Last night I slept hot for once. Had summer finally arrived? I woke up in the morning at 7:15 and was out on the trail by 9:45. The girls woke up later and still left earlier, argh! My old-school tent was way too complicated compared to theirs.
Today we enjoyed an easy, fairly level hike through Jack Main Canyon. Its high mountain meadows and sinuous waterway reminded me of the trail heading into Tuolumne. I leapfrogged two guys several times throughout the day and caught up to Squarepants at the river around noon, where she’d just finished rinsing her socks. She sat in the creek, clothes on, soaking up the sun, looking happy as a clam.
That looked like a great idea to me, so after a brief chat, I went down a little farther and found the perfect spot to sit in the creek myself. It was super cold, but an easy way to wash pants, undies and myself. I rinsed my spare socks, filtered water and ate lunch sitting in a sunny patch of grass, drying out. Squarepants said hello passing by.
We were making pretty good time on our 9-mile day to Dorothy Lake.
Later in the afternoon, I passed by this super-hippy bearded dude, Al or Big Al? But not Big Gay Al. He was sitting on a log by the side of the trail with these two guys I’d been leapfrogging all day. Somehow we got into conversation, and it turned out he was offering 420 trail magic and invited me to partake.
I gotta say, I was sooooo tempted to say yes. Because my feet, legs, hips, back and shoulders all ached, like, a lot. How nice would it have been to throw off my pack, sit on the ground with these guys, shoot the shit, and forget about all that pain for a while?
Realistically, I needed to keep my wits about me and catch up with the girls.
So I politely declined, saying perhaps another time, explaining that I needed to find my trail mates. Al was cool about it and took a photo of me for his online trail register. Big into trail culture, he said not all PCTers were included, like they didn’t get it, calling out the high-milers who speed on through without stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.
Then he connected the dots that I was with Fish Nugget and Squarepants, who he’d spoken with earlier. He relayed their message to me that they were going to lake. I debated asking if they had indulged, but decided against it. Maybe he saw it in my eyes because he very quickly said, no, no, they didn’t have any, they just stopped and talked.
Well that’s good, I thought. They’d be less likely to get lost in the wilderness.
I said thanks, wished them well and moved on.
Later I caught up to the girls taking a break. I told them all about my encounter with Al, and they laughed, confirming that they too had declined his special kind of magic. But they had a great conversation about the trail.
Feeling energetic, I decided to keep going.
Not long after, I met a SOBO hiker from Portland with his thumbs elaborately wrapped in a bandana, threaded through his shoulder straps creating a sort of sling that allowed him to rest his hands chest level. A clean-shaven, older gentleman in pale green, I said he looked pretty clean for a thru-hiker.
He told me he’d just come from Kennedy Meadows North where they have a really nice hiker hostel, which I didn’t know about, along with laundry, showers and a great little onsite restaurant that I’d been looking forward to. He said he had the best time there, and it was only $30 a night.
He also told me they didn’t have any internet or cell service there, but he did say we’d find cell reception at the pass above Noble Lake in the next section. It probably wouldn’t work for me, or Fish Nugget, with our useless T-Mobile, but for Squarepants who had Verizon, it would probably be a bonanza. I thanked him for the intel, and we went our separate ways.
I resolved to treat myself to a room at that hostel, come hell or high water.
The girls caught up, and we walked the rest of the way to Dorothy Lake together.
They told me about the trail in the desert, how you could see it like a ribbon in the distance, walk all day and never seem to get closer to anything as it stretched on to infinity. They told me about taking a peek at the various famous hiker stops but not staying overnight because there were too many people. They described going over Mount Baden-Powell in the freezing cold, being blown off the trail by the Mojave winds, visiting wonderful town libraries wherever they could, and meeting kind people who gave them rides, food and encouragement along the way.
They told me about the magic of eating hot pizza in middle of the desert at Mike’s, getting root beer floats from Coppertone on some lonely stretch of highway, and meeting hiker-famous guidebook author Yogi and the legendary Meadow Ed at a popup hamburger feed at the Walker Pass trailhead.
Fish Nugget said Yogi seemed tired, or maybe disheartened and not that into talking to people because they seemed to be on the trail more for the party scene than for the actual trail itself. At least that was the vibe Fish Nugget sensed as she volunteered for a while, helping them in the tent.
They told me all about the pain and getting used to it the first month.
Their feet blistered, their arches hurt, their legs, backs and shoulders too. Fish Nugget endured bruising on her hips. Squarepants dealt with shooting pains up her legs the first couple weeks. They worried about injuries taking them off the trail, but fortunately, their bodies worked it out. They said now it feels weird walking with their packs off.
Sometimes they got annoyed with each other or cranky about the weather and had to walk alone for a while. Sleeping outside took time getting used to. At first, it was uncomfortable, and finding a secure spot was sometimes a challenge. They always stealth-camped in hidden spots wherever they could. They got used to sleeping on the ground, wherever, in their cozy little tent homes.
They saw snakes and spiders, mice and marmots, but no bears or mountain lions.
Despite all the discomfort, they said they felt safe on the trail. People knew each other and helped each other out. Each had only one sketchy hitch where the conversational vibe went weird, but fortunately, nothing bad happened.
Continuing down this beautiful meadow trail, the conversation turned to friendship. Fish Nugget said she felt sad about friends who didn’t seem to want to be friends anymore, those ambivalent like it didn’t matter. I said people change, they have their own issues, and you can’t help that. Sparks don’t always catch fire, and sometimes when they do they just flame out. If you’ve reached out repeatedly and they just don’t want to engage, it’s best to move on to better friends who will. The world is full of good people ready to appreciate you for you. Squarepants thought so, too.
We arrived at Dorothy Lake late in the afternoon.
A gorgeous body of water ringed by peaks and meadows, it swarmed with mosquitoes. We put on our bug gear and rested for a while at a prime lakeside campsite, not sure if we wanted to stay. I hung up my hammock and tried to relax.
Squarepants sat on the shoreline near where the spur trail came into camp. After she’d been sitting there a while, I heard talking. Those two guys I’d been leapfrogging all day had finally arrived, stoned out of their minds.
The conversation went something like this:
Stoner Guys: Is this the PCT?
Squarepants: Yes, but we’re on a side trail.
Stoner Guys: So this is the trail?
Squarepants: No, actually, it’s a campsite.
Stoner Guys: So we’re not on the PCT?
Squarepants, pointing: It’s right over there.
Stoner Guys: Shit, we lost the trail, over where?
Squarepants, pointing again: Just over there, a few hundred feet.
Stoner Guys, wagging a forefinger: You mean there?
Stoner Guys, turning around, looking up: So we’re still on the PCT?
Squarepants, with infinite patience: Yes, sort of. Just walk over there.
Stoner Guys: Where?
Squarepants, pointing again: There.
Stoner Guys: Then we’ll be on the PCT?
Stoner Guys: North or South?
Squarepants, pointing: North is that way.
Stoner Guys: Dude, maybe we should find a place to camp. Are you guys camping here?
Squarepants: We haven’t decided yet. We’re just resting.
Stoner Guys: On the PCT?
Squarepants, moving away like she had something important to do: Yes.
Oh yeah, glad I didn’t go there. I would have disappeared into the woods for sure.
The three of us reconvened and decided to move on. Despite the amazing beauty of the setting, the bugs were simply too much. One mile ahead, over a pass that didn’t look too steep, was another set of small, rocky lakes that would hopefully offer up a less buggy camping option.
As Stoner Guys wandered around the bushes orienting themselves, another guy showed up inquiring about the campsite, which we cheerfully relinquished. No doubt this would turn into a PCT hiker village before nightfall, and I don’t think any of us were in the mood for that today.
My feet and legs screamed at me as we headed up the hill, plenty hot in the late afternoon sun.
Knocking off another mile meant an easier day tomorrow, I told them. You can do it, just a little ways more. Like battered soldiers, I thanked them for their service.
The mosquitoes we left behind were the worst I’d ever seen. Except for maybe that one time I was in Emigrant Wilderness, just over the hill, with a friend who nearly went nuts trying to swat them away. She said she’d never hike out there in July again.
You couldn’t even filter water or wash your feet without being attacked. Head nets were a must, and you had to keep moving for sanity’s sake. If there’s one thing living the Caribbean has taught me, it’s how to deal with all the little bloodsuckers who adore my sweet blood. Plenty of Deet and proper clothing is key.
Dorothy Pass turned out to be nothing more than a few hundred feet of rocky hill, leading to a complete change of scenery on the other side. Dark, volcanic rocks took over the landscape, with shrubby little trees clinging to life in the cracks and fissures.
We met some people on the trail that the girls knew and chatted for a bit before finding a secluded spot next to a small lake as the afternoon devolved into evening. Although there were still mosquitoes, they weren’t nearly as bad.
The girls and I enjoyed a nice, relaxing evening in camp as the lingering sun drifted lower in the sky. We made tea and laughed about the stoner conversation, hoping they decided to stay put and sleep it off for safety’s sake. I told the girls they could go on ahead from Bridgeport if they wanted to make a break for Canada.
Having passed through the deepest, most remote parts of Yosemite, I was feeling more confident, like I could do this. We were only a couple days out from Sonora Pass.
I could keep going, alone if I had to.