Thruhiker – Day 7

March 26 (7:00 – 15:45)
Sweetwater Park – Magnolia Promenade (22 mi)
Total C2C miles: 123.5
Weather: Cold, cloudy, partly sunny – rain in the morning and evening

I wake to see the roof of my tent sagging in, and I get up when it’s still a little dark. A puddle becomes an ocean on the top of my tent, and I’m out just in time before it crashes down, water everywhere.

There’s nothing for it, but to pack up and head out.

Sometimes it’s peaceful, and sometimes, it’s not. It would be peaceful if I could get my mind around it, relax, accept the rain, and realize, hey. I’m waterproof.

But when it’s so cold, when breakfast is a handful of raisins and nuts, and my socks are wet, and my heels are getting blisters, I wonder what I’m doing.

What made me think I was up for this?

Why am I leaving, anyway?

Why walk across the country?

And then the rhythm starts in again, step after step, and my body heat rises, and my soggy socks dry somehow, and the sun pokes out.

I find a spot mid-morning, with the sun so bright. I spread out my tent and my wet clothes on a rock. I change into dry things. I rummage through my pack and make a decent snack of a wrap spread with peanut butter and apple slices. It tastes good cold.

This is why I’m doing this. I find a kind of freedom here. I’m not separate from the patterns of weather. Whether it rains or shines has a good deal with what I need to do, with how I feel.

Behind it all, there’s a silence.

I don’t feel this silence when I am bound up with the daily fabric of the world of people around me. Then, there’s always a hum of “what-to-do-next,” “where-to-go,” “what-to-buy,” “who-to-see.”

But now, all I have to do each day is walk and care for myself so that I am in good shape for the walking.

Around mid afternoon, my trail has led me along the river, through the meadows to the bayside town of Magnolia, across the water from the city of Stanton.

I wonder if the trail’s silence will follow me, now that the path wends along the road, and skyscrapers poke the bellies of clouds on the other side of the bay.

The streets are wet, and somehow, it is the puddles that connect me back to rhythms of the trail.

The same rain fell here that fell on the meadows.

On the dock, I spy Stanton Sisters Cupcakes, a franchise famous throughout this region. Stanton Red Velvet Cupcakes have been featured on tv shows and gourmet magazines.

I’m getting one.

I order pasta from the food booth, too, and find a park bench in sliver of sun.

The courtyard is empty, so while I eat, my trail-side silence sits next to me, and I feel like I have a tiny bit of home here with me, in this place I’ve never been.

After my early dinner, I look out over the bay. I could walk on. It’s not even 4:00 p.m. yet.

But I feel peaceful and drowsy. Stanton Sisters sell spiced hibiscus tea, and I sit on the dock waiting for sunset.

I can sleep here. It’s a thruhiker-friendly town. The steamboat docked here is a B’n’B, and they open a few rooms for thruhikers, so we can shower or even sleep inside, if we want, and they let us set up our tents on the dock.

I’ve read on hiking blogs that during the peak season, the dock fills with thruhikers’ tents. I’m the only one tonight.

I can’t sleep. I wonder how I ever slept when we lived in the city, with people all around.

I never felt lonely on the trail, but here, with the voices of people sashaying down from the corner bar, I feel isolated. I listen for silence, and I find it in the sky, behind the clouds. That’s what I hold in my mind as I crawl into my tent and lay in my sleeping bag with my eyes open.

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Thruhiker: Day 6

March 25 (8:30 – 16:15)
Dawson County Line – Sweetwater Park (20 mi)
Total C2C miles: 101.5
Weather: Cold, cloudy, rainy – again!

I can’t seem to catch a break with the weather. It’s cold and cloudy again, and as the clouds grow heavy, I expect rain.

I shouldn’t be surprised. This is March, and March is all about rain.

But somehow, with our weird cold spell, I expected the normal patterns to shift completely. I had this idea that the cold would split to heat, and that once the jet stream wobbled again, we’d have warm southern air.

I shouldn’t complain. It’s good weather for walking. I bundle up, wear my sleeves that reach down to cover my fingers, snuggle on my knit cap, and walk.

The walking, especially with my pack on my back, keeps me warm.

Hiker’s hunger hasn’t yet set in. I’ve still got my city-life baby fat to help fuel the miles. The hunger I feel is just ordinary hunger that can be satisfied with a handful of nuts, a few dates, and an apple. Then, I’m good to go again.

I hear that it’s in the fourth week of hiking that the hunger really settles in, and then, trail food doesn’t really cut it. I will be in the mountains by then, and I’ve scouted out a few trail towns to detour to so I can fill up on spaghetti.

This is how it is on the trail: I’m walking through the most beautiful landscapes, and what do I think of? Eating spaghetti three weeks from now, anticipating my future hunger.

I bring myself back to the sensation of the packed dirt beneath my feet. Each step makes a slight sloop sound. Or maybe it’s more like slop. Plock. Swop.

The air smells sweet and moist, the scent of daisies swirling with the rain smell.

Drops of mist gather on my eyelashes, and through them, the world looks bedazzled, with diamonds sparkling everywhere.

Then silence, and the stopping of thoughts, and the miles are built on footsteps, heartbeats, breaths, and this is why I take to the trail, for these moments when all-that-is is right now, and I am alive, in the moment, in the breathing landscape around me, listening to the heartbeats and murmurs of trees.

The air is different now, and I am 19 miles from my county line. I am in a new land, and with each step, I will be further and further from my old home.

I think it’s right about here that I pass the 100 mile mark. For a moment, I consider stopping here, setting up camp at mile 100, but I want to press on for a little longer, before sun sets. I want to walk 20 miles today, and that means going another mile down the trail.

Then I come to the perfect spot to set up my tent, in a little clearing beside the river.

Once my tent is up, the drizzle turns to rain, and I’m grateful the downpour waited until after my tent was pitched. I will stay warm and dry inside tonight, even when it pours.

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Thruhiker: Day 5

March 24 (7:05 – 15:15)
Riverside Park – Dawson County Line (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 81.5
Weather: Cold, cloudy, drizzly

I wake to a rave of birdsong in the gray dawn: mockingbirds, finches, sparrows, and wrens. I close my eyes tighter and nestle deeper into my quilt, trying to squeeze out the spreading light to let the sun pour down a touch of warmth before I leave my tent.

When I finally scramble out of the tent and pack my things, a little blue sky dares to peek through the clouds. Maybe it will warm, I think, and prove the forecasts wrong!

I pass quite a few people as the trail wends through the town, some out for a brisk stroll, some on their way to their offices, some heading out to breakfast. Those are the ones I follow into a bustling café that serves apple fritters with bananas, tofu scrambles, cornbread, steaming coffee, and even pie. I want everything.

I eat until I’m full, buy a sandwich and piece of pie for lunch, and then, I follow the trail out of town.

I see everything as if for the last time, for who knows? It may be. Knowing the way that path leads to path, I may never find myself back here again. Once I reach the end of the trail, over a thousand miles further on, I don’t know where I’ll settle, or what I’ll do. But I don’t have plans to return.

And even if I do come back, years hence or a lifetime from now, it won’t be the same landscape I see. For how will this earth change thirty, forty years from now?

The seas will rise, rivers will flood, and this estuary may cover the dock that holds the summerhouse. That lighthouse on the distant cove may be partly under water. The park bench will have long floated off.

I walk knowing I don’t have the luxury of returning.

I walk with the luxury of departing, and so, everything looks new.

My grandfather, in his last days, had the wonder of a child. Once he held a rock before my eyes.

“Do you see the sparkle?” he asked.

I knew it was quartz. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s granite.”

“It’s magic,” he said, and he looked as if seeing that sparkle for the last time.

This is the land where I grew up. It’s where I roamed with my father and his father. It’s where I ran when I needed to get away, to get out.

I always thought of it as my land.

People still live here who will wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and take the same jog down the same path, but I am not one of those people anymore.

My path, each step, each mile, takes me away, carried with the knowledge I may not return.

Those who stay will see the changes come slowly–or fast. One year, the river’s path will be higher along the shore. One spring, the floods will carve away that bluff, carrying the horse chestnut downstream with it.

But the changes will happen without my witness. It is like this today, this last day that I see this sparkling landscape of home.

I stop early again, around 3:15 in the afternoon. I have hours still of daylight, and I feel strong enough to walk more. But fifty feet more, and I will have crossed the county line, and I want to spend one last night in the county of my home.

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Thruhiker: Day 4

March 23 (8:30 – 16:05)
Lakeside View – Riverside Park (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 63.5
Weather: Still cold and cloudy, but above freezing by mid-morning!

I wake feeling cozy: the warmth of the buzzing electric heater; the thick blankets covering me, the slow spread of the morning sun through the window.

My dreams of Jack Clubs and the mouse family, floating on the house-barge over the flooded meadows, fill me with a weird sense of hope.

I shower, pack quickly, pay my bill, and head across the street for a breakfast of steel-cut oats with bananas, pecans, and almond milk. Plus two cups of coffee.

It’s a late start. I’m back on the trail at 8:30.

The trail, winding along the canal through city neighborhoods, is oddly empty. Must be the cold. It’s still below freezing.

But the sun shines through the clouds, and my weather app predicts it will get into the low 40’s today and won’t dip below freezing tonight.

I will get to camp again.

I think of Greta Thunberg’s words as I walk along, that slant of her mouth, her sharp gaze. I feel hope.

I know I feel hope because I’m young, and hope is the lifeblood of youth.

And it’s morning.

It’s hard to despair when the sun shines and the edifices of our unsustainable civilization lie in architectural splendor along the not-yet-flooding canal.

This is a beautiful planet.

I walk for a few hours with no thoughts, simply taking it all in, the bends of the trees, the arcs of branches, the fractal patterns that curve through all forms.

My thoughts return as I enter the next town, Waterford.

I’m young. I can do something.

I realize that I have no plans for my life. We were going to get married. We didn’t. And when I sold everything and took to the trail, that was my plan. But after that?

After that, I have no plans.

I don’t know where I will live.

What I will do.

I don’t know that I’ll return here.

I suppose my idea in hitting the trail was simply to head away–away from everything that was and that was going to be and that didn’t happen.

And that leaves me with a new start.

The streets of Waterford are lined with businesses, apartment buildings, and homes, filled with those who lead regular lives. Work. Home. School. Shopping. All the parts and pieces of the fabric of this society.

I don’t want that.

It feels false to me, to live in a house that relies on electricity that’s produced in an unsustainable manner.

I am part of this society, a contributor to this current crises.

I don’t want my life to be just that.

I want to make a difference.

At the end of my life, no matter what has happened with the climate catastrophe, I want to be able to say that I did what I could. I lived my life in a way that made a difference.

I eat lunch in a cafe. Sure, I’m not blind to the irony that I’m eating food that’s been cooked on a stove that’s fueled by electricity generated in a plant the burns coal and fossil fuels, in addition to a few wind farms and solar installations, food that was trucked in by a gas-burning vehicle. At least the food is plant-based. It’s a vegan restaurant. At least it’s organic.

But I don’t know the conditions of the laborers who grew the tomatoes and soybeans–were they migrants with sub-standard living conditions? Do they have healthcare? Reasonable hours? Living wages?

I think about asking the waiter, but she is rushing from table to table.

It’s messy, I realize. We need to live. We need to eat. Whether we agree with it or not, we’re part of this society, simply by being alive at this time, by living here.

We can make some choices.

After lunch, I head to resupply at the natural foods store. The trail leaves town, and I’ll be travelling through the countryside for the next seven miles, to Riverside Park.

As I hit the trail again, I realize I don’t have answers, at least not many. All the questions I asked this morning, all the discomforts of the incongruence between ideals, values, and the practicalities of living still exist.

I know two things: I want to make a difference, and I can make choices.

The trail pulls me back into a peaceful rhythm. Step after step. The subtle changes of temperature. The shifts of light and shade. The scent of shore-ice thawing in the early spring sun.

I make camp while it’s still light. I could’ve walked a few more miles, but though it’s been a light day–only 18 miles–I’m tired, and I want to settle into my tent before night falls.

I feel, somehow, I’ve left my old life behind.

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Thruhiker: Day 3

March 22 (7:30 – 16:30)
Dawson County Park – Lakeside View (25 mi)
Total C2C miles: 45.5
Weather: Freezing in morning, cold all day, cloudy – intermittent breeze

In the morning, it’s below freezing. The water in my water bottle? Solid ice. The leftover dolmas, falafels, and couscous I’d saved for breakfast? Frozen. I check the weather on my phone. 28 degrees? Below freezing, when the last frost date for this region is March 15. Record-setting cold temps.

I’m grateful I selected the quilt with three-season use that’s designed to go down to 25 degrees. I didn’t expect frost, even in the mountains, but at high altitudes, you never know, and the trail will take me over 10,000 feet in the Granite Falls range. I was snug last night, but I’m cold this morning, so I pack early, pick up a latte and breakfast wrap from the park vendor, and hit the trail with the early morning sun.

I can see my breath.

The trail wanders past the cutest barge on the river. It looks like someone could live there. I imagine myself living there. What if instead of walking the trail, I traveled the waterways? What if it was one of those barges that you propel with those long sticks? Then, I’d walk up and down the length of the boat, while the boat traveled leisurely down the river. My arms and shoulders would get sore, pushing the big pole.

As I walk the trail, I try to figure out the math. Would I be walking more, poling along on the boat, for I’m walking up and down the length of the boat, or am I walking farther along the path, since the boat would be moving faster?

I think this is calculus.

I can’t really figure it out, but I get this nice sensation of moving along, the speed of the boat carrying my own steps more quickly, and this makes the trail travel faster for about an hour, until I notice that, even though I’m walking, I’m cold.

It is so cold.

I check the weather on my phone. It’s down to 25 now. The forecast predicts a high of 32, with temperatures tonight reaching the teens.

I wasn’t prepared for this.

A fountain in a park I pass is frozen.

The cherry trees are blooming, and I wonder if all the blossoms will freeze and fall off tonight.

The sun can’t really penetrate the clouds.

I just walk.

For a long time, I don’t think. I just walk. When I’m hungry, and I get hungry often, since it’s so cold, I munch on nori, which has like zero calories and a lot of salt, so my tongue starts to feel thick.

The water in my water bottle is still frozen.

At the parks I pass, the public drinking faucets have been turned off. Too cold.

The strawberries I bought are frozen. I put them in my mouth and let them thaw, swallowing the ice water as it melts.

The trail runs through another town, and I stop at a cafe in mid-morning. I drink three glasses of warm water, a coffee, and eat another breakfast wrap. I resist the urge to buy lunch, for it will just freeze in my pack on the trail.

Ice has formed along the edges of the waterway, in the shaded areas.

What will I do tonight? I’d planned to hike all the way to Lakeside Park and camp there. But I’m not sure I want to spend the night in my tent. My quilt can handle 25 degrees, but if it gets down to the teens, will I even be OK?

What makes it even this cold? It never gets this cold down here.

It’s the jet stream, all messed up. The polar regions warm, the temperature differential between the poles and the rest of the globe goes flat, and the jet stream gets wonky, and the cold seeps down here, while the polar caps melt.

I wonder if this summer will bring the Blue Ocean Event. When the polar caps melt, the sea level will rise a few meters. All the land I’m walking today is below sea level.

If the levees don’t hold, this whole region will be under water.

When my dad walked the C2C trail, he felt the continuity of it. “One thing lasts,” he always told me, “the land. The river may change course, the rain may erode the cliffs, but even if the course is different, we still have the land.” He meant the whole ecosystem. My dad relied on the patterns of seasons, knowing that the last frost came in early March, the cicadas sang in June, the crickets in September. My dad counted on all these patterns outlasting him, as if it didn’t matter if he weren’t here for the rest of my life, because the patterns would be. The rhythms of the land would go on, and in them, I wouldn’t feel alone, because all my dad taught me about the land and nature would continue in them.

Only that wasn’t happening. It wasn’t that my dad didn’t know about climate chaos, because he’d known about it since before I was born and was always talking with us about reducing emissions and our carbon footprint. I guess it was just that he was an optimist, and he felt that we’d make changes quickly enough.

After all, he’d made changes in how he lived, and how our family lived. He died before the jet streams got screwed up. He died when he still had hope.

As I approach Lakeside Park, my lips, my nose, the tips of my ears, my fingers, and my toes feel frozen.

I don’t think I can camp tonight.

There’s a motel in Lakeside View, near the park and not far from the trail, and I check in there. It’s only 4:30, but I can’t walk anymore when I’m this cold. I’m worried I’ll get sick if I do, and then I’d be laid up for a week or more, and my schedule would be messed up. I need to get through the desert before the heat sets in, for if it’s weirdly cold now, it could be brutally hot then, for that’s what climate chaos means.

I take a long bath. All my food, except the nori, is ruined when it thaws. I get a pizza then return to my room and watch Greta Thunberg videos on my phone. “We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable,” she says, and I feel a little better.

I take out the deck of cards I bought yesterday, with the mice on the back and the adorable Jack of Clubs, and I play solitaire until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.

As I lay in the lumpy motel bed, under the scratchy blankets, I imagine the water rising, slowly covering the trail I walked today. The red and green barge floats over the flooded meadows. The mice on my deck of cards live in the barge, and Jack Clubs mans the pole, walking with his little mice feet up and down the length of the barge, while the barge floats on.

“You walk farther,” he says to me, in his mouse voice, “for I am carried by the current.”

And I fall asleep.

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Spectrum: Bullying Prevention Week

This is Bullying Prevention Week in the U.S. A few days ago, I googled “What is bullying?” because I wanted to see if Trump’s behaviors would qualify as bullying. Based on the criteria listed in What Is Bullying, on stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, designed to educate, motivate, and empower, the answer is, yes. Trump’s actions fit the criteria for bullying. With good fortune, we may soon have a White House that is not inhabited by a bully. Let’s work to make that so and to change the culture of our nation which makes it possible for nearly half of voting citizens to (still) support a bully.

But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about how, when reading through the listed criteria, I came to recognize that I experienced bullying, at home and at school, throughout my childhood, and how recognizing that is allowing me to bring to light some painful and entrenched responses and reactions so that I can respond and react to my current life situations in a way that is healthier and more balanced, with strength and empowerment, to help achieve the world based on kindness that is so important to me.

First, the criteria from stopbullying.gov:

  • Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:
    • Teasing
    • Name-calling
    • Inappropriate sexual comments
    • Taunting
    • Threatening to cause harm
  • Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
    • Leaving someone out on purpose
    • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
    • Spreading rumors about someone
    • Embarrassing someone in public
  • Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:
    • Hitting/kicking/pinching
    • Spitting
    • Tripping/pushing
    • Taking or breaking someone’s things
    • Making mean or rude hand gestures

As I read through the list, the shocking realization came that I had experienced, throughout childhood, each of these forms of bullying, repeatedly, both at home from my brother, and at preschool, Sunday school, and elementary school from classmates, from the age of two through thirteen.

I suppose to many it would be expected that bullying would be part of my childhood. After all, a widely quoted study reports that 61% of autistic students have been bullied. Another study found that among students with Asperger’s, the percentage is 65% (Carter as qtd. in Anderson).

I was familiar with those statistics, but I always thought that I was one of the lucky ones who had not been bullied. Sure, kids teased me, called me names, made inappropriate sexual comments, taunted, and threatened me, but, like my mom said, they were “just being kids.” Sure, my classmates left me out on purpose, told other children not be my friends, spread rumors, and delighted in embarrassing me on a regular basis, but, like the principal said, “kids are just mean sometimes.” Sure, I was regularly punched, kicked, pinched, tickled against my will, and sometimes spit at, and often tripped or pushed, and my things were taken and broken, and kids regularly made mean or rude hand gestures, but that’s “just what kids do, right?”

No, I see now. That was bullying. All of those acts that made my life as a schoolkid and a little sister hard were acts of bullying.

I was supposed to “be stronger, rise above, ignore them.” Ignore them. “Just ignore it.” I was probably told that more, at home and at school, than anything else.

I majored in ignoring it.

Ignoring it brought some strength and solace. Much of my deep love and trust of nature, of trees and birds, especially, comes from my efforts to ignore bullies. When the kids at school would not let me sit with them at lunch, the live oak trees at the back of the schoolyard opened wide arms and took me in for a happy lunch hour. I turned to God, too, who always whispered about the strength of my spirit and the deep connections that can be found amongst all of us, the bullies, included.

So behind the unhappiness and hurt lay a depth of solace, comfort, joy, resilience, and strength. Relying on this, from an early age, allowed me to grow into a strong individual.

As an adult, I often felt, if I’m a strong individual, I can’t have been bullied. Kids were just kids.

But I see now that these kids were bullies, and I was bullied.

At the time I came to this realization, I was feeling upset from a meeting that I’d attended a few days earlier. I’d been puzzled about how this meeting upset me. The meeting had been with my supervisor for my teaching job and another professor, with whom I’d had some happy collaborations. I was so upset and confused, even a few days after the meeting. Maybe, I reasoned, it was because my routine had been disrupted. Maybe it was because I’d taken two hours personal leave from my full-time job to attend the meeting to receive instructions that could just have easily been emailed to me. Maybe it was because the social communication exceeded my processing capacity, and I was left with that discomfort of not getting all the information to fit together. Maybe it was all of those things.

And maybe it was also because my supervisor invited the other professor to a barbecue at his house on Sunday but didn’t extend the invitation to me, while I sat there in my chair, looking down, trying to become invisible, feeling like chopped liver. I recalled that every other time I have been with these two other people, the supervisor has invited the other professor, his friend, to do something: go to drinks, go hiking, catch a movie, come over for a barbecue, get together to share reading notes. And I have not once been included. I’ve sat there, and tried to become invisible.

Now, I realize that my supervisor and this other professor are friends. I know they’re both male, both the same ages, and that they share political and cultural beliefs and values (which I share, too). I also realize that they’re both full-time, tenured professors, while I am a part-time adjunct. They belong. I don’t. I get that.

I don’t say that his behavior is bullying. It’s ungracious, unwelcoming, and excluding. But it’s not exactly bullying, I don’t think.

It does trigger all of my past with social bullying, and so, when I sit there feeling awkward, what rises in me is panic, fear, shame, awkwardness, and all sorts of discomfort.

When this happened at the recent meeting, I had not yet realized that I had experienced social bullying as a child, so I did not realize that my response and reaction were also in response to my childhood experiences. I recognized my response and reaction as being out of proportion to the situation, but I did not know what caused me to feel so deeply upset about something so seemingly trivial.

In other situations, at work and in the MMORPG I play, I notice that I become upset when I’m not included or left out. My responses often seem odd to me, too extreme for something that isn’t really very significant. What keeps me from “just ignoring it?”

I think I know now. It’s the childhood bullying.

When I didn’t believe that I had been bullied, then events could come along and trigger the old feelings, the shame, the embarrassment, the stress and trauma of exclusion, and I would be left feeling confusion on top of the discomfort. What is making this such a big deal?

But now that I realize that I was bullied as a child, I can address those deeper issues.

It’s a big deal because it reawakens all of those feelings, reactions, and responses I felt when bullied as a child, when I was told to stuff the feelings, get over it, be stronger, and just ignore it.

I’ve begun to put energy and love towards healing from the childhood bullying. It will be a process, since I’m only now allowing myself to explore and resolve from many hurtful incidents.

But I already notice a shift. And I feel prepared to step in with love for myself when next I am excluded, shunned, or shut out. I’m prepared to recognize and heal from the deep hurt I experienced so that when new events come up, I can take them in stride.

I won’t ignore them. I’ll pause and love myself and go steep in nature for a while to regain balance. And I’ll realize that childhood bullying leaves an impact. We can heal from it, and we’ve got to look at it to do so.

Works Cited

Anderson, Connie. “IAN Research Report: Bullying and Children with ASD.” First published: 26 Mar. 2012. Revised: 7 Oct. 2014. Accessed 15 Oct. 2019

What is Bullying?” stopbullying.gov. Accessed 15 Oct. 2019.

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Thruhiker: Day 2

March 21 (7:10 – 9:15 / 12:30 – 16:50)
County Parkside – Cripple Creek / Cripple Creek to Dawson County Park (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 20.5
Weather: Frost in morning, warming during day, sunny, cold at night – no wind

I wake early and pack my tent. I just want to hit the trail. Surprisingly, I’m not sore. I’m not tired.

I slept so well last night–not a single worry, just a straight-through sleep. And, maybe it’s the bright morning sun, but I’m not worried when I pack camp, either.

I’m not sore. I can’t believe it. I hiked over 12 miles yesterday, and I’m not sore. I thought for sure I’d need to take it easy today, make it to Cripple Creek to buy the supplies it looks like I’ll need, since I’m too early in the season to count on the trail-angel barbecues, and then maybe not make it much farther.

But the way I feel, I’m thinking I can make a good day.

My plan is to get to Cripple Creek for breakfast, stock up, and be back on the trail by noon. I think I can put in a full afternoon.

It’s so beautiful.

It frosted last night, and the branches of the willows have been dipped in white. They’re lace.

I was so snug in my tent, I didn’t even notice.

But during the morning, it’s still cold. I can see my breath. The tip of my nose hurts, and the trail crunches under my feet.

But before I even put the first mile behind me, I’m warm inside. The contrast between the coldness in the tip of my nose and my earlobes and the warmth inside, in my lungs and the space around my heart, is delicious.

I feel like I could walk like this forever. Even my pack feels a bit less awkward, like I’m getting used to the length of stride I need to take with it, like I know how much to pitch my body forward to carry it.

I think how funny it is that when we experience something pleasant how we want it to last forever. Like I really want this morning, this trail, to last forever.

But no sooner do I think that, than I start thinking about breakfast, like, where will I have it? What will I order?

I want coffee. I want pancakes. Or maybe waffles.

And I start to feel in a hurry to get to Cripple Creek.

The trail sort of disappears, and all I’m thinking about is destination. Destination, and a pot of coffee. And syrup, to pour on the waffles.

Then I notice that all the time I’ve been thinking this, the landscape has changed. The trail must have gained elevation, for I’ve left the willows behind, and now I’m entering into pine meadows, dotted with maples.

I can’t figure out why the maples have autumn colored- leaves. Then I realize it’s new growth and catkins. I hope the frost didn’t snip the buds.

The trail continues along the river until it veers northwest along a tributary, Cripple Creek, and soon, I’m in the town named after the creek.

I feel almost shocked to see people. I hear them before I see them, and I realize that, even though it’s been only a day since I’ve spoken to anyone, I’ve sort of forgotten how to process spoken language. The voices sound like water, like wind, like birdsong, and it takes a shift in perspective for me to realize that they are speaking words that carry meaning, and that I might be expected to reply.

They seem excited to see me–the first thruhiker of the season! I guess it’s a big deal down here that the trail runs through the town. Everyone who hikes the trail brings in revenue, so hikers are welcome. And thruhikers are celebrities.

They want to take selfies with me–the first hiker of the season.

I meet a young scout. He asks me my trailname.

“I don’t have one yet,” I tell him. You can’t give yourself a trailname. It has to be given to you by other hikers, and I haven’t hiked enough to have earned one.

“Can I give you one?” he asks me.

I guess it’s OK. I mean, this kid isn’t another thruhiker, but he’s a scout. He tells me his scout project this year is hiking all of the trail that goes through Cripple Creek. It’s about five miles–but for a little kid, that’s a lot.

“Sure,” I tell him. “Give me my trailname.”

“Firsty,” he says, “since you’re the first.”

In town, I stop by Whole Foods. I get breakfast at the breakfast bar: tofu scramble, steel-cut oats with honey, berries, and walnuts, seven-grain toast, and coffee with refills. I eat while my phone recharges. Then I wander through the store, picking up things, and putting them back on the shelf. I can’t decide what to buy.

At last I settle on dry mixes of hummus, bean dip, falafel. Wraps. Nori packs. And I can’t resist strawberries. Everything is light and will fit in my pack. I also buy a lunch for the trail, with enough for supper: dolmas, couscous salad, more falafels.

As I’m checking out, I get this sudden inspiration to pick up a deck of cards and a pocket-size sketch pad, so I’ll have something to do at camp before bed. I love solitaire, and I get this pleasant vision of me sitting on my sleeping bag, with a spread of cards before me. Shuffle, shuffle, flip. But they don’t have any at the store, so I walk through town to find a place that might have these. Finally, I see a toy store, and they have tiny decks of cards, with pictures of mice on the back. The face cards are little mice, too. They’re adorable, especially the Jack of Clubs, my favorite card. They have a tiny sketchpad and this really cool black pen and a 3B pencil.

I feel pretty happy as I head back to the trail.

I’m still full from my huge breakfast, so I hike for a few hours before I stop for lunch. The trail follows the river west, and I get the feeling of how everything flows to the sea, though it will be a good week of walking before I finally get there.

It’s so peaceful, and I’m glad that I’m Firsty the first, for there’s no one else on the trail, and I hear the water and the birds. I track the shifts in light, and that’s how I measure my day.

I get in the zone and forget to take pictures. I just walk. The trail feels good, my legs feel good, I’m even starting to feel comfortable with my pack.

As I reach Dawson County Park, where I’ve planned to camp tonight, I smell something amazing. Pretzels, coffee, and vanilla cupcakes!

There’s a vendor booth set up there, and Eric, this nice guy who gives hiker-discounts, is working it.

I have leftovers for supper, so I think about skipping buying anything. But at last, I settle for a cupcake, for desert.

I ask him if he’ll be there in the morning, and he will. So I have breakfast covered for tomorrow. Cushy trail life! What’s even better is that there’s a restroom–with actual plumbing, hot water, and a shower.

After I finish my cupcake, I head to a quiet section of the park. Sunset pours this lavender color over the sky, and I feel blessed. I am free. Everywhere I turn, I am cared for. I thought life on the trail would be hardship, and I’m sure I will have plenty of tough times, but for right now, I am walking down Easy Street, and loving it.

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