Wednesday, May 6, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 63: Weather, Wind, and Water

DAY 63
June 26th, 2014, Thursday
1050.2 to 1071.7ish

When we woke the next morning, we heard the sound of rain pattering on our tent. At first I groaned. But then I remembered that we were getting a hot breakfast today, and was immediately awake.

I'm not a big fan of rain unless I'm inside.
We decided to leave our tent set up, so we just grabbed our raincoats and hustled down the trail. The whole world was shrouded in mist as a fine, cold rain fell. I was already shivering by the time we reached the road. True to his word, “Chipmunk” was there— a van and a pavilion sheltered his set-up from the rain. Zach and I raced up to it to find a table and chairs and a friendly angel waiting for us.

“Welcome!” Chipmunk said. We introduced ourselves and sat down. He asked us if we would like eggs with chili, and we said yes, please. In the meantime, he pointed out appetizers galore: Cap’n Crunch, Special K, orange juice, chocolate milk, coffee, and bananas. We took advantage of all of them in turn, trying to restrain ourselves but urged on by his chuckling, “Yes, go for it!” It was so amazing to taste something new. Within minutes we had fried eggs with a heap of chili on top, which warmed us as we clutched our plastic forks with numb fingers.

We were soon joined by a couple other people: Acorn the Elder (he had added the suffix when he learned that a younger person had also taken the trail name Acorn), and a guy with thoughtful blue eyes named Raindance (he swore the rain wasn’t his fault!).

We all chatted, talking about hiker stories, the High Sierra, trail magic, different hiking methods, our lives back home, and so on. I huddled against Zach for warmth, and we all waited for the rain and wind to let up. It would stop for a couple seconds, then start steadily drizzling again. Acorn the Elder hiked on, and at last we decided that we must do the same.

We bid farewell to Chipmunk and Raindance, then hiked back to our camp and packed up. By this point I was shivering a lot, and actually began crying I was so cold. 

We began hiking, our hands smarting and freezing in the cold. We crossed the road again, waving to Chipmunk one last time, and hiked into the woods. It wasn’t until we had climbed a steep hill that my blood was pumping strongly enough to warm me.

Although I had been freezing, and not happy about it, the warm breakfast had given me new spirits, and as we walked, it was impossible to ignore how beautifully ghostly the landscape was. Mist and fog shrouded everything, only dimly revealing the peaks of huge jagged mountain in the distance. We turned a bend in the mountain and found ourselves walking through a grassland pocked with massive volcanic lumps (which, quite frankly, looked like giant chunks of concrete with pebbles stuck in them). The grass and the mist and the rain made us both imagine that we were in the Scottish highlands. Zach said he expected a man with an English cap and a sheepdog to come hiking out of the mist.

That's the silhouette of a mountain— see the butte in the middle?
We were battered by rain and driving wind practically all morning, which was exhausting, but the landscape was so eerily beautiful that I couldn’t complain. At last the mist began to shred and clear, hurrying away from us with the wind. The wind blasted us, which made me cold at first, but soon dried out all my clothes.

We trekked through wind and patchy sun most of the afternoon. We paused at a lake in the woods and ate a meal, though we shivered now that we weren’t moving. We hung out our rainfly to dry, and it dried within the hour as we ate our pasta. We hiked on.

After a while, we sat on a log in mottled sunlight to split one of our precious Clif bars (which were tasting more decadently delicious by the day). As we sat on the log, munching away, we heard hikers approaching from the north. Soon a family emerged— picture-perfect, with a dad, a mom, a young daughter, and a younger son. They all wore backpacks. We said hi, and they stopped to chat with us. The daughter, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, looked at us intently as we talked with her parents, while the boy fiddled around with a slingshot. “We’re hiking in to fish at the lakes,” they said. 

“We’re going to camp,” the little girl piped up in an articulate voice, “and we’re going to cook the fish in a frying pan.”

The parents had hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile trail that circled Lake Tahoe, which coincides with the PCT for part of its route. The mom smiled at us. “The PCT is the best part of the Rim Trail,” she said. “Especially now, in wildflower season.” They encouraged their kids to ask us questions about the PCT.

“Why do you carry those sticks?” the girl asked, referring to our trekking pole.

“Do you catch fish?” the boy asked.

We answered their questions, and they listened intently.

“How old are you?” I asked the girl. 

“I am six,” she said, then, pointing to her brother, “He turned five three days ago.”

“I got a slingshot!” he announced, holding it aloft. “I got it for my birthday!”

The girl, not to be outdone, unslung her small pink backpack. “Mommy and Daddy gave me a safety whistle so if I get lost I can find them.” She pulled out a pink plastic whistle with a My Little Pony sticker on it.

“That’s great!” I said, bending down to take a closer look. “That’s Fluttershy, isn’t it? Fluttershy is my favorite.”

The girl gave me a sideways look. “How do you know the names from My Little Pony?”

The parents and Zach laughed while I slyly said, “Oh, I’ve totally, uhm, never watched My Little Pony…”

We said goodbye to them and parted ways, but the encounter made me smile all day long.

The trail now led us into some of the most breathtaking landscapes we had seen yet— less scenic than the Sierra by many people’s perspective, but more beautiful to me because it was less daunting and more wide open. The billowing clouds, the blue-peaked mountains, the green foothills, the speckling of lakes, the groves of wildflowers: it was all enough to put me in awe. 

As the afternoon drew toward evening, we walked up a huge, barren volcanic mountain, struggling our way up the side. I was tired, freezing cold, and stumbling a bit, but it was amazing the difference that being well-fed made. I walked along without complaining or feeling the need to, and Zach kept on checking on me, perhaps thinking that my lack of complaining meant I was getting delirious.

The trail skirted a barren ridge, and off to our right we saw huge, beautiful clear lakes, most notably Upper Blue Lake, which shimmered in the late sunlight. We saw specks in the water that were commercial boats, leaving wakes like thistledown in the waters. 

We wound our way between lakes, off the deserted ridge and into the woods again. We decided to take a campsite near the Lost Lakes, near the intersection of the trail and a jeep road. 

We decided to each have a chocolate brownie Clif bar for dinner, and spent a good ten minutes savoring the flavors. My mouth seemed keenly, almost painfully attuned to the flavor, beneath all that soy protein isolate. 

“Mm,” I said.

“Mm,” Zach said, smiling in the way he does when he’s really happy.

We ate the Clif bars like gourmet appetizers, chuckled at ourselves for finding Clif bars to be so noteworthy, then plunked down on our sleeping pads and passed out.


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