My panic keeps me up until 3 am, a time of morning I haven’t seen in a really long time, but eventually I get two hours of half-sleep. Then I see Denied walk past my tent, ready at the time we’d agreed upon, and so I get out to tell him the news: I won’t be going forward.
“I’m really sorry,” I tell him.
He’s chipper in the way people are when they haven’t quite processed the situation yet. “No worries!” He says. I go back to my tent and start packing my things and he sits on a rock by the trail. He’s still there as I go to leave.
“Do you have everything you need?” I ask.
“Yeah.” He is more sullen now.
“I’m really sorry. I hope you have a really awesome hike. The others should be waking up soon if you want some people to walk with.”
“I’m probably going to have to go back to town,” he says. “I wouldn’t have brought so much food if I wasn’t following your hiking plan.”
I ask if I can bring the extra food down for him and ship it ahead but he says no. I apologize again. I hope he’s okay. He did me a favor by saying he’d hike with me and I’ve let him down. I’m not usually a flake. But as guilty as I feel, I also am feeling really hopeful about the decision. I am tired of trying to fight so hard to stay on this trail, with these groups of people. I am ready to keep hiking. But not here.
I head back down and go looking for a ride back in the parking area. As I walk, I ran into another hiker who was headed in, Aika. She’d turned around the day before, too, after trying to hike by herself. I tell her about the OCT and her eyes light up. If things don’t go well, she might come out and join me.
I get a ride from a local and he seems happy to hear I’m not headed in. He tells me the bus to Reno, where I need to get, isn’t running again until Monday. He says the highway is busy, though, and getting a hitch shouldn’t be too hard.
He drops me in Independence and I catch another ride to Bishop, and then I hang out outside the hostel for a few hours. I tell some people my plans and they’re mostly supportive.
I go to lunch. Mark is texting me saying how much he doesn’t want me to hitch that far. He’ll rent me a car. He’ll come drive me himself. Just don’t hitch, he says.
But a hitch seems the most simple, and Aika has turned around and thinks she’ll go with me, so I make myself a sign, “PCT Hiker to Reno.”
But then another hiker says: we’re headed to Mammoth Lakes in five, anyone want a ride? The other hikers say I should take it because it puts me 40 minutes closer. I text Aika and she says to go for it.
When I get in the car, the hikers, Kelley and Derek, say they’re trying to get a car in Mammoth Lakes to go to Reno. They’re flipping North. They say I’m welcome to ride with them.
So that’s what we do, and I don’t have to hitch at all. We have an awesome conversation the whole way. Right outside of Reno we see a PCT hiker hitching and we pick her up. Her name is Energizer Bunny. She’s planning to flip north, too, but then I mention the OCT and she asks if she can go with me so I say yes.
We drop Energizer Bunny off at a hostel and Kelley and Derek drop me off at Amelia’s house. It is so good to see her again. She and her mom take me to Pho and then give me a bed and I am tired, so tired – I haven’t slept more than 3 hours today. So I lay down. And it takes no time at all to fall asleep.
I wake up and hang out in bed for a while and then eat cereal with Amelia and her mom. I rearrange my bag and take my bear can, ice axe, microspikes and about 7 days of food to a local shipping store.
After that, we relax. Amelia and I catch up on Dr Who. I am happy about how easy it is to be around Amelia. I download maps and guides to the Oregon Coast Trail. I am feeling good about the decision to hike this trail, and excited. I wonder if I will miss the PCT or not.
I wake up in the middle of the night and think I’m on the edge of a mountain. I see the slope of snow ahead of me and it looks impossibly steep. I see a headlamp below me. I’m alone out here.
But then I remember: I’m in a bed. The snow is a curtain. The headlamp is a light on the floor. The edge is the bed. My brain thinks I’m outside as a default, now. It tries to make wilderness patterns out of domestic shapes.
In the afternoon we go to REI and Sierra Trading Post. I buy a pair of Tevas and consider a better rain jacket but decide against it.
Amelia’s brothers and Dad come home and I am surprised that this does not make me feel more out of place. I feel more welcome here than I have for a while on the PCT.
That night, we watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Am I brave? I wonder. Would I fight? Do I know when to run?
I call Mark. I tell him how I scared I am of the end of this summer of hiking. How do I live real life after this?
I lay on the couch into the morning. I watch more Handmaid’s Tale. I take a shower and throw my hiking clothes in with a load of laundry. They smell bad so quickly, even without hiking. But I am itching to hike again, to see new things, to move forward.
Amelia, her mom and I go to Chipotle and then they pick up Energizer Bunny, who has booked the same flight as me, and drop us off at the airport.
Loner, a hiker who regularly section hiked the PCT and just thru hiked the OCT, picks us up from the airport and takes us to his family’s beach vacation home. We chat with his family – his dad is 91, his mother a few years younger and they still backpack – and then go upstairs to bed at well past hiker midnight. Tomorrow Loner drops us off at the border or Oregon and Washington, and then we hike south.