Thursday, April 21, 2016

Week One: Why didn't we bring the goat?

Sitting here in a library in Southern California, I can't help, but wonder why we left the desert. Really, I'm not quite sure what to say about it, only that six of my toes are cushioned between layers of medical tape, I've become accustomed to hearing sand crunching under my feet and locating water is a source a pure anxiety.
The first day we were on trail, we started off early, shuffling down the hill in search of a worthy bush for our first bathroom break, unable to stand at the southern terminus for more than five minutes. We got our picture done first and giggled as we walked as fast as possible to the trailhead, looking behind us for any other groups making their way down the hill. Four days later, we met a couple from England commenting on how we were the first ones out that day and how excited we must have been to get going that quickly, how they aspired to be that gung-ho. I told them the real reasoning behind our quick getaway and they laughed, "Well that completely ruins the view we have of you now!"
I can tell you the first day we hiked twenty miles to the Lake Morena campground, the second and third and fourth we went fourteen to sixteen miles and that it hurt...badly, but I can also tell you that when we would stop for breaks, we can't ever stay there long. We eat our snacks, lay back on our bags few a few minutes, but end up looking at each other, "You ready?" "Yes." Even when our shoulders boast a few deep welts, our feet oozing a couple new blisters. We push off the rocks we had been sitting on and follow the line of the trail with our fingers, tracing it up the mountains, switchback after switchback. And we groan, but we always enjoy the flat, hope for the uphill when we're limping down into the valleys and scope out potential dirt sites for our small tent. "Well, we could always just lay it down here if we needed." The spot wide enough for a couple of bodies on the side of the trail, on the other, a drop-off to the bowl of a valley.
We refer to people with the names we've given them: Teleport Tim, the Svelte Sisters, Penny, Santa, Irish Lucas, Gunther.
I laugh at the end of the days, the end of five miles, the end of a break. "Why are we doing this again?" But then we walk up to the next ridge, look out over the bowl of a desert, "Oh, yes. I remember now." Staying in Julian, CA, we met so many thru-hikers--drank with them, played washers (which is just another form of cornhole, but with ridiculously sized metal washers), sat on the concrete behind a restaurant soaking feet and sharing the leftover resupply snacks we bought at the local store. To get us through, Melissa will sing to us, songs meant for young children on field trips, but that actually help more than any rest ever could. Once we've learned the names of the other hikers that we continuously leap-frog, we don't want to lose them, so we find ourselves basing our camping decisions on where we think certain hikers can make it to each night, placing ourselves a couple miles further so that we won't have to wake as early to keep them in our sights, or we'll stop only when we get tired, knowing they keep our same pace.
Every day, I think of what I would tell others- how narrow the trail is, winding through the mountains, how sometimes I think the people who made the trail did it as a cruel joke, how sometimes I'll stumble over a fist sized rock, look up and realize I've been hiking along a ridge that lets you see a hundred miles.
Maybe my next post will be a touch more eloquent. Maybe it won't. Maybe I will never know quite what to say about it, just as I feel not many people have been able to, since I read a ton and still really had no idea what I was walking into. I feel as though everyone looks forward to the Sierras, as I have been, but no one tells you how the desert is--how it will seep everything out of you, make you wonder if you'll surrender yourself to it, or how you can quite literally be appalled by how stunning a place can be and still not receive the credit it deserves. But here I am, sitting in a library twelve miles from the trail, feeling myself drawn to it once again.