PCT Day 11: Opiates, God, and a Sickening Reentry

April 4, 2014

Mile 121 to Mile 127

I shifted under my quilt in the pre-dawn light, squirming away from the wet walls of my tent. Meander was up. When I stopped rustling my down, I could hear him moving.

Reluctantly, I pulled on my layers and headed up the mountainside in search of a place to dig a hole. The puffs of cloud over the ridge opposite my stance were tinged with pink.

“Anybody home?” Meander asked. I could see him pulling back the door of my frosty tent.

“I’m up here,” I called. “I’ll be right down.”

“We should talk about painkillers,” he said as I pushed through the brush and stepped heavily into camp.

I ate a disgustingly large cinnamon roll that Johnny found at a convenience store while staying at Monty’s. I was running low on water, but that was good. My foot didn’t hurt as much with a lighter pack. In my mesh first-aid sack I found a small orange bottle and dumped the vicodin into my filthy palm.

Twenty minutes later, as we hiked towards the boulder field where we thought we could camp the night before, the affectionate hiker name for vicodin, “hikeagain,” started making sense. My pace was good and the pain was tolerable. “But what kind of damage is this doing?” I wondered as I took step after step that only yesterday would have caused twinges of sharp pain.

My shoulders did not ache. My breathing was not labored. I didn’t notice the uphill grade. The only thing that hurt was my foot, and it was only vaguely sore. But even as I tried to convince myself that I could keep going, I knew that I was being stupid. Injuries suck. Recurring injuries are worse. Permanent injuries that get in the way of every single pastime you enjoy seem like death sentences.

I stopped to wait for Meander near the side trail that led to a road where I would be picked up that night. We followed colorful signs past towering metal tanks to a dilapidated house where Kushy, a hiker and trail angel, offered water and shelter to passing hikers.

I sold my solar charger to Meander because his had broken and I would have a chance to buy a new one while I was off the trail. We went inside to get out of the wind and Kushy told us about the two strange “hikers” we’d last seen after the first night at Monty’s.

Kushy had given them a pack shakedown (where an experienced hiker analyzes a new hiker’s gear choices and removes unneeded items to lighten the load) and had taken all their knives. The pair had apparently arrived with only a jar of peanut butter that they had taken from Monty’s. They had one sleeping bag between the two of them. Kushy had told them that a lot of people up the trail knew about them and that their experience would likely not be a pleasant one if they continued trying to hike in their current style. He suggested they might be better off accepting a ride to town and trying a new lifestyle. They took him up on the offer, and the two had been off the trail for a couple days by the time Kushy told Meander and me about it.

Meander hung out to talk to Kushy for a little while before collecting some water to continue hiking. It was only noon when he gave me a hug and walked up the dirt road to the trail.

For the next few hours, Kushy and I sat in the cluttered living room eating M&Ms and cashews from my food bag and discussing flaws in the education system, conspiracy theories, politics, and the existence of god (just about everything I was told not to discuss on the trail).

We bumped down the dirt road in a beat up pickup with no passenger seat so I could find cell service to text my dad and sister and confirm the address. On the way back to the house, Kushy stopped at a spot where he had discovered he could access free wifi. I planted myself in the dirt and picked at the sparkling rocks while he checked facebook and talked to people with an internet connection.    

At the house, we sank into the same chairs we’d occupied for the previous 4 hours and talked until darkness crept into the house and we were only silhouettes staring out the window at the quaking shadows of leaves and the black mountainside beyond.

My dad and sister arrived around 8:30 and after a somber greeting, I put my trekking poles in the back of the prius, thanked Kushy, and rolled into the darkness away from the PCT.

We had a reservation at a hotel in Indio. On the drive there, the lights from the dashboard made me sick. At stoplights, my head lolled forward and back and I stared at the artificially illuminated streets, stunned out of the circadian rhythm I’d slid into during the last two weeks.

By the time we reached the hotel, it was after 10 and I was utterly drained. I took a long shower, tried to write in my journal, and failed to get comfortable on a mattress that should’ve felt like heaven after sleeping on a cut-down ridgerest.

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