The next morning we woke up early, determined to get into the Timberline Lodge right in time for breakfast. The terrain was a little bit more difficult than we had expected though and even with the help of a podcast. Running a little late we made it into breakfast, walking past people dressed in their snowboarding gear in the middle of August and tourists, in zip off pants toting cameras. In the dining room the all you can eat buffet was set up and both hikers and tourists stood in line with their plates, waiting to pile food on it. I filed up two plates, stacking sausage patties and salmon quiches, fruit, cheesy eggs, and potatoes. Then I went back and made myself a waffle, topped with fresh whipped whip cream. It was all so good, living up to all of our expectations that had been building over the last 1,000+ miles.
After we were completely stuffed we wandered the lodge for a bit while our phone charged. Feeling full and lazy it was hard to go back out, especially knowing that we had another 21 miles ahead of us, but eventually that is exactly what we did. We descended down the sandy slopes off of Mt Hood and headed for Timothy Lake. Podcasts kept us going and energized. I have to admit, a couple of days prior we had started listening to podcasts. Everyone out here seems to hike with earbuds in, head down, immersed in whatever it is they are listening to. Desperate for something that would enliven our hike and help us get up hills we decided to give it a try, and truthfully it has been a godsend. Because there are two of us we just hang the iPad or the phone out of the back of my pack and play the entertainment outloud, speeding up when we pass people as to not annoy them. It was in one of these podcast episodes, a recent This American Life I believe, that we heard a story by David Rackoff about his attempt at a soul enlightening fast. I felt a deep connection to this story, and not just because he was extremely hungry when he first started the fast. His whole predicament, his attempt to search for answers and reason through such a wildly difficult undertaking as not eating for twenty days, the self control he exercised, the million and one times he wanted to quit… It all rang true, especially the part about he banana.
About four days into his fast, right around the time when his body had switched over to consuming keytones and he was beginning to feel a new sense of energy, he experienced a bout of lightheadedness that sent him to the doctor. Concerned he would have to eat something once his doctor took a look at him he bought a banana on the way there. However, the doctor reported that, although he didn’t love the idea of the fast, David was healthy. He returned home, banana in hand and it proceeded to sit on the coffee table, mocking him as he rested. The way he described it: Chekhov said: If you introduce a gun in the first act, it will go off by the third.
This concept hit home for me, hard. When we hiked the AT I never thought about going home. Ever. One time, after a particularly hard day when Kyle’s Lymes disease symptoms were returning and everything seemed impossible I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag and hike. But I didn’t want to go home. This trail has been a completely different story. I have wanted to go home or at least go somewhere else on a fairly regular basis. Then I will tell myself things like: never quit on a bad day, you have come so far you can’t quit now, what is it that you want to go do, don’t fall into a grass is greener conundrum, just keep pushing, you are never going to get to do this again, this is a privilege. I tell myself a lot of things, and then a couple of days later I will love the hike and being outside every night and I will feel happy to be here. But the thing that scares me the most is that I have thought those sacraligious words. I have thought, “I want to go home.” If I have thought those words so far from the end does that doom my hike? Can I really continue to push through those feelings for so many more miles?
For Kyle this is apparently not a new feeling, on the AT he thought about going home more than once, but I simply laughed him off when he complained. Now we both think it, outloud, although luckily usually in discord. On my bad days Kyle feels good and vice a versa, which is part of what keeps us going and moving. The other thing that keeps us going is that term, thruhiker, that thing you can only become if you keep walking all the way to Canada. For some reason that is still important to us. Very important to us.
So what is different about this hike? I have tried every which way to put my finger on it and come up with so many answers, a patchwork quilts of how different our situation out here is. There is the fact that when we did the AT we were coming from working at a conservation corps, which I think made us infinitely more tough than we currently are. Our relative normal at that point in our life was eight days out in the backcountry with unbelieveable heavy pack, working ten hours a day, being unbelieveable dirty and tired and sweaty and hot and cold and miserably. Going to the AT after that was like taking a walk in the park. Before this hike we lived in a city and ate great food and had access to all of life’s comforts whenever we wanted them. We became weekend warriors, and discovered the joys of mountain climbing, which have spoiled us. It is hard to play the five month long game when we had gotten used to two day climbs, full of misery and suffering and hard work and beautiful sights, all packed into 48 hours. It was like we had discovered a condensed version of adventure and so now it is hard to go back to such a long drawn out trek.
But for me, the thing I think that I lack the most out here is a sense of adventure. There are approximately two times on this whole trip where I have felt like we were on an adventure: when we night hiked in the desert and when we took a train to Washington. That doesn’t mean I haven’t felt like we were on a wild trip with amazing views but for me adventure has been elusive. For me it is hard to feel adventurous when we have become comfortable with thruhiking. I realize that at any moment everything could go wrong, one of us could get hurt or a storm could blow in, but anyone of us could say that about the life that we are living, anywhere in the world. Feeling comfortable out here is two fold, it stems from having thruhiked a trail before and it stems from being surrounded by so many people who are doing the exact same thing we are. We have apps that tell us where we can find water and a place to camp and how many miles we are from our destination. We see people every day heading in both directions who give us information about our future and intimately understand our past because it is also their past. And what doesn’t help is Kyle and mine’s obsession with planning other adventures. We talk incessantly about other trips, about the Carterra Astral in Chile, about the Hayduke trail, about the Ana Purna Circut, about climbing Mount Olympus and Glacier Peak and the highest peaks in every state, about sailing the Inner Passage with my family or rafting the Grand Canyon or talking a car camping trip through the Southwest. But instead we are walking for month on end and believe me, it has been gorgeous and hard and amazing. But for what? Sometimes these thoughts get out of control, like they did on the way down from Mount Hood. All I could think about was how fast we had to hike and how hard we had to push ourselves and what if we just went somewhere else and did something different instead. We sat down, our packs heavy and poured sand out of our shoes and bitched and kept moving all day until we made it to Timothy Lake.
As the sun set and the air cooled I felt better, uplifted, hopeful, but I knew that once I had thought all these thoughts I could continue to have them. Maybe that is what I will learn on this hike: what it feels like to push through and do something even though your heart isn’t always in it. When we were hiking the AT we watched this video at a hostel that had been filmed in the 70s about thru hikers. PBS had given a couple of thru hikers these huge cameras (it was the 70s) and asked them to film themselves on the hike. This one young girl filmed herself every day, including her breakdowns, of which she had many. From the very beginning she wasn’t sure why she was there, she wanted to quit, she cried and deliberated and ultimately kept hiking. Finally, she was at the base of Katahdin, ready to finish her thru hike and she was still as unsure and tenuous as she had been the whole time. But she was also happy. Despite her uncertainty she had just kept walking and she had made it. She knew the whole time what I know which is that there is still some small part of her/me that wasn’t/isn’t ready to quit yet and even though that small part often has to fight against the rest it always wins. So until that part of me ceases to exist I guess I will keep walking.
(Sorry for the melodrama, writing this all down makes it seem even more set in stone and dramatic, but unfortunately I think this is part of many peoples’ thru hike and I want to share it all with you. Take solace in knowing that I am writing this to you from the far future and that we continue to hike.)