Solve et Coagula
Solve et coagula is a principle in alchemy that translates to ‘dissolve and coagulate’. It means that something must be broken down before it can be built up, and I think one of its homes resides in thru-hiking.
They say that the beginning of a thru hike is the honeymoon phase – and they say it comes to an end. This is where, for most, the true mettle arises. I’ve been struggling with the end of my honeymoon phase for about a week now. The climbs in Washington are intense, the hiking in general more challenging, and I can feel Fall on the wind already, taking my sun and making the days and nights cooler.
I’m not a huge fan of this transition phase, but I knew it was inevitable. So when my friends Anna and April showed up to Snoqualmie Pass with donuts and dogs and excellent company, out poured my diatribe on just how hard this all is. It’s amazing how much that marathon mentality takes out of you, the realization that this is only one small moment of many, many moments past and yet to be.
It’s not just the mental game that’s tough.
Pushing your body through 20+ mile days, day after day after day, takes its toll. It’s an exhaustion unlike any you’ve ever experienced. Overuse injuries just don’t have enough time to recover at this pace. Each day is different. Sometimes you can’t fall asleep for hours because of the pain radiating up your legs, and others you fall asleep within seconds. Some days you wake up ready to hike, and others you muster all your strength to pull your aching body off the floor and push through the day. But the answer is always the same. You have to walk. And walk and walk and walk.
As I sit here at Snoqualmie Pass writing this, my body is tired through and through. All the way to the center of my skeleton. I can’t sleep in the hotel room, for what reason I don’t know, so I stay up watching movies on my phone. At midnight I get up and eat the second half of the pizza I’d bought at the shop next door. At first light, I reach into the freezer for the pint of ice cream I’d stashed there, get back in bed and eat the whole thing. Then I go to the pancake house and eat a stack of buckwheat pancakes, eggs and bacon.
Somewhere after Snoqualmie, I met a guy called Piñata and his wife, though I can’t remember her name. Mrs. Piñata. We got to talking about the town vortex. Being in town is exhausting and often not relaxing at all. There are so many errands to do and so much food to eat. When you leave town, you’re not really rested and you’re in a food coma that lasts most of the day. This makes it hard to do big miles and get the hiking groove back, like town has sucked everything out of us. Mrs. Piñata said they’d taken a few days off in Oregon and every time she felt like she was starting from scratch. The town vortex is out to get us.
In addition to my wonderful friends showing up, I received some care packages at Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass! Jess and Dave sent a big box and the first thing I saw when I opened it was a loufa, which was a surprise. What was I going to do with that? But Jess and Dave are pros, and that loufa was everything I didn’t know I wanted. I also received packages from Yvonne and Ali that had all sorts of treats! It’s fun to see the things people pick out to send, and to add some variety to my food bag. These always make me smile and laugh so much when I get them, and I really appreciate everyone who’s taken the time to send something along!
It was time to wave goodbye to my ninja suit, aka the accidentally all black hiking outfit I’d been wearing since I started. I lost weight! A ton of weight. Too much weight. So my mom mailed me a new set of clothes to wear that won’t fall off me when I hike, and I think she did a great job picking them out! Thanks Mom!
On that same topic of weight loss, I’d gone into this hike not planning to meticulously count calories. I’d heard that my Hiker Hunger (the beast within) would kick in within a couple weeks of starting, so I figured I’d just let my body tell me when it was hungry. This was the wrong strategy. My Hiker Hunger has yet to kick in on trail, so I was way underconsuming to the point where my body was just consuming itself. So now I count calories! I eat between 3500-4000 calories per day and I have to literally force myself to eat all day long. I hated it (and the added weight to my pack) at first but now it’s starting to make me feel better and I suppose I can’t complain about that. And I do a pretty good job of eating my weight in food when I get to towns.
Coming out of Snoqualmie, I’d been gifted a giant bag of buffalo style chicken jerky. Something I’d probably never pick out myself, but that’s part of the fun of gifts. My first night out of town, I ate a ton of this jerky along with some peanut butter pretzels and Hi-Chew candies. I’d been getting over a head cold and feeling a bit woozy, but I went to bed with some added stomach pains. It was easy to ignore, seemed to come and go just once, so I went to bed. I woke up at midnight feeling the same stomach pain, rolled over and felt that pre-barf pang of nausea. Oh boy. From my Guatemala days, I knew that I’d puke as soon as I sat up, so I reached above my head in search of a gallon ziploc bag. I found one and dumped its contents, sat up and puked in the bag. I took a breath, puked again and felt instantly better. But now I had a bag full of puke. In my tent. Thankfully the rain didn’t start until 2am, so I was able to deal with the puke situation in moderate peace. Turns out that jerky was 3 months expired! Oops.
And I’ve become Cheryl Strayed
You’ve all seen Wild, right? In lieu of the ninja suit, I’ve become Cheryl Strayed. In fact, a few people on trail have nicknamed me Not Reese because they think I look like Reese Witherspoon. But anyway, part of the reason my friends came out to meet me in Snoqualmie was that I need a bigger backpack for the Sierra. My 38L pack wouldn’t be able to fit a bear can and extra layers for the colder temperatures, sad as I was to see her go. It’s strange the spiritual connection you have with your gear after a while. The other day, I found myself apologizing to my hiking poles for the day I wouldn’t be using them every day anymore.
So now I have a 65L pack and it’s ridiculous. I don’t know why anyone needs a 65L pack to do anything ever, except hike the Sierra and climb mountains. The only good news about this backpack is I can fit a bag of tortilla chips in it. And then I can still fit my entire body in on top of that. Adjusting to a new pack has been strange and I feel like I have a sloppy cumbersome too-big pack that I’m lugging around for the day I actually need it. It rubs me in new spots and has a heavier frame, but I know it’ll get better with time, and already it’s better than it was when I started.
Ugh. Somewhat of a new thing for me, my body has decided that we’re allergic to bees now, so I carry epi pens. Yesterday I was making my way downhill when a man stopped to let me pass, looked at me in a weird way and said, “Just so you know there’s a beehive before the bridge up there, right over the trail.”
“Oh. Are there like bees flying around it?”
He nodded, “It’s ACTIVE,” he said, his eyes bugging out on the second word.
“Oh cool. I’m allergic to bees.”
So I decided to camp before the bridge that night, figuring I’d save the hive for the morning. Something about that man had seemed off to me, maybe it was the gun strapped across the center of his chest on top of his clothing. But in any case, I never did come across that beehive.
What I did come across was a bee. In my tent. I was grabbing stuff from my pack to put in the tent when a bee lazily floated its way into my living space. I let it hang out for a while while I made dinner and did my night chores. Then I tried to get it out. I stood outside in my socks and shook the tent, opening the tent and fly as wide as I could, but the bee had grown fond of its new home. I stood there shaking the tent, flapping the door, shining a light on the bee, but nothing worked. I grabbed my jetboil and a lid and sat in the tent to try to catch it in my pot, but quickly chickened out of that. In the end, I caught it between my pot and the wall of my tent and slid it across three separate walls before releasing it like a confetti popper and running to the other side of the campsite. Glad to report I am unscathed and unstung.
That same night, a mouse chewed its way through the mesh of my tent and jumped into my opsack (an odor proof food sack). I’d fallen asleep without closing it and this mouse was after my pistachios. I heard some rustling at 2:30am and knocked the side of the tent above my head, looked up and saw the clear shadow of a mouse run across the top of my tent. I didn’t think much of it, but spotted the hole the next day and thankfully duct tape is doing the trick for now.
Today I was surprised by a rustling in the brush next to me. I always think it’s a bear. It’s always a chipmunk. This time, though, it was a family of deer. At first I just saw mom, and then I saw her two Bambis behind her. She knew I was there, sometimes lifting her head to check on me. I stood there looking at her for a while, thinking about the giant forest surrounding us, surprised by how calm she was. “What do you do if you get lost?,” I asked her. “Does it even matter?”.
Happy to dissolve, ready to coagulate.
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