Back on the trail, food for 6-7 days in my backpack and an intense sun frying away from above. I have 300 km to my next resupply point, my longest stint yet. Ahead of me is some impressive dormant volcanoes and large swaths of lava fields. And, like always, not much sign of civilization. I’m excited as ever.
I quickly drift into the lovely state of trance that this eternal trail creates around you. It winds through the wilderness and every curve, every step offers new views. It can be hard and exhausting but it never really gets boring. Watch your step, drift out on thought-tangents, admire the vast woods, sing. Listen to silence.
The lava fields take me out of this world and across red-brownish moon landscape and it starts to look, and to feel, like I actually have left this world physically, not just mentally. Time is measured in the slow westward drift of the sun, not in a 4-digit number on an iSomething. I ponder on the measurement techniques for happiness and on the concept of cultural extrapolation. Earth, moon, time, who cares?
All of a sudden, I do. I stare at my food supplies and ration them. They are… limited. And my “no-world-exist” trance quickly dissipates as I acknowledge the presence of the Real World and my need for resupplies. I have 155km to “civilization”, which means a souvenir shop at a National Park. And I have food for 3 days, at best. Time for a challenge, the kind where you can’t afford to loose. Nearly 100 miles in 3 days. The stats look ugly: my longest day yet has been a 29 miler, so I need to brake that barrier 3 days in a row and then a little more. “Keep Walking” as a mainstream Whisky distillery says. Got no other options.
I bag a 31 mile day and feel good. Then a 34 miler which causes my right angle to ache and swell. Compression tape it and sleep on a slope to elevate it at night. Last day starts ok, but the pain shows again after only 5 miles. I cross path with some other hikers that inform me of a giant 16 dollar pizza on sale at the National Park and they also sell beer. Good motivation, no time for whining, I need to continue and pray that this long push doesn’t leave me with sustainable injuries.
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”, another kliche proverb that I repeat to myself to raise my morals and not succumb to the challenge. The truth is, I have no other exit-plan, but to keep on keeping on.
12 miles before the pizza, the National Park offers unreal beauty: Crater Lake. A deep blue volcanic lake, the deepest in the US and a scenery that makes me drop to the ground: in awe and, admittedly, in pain. I slowly make my way around the magic lake and, for reasons I can’t explain, my ankle stops to hurt. Maybe it got past the “point of pain” and into some state if numbness. Or maybe my eyes are feeding my brain with too many impressions and the pain is mentally suppressed. On a good day, Crater Lake is one if the most beautiful places, I’ve ever seen.
Clock is ticking and I get information that the pizza place closes at 21.00. Now, even time matters for me and I become a slave to the 4 digits on my iPod. The sun is also starting to set and I push my pace into the red zone, driven by the thought of an American sized family pizza and a beer. Loud rustle breaks the monotony of my walk and I stop abruptly: bears roam these tourist sites, foraging on trash cans so I know I have to be alert. Nope, it’s not a bear, it’s elk: a beautiful group of 7 individuals and they run away as they catch a glimpse of me. Impressive animals!
It gets completely dark and I walk with a headlamp through the dense woods, singing to keep the tourist-habituated bears away from me. Ankle hurts again. Pizza is slipping away from me as each minute passes. And then, finally, I see light ahead. I start to run, as I muster the last energy from deep inside my exhausted body. I get there at 20.52 and crash into the pizza restaurant like a burglar. “Can I order a large meat-lovers?” He stares at me, in disbelief. I’m filthy and are gasping for air. The other guests look at me, some in disgust some with a smile.
“I’m afraid we don’t have time for….”
But I interrupt him immediately ” noooo, I’m starving, I’ve walked nonstop for 3 days, pleaaaaaase”, exaggerating my accent and stare at the waiter my wide open deer-eyes.
“OK” he says. I collapse unto a wooden bench and can hardly keep my gaze focused, staring into the black air.
I eat it slowly, outside in the dark, and wash it down with a 20 ounce beer. I made it through mountains, valleys, volcanoes and endless forest. Up and over the 2 highest points on my walk so far and bagging my 3 longest days, 3 days in a row. I never thought that I could “mine out” such strength.
One hundred miles.