Everyone has feelings. Obviously.
Some, when they encounter a big one, push past it to continue pursuing whatever path they are on, continue moving ahead. Others stop for so long to examine the feeling that they abandon their path.
David abandons the path.
One tactic a therapist had given him many years ago was to write—write through the sensation and write to remember how and to what degree he felt. This helped him to move ahead. Plus, later, when he was second-guessing the fabric of his reality, he had a record: This was my experience. No one, though they tried, could take that away.
On the trail, writing had become his singular lifeline. With no one else around to absorb any of his emotional energy, he poured himself into the journal he kept tucked into the internal, waterproof pouch of his pack.
He’s writing, his morning ritual, when he catches a glance of his watch. “Fuck," he says to himself, to the trees. (He’s been swearing at plants a lot lately.) "Fuck!" It was already eleven.
It’s his own fault, like always. He'd woken up at an earlier point this morning, to Patrick’s clinking spoon outside the tent and entertained the thought of getting up to share breakfast with his new bunkmate, but he allowed himself, wrapped up in his own sleeping bag and Patrick’s scent, to take the easy way out. The admissions Patrick seemed to pull out of him with ease were best served in the black air of night, not the bright light of morning. He’d stave off the confessionals a bit longer.
In his delay, he’d fallen back asleep, and now it’s eleven…eleven-o-three. And he still needs to pack up the tent.
It is these little setbacks, not the big ones, that really make David want to walk off the trail and onto the nearest highway, follow it into town, and take whatever combination of bus, train, and plane was necessary to get home. Ignoring large, difficult realities? He is practiced at that. Death by a million paper cuts would be his demise.
Considering Patrick had just last night given a speech about how he was hiking the PCT to practice his follow-through, David had to take him at his word, left behind in a scribbled note. Twelve miles. That wasn’t even an outrageous pace, a clear concession from the brisk seventeen miles per day Patrick had been doing.
David has gone 292 miles so far and not quit; what’s twelve more? Twelve miles with Patrick waiting on the other side, when David has walked so many more for the promise of less. Just keep going. He remembers Patrick's words, hears them in Patrick’s resolute tone.
The first step of the morning is always the hardest, but it feels today like it might be the easiest hard it’s ever been.
Once David sets out, it only takes him an hour to understand why Patrick measured his daily goal so low. Today’s ravine is slanted at a dangerous rake, rocky ground that requires constant attention to his footwork. There isn’t even anything nice to look at along the way.
A few hours pass, and he happens on a purple lupine growing up through a crack in the stone. The petals mock him. Beauty doesn’t work that way, David thinks. It doesn’t flourish in just any environment.
He has two hours of daylight left and at least three hours of ground to cover. “Fuck!” He says again. This time he spares the trees and addresses the flower.
It’s easier to admit things to the pages of his journal than to say them out loud. The writing is the thinking, his therapist had told him when he first complained about not knowing what to write down. He couldn’t even hear his thoughts, so how would he put them on paper?
With practice, he poured poetics into his words he’d never arrive at verbally, confessed his fears and lonlinesses that bumped right up against the way he lived his life. He writes mantras, lately. Pages of don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.
He reads the words back and pretends someone else left them there. Someone who knew why he was here. Someone more brave.
This morning, he wrote about trust. Take a look at me now. Maybe the thing standing in between me and trust all these years was necessity.
He hears humming up ahead like an oasis in the desert. But when he checks his distance, his heart sinks. Still two miles to go, and he’s losing daylight. He's a touch mad at trust at the moment, mad about linking himself to another person when it means two more miles in the dark.
Patrick should have just taken the tent with him instead of saddling David with the responsibility of his shelter. He can see the headline now: Charming man with his whole life ahead of him freezes to death on the Pacific Crest Trail. And the caption under his own mugshot: The culprit, son of disgraced Rose Video empire magnate Johnny Rose. There is an upside to this outcome. His google search results might be updated with a more flattering photo. When the cops took his picture, he’d make sure to smize.
Maybe it is a mirage, he thinks, when the voice up ahead turns out to be Patrick’s. Maybe I have lost it. It’s not until he holds the thermos, solid in his hands, and tastes warm broth in his mouth, swallowing something real, that he lets himself believe it’s true. That he made it. Around the brim of the cup, a smile cracks through.
The next morning he writes an apology to the flower. I was jealous, he pens. You were making it work out here. You were trying. I think I want to try too.