Miles Hiked 0
The morning campfire crackled and popped, sending up little curly-queues of smoke as the flames licked the sides of the cowboy coffee pots. I sat with Carla and Richard and Cindy, telling stories in tones hushed by the morning light.
Most of the camp was still sleeping. Those not with us were already fishing.
I knew that no matter what was wrong with my foot, I’d have to be off of it for a while.
I didn’t imagine it was broken. It wasn’t purple or hideous, and I’ve broken enough bones in my life to know that it would’ve been really painful from the get-go.
But it was swollen, and it was painful.
Another hiker named Honey came into camp. She’d met James and Dwayne down at the river, and they’d sent her up for some coffee. Her voice rich and melodious, her laugh infectious and genuine. Such an interesting character. If she lived near me, I’d invite her to every party forever.
“What I want to know is…” Honey grinned, “Are you saddle sore from ridin’ that horse all the way here?”
“Whaaat? No way,” I lied.
“I’m impressed!” She said, and gave me a knowing look. She knew I lied. I smiled sweetly at her.
Pretty soon, Cindy made scrambled eggs and elk sausage for breakfast and fed everybody. Including me and Honey. The sausage was from elk they’d hunted and had processed.
After a while, Ridiculous and Pearl showed up at the camp. He’d seen one of the signs the kids posted at the trail. He pulled my tent out and tossed it to me. I thanked him heartily.
In a game where every ounce counts, it is a really, really big deal to carry a one-pound-eleven-ounce item for twenty-four hours for a stranger.
A seriously big deal.
Cindy plied Ridiculous with some coffee too, and we all chased the shade around with our chairs as the sun ramped up the day.
Then it was time to go.
I’d decided that since it was obvious I’d have to be off my foot, I could either go to a doctor in Bend and then just stay for an unknown length of time in an unknown location…or I could go home and to a doctor at home and stay for the same unknown length of time there. If it was a week or two, maybe I could start again in Truckee and hike south.
If it was longer…well…
Then at least I was already home.
Cindy offered to help me get wherever I needed to go to get home.
She loaded me and Honey and Ridiculous and Pearl into her mid-size SUV with our gigantic packs, and took us to Shelter Cove.
I collected my resupply that I’d mailed there, and found Turtle long enough to give him a hug. I told him he’d always be my Trail Family and thanked him for everything he’d done for me. He said there were so many blowdowns between the horse camp and Shelter Cove. So many to crawl over.
I knew I’d made the right decision.
Cindy drove me to a neighboring town but we couldn’t find a rental car place. Amtrak couldn’t get me home for a few days. So she drove me all the way to Bend and dropped me off at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I wrote down my address and folded it up with all the cash I had on hand and tucked it into her cup holder.
She hugged me like I was one of her own, and then she was gone.
The rental car place was a single wide mobile home in a parking lot. Tiny-tiny-tiny. People were in line in front of me.
Customer Guy: “All you have is a minivan? I’m not driving a minivan. I want a truck!”
Enterprise Dude: “I can work on that for you but yes, we only have a minivan.”
Customer Lady: “Are you serious? A minivan? I don’t want to drive a minivan!”
Me – waving my hand around: “I’ll take the minivan.”
Enterprise Dude waved me over, took me out to the minivan, and even got my pack in there for me. He gave me the lowest rate and just like that I was in a vehicle.
And seats that were comfortable.
And a radio.
And I was so grateful it was my left foot that was injured, so I could still drive.
I drove two blocks to the grocery store and hobbled inside to buy Super Poligrip and birthday candles. The Super Poligrip would cement my permanent retainer back to my tooth until I could get it fixed, and I could cut a birthday candle in half and stick it in my mouth to keep my tongue away from the wire. That part was Honey’s suggestion, and it was a good one.
I stuck a candle in my mouth, and I came to a fork in the road. I could continue straight and drive back down close to the way I’d hiked up. I could revisit all those places in my head as I cruised down the highway.
All the beauty, all the feelings of the trail, some sort of closure? Did I need closure? Was this over? Would it ever be over?
Or I could turn left and drive through new country. New stuff to see. New air to breathe. New terrain and new valleys and new open sky…
I Turned Left.
The countryside was so beautiful in Eastern Oregon. Neat little bundles of bailed hay. Picturesque rivers and happy little wetlands, and the calm earth that sorted its issues out a long time ago.
I stopped at every scenic kiosk.
Cute little towns with fun names like Paisley.
The warm glow of the summer evening, sprinkling gold on the tail end of the day.
I got to a funky little town and tried to get a room, but I couldn’t justify the money and I missed my little tent and I didn’t know what to do.
So I found the county fairgrounds, and the caretaker said it was $5 to pitch a tent and $2 to take a shower. I went to the Chevron gas station who wouldn’t give me cash back so I had to pay $2.50 to get a $20 out of the ATM and then the cashier didn’t want to break my $20 unless I bought something.
So I bought some Junior Mints and got the cash to take back to the fairgrounds.
The caretaker guy brought me an ice pack from his house to put on my foot. Another kindness to pay forward.
I turned on the shower and the water ran red for a while. I looked at the old bandaids and balls of hair in the corners and the paint peeling off the walls and the holes in the ceiling and the dead spiders. The water faded to yellow but never got warm.
Eventually I turned it off.
I could wait one more day to take a shower.
Because then I could shower whenever I wanted. And use conditioner. And the water was hot. And things were clean.
My home. Tomorrow I would be home.
A calm wrapped itself around me.