I’d been feeling a bit nauseous and tired all day and I had a weird metallic taste in my mouth.
Stopping at a stream to collect water I felt an overwhelming urge to lay down. It was a wet boggy place but I didn’t care.
“Just a short rest” I told myself.
But another part of me screamed, ‘No, keep moving!’.
I knew it was better to get to camp. Soon night would fall and it would be ‘mountain lion o’clock’. I didn’t want to become a tasty road side snack.
So I pushed on. My pack felt so heavy, I struggled to put it on. I had 4.2 miles to hike to camp.
I heard a moan and a pathetic cry: “help”. And I realised it was coming from me. It felt as involuntary as frequent yawns I was giving. I wanted to be sick but nothing would come.
There were no other hikers around so I don’t know who or what I was trying to invoke. The trees next to me? The divine? This nausea was nearly bringing me to my knees. I couldn’t do this alone.
I walked another slow mile and heard a bell chiming. The nearest settlement was 60 miles from this desert so it couldn’t be a church bell. It was beautiful sound – cutting into the familiar soundtrack of my clacking poles and buzzing flies.
As I turned the corner I saw a herd of cows walking on the PCT path towards me. It was such an unexpected sight I laughed out loud. Their bells continued to ring as they turned and fled.
As I walked on I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. The cows appearance at that moment may have been random but the sound gave me hope that I wasn’t alone. That the universe had answered my cries with humour.
An hour or so later I found a place to camp. I sat on the ground trying to summon the energy to set up my tent, feeling shivery and tired.
Then Nate walked past. It felt good to tell another I felt unwell. He diagnosed sunstroke and insisted I drink more and to have some electrolytes. And I so I did.
The poet David Whyte writes that we are never alone – our allies are all around us if we pay attention. Today the cows were my unexpected allies.
And tomorrow I’m going to drink water as I hike – like it’s my job!