Friday, April 24, 2015

PCT, Day 55: Red's Meadow

Map of the area at Red's Meadow Resort

DAY 55
June 18th, Wednesday
896ish to 912ish

The next morning, we had a hard time getting out of bed, because it was still freezing (no wonder— we were camped at 10,000 feet). We laid in bed and looked at our maps. Ten miles ahead, just 3/10s of a mile off trail, was a place called Red’s Meadow Resort. We hadn’t supplied there because it was a bit too far from Independence, and because they charged even more than VVR did to hold packages, but we decided that we were definitely going there. I had been out in the woods too long, and it was driving me crazy. There would not be free burgers, but there would be a roofed building where you could buy chips, and that sounded pretty amazing right now.

My blister had pretty much healed by today, so we power-walked toward Red’s Meadow, with the mountains rising around us, sometimes clearing to reveal gorgeous meadows, sometimes parting to reveal huge ranges of mountains beyond. 

On the trail, we came across bits of wood arranged on the trail: 900. We had reached 900 miles! For some reason, that felt so much more impressive and hardcore than 800 miles.

At last we found ourselves skirting along the side of a mountain through a forest, and we saw a sign for Red’s Meadow Resort, and took the detour. I looked through the trees and saw a roof. And then another one. Hallelujah, manmade structures! They looked incredible to me. There was something so restful about straight lines and right angles and metal, after all the organic lines of the forest. I almost cried to see a simple manmade structure.

“I’m a really bad backpacker,” I told Zach.

We reached the main building of the resort, low and long. Tourists milled about, getting ready for horseback rides or trying to catch a bus to the nearby town of Mammoth. I stared in awe at them: they were so… clean. And wearing bright colors. And there were children! I hadn’t seen children since the trail magic at Walker Pass. It was so strange to see families. 

We dropped our backpacks at one of the picnic tables and stepped inside the general store. It was fairly well-stocked, decorated on the edges with caricatures of different people who worked at the store. The cashier welcomed us and told us to sign the trail register. (We saw that we were right behind Ché!) We wandered around, trying to decide what to do. Then a thought occurred to me, and I asked the cashier where the bathrooms were. She pointed to a building outside. I practically ran over there.

The bathrooms exceeded my wildest expectations. I walked in and there were sinks. And a mirror. And a FLUSH TOILET. I rushed to the toilet first. After three and a half weeks in the woods, a flush toilet was a luxury almost beyond my imagination. I was tempted to flush it twice just for the novelty of it.

Then I went to wash my hands— which I hadn’t done in a couple weeks either, other than sanitizing them with GermX. The water turned black under my hands. Then I looked up, and stared at my face in the mirror.

What I saw shocked me. Again, it had been almost a month since I’d actually looked in a mirror, and that had been a really tough three and a half weeks. My face was tanned and ruddy, caked in dirt. My blue eyes blazed out from my darkened skin (I mean, I’m still about as white as you can possibly get, so any shade darker is noticeable to me), looking haunted and a bit wild. My own face looked thinner to me, as did the rest of my body. My thighs were the same size as always, but now instead of padded with fat, they were solid muscle. I looked thin and beat-up and scared. I began to realize why people were so eager to give me food— I looked pretty starved.

I rolled up my sleeves and began washing some of the grime off my arms, wiping them down with a paper towel. I knew my legs were caked in dirt, and my hair had a buildup of dirt that I just tried not to think about. At about the two-week mark, I had felt so dirty that I could barely stand it. But now, I had adjusted. I had reached a certain level of dirtiness, and I felt like it couldn’t get worse. One of the tourists eyed me nervously, trying not to stare, as she washed her hands.

“It’s been three and a half weeks without running water,” I told her.

“Wow,” she said, and practically ran away.

I left the bathroom, vowing to return at least once before we left, and found Zach in the general store eyeing the chips. I began to realize that he had changed, too. It was difficult to tell with his beard, but his face was getting very gaunt. His body was thin, and he’d lost a lot of muscle from his shoulders and arms. His exposed skin, like mine, was caked with dirt.

“They have flush toilets,” I told him in an awed whisper.

Zach held up a massive “party-sized” bag of tortilla chips. “These are four dollars.”

“Let’s get them.”

In the end, we spent very frugally: one bag of chips, an apple, a bottle of Tabasco habanero sauce (he had run out before the Sierra), and six Red Vines. We sat down on a couch near the counter. I sat there and savored the feeling of sitting. I had not sat on an actual couch since Tehachapi, and not even a chair since Independence a week ago.

I ate the apple— the first fresh food in a week. It was incredible.

After that, Zach and I wandered outside and sat at a picnic table. He used our stove to cook some refried beans, and then we ate the entire bag of chips with the beans. My mouth felt overloaded with salt and I was almost sick to my stomach, but I felt like I needed every single one of those 2,000 calories.

Unfortunately, Zach started feeling really sick to his stomach now. This was a problem that would ongoing from now until the end of the trail. We figured he had just eaten too much, but we didn’t know what the actual cause was (and never did). We had to chill for a while as he tried to let his food digest.

At last, he felt well enough to walk, so it was time to head out. We left the resort and started down the trail toward the PCT. We came to a crossroad of several trails and looked around in confusion, trying to figure out which one would lead us back to the trail. As we were standing there, a family group came hiking up. Seeing our appallingly dirty condition and massive backpacks, they asked us if we were PCT hikers. 

“So what mile is this?” they asked.

“906,” I replied proudly.

They responded with heartwarming enthusiasm, and then proceeded to ask us all kinds of questions. There were several adults and a couple kids, including a little girl (probably six or seven), who hung behind her mom and looked at us shyly. They were really nice, visiting from the Bay Area, and we were happy to chat with them.

We told them about what it had been like so far— the trials in the desert, the windmill battles, the amazing trail angels, the snowy passes in the Sierra. 

As we talked, it suddenly occurred to me that what we were doing was impressive. Like, it actually was. I had been around so many other hikers lately who seemed to be doing so much better than us— having more fun, finding everything easy, loving every minute— that I had forgotten that it actually was hard. I had been a crybaby over the past few days, but this was a genuine challenge. It wasn’t just all in our heads. I know it may sound silly from the outside, but when you’re inside the trail and comparing yourself to other hikers, you can start feeling like a total wimp.

I was also happy to tell the people that I loved California more than ever before— the people here thus far had been incredible, and the small towns were charming. They were thrilled to hear that we liked their state so much.

After talking for a while, one of the men pulled off his daypack. “Do you guys want some food? We’re heading back to the Bay area tomorrow and we way overpacked on snacks.”

Even though we had enough food (for once!), we eagerly accepted. The guy pulled out two huge bags of jerky— turkey and buffalo— and a bag of high-quality trail mix. We gasped as he dumped the bags into our hands. “I hope you guys aren’t sick of jerky,” he said.

“Not at all!” I said. Other than the jerky the JMT hiker had given us, we hadn’t gotten any on trail, since jerky is expensive and not very calorie dense. But it’s just about the tastiest thing ever invented.

“Well, we better get going,” the guy said, but then the little girl whispered something to her mom, and her mom nodded.

The little girl stepped forward, looking up at us shyly. She held out a little ziplock full of gummy bears. In her cute little voice, she asked, “Would you like some of my candy?” 

It was so adorable that I almost cried. “We would love some of your candy. Thank you so much.”

She smiled cutely and we held out our hands and she dumped some of the gummy bears into them. Then the family wished us goodbye and good luck, and we continued on our separate ways.

If you zoom on the picture, you can kinda see
Devils Postpile… it was easier to spot in real life.
The trail wound through the nice forest for a while, then we reached an area we weren’t familiar with yet— the trees were all dead, but not burnt, knocked down as if they’d been ripped right out of the ground. I’m not talking small trees, either— some of the trunks were four or five feet in diameter. One of the hikers who passed us said a ranger told him that these trees had been felled in a massive windstorm a few winters ago, where wind speeds had reached a couple hundred miles an hour.

We also decided not to take a detour to a geological formation called Devils Postpile, especially since Zach was still feeling bad. We did catch a glimpse of it, as we climbed one side of the mountain, looking across the valley to the cliffs on the other side: massive columns of volcanic rock shooting up in planks along the cliff face. 

As we were hiking, we saw another hiker walking toward us— a skinny middle-aged man with a short beard and a broad hat. He spoke with a jolly-sounding voice. “You’re going the wrong way!” 

“We’re PCT hikers,” we said, thinking he was a typical southbound JMTer.

“So am I, but you’re going the wrong way. The PCT is this way.” 

We politely tried to tell him it wasn’t, but he seemed convinced, so we let him pass us by and continued on our way. A few minutes later, he came up behind us, chuckling sheepishly. “I took the Devil’s Postpile detour, and I guess I got turned around.”

We hiked together for a while. He introduced himself as Zen Dawg. A former AT hiker who lived in North Carolina, he was big into karma and mindfulness. I didn’t think much of our meeting, but it was certainly not the last time we saw him. I was enjoying talking to him, but eventually Zach had to stop for a break because he felt like he was going to throw up.

I was concerned for Zach as he sat on a log, looking washed out and sick. After a few minutes he was able to keep slogging, but only walking at a slow pace. We had to stop a couple times to let him rest, doubled over. The trail wound into a close forest by a rushing stream. I saw some white-headed woodpeckers climbing the trees.

As twilight fell, mosquitoes began to swarm. We swatted them away. Zach could go no further. Even though we still had a couple hours of daylight (since it was only 6:30), we had to stop. We found a nice flat spot in a grove of pines. We wore our head nets to keep the skeeters off, and I set up the tent since Zach was too weak to do anything. Once I blew up our sleeping pads and put them in the tent, I told him to get in. He sat there, listless, while I finished our camp chores, such as gathering water and getting the bear canisters in order. Then I crawled in beside him. We went to sleep early that night, and I hoped that Zach would wake up feeling better.


No comments:

Post a Comment