Day zero: San Diego and the secret panic attack

San Diego rolled into sight like a colorful beach ball,

immediately charming with the sailboats and the ocean and the airport all chummy as if they’d been friends forever. The cars were first little toys, and then they grew into real cars, with people driving them. The plane touched down expertly. Turtle lady and the softball player grabbed their bags and ran off to do non-terrifying things. I gathered my backpack with a growing sense of dread. Suddenly this all seemed so crazy and foolish and over my head.

A trail angel was picking people up at a set time, so I had several hours to kill in the airport. I wandered around, a ghost flitting about.  The time elapsed in impossible slow motion, a boa constrictor squeezing the breath out of me. Planes came and went. I drank coffee and I didn’t. No texts, no emails were coming in for me to manage. I had handled everything and now nothing was happening. I was getting the space I asked for and now I was a gps dot to follow on a screen, all gear and no game.

The famous yellow pompon, the official San Diego symbol of not being abandoned at the airport

When the time came I stood at the H for hiker zone sign as instructed,

waiting on the yellow pompon and the shiny faced volunteer who, for some reason, had agreed to fight airport traffic to get me and deliver me into the loving arms of the famous Scout and Frodo, who had no idea what a misunderstanding this all was, and what a fraud I was, and how I really should just be back at home running whites through the dryer. Why did everyone just believe me when I told them I was a hiker? Why did no one demand proof? The angel arrived, grabbed other hikers flung here and there, and we small talked our way through highways and suburbs and charming neighborhoods to our base camp at Scout and Frodo’s.

My first trail magic – some mom-made cookies (not my mom but still)

Everyone was quietly preparing for the morning, an awkward but friendly silence falling amongst us,

people spraying permethrin on clothes and shaking bags and tents out, stuffing sacks. Everyone was busy, except me, because I had no idea what I should be working on. I found a spot under the big white canopies out in the backyard, dumped my pack of its contents and began secretly panicking. Half of this stuff I had never used before. Everything was new. Shiny. Mysterious and very, very light.

Tears wavered in my eyes, making everything blurry. Never before has the phrase what am I doing run through someone’s mind as often as it did mine. It became my mantra as I walked into town to mail my normal clothes, the clothes of a sane person, to my end point of Warner Springs, where undoubtedly the volunteer who offered to collect my final effects would gather them somberly in a weeks’ time. The post office lady stamped it (quite casually, as if this was no big deal) and told me to have fun! I said something back and floated out of the building on a wave of immeasurable stress and dread.

I just mailed all my sane person clothes to another town

Back at the house we pittered around adjusting things, chatting some, boxing shakedown rejects and leaving them with Scout, borrowing sharpies and baggies and digging through hiker boxes for things we forgot, smaller versions of things we didn’t. Eat dinner, brush teeth in the garage sink, more small talk, the last few things settled, headlamps on and nestle into our chosen spots outside. I learned how quickly hikers get quiet and fall asleep. A few sounds of someone blowing up their sleeping pad, the soft blue glow of a few cell phone screens, a sneeze, a zipper being pulled. The neighbor dog barked for a few minutes until someone let it inside. Slowly and slowly the night sounds dissipated and all was utterly quiet.

Despite the harsh reality of the early morning departure, I couldn’t sleep.

My mind was full to overflowing with every emotion imaginable. I tossed and turned as gently as I could, my pad making the sounds of one thousand compostable sunchips bags. Couldn’t stop thinking. I felt a strong pull to go outside so I slipped out as silently as I could manage and stood there under the San Diego moon, defiantly awake.

The lawn furniture was arranged in a half circle, the sign of former hiker bonding. But for now, the sounds of a sleepy neighborhood curled up the hill and wrapped itself around me. I sank into a chair and closed my eyes, soaking in this moment, fresh and vulnerable. Just me, Sabrina. Not mom or wife, no trail name and no logical reason to be here, sleeping on astroturf in a stranger’s backyard. Out of my depth and finally, for some reason here in the blue moonlight, not afraid. Peace washed over me. Something told me it was time. So I zipped back into my tent and fell asleep listening to the sound of wind, and the just-begun rain tapping on the tarp.

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