Monday, May 4, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 61: A Change of Plans

DAY 61 
June 24th, Tuesday
1003.6 to 1023.2

This day is a major turning point in my memory. It began with a beautiful warm sun hitting our tent early in the morning, coaxing us out of our tent for the first early start in ages. I was feeling much better, as if the sleep had shed all of my exhaustion and hunger. 

We hiked through a forest much like the ones we’d been hiking through the past several days: close, run through with streams, with tall trees and not much underbrush. We met a couple of section hikers who paused and asked us if we were PCT hikers. After a bit of talking, one of them said that he’d like to give us some meals! We were thrilled, and gladly accepted his gift of gourmet ramen, freeze-dried buffalo chicken, and tortillas. We bid him farewell and kept hiking.

The trail was a nice easy grade, and it steadily ascended until we were in sparser forest, which gave way to a rift between snow-spackled cliffs, marked with scattered trees and a lot of hearty clumps of plants with big yellow flowers. The trail finally spit us out onto a huge barren ridge of tumbled rocks. “This is gorgeous,” I said as we zigzagged up the side. After a few days in such a close forest, it was great to be able to see distance again. Once again, the barren desert-like landscape that had been so alien to me at the beginning of the trip now felt familiar. 

It took us nearly an hour to switchback our way to the top of the ridge, but when we reached it, we saw an even better view: a sprawling landscape of green rolling hills and blue mountains. Compared to Missouri it was utterly rugged and untamed, but compared to the High Sierra, it looked downright homey. 

“This is so beautiful!” I exclaimed. And thus we entered a section of the trail that lives in my memory as one of the loveliest parts. For the rest of the trail (until northern Washington), I told people that this section was my favorite. After so much kick-you-in-the-face gorgeousness, simple green beauty was precious to me.

You can tell you've been in dry regions for too long when a scene like this appears unbelievably verdant.

The hike down from the ridge was easy, but again proved to be more tiring than it should’ve been (probably due to malnourishment and continued tiredness). At last we delved through some trees to a road— an actual paved road! The pass was called Sonora Pass. Several hikers were sitting by the deserted road, trying to hitch into a town called North Kennedy Meadows for a burger. Zach and I decided that we had enough food to make it to Echo Lake. 

By our calculations, we’d arrive there on Saturday, and we still had enough food to help us eek by, especially with the meals the hiker had given us. We’d meet Grandma Kathy and Grandpa Ray there, and spend the afternoon together in South Lake Tahoe, eating good food. If we were desperate enough, we might even get a hotel for the night, but with our budget, we hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

We had talked about the possibility of going back to Sacramento with his grandparents for a break, but I was against it. “Zach,” I said, “if we get off this trail, we are never coming back.” 

We took advantage of the rest stop at Sonora Pass, using the bathrooms, dawdling, and feeling listless for a while. Then we headed out, leaving the paved road behind.

We hiked through meadows and into more open country, then up a long set of switchbacks on a steep mountain that rose up from the flatter ground, with wide and windy views of meadows, forests and lakes all around. As we walked, Zach stumbled a little as his fungus-infected foot began to hurt him. Over the course of the afternoon, his stomach ached more and more. At last, as we were climbing up a steep side of the mountain, he stumbled, coughing, and spat out stomach acid.

Zach had breakdown. He collapsed on the ground with a sob, then immediately bit back the tears with anger. “I am so… sick… of this stupid trail!”

I stared at him, feeling a bit strange that, for once, I was feeling pretty good while he was having the tough time. In that moment, I realized something else. There was no way we could keep going like this. His breakdown had shaken me out of my dogged perspective that we couldn’t finish the trail if we went to Sacramento. Now I saw that we couldn’t finish unless we did.

“Zachary,” I said, “we should try to go to Sacramento.”

Zach stared straight ahead, and nodded. Then he stood up, gripped his trekking pole, and kept walking. 

We spent the rest of the climb talking about logistics. I was still set on only taking two or three days off, but with Grandpa Ray’s work schedule we’d probably have to take a full week. I was worried about that much time off— wouldn’t we lose our stamina? Wouldn’t we never want to come back?

“We’ll be fine,” Zach said. “We’ll come back.”

I raised my eyebrow, watching him limping. “Do you think you’ll want to come back?”

“Yeah,” he said without hesitation.

I stared at him, marveling. “Really?”

“Yeah. We have to finish.”

I nodded, taking it in. Then, after a hesitation, I said, “Well, one way or the other, I’m going to ask if I can bake a cake.”

“Maybe Grandma Kathy will make us burritos.”

“And we can watch TV all day!”

“And eat pizza.”

“And get some medicine for your fungus foot.”

“And sleep in a bed.”

“And eat more pizza!”

Of course, we had no way of confirming our plans, since we had no cell phone service. It was almost painful, making all these plans but not knowing if they would work out. But still, it was amazing what hope and strength to keep hiking these plans gave us.

We hiked over the top of the mountain, then began a steep descent down, marked with giant stone “steps,” often covered in snow. The trail was a stream more often than not, making keeping our feet dry quite a challenge. It was a laborious few miles down the opposite side of the mountain, but at last we found a nice campsite beneath a tree, with a rushing stream nearby. We decided to stop for the night, and were surprised to calculate that we had gone almost 20 miles today, despite our dawdling and slogging. The trail was definitely getting easier!

Zach made mac and cheese for dinner, which was gluey but ridiculously delicious. That night, we fell asleep with hopeful thoughts of pizza and burritos dancing in our heads.


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