The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

“Try to sound more psyched.”

How could she be psyched when this wasn’t the trip she’d planned? She was supposed to hike the John Muir Trail—the JMT—alone. With a few thousand square miles of open territory surrounding her, she hoped to find a way to a truer life. She sure didn’t know the way now. Each turn she’d taken, each decision she’d made—including moving in with Dante six months ago—had seemed right at the time, yet none were right, based as they were on a series of unchallenged assumptions and quiet lies, one weak moral link attached to the next, with the truth at the tail end, whipping away from her again and again.

Maybe, she’d whispered to herself, she could have a relationship with Dante and share a home if she pretended there was no reason she couldn’t. She loved him enough to almost believe it could work. But she’d hardly finished unpacking before her doubts had mushroomed. She became desperate for time away—from the constant stream of friends in Dante’s wake, from the sense of sliding down inside a funnel that led to marriage, from becoming an indeterminate portion of something called “us”—and could not tell Dante why. Not then or since. That was the crux of it. Instead, she told Dante that years ago she’d abandoned a plan to hike the JMT and now wanted to strike it off her list before she turned thirty in November. She had no list, but he accepted her explanation, and her true motivation wriggled free.

The Park Service issued only a few permits for each trailhead. She’d faxed in her application as soon as she decided to go. When she received e-mail confirmation, a crosscurrent of relief and dread flooded her. In two months’ time, she would have her solitude, her bitter medicine.

Then two weeks before her start date, Dante announced he was joining her.

“You’ve never been backpacking, and now you want to go two hundred and twenty miles?”

“I would miss you.” He opened his hands as if that were the simple truth.

There had to be more to it than that. Why else would he suggest embarking on a journey they both knew would make him miserable? She tried to talk him out of it. He didn’t like nature, the cold or energy bars. It made no sense. But he was adamant, and brushed her concerns aside. She’d had no choice but to capitulate.

Now she told Valerie, “I am psyched. In fact, I want to hit the trail right now, but Dante’s holding court in the Wilderness Office.”

“I can’t believe you’ll be out of touch for three weeks. What am I going to do without you? Who am I going to talk to?”

“Yourself, I guess. Put an earbud in and walk around holding your phone like a Geiger counter. You could be an incognito schizophrenic.”

“I’ll be reduced to that.” She dropped her voice a notch. “Listen. I have to ask you again. You sure you feel up to this?”

Liz reflexively placed her hand on her lower abdomen. “I’m fine. I swear. It’s just a hike.”

“When I have to park a block from Trader Joe’s, that’s a hike. Two hundred miles is something else. And your miscarriage was less than three weeks ago.”

As if Dante could have overheard, she turned and walked a few more steps down the sidewalk. “I feel great.”

“And you’re going to tell Dante soon and not wait for the absolute perfect moment.”

Despite the cold, Liz’s palms were slick with sweat. Her boyfriend knew nothing of her pregnancy, but her friend didn’t have the whole story either. Valerie had made her daily call to Liz and learned she was home sick, but she’d been vague about the reason. Knowing Dante was out of town, Valerie had stopped by and found Liz lying on the couch, a heating pad on her belly.

“Cramps?”

“No,” Liz had said, staring at the rug. “Worse.”

Valerie had assumed she’d had a miscarriage, not an abortion, and Liz hadn’t corrected her. Next to her deceit of Dante, it seemed minor. Valerie had made her promise she would tell him, but when Liz ran the conversation through her mind, she panicked. If she revealed this bit of information, the whole monstrous truth might tumble out, and she would lose him for certain.

“I will tell him. And I’ll make sure I’ve got room to run when I do.”

“He’ll understand. It’s not like it was your fault.”

Liz’s chest tightened. “Val, listen—”

“Crap! I just noticed the time. I’ve got a call in two minutes, so this is good-bye.”

“’Bye.”

“Don’t get lost.”

“Impossible.”

“Don’t fall off a cliff.”

“I’ll try not to.”

“Watch out for bears.”

“I love bears! And they love me.”

“Of course they do. So do I.”

“And me you. ’Bye.”

“’Bye.”

Liz put the phone away. She checked the zippers and tightened the straps on both backpacks. On a trip this long, they couldn’t afford to lose anything. Besides, a pack with loose straps tended to creak, and she didn’t like creaking.