Day 91: 10 miles
I slept okay in the bunk room, could have used some more. I’ve been feeling really run down lately and could easily sleep all day. Kat was going to try to get a hitch up to South Lake Tahoe to rest her foot. She’s got plantar fascitis and it’s been really hurting. TJ and Genna had left the day before, so for those of you keeping up this put me on my own again.
We caught the 1100 shuttle and I started on the trail around 1145. My pack felt so light and balanced but despite this I didn’t feel great about starting the trail so late in the day. I knew I wasn’t going to get very far. Kat managed to find a hitch almost immediately all the way to South Lake Tahoe and as I was climbing up the northern face of Sonora Pass in the gusty winds, I was regretting my decision to not go with her.
The climb up wasn’t too bad and I found a stand of scrub pines to huddle in for a quick wind break. I began to feel more energetic and I think the full hot breakfast and 3 urns of coffee I’d drunk at Kennedy Meadows North were being put to work.
The trail curled around the back of the mountain and into some confusing snow covered hills. The path was buried and it took me an extra 30 minutes to pick my way through rapidly melting slush. The rest of the day was a mild ridgeline walk next to a rushing creek. I managed to get 10 miles before it started to get dusky. I climbed up to campsite with a nice view of the colorful mountains on the other side the valley.
As I sat in my tent eating dinner I thought about how I just completed the Sierra. (!!!) The technical hard part was done and I did it. I wondered why I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment. I realized it is because of thru hiker culture.
To be brief, what passes for thru hiker culture is often predicated on what the skinny white boys with tiny packs and 2 inch inseams are doing. They crush miles with smiles on their faces. And if you don’t hike that way, then you aren’t a thru hiker. It’s that insidious competition that I’ve been trying to ignore, but it’s really hard when that is all you see.
Back to me though, I’m on the older side of the hiker demographic, I weight more, my joints are creaky, and my pack is not ultralight. I don’t like crushing miles. I prefer to take it slow. I don’t really care about bagging peaks. I actually like being in the forest. I don’t fit the thru hiker mold. And yet, I’m still out here doing it. It’s hard to release those notions about what makes a thru hiker. Especially since the fast ones constantly pass me. It’s kinda demoralizing. I guess to I’ll just have to reconcile that I’m not a good thru hiker…and that’ll have to be okay.
Day 92 – 19.2 miles
A deer came right through my camp last night and curiously sniffed around my tent. As I moved to get my phone for a picture, the noise scared it away. I started early with the intent to catch up with TJ and Genna. Today was a lot of random up and downs. The terrain became more arid and volcanic.
I thought about a lot of things but I can’t even remember what they were. I certainly didn’t solve any world problems. I think at some point I reached that lovely quiet mind state where even my thoughts are sick of themselves and they shut up. It was just me walking through the woods, breathing and being. It doesn’t last long though.
I set up camp on a sandy cliff side with epic views of the mountains in the distance. I never caught up with my friends.
Day 93 – 16.1 miles
I woke up briefly around 0300 to rain pattering on my tent. I was confused as to my location but went back to sleep. When I woke for real, my tent was mostly dry so I questioned if I even really heard rain. The ground was damp though, and the sky was still heavy with dark clouds. As I started towards Ebetts pass it started to patter rain on me. It’s the first time I’ve been in rain on trail.
I got to Ebbets pass and crossed a road there. On the other side was a trail angel named Chipmunk who had a tent set up and making breakfast for hikers. He also had the holiest of holies: hot fresh coffee. I swear there was also an angel choir singing behind this man too. I sat to a warm meal of over medium eggs covered with chili, hashbrowns, and toast. There was also cereal and whole milk. It was such a morale boost in the dreary weather. He even had a fleece blanket I snuggled in while delaying my departure.
Soon though I had to leave, and gave Chipmunk my profound gratitude. I clambered over one rocky mountain down into an odd little valley. On one side it was all green forest and on the other was a wall of volcanic rock. It looked like I was literally straddling two worlds. On the volcanic side were these large balls of what seemed to be coarse concrete embedded with large rocks. The trail was bordered by sage, sweet grass, and mint. The moisture in the air kept the morning fresh with herbal fragrance.
The trail went up through more sandy mountains and to the top of a large bald. Off in the distance a large ominous cloud was dumping rain. I scuttled across the mountain and as I was reaching the tree line a flash of lightning screeched across the sky followed by rumbling thunder. I bolted down the trail cutting switchbacks to get to the treeline. As the rain started pelting me, I hunkered down in the towering Hemlocks. The rain didn’t last long, but the thunder did. It made me nervous to continue as I could see that the trail went out into the open again. I sat there for about an hour waiting for the weather to clear.
Finally I got going again, but my energy was gone. I dipped in and out of forests and big boulders. I just couldn’t muster the momentum to try and catch my friends. I settled for the night next to pond with an active aviary presense. Ducks and chickadees and other various birds had their say this night.
Day 94 – 14.6 miles
My day didn’t start well. The terrain was rocky and there were some sketchy snow patches. Other hikers were passing me left and right. I’d come to the conclusion I wasn’t going to catch up with my trail friends. So I slowed down even more.
There was a long hot slog of a climb up Carson Pass. Thru hikers I’d never seen before whizzed past me with looks of puzzlement. Like why are you so slow? Irritated, I climbed and climbed. It looked like I was almost done when I turned a corner and saw even more climbing. And there was the sketchiest of snow crossings yet. Something inside me snapped. I had to sit by the trail and have a long cry as even more hikers passed me by. I felt lonely and homesick and emotional…apparently. Just pitiful.
I made it to the other side and saw a day hiking gentleman wearing a Carhartt shirt that looked a lot like my Dad and it made me weepy again. I had to come to grips with my emotions but they seemed to be running hog wild today. I cry shuffled towards the trailhead and buttoned it up as I walked towards the Info hut. There they had cold sodas and cookies for hikers. As I sat in the shade munching on Chips Ahoy, I decided I was going to hitch to South Lake Tahoe from here. I felt immediate bodily relief.
So that is what I did. I got a hitch from two nice ladies named Phyllis and Carol and got a bunk at the Mellow Mountain Hostel. I kept wanting to call it Mellow Mushroom. I showered and laundered and ate and slept.
Day 95 – 97: 0 miles
My friends showed up at the hostel last night wondering how I beat them there. Genna had planned to get a Airbnb and we were all going to take it easy for a couple of days. Zero days are boring to talk about, mostly because nothing happens. Although Genna did make some from scratch pancakes that were phenomenal. And I watched the new Obi Wan Kenobi show (can’t recommend it).
Day 98: 12.6 miles
I woke up feeling…not great. Almost like I was hung over. I had eaten a steak the night before and thought maybe that was it?
Got back on trail and the discovered I was also congested. There wasn’t much to do at this point but keep going. I walked in a fog of fatigue and snot most of the day. There was some beautiful scenery with Lake Tahoe off in the distance.
I got to camp, ate a little, and then passed out hard.
Day 99: 16.3 miles
I woke up feeling slightly better. It’s like a sinus thing now. I didn’t get going until late as I kept dawdling at camp. The climbs were gentle and mild. Big fields of wildflowers carpeted the mountain side. I kept slowing down to take pictures and video.
There was a long ridgeline walk out in the open after Tinker Knob. The winds were fierce and kept wanting my hat. There were 360 view of the surrounding land but I had to keep my head down looking for tricky rocks that wanted to trip me.
The trail went back into the trees and Genna pointed out there was a ski hut up the hill. We went to go look at it, but it was closed due to Covid. (Unofficially though, you could still get in). More interestingly was a two story privy with a trap door in the roof. I’m assuming it was made this way for the snow times. Genna asked if it was a rampart. It did sort of resemble a guards station.
Next was an even more sketchy snow patches that we had to cross. I made it most of the way across before falling on my butt. Luckily I was already on the safe side of the snow and only slid to the ground. It was more annoying than anything else. From there is was a quick walk over to Donner Pass (yes that one). There was a Ski Ranch that was purported have hot food and give out free 40s of beer to hikers. I just wanted water.
I got there to meet TJ and Genna saying that the power was out. I ended up having a piece of pie while we waited for Kat to show up. I commented that since there was no power (= no food) we’d have to eat other instead…and then die of hypothermia. Har har.
We ended up going half a mile up the trail to camp and found Kat whose foot was hurting bad. We nestled into the rocks and boulders with Truckee out in the distance and a closed highway running to it. Around midnight I woke up to pee and was treated to a dazzling display of the Milky Way over the mountains. The ambient light of the stars was enough that I didn’t even need my headlamp. I sat taking pictures and enjoying the peace before the siren call of my sleeping bag drew me away to my tent.
Day 100 – 102: 0 miles
I woke up feeling worse. My entire head was a cotton ball and my throat was full of sandpaper. Still I though I might tough it out, but then I couldn’t stomach my breakfast. I got all nauseous and threw up. I sat in my tent for 30 minutes trying to force my body to act right but it wouldn’t listen. Reluctantly, I admitted I should go back to town and rest. At that moment Kat came by saying she was going into town, which was just serendipitous. Her foot was giving her too much trouble to continue on. We hatched a plan to get into Truckee and said farewell to TJ and Genna. I made plans with them to meet them later up the trail.
So me and Kat hitched to Truckee and got a room at the Redlight Hostel which used to be a brothel. I chugged some Nyquil and passed out.
Kat had the very difficult decision of whether to take a break or go home to Quebec. I knew her pain, but also knew only she could make that decision. I think she already knew what she wanted to do, but just couldn’t fully look at it yet.
I spent the next two days munching on throat lozenges and sleeping. I began to feel better by the end of the second day. I also began to get antsy about getting back on trail. TJ and Genna are ahead and I planned to skip ahead a little to meet them.
I keep thinking about when will things just be easy? I was starting feel physically strong and then this illness knocks me down a peg. Where is that trail magic that everyone talks about? When do things get soft and full of promise and fun? And how whiney does all that sound?
I know it takes me recognizing the good things, being grateful for every day out here. It’s hard though, to be that soft glowy person when you’ve spent the better part of your adult life erecting defense shields against the pain of the world. Especially when you’ve been fortifying them the past three or so years. How do you just let go of that? I keep thinking that the trail will provide the means to finding an answer to this. But it looks like I’m preventing my own changes with what I thought was my protection. Hiding myself away so I won’t get hurt. Not sure what the solution to this is. Walk? Not erase this whole post? Breathe? I keep thinking that maybe if I walk far enough and long enough I’ll discover the answer.