Total Miles: 45.6
Discombobulated. No, too strong. Confused. Not exactly. “I feel foggy headed,” says Ace, succinctly serving up the answer to my internal question as we sit down at a brief early morning break to remove our wind shirts. The question: what exactly is going on with my brain this morning?
Defining it was one challenge, but determining the cause was another. The answer, however, was not all that mysterious: coffee, or more specifically, the lack thereof.
I love coffee. Not in the mad scientist kind of way where one is inclined always to be experimenting with temperatures, grind sizes, and methods of brewing that vary in complexity from the simplistic to something more akin to a mass spectrometer. Living in Seattle surrounded by an ubiquitous coffee culture, I appreciate the richness in flavor that can be coaxed from such a modest looking plant, but my love for coffee is about something much simpler: ritual.
When push comes to shove, I’ll happily throw all of my standards for taste right out the window just so long as the ritual of reading over morning coffee is allowed to continue unabated. Ace is the same, and yet on trail, we typically make a calculation that would seem unthinkable on its face anywhere else: we quit it cold turkey.
The reason? Greater simplicity, less water and fuel to account for, and less time spent in the morning when we’re otherwise inclined to pack up and head down the trail. There have been exceptions to this in the past, and it’s only a matter of time before the next exception is made, but what brought my attention to any of this was what the absence of coffee had wrought in the impressively short 24 hours of its absence.
Out of sorts. Mentally distracted and fatigued. Focus elusive. These were the seeds that had been sowed simply by abstaining for a single morning from the drug whose influence nearly the entirety of the planet considers to be part of their default state of consciousness. In fairness, I had been listening to the audiobook of Michael Pollan’s This is Your Mind on Plants, so all of this was fairly fresh in my mind.
Making matters worse, the miles of yesterday now had my body feeling more like the Tin Man, waiting patiently for Dorothy to arrive with a merciful can of oil in her hand. But like the caffeine withdrawal, this too is a familiar cycle at the beginning of each long trail. Like a shell slowly being cracked and discarded, the rust of legs not used to walking from dawn to dusk rears its ugly head before subsequent days begin to sand it down to the steel beneath. In time, the pain in places you’d forgotten you had fades until it’s forgotten once again. Right up until the next long trail begins, anyway.
As if to parallel the now predictable changes to our bodies we were watching begin, the trail, too, began its own changes. The long shadows of morning, both ours and those of the giant ponderosas we’d been strolling past all morning, began to shorten until the forest parted into an expansive burn zone punctuated by pockets of young aspen, their trunks as slender as fingers, with bark as smooth and white as sun-bleached bone and leaves a bright yellowish gold.
The echoes of the New Mexico portion of the CDT last year were impossible to ignore. By the time we’d finished dinner amongst a small stand of aspens, the sun had begun its final descent across the western sky just as the very edge of a giant and dark rain cloud was passing overhead. The light that illuminated the aspens brought out hues of color in their leaves that seemingly hadn’t been there only moments before, like a magic trick that we were the sole audience to.
Just to complete the scene, that dark cloud passing by decided to add a sun shower to the mix as if not wanting to be deprived of the recognition it played in creating the scene of golden lighting that seemed to drench everything in a way that raindrops could only dream of.