This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5 (now +25% complete!). It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.
I got to thinking I was sunburned and went back into the water hoping that would arrest the burn. I dangled for a while on the edge against a bank of river rocks, protecting the last of my beer: two figures on the other side but without my glasses, I couldn’t make them out. Looked like a couple, a guy and a woman. Swam over and said hello, but then realized they were the two hikers I’d seen earlier, two awkward-smart guys, but nice that they had each other’s company, I thought. The type of person you ask a question of and they think for a while how to answer it because they’re trying to dumb down their own thought process to meet the cranial level of someone like me.
But they weren’t coming in the water and for that, implied me foolhardy. The younger guy stripped down to his boxer shorts (boxer shorts?) and hobbled into the choke point as his older friend filmed. And I kept talking but they ignored me, perhaps because they were filming. And then the older guy said well, I’m going to get my book. And with that they were both gone, and I got my staff, propped myself up, climbed out. It was shaped like a hook, like the letter C, and I kept the sharp end forward like a comma, I like commas.
So now, just 24 hours out it already felt like a week or longer. It felt like no-time, the now. I’d gotten so far up the trail earlier and come back by noon, debated leaving early—possibly showing up unannounced Friday night, and what a homecoming that would be: but in part a disappointment, having already resigned myself to being gone through Saturday, and for my family, their non-dad time watching movies, their girl time. And I thought what a fool, thinking to leave early. The weather, the camp site was perfect. I had a few beers and a flask of rye whiskey, a freeze-dried beef stroganoff. Fog was coming and going in wisps, playing shell games with the rocks in the distance.
A figure appeared by the creek and was calling down to me. To be honest, it felt like an intrusion. It was a woman, I could hear her accent. I walked closer (it was my bad ear, the left one): she wanted to know if the water was fresh or salt. Good question. It’s unclear, when the tide comes and the two co-mingle. I said fresh, you can filter it. She asked if there were any sites down here, on the beach. I said not really, but gestured, perhaps she could come down if there were no spots in the real campground, which is just a pit toilet, a handful of flat areas.
I wasn’t sure if she was alone or with someone else. I got the alone vibe. Who sends their girlfriend down to pump the water, to scout out a site? That’s what the guy did. Or maybe she had a friend, I don’t know. She said thanks and disappeared into the trees and I sat on a log and couldn’t stop thinking, would she come back? I liked the privacy down here. You could really let your freak flag fly. I’d planned to play that Hunger Strike song and howl at the eagles and the surf later, to do my best Eddie Vedder, to get into my cups.
She came back, with her pack. The pack looked about 50 pounds. It had shit dangling off, a tin cup and a whistle, a dream catcher. Stuff dangling off packs is bad, agitates me. Reminded me of Dawn and I, the time we did the Oil City hike and just jammed all our shit in the pack, including a two pound jar of peanut butter we never opened, not once. No wonder we had such a hard time, that poorly distributed weight.
She looked spent, I asked if she was okay. She said, yes. I still had that backwoods mountaineering “first response” thing engrained in me. I had a first aid kit, even brought some feminine hygiene, good to stop unplanned bleeding of all kinds. My lips were burned but I was cold for some reason, wearing a balaclava that made me look like John Cleese in the Holy Grail film, Lancelot, spearing maidens in the wedding party.
I asked if she was German or French but she said Belgian. Actually Flemish, but I didn’t get that. Was it the same as English, to British? Like, more territorial than country, nation-bound? She’d come from Oxbow, Hoh-Oxbow. I’d heard of that but wasn’t sure exactly: it was 17 miles south. She’d hauled that shit 17 miles, alone.
She looked around the beach for a spot. My area was sprawled out in quadrants, with different rooms: there was the obvious fire, cooking area, the sleeping area, a long pathway between, with wet clothes and socks strung out Gilligan’s Island style on various logs, collectible rocks in Druid patterns, my journal and pen, a shady place for my remaining beer, my boots…it did feel gluttonous, but offering her to come share my camp felt worse somehow. I gestured to an area to the side that looked OK, though rocky and small, and she asked how far the tide came up but I said I wasn’t really sure, I thought it would be alright, it was 2:11 AM tonight: I knew that much.
I went back to my fire, to gathering wood. She said she needed to freshen up, tugged at her shirt, made a face (“hot”), wanted to bathe and was the creek OK? I said it sure was, but worried maybe she thought I was trying to get her to swim so I could watch her, but I wasn’t. I went back to my fire, to gathering wood. I had three piles of varying thickness. She passed by with a runner’s bra and shorts and smiled, and I thought oh fuck. European, probably getting naked.
Others came down from the woods to the edge, to watch the sun set. I debated saving some beer for her but thought that could be misconstrued and finished it, tossed the can in the fire, remove all evidence. Dawn always chastises me for burning aluminum in the wilderness but it’s better than carrying it out. I finished the stroganoff and burned that too, the bag. It went up like an angry blue fist, curling in on itself.
The Belgian girl came back, now animated by her swim. She asked more about my bivy sack, what happens when it rains? That was a good question, I didn’t know. I’d never been in it, in the rain. And we traded small talk about our plans for the next day, she was going past Toleak Point where I’d been, further north. I should offer for her to sit by the fire I thought since it would be a pain for her to make one and we were so close, but I didn’t. I had enough problems already. One of my problems was the fact that my life was so perfect I couldn’t fully appreciate it. There was more of it than I could put in my pockets, like all those precious rocks on the beach. You just had to take some and leave the rest, and walk away. All those rocks were like memories, and some you’d never make. That was the beauty of life, in its scarcity. She said she was going to change out of her wet things, she was getting cold.
Post/chapter title lifted from the Rolling Stones song, “Get Off Of My Cloud,” 1967.