Wild Within (Wild at Heart #1)

Wild Within (Wild at Heart #1) by Christine Hartmann

Book: Wild Within (Wild at Heart #1) by Christine Hartmann Read Free Book Online
Authors: Christine Hartmann
climbing ahead of you. Let’s see what we can do to shave off a few ounces. In addition to all the rest of it, your stove’s too heavy, capisce ? Why carry all that propane? What you need is a pop can stove.”
    He retreated to the storage area and emerged with the remains of a folded Mountain Dew can. “I’ll let you have this for nothing. Buy some denatured alcohol and you’ll be set. I’ll show you how to use it when we’re done.”
    “Done with what? My brother spent months getting ready for the PCT. I’m using most of his stuff. I thought I was set.”
    “Set if you’re planning on having a Sherpa carry this.” He tossed aside rain pants, sun hat, water filter, dishes, utensil set, and towel. He tried to discard her San Diego County Parks and Recreation bottle, but Grace yelped. She clutched it to her chest as she watched.
    “I actually worked hard on getting my weight down before I started.” Kenji’s down jacket flew onto the increasing mound.
    “If you don’t have the right gear, you’ll suffer the whole way. You might even quit.” The clerk looked up at her from his knees. “You don’t want to quit, do you?”
    Grace shook her head. “Go on. I know I need help.”
    “What’s this?” Kenji’s apartment key dangled from the zipper of Grace’s first aid kit.
    “My first aid kit.”
    “I mean this.” The clerk flicked the key with his middle finger. “Extra ounces. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.” He fiddled with the twist tie that secured the key.
    Grace snatched the kit away from him. “I need that. It’s…well, it’s like a good luck charm.”
    The man shrugged his shoulders. “Suit yourself. But get rid of the kit. All you need is a few gauze pads, a bandage roll, and a sling. I’ve got some sets made up at the counter.”
    “Thanks. But I think I’ll keep the whole kit. To be on the safe side. I’m a little accident prone.”
    After an hour of strategic shopping, Grace asked him to weigh her old equipment against her new. He nodded with intense satisfaction. “Guess how much weight I saved you?”
    Grace stared at the new items. “A pound?”
    “Naw. Not even warm. Guess again.”
    “Five pounds?”
    “I saved you eight pounds, thirteen ounces. That’s including the tent.”
    Grace pumped his hand and then closed her eyes when she signed the credit card receipt.
    That night as she lay in her hotel bed, Grace composed a poem of her own.
    Dearest Lone Star,
    The sun is blazing from the sky.
    Again it’s only me and I.
    I wish I could share my water with you,
    And not just my water but something else too.
    My heart is beating faster now.
    I think of seeing you again, but how?
    Are we going to come together? When?
    I won’t let you go so soon again then.
    Just wait till I get my arms around you,
    The next morning, she hiked the path from the Pines-to-Palms Highway for the third time in less than a week. The base weight of her pack, the weight without food, water, or fuel, had gone from over thirty-seven pounds to under twenty-eight.
    My posture’s better. My step’s secure. I can do this for a few days longer. Maybe even catch up a bit.
    And then she met the first hikers from the herd.
    Grace heard them before she saw them. Footsteps pounded the trail behind her at twice her normal rate. Young thrus passed her with an effortless, loping gait and had little time for chitchat.
    They zoomed the one hundred fifty miles from the Kick Off in less than five days. Thirty or more miles per day. Their packs are miniscule. They didn’t even stop at Idyllwild.
    Another thru whizzed by.
    I thought I’d picked up my pace. But these guys are running to Canada. How’s that even possible?
    Some passed Grace at a more leisurely pace and relayed rumors of what happened elsewhere on the trail. They helped her analyze past storms, and predict future ones. They discussed snow levels in the mountains ahead. Shared where trail angels had supplied an

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