Chapter 1: Ten miles
The morning after David and Patrick first share a tent, Chapter 3.
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.
Chapter 2: A few paces
Post Patrick's confession, Chapter 4.
Patrick should get a journal.
Patrick should get his own journal so he doesn't go around confessing his love to David, and just writes it down instead. Like David does. Not that David has written that down. Uhg!
Anyway, if Patrick had, like, written it down, sat with it, maybe he could have come to his own conclusion that it wasn’t true and spared David having to be the adult in the tent. He could have spared David the internal turmoil, that persistent reemergence of hope he battles against in the early days of any relationship. See—case in point! Patrick was messing with his head and this was not a relationship!
Patrick should really just…leave David alone. Not alone alone, just like. Back off with the feelings. David’s been, by his standards, incredibly generous in this not-relationship—Patrick has seen him without his hat on—so Patrick could give him this. He could drop it. He could never bring it up again.
David’s demanding as much from the pages of his journal when Patrick, well. Patrick brings it up again.
David clamps the journal shut and stands.
When David reads back over a past entry it usually feels akin to opening up his phone camera to take a picture of something beautiful then realizing the front-facing lens is on. Confronted with his own double chin from an unflattering angle, he remembers it had been him who had last flipped the camera into selfie mode. He recognizes it, but he doesn’t like the view.
Yet, when he turns determinately to a blank page for the second time that morning, the empty paper reflecting up at him is somehow worse than the prospect of looking back. Addressing the future is more daunting than confronting the past. What if he writes something he doesn’t recognize? And what if he likes the view?
He navigates to the words of David ten minutes ago, so young and naive. Don’t say shit like that unless you mean it, he’d written.
Through bold pen and crowded margins, David thinks he might have tricked himself into a warped sense of self-knowledge. The writing may be his thinking, but thought doesn’t mean truth. Was that really what he wanted?
He crosses the words out and writes underneath the scratch, Say it if you have to but don’t you dare mean it. Don’t let me believe you.
He flips back a few more pages with the intention to edit, to warn his past self, but gets caught up in the reading instead. Page after page of Patrick. Did he actually draw his name in a heart last week? He must have been possessed by the spirit of Bridget Jones. It was an apt comparison if you swapped cargo shorts for the reindeer jumper. Given the chance, Patrick probably would blurt out that he loved David just the way he is.
He looks over to his real-life Mark Darcy, unsubtly grinning at David around his spoon. David rolls his eyes, loudly, so he knows Patrick sees it. The idiot just smiles more.
That smile, bright and unobserved for most of the day as Patrick hikes alone. Like sun in an empty room, it was wasted on illuminating unoccupied spaces.
David can’t give Patrick much, certainly can’t give him ‘I love you,’ but he can give him something to shine on.
He turns to a blank page. Be a prism, he writes. Refract the light.
Chapter 3: Three hundred miles to go
Following David and Patrick’s stop in Ashland, Chapter 6.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
David focuses on the words, the now-familiar script in generic BIC blue pen. Firm, steady pressure forming an even and deliberate line of ink.
David recalls the spring his mother got into graphology and made everyone handwrite her letters instead of emails so she could secretly have them analyzed. Their long-time family physician had been fired when the missing tail loop on his ‘y’ revealed underlying psychopathic tendencies.
David had learned quickly to adapt his handwriting to fit the traits he wanted to possess. He drew flowy and proportional ‘y’ loops to signal a carefree and spontaneous spirit. His letters were round, no sharp points, to demonstrate his creative side. His words slanted just barely to the right as if to say I am open and caring and don’t dwell on the past. Most importantly, a firm, steady pen pressure. This meant he was considered, and confident in his words. It was obviously a load of crap.
Learning Patrick has been greatly aided by trail register subtext, immutable pen stroke aside. He’s snarky on these shared, confessional pages. And kind. Funny. Honest. He knows David is reading. So, David reads into it.
He sets off to analyze what Patrick is going for today.
Simple, no undertones: We were hiking, then we stopped. Now we are again. Welcome back.
Or maybe it’s a gesture of care. Acceptance? Encouragement that David is on the right path and that someone is waiting for him on the other end. To that effect, he is comforted. He’s missed their staggered pace, the mutual view, and, god, even their too-small tent. Welcome back to our little universe.
But perhaps an offer of security is mixed in there too, proof that Patrick is holding firm on their pact. That the last three days don't mean David has to change his mind about impermanence. No future talk, no forever. Welcome back to the status quo.
Welcome back implies a return to something familiar. But, he’s not sure if that applies anymore.
David’s never been anywhere, felt anything like this before.
Fish Lake, OR
A lot to catch up on. Our three days in Ashland were...well...I am in a huge amount of trouble with myself. Can this really be just a moment-in-time kind of thing? I should stop acting surprised by what I learn in your pages and stop using them as a hiding place too. My chic leather bound emotionally intelligent imaginary best friend. Stevie would be jealous.
We took the bus into town. Let me repeat that. I took the BUS. And I was just happy to sit down and to look out the window and to hold Patrick’s hand and have something else take me somewhere for once. The outside flew by at a speed I had forgotten was possible. Blurred beauty. Good name for a pop song but sad to witness. Why do we drive so fast? Missing the way there.
I took the first shower when we got to the motel which may have been the highlight of my month, and that includes the sex that we had after. Jk. I don’t know when we’ll have the chance to sleep together again so I kept my eyes open the whole time. He said I love you and I even looked at that.
On the way to dinner one night we stopped in a store that looked too similar to the one I toss around in my mind. It was like discovering I have an evil but more successful twin. Evil because they clearly do not know the difference between beige and ecru. Also because it was my idea first. I hoped coming out here would end that line of inquiry but the more time I have to mull it over the more I still want it. I don’t know why I’m writing this down. It’s not possible anyway. Plus Patrick scared me with all those logistics he brought up. Here’s a fun and terrifying thought...in some alternate universe I could have asked for his help with all this.
Then that song. Fucking hell. He knows better than I do what I want to hear. (He can never find this out!!) We must have been so transparent to everyone in that bar. I hate crying in public. I loved watching him up there.
Day three was too scandalous for the record. I almost drew a wink but who am I winking at. Myself? Anyway remembering that day won’t be an issue. Forgetting it may be. Yes I just rolled my eyes too.
Three hundred miles to go until the Bridge of Gods. As I’ve never been very good at genuine human emotion I will just tell you what I know: I believe him.
David’s having none of that. He doesn’t want to go back.
The words wiggle out of his private pages into public space. Not for Patrick yet, but for whoever comes up the path next.
Not back. Forward. Welcome to this.
With a steady, firm pen pressure he writes. I don’t think this is a moment-in-time kind of thing.
That's the end of the trail, folks! Thank you for the kind words and encouragement. Sharing in a mutual love of 1500 Miles has been the true joy of this endeavor.
MoreHuman: Thank you for your patience, your razor-sharp feedback, and for allowing me into your story. Would eat cold oatmeal for you.