Having Fun?

It occurs to me that on the pay phone with J. in Tuolumne Meadows, three days in, I never told him “I’m having a great time!” or anything like it. “I’m doing fine,” I said, and described a hundred things, and listed four or five doohickeys to add to the box he’s shipping to my next resupply point.

Even a week in, a good portion of mental space is occupied by fretting about clouds and forest fire smoke. The trail is occasionally a slog. There are also long, radiant periods of confidence, exultation and animal satisfaction: climbs conquered, vast views that I could not have imagined, hot oatmeal down my throat in the chill mornings, every wildflower a welcoming friend. (I know, I know, that last one is hackneyed. It is also absolutely true.) My appetite has increased, and I have discovered that my boring lunch of peanut butter tortillas is more palatable if 1) the tortilla is folded, not (*gag*) rolled, and 2) shards of Pringles are added for crunch. My muscles are not sore, blessedly there’ve been no blisters, and I’m getting used to high altitudes. I’m starting to feel like a Real Thru-Hiker.

Also: Doritos Munchies Cheese Fix Flavored Snacks... grrr!!!
Also: Doritos Munchies Cheese Fix Flavored Snacks!!!

But am I having fun?

As a culture we’re obsessed with Having Fun… just watch some commercials. I’ve been living outside for a week, seven days of such diverse and intense experience that time has warped. Not quite a space-time singularity; space for a hiker is linear and progressive, but time! Time is deep and rich and… thick. Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” People say cheerily (usually at work), “Wow, today’s going by fast!” As far as we know, we only get one life on earth, wonderful and terrible and beautiful. What a privilege to be awake for it, happy or not.

So: I don’t know yet if I’m having fun, but I’m DEFINITELY living thick.

The sun is abundant, constant. Not a drop of rain. The tops of my ears fry despite persistent applications of Neutrogena 50… the mistake is not the hiker “bath” in a secluded grove: taking off one piece of clothing at a time and dripping water from my liter bottle with the cap slightly unscrewed, an ersatz showerhead, scrubbing and rinsing layers of dry dust and sweat from faithful body parts as a minor thank-you. No, the mistake is that after the glorious pouring of water overhead and a rigorous scalp-scrubbing, I fail to reapply sunscreen up there.

But the bath was necessary, y'know?
But I really did need the bath.

The moon, too, is powerful. The Full Sturgeon Moon beams through my tent for nights on end. I don’t know how it seems to stay full for so long. It’s what reporters have started to call a “supermoon”: full moon at perigee. The tent fabric is nearly sheer and the whiteness lightens night like day, sharp shadows and all. My friend Randy says that moonbathing is good for the soul. My body may be mostly filthy, but thanks to the moon, my soul’s damn clean.

I’m fifty miles into the JMT, but hiked 116 miles this first week – obviously, I’ve become comfortable venturing off the beaten path. One evening I take a spur trail toward a chain of lakes: Ediza, Iceberg, Cecile, Minaret, each higher than the last, and shimmy across a fallen log to the far side of the creek for a deluxe, private campsite. The sun rises red from smoke, as it sometimes does, meaning it’s time to focus on the near views, rather than mourn the craggy peaks I will not see.

Red morning along Ediza Creek
Red morning on Ediza Creek

Ediza Lake is nice, but Iceberg is gorgeous, deep blue from glacial melt, pure though hazy from drifting smoke. From there, the trail becomes indistinct, heading up a long and steep scree field toward the next lake. It doesn’t bug me that I decide not to take it. I’m alone out here, can’t be slipping a hundred feet into lakes, y’know? Making decisions feels good, using my judgment, trusting it. I’m getting excited… Devil’s Postpile National Monument is next on the docket, and I’m feeling strong, healthy, alive…

OK, maybe I’m having fun too.

Iceberg Lake. Photo pales in comparison.
Iceberg Lake

Full moon rising

It’s so hot that there is nothing to do but melt glaciers over my skin and drink the Flathead Lake once or twice. The sun’s packed and gone and the clock hands fuss until there is no one to call and nothing to clean and certainly no dish worth heating the oven for this evening. Nowhere to go but out, out with the dogs and alley smells and monsters, out to stand on the falling-down porch and watch the full moon come up.

The sliver of icy light seeps over the mountain’s edge and then lifts its white shape after. Dry seas are revealed, scars on an old face, and shape comes and comes and comes. Celestial kissing terrestrial, a slow round illusion of touch. It’s a long kiss, the tips of the pines stretching for the last flicks of light. Then it is up and off, on its own course again, solemn and blank. But before it goes back to messing with tides and moods and telescopes, it sends a wind. It slips between the moon and the hill. It steals down the mountain, through the alley and into the angry hot stacks of boxes full of people trying to sleep. And at last, it kills the hottest day in a thousand years, which crawls past crying into my oven to die.