Day Forty Three

Today's miles: 21
Total miles: 652

We knew we had a brutal mountain climb this morning, and no one wanted to do it in the heat of the day and suffer like yesterday. So we set our alarms for 4:00 am, and the second they went off I heard Sansei deflate his sleeping pad. We were determined not to sleep in. We were determined to hike this hill in the darkness.

We were on trail by 4:45, climbing the five miles into the sky and listening to the coyotes howl in the distance as the sun lightened the horizon. It was already too warm. But we were strong. We took second breakfast at the top of the hill, catching our breath, and pushed on. Focus took off, as usual, and we lost him, but the four of us stuck together, keeping pace. We walked in trees all morning but soon found ourselves outside of them and in open expanses of desert again.

By early afternoon we discovered a small patch of shade and took a break. Wocka Wocka and Giddyup caught up to us and we rested, all of us sighing over the desert heat and how much we wanted to be free of it. Kennedy Meadows, our gateway to the Sierra Nevadas, was a mere 50 miles away, but it seemed so much farther. We had been talking about the beauty of the Sierras since day one, even though none of us had seen it or knew what to expect. We had been dreaming, and begging, and wishing for mountains, and even when we were so close to it now, it seemed farther than ever. The desert felt as though it were getting more dangerous the closer we got to its edge. It was wearing down our resolve, and we didn't know how much longer we could survive before we shriveled up, nothing left but fine dust in our wake.

Wocka Wocka admitted, "at one point yesterday we got so tired of the heat that Giddyup lay down spread-eagle next to the Trail and yelled, 'DESERT, TAKE ME!!'"
We laughed, but we had all felt the same at one time or another.

Sansei and Katie wanted to take our afternoon siesta in the shade, but it was still early in the day and Rotisserie and I wanted to get a little farther. We were trying to get to Walker Pass by early afternoon. A friend of mine named Ross lived in town and he was going to pick us up and take us home for the day, a needed break from the desert. We eventually opted to try and get farther, but we only made it three more miles before the heat battered us back down again. We found a small grove of oak trees and took a two hour nap in the shade on the prickly, dry bed of oak leaves. As usual, though, the sun shifted and I soon found myself lying directly in it. I packed up, itchy to keep moving, but the others were moving more slowly. I finally told them I would meet them at Walker Pass, and I started hiking on my own.

Though it was still very hot, I was feeling strong, and the trail was downhill for the remaining seven miles. I had no one to keep up with, or follow behind, so I flew. Faster than I had before; I ignored the heat and the terrain and the sand and I flew down the mountain. I was walking faster than 3 mph, and it felt wonderful.

Halfway down the mountain, I turned around a corner and suddenly saw a view over the valley and far beyond, and I was struck still by what I saw: mountains. Not shrubby, sandy, Joshua Tree covered mountains, but real mountains. Granite mountains. High, soaring, gray-blue stone mountains tipped with snow and reaching for the sky. My heart pounded in my chest.

The Sierras. I could see them. I could practically touch them. There they were, waiting for my arrival, and we were nearly there. We were nearly there! I could barely breathe from excitement. My heart was singing.

(photo by Sunshine)

I made it to Walker Pass in a record amount of time: seven miles in two hours. To my surprise, the campground was full of hikers who I thought were days ahead of us, and the infamous Yogi (who writes a PCT guide book every year that every thru-hiker knows by heart) had a large tent set up with trail magic waiting. Chairs, drinks, and big pots full of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

I found a shady spot under a tree near Focus, Sweet Tooth, Hot Tub and Coincidence and waited for Sansei, Rotisserie, and Katie to join us. I tried to call my friend Ross and his husband Eric about a good pick-up time, but my phone didn't get service and I was fretting about contacting him. Similarly, Rotisserie was supposed to meet up with her sister, brother-in-law and niece but she didn't have service, either. We heard a rumor that there was cell service a mile further down the trail, so Rotisserie and I borrowed Katie's phone (Verizon) and mine (AT&T) and hers (Sprint) and walked down the trail with the phones all lying on our outstretched palms, all of them simultaneously searching for reception.
After a mile, my phone popped up with a text message and I began shrieking, "I have service! One bar! Two bars!"
We shuffled around looking for the best spot and then used my phone to call Rotisserie's sister and Ross. Ross was coming tomorrow and Rotisserie's sister tonight.

When we got back to the campground, spaghetti was being served and all our friends were sitting in lounge chairs in a big circle. I plopped myself between Giddyup and Wocka Wocka and asked if it was okay if I was sitting there.
"Sure," said Wocka Wocka, "we'll just include you in our hand-holding."
And simultaneously, Wocka Wocka and Giddyup both solemnly placed a hand on each of my knees, and I said, "wow, did you guys feel that? I think we just had a moment."
We were all laughing, and later I made some other joke that had them rolling and Wocka Wocka declared, "oh, we've missed you!!"

I had missed them, too. It was fun to reunite with people who make you laugh as much as these friends do. We spent the evening swapping stories and jokes and later cookies that Yogi brought for us. We passed the big bags of cookies around the circle, and at one point Sneaks tried picking up one of the bags and fumbled with it, dropping it on the ground. We laughed and I teased,
"He can carry a 40 pound pack, but he can't pick up a bag of cookies!"
"Shut up, it's heavy!" he whined.

We stayed up talking until late, and then gave hugs to Rotisserie when her sister came to pick her up. She would be skipping this section of trail and would rejoin us when we reached Kennedy Meadows in a few days. Sansei, Katie and I went to look for a tentsite out of the way and found a flat spot up by Wocka Wocka, Giddyup and Sneaks, who pitched his tent inside a horse corral, making us laugh.

The three of us cowboy camped and Sansei sighed sadly into the darkness, "awwww, she's gone..." he was missing Rotisserie already.
"Don't worry, we'll find her again soon," I promised.
"Sorry if we've been too mushy lately," he said, suddenly embarrassed.
"No, it's cute!" Katie promised. "It's like my sister and brother suddenly decided to hook up! ..... wait.... that sounded wrong...."
We laughed and bid each other goodnight.