August 1, 2022.
I haven’t moved in an hour from the creaking poolside lounge chair that is my home now, surrounded by the parking lot of a Shakespeare-themed hotel. Ziplock bops over from her first-floor room across the lot in the endearingly exaggerated way she moves her body, like a marionette dressed as hiker trash. “Daisy”, she says, “new team plan.” It has changed from an hour ago, when it had also changed. I am struggling and squinting up at her, into the irritated afternoon sky, choked with smoke, and then down at the stagnant pool water covered in ash, in Ashland, which is really a bit much, like calling a place Burney.
We met Magic and Ziplock yesterday, or I guess the day before, since the first time was on Marble Mountain in the Trinity Alps, but our fates didn’t fully align until yesterday when we were evacuated from Seiad Valley. Seiad sounds biblical, like where a curse was detonated on its misbehaving nonbelievers, or a fire. Seiad, sciatica, my head says. The fire crews dumped us in a tumbleweeded place called Happy Camp. We thumbed it until a guy in an RV pulled over to tell the dozen of us standing around the highway that he could take us all, but also that he needed one of our debit cards to get gas first. So we shrugged and sardined ourselves in the back, around a folding dining table, along windows that wouldn’t open, stuffed our packs in the closet bathroom, and found out there was no AC. We gave each other vacant stares while he rambled, and then finally the RV, hallelujah, would not start. The guy was sweet to pull over, but this was suffocating and dangerous. While he went to look for a jump, we all fled.
Back on the asphalt, with our thumbs out again, we danced with cardboard signs and ate strawberries and waved at the traffic under the peach and pewter haze of the everywhere above us McKinney fire. A couple in a huge pickup pulled over, but we were now eight, and wouldn’t all fit. Completely unprompted, they suggested what if they went back and also got their other very large vehicle. And then take all of us four hours to Grants Pass. It was unreal, like we’d been visited by actual angels. In the back of the air conditioned pickup, we made new friends with Magic and Ziplock. Ziplock said that our tramily- Bruja, Clash, Big Mags, me- all seem to really like each other. From the poolside lounger I stretch and think about the parable of the farmer and my chicken little faith that the sky is forever falling.
Chapter and verse.
The new plan, from Ashland, is to do the Oregon Coast Trail together. The Inciweb live map of Oregon is a chaotic string of pulsing red dots like exploded mosquito bites along the whole length of the PCT, and even if we get through them without being evacuated again, it means checking our garmins constantly and hacking smoke and being tense and anxious all the time. Something inside me hyperventilates and kicks at the thought of doing the coast though, because the PCT is a book with chapters in order for a reason and I can’t. just. skip. chapters. But I’ve also been to this place before, inside; before the trail, before I even got in to hiking, before I was able to recognize this situation for what it is. I make up stories about how happiness looks and then make myself miserable chasing them. Everything I ever let go of has my claw marks in it.
The next morning we board a bus so full of hikers that the driver can’t take everyone. Later, we wait an hour for a transfer in another small town, outside a courthouse. A young person in a tank top runs out of the courthouse with some rolled papers in one of their hands and whoops and we all cheer for them. When we get to the coast, there’s a giant Fred Meyer waiting for us to do a full resupply. (If I wrote a book about the PCT it might be a guide to every store. I love them. I love how much you can understand about a place by peoplewatching in its stores, what its economy is like, how it is to live there. I fawn over coupons and careful pyramids of produce. Spread my ashes in the floral department, as fertilizer.)
For the next few weeks, we have the time of our lives. We lick slugs and bushwhack up and down beachheads, climb sea stacks, poke dead things with our poles, eat fish and chips, and spend a whole day goofing in a kitschy dinosaur theme park from the 70’s. The 101 gets scary where there’s no shoulder, and we stick out our thumbs and get rescued by a whole bus. We pass some people biking from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. My folks meet us, my mom joins for the rest of Oregon, and my husky is going to come all the way to Canada. We spend a weekend at an airbnb in Eugene on the way back to trail and go to Pride. There is, in the quiet and easily forgotten fragments of things I know about living, the gentle reminder that the aimlessness of these adventures with no direction except into one another’s memories has a kind of purpose that is always waiting patiently to be known, to be invited in. And that that invitation is always a choice.
It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important*.
The PCT this year is going to be different. The snowpack has already buried anyone’s ability to describe it. I’m hiking it again this year, and I can’t wait to meet everyone and find our way through the confusion together. In 2017, in part because of a heatwave, the water crossings were deadly; it’s likely we’ll face similar or worse conditions. If you skip or flip or if you need to do this or that for your own reasons or for your safety, know that it will be fine, and that you are going to have a blast regardless. For all that this year will be different, it will also be yours; if people get mad and post about when or where or how someone hiked, someone they haven’t met, maybe you, remember that no one is going to remember or care about those things in the future. Or even July.
My hope for you is also that you find a way of abandon and trust and vulnerability with people you did not imagine could know you so well, so fast. Find that you are cared for by something beyond our capacity to understand, a lesson the trail is astonishingly good at providing. May the beauty you’ve known rise up in the sudden dawn of the beauty you don’t know yet, may this old gift wrapped in a new one keep you for as long as it takes to know as deeply in your blood as you can that you are held and loved by it all. That for as much as you may feel yourself trying to find it, it is also trying to find you.
*the Little Prince
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