(Internet isn’t strong enough for photos, will try to update later, although there aren’t many.)
Saturday Mark, Mark’s sister and mom, and I go to breakfast in Lake Isabella. Whoopie and Harvest finish up their plans to get to Bakersfield while we’re gone. My head pounds from dehydration and lack of food. At breakfast I have to make myself eat – I eat French toast and bacon and drink orange juice but can’t touch the eggs I’d ordered extra of.
For the rest of the day we lay around the hotel. I take a long nap. I am happy to be with my husband, cuddling, which he does even though I may be contagious.
For dinner I want mashed potatoes and we find a place, expensive though it is, and go there. I have salmon and mashed potatoes and salad. My stomach isn’t happy, but it handles it. In the hotel room, we watch Bridget Jones’s Baby and my legs are restless from not walking for two days.
Sunday is my birthday. Mark hands me a box full of dehydrated meals from my friend Natalie, cards and words of encouragement from family and friends. My dad has given me a card with some cash and pictures of my mom because it’s what I asked him for and I look at the pictures and cry. It feels good to cry, like I needed it, and I am happy I get to do it near someone who isn’t disturbed by my tears, who doesn’t need an explanation, who knows they are not his to fix.
We go to breakfast in Kernville. I order two pancakes and fruit and can’t eat all of it. I miss my hunger and my cravings. We wander looking for an outdoor shop but don’t have much luck finding the things I need. At some point Mark says: We can stay until Tuesday, if that’s okay with you. And of course it is. I am so happy to have him here, and I could also use the extra day to recover. We decide to move to Ridgecrest for the final day, where his car is, and a Walmart is.
I learn that nearly everyone from the group I’ve been hiking with has decided to skip the Sierra, and also that they caught a hitch and are in town.
Karma is in town so we pick her up and take her to Kernville and she buys me a cup of tea for my birthday and we catch up. We’ll likely be in Kennedy Meadows and she says I can join her group which I would love, but I can only imagine they are much, much faster than I am.
I eat delicious spaghetti for dinner from That’s Italian in Kernville and we all share a Creme brûlée. At the hotel we watch Moana.
Monday we pack our things and drive to Ridgecrest. I don’t eat breakfast but I’m hungry for lunch so we go to a strange Mexican restaurant that has some of the most expensive fajitas I’ve ever seen. I order a burrito and its good and I manage to eat all of it. Afterward we go to Walmart and then we hear back about Mark’s car: a $5000 repair, not worth it. We swap rentals to one that can be dropped off in a Phoenix and go to Thai food for dinner.
All the while I realize I am leaning toward getting back on trail at mile 652, 60 miles past where I left it.
It’s making me reflect a lot on what my intentions for the trail are. I came out here because I wanted to do something hard, really hard, but I also wanted to be gentle with myself while doing it. I didn’t want to bully myself through miles. I wanted to try to live in that liminal space where you push yourself but are still forgiving. And I am really happy to say I have been doing that so far, and I have also been able to do every mile of the trail.
But I can’t go back to where I was picked up (miraculously, in the middle of nowhere) at 592, I would have to go 23 miles past it to 615. And I don’t especially want to go to that spot, either. It’s not that it is a “hard” part, though it is, a long waterless stretch in theory though I’ve been told there are currently plentiful caches. Its not even that I want to stay with the group I’ve been traveling with, who I may or may not catch up to. It’s just that there’s this little voice in my gut saying: It’s okay. I know you wanted to walk the whole thing. But this one, you lost. Forgive yourself. Let it go.
I didn’t come out here to be a purist. I did come out here to do something hard. I also came out here to try to balance doing the hard thing with doing the kind thing, taking care of myself, listening to what I really needed.
In the real world, no one is going to be less impressed that I’m missing 60 miles of the trek. No one at home will argue whether I’m “really” a thruhiker. Only the internet and a small group of hikers would make a fuss. But it’s still hard to let go of the miles.
I am also recognizing that part of what keeps me out here is just how much I don’t know what to do when I get home. I’ve been having the distinct feeling of not wanting to leave Mark but also a sinking feeling of, but what would I do back home?
I’m headed toward the Sierra where hiking outside of my experience level awaits, much of the group I’ve been walking with is disbanding, and the future of my hike is a question mark. Much of the sense of habit and safety I’ve been able to establish on trail is dissipating and that’s unnerving. I feel like a Lost Girl. But out here, at least the Lost Girl has a job to do.