I came out the Enchanted Valley the day after I got in, 27 miles (43.4 km) round trip. My phone said I hadn’t gone that far in step count since my last trip to the Hoh River. I ached in parts of me I’d otherwise forgotten. But I felt a surge of strength, likely testosterone or dopamine, of supernatural proportions. And I realized how competitive I was on the trail and how ridiculous that was, to turn what should be a time of calm introspection into a masculine-energized sport.
I was glad for the two knots I’d learned because I needed them when I got to the head of the valley to make camp. The tent I use is actually a four-season shelter, more of a tarp with guy lines and two places to set your poles inside. Unlike most tents, where you slide the poles through fabric or connect them with hooks, with the shelter you stake it out flat on the ground first, then slide the poles from underneath to stand it upright. It works really well, except when it doesn’t.
On this day I realized I hadn’t brought the actual poles that come with the shelter but figured that was alright, I’d just use my trekking poles instead. But one of those poles doesn’t stay fixed when it’s extended, it collapses, and that wouldn’t work. Naturally it was starting to rain and the wind was kicking up, and I worked hard to keep my cool and concentrate.
I just needed a stick, and being in the wilderness that was easy. I broke one from a dead tree and it fit just right. But as I tried erecting the shelter the stakes kept popping out of the sand, wack-a-mole style. I’d drive the stakes into the wet sand with a rock and then cover the buried stake with more rocks, but with the wind it kept flailing about comically. It had to be pretty funny to watch!
After some time of this I got it all set and climbed inside to rest. But as I gazed on the tent from the inside I felt something was off, and realized by the way the logo read that I’d set it up inside-out! And that shouldn’t be a problem for most people but being particular about things I couldn’t stand it, not for a second, so I broke it all down and set it up again, this time more meticulously, putting good use to the extra cord I brought to bolt the fucker down with bigger rocks and even more intricate knots.
And then I laid back down inside and checked the time, I had been at it two hours. I was do dazed I couldn’t calculate my speed hiking in in my head so I used my phone, and was glad to see I clocked 2.7 mph including breaks. The breaks were sparse and joyless, a quick bite to eat and a glass of water, then back to it. I didn’t know what my problem was but I’d always been this way. Mom even pointed out I was like that as a kid on my first day of school, hurrying to be on time with furrowed brow, 5 years old. What the fuck was I worried about? We were about to get Charlotte evaluated and thought she could have something going on herself. I wondered if she got some of her peculiarities from me, if Lily had picked up her anxiety from Dawn. It all flows downhill.
I could rationalize charging up the valley because the valley had limited campsites and was quite popular. Everywhere I went it seemed that was the case. Too many people, not enough space. And like worrying about missing the bus, I obsessed over the timing. I hurried to the trail head to park then bolted up the trail, calculating my time of arrival based on hourly mileage. I let no one pass. Once a lone woman hiker did overtake me but I stayed on her until she got uncomfortable and had to pull over. I said I was sorry but didn’t mean it and went even faster so she’d never catch me again.
I took more of my magic beans, the sports beans with amino acids, caffeine, and other stuff, and then I turned the music up on my phone. I went faster and harder, over rocks and streams, barely pausing to cross. I hocked up phlegm and hoisted it onto the roots. I used my trekking poles to gesture with the music. Drumsticks, guitar, marching band leader. I came upon a party of teenagers resting under a tree, looking spent, looking disinterested, looking like teenagers. I became conscious of how I must have looked from their point of view, charging up the trail, pumping my arms with my poles. I pulled my stomach in and grunted. I thought I might get accolades or “props” for my musical choice, that one of them might recognize the singer and say something, but no one did. I gave them a nonchalant nod and kept going.
When I got to the valley it was magnificent, everything they said it would be. The ribboned waterfalls coming down the face of the steep rocks, the glacier-covered peaks to the north coming in and out of the clouds. And the valley floor open with nice spots to camp, the old chalet boarded-up, the whole expanse of the valley filled with bird song, the small sounds of nature.
And at last, once I made camp, I’d be able to rest. I told myself that but didn’t believe it, not for a minute.