The trail into Lake Tahoe was as beautiful as we could’ve asked for. It took us over a gentle rise and gave us a view over a pleasant valley. As the forest got denser the trail became harder to follow; I got myself lost in the snow for a time and had to blaze my own way back to where the map said I should be.
Eventually I found the trail and my friends. We took a break and swapped college stories; the general consensus was that most of us were lucky to be alive, and our respective roommates doubly so.
We got back on trail and I hiked with Flat the rest of the way to the road. I really admire him–his love of the wilderness is so unconstructed, so…normal. He does the kinds of things you usually only read about: stopping to smell trees and plants, to get closer looks at bugs, at rocks, at flowers.
Flat and I, being the last to the road, let the girls take the first hitch while we waited. It worked out for the best, really–our hitch, when it came, couldn’t have been better. The couple, whose names I never got, drove a tricked-out van with a couch in the back, a good dog on the floor, and a cooler full of Ballast Point beer.
We posted up at the Lake of the Sky Outfitters, a super hiker-friendly store with free cookies and wifi. We bounced around between there and the McDonald’s next door, and then headed to the Motel 6 to settle in. I wasn’t staying–my friend Ben, who I’d grown up with but hadn’t seen in 6 or 7 years, was coming to pick me up.
Ben, it turned out, had just opened a brewery tour company–that day was their first in business, and he’d still found a way to fit me into it. He swung down from North Taboe, picking me up in the brewery tour van, his hair so much longer than I’d ever seen it.
We drove the 45 minutes back to his house, cutting off a corner of Nevada along the way–one more state off my list. We spent a few hours catching up, talking about high school and the people we knew there. But after a little while it was devoid of the usual sputtering awkwardness that comes when two people who used to know each other only have the other people they used to know to talk about. It was great–really and truly great. He’s an avid hiker, and knows tons about the trails and terrain surrounding Tahoe; it was great getting Intel from him, and I’ve never seen someone so jazzed to live vicariously through another person’s experience.
Soon Ben’s girlfriend, Katy, arrived. She was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, and made me feel as warm and welcome as humanly possible. She and Ben cooked tortellini and chicken cutlets and steamed vegetables; to someone who’s been cooking his own meals on a tiny, portable gas stove for months, this was borderline unbelievable. I had thirds.
We drank prosecco to celebrate the start of Ben’s business and my arrival in town. We watched Netflix and talked into the wee hours, and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect evening back in the real world.
The clicks of arrow into wall don’t throw Laurel off of the construction of the snowman for a second. An errant shadow gives the illusion of a smile on its unconstructed face, and idly, ze wonders what it would be like if it could come to life.
We’re alive down here, after all. With everything strange that happens up there, it wouldn’t be the weirdest…
Down here. Up there. I’m thinking like… like I really am dead. Dead like them.
Now, ze stops.
No. No, I’m not dead. I’m alive in a world of death, and in a way that’s worse. If this thing were alive in a world of death too, would it even like what it saw? Or would it want to go back to not having to think, or fear, or be hungry or cold or… loved?
Maybe it’s safer not to be alive.
A frantic swivel on hir feet. Did Amelia just read hir mind again?