Day 79: threatening skies

Day 79
Miles: 22
From Richardson lake to Squaw creek

The worst part about twenty-five miles is having them all in front you. No hustle in our camp this morning. We’re sitting around, finding ways to procrastinate, when a dirt-bike suddenly comes ripping past our campsite. “Who rides a dirt-bike through a bunch of campsites at 8 in the morning?” I yell, outraged. I curse the rider and his little go-pro helmet roundly, once they’re out of ear-shot. I hope he got a nice shot of the “no motorized vehicles” sign he just went rocketing past.

We’ve got a nice long stretch of forest duff to lead off, a balm for aching feet. I’m still dealing with a lot of daily foot pain, but it’s a lot more tolerable when we’re not rock hopping all day. It also helps when we don’t walk so fast, but that’s not an option. We run into Seahawk and Bumblebee, but have to pass them by. They got up three hours before us do they don’t have to hustle.

We’re getting up towards Barker’s Pass, with cool views of Lake Tahoe, when we see a mountain biker coming towards us. He pulls to the side of the trail too let us pass, but I just stand in the way. “Hey man, how’s it going.”

He takes out his headphones – “good, how’re you.”
  “Hey, you know you’re on the PCT, right? There are no mountain bikes allowed.”
  “This is the Tahoe rim trail though, bikes are allowed for this section.”
  “It overlaps with the PCT though, and there are no bikes allowed anywhere on the PCT.” We look at each other over an awkward silence. J finally tells him to be sure to watch out for the groups of old folks on day hikes behind us and we let him pass. It might be a stupid thing to be confrontational about, but with the number of PCT hikers going down the trail with headphones on, zoned out after fifteen, twenty miles, it seems like a bad idea to suddenly add bikes to the mix. The PCT is for walkin’. (And horses. But horses walk too.)

“There’s no way that biking is allowed here,” J says later, while we’re watering up at a creek.
  “You don’t think I was to aggressive, do you?”
  “Well, even if it is allowed, I bet he can count on getting harassed by aggro PCTers all day.”
  “Seahawk will probably call him out.”

Seahawk shows up a few minutes later. “Did you guys see the biker?” he asks.
  “Yeah, I called him out. Did you say anything?”
   “Didn’t have a chance. I thought about it, but he passed me right by trail entry parking lot. If I’d pulled out my camera I would have caught him and the no bikes sign in the same frame. He gave me a sheepish look then booked it down the road.”

I don’t have a problem with dirt bikes or mountain bikes or any bikes, I just want there to be at least one place in this big world left to be walked. Someplace you can only get to one step at a time, a ribbon of space from north to south…

Our afternoon takes us out on a beautiful volcanic ridge, mountains to the west, lake Tahoe to the east. It’s fabulous, and a terrible spot to be during a thunderstorm, which looks like it’s building fast. J can see lightning groundstrikes in the thunder cell across the lake, and it’s growing overhead. Puts a little snap in our steps. We hustle across that ridge like we’ve been given brand new legs.

We stop for water and I’m done. Done! My feet don’t want to touch the ground ever again. Too bad Donner Pass is so far away.

At Squaw creek we stop for water again. Twenty-two miles down, thirteen left to Donner Pass. Jule will be picking us up at the pass tomorrow morning at ten – I can do ten before ten, but not thirteen. “Oh man,” I bemoan my lot in life. “I do not want to hike any more today.”
“Do you have service? Why don’t you call Jule and have her pick us up later tomorrow? Then camp here?” suggests J.

Whaddaya know, I do have service. Pickup is postponed. What a relief. Thirteen miles then friends and food and rest – maybe this break will do the trick.





Sleeping under the ski lift



Day 78: back on my feet

Day 78
Miles: 21
Aloha lake to Richardson lake

I don’t want to get up yet, but today it is just a case of laziness. I know I’m feeling better because I’m happy to be a thru-hiker again. I just wasn’t that keen on it yesterday… but sixteen hours of sleep cures many ills.

We start off leaving Aloha lake behind, just as bright and beautiful as yesterday.We also take some water there – it’s warm as bathwater. After that it’s nothing but lakes for a while. I’m not wobbly anymore, and uphill isn’t a herculean task, but it’s still stony, hard walking.


Aloha lake in the morning

Lakes, lakes, lakes, then over Dick’s pass, Dick’s lake lying below. I wonder who Dick is. There are clouds building again today, but maybe not enough for rain.


View from Dick’s pass, of Dick’s lake.

Past Fontanillis lake we pass a couple of hikers going the other way and stop to chat – it’s two PCT hikers, Treehugger and Petunia, doing a flip of this section, starting from Crater Lake and heading south. “What highlights do we have to look forward to from here?” asks J. Treehugger tells us to check out Burney Falls, and to watch our water on Hat Creek Rim – it’s brutally hot and dry.

“Do we go through Joshua Tree?” asks Petunia.
  “Nope – you see Joshua trees, but you don’t go through the national park,” replies J.
  “See, I told you that didn’t make no geological sense!” exclaims Treehugger. He’s from Georgia, he informs us, and his accent is a real beauty. I could listen to him all day.


Fontanillis Lake

Once we move on, the lakes turn into trees. Some uphill, some downhill, I turn on my autopilot and walk the miles, with my mind elsewhere. It’s nice to be here, to just walk, let the miles drift by through the forest.

Twenty-one miles for the day gets us to Richardson lake, the first lake all afternoon, and first good water in nearly as long. We’re footsore and ready to quit. We’ll do a bigger day tomorrow.


Tarp with net-tent. Mosquitoes aren’t too bad, but still nice to have a refuge.



Day 77: hard re-entry

Day 77
Miles: 8
From hwy 50 to Aloha lake

We’re ready to go pretty early this morning, but we pass up an early ride out with Dan and Christina because we’re not finished sitting on the couch yet. J lies on the floor. “Dirtnap,” says Teal to J. “I sort of thought that all the pictures of you lying on the ground was just Gizmo playing up your trail name, but  Bluesman just posted a pic on Facebook of you two, and you’re lying on the ground there too.” J is pretty good at taking advantage of any chance for a nap.

It’s time to go, and I’m discouraged to still feel so exhausted, to have my feet still so painful. I’d been dreaming of a fresh start, but it will take a lot longer than two days to feel brand new again.

Dimples and Stephanie drop us off at the trail, then continue on to Oregon and her uncle’s. Dimples had had to get off trail for health reasons, which is a major bummer (but also means we got to hang out again). He’s an ER doc, and hopefully will find her someone who can figure out what’s wrong. If we’re all really lucky, maybe she’ll be back on trail before the end of the summer.

Trees, forest, trail – all I can think about are complaints. My feet my knees my exhaustion feet knees tired tired tired. “Do you want to stop at Echo Lake for lunch?” asks J, interrupting my single train of thought.
  “Sure.” We’ve gone two miles, might as well take a break.

Sandwiches and milkshakes consumed we trudge back out. It’s uphill, nothing but sharp rocks, and humid. Big, black clouds are building behind us with a tin pan racket. I’m so tired that I try to hike with my eyes closed. Doesn’t work. I’m really nauseous and beginning to think that maybe I don’t just have a bad case of laziness. J makes a trip to the bushes so I put my pack down and lay in the dirt on the side of the trail, where I feel much better. “I don’t think I’m ok,” I tell J when he gets back.
  “Do you want to find a better spot off the trail too lie down?”
  “Nah, I think we’re need to keep going. That storm is coming for us.” The sky rumbles back in response.

We keep going then, stumbling along. We make a couple more miles under threatening skies. “Do you have the tarp handy?” I ask J. “Maybe we should just hunker down when this thing hits, wait for it to pass.”
  “Yeah, it’s right on top. Sounds like a plan.”

We have umbrellas and pack liners, but this type of storm usually rolls over, and it doesn’t seem worth it to just soak ourselves. When the first big drops start to hit we start looking for a spot – we set up just in time to avoid the deluge, and wave to wet hikers from underneath the blue palace. I pull out my (patched!) sleeping pad and fall asleep.

I sleep and sleep. The rain stops – we should go – I get out my sleeping bag and go back to sleep. No more miles for us today.

Late evening, J convinces me to get up and walk to Aloha Lake with him. My stomach protests, but the view is worth it. The lake is silky and flat, mountains shimmering in it and above it, gray and smooth. Hopefully tomorrow I will wake up strong and new.


Echo Lake



Aloha Lake, after the storm


Time for bed.


Day 75: friends

Day 75
Miles: 0
South Lake Tahoe

Rest day. I’m so tired I get the wobbles when I stand for too long, but J and I go climbing with Dan and Christina anyhow. That’s what top-ropes are for. It’s strange to try and move my body in the vertical direction. My arms are weak, surprise, surprise. My feet hurt like crazy all the time.

We’re taking tomorrow off too, hope I can pull it together.



Day 74: time for a break

Day 74
Miles: 7
Rock with a view to South Lake Tahoe

We wake up with a big ol’ view, then we have to hike back out of the bog. It goes better than hiking into it did. My shoes stank pretty bad before this, but now they smell like hiker feet AND swamp. Great combo.

We feel better than I expected, until we start walking… except we are still walking, so still better than expected. It’s a brutal seven miles of downhill.

Stumbling to the highway junction, we call up Teal. He had planned to rent a cabin in South Lake Tahoe with Tess for this week, and we’re hoping to get to spend some time hanging out, even if we aren’t hiking together anymore.

Teal picks us up and takes us home. It’s a vacation rental in town, and it’s huge. Showers, food, friends, beds. Teal and Tess stuff us with steak and crab legs. Dan and Christina drive out from Berkeley and join us, Dimples and Snake Eyes make it to town and join us too. I’m so tired I might die in my sleep. I’m going to take a couple days off.


Kind of an awkward pitch, but it did the trick last night.


Day 73: birthday challenge

Day 73
Miles: 29
From Pennsylvania creek to a lookout over Lake Tahoe

My alarm goes off. “This is the crux,” I think to myself. “If I can just get up now, the rest will follow.” I’ve done the math – if I walk at an average pace of 2mph (easy walking) it will take me just under 15 hours to walk it. That’s 6 to 9, daylight all the way. If I walk 3mph (hard walking), that’s only ten hours. Of course, that assumes no breaks (impossible). So  if I walk pretty hard, and don’t take too many breaks, I can do this. Twenty-nine miles.

I get up.

We hit the trail with our rocket blasters blazing. I take the lead – this is my birthday challenge – and fly. Forget all the miles, all the days, all the passes. For today, I’m fast.

We pass trees, lakes, mountains, other thru-hikers. “How far are we?” asks J.
  “I don’t know. My notebook says mile 1070 is just below the nipple. I just don’t know what the nipple is.”
  “Maybe we’ll recognize it.”

We do. The mountain ahead of us is unmistakably the nipple.

Lunchtime, and we’ve done 16 miles. We stop at a lake and take a long lunch.

After lunch, back in high gear. Mosquito rage gives an extra kick to our step. We pass the other thru-hikers again. The volcanics phase from red to blue to green to pink, wildflowers all round. Up and over Carson Pass. My feet feel brutalized, I’m exhausted. We’ve agreed to take a break at the Carson Pass Interpretive Station, and we collapse gratefully onto the benches out front. Twenty-two miles down.

We sit and stare into space for a while, then realize there is a bin labeled: for PCT hikers only. It’s full of food! How do all these trail angels know what I want? Chips, cookies, fruit, Ho-Hos, wow. The volunteers who man the station give us water, cold sodas, and take a photo of us: tired, filthy, happy.

We’ve eaten way more than our share if the hiker box food (it’s my birthday, I justify) and its getting late, with seven miles to go. The crowd of thru-hikers that we’ve hopscotched with three times today now arrives at the station, so we stay and chat instead.

6 o’clock! Holy smokes, we’ve still got seven miles, what are we doing? Back on the trail. Fast! A lovely, flat meadow seems like a relief until the mosquito hordes descend, like nothing we’ve seen so far on the trail. I stop and throw on my rain gear. I may sweat to death, but it’s better than losing my mind. J takes off, trying to out-hike the mosquitoes. I follow up the hill – “shoot,” I think, “I may, actually, sweat to death!”

We grab some water and push out the last two miles. We’re almost to the campsite when the world starts narrowing in on me. “J?” I say. “I’m going to pass out.” He gets me a clif bar and I pull back from the blackout brink, follow on wobbly legs. Lake Tahoe is shimmering on the horizon and we’re trying to get to a rock outcrop to camp, a rock outcrop totally surrounded by bogs. So the last quarter mile of the farthest I’ve ever hiked is through a swamp. We rig up the tarp up on our rock and have very sad “stroganoff” flavored noodles and one milky way. Happy birthday to me. Only seven miles to a shower and a bed tomorrow.






The view from camp


Day 72: discouraged

Day 72
Miles: 24
From boulder creek to Pennsylvania creek

Up at a reasonable hour – it’s a relief every time I manage this. The trail takes us away from the creek, through sunny meadows heavy with scented, green air and yellow light. J stops and points at the ground, “bear”. The scat is black, looks fresh.
  “Good thing we’re still doing bear-hangs. Maybe we should take them more seriously.”

We’re still in granite country, but a huge basalt dome pops straight out of the ground next to the trail, rises up to a peak. We stop and stare, puzzled, then argue about how it probably formed for a while. I like to make up outrageous (but plausible) scenarios, then stand by them, hell or highwater. J does not approve.

Wildflowers and mountain peaks, whatever. I’m exhausted. J and I bicker about something or nothing – the sun is hot – the trail is steep. Lunchtime and a rally.

The granite whirls back to volcanics again, spires and ridges like the castle of an evil sorceress. When we’re almost to Ebbetts Pass and the highway crossing, J says, “do you think there will be trail magic there?”
  “Ha, if only every highway crossing we get to, there will be a taco truck and cooler of ice cream.”
  “Shouldn’t get my hopes up. I probably shouldn’t just go around expecting for strangers to give me things.”

Even so, when we get to the highway and there’s nothing, we’re both terribly disappointed. We sit down on the side of the road to feel sorry for ourselves and eat some snacks. We sit for a while. We’re thinking about getting up when a truck stops in the pullout. “Do you think the back of his truck is full of strawberries, and he’s coming to give us some?”
  “Uh, no,” J replies.
  “Are you sure? I think he’s coming to give us strawberries.” But when the guy gets out of his truck and starts walking towards us carrying a box, I’m as surprised as anybody.

  “You want some V8? Is this a good place to leave it, do you think the other hikers will find it?”
  “Uh, yeah. Of course!” We tell him, a bit surprised.
  “I was out volunteering for the death ride today, we have all these extra V8s. Thought you might enjoy them.”
  “Yeah, we can always use more vegetables. Thanks!”
  “No problem!” the guy says add he leaves.

“Ha! How about that! You asked for trail magic, and the trail delivered!” I say to J. “And is it that obvious that we’re thru-hikers? He didn’t even ask. Are we that dirty?”
  “I think we are.”

The guy went back to his truck, but he’s coming back. “Do you guys drink beer?”
  “Yes!” Says J.
  The guy takes out three beers from a small cooler and tosses them in the box with the V8s. “Drink what you want, or leave it for the next hikers!”
  “Thanks man!”

He takes off, we sit and laugh, drink V8s till we’re silly. I don’t even like V8. When we’re sloshing with liquid tomatoes we get up to go. We’ve only made it 100 yards when we find a cooler, marked: trail magic. More trail magic! It’s stocked by Meadow Mary, with sodas, cookies, apples!
  “What?” I yell. “MORE trail magic?” We laugh and laugh, eat apples and cookies and drink Coca-Colas till we’re mostly liquid, full of vegetables and sugar and bubbles, then slosh down the trail.

We slosh past beautiful lakes that we can’t stop at – too many miles to go. We slosh past more spires and towers and rugged peaks – too many miles to go. Past wildflowers and cedars on cliffs and sunsets, pass, pass, pass. My feet feel like they’ve been beaten with hammers and my hipbones scream, but we keep going. Thru-hiking, man. It’s making me crazy.

We stop at the first water in a while, where another thru-hiker is camped. She introduces herself as Blue Butterfly – a solo female hiker, 67 years old. This is what tough looks like (unassuming, in quikdry clothes). We talk about the trail for a minute. She didn’t see the bear scat today, just the bear! Then we commiserate about the toll it’s taking on us. We are both so discouraged, so tired, so worn down.
  “Hold it, hold it, hold it!” J interrupts. “How many miles did you hike today,” he asks, turning to Blue Butterfly.
  “And you’ve done twenty-four,”.He says, turning to me. “Of course you’re tired! You’re hiking crazy miles! But you’re doing it! You both need to cut this sh*t out!”

Blue Butterfly and I look at each other sheepishly. He’s right. We’re tired, but we’re doing it, doing this, this thru-hike. Maybe we should just be proud of ourselves…

We leave Blue Butterfly to hike another mile to the next creek, where we find a beautiful camping spot, all to ourselves. We finally did the twenty-four miles that I wanted us to do all the other days. It feels good (and even better to be sitting down). Tomorrow is my birthday, and although we won’t make it town, we’ve decided to do a birthday challenge: twenty-nine miles for my 29th birthday. The crux will be getting up on time. Maybe I’ve got this.


Bear scat



Getting water




Wildflowers are off the hook!


Trail magic



Day 71: angels

Day 71
Miles: 21
From emigrant wilderness to boulder creek
Sonora pass

It’s morning! I’m happy to be here. I slept well. There are no mosquitoes. It’s brilliant and blue and I’m still tired but maybe – maybe – I can do this. I’m probably going to starve to death before getting to South Lake Tahoe for our next resupply, but maybe that will be ok too.

J and I hike over and around the volcanic peaks, luxuriating in the refreshing change in lithology. “Whoa!” exclaims J, as he leans over and picks up a rock from the slope next to the trail. He holds up an anethyst, glowing purple in the morning, big as his finger.
  “Do you think it’s from here? Or that somebody dropped it?”

The crystal is dirty, with some big flaws – it doesn’t seem like something that’s been carried around. Hard to say though. We find a rock with nearly microscopic crystals inside a vug, but nothing else like the amethyst. “The universe is rewarding us again!” I declare. J rolls his eyes.

The kaleidoscope of volcanic rocks is putting a serious crimp in J’s pace. We find an area of rock where the volcanic vesicles have been infilled with quartz. The little quartz nuggets have weathered out and lay all around like tiny dinosaur eggs. We’ve caught up with our friend Aloha and we point it out: “check out the cool rocks!”

We chat for a bit, then he asks us if we’re planning on getting off at Sonora Pass to hitch into Bridgeport.
  “No, we’re going all the way to South Lake Tahoe,” I reply.
  “Maybe we should though,” adds J. “We don’t really have enough food.”
  “I’m getting off at Sonora Pass,” says Aloha. “I have a ton of extra food. Do you want it?”

Offering food to another thru-hiker is possibly the very definition of generosity. “Wait, are you serious?” we ask. “You can use the food on your next leg.”
  “I’m actually getting off trail,” he explains. “It’s time to get back to my family.”
  “A thousand miles?” I ask, then add, “what a way to end your trip.” We’re wandering among volcanic spires and meltwater lakes, rocky slopes of wildflowers, sweeping vistas of before and behind, incredible skies, sheer dropoffs.

Aloha smiles, “not too bad, huh?” We agree to meet him at Sonora Pass, then continue on. Two day hikers coming up the trail tell us that there’s trail magic at the pass. “Trail magic?” J and I yell excitedly. We’re starving. We haven’t been eating enough for days. We take off running down the last two miles.

That lasts about thirty seconds, then, panting heavily, we walk very quickly down the switchbacks. Sure enough, where the trail crosses the highway there’s a sign welcoming PCT hikers.

The trail angel Mack, gets us Gatorade and chips, then looks at us. “Two hot dogs?” she asks, holding up two fingers. My heart plummets. I could clean out an entire hot dog stand right now. One lonely little hot dog would just be a tease! Mack looks over at J and says again, “two hot dogs?” She holds up two fingers on her other hand, then puts her two hands together – “so four hot dogs?”
  “Yes please!” we chorus. Hooray! Mack tells us she does trail magic here every year, for just one day. Today is our lucky day.

Aloha shows up at the pass, where his partner is waiting for him. He loads us down with nuts, snacks, and an entire armful of clif bars. (I’ve never been so happy about clif bars in my life. Eat them for a couple months then see how YOU feel about them.) After re-provisioning us, he tosses something small at J. “What’s this?” J asks, as he unzips the small pouch. It’s a mosquito net. A nine year old with a new xbox on Christmas morning couldn’t have smiled wider. “A mosquito head-net!” he laughs. “But how did you I needed one?”

Aloha had remembered a passing comment I made to him several days before about mosquitoes.

Trail angels come in so many different forms and appearances, but all are tied together with the generosity and help they provide for hikers – for a bunch of smelly people who probably don’t deserve it. I’m racking up a serious tab with the universe.

Heavy clouds, building all morning, are threatening us. Mack tells us that the rain up here, this time of year, comes from the monsoons in Arizona. Monsoons! Thinking about home and the beautiful summer rains makes me homesick.

Back on the trail. This isn’t the end of the road for us, not yet. Back to the mountains and views and flowers, so, so many flowers! It starts to drizzle, so I repack my pack with my trash compactor bag liner. We run into another hiker and – holy smokes – it’s the annoying man. The one we ran into twice in Kings Canyon! He’s here again! He doesn’t remember us, and we proceed to have the exact same annoying conversation with him that we’ve already had twice. There’s some sort of trail rule, where the people you love you never see again, but people who drive you crazy will pop back up, over and over again. There are exceptions, but in general…

The landscape whirls from volcanic rocks to granite again, stunning and familiar. The walking becomes instantly harder – it’s just so much harder on your feet.

I wanted to do 24 miles today, but settle for 21. I just can’t do it. My feet are excruciating. My hipbones are backsliding into bruises and open sores. I’m exhausted. The optimism of this morning seems impossibly far away. Did I really think I could do this? One day at a time. I’m so glad I’m not hungry anymore.






Day 70: things turn around

Day 70
Miles: 21.5
From falls creek to Emigrant wilderness

No fish, lost flies, popped squeeze bladder, spilled dinner, burned windshirt, not enough miles,fogs of mosquitoes, tired feet, raw hipbones… and a leaky air mattress to top off the night. I wake up on the ground, cold and achey. Bad night’s sleep. I hope this isn’t a trajectory. I might not make it 1000 miles.

No point getting up early with this kind of luck. My exhaustion is sitting on me like a 200lb man. Or perhaps like several: one for each of the passes. I’m so tired. I feel stretched – thin. My pants are sagging badly at the waist, but it’s not just my butt that’s disappearing. My motivation is thin, my energy is thin, the thread of this journey, the thing that’s pulling me forwards – it’s thin too, pulling out like taffy. I do not know if I can do this trail. I will give it everything, but I do not know if I will have enough to give. I’ve given my pound(s) of flesh, will this take bone?

We finally get going. J is sick of being hustled and having my neuroticism passed onto him – we hike off in two separate sulks.

Around eleven we come up on Dorothy Lake, like a vision of miles past. The lake lies shimmering under ice carved ridges and spires. The water reflects the black shadows of the thunderheads building to the north – hovering at the meeting of blue skies behind us and black skies ahead. I repack my entire pack using a trash bag as a liner.

The thunder rolling ahead of us makes us nervous as we scurry across Dorothy Pass, but the weather holds.  Suddenly we’ve passed the sign that marks the end boundary of Yosemite National Park. That’s it. The High Sierra is behind us. Of all the parts of the trail, that section is the one I worried about the most, prepared for the most, thought about the most… just like that it’s over. It’s strange to have things behind us, instead of feeling the length of the entire trail still reaching out before us. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at that, with a thousand miles under our belts. Just like that, we’re standing at the 1000 mile mark.

1000 miles! Not even halfway.

We’re hardly out of Yosemite and the rocks change. Goodbye granite… there’s a huge bear claw mark across a tree, so I point it out to J. J? Where’d he go? I wait. I wait. I start freaking out, and do the unthinkable: walk south. I finally find J five minutes later. He’d gotten distracted at the contact between the granite and the calcareous meta-seds.

Half an hour later, I’ve lost him again. At least, I think I have. I just stopped to look at this little waterfall next to the trail, then came back out to wait for J. I thought he was only a few minutes behind me, so he should be here by now. I walk back on the trail a bit – no sign of him. I walk forward – no sign. Did he pass me in the minute I was off trail? Does he think he’s behind me still? I walk back again, this time looking for his tracks, but it’s all gravel. I walk forward, doing my best Sherlock Holmes impression, nose to the ground, until I convince myself that I’ve found his footprints. So he is ahead of me!

I think.

I feel panic rising. If he thinks he’s ahead of me, I’ll never catch him, we’ll both be running down the trail after each other. If I’m wrong, and he’s still behind me, I could be running away from him. I start booking it down the trail, eyes for nothing but footprints, J’s footprints. It rained up here earlier today, so the trail is really fresh, and I know I’m following a pair of Merrell Moabs, but Merrells are really popular shoes. “Dammit J,” I shout out loud, “wait for me! You haven’t seen my footprints in two miles, I know it!” I’m wearing a pair of Salomon crossmax shoes, and my tread is far more distinctive. I run, then walk slowly, torn between catching up with him, or letting him catch up with me. I cry and rage, worried and frustrated. I’ve been hustling J all day, bugging him to go faster – he probably thinks I’ve ditched him.

At what point do I stop and wait? If we both decide to stop and wait, we won’t find each that way either. J doesn’t even have maps for this area. The next water coming up, a little creek, it’s the last water for ten miles. I told that to J before we were separated, now I’m hoping he’s remembered. “Wait for me at the water, please!” I shout to the silent, dripping trees. If he’s not there, I’ll wait for him, long as it takes.

I come around the corner, to where the creek crosses the trail, and I see him. “J! J!” He opens his arms and catches me up, where I cry again, this time in relief. “You got ahead of me but I was behind you I was following your footprints why didn’t you wait for me I’ve been so worried I’m so glad I found you!” I blurt out all at once.

He explains his end – like I thought, he thought I was ahead of him, that I had ditched him. He’d been practically running down the trail trying to catch up with me. After while he realized he hadn’t seen any of my footprints in a long time and started freaking out himself. He’d made it to the last water and I wasn’t there. He’d left a note and gone ahead – no sign of me. He was on his way to look back down the trail when I got there.

“Let’s not get separated ever again ever,” I tell him, still holding onto him.
  “Yeah, let’s stay cheek-to-cheek for a while.” We’ve been driving each other a little bit crazy, but separation is worse.

The entire episode took an hour. “Worst hour of this trip yet,” J says.

I’m all frazzled still, but at least we made good time, right? We grab some water and start the switchbacks out of the valley. The sheer granite of Yosemite has been replaced with big basaltic cones with huge, smooth, brown sides. We climb the trail, a flat groove notched into the slope of talus, up, up.

It’s getting dark as we reach the top. There’s a man there, nothing but a tank top and running shorts and a small camelbak. What is he doing out here?

He turns out to be the support crew for Joe McConaughey (String Bean), the guy trying to break the PCT speed record this year. “He’s doing 44 miles a day right now,” he tells us. “He’d really like to do 45, but that last mile is just really tough, you know?”
  “Yeah,” we agree. “That last mile is tough for us too.” Of course, for us the difference is between 19 and 20 miles, but kind of the same.

It’s super steep up here, but I’d really like to camp. We discover a flat spot on a little saddle below the peaks, right at the timberline, where the trees grow bent over, windblown into shrubberies. We’re on the rim of a huge valley, lakes down below, the peaks of Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Sequoia, all stretching back in row after row of jagged spires and snow. The rainclouds of earlier have lifted and broke, and the setting sun drops beneath them to light up the entire place in incendiary hues. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen, here on the PCT.

“The universe was testing us, and we passed! Now it’s rewarding us!”
  “Gizmo, the universe is not personally interested in you,” J shoots me down.
  “Yes it is!” I laugh, buoyant, undeterred. “Look at this!” I sweep my arms around. I don’t really care the universe cares or not – this moment is perfect. Everything is perfect, is worth it. 1000 miles to end up here.


Dorothy Lake. Guess which way we’re headed…


1000 miles.


The waterfall I stopped to look at.



Bears in these woods.