I wake up halfway off my sleeping pad and eventually roll on my back so that I’m looking at the sky through my bug netting. The moon is still glowing and only a few stars remain in the sky. It’s so bright that it looks as if a flashlight is pointed directly on my tent. I lay there surprised that I didn’t wake sooner from its obnoxious luminosity.
After some debating in my head about whether to get up or sleep in, I finally sit up. I rub my eyes and yawn, knowing what my day entails. I change my clothes, which I wore yesterday, and the day before and the day before. I roll up my sleeping bag and gather the rest of my belongings and pack them in Hyperlite pack that once was white.
I pack up the same way I do every morning, organizing my electronics at the bottom, then my tent, sleeping bag, clothes and food at the very top for easy access. I’m the first one out of camp. It’s 4:49am. Usually this would make me feel proud that I’m the first one walking, but I move slower than everyone else so it’s necessary. The air this morning is cold but soothing. As I depart the camp, I look at all my friends tents and know that I will see them in a few hours for breakfast or when they inevitably pass me.
And then I walk.
I walk through the forest as I watch the sun rising through the trees; the trees I will be thanking later in the day for providing me shade as the day grows hotter. The lighting it provides is epically beautiful. I wish someone was around to photograph them in this beautiful scene, but I am also thankful that I can share moments like this with myself.
My feet feel good this morning, considering I walked 25 miles yesterday. 25 miles, just an average day. Yesterday was a good day, as I got to camp early enough to have a fire, eat a hearty dinner and reminisce about the day with my dirt-covered friends. The weather wasn’t too brutal and I took some pretty photos of my friends.
And now I’m 10 miles into my day. It’s 9:45am. Doing 10 miles before 10am always feels like an accomplishment. I decide to sit down for a break and eat breakfast, again, and as I eat I can’t help but think about lunch. I pack up, walk another 4.5 miles and now it’s noon. I sit down to have first (or second) lunch? Most days I just lose track. All I can think about is how hot it is today.
Before I sit down, I wipe the sweat off my brow, my chin and my cheeks. I take my bright pink tee shirt and wipe my entire face. I pull it down and see a dirt imprint of my face staring back at me. It’s been 5 days without a shower, and I still have a couple more to go.
I pull my food bag out of my pack and then sit on my foam pad which separates me from the dirt. At this point it probably doesn’t even matter where I sit, the dirt is unavoidable. As I sift through my food bag, still sweating, I look over the lake, the tall trees covered in neon green moss and the snow capped mountains behind them. Finally I forget about the heat and am only thinking about what to stuff my face with.
I pull out a can of Pringles. I open it and start crunching down on them. They say once you pop, the fun don’t stop, but eventually, it’s stops because I eat the entire confection. I was so hungry, and guess what? I’m sill hungry. I’m always fucking hungry.
And now, I have to use the “restroom”. So I grab my plastic bag. Enclosed is my trowel, toilet paper, wet wipes and hand sanitizer. I walk into the forest looking for a good spot – hopefully one where other hikers don’t see me. My walk turns into a slow jog as there isn’t much time left.
Clenching my butt cheeks to avoid any accidents, I dig a hole, pull down my little black shorts, squat like a fucking cave man and do my business. My feet are sore. In my head I really hope I don’t fall into a pile of my own shit, even though it would make for a good story later. I finish without any incidents. I cover my cathole and then I sanitize the shit out of my hands (quite literally) and head back to camp.
I sit down and realize I’m still hungry because now my stomach feels empty again. I pull out a tortilla, put some tuna salad from a can in it and then some 5 day old cheese. For a second, I forget how unorthodox this life is. I can’t help but think it’s disgusting how appetizing I find this meal is at this very moment.
I start to think about home; Portland, and all the amazing food and restaurants I have available to me in non-trail life. Some call it “real life”, but after living in this fantasy world of no work, I can’t grasp what is real anymore. In a few months this will all be a dream. As I think about home, I can’t help but want to be there, until I remember the chicken flavored ramen I have for dinner. I imagine myself eating it by the fire with my tent set up behind me, a puffy on as the night grows cold and happy dirty faces smiling back at me. I quickly forget that there’s a life that exists outside of the one I’m currently living. Once again, I pack up my things and I am walking again.
It’s 2pm. By far the hottest part of the day has come. I’m walking on easy terrain, until I reach a climb. I start to ascend, and it’s only a minute before I am sweating profusely. The sweat is so bad that my thighs and ass cheeks start to chaff. It’s extremely painful and uncomfortable and occasionally I stop to lift my leg and check the rash. Now, all I can think about is this climb being over, my body not hurting and getting to camp to rest. Amidst my discomfort, I am temporarily relieved as a subtle breeze brushes my cheek, as if to remind me how important the little things are on trail.
It’s been a hard day. Even the downhill is killing me because it’s steep and causes my knees a lot of pain. And now I feel a blister starting to form on my left big toe. I start to limp to avoid the shock of each step which makes my knees hurt even worse. At this point, it might be more comfortable if someone was just stabbing me as I walk.
5pm. Finally, it’s towards the end of my day. Only 2 miles to camp remains and I’m happy that I’ll make it there before 6. That means a few hours of sunlight to sit around and bull shit with my hiker friends. Some say “tramily” (like Trail Family) but we avoid that terminology because most of us are assholes. However, if these hikers called me their family, I might secretly get a warm, fuzzy feeling that I would try to subdue.
The last two miles I reflect on the day, the week and the months on trail. Why am I out here? Why the fuck do I do this? Is this journey something I will ever need to understand? Maybe I should just shut up and walk. However, I can’t help but think about how I eat shitty food all day, I have squat in the woods like a goddamn dog just to take a shit. I’m scratching constantly from relentless blood sucking mosquitos. I’m sometimes walking and holding my butt cheeks open. The chaff from the heat/sweat is so bad I feel like I’m walking with sandpaper up my ass. Sometimes I hear weird noises in the forest when I’m alone that I think are Big Foot. I know, it’s ridiculous, but I do walk faster just in case Big Foot walks slow.
Finally, amongst my mental complaints, I see a tent. I get excited thinking this is camp but I quickly realize it’s not a tent, it’s just a rock. But then I see a backpack and am happy the day is done. But again, it’s not a pack, it’s the end of a log. This happens a lot, when you mistake inanimate objects in the forest for hikers or hiking gear. I keep walking and walking and walking and suddenly the last mile of the day seems the longest. Until eventually, I do see camp. Actual camp. It’s a big flat open space with gorgeous trees, a quiet stream, a big fire ring – but that’s not even the best part.
The best part of camp are the people who are sitting there in a circle, waiting for me. They smile and welcome me as if they haven’t seen me at all today. “Hi Twerky!” I’ll never get sick of being called by my trail name. Even though I was named by a dance you do with your ass, it will always hold sentimental value, one that connects me to something much bigger than most people will ever experience. I love being called Twerk.
As I walk into camp, I see Ritz, I see Snocket, Ole’ Pickle and Blue. There’s Guumy, Hot Pants, Hiker Box, Weezer, Pony and Big Spoon. Radio and Rumy are there too and I see the Vegans, the Germans, Nova and Staph Infection (I roll my eyes as I call her Buffalo). Skippy and Gumby, Fetus and Daddy, Vice, Smiles, Toga, Slippy, Pineapple, Huck, Boner Stallion, Drippy, Heaps, Megan…. and the list goes on and on. I could write a novel on all the incredible people I met on this trail and had a connection with, but we don’t have that kind of time.
I smile and am filled with an overwhelming sense of joy as I see all the wonderful friends I’ve met on this long, fantastic walk through the woods.
I sit down with my friends around the fire and pull out my stove. I make dinner while we chat about the day. We say what sucked, what hurts on our tired bodies and how god damn hot it was. We also talk about what was beautiful and the familiar faces we saw on trail after hundreds of miles. We fantasize about town, and town food, the next milestone and sometimes, we even dream of reaching Canada together.
In the end, despite all the sore feet, the unbearable heat, the ass chaff, the heat rash, the aching shoulders, sunburns, mosquito bites, bee stings, blisters, cuts, bruises, sweat, blood, snot and tears… there’s is lots of laughter, and everyone is so so happy.