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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“Is This Heaven?!”

¬†That is what all of the thru-hikers who are staying with Scout and Frodo keep saying to one another as we look at each other in amazement. We all get picked up by either one of them or someone in their network of PCT helpers, brought to their home, given food to eat (and wine and appetizers before dinner!), a place to stay, and a drive to the southern terminus at 6am in the morning. We are all complete strangers, being welcomed into a couple’s home and given free reign. The generosity is mind-blowing. This is what happens when we quit our jobs and leave our homes to hike for 5 months?!¬† Incredible!
My flight to CA went smoothly. (I hoped not to forget anything on this trip, but managed to bring the wrong glasses and forgot an extra water bottle). I had been told that I would be picked up by Jan after Caroline’s flight came in about an hour after mine. As I walked to the pick-up location, a man asked me if I was Wendy. I was a bit confused because I was looking for 2 women. Duane, a man in his early 70’s, turned out to be a last minute addition. Caroline arrived and we drove back to Scout and Frodo’s house, talking about gear and hiking, and laughing a lot. Caroline and I were assigned to stay in the same room and bonded quickly. Elizabeth, a hiker who had arrived earlier in the day, showed us around the home, and we were later joined by Jamie and Ben from Salt Lake City. The weather was absolutely perfect and I wondered why it took me so long to make my way out to CA after suffering my whole life in Boston weather! We were joined for dinner by several helpers and PCTA supporters, and I met the sweetest couple ever- Donna and Edwin!

Dinner table decorations!

Dinner table decorations!



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The cutest couple – Donna and Edwin!

More hikers continued to roll in during the evening and night. Everyone is open and friendly and relaxed, and most of the talk is centered around what we are carrying. (“Can I ask you something?…What is your base weight?”). I felt a bit torn because the people that I bonded with all planned on beginning their hike today, but I had planned on taking an extra day to relax and adjust a bit before heading out. I debated whether or not to join them, and suggested to Caroline that she could use a day of rest, but we all decided to stick to our original plans. “That’s what life is about, Wendy. People come into your life and then leave,” one of the guys said. Most of that group doesn’t plan on going to the kick-off weekend, so who knows if we will see each other again. Caroline helped me to boil my crocs in a pot of water and stretch them out a bit because they were already feeling too small to begin with. I think they were wrongly sized. Earlier, we had lots of fun going through the already full hiker boxes of unwanted items.

Breakfast was served at 5:30 and then there was a sudden torrent of activity to get the car loaded with all of the packs and people who were heading out this morning.

My new friends headed to the trail!

My new friends headed to the trail!

I didn’t even have time to get a group picture. Ryan (who I helped name “Drama Queen” at breakfast!) commented on the level of energy, adding that “even the guy who has already hiked this thing 2 times, and who has a pack with an extremely low base weight of 10 pounds) had a look of fear plastered all over his face. “What am I doing?! What is going to happen to me?!”.
I spent the morning helping Ron, who is from Germany, and Ryan resupply at the grocery store.


Resupply shopping at Sprouts!

They were starting from scratch and needed all breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and dinners! We kept thinking it was late, but it was still in the morning hours by the time we got back. (That’s what waking up at 5:20 will do to you!). I snacked, took a little nap, and am now getting ready to lead a little yoga session to the hikers hanging out here. We’ll have another dinner tonight, pack up all of our stuff, and fill up our water bottles. And tomorrow, we will make our way out to the trail. It’s time to start walking! I’m a hobo again!!