Start: W. Branch Nelson Creek (1225)
Camp: Deer Lake (1210)
All night and into the morning the rain continued. I slept over twelve hours. By 9:30 a.m. I was awake but dreaded having to hike any further from my lost headlamp. I didn’t even know where I’d lost it. But go back 28 miles? I wouldn’t do it. I pored over the logistics. I’d run out of food. I’d run out of fuel. And if the rain kept up my sleeping bag would only get soggier. I ate a snickers and a pot of oatmeal. I still didn’t want to get up. I ate another snickers and my last two squares of dark chocolate. It scared me that this stuff didn’t even taste like a sweet treat – I’d eaten so much sugar in this section that candy bars had become food in my mind. My nose ran constantly and my throat ached. I soundlessly cursed the person at Caribou Crossing who had lost my package.
I packed in the rain and stepped down onto the trail. I looked down the trail. The continuation of my journey looked dark, soggy and bleak. I looked back the way I came and saw a lightness. Comfort. Familiarity. Right. I started down the trail.
I stepped with an uncommon lightness in my feet. My pack was airy and rode naturally upon my back. I covered three miles in a surprisingly short time, even though I stopped often to consider whether I was making the right decision.
The rain continued and soon it leaked into the rips in my jacket and pooled in the forearms. I put on my vinyl gloves, a size too small so that my hands grew tired from the fight and curled inwards. They went numb. Still, I moved quickly.
A blue and orange figure walked toward me. Obviously another hiker. I stared intently but did not slow my stride. Cold and on a mission, I did not want to talk. Then, as she drew near, I recognized her face – it was Girly Girl! We hugged and talked briefly about something – I can’t recall what – and then I asked if she’d seen my headlamp.
“Oh yeah, I have it,” she said. Like it was nothing.
“Oh my god no way! I was about to hike back eighteen miles!” I thought I had left it out of my pack when I was making my morning snack.
“It was in the trail about six miles after the middle fork.” So I’d dropped it even before my snack. I turned around and we hiked and I talked ecstatically, I out of breath, about how relieved I was, and by noon we’d covered six miles and I was right back where I’d woken up.
We wondered soggily through the woods and ate lunch together, freezing. I quietly wished I had better gear. And finally, shortly after, it stopped. It was unbelievably beautiful but still numbingly cold. Feet, hands, face – I’ve been numb in at least one of those since I made camp 24 hours ago.