a deep breath and we move into an amicable tone with each other and we talk. I get some closure, finally.
One thing sticks though, and it's about children and my resistance towards having them. Because I was told at a young age that I may, due to being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, have difficulty having children. So I simply ruled it out, because lack of health care and the mental struggle I've seen other women go through trying to have a child and unable to conceive. It's not something I want to put myself through. He holds this against me, he uses this as part of his reasons and in the vulnerability of my state, it feels unfair and hurtful.
We hang up and I feel hollow. I stand and wobble my way over to Spice and ask if I can roll a cigarette.
"Sounds like you need one after that talk, hm?" He says in his thick Welsh accent.
"Yeah." I stare at the ground and swat mindlessly at flies.
"If you need to talk or anything, I'm here," says Dragon Fly.
I appreciate them all very much and I roll and smoke my cigarette in silence, while sitting awkwardly on an uncomfortable rock. The nicotine does what it does and I feel everything relax and melt inside of me, then I feel horrible, but satisfied.
"Thank you, Spice," I say.
He nods at me.
I move all my things under some pines, chasing the shade. My umbrella creates more shade for me and I'm very thankful for it. I lay on my side, facing away from the others and cry quietly. A red ant bites me on my thigh and I swat at it.
The loss just hurts. That I tried really hard with him, hurts. That I accepted poor and sometimes violent behaviour and justified it in a way where I saw myself as the problem makes me ashamed of myself, that hurts. That I doubt myself even now, hurts. My leg gets a cramp and that hurts too.
I look at my water situation. A quarter liter until I reach my destination. A cabin off trail, with a spring and privy. I take a sip and look at my watch. It's only 3pm still. I rest my head and try to doze off.
4:30 comes and the sun is low enough to not be awful, so I pack my things and move. As soon as I get my flow, I trip on a rock and crumple on the same leg I always manage to get hurt and in the same spot I badly scraped when I was outside of Deep creek hot spring.
It hurts pretty badly and I sit on my butt tangled in my trekking poles holding my knees and gritting my teeth till it stops hurting. Tears come up out of frustration. I stand and dust myself off and take an inventory of the damage. Some blood and dirt in my skin again and my knee bleeding a little.
So I do and it's down down down. Then it smoothes out through pines and oak. I cry a lot while I hike. I can feel my old skin coming off and something breaking inside of me. I stop and sob, realizing I am having a breakdown. I let it happen while dust swirls around me and the forest just watches silently. I have never felt like this. My entire internal system, my spirit and all its parts have been torched and broken. I keep walking and I don't judge myself for the feeling, I embrace it. It feels so painful, white hot and yet, exciting, euphoric and oddly erotic. Like I am on the edge of something divine. I realize this is transformation.
The breakup is just the catalyst.
The crying subsides and I ride a very strange high while I turn to the alternate for water and camping. I feel other, I feel wild. All my senses cranked to the highest level of functioning. My body feels electrified. I walk very fast down the road as dusk descends around me. The road is lit pink and orange, so are the trees and it all feels very psychedelic.
A tiny panic rises in me that I might not find the place and then I see it: man made structure protruding from the natural landscape. I rush to the water, as I only had a few sips left. It pours out of a pipe and is clean and cold. I splash my face and fill my bottles. Then I turn to find a place to sleep. Buildings often harbor rodents and I find a nice little spot under a tree, where I can cocoon around its roots and the rocks there. It's a perfect fit. I see a huge toad hop by me and large ants are all over the ground. I build a barrier with my gear and ground sheet. I almost don't want to cook dinner, but I do. Spicy kimchee raman and lemon pepper tuna.
I eat in the dark and hear voices. I click a few times and the headlamps bob in my direction. It's Dragon Fly and Stranger Danger.
"We saw so many scorpions and spiders on the road. You might wanna pitch your tent." Stranger tells me.
I make a face. "Naw, I'll risk it. I'm too tired. They can eat me."
They move on to find camp space. I dig into my bag and look up at the star studded sky. I feel completely drained of everything I have in my body. I close my eyes and I sleep.
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