I’m sitting alone at my parents’ kitchen table, eating a piece of chocolate cake left over from my mom’s birthday party. It’s dark, save for the glow of my laptop screen. Pictures of people doing fun things on Facebook. Job listings. Health insurance application forms. The stuff of existential angst.
My phone rings. It’s Carrot.
“Tick Tock, what are you doing right now?”
I look at my computer, the half-eaten piece of cake. “I uhh, ummm…”
“Wanna come do the L2H with me and Chance tomorrow?”
I first met Carrot and Notachance (Chance, for short) on the PCT last year in Wrightwood, a quaint southern California mountain town tucked into the piney folds of the Angeles National Forest. (Actually, Carrot and I had met years before when we took a writing class together at Portland State University, but, no mind.) We shot the shit over pitchers of Coors and cheeseburgers and ZZ Top songs on the juke box at the Raccoon Saloon, then squeezed into a motel room with eight other hikers because that’s the way it goes out there (and that’s the way it should be.) Both had hiked the PCT before (it was Chance’s fourth time!!), and the certitude and speed with which they traversed the 2,660-mile long footpath was intimidating, inspiring, and impossible for me to match on my maiden voyage.
That was the last time I’d see them on the PCT. But we’d managed to stay in touch. Forged friendships and followed each others’ journeys. Last October, when they hiked the Lowest to Highest Route and blogged about it, I was rapt. [Read Notachance’s account HERE and Carrot’s account HERE] Just three bad-ass women (their friend Orbit hiked it with them) tackling a route that only a handful have ever dared attempt. A 130 mile backcountry route that stretches from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the lower 48, to Mt. Whitney, the highest. A route that traverses arid deserts and snowcapped peaks. A route of extremes. A route where natural water sources aren’t really a thing, where you have to cache gallon jugs by the side of the road and carry more than 6 liters to make it through a 45-mile dry stretch. A route where heat exhaustion, scaling sheer rock walls from which a fall could prove fatal, and seeing more tarantulas than humans for five and a half days are real things. A route that, it would seem, you’d only want to do once. If at all.
But when a fluke early season storm dumped snow on Carrot and Chance and foiled their High Sierra hiking plans, they decided, L2H round two? Why the hell not.
“Yes!” I say to Carrot, laughing. She laughs, too.
We get off the phone and I turn on the lights in the dark apartment. Pour myself a glass of water and chug it in front of the sink. Refill it, down another. It’s never too early to camel up. Pace around the living room and think about all of the things I have to do before I leave tomorrow, all of the things I should be doing instead. And why did I let myself get so soft since the AT? Should I call Carrot and cancel? Is this a really really bad idea? Definitely not, I decide. This sufferfest is the best idea ever.
I sit cross-legged on the carpet in the tiny spare bedroom/office/storage space where I’ve been holed up since finishing the Appalachian Trail in August. Everything I own is strewn across the floor, on the pull-out couch. I rifle through the piles of stuff, toss my down jacket, sleeping bag, base layers, socks, shorts, shirt, sports bra, tent, headlamp, sleeping pad, water filter, phone charger, and headphones into a corner of the room. Shove them all into their places inside my pack. Go back to the kitchen table with a pen and paper. Write a list of things to do, to buy, before I drive to Lone Pine tomorrow. My nerves are sparks. Everything’s electric. I am the Fourth of July.
I sleep horribly, curled up in the corner of my parents’ king-sized bed (they’re in New York visiting my sister.) In the morning, I print off three sets of maps; toss a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, and advil into a ziploc bag; download the GPS track to my phone; drink way too much coffee. I call Carrot, to make sure that the trip is still on. It is. Pop! Pop! Pop! go the fireworks inside of me.