Day 65: My last pass above 11,000 feet and a shift in my sickness

Day 65
June 22
mile 6.1 on JMT (about PCT mile ) 914-933
19 miles

I got up just before 7 and realized that I had rolled off my sleeping pad. It was SO cold! I was hopeful that it was going to be a good day for my stomach, but when I went to the bathroom, it was obvious that I was still sick. I packed up and walked down to the edge of the water to see the view in the morning light.
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By 8:05, I was back on the trail. As I walked around the small lake, I saw numerous tents sent up and was thankful that I had found my own space last night. The trail contoured pretty lakes and then climbed along cascades of water.
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I began to see snow covered mountains in the distance once again.
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A couple of hours later, I sat down along the side of the trail and ate a bagel with blackberry jam.
About an hour later, I felt a strong cramping sensation in my intestines and immediately had to expel the contents. For the first time in my life, I found out what it was like to have explosive diarrhea. Something was very wrong. I had heard many people talk about having this as a symptom of giardia, but I felt fortunate not to have experienced that part of it both times that I had had it. Something had definitely changed in my sickness, however. It seemed to have moved from my stomach into my intestines and now I was having a different set of problems!
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I encountered many day and section hikers in the area, but luckily, they did not appear when I needed privacy. I crossed over a bridge and briefly lost the trail, not realizing that it wrapped back around the lake in the other direction.
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Three southbound women passed me, wearing mosquito head nets. The mosquitoes were becoming more of a problem, but not enough to make me wear one of those things while walking!
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As the trail climbed, I encountered several groups of day hikers. The JMT was far more crowded than the PCT!
Gradually, I made my way back down to the intersection of the PCT at a beautiful setting of alpine lakes. I sat down and had a lunch of beef jerky, a kiwi, some salted nuts, and an acai dark chocolate bar. The mosquitoes immediately swarmed me and I had to wipe myself with Deet. This day seemed to be progressing so slowly. The miles were taking much longer than I had hoped.
A couple of hours later, I ran into Billy Goat, heading southbound. He was worried about the thunderclouds forming in the sky, which I found surprising for someone who has spent so much of his time out on the trails. He said he was headed back to his car, so he didn’t have to be too concerned about getting wet. A big storm was supposedly on its way, just in time for my visit to Yosemite! We discovered that we are both from the Boston area and I learned that he used to be a conductor on the same commuter rail trains that I took every day to work! What a small world! He asked me why I was hiking this trail and we talked about what being out here does for our spirits. Billy Goat told me that he doesn’t want to have a home. He said that it is nice for the first night to be inside, in a bed, but after the second night, it starts getting old. I felt the same way during my time in Mammoth! After telling him about my stomach illness, he advised me to find a cheap place to stay for a couple of days where I could rest and agreed that going home would mean the end of my hike. He believes that the body will always catch up to what the mind wants. “If the mind wants it, it will bring the body along.” My mind most definitely wanted to hike the entire trail! He told me about his experience climbing Half Dome in the 90s and that he would likely see me the next morning during his hike south from Tuolemne Meadows. He also said that there was a girl named Tortoise not far ahead of me, who I would probably catch up to. After thanking me for taking the time to chat with him, we went off on our separate ways.
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The trail took me along clear pools of water that I seemed to recognize from past hiker’s photographs. Even though I felt like I wasn’t making good progress, I decided to sit down at the edge of one of the lakes for a few minutes. I discovered that I had a little reception and texted Muk Muk. She wrote back and told me that she and UB were at VVR, but that they were going to hike separately from there on out. She had to re-organize her system and was feeling sad about the situation. I let her know that I was planning on taking a couple of days to hike Half Dome, and that maybe that would give her a chance to catch up to me.
I put my pack back on and continued up the trail. I had one steep climb of about 1,000 feet in elevation gain ahead of me.
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I felt tired and had to muster up some energy and keep my mind positive. My pack felt heavy and the altitude made the going slow. I felt like I was out of shape. All I could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other and stopping as often as I needed to take in more air.
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I had another patch of snow to get across once I neared the top. At last I had made it. I tried to find the trail along the top of the ridge, which turned out not to be so easy. I lost it a few times on the rocky descent, as well, but eventually I could look down into the valley and see the contour of the path. I passed by Tortoise and then found a nice rock to sit on and cook my spaghetti dinner, while a couple of curious marmots approached. The meal was a bit too spicy for me, but I really appreciated having a different taste.
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I headed down the trail, instinctively turning away from a big pool of water in front of me, only to realize later that that was actually the trail. I had more fording to do and couldn’t manage to keep my feet dry. Several people had set up their tents in this area. I continued to descend into the forest and saw several other campers. A couple of guys still hiking warned me about how bad the mosquitoes were at Tuolemne Meadows and to be prepared.
As the sun started to set, I had to start looking for a place to set up camp. I had hoped to make it to the bottom of the descent, but I had run out of time. I noticed a flat area in the woods and went over to see if there was a spot for me to camp there. As I walked further in, I saw a couple of fire rings! I found a real campsite! I picked a patch of dirt to spread out my ground cloth and unroll my sleeping bag. Then, I noticed some leftover garbage close by, including a radio. It gave me an eerie feeling for awhile, but I settled down and tried to go to sleep.
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Day 64: A Day of Loss

Day 64
June 21
mile 906.7- to about 914 (mile 6.1 on JMT alternate)
7.3 miles (plus about 5 getting lost)

I saw Seeking in the post office when I went in in the morning to mail a box of extra food and supplies to South Lake Tahoe. I told him I was heading back to the trail today and he gave me a hug and told me that I was brave. He said the last section was tough enough without stomach pain, which it was! As I walked back to the office to see what I could do about getting a package that had not yet arrived forwarded, I saw Otherworld! Her fiancee was here in Mammoth and she was trying to figure out whether or not to stay here for the weekend with the increasing rates, or find another place to stay. We were both having a hard time with the attitude of the people in the office. She told me that she had hiked with Sexy Legs and Ash for a couple of days and had a really good time with them. She figured they were somewhere in town by now. I returned to my room to pack up and check out and then headed down to the road to try to hitch a ride back to Red’s Meadow. The buses weren’t running until tomorrow. I walked past the bus stop and away from the father and daughter waiting there and stuck out my thumb. Car after car passed. I wondered how long it was going to take for someone to stop.
Finally, a car pulled over. The driver didn’t seem to know where Red’s Meadow was but handed me a map and said he could at least drive me up the road. He also told me that he wasn’t a murderer and just wanted to help a hiker out, as he had been in my position before. He was headed to a campground for the night that turned out to be in a different direction, but said that if I could wait for him to check in and get his assigned spot, he would take me where I needed to get to. He was just returning from his climb up Mt. Whitney, so we shared storied about our different experiences.
We arrived at the campground store, where he found out his campsite number, and asked for directions to Red’s Meadow. The guy told him that no cars were allowed up there and that I would need to take the bus, which made no sense. How did all of the hikers get back on the trail while the buses weren’t running? Dale asked me if I would help take some things out of his car to mark his campsite as taken. He seemed to have a lot of worry about it being stolen while we were away, as well as not being able to set up his big tent by himself. I tried to assure him that no one was going to take anything and that he could ask any of his neighbors to help him with his tent. He also wanted to know if I would pop his blisters that he had acquired on his Mt. Whitney ascent, as he did not like needles and couldn’t even reach his feet because he wasn’t flexible enough. I said I would help him. We took off and made our way to the base of the road that lead up the mountain. We saw a bus filled with mountain bikes and Dale told me that it was taking them up to the ski lift, where the bikers could ride down the mountain. He wondered about whether or not he should try that during the weekend. He stopped and asked a parking attendant if the road was open to Red’s Meadow, and the guy told him it was not. “But I need to get back on the PCT!” I told him. He said we could drive up to the park ranger gate and see what they said, but he had heard it was closed to cars.
We headed up and once at the gate, were told that it would cost $10 to go any further, even if Dale immediately turned around. I got out of the passenger seat and went to the trunk to dig out my money from my pack. In the meantime, Dale had mentioned that he had a disability card from his hip replacement, and the lady waived the fee for him. We were now set! On our way up the hill, I saw Spoonman and Butters walking down the road. “My friends!”. They had stayed much longer in town than they had originally planned. I asked them where they were going and they told me they were taking a shortcut. I wanted to get back on the trail where I had gotten off, so Dale drove me up the road. We saw the Swedes following a bit behind.
Once we arrived at Red’s Meadow, Dale told me that the ride had been worth it for him. He liked listening to my stories and he was glad that he now knew how to get up here. I asked him if he wanted help popping his blister. I had a clean needle in my pack and he said that he would appreciate it if I could pop the huge blister on his big toe. It took a lot longer to work on than I expected because it was so huge! Orange fluid streamed out with each hole I made and I needed extra tissues to absorb it all. I wondered how he could be walking around at all on something that big! Finally, my duty was done and I headed back to the trail the way I had come in. When I reached the intersection with one sign pointing to Rainbow Falls and the other to the PCT southbound, I looked all over for the northbound trail, but saw no options! I finally decided to take the Rainbow Falls trail, but my GPS told me once I walked down it aways, that that was not the PCT! I hiked back up the hill and after walking every direction possible, I finally saw a small rock and a little dirt clearing heading downhill. It was not at all noticeable to me until I was right upon it! I walked by a trail crew doing some maintenance and a couple of them encouraged me on. As I reached the next intersection, I once again became confused as to where to go. Day hikers walked by and after backtracking a couple of times, I finally managed to find the PCT. I had a choice of taking the Devil’s Postpile trail, but as I had already lost so much time, I decided to stick to the PCT. I could see the landmark and day hikers across the trail and it didn’t seem like I was missing much from the view I had.
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I continued to see a lot of fallen trees as I hiked and wondered what all of the day hikers thought about coming here. I soon came to another intersection at which I needed to make a choice. Some hikers took the JMT for the next stretch, which was a little longer than the PCT, and had more climbing, but went by more scenic lakes. I took out my maps and looked them over as I snacked on a vegan cookie. A couple walked by and told me that they were going to take the John Muir Trail, if that was of any help to me. I had already been thinking of doing the same. As I packed up and headed up the JMT, another hiker came by and told me the PCT was this way. “I know, ” I told him. He said that he had taken both routes before and this time he was going to stick to the PCT as it was shorter. He asked me my name and introduced himself as Lint. “Oh. You’re the guy who is hiking 40 miles a day!” I said. He said it was more like 35 per day. We wished each other well and headed our separate ways. I climbed to yet another intersection with the sign pointing to a lake with the same name as my last name! I didn’t remember seeing that lake on my map, so I continued to climb.
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My Achilles had been feeling quite tender and painful as I had started hiking, but now, the pain was lessening a bit. My stomach was also not hurting as much as usual. Maybe the Reiki really was working! I felt strong as I climbed switchback after switchback and was so happy to finally be back in the woods. After about an hour or so, I saw a couple heading towards me. “Are you out here hiking alone?” the man asked.
“Aren’t you afraid of the wildlife?”
He asked where I was headed to and I said Canada! I told him that I was hiking the PCT but was taking the JMT alternate in this section. “This isn’t the JMT,” he said.
“It isn’t?”.
“I don’t think so.” He pulled out his map and showed me.
“Well, it’s a good thing I ran across you guys!”.
He told me I was welcome to hike back down with his wife and two teenage sons who had since come along, but I quickly outpaced them as I headed back down each switchback that I had just climbed! I was proud of maintaining a good attitude over the lost time and energy I had just spent. Hiking back seemed to take much, much longer than it did to climb, though! Where was the junction? I kept looking at my GPS and it kept telling me that the PCT was farther and farther away! By the time I reached the intersection to Johnston Lake, it was 5:00 and I was back at mile 0.8 of the JMT! I had lost 2 and a half hours with my mistake.
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I walked by the little lakes and headed up the next climb. A guy hiking southbound told me to “get ready” for the hordes of mosquitoes I was about to encounter. I found a camp spot by the side of the trail and pulled over to take a dinner break. The mosquitoes were already swarming me, and I was forced to wipe Deet over my exposed skin. While I cooked my lactose-free Japanese dinner, I noticed that one of my earrings was no longer in my ear! I looked all around but didn’t see anything. I felt like this was a day of loss.
I hiked on into the evening and once it approached 8:00, began looking for a spot to camp. As I neared a lake, I felt that there might be a flat spot down off the trail, so I headed down a hill and found a campfire ring of rocks. My intestines, which had not bothered me much while I walked, immediately cramped and I had to quickly find a place to go to the bathroom. Before the sun set, I walked down to the edge of the water to look at the view near my sleeping spot and then returned to the dirt to set up my cowboy camp. Darkness fell and I huddled inside my sleeping bag, thankful that the miles today were not nearly as tough as they had been during the last stretch.
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Day 63: Another day in Mammoth

Day 63
June 20

My stomach was still hurting in the morning, although the intensity of the pain had dissipated during the night. It was clear that I would have to spend another day in town where I had a bed to rest in, even though that meant spending a lot more money than I had planned. I headed over to the cafe next door to have a lactose free breakfast wrap. Omelets were now off limits. (I hadn’t even realized that restaurants add milk to their scrambled eggs).
On the way back to the motel, I saw the Swedes! They were invited to shower in Butter’s and B-rad’s room and then planned on hitting the trail. Yesterday, I had seen Anastacia (Ice Queen) when she came running out of the pizza place as I was walking through the plaza. “Wendy!” she called. “We haven’t seen you since the Saufley’s!”. She looked so tiny in her little town dress.
I decided to be social and knocked on Butter’s door next to me. The Swedes, Archie (Sailor Moon), Butters, B-Rad, Spoonman, and Skinny D were all hanging out. I wasn’t fitting in so well, so I excused myself shortly after. My achilles was still hurting when I bore weight on my right foot and I couldn’t even dance in my room. I was both sick and injured and my spirit was not alive.
I read through my guidebook pages for the upcoming sections and noticed that the Northern Kennedy Meadows store only accepts UPS mail, which I didn’t think I had caught in my planning. I had a slight panic attack and then texted my resupply people to let them know. Then, I took a nap. I fell into the deepest sleep I had had since starting the trail, and immediately had dreams of being in the forest. My subconscious wanted to be back on the trail!

As I headed back to the organic cafe for some dinner, I ran into Seeking and Razor. Seeking couldn’t believe that my stomach was still hurting! I told him about my achilles tendon and Razor started in on how my feet probably didn’t point straight ahead and when I showed him they did, told me how I needed to be stretching. Seeking invited me to have a beer with them, but that was the last thing my stomach needed.
I brought a Kombucha drink back to my room, did some sorting and packing, and wrote a message to one of my yoga teachers who does a long distance reiki group session a couple of times a month for anyone in need. I explained what I was trying to do and that I have been in a lot of pain for the last three and a half weeks and asked if she could include me in the group. She wrote back saying that this was too much pain, that what I had done was impressive enough, and that it was time to go home. She didn’t want to see me dragging myself unnecessarily to Canada like Linus’ blanket. I was initially surprised by her response. She was the second person advising me to quit, and I had to take her opinion more seriously than the other person’s. However, I couldn’t agree that hiking only 1/3 of the trail was impressive enough and I could not imagine flying back home and returning to my couch as a failure. Who would want to celebrate me hiking only 900 miles and what was I going to do when I got home? I didn’t even have a job anymore. All I wanted to do was keep hiking this trail until I reached Canada. I came out here to hike the entire PCT. This is where I wanted to be.

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Day 62: Zero in Mammoth

Day 62
June 19

I sought out a breakfast place in town that I thought would be healthy, bypassing the place that most of the hikers were eating at. There were only a few other patrons there, and I felt a bit lonely sitting by myself. I asked for soy creamer in my coffee, which did not look or taste as good as coffee with cream. It was a disappointing feeling not to be able to enjoy my normal treats. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to hike without being able to have my morning coffee to boost my mood in the morning. After looking through the menu, I ended up ordering the artichoke omelet that they had listed as one of their specials. Being new to a lactose-free diet, I was learning what I could and could not eat. The omelet had cheese in it, and I did not realize until a few hours later that I had made a big mistake in choosing what I did for breakfast.
I walked back to my room and gathered my clothes to put in the washer, started cleaning my stove and other gear that needed washing and began to sort through my resupply. I headed over to the healthy cafe after a couple of hours and ordered a latte with almond milk and a gluten and dairy free strawberry coconut muffin. A group of hikers were seated around a table and one of them, a young guy that I recognized from the yoga class I taught at kick-off, motioned me over. I thought he was going to say something to me about the class, but instead said “Hey, did you have the scariest ride of your life from that guy that took you up to Onion Valley?” I smiled. Somehow, he was far more terrifying to the guys than he was to me. We exchanged stories about our rides with him, and then I just sat at the table next to them sipping my latte while they tried to figure out how to get to a music festival that was beginning tomorrow.
I headed back to my room and skyped with my Swiss friend. My stomach was already hurting and the pain continued to increase throughout the day. The only thing I could do was lie down in my bed.
I thought that a sushi dinner might be good for my stomach, so I headed out across town, stopping in the natural foods store again to find out if they sold a non-dairy powdered milk alternative for my coffee. I ended up buying some soy milk powder and a few more lactose free snacks. I ran into Hermes and Lotus on the way to the sushi place and told them about my injured achilles and painful stomach. I was not able to enjoy the sushi at all, and had to practically force it down, while the pain in my stomach increased. My breakfast had done me in for the day. As I attempted to walk back to my room across town, I had to keep telling myself that I only to make it 10 minutes more before I could lie down again. I focused on each step and continued to tell myself that I didn’t have much farther to go.
Once back in my room, I lied down and texted a friend who was not sympathetic to my pain. He told me it was time to quit and go back to Boston. I tossed the phone down. I had hoped to get back on the trail tomorrow, but right now, all I could do was rest and hope the pain in my stomach would subside.

Day 61: To Red’s Meadow

Day 61
June 18
mile 894.7- 906.7
12 miles

I saw a couple walk by on the trail while I was still getting ready in the morning. The man was moving slowly uphill and I quickly caught up to him and saw that it was Sharky from Silver Pass. His wife, Bibo, was waiting for him up ahead. I continued on alone in the forest until a hiker I had never met caught up to me during a pack break. He said his name was Prophet and was intent on getting to Red’s Meadow in time for lunch. I had no such goal. Twelve miles was still a good distance to hike and I just wanted to get into town.
When I caught back up to him as he was taking a break, he asked me if I had gotten a ride up to Onion Valley from a really scary man. He realized after I said that my name was Wendy, that I was the same person who had gotten a ride up to the mountain from the same man that had given him and Sagi a ride down. “Did you leave your snow basket in his car?”.
“Yes, I told him that, but he said that I didn’t.”
“Well, he found it and was shouting your name up the mountain. Wendy…! Wendy…!”
I shrugged. He said that that was the scariest ride he had ever gotten. He kept slamming on the breaks and driving in the middle of the road and was telling them the strangest stories. He asked them for money before they got in his car, as well. Only Sagi had a few bucks to give him.
I found it interesting that the guy drove them down the mountain and did not camp there after all. He obviously knew that we needed rides and was on the lookout for us. I was disappointed that he lied to me.
I took a break and let Prophet move on as Bibo and Sharky caught up. I dug into my food bag for some candy, which boosted my mood for the moment.
It didn’t take long for that pleasure to turn to immense pain, however. I crossed a creek where Bibo and Sharky sat on the other side eating and stood there, holding my stomach, unable to move. My face expressed the pain I was feeling in my stomach. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. One of the two asked me if I was okay and I said no. I told them the antibiotics had made me lactose intolerant and that I was in great pain. Bibo asked, “Do you want some cheese?”.
No! (I just said I was lactose intolerant…!).
I moved away until I found my own space and went to the bathroom. Then, I continued onward, walking mile after mile in the forest as the trail gradually descended. A southbound hiker headed towards me and told me I was almost there. (I still had about 4 miles to go. “Almost” means different things to different people..). He tried to boost my spirits by telling me that the restaurant had really good milkshakes. I frowned and said that I was now lactose intolerant and couldn’t enjoy a milkshake.
Later on, I ran into three day hikers. One lady exclaimed, “You look like you’re ready for anything” based on the size of my pack. I smiled and nodded. The man said that I had a challenging creek crossing coming up. My eyes grew wide. “Yeah,” the other lady said. “You get to walk across a big log!”. I smiled, wishing they could know half of what I had gone through in this last stretch. To them, this creek crossing was the big challenge of their day. For me, it was one of the easiest crossings I had done. It’s all about perspective.
I soon entered one of the ugliest parts of the trail I had seen. A massive storm had blown through, cutting through hundreds of thousands of trees, leaving a scene of destruction behind. The wind picked up and the sun glared overhead, and the walking became quite unpleasant. My sickness was making my mood decrease, as well. I walked past downed tree after downed tree, slowly descending towards Red Meadow. It felt like it was taking forever to get there.
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Finally, I reached an intersection at which I got a bit confused. I saw the sign to Red’s Meadow, but couldn’t figure out where the PCT continued north. I followed the side trail, still not knowing if the buses were running or not. A hiker headed my way. It was Drama! “Well, hello, hello!” I said. I told him that I was still sick and he made a joke about it. I didn’t find it so funny. Our interaction was brief. He told me that a bunch of people were in the parking lot getting ready to hitch and I asked if I should hurry to try to get a ride with them. He said no, and we parted ways.
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As I headed to the store to ask about the buses, I saw a group of thru-hikers standing in the area between the restaurant and store. One of them was the hiker who had told me to stop the psychosomatics. I did not want to be near him! The others I did not know.
I went into the store and upon asking, was told that the buses would start running on Saturday. Really? It was a low snow year and on a normal snow year, they were supposed to start running on June 15th. I went back outside and saw an Asian man heading towards his car. I followed him and asked if he was going to Mammoth. He was. “Could I get a ride with you?”. He looked at his wife, who was helping her daughter up the stairs. “How many of you?”.
“Just me.”
Luckily, she agreed! I put my pack in the back and got in the seat with the cute little girl. Her older brothers were in the seat behind us. The parents were interested in my hike and the father, in particular, had several questions for me. He wanted to know what the hardest part had been for me and what I liked best about it. He seemed to understand my answers and I could tell that he was looking for some of what I was finding on the trail in his own life. The girl wanted to play peek-a-boo with me, and kept asking her parents if they were almost at their hotel. When they told her they would be going out for lunch, she groaned. She said that sounded “awful!”. I guess the car ride was making her stomach hurt. I could totally relate! Every meal had sounded awful to me for over three weeks now.
They brought me to the Motel 6, where I had my packages sent, and went on their way.
After checking in, I ran into Greg (Sprinkles, now known as Butters), which was a surprise. He was with B-Rad, Spoonman, and Skinny D. Greg wanted me to show him some stretches for his IT band which had taken him off the trail at Tuolomne Meadows last year. It was acting up again. I told them about my lactose intolerance and Skinny D said that her friend had become permanently lactose-intolerant after taking antibiotics. Great!
I took a shower, changed into clean clothes, and headed out to find something to eat. There was a healthy cafe close by and I ordered a veggie burger that came with a side-salad and some corn chips. I felt so grateful for some real, healthy food, that I started to cry a little.
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I headed across the street to the outfitter to see if they had my shoes and found out that they did, but not in my size. They did have a half size smaller. After trying them on, I decided to go ahead and buy them rather than wait at least another 100 or so miles. The man also helped me find some lactose-free dehydrated meals, which was nice. I headed over to the natural foods store and looked around for any snacks that did not contain dairy. All of the food that I had pre-bought for my hike had dairy in it. I didn’t know how long I was going to be lactose intolerant and the thought of needing to buy all new food for the remainder of the trip had me very worried about the expense. Bambi appeared in one of the aisles. He asked me how my stomach was and I told him it was not good. I said that I ran into Purple Haze in Lone Pine and that he told me that you need to take flagyl for five days! Bambi said his dose was extra strong. Great. I took a huge dose that proceeded to destroy everything in my stomach. He told me that there was some really good pizza next door and upon realizing I wouldn’t be able to eat the cheese, said that they probably had one with just bread and sauce. No, thanks. We walked back up the road to the motel and went to our separate rooms.
I opened up my two care packages. One was from a woman from my yoga mentorship. She said she was going to buy me the specific things I asked for, including a package of Love Crunch granola, and a lot of packets of Starbucks via! She also bought me some grapefruit seed extract for my belly, as well as a box of probiotics. Luckily, the granola turned out to not have any dairy in it! She also included some gluten/dairy free cookies and oat bars. (Thank you so much, Susan!) I also got a super nice package from a woman I went to high school with and just re-met at our reunion last year. She bought me some delicious snacks that were the perfect back-packing size. And her kids drew me a sweet, encouraging picture. I felt so honored! (Thank you, Tanya!)
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I returned to the cafe for a snack and after a little electronic communication, went to bed.

Day 60: Silver Pass

Day 60
June 17
mile 873.1-894.7
21.6 miles

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I did not take a single picture for six hours today because the smoke from a nearby forest fire prevented me from seeing any views. I was in the forest for the first half of the day, ascending another 1,000 feet, and then descending 2,000 feet down switchbacks. The air was hazy and I could not see anything in the distance. I wondered how close the fire was and if I should be concerned. I was just following the one path I was on without knowing any of the happenings outside of it. I wished I could send out a message to someone who had a computer and access to information, but I had no cell service. I decided it was best not to worry about it. The couple I had seen yesterday caught up to me on the descent and asked me if I knew anything about the fire. They were concerned, as well, but there was nothing we could do except continue to walk!
Awhile later, I ran into two men hiking southbound and asked if they had any information. They said the smoke was coming from a fire outside of Yosemite, in Mariposa, and that it was not close enough to where we were to worry about it at this point.
I reached the junction to VVR and found the couple nearby eating their “second breakfast”. They were digging into a jar of peanut butter and looked like they were really enjoying it. While I was happy for them, I was so sad that I was not able to enjoy food, myself. Eating caused so much pain. This hike was not at all enjoyable in this condition.
I started up the 3,000 + foot climb to Silver Pass. By the time I got to the open, rocky landscape, my energy was drained.
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I sat down on a rock and watched a couple of marmots play. Looking back, I could see the snow-covered mountains that I had just come from, and waves of emotion swept through me. I had hiked up and over those mountains in such a sick state and felt so sad for myself, but proud at the same time. My Achilles was still hurting badly and I didn’t know what was going on with my stomach. This was not how I imagined this hike to be at all.
I put my pack back on and slowly moved on.
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After I crossed the rocky landscape, I still had more climbing to get to the top of the pass. A man started to gain on me, but I was stronger on the climbs and managed to stay ahead of him.
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I couldn’t figure out where the top of the pass was, but continued to plod along and eventually saw two guys that I did not recognize sitting with their backs pressed up against a big rock. I thought that must be the “peak”, but then saw two other hikers a little higher up on the other side of the trail. I went up there and found my own little spot to snack on some goldfish crackers and whatever else I could find that wouldn’t hurt my stomach too much. I was not in a good mood. Several minutes later, one of the guys came up to chat with the older couple across from me. “Are you two thru-hiking?”. He told them that he had thru-hiked in ’06. I listened to their conversation and started to feel a little better. This hiker was from New Zealand and had a very positive attitude and I couldn’t help but smile. He told Bibo and Sharky that he only had to set up his tent five times during his hike- that is how little rain they had. Sharky and Bibo couldn’t believe it. I asked him if the rest of the trail was going to be easier. I had never hiked such a tough stretch in my entire life. It was tougher than the toughest part of the Appalachian Trail, and I didn’t know how much longer I could take these big snowy climbs and endless fords. He said it wasn’t going to be easy, but it wouldn’t be as tough as this stretch. He told us about bumping into Donna Saufley, the trail angel in Agua Dulce, when he got onto the BART after flying into San Francisco and what a small world this is. He was out here hiking a stretch of the trail with his father now. He talked about how he had taken the Cloud’s Rest trail to Half Dome when he thru-hiked. I hadn’t heard of that trail before, but it sounded beautiful, and now I wanted to do the same! I had been planning on taking the extra time to hike down into Yosemite Valley and climb Half Dome, from the beginning, but with my stomach illness, I knew I might have to forgo that plan and rest in Mammoth instead.
The other couples headed out and I asked Sun Catcher if he could take my picture. I decided to do another jumping shot and I was amazed that he got the picture in the very first take. No problem!
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I took a picture of him and his father and when they just stood there, asked them if they wanted to do a pose. They said that was their pose!
We all took off together and after I descended a snowy slope, I watched Sun Catcher “ski” down the hill. I really appreciated the injection of good energy from him!
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I got farther and farther ahead as I descended, noticing the red algae on the snow and wondering if I had been drinking that…
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I walked along alpine lakes and then forded a series of streams, my achilles still shooting pain whenever I put weight on it.
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Dusk approached and I made my way down through a rocky section and then into another forest, heading to Purple Lake. I could smell smoke from a campfire and eventually saw a couple of tents set up. I stopped to collect water and then saw the couple I had been seeing for the past couple of days. We finally introduced ourselves. Their names were Pleats and Side Project. They asked if I was stopping here for the night and I said I didn’t want to camp so close to water because of the mosquitoes. They told me that there were some campsites ahead on the hill that they had checked out, but they were already taken.
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I headed on, passing the tents and continued to climb. Surely there must be flat spots ahead. As the trail rounded, I saw another couple of tents set up. This was a crowded area! I looked around the woods and found a possible spot and stood there contemplating whether or not to stay. I finally decided that I didn’t want to be so close to other people and continued on. I climbed to a grassy area, dotted with rocks and went off the trail to investigate the area. I picked the flattest spot I could find and spread out my cowboy camp while I boiled water for my pasta dinner. Tomorrow, I would reach Red’s Meadow, where I would be able to get into town after the longest stretch of trail I had ever hiked.

Day 59: Finding Beauty in the Small

Day 59
June 16
852.3-(approx.) 873.1
20.8 miles

I watched the early risers pass by while I performed my morning rituals and was glad to be well enough off trail so as not to be seen. My mood had not greatly improved overnight. Somehow, Dust Bunny ended up sneaking up on me and scaring me! She told me that I made a wise choice in continuing on last night, as the socializing reminded her of a bar scene. She was in need of her own space and decided to scout out a spot to have her breakfast. In just over five miles, she would take a side trail down to the John Muir Ranch in hopes of finding some food to carry her through the next section. She also planned on stopping at Mono Hot Springs. I was going to bypass both spots and just get into Mammoth. I headed out and told her I would probably see her soon.
I crossed the bridge spanning the creek I had camped near and followed the creek back in the opposite direction. As I came to another ford, Commando hiked up to me wanting to know how crossing Evolution Creek had been for me the night before. I was still not over my feelings about having to cross it three times. “Fine,” I told him. I wondered why everyone was talking up these crossings with such fear. If there was no one out here dispensing their own fears and advice, I would just keeping following the path in front of me. He asked me if my shoes had dried out overnight. “No, they did not.” How would shoes be able to dry out in the dark cold air?
He moved swiftly down the trail and I tried to relax into my own space. The trail climbed and followed the path of a gorge. I didn’t find it to be the most beautiful of environments, but maybe my mood was clouding the view.
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I walked on and took a quick break along the side of the trail. A quiet man dressed in camo walked by in the other direction. He seemed to be about as happy as I was and I wondered what his story was. What was he in search of out here? The trail turned right as it crossed a bridge. I passed several nice campsites that were tucked away and thought about what it would be like to spend the night there. Then, I came to a steel bridge, where someone had left a note for another hiker. He had gone ahead when his friend didn’t show up and hoped he was still alive. The note was written several days earlier.
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I had been wondering if the buses from Red’s Meadow to Mammoth were running yet. Service was supposed to start mid-June, but often started earlier in low snow years. I asked a couple headed in the opposite direction if they knew, but they did not. The woman recommended I hike to the Ranch, where I was sure to find out the answer to my question. She told me I could find internet and other luxuries there. I thanked her and moved on. I found a rock to sit on and take another break and watched a father and daughter hike southbound, as well. I was surprised that Dust Bunny had not caught up to me. I never did see the trail that headed toward the ranch, but turned right at the upcoming intersection to follow the PCT as it began to climb.
The annoying man and his brother were taking a break at the stream at which I needed to collect water, but luckily, I was able to walk down and find my own little piece of land to collect and filter my water before heading off.
I later heard the man talking extremely loudly behind me. It was very jarring and luckily not something that I had come across much on the hike so far. I managed to stay ahead and then found a little inlet on the lake to stop and sit at.
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As he passed by, he shouted out, “Hi Wendy from Boston!”. My mood sunk even lower. I ate a snack and watched the dragonflies flying above the water. I wanted to take a picture of them, but found it impossible. They kept moving! I started looking at things on the earth and noticed how beautiful the concentric patterns of a pinecone were. I was reminded of how we really only see things when we stop and take the time to look around us. My mood started to lift a bit.
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I packed up and walked by a tree with a tremendous curvature in its lower trunk. I touched it with empathy, noting the similarity between its curvature and my spine.
I continued to climb back into the granite rocks that were dotted with pink flowers and green grass. Four young female hikers were headed down and I stepped aside to let them pass.
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I stopped to look at another alpine pond and continued the climb, slowly making my way towards Selden Pass. I looked behind me and noticed a hiker steadily gaining on me. He overtook me just as we were reaching the top. I told him he was looking strong- the very opposite to the way I was feeling. I crossed a small section of snow and dropped my pack at the height of the climb and we introduced ourselves. He said his name was Doogie Howser and that he was getting off the trail at Echo Lake. The mosquitoes started attacking.
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I wandered over to the south side of the pass and found that the view was much more beautiful over there, so I returned to get my pack and bring it to a rock farther down for my lunch break. The mosquitoes were even more horrendous on that side of the pass, however! I took out my Deet wipes and slathered it on my skin. These bugs weren’t going to allow me to enjoy my lunch or the view.
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I headed down the pass and walked along a pretty path, where clear streams cascaded down the hills and made the grass ripe with wildflowers.
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I eventually reached another ford and saw a fallen tree to help me cross it. I was growing tired and once I saw a large flat spot to the right of the trail, decided to stop and cook my pasta dinner. I was still feeling physically ill, which affected my mind and attitude, as well. A couple passed by looking in much better spirits than me. In the last section between Kennedy Meadows and Kearsarge Pass, my stomach was in a tremendous amount of pain, but the rest of me felt strong and happy. This section was a different story. I was still in a world of pain and now, it seemed like I had lost a lot of my energy, as well.
I reached the next “dangerous” ford according to my guidebook notes and looked across the water to see the couple changing back into their hiking shoes. The woman waved to me and then hiked on. I decided to change into my crocs and keep my shoes as dry as possible. The water only reached my knees at the highest height. It took much longer to change into and out of my shoes than to cross the actual creek. I headed onwards and was not happy to discover that I still had more fords ahead of me! As I carefully placed my feet on the rocks, the mosquitoes suddenly attacked. I felt as is they knew my hands were completely tied up, trying to keep me upright with the placing of my poles. “She’s fully occupied. Get her now!”.
It happened again when I was forced to climb over fallen trees across the trail. The sunlight was fading and my body was tired of all these obstacles. I stepped over little streams and finally saw a flat spot to the left of the trail, where I would make my home for the night. Despite the mosquitoes, I set up my cowboy camp and turned on my phone to see what mile I was now at. I was incredibly surprised to discover that I had reception and was able to chat with a friend from home for a few minutes. I covered my head with my sleeping bag liner and tried to fall asleep.