Day Seventy Eight

Today's miles: 27 miles
Total miles: 1690

Since we had such a big climb this morning to tackle (6,000 feet in seven miles) the seven of us woke up at 5:00 am and got on trail by 6:00. The morning was much cooler than last night's sticky, buggy heat, and surprisingly, the first four miles or so were relatively easy. Granted, it was steep and it was exhausting climbing switchback after switchback, but I was proud of myself for tackling it. I felt, once again, like a thru-hiker. I was strong, I was fit, and even when my body ached and my breath came in ragged gasps as I climbed, my legs never tired. It was fascinating, really, how like little machines my legs had become. No matter the terrain or the elevation, my legs keep moving, step after step, climb after climb. And at the end I might be weary, but my legs were always ready for more. I felt badass.

The final three miles of the climb were much steeper, and my pace slowed, carefully struggling up the hill, but I didn't stop. That was the mark of a thru-hiker. We may be weary by the climb, but we press ever forward, determined to conquer. And I finally did. The climb we had been obsessing and worried about for so many days was suddenly over. We had climbed and conquered it, like every mountain before that, and every mountain after.

At the top we took a long snack break, looking out over the landscape. The smoke settled over the remnants of burned trees, obscuring our view. It was misty, and eerie, and everything was covered in a fine layer of ash. While we ate, the boys took up one of their favorite activities: rock throwing. I have discovered that in the wilderness, left to their own devices, all boys revert to five year olds. They find joys in the simple things of life: peeing over cliffs. Having farting contests. Consuming as many calories per meal as humanely possible. Making the best "that's what she said!" reference. Peeing on every tree they pass. Throwing rocks. Throwing bigger rocks. Throwing the biggest rocks they have the strength to lift.

And that was the activity of the afternoon when we reached our mountain top terminus. The boys began throwing rocks over the cliff. Soon they graduated from throwing rocks over a cliff to throwing rocks into trees. They tried to hit the trunks of the burned snags, and then the lingering branches, and then the pinecones attached to the branches.
"Wait, are those pinecones?" Giddyup asked.
"Either pinecones or... really still birds...." Sneaks said.

Soon the air was full of whizzing rocks, while Wocka Wocka, Katie and I laughed at the boy's antics. They graduated to bigger and bigger rocks, until we turned to see Sneaks and Sunshine hefting a huge boulder between them, struggling up the hill so that they could chuck it off the side of the mountain. Sunshine lifted it to waist-height, gave a huge yell and threw it.... where it fell in a dead weight, two feet in front of him.
"SON OF A BITCH!" he shrieked, while we all cracked up. "Dammit, that was going to be awesome!!"
Pretty soon they were back to throwing smaller rocks, and at each throw, Sunshine screamed out his frustrations in a hilariously high-pitched shriek:
"I hate you California!!"
You're hot all the time!!"
You make me sweat!!"
"You have way too many switchbacks!!"

We laughed and joined in and yelled at California. With Oregon so close in sight, it was easy to be excited to leave a state we had been hiking in for months.

After thoroughly letting out our frustrations in rock throwing, we moved on. The terrain mellowed out and I cruised. By 11:00 we had gone eleven miles and stopped for a long lunch break. We had another hill to climb after, but I was feeling good and tackled it with ease. We wanted to travel another ten miles to reach water for our campsite for the evening, but after five more miles a sudden thunderstorm rolled in and it began pouring. Everyone else decided to keep hiking, but Sunshine and I were wary. He was from Texas and I had grown up in Oklahoma, so we had a healthy respect for thunderstorms. Rather than continuing on, we took cover under some trees, hiding beneath his Tyvek ground cloth while the thunder shook the forest around us. We talked about his time working in New Zealand last summer, and after a short period of heavy storms, the rain finally passed over.

When the sky cleared, we hurried onward, trying to cover the final five miles before dark. The ground was covered in hailstones and we later learned that the others had eventually taken cover from the storm, as well. Sunshine and I reached camp by 8:00 where everyone else was setting up tents and gathering water for the night. Just as I finished setting up my tent it began raining again. We took shelter in our tents and fell asleep to the sound of rain on our tarps.