Be yourself. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. —Joan Jett
I wake up late, at least for me, at 5:45. It’s cold and overcast as I poke out and take a seat under Broken Toe’s tarp. Here I work on a visual-audio piece weaving together several mini interviews with hikers I met at the start. I enjoy taping, editing and creating a narrative, then adding pictures to set the scene. Bobby O tries to get my attention, but I can’t hear him wearing noise cancelling headphones. He later says I looked intense.
I always find that insulting. I don’t think it’s meant that way, but men tell women we’re ‘intense’ when simply absorbed in creating, while a man gets to be absorbed and is lauded for creative work.
I feel insecure anyway and it doesn’t help that my stomach is upset. He nervously checks his gear saying he doesn’t feel up to it today. He then tells me his story of loss – his brother, his dad, his career and his wife in one year. Whoa doggie, way worse than my recent loss. He says it takes time, but everything works out. Though he kindly adds he understands I’m right in the middle of thing now.
Eventually Broken Toe emerges and as I pack, a whole group of hikers arrive having camped back on the trail. My trepidation with the weather and cold vanishes in the midst of this camaraderie. I wasn’t much for a ‘tramily’ but I see now why people love the connections made.
I cry hugging lovely Broken Toe goodbye and everyone looks on with concern. I tell him I hope I’ll be ok out there and he grins his crooked smile, eyes sparkling. “You’re already ok.”
Laura says she’s excited to start with me, but I’m tired and feel queazy, hardly keeping up.
“I have a trail name!” She exclaims excitedly. “Six Pound!” Apparently named for the weight of her massive tent she’s strapped to her ice axe loops, bouncing against her hips as she moves (mighty fast) uphill.
We approach a burn that opens out to views of mountains breaking through fog. Over a pass, we both let out excited whoops as even grander views appear. The trail sidles a steep mountain covered in wildflowers, God’s gardener tastefully placing them on rock shelves. Orange, magenta, violet, yellow, purple, red – the colors on some so bright I can’t focus.
The trail is a horseshoe-shaped balcony walk with a river far below. Laura chatters away in her clipped British accent. My mind wanders to home, trying to accept that part of my life is over. As we ascend to a narrow ridge with mountains on all sides beyond steep valleys, I wonder if that means I’m free now.
A snow field appears on a steep scree slope. Laura is careful but I move across fast and of course, slip. I go down so fast, it’s like glass. A rock stops me and she urges me to dig in with my heel and press my pole in. I’m afraid the pole will fall to the bottom, so I’m very careful lifting myself back up. Success! Although I am glad I’ll have my axe and spikes for the coming higher mountains.
The mist shoots over the tops, wind picking up and causing me to shiver. Laura’s – as well as the other’s – easy manner calms me. I love being alone, but I appreciate our shared endeavor and the support of like-minded people.
My fear and anxiety keeps me from the present moment. It pushes me into a future that hasn’t yet happened or into a past that’s gone. I sit in a meadow, my back against Olive Oyl against a fir. This is the land of dancing firs, freeze-framed in action, a Hindu god of many arms reaching out, cocked into an awkward pose by years of heavy snow. I have a snack left in the hiker box at Hart’s Pass before I go up some more in kicked snow steps to an even grander view.
A waterfall tumbles out of white snow, through gray schist, into a dark green tree funnel, and finally fanning out to light green. It’s loud across the valley. Mist obscures, but pine sparkles in filtered light. I see two turquoise lakes as I prepare to descend massive switchbacks, 2000+ feet down.
I am not fast, even going down, and slow usually means a full days walk. I burp out my stomach troubles on the descent. The slope is crowded with blueberries, plumping up, still pink yet. Laura tells us the views were so sensual she got ‘sexually excited’ to much merriment.
I stop at the Glacier Pass campsite, tired, spent, feeling insecure again. Am I just in need of ‘pink water’ my electrolyte replacer, or is this for real? It’s only day four and I’m beginning to question why I’m here. That’s just it when you’re rejected, your confidence is in the basement. Nothing feels right, tastes right, looks right. Bobby O told me he took auditions after he was canned – he was the minister on ‘Days of our Lives’ – but his heart wasn’t in it. He had to change careers and remake himself to get back on track. Even out here in all this beauty, I’m depressed beyond anywhere I’ve been before. But I can’t stop here, so I pick myself up, dust off and head deeper into the river canyon soon entering a patch of shrubs and wildflowers taller than my head.
Scared I’ll startle a bear, I start loudly whistling, then, when my lips dry out, I sing. Out of breathe, I bang my sticks.
No bear encounters.
At a bridge, I conk out for a moment and give my feet a rest. Within moments, Randy shows up. I ask him if he heard me making all that racket. “Only ‘there’s no meat on these middle aged bones, bears!’
And ‘Bones’ is the trail name my friends test out on me as we sit on board benches at the campsite. Rook, Gravity, Quinn, Sailor, Super Glue, Bounce Back and Boogie Man all cooking on our tiny screw-on stoves making dinners that serve 2 1/2 but are barely enough for our tired bodies.
Coming off the pass earlier, I cried heavy tears. The mourning is being lived out here on the trail. I miss my life, I miss what I did. Mostly, though, I miss Richard who knows me better than I know myself and sent me off on this trail right now. I didn’t think I had it in me today, but lots of laughter and commiserating over sore muscles has fed my spirit and given me courage – at least a large enough serving to get me up over Rainy Pass tomorrow, a twenty-one mile test of will. At 8:15 and a rushing stream accompaniment, I’m off to sleep.
As Laura ‘Six Pound’ said before turning in, “See you in Mexico, bitches!”