We have been living large of late – at least for PCT thru-hikers. After three lazy days in Mammoth Lakes (where life for Gus, Carter and me consisted of watching huge amounts of HBO, the Tour de France and leaving the hotel room a grand total of two or three times a day), it was a little bit tough to get back on the trail. Our recuperation time in Mammoth was probably the most physically lazy time that I have ever had in my life, a nice antidote to the physical endeavor we are on right now. It was also the longest time that we had spent in civilization for the past 47 days. I thought it would take me a bit longer to get used to the comforts of civilized first-world society (i.e. running water, electricity, shelter that’s not made out of netting, a plethora of food choices within walking distance…), but by day two the initial gratitude I had felt going into town was gone, to be replaced by my normal attitude of general complacency towards the whole modern world sha-bang — acceptance that that is just the way our developed society is, and with that, just totally taking the comfort of it all for granted.
It was a bit scary how fast I fell back into the mind-set of contentment sans gratitude for the ease in which all the comforts of life were available after spending 47 days in pretty consistent discomfort. After three days in Mammoth Lakes, living the good life was completely normal again, to where I had barely a fleeting thought to what life had been like for the past month and a half. Experiencing this drastic change in mentality in such a short amount of time-from being wholly appreciative of every little comfort present in the developed world, to taking it all for granted once again- helped me become a little bit more thankful for the different perspective that life on the trail provides.
Despite the fact that we had eaten (more than) our fill, and any ailments that our bodies may have had, had ample time for recovery, all three of us dragged our feet getting back on the trail. As we meandered back to the trailhead at Reds Meadows, we stopped for lunch, an ice cream sandwich, more bug repellent, and milkshakes, making our final start time a whopping 4 pm. But we weren’t back on the trail for long.
We hiked that evening, passing The Devil’s Postpile, one of the most magnificent national monuments I have ever seen. We slept, woke up and hiked, and slept again, before entering into Yosemite National Park, and descending into Tuolommne Meadows.
My mom and dad who were down in the area to hike part of the John Muir Trail met us at the Tuolomne General Store with Gus’s girlfriend, who was going to join us for a couple weeks. It was really good to see familiar faces. Our parents took us back down into Mammoth for yet another night of hotel comfort and even spoiled us with a delicious dinner and re-supplied some of our necessary food (candy bars, chips, hot chocolate and dried fruit).
While we were only planning on spending one night off-trail with our parents, as we were driving back to the Tuolomne trailhead, Gus, Carter, Leah and I, on a whim, decided to prolong our absence from trail life just a bit longer and travel to the floor of the Yosemite Valley to see some of the legendary sights, (Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls etc.). It was a detour well worth it. We stayed at the tourist zoo that is Curry Camp and we were almost as amused by the people watching than with the views. Almost. The wildlife down in the valley was pretty interesting as well. Nothing, not bears, deer or ducks seemed to have any inherent fear of close proximity to humans. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but it did make for some good pictures.
Unfortunately Carter had a commitment come up back home, so on the drive back to the PCT trailhead we dropped him off at Camp 4 with a sign that said “North, please.” He is now safely back in Tacoma and will hopefully be able to rejoin us for some sections in Oregon or Washington.
And then it was Gus, Leah, and me, back on the trail.
I say that we have been living “in the lap of luxury,” so to speak, for the last two weeks, for a few different reasons. The most prevalent of which, for Gus and me, has been the ability to take a break from the thru-hiking mentality and instead relax into what we now understand as “true backpacking.” Hiking with Leah for two weeks gave Gus and me a reason to slow down, stop worrying about mileage each day and simply enjoy. I have described our newfound distinction between thru-hiking and backpacking before (thru-hiking=worrying about mileage, skimping on comfort to make your pack lighter and being in pretty consistent pain whereas backpacking=enjoying nature, having enough food, being able to stop in a pretty place and appreciate what is around you), and over the last two weeks Gus and I were able to experience this dichotomy in full.
With Leah we hiked between 10 and 15 miles a day (although we did have two 20+ days, props to her), giving us ample time stop at (almost) every swimming hole, take naps at lunch, have hot chocolate in the morning and at night, sleep in, play cards, read good books, sunbathe…life on the trail has been very good.
Although everyone is required to carry a bear can through Yosemite, only Gus was lucky enough to see a bear while we were hiking through the park. We did have a scare one night, however, as we were all snug in our tents and heard a large animal huffing and puffing and moving around our campsite. We could see a very large outline against the moonlit sky. As we prepared to make ourselves big and make alot of noise (the prescribed action for scaring off black bears) Gus turned on his flashlight only to find a buck with a full rack of antlers (hence the big silhouette) grazing around our tents. Leah and I were relieved, but Gus was a bit disappointed that another bear-wrestling story had eluded him.
After about five days of beautiful and leisurely Yosemite hiking, I was running low on food (I had planned for seven days but Gus and Leah had enough for ten) so I decided to go ahead to the next resupply in Echo Lake and wait for them there. As I hiked away solo, I passed the Yosemite boundary, leaving the park once and for all, and then onto the 1000 mile mark…at last!
I hiked for awhile before running into two other thru-hikers, “Coyote” and “Road-kill” that we had been leap-frogging since Kennedy Meadows. We hiked until we reached Sonora Pass, and with it a road that was a 40-minute hitch from the nearest town of Bridgeport, which, according to one PCT guide book had delicious pizza, burgers and beer. Although none of us had been planning on it, we decided to give the hitch a try. Food was just too tempting. After about ten minutes a green Subaru Forester pulled up, confirmed that he was headed to Bridgeport, and also that he had room for three. We were in luck.
It turned our that our driver had hiked part of the PCT in ’99 with his wife until a knee injury took him off the trail in Mammoth Lakes, where they consequently ended up settling down, and he is now a defense attorney in the area. This ended up being to our advantage (no, we didn’t get arrested), as he dropped us in Bridgeport and asked if we were trying to get back to the trailhead that night (which we were), he then talked to his friend, the friendly local Sheriff, who told us that whenever we needed a ride back, just to flag down the patrol car. He said that the the cops in town like giving rides to PCT hikers, as it is considerably safer than hitch-hiking. No objections there.
After pizza, beer, a few rounds of pool and some much needed re-stock of food from the general store for me, we walked outside to a waiting patrol car. “You girls still need a ride?” We were back at the trail-head by 11:30 pm. A successful town trip we decided unanimously.
I met up with Gus and Leah the next day, now with enough food to get me through the few more days to Echo Lake. Even after one day of ‘fast’ hiking I already missed the relaxed pace and leisurely breaks. We made it to Echo Lake with food to spare and were even greeted by a box of goodies from our Oma and Opa.
The luxury continued when we called family friends who lived in Gardnerville and had offered us a place to stay. We were driven to their beautiful home on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe and treated to delicious home-made food, beds and showers for two nights. Thank you so much to Allan and PJ for being such gracious and generous hosts!
(Sushi and sunset on Lake Tahoe)
With only three more days on the trail with Leah, we lived it up, ate really well and swam to our hearts content. Allan recommended jell-o for breakfast while hiking and I think we are all converts. We even saw a baby bear in our last three miles!
Leah goes home today and Gus and I are back to the trail. The past two weeks have been refreshing; we both remember now why we liked backpacking in the first place. When it’s about the activity of being outside, not an obsession over the miles, hiking becomes a much more enjoyable endeavor. Hopefully we will be able to incorporate some of the appreciation into our next section. However, now we are cutting it close. We want to make it home before October, before the snow starts falling in the North Cascades. Thus, we are in for many high-mileage days over the next few weeks.
Our waistlines have expanded back to their normal sizes, and our thru-hiking ethics have all but disappeared (a 12 mile day felt long the other day, I can’t wait to see how consistent 25-ers feel…), but our bodies are considerably well-rested and pain-free and we are starting to smell the fir trees of home. In a week-ish we will be hitting the halfway mark on the PCT, 370 miles later we’ll roll into Oregon, and 450 miles later we’ll be in Washington, sweet Washington.
(Lake Aloha at sunset)
Cheers to Leah for being such a trooper and hiking 180 PCT miles! Especially with waterproof boots which were conducive to blisters galore…
Also, many thanks to Karin Sable for letting us stay at her house and introducing us to her precious new puppy, Ptygo!
Until next time,