I woke up, groggy, in the creaky motel bed. It was still pitch dark in the room, though the display on my phone read 7:30. Thank god for curtains.
None of my clothes had dried sufficiently overnight. I sat naked on the bed and watched tv in between phone calls to various people I care about–SportsCenter, and a half-remembered episode of Law & Order SVU. (I used to watch that show for hours at a time; it seems macabre to me now, and I could only stomach a few minutes of it this time around.)
Clothes still not dry, I went into the dingy bathroom and ministered to my blistered heels. I’m getting used to how I look in the mirror, but it’s occasionally still kind of shocking: there’s so much *less* of me than there used to be. Around the middle, in my face, in my neck. I eat and eat and eat, often straight up garbage, and it’s like tossing kindling into a blast furnace. This hike has reversed a half-decade of soft living and beer drinking in 3 months.
I waited until the last possible minute to check out of the motel. Towns are lonely, stressful affairs, and I wanted to put off my seemingly overwhelming tasks–the post office, the grocery store, more phone calls, answering emails–as long as I could.
At 11 I started the 1.5 mile walk back into town. The tasks went quicker than I’d expected, and soon I was heading to the road with a much heavier pack than I’d had an hour earlier. (My brother sent me a resupply box this time around, for which I’m eternally grateful.)
The hitch was ridiculously easy. I’d had my thumb out for 2 minutes when I heard from behind me, “HEY, HIKER! GET IN!” An old SUV was pulling out of the Rite-Aid, and the woman driving was the one hollering at me. I obliged quickly.
I learned that Tara, the driver, had picked up 11 other hikers before me this month. (2 of them happened to be my friends, Irish Matt and Christopher, who I saw looking for a ride last night.) She had 2 other passengers, her friends Tommy and Heaven. They were, to a person, enthusiastic and kind, which are really the defining traits of everyone who stops to pick up hitchhikers.
They let me out at what Tara said was a close turnout to the trailhead. They pulled away, smiling and waving, and I checked the map to find that I was still 2.5 miles from trail. I said a word that I won’t print here, then said it a few more times, and started walking again. On a whim, I kept my thumb out, and within 5 minutes, I had another bite: an old white hatchback truck whipped to the side of the road.
The agent of my salvation, fittingly, was named Jesus. He told me that he was an experienced hitchhiker himself, and so had no qualms about stopping for me. I hate to profile, but his white ponytail and the overwhelming hippie vibe of the vehicle left me unsurprised by that. Not that I’m complaining.
He took me the rest of the way, and soon enough I was on trail again, strolling on red volcanic desert sand in the merciless afternoon sun. It will only get cooler, I thought. This will only get easier.
But it turned out to be a hard day, for no reason to do with the hiking itself. Leaving towns is always hard for me, is always the time when my anxiety spikes and I feel loneliest. When I leave towns I am most keenly aware of how much I miss having other people do things for me; this is doubly true now that I’m hiking on my own and an solely responsible for logistics. It is incredibly freeing to be master of your own time and your own day; it’s also a lot of work.
I slogged through 13 miles at a snail’s pace and got water under a bridge that had been tagged “RIP FREAKY STEVE.” I found a turnout at a dirt road crossing and pitched my tent, and within 20 minutes I was inside it, having become too tired and too frustrated by mosquitoes to bother cooking dinner. I sat on my sleeping pad and read John Irving while I ate Pop Tarts and Cheez-Its and jelly beans. I am dangerously good at self-pity; this 3rd-grade style meal thankfully helped pull me out of my angst. I chose this. I have plenty of good days ahead–tomorrow night even be one! I need to suck it up.