While I was sick, I couldn't eat or move much, so I was worried that the after-effects of my illness – weakness and fatigue – might be as bad as the illness itself. It was possible that my muscles might have started atrophying in the days since I got off the trail. My stomach might still be touchy now that it was stripped of its normal gut flora. And it was hard to know what my energy levels would be; just because I could walk around town for a couple hours didn't mean I could hike 25 miles over 13 hours.
Being solo in the desert meant hours of loneliness and boredom, but it also meant freedom from the pressure of other people's expectations. When I decided to skip for miles of trail outside Wrightwood, no one hounded me that I wasn't doing all the PCT. When I decided to hitch up to Northern California instead of slogging through the Sierras, no one accused me of not being a true through-hiker. And when I shared stories about the dangers of stream crossings and long water carries, no one berated me as a fear-mongerer. Ironically, this was indeed happening to hundreds of hikers and their supporters online in Facebook groups meant to serve as a way to unite hikers and help them share information.
Several times today, as I shuddered at the thought of getting out of bed and walking the 15 feet to the bathroom, I couldn't believe that I had hiked 35 miles just two weeks earlier. I tried to imagine what it would be like to hike in my flu-addled condition, but my current state and my former self seemed incompatible, like they were two different people. I could not comprehend how I had gone from so capable to so feeble in such short order.
By 7:30 p.m. today I was leaning over Alissa's toilet dry-heaving, my stomach muscles sore from the effort. I had been vomiting for about an hour, crawling between the bathroom and the bed, where I would stare at the ceiling while holding my belly and moaning softly to myself. It was clear that I had some sort of acute stomach ailment – maybe food poisoning or a flu. However, there was one obvious way this could be worse: I could be in a tent 10 miles away from civilization.
As I woke up today, I was still under the assumption that I would be leaving tomorrow for the Pacific Crest Trail. The posts I was seeing on the PCT Reddit group were taunting me with news reports of clear paths and pictures of snowy mountain peaks. My backpack was set and I knew how many liters of water I needed. I even set my alarm for 5 a.m. tomorrow so I could catch a bus toward Reno, where I'd transfer up to the trailhead on local buses. But by 8 p.m. I let the wisdom of my friends and my own acknowledgements about the shape of my body take hold, and I decided to turn off my alarm and start planning for another day.
Today I did nothing productive. I didn't plan out the next leg of my hike. I didn't get a box ready with supplies for later in the hike. I didn't even do laundry. I just sat around, ate, and watched TV. It was glorious.
After yesterday's enjoyable night out in San Francisco, I began to more seriously consider what life would be like in San Francisco. I had grown up in a city, but one of the great joys in my life in living in the South Bay is that it's easy to get to parks in the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountain ranges. I wasn't sure I was ready to give that up. (Nevermind the fact that living in the city would extend my commute from 10 to 80 minutes.)
It's not a good sign when a masseuse with decades of experience calls your body a disaster. It's especially not good when that person feels an obligation to spend longer than scheduled at no charge working with you because they would "be remiss" if they let you walk out of their office in that shape. Unfortunately, that was exactly the situation I found myself in today.
Today was the day when my desire to be back out on the trail again grew larger than my desire to stay around. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy being back; My friends were founts of emotional support, intellectual conversations, and humor – all things I severely lacked when alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. Rather, today was the first day I started looking ahead to the route I would take, read about the stops I would make, looked at pictures from hikers already taking steps where I would step. In this research, my body was flooded with serotonin, and I longed for the calmness and simplicity.
I woke up a little after sunrise this morning with a clawing desire to get outside. It wasn't that the living room of the apartment I was staying in wasn't nice – in fact, the couch was far more comfortable than the bench outside and the room was decorated with photos of mountains and trees, many of which I recognized from past hikes. In many ways, I wanted to stay inside and enjoy the softness of the couch, the easy access to electrical outlets. But I needed to get out, to feel the sun, to have the sky above me. Throughout my day, I would be pursued by these vague compulsions and conflicting feelings about wanting to both settle down and escape.