April 29, 2018
Even though all was quiet in the Magical Manzanita Forest, I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I waited until 4am and then started to quietly pack my things. Terrie started serving breakfast at 5:45am and Sparky had said they’d like to hitch back to the trail after that, so I didn’t want to be late.
Terrie had set out the most delicious pancake spread, as well as peanut butter, butter, nutella, syrup, and coconut oil.
“Is that for pancakes?” I asked Ghosthiker, pointing to the coconut oil.
“Ooooh!” She crooned excitedly, “That is for coffee!”
“You’ve never had bullet proof coffee?”
“I guess not.”
I learned a very invaluable lesson that morning. Adding a little coconut oil and butter to your coffee produces this magical brew called Bulletproof Coffee, something akin to manna for hikers. Caffeine and healthy fats, just what hikers need first thing in the morning. I was in love. We finished our breakfast and I had two cups of this delicious coffee before we caught a ride back to the trail. This is where we parted ways with Alias. His sister was coming to visit him at Casa de Luna that afternoon so he was going to hang out there until she arrived and then spend a day with her in the city. We said our farewells and hoped he’d catch us up soon.
Almost as soon as we were back on trail, I had to use the little girls bush. I course, we were on a very exposed hill and there were thru- and day-hikers everywhere, so finding a moment to take care of business proved to be more than difficult and slowed me down quite a bit as I hesitated and hunted for a sheltered spot where hikers wouldn’t walk up unexpectedly. I soon fell far behind the others.
I assumed I’d catch them wherever they took their first break, but after 10 miles there was no sign of them. I took a break alone and told myself not to worry, I’d catch up to them eventually. They wouldn’t have waited around for me several times just to ditch me now, surely.
Hiking alone gave me time to ponder. I’ve been trying to come up with a word or phrase that would sum up this first month of my hike, and I think “uncertainty” is it. I’ve only experienced pain worse than these blisters once before. I’d been out picking Huckleberries in the mountains last summer when I got stabbed in the eye with a rogue branch that swung back and tore my cornea in two places. That was pretty painful. Sometimes, if I rub my eye, it still hurts.
But as for uncertainty, I feel like everything I do and most of my decisions are done following the lead of others because I honestly and truly don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I started as a solo hiker so I could spend time in my head and work some things out, but I don’t feel comfortable hiking completely alone yet. I like the group I’m with and they take good care of me. I’m so used to having to be strong for other people, it’s nice to feel like I’ve got people who are literally watching my back. I’m not sure if the time will come when I decide to hike solo or not. I guess we’ll see what happens.
I had to pee three times within the first hour on trail and there were other hikers everywhere for miles. Fun times. By mid-afternoon, I still hadn’t seen Sparky, Ghosthiker, or Oats who was now hiking with us, and because I had no idea how far they wanted to go that day, I started pushing myself harder to catch them. Mistake.
At one point the trail became wooded, but it cut along the side of a steep hill and I really had to pee, so I crouched next to a tree right next to the trail. I was afraid if I tried to go up or down the hill for more privacy, I might trip and fall, sending myself and my pack tumbling down the mountain. Just as I was finishing with “business”, who should come around the bend but Satyr and Ninja Fabric!
“Don’t look!!” I hollered. I’ll never know if they saw anything. We never spoke of it.
It was 6pm by the time I reached the turnoff to Sawmill Campground, making it a solid 20 mile day. I was limping again. I’d stopped a few miles before the turnoff to inspect my burning feet and had been passed by a hiker I’d met at Hiker Haven named Seeker. He looked concerned and asked if I had everything I needed to take care of my blisters, like moleskin and Lleukotape. I just smiled and nodded. “Yeah, it’s all just par for the course, I guess.”
He didn’t look reassured by my smile but nodded anyway and hiked on. I found both him and MC Camel at the Sawmill Campground, but no sign of my trail family. Fine. Whatever. I was exhausted and limped over to sit next to Seeker at a much-appreciated picnic table. The day had been warm but not brutal, and now the temperature was dropping rapidly. I pulled out my puffy coat and huddled in it for a few minutes while Seeker inquired after my feet, offering what suggestions he could as far as insole options and blister care. MC Camel was somewhere behind us wrestling with his tent in the wind.
We were just consulting our Guthooks and Halfmile maps to determine where the water source was when Satyr and Ninja Fabric appeared again. They weren’t intending to camp yet, just stopping for water before hiking on.
“We think it’s somewhere up there.” Seeker said, pointing up the nearby hill. After they’d set off in that direction, Seeker turned to me and quietly said, “Let’s see what they find first.” And he huddled a little more into his coat. I was chilled to the bone, my feet were burning despite the cold, and every muscle in my body ached. Seeker was tall and broad-shouldered, making me feel petite – a novelty for me. I must have been very exhausted and lonely because it took what little strength I had left not to scoot closer to him for warmth.
After about 15 minutes, Satyr and Ninja Fabric reappeared with full water bottles and detailed instructions on how to find the water, so Seeker, MC Camel and I grabbed our empty bottles and bladders and started climbing. The water was situated in a holding tank that was halfway underground and covered with a steel awning, and we had to lay on our bellies on the tank and reach down into the frigid water to fill our bottles.
On our way back down the hill, I noticed a cluster of tents around the other side of the campsite that had been blocked from my view earlier. It was Sparky, Ghosthiker, and Oats. I was happy to see them but also a little frustrated. We didn’t usually do 20 mile days. What if I hadn’t been able to catch them? They were so adamant about sticking together, so why did they leave me behind? Maybe Sparky had pushed more miles to keep up with Oats, and Ghosthiker had pushed to keep up with Sparky? Who knew. I certainly didn’t. But I wasn’t going to be spiteful about it. Since I hadn’t unpacked any of my gear yet, I shouldered my pack and told Seeker and MC Camel they were welcome to come over and camp with me and my friends. “Anyway, it looks much less windy over there,” I said. Seeker took up his pack and followed me. MC Camel came a bit later, having to take down his half-assembled tent first.
Seeker and I chatted while we set up our identical Big Agnes tents. Everyone else was already tucked safely away from the wind and cold in their own tents and I heard Ghosthiker say, “Is that Trooper!?” She sounded very excited but didn’t get out of her tent. I couldn’t blame her. It was getting wretchedly cold. Sparky came out and expressed how glad he was that I’d found them, looking apologetic all the while. Sparky is a very empathetic, big-hearted man, and it became one of the things I absolutely love about him. Ghosthiker is more pragmatic, so they were the perfect team when it came to dealing with me and my roller coaster of emotions and stubbornness.
At any rate, Sparky only came out to let me know he was glad I’d found them and that I had made some friends along the way, and then he climbed back into the warm bubble of his tent. Seeker and I both ate dinner in our tents while MC Camel braved the wind and cold to cook his dinner on the picnic table. He laughed and cracked jokes, inviting me to come out and join him in the fresh air. I told him he was crazy and watched him struggle with his cookstove in the wind while I shoveled rehydrated beef stroganoff into my mouth from the shelter of my open tent fly.
I so wish I’d taken more photos.