The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Sally Berger
I sleep fitfully, my hips complaining. Every time I turn, my mattress crinkles like a bag of fritos. A deer clops through the site all night looking for salt. Lights come on then loud shooing away and laughter.
I leave at dawn, a bird I have never heard before sings one note, like a whistle. I like him; a certain aggressiveness and who-gives-a-damn about that sound.
Up and up Holman pass. I’m out of breath this high, out of shape, out of my mind. What makes me believe I’ll heal out here? Still, it’s gloriously beautiful as I rise, the mountains open up, snow covered, jagged, an entire cliff’s exposed layers curving and uplifted sideways. They’re menacing in this soupy murkiness.
Tents house sleeping hikers in a meadow. I meet two young women dressed alike in shorts and hoodies who march ahead of me, showing me the way as the trail cuts straight across the side of a mountain, then up and over. Crossed sticks bar the way which seems the most obvious over Woody Pass. Wouldn’t that be nice, flat and straight ahead. Instead it’s down enormous switchbacks, and then right back up. I marvel at the grade. Used for stock animals, I don’t even have to look at my feet. Sure, it challenges, but only as ramps do.
Mosquitos are everywhere, so I put on the ‘bug burka.’ Humidity gives me big hair and I pull it back. One of my blog readers told me she didn’t know I even had hair because every picture shows it tied back. I stop at a grand view, the ground sweeping sharply away thousands of feet. Hikers are focused, headphones jammed in their ears. Sadly they miss out on the two toned veery.
Mist covers the mountaintops as I make a pot of coffee to drink with homemade larabars from a batch I made last fall and stored in a vacuum seal, still delicious and perfectly fattening.
My sadness catches up today adding a heaviness to my step. I argue with the air, get angry then – as always happens to me – incredibly sad before standing up and pressing on. Two young women smile as they march by with their dad.
It seems the goddess listens when I cry out. She sends me a companion for the ridge walk in a complete white out. He calls himself ‘Crazy Eyes.’ To his question why I’m here, I answer, “Life.” He laughs. “Same here.” We talk about long walks and why do them as the trail rises right into the void. We cross mud-browned steps through small snowfields before dropping low enough for a view of an emerald lake thousands of feet below.
I decide to set up camp at Hopkins Lake, right at its edge – likely making for a cold night. Avalanche fields strewn with boulder slither down the surrounding mountains. Douglas firs stand erect at the shoreline.
I take just some food, my rain gear as it’s drizzling now and ‘slackpack’ to the border. It’s six miles downhill, then six back up, but I can move faster unencumbered. I meet a young man with long blond curly hair named Randy who tells me how impressed he is I plan to hike all of this alone. I haven’t the heart to admit I don’t know how far I’ll actually go.
Views are soon obscured by bushes and meadows of wildflowers, then forest. A marmot waddles onto a rock, his white center an ill-fitting sweater squeezing out the fat on his haunches.
I meet up with an Englishwoman named Laura and we talk for miles in a section of blowdown requiring the limbo, jungle gym skills and sometimes a walk way off trail. Her grounded nature pulls me right out of my funk. It all feels so self indulgent and time wasting around this sunny person.
We finally arrive at the monument meeting several others laughing and taking photos. One by one, we sneak across the border into British Columbia and a hidden place to pee. No disrespect, it’s simply the easiest place to go. The walk back feels long and I’m tired, but once the marker is touched, I am officially a SOBO – a southbound hiker. Thirty miles to get there, and now heading south beginning at mile 0.
This year, the Sierra mountains had well over its limit of snow. Difficult and dangerous walking, postholing in deep snow, but add to that exploding rivers and streams, and most north-bound hikers decided to ‘flip’ directions and come here. Sadly, there are way too many people on the trail right now. We call it a ‘bubble.’ The campsite is overrun and very loud. Despite the PCT Association reminding people to respect others and keep their voices down – as well as limit group size – two groups are yelling at each other when sitting only inches away. This gorgeous wilderness lake feels like a frat house. It’s a shame and kind of spoils the experience. Fortunately, they’re not right next to me. I hope I can hike faster and lose them in the coming days, or at least pick spots to camp with room for only a single tent.
Although I did ask one of the biggest, loudest groups for help. The bottle I use to collect water and squeeze through a filter, broke. One of the guys gave me his spare, just gave it to me. Rich has always said make friends with your neighbors, you just never know when you might need help out of a jam.
That is true. All in all, a good day with the goddess intervening to place people in my path when I got too maudlin. And it might be just 7:00, but I’m ready to close my eyes.