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 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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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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Thruhiker: Day 0

We were going to get married, but we didn’t. I’m glad. I’m OK with being somebody’s girlfriend, or even somebody’s lover, but I don’t want to be anybody’s wife.

After my boyfriend moved out, I sold everything. Bought my Osprey Arial AG 55 pack, my ultra-light quilt, a Tarptent, rose-purple Salomon shoes, a few pairs of socks, shorts, t-shirts. Water bottles. Cliff bars. I am ready to go.

I’m hiking the Cross Country Scenic Trail, affectionately known to thruhikers as C2C, corner-to-corner, because it runs from the southeast corner of the nation to the northwest corner.

The trail is 2,055 miles. If I hike 20 miles a day (and the serious thruhikers do upwards of 30), it will take me nearly 103 days. That’s only three months.

I’ve downloaded the Guthook app, so I can scope out the best tent sites and places for water. Hikers post comments, too, so I’ll be able to keep up with the latest conditions.

I guess it’s so millennial to be hiking with a phone. My dad, he hiked this trail when he was a little younger than I am. Of course, he didn’t have a phone, except for the payphones at ranger stations or refill stops along the way.

I don’t have any timeline, except that dictated by the seasons and their weather. I don’t have any place I have to get to, except the next tent site, and the one after that, until I get to the end of the trail.

It can take me three months. It can take me five. It could even take six, but after that, the weather will start to get cold up north.

The point is that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve got my gear. I’ve stocked up on food. I’ve set up my tent in our old bedroom, and I’m sleeping in it tonight, to get used to it.

Tomorrow, when I wake up, I pack my tent, I pack my supplies, and then I leave my apartment. I drop off the keys with the manager. And I’m off. I’m hiking across the country, and I’m leaving all this–all of it–behind.

Author’s note: Hey, what’s this? It’s a new SimLit series! I’ve been inspired by a thruhiker’s blog, Roaming Wild Rosie, which tracks her route along the Pacific Crest Trail (which happened to be one of my dad’s favorite trails and one I grew up hiking sections of). I can’t really take five months away from my job and home to hike the trail, so I thought I’d send a Sim on a trek. Maisie Santos will be traveling by foot from Willow Creek all the way to Brindleton Bay, and in my imagination, that’s from the southeast corner of the Sim continent to the northwest. Let’s say it’s 2055 miles. She’s blogging her adventures on the trail, and I hope you come along for the journey!

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