We get up at 7a.m. to go to the Lake Margaret TH, but don’t leave until 10:30. Mostly because I read the trail description, and realize that since it is an elevation drop to get to the lake, the hike back will be uphill. I waffle on whether or not I can do it. In fact, as we drive the two hours to get there, I point out other trail heads. “We could do that one,” I point left, then right. “Ooh, THAT one sounds mysterious. Maybe it would be more fun.”
“Let’s do the one we said we would do,” Aaron maintains. I feel grumpy at the prospect. But when I get out of the car, feel the coolness of the mountain breeze and lace up my La Sportivas (GEAR TESTING!!!!!), the pouty face dissipates. It’s a great day for a hike!
I amble down the path ahead of Aaron and the dog. The trail is immediately very rocky and cuts swaths across gigantic outcroppings of granite and boulders. We are heading down toward a forest meadow, along a dry gully. People have erected small cairns-a little excessively, I think-to point hikers in the right direction. I lead us onto what turns out to be a small side trail and we come to a dead-end. I hear before I see a group of four making their way down the switchbacks toward us. They look confident about where they are going, so Aaron and I busy ourselves with our pack while surreptitiously watching which way they head. The real trail is just above us, and I have no idea how we missed it!
The group passes us and we trail behind them, keeping our distance just enough to see that we are on the right path. “It’s really, really rocky,” says Aaron. “You be very careful and go slow.” He then proceeds to trip several times in a row as we make our way down to a small clearing. A 10ft creek is on our right, with a log strewn over it, a log that looks mighty slender, from my perspective. There is a couple on the other side of the creek, and they are yelling over at the group of four, who have gone the wrong way, and are backtracking along the creek back to the log.
“Have you been here before?” the group of four ask as they pass us. “No,” I tell them. “Have any of you been here before?” shouts the couple on the other side. “We think the trail is this way.”
The foursome shimmies across the log and continue. The couple practically skips across the log toward us and smiles as they pass by. “It’s not too bad,” the girl says, and winks at me. I nod in what I hope comes off as a self-assured gesture of ease.
I’m nervous. And not just for me; also for Nisa. The log looks to be about 5 ft above the water. I decide to go first, because if I can’t do it, then there is no point in everyone else going. Now, I don’t think this log would have been too worrisome before I hurt my back, but now, with the weakness from the nerve damage, I have no idea what kind of balance I have. Turns out, not much balance at all. Every time I put my weight on my left leg, my whole foot begins to shake. I can barely even shuffle my way over the log, which is actually pretty uneven and knotty, once you are actually on it and navigating it. I make it, but I don’t feel too good about it. It is an aspect of my injury I haven’t given any thought to. Now it’s high on my list of “Shit to Get Past in Order to do the PCT”.
Aaron unleashes Nisa and she runs up on the log, before we have a chance to say anything. About halfway across, she slips, starts to fall off the log, but twists at the last second and takes a gigantic leap toward the bank of the creek. It is an amazing and horrifying sight. She lands with a thud and a scramble and walks up to me, tail wagging. Aaron races over the log to us, and we give Nisa the biggest belly rub she’s ever had in her life. She’s fine. She’s already forgotten it as we move forward- it is me that continues to have a pounding heart for the next 5 minutes.
Up and down over tough granite, a trail that is sometimes barely there weaves in and out of different little forest atmospheres. A lovely lake covered in reeds and grass. A pond with brown scum wafting across it. Monstrous boulders gleaming in the sun. Aromatic Fir trees sprinkled with Aspens that make a happy, cheering sound when the wind sweeps through. And a helluva lot of day hikers making their way through it.
Eventually we make it to the lake and it’s crowded, but beautiful. I find a shady rock for us to perch upon. We eat some cheese and crackers. We drink some water. Nisa can’t relax with all the Chipmunks running around. Some get really close to her, then stand up on hind legs and nibble away at seeds, almost daring Nisa to make a move. It drives her crazy. Aaron dozes off and I lazily watch that original group of four we leapfrogged with as they strip their clothes and swim around for a while. It’s all very nice.
The hike back is enjoyable-not anything different from getting to the lake, probably because of all the up and downs. Yet, for sure, this is the hardest hike I’ve done in years. My thoughts turn to the PCT. Day dreaming. Planning. Do I want to mail all my resupplies, or pick food up in town? Will there be heavy snow storms this winter? Fires next summer? And just how many miles do I think I can start out with? 12, 15, 18? I’m gonna have to replace all my main gear for lighter stuff. Will I be scared, alone in my tent at night? Will I get too homesick? Will Aaron realize how much more awesome it is to live alone? I don’t think he’s EVER lived alone. I guess he’ll be having his own adventure.
“You have to take up running and train for a marathon while I’m gone,” I call out to him.
“Imagine when you meet me in Canada, and we will both be in the best shape of our lives!” I waggle my eyebrows at him.
“Okay,” he says. Smiles.