Sorting through my pack for a water bottle, I feel a puddle of sticky liquid at the bottom. I lean closer and inhale. It stinks and my lips feel numb and blue.
I go into damage control, slower than usual after repeated tugs from a whiskey bottle. Luckily, a pair of boxers and bag of bagels are soaking up most of the gas. After pulling everything out of my backpack, I toss the bagels into the fire and watch a fiery plume spike into the night sky.
The flame wilts a bit and I retreat back to the tent. It’s dark and my brother breathes deep in his sleeping bag. I shift to get comfortable but a looming paranoia has loosened my brain cells. They fire off a laundry list of potential disasters… Rattlesnakes! Ticks! Bad water! Food shortage! A field of poison oak. Death by combustion.
Laying there I think I sense a sudden heat-spike. Maybe it’s just lighter. The clouds have moved to reveal the moon. But in my heightened state of awareness I can hear the pop of old redwoods and sand nearing its melting point. I will the tide to swell – to surge – to put out the fire.
The next morning I wake to a moral hangover. The clouds have us socked in and the waves are grey and lifeless. My brother and I start to make breakfast, but I swear it tastes like gasoline. He seems to not notice.
We pack our things. My sleeping bag goes first. Then, the rain fly, a can of beans and a roll of toilet paper. I clip the fuel bottle into a carabiner and attach it to the side of my pack.
We walk with everything on our back and already we’re making progress. I skip from rock to rock, trying to avoid stepping in tide pools. The act of placing one foot in front of the other gives rhythm to the day. We’re moving which means we’re closer to something.
I pull away from the group, to conduct a check-in of sorts, wondering why through all of this I haven’t once wished to be anywhere else. The muscles in my legs are warm and my pack fits nicely against my back.
The rest of the group catches up and I silently join the ranks. Nothing is said about my retreat and we begin to walk again, eager to get to our next destination before the tide covers our tracks.