In the morning, Aidan was feeling significantly better.
We picked up the truck in Tuolumne Meadows and headed back to Carson City. Our dogs were happy to see us, but did not have the enthusiasm we’d expected from them. They’d been spoiled while we were away.
We stayed there for several days, having long phone conversations with Aidan’s sister, who is in the medical field, and generally hiding from the rest of the world. We believe Aidan’s illness was probably food poisoning from the cheese vomit on the Ziploc baggies. Since Aidan was preparing the food, he touched much more of it than I did. We believe I was vomiting because I was stressed out and so incredibly worried about Aidan.
Aidan never did end up going to the hospital. His symptoms diminished very quickly, so whatever it was had apparently run its course. He was weak for a long time, but each day he was a little stronger than the one before.
We finally packed up all of our fur children and headed home, determined to watch movies for a few days and sort out how we felt about this whole experience. When we got home, however, the bulb in our projector burned out immediately. A few days later, we finally ventured out of our house and down to the water. We sat on a rock in the middle of the river and talked for a while. We saw some friends on the other bank and waded over to them to visit. The water was low and warm. There wasn’t much tubing left here this year. We’d missed the tubing season.
I felt empty inside. I needed some human interaction. We decided to go back to work early. My boss didn’t fuss.
The morning of what should’ve been my first day back to work, I woke up and found our beautiful baby cat “Rabbit”, the youngest of our crew, lying dead in the hallway. Her eyes empty, staring at eternity. Her mouth blue. The sound of my breaking heart echoed in my ears.
My grief was complete. I was devastated.
We wrapped Rabbit’s little body in a soft checkered blanket and Aidan drove us back to my parents’ house while I fell apart, my sorrow pouring down my cheeks.
We dug a hole in the garden and tucked her favorite toys in the folds of her little blanket. My mother had written a children’s book about sweet Rabbit, so we left a copy of the book in her grave along with some sprigs of clover, her very favorite plant. We planted a white rosebush and some white daisies in the soft soil where she lay.
The next few weeks were a blurry mess. Too many emotions, too many explanations, too many recanting stories of this “vacation”, too much anger at my ex-friend The Universe.
Soon Aidan went on another five day backpacking trip, but the pain the JMT brought to my life left me with wounds raw and deep, and I couldn’t bring myself to go with him. I think he’d been too sick to remember just how scary this had all been. How the terrain was so much harder than we ever thought it could be. How so many people we met felt the same. His fever had blurred the pain that was still so sharp in my memory. Rabbit’s untimely death had then pushed me over the edge into a black void. It was all too soon for me.
Ultimately we decided that if we’d had the luxury of time and we hadn’t lost Rabbit, we would have continued the trek. If we’d been able to hang out in Bishop for ten days and then continue the hike, we would have.
In spite of the hardships of this journey, we will pull ourselves up by our boot straps and head back out. The wilderness did not beat us. At least not forever. We are a great team. Together we can conquer anything.
The need to hike the PCT continues to burn a hole in my soul, but we will not be hiking the PCT in Spring. I need a few years to regroup.
But the trail calls me in my dreams. It haunts me when I smell the freshness of the cool morning air or the earth right after a rain. When I watch a cloud drift across the sky. When the rays of the sun slant orange in the evening light.
The trail has called me most of my life, and it won’t wait forever.