June 20th, 2014, Friday
933 to 944ish
It was Zach’s 24th birthday today, and it was lining up perfectly for us to hike the last nine miles to our resupply point in Yosemite National Park, called Tuolumne Meadows (if you’re curious, “Tuolumne” has the same emphasis and vowel sounds as “to all of me”). Despite leaving Vermillion Valley Resort with a full load, we had only a couple snacks left, and we were eager to reach Tuolumne Meadows by midday so we could hang out and relax a while before heading onward.
We got up early, packed our stuff, and hit the trail. We inched our way over boggy ground and circled past fallen logs, watching the meadow to our right in case we saw the bear again. Then the trail left the meadow, winding its way through a pleasant wood.
We knew we were getting within the five mile range of Yosemite when we started seeing day- and weekend hikers. Some of them wore white shirts, which practically blinded me— I felt like I hadn’t ever seen clothes that clean before. Of course, Zach and I were going on day 27 without a shower, so we were caked head to toe in a layer of grime. Despite that, many people asked us if we were day hikers (which, to this day, I can’t explain), and got really impressed when they heard that we were thruhikers. It seemed like everyone wanted to stop and talk to us and ask all about the trail, and we’d oblige, stamping our feet and rocking side to side to keep the mosquitoes off. One guy actually shook our hands, treating us like celebrities.
Soon we were in the park proper, crossing a wooden bridge over a stream. There were actual crowds there, including families with children. We stopped to chat with some of them, again not being able to get far without someone asking us about the trail. It was really nice to have conversations with “normal” people, but also a bit dizzying.
At last, after some confusing wanderings with our map, we finally walked along the shoulder of a road and ended up at Tuolumne Meadows General Store, a huge white canvas tent. We milled around the store, checked the hiker box (which was pretty picked over), then went to the mini post office inside the tent to get our box. To our surprise, there were two boxes— our resupply package, and a birthday gift sent from Zach’s sister Ivy! We grabbed both boxes and headed over to the “hiker area,” a group of picnic tables under pines. The other PCT hikers said hello as we walked up.
We opened Ivy’s package to find birthday cards from Zach’s various family members, and it brought tears to my eyes to see the familiar handwriting. (Ivy had even included a stamped envelope to send the cards back so that we wouldn’t have to carry them.) The box was stuffed full of food. Luxurious food. Food we wouldn’t never dreamed to buy: miso soup, wasabi peas, rice candy, chocolate, beef jerky, and extra-sour Warheads, high-quality trail mix, candied pineapple, Ghirardelli bars, and a wad of cash. Zach and I stared at these treats in awe, our hearts fluttering with joy. Zach clutched the cash in his hand. We opened our resupply box and found that my mom had stuffed a card and some cash into it as well. I felt like Scrooge McDuck rolling in his pile of gold coins.
“Can we go buy burgers?” I whispered.
We practically raced into the concession stand, our minds reeling with the idea that we could buy whatever we wanted and not worry about the price. We both ordered double bacon cheeseburgers. Zach got fries and a soda, while I ordered a salad (fresh food!) and a pink lemonade. I was actually trembling with excitement. It had been so long since I had had a burger. It had been so long since I had had a proper meal at all, something other than a bowl of pasta or a bag of chips.
Once we got our orders, we took them back outside to the picnic tables. The soda cups had funny cartoons on the sides warning of the danger of bears stealing your food— my favorite was an illustration of a camper in the bathroom shaving and suddenly remembering that he hadn’t locked the bear box, while past the door a bear is walking, carrying his cooler.
The other hikers noted that it was good we were finally eating something. “Thanks to our family!” I beamed.
As we sat down to eat, a middle-aged guy in pristine hiking clothes asked if he could sit at our table. “Sure!” I said, and lifted my huge, juicy, double bacon cheeseburger to my lips. I bit into it, savoring every bite of pickle and tomato and mustard and beef, chewing slowly, almost crying because I was so grateful to have it. After almost two weeks in the High Sierra, this was a dream come true.
The guy at our table snorted. “I thought you Californians ate healthy,” he scoffed.
I stared at him over my burger, disbelief building in me like a volcano. How… DARE… he try to ruin my food! In my blind fury I’m not sure what exactly I said, but it was something to the tune of, “I have spent the last week crossing five massive snowy passes, and climbing the tallest mountain the US, and starving to death because we kept running out of food, and before that I hiked for forty days in the desert, and we’ve traveled over 900 miles to reach this point, and I DESERVE EVERY CALORIE IN THIS BURGER.”
“Whoa!” he said, quickly backpedaling in the wake of my wrath. “You guys are PCT hikers?”
Through the four-week layer of grime on my face, I gave him a death glare. “Yes.” And I went back to eating my burger, letting Zach talk to him about his JMT hike he was starting, and how he’d hiked the Appalachian Trail. He tried to blow off his initial comment, but I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. I wanted to eat my burger in peace.
For dessert, Zach and I bought huge ice creams cones and a slice of carrot cake, again not worrying about the price for once. We also bought some snacks (cheese, salami, and crackers) and some beer, as well as some supplies, like a bottle of honey (which I had protested buying hitherto because of the price). We sat at the table and chilled, chatted with other hikers, chatted with tourists, and ate a continual stream of food.
There was a shuttle running down to Yosemite Valley, but it was difficult to tell which one it was. Zach and I didn’t want to get stranded, and we were both feeling full and sluggish and like all the hassle wouldn’t be worth it to see more nature stuff. We wanted to see Half Dome at a time when we could really appreciate it, instead of thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s another mountain.”
Two hikers there, Smuggles and Heat Wave, were giving our free chocolate as a promotional for Salazon Chocolate, and I gladly accepted one. Zach, however, turned them down. He was feeling sick to his stomach again. I thought he had just had too much food, but it was another occurrence of the stomach issues that plagued him the rest of the trail.
We also ran into Sugar, who was camping at the hiker site (for five bucks) and taking a zero. We considered it, but it was still early afternoon and Zach was feeling a bit better, so we decided to hike out. We had several hours of daylight left. We packed up our ridiculous amount of food (it couldn’t even begin to fit into our bear canisters), wished everyone goodbye, and headed out.
As we rejoined the PCT, Zach was feeling a bit weak. I figured if we took it slow we’d be okay. We walked on a trail through an open meadow, watching the “picket pin” squirrels scurry into their holes at our passing. A jagged row of mountains jutted up far off to our left, and we left the crowds behind as we headed back into the sparse woods.
That’s when Zach started feeling really bad. We were a few miles out of Tuolumne Meadows when he began dry heaving. Then he dropped his pack, raced off the trail, and threw up (fortunately into a pile of rocks, so that he could cover his tracks). After a minute he returned and collapsed on the trail. “I think I’m going to throw up again,” he mumbled.
There was nothing to do but camp where we were— he was clearly in no shape to walk. I scouted out a spot off-trail on a stretch of fine gravel, left my backpack there, and returned to get Zach and carry his backpack. He sat on the gravel, looking horribly sick, while I set up camp. He looked so pitiful that I hoped it wouldn’t happen again. I was wrong.
Despite his nausea, Zach was still hungry, so we fixed the miso soup that Ivy had sent. I nibbled on my chocolate bar and had a handful of the fancy trail mix we’d been given. We crawled into the tent and fell asleep, hoping that Zach would feel better in the morning. As I fell asleep, I thought, At least I was able to enjoy his birthday!