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