The best protection any woman can have is courage. – Elizabeth Cady Stanton
It’s a perfect morning, waking in a cozy bed cuddled up with a Swiss duvet. Ursula offers me eggs, bacon, toast, cereal and coffee. Yes, please! Alain arrives early ready to hike up to the ridge in his La Sportiva boots and American flag mini gaiters. I tell him I dreamed I had already climbed back up the trail. It wasn’t an anxiety-producing dream, rather a feeling of lightness, floating easily to the top.
I thank my hosts for a wonderful stay and they ply me with a few drinks before we drive back to the trailhead, Archie, the Border Collie whiny with excitement. It’s 43 degrees, clear and sunny. The bear canister is huge in my pack, but Alain takes it out and carries it in his. Perhaps I will float up?
I breath heavily as we climb on exposed granite, Alain telling me a visiting friend thought the Jeffrey Pines were planted by people from town. They are in fact beautifully placed, framing the view. Most of the way up, Alain shares the story of his wife’s death fifteen years ago. “She was strong but not lucky,” he says describing a marathon runner who succumbed to lung cancer. He also tells me about his recent heartbreak with a woman who survived twenty-one days adrift at sea. I ponder these stories realizing every moment is precious as we really don’t know what could happen to us at any time.
Alain takes me to the lakes then on a bit of a bushwhacking adventure straight up to cut a few switchbacks on the PCT. He wants me to assure him I’m not a purist, and asks if I feel ok. I do! It’s a whole lot like New Zealand tramping until we reach the wide, manicured PCT. Alain may be 73, but he flies up the path, training now for a trek in Nepal next month.
He chatters on about all sorts of subjects as we follow the exposed ridge looking down the ski runs and out towards an area with warning signs that there no ski patrol or avalanche control. Right now, it looks benign, just very steep. Alain warns me not to take shortcuts because I could end up having to rock climb. He visited a lake with his dog and was stranded on a ledge. The dog jumped down and broke his leg. He left all his gear, packed him in his backpack and carried him out to the vet, returning a few weeks later to fetch his gear.
I enjoy our hike together and am disappointed when he decides to turn around. I tell him why I’m here, to get grounded again after a big loss. He asks if maybe this is ‘overkill?’ I respond that it’s a chance I may not have again, and that I’m using the time not just to walk, but to restore my faith and hope that life has more good things waiting for me. We put the bear canister in my pack and I am extremely heavy – and unwieldy. He asks if I’m sure I want it. Well, it’s bear country and protection is required, so I’ll just go slowly from here on out. We hug and I pet Archie who’s now covered in burrs.
I sidle the mountain under the Twin Peaks and begin heading down into forest. I’m a little panicky I won’t be able to manage the load, but I slowly adjust and move along reasonably well. I realize it’s Friday, the 13th and a full moon. I hope I can find a camp spot with a view of the sky. I stop at a stream and collect water. Several backpackers pass me, but it’s obvious they are out for a shorter stretch, carrying bigger packs and still smelling clean. They’re also really friendly and seem delighted to be out on this gorgeous day.
I tell myself I have all day and I’m not under pressure to make big miles. I hope to meet my friend Mark tomorrow at Highway 50, but I can only move as fast as I can move. I come to a pass with a parking lot full of cars. Two backpackers arrive excited to have finished their trip. We high five as I head down into the forest.
Richardson Lake is only six miles, but these miles kind of drag. It’s not a particularly notable forest and it kind of feels like I’m making no progress, just winding around for hours. Here, the PCT shares the trail withe Tahoe Rim, very busy with hikers though I see no thru-hikers. It’s a big uphill to the lake, a dirt road crossing in between with a caravan of four-wheel-drives heading somewhere.
That ‘somewhere’ turns out to be the lake, a hiker getting ready to set his tent laughs with me when we both realize we could’ve just hitched a ride. I get water and eat lunch, though it’s too loud and not the most glorious lake. So off I go, working towards Desolation Wilderness. I enter it in no time, but the ragged white granite that gives this place its name, remain out of sight. The forest continues with only tiny glimpses of this snow-capped wonderland.
I meet a hiker and we exchange info on water location. I stop at some still pools for a sip before heading steeply up then down towards the Velma Lakes. At first, I just fill up, but then decide to set up in this single spot as the moon rises, orange and mysterious glowing on the water. My food, toiletries and garbage are locked away from bears and I’m cozied in with warmer clothes and a liner since it will get cold tonight. My water purifier and propane are tucked in a bag at the foot of my quilt do they don’t freeze. Sadly, a group of hikers are being extremely loud on the other side of the lake. I will try to say this mantra Maria sent me to attempt to get centered as another hiker shines his light in my tent – ah, but so nicely apologizes.
May I be in loving kindness.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be happy, may I be well.