Champions keep playing until they get it right. – Billie Jean King
Something fell on the tent just as I was falling asleep. It banged so hard, fast and loud that I squealed. No damage at all and no evidence of any particular object either. It was probably just a cone, a piece of bark or a tiny stick, but from so high up, the crash was intense. I realize how vulnerable I am just laying here under fabric.
It’s not easy emerging from my warm cocoon, but I dress, pack and have breakfast on my granite slab with the water pouring over the edge. I need to get food for the coming seven to eight days, and it’s not terribly convenient to manage – or, it’s a pretty sweet deal when you consider the John Muir Trail section of the PCT crosses national parks and roadless wilderness for over 200 miles. To have a couple of resorts within walking distance that will hold packages, sell food and, maybe more important, have hiker boxes filled with food hikers are giving away, is mightily convenient. Just imagine the difference between a seven day carry and a fourteen day carry.
I sent a big bucket of food to the Vermillion Valley Resort seven years ago. It’s not cheap to send and they charge $50 to hold your package, so I take my chances that the hiker box plus their store will supply my needs until Kennedy Meadows, about 170 miles away. The other issue is that they are nearly seven miles from the trail on an up-and-down and hot trail. I walked it once because the water was low and the ferry couldn’t run for several years. Water is up now, so I am moving quickly to make the 9:45 departure.
It’s still some walking this morning following the creek as it descends on granite, waterfalls everywhere as well as glissading cascades down long, leaning slabs. The air is still warm, but everything is bright yellow and red. I come to the junction and remember I left a note for my friends seven years ago in pinecones. It’s still a mile and a half to the ‘ferry landing,’ basically rock. Two fisherman are certain that I should wait by a buoy and I find a wee bit of shade behind a boulder.
I’m nervous this morning, not certain the boat will come even though their sign indicated it will.
I’m impatient too and really not sure why I’m unable to settle down. Richard sends me a weather update through my gps which really cheers me up – seven days of sunshine with a small chance of snow on Saturday. That really ought to settle me down, and possibly slow me down too.
I scan the water and see nothing as the clock shows 9:30, then 9:40. I know I can get to the resort, but can’t face walking there again. Funny, since I’m a ‘full time pedestrian,’ but I want to save my energy for the heavy pack I’ll carry with a full resupply. Edison Lake is man-made and perhaps not the most beautiful up here with layered sand surrounding and mountains distant. Just as I give up a tiny boat hugging the far shore and waving two American flags comes into view. I wave as it passes by, realizing I am waiting in the wrong spot. But Captain ‘Paint Your Wagon’ waits for me as about ten hikers disembark including two Kiwis that Paint yells at once they’re ashore to tell them I walked the Te Araroa. They give me two thumbs up and me to them as they are about to finish the PCT.
It’s just me on board as we speed over to the resort, looking for the osprey nest and sunken buoys. Paint tells me it was hikers who saved the resort the years the water was low. I’m glad I’m one of them and wonder, now that there are new owners, if they’ll continue being so welcoming.
It’s an old-timey resort of cabins, campsites, a store and restaurant – sadly, closed. Everyone is hustling to ready the place for inspection. I am the only hiker so raid the food box and find loads of goodies to pack in my bear box. I buy a few more things plus food to eat at the picnic table while I charge my electronics. Soon, ‘Fritter’ joins me, a bleach blond from Nashville with a long beard. He expounds on how messed up America is but, oddly, in an upbeat way. We share doritos – I will never eat this way again in my life – and sort our backpacks just as Nate arrives, sweaty from the hike but happy he’s walking every step.
I enjoy their company, drink too much soda – see above – and then begin to panic about the weight of my pack. I ask Nate to do me a favor – tell me I’m going to be ok. He says our big worry with the weather is gone and just relax and enjoy. It really helps a lot, though I leave a bit nervous, taking an alternate route up beautiful Bear Creek rather than the long, dry, uninteresting switchbacks of the PCT. Am I cheating? Not really as this trail is far steeper and still over ten miles long.
‘Spirit’ drives me over, talking my ear off in a friendly way about analog versus digital and I feel distracted and disorganized, messing around with a pile of bandaids I loaded in my pocket. He drops me at a cutoff that takes me straight uphill then down again to the creek. It’s lovely looking back at the lake and I get a pretty fine view up the canyon I’ll walk towards huge peaks glowing in the sun, puffy cloud shadows moving by slowly. I stop to take a picture and realize my wallet is gone. Maybe it fell out in the van or on trail or at the picnic table, I have no idea. I have some cash, my drivers license and a credit card in it, but keep other cards and cash deep in my backpack. Still, I feel awful and quickly contact Richard through the gps.
I carry my disappointment in my carelessness – plus my heavy backpack – up the gorgeous canyon, trying mightily to stay connected to this beautiful place. The creek is filled with waterfalls in spigots, sprays, cascades and washing machines. And then there will be the total stillness of a deep emerald pool. Creatures about, fluttering, buzzing and even leaping – a lizard scurries then launches himself across the trail where I can see his blue belly.
I am powering up and feeling good, remembering much of this walk with my friends. Some of the climb is on rock stairs so steep, I wish I was as agile as that leaper and could simply hop from rock to rock. I go in and out of aspen, yellow snd quacking against a bright blue sky. What I don’t remember is how long this trail is. I take a picture of the map which shows mileage, but I’m feeling disoriented by losing my wallet and I wonder if I’m on the right trail. A sign tells me ‘not recommended for stock’ which translates to ‘you thought that was steep, just wait!’
The trail opens out onto a giant slab of granite. I love how it feels but I cannot remember this part so check my location. For some reason, my gps has me walking about 1/4 mile east of the trail. I panic momentarily, but use logic which tells me there is only one trail here and I’m on it and it eventually hits the PCT up here in the mountains.
But it goes on and on, into forest, up on rock, back into forest, and then through s nightmare of mud and river-as-trail. I hit my limit at this point, still taking a photo of a magnificent mountain and walking on. But just as I start to cry in frustration, exhaustion and feeling like a dope, I see a red tent. As I pass a young man says hello and I tell him I might be lost.
An older gentleman who introduces himself as Rick points to a hiker about 20 yards ahead, “That’s the PCT! But wouldn’t you like something to drink?” Would I! It turns out this is the campsite of a group of High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew out of Fresno, and Rick is the Executive Director. Animals bring all their gear and they have quite an impressive kitchen. He gives me some lemonade and I really start to cry, just feeling taken care of when I might have pushed a little too hard. The coup de grace, though, is when he offers me a salad. Friends, I really need good food and this was like medicine.
The other workers pour in and soon I’m eating corned beef and cabbage with them. Another man named Rich tells me they often rescue hikers and I really shouldn’t feel bad hitting my limit. Then they help me find a private spot to set the alicoop right next to my own set of falls and my own pool where I wash off today’s dust and finally relax.
These lovely people even invited me for breakfast. I am so deeply touched by their kindness and generosity, their total ease with simply sharing sustenance with a hiker who maybe needs to take it a tiny bit slower. I awoke with water crashing on rock and spent my day with people who sustained me. Now I close my eyes to the sound of this magical creek, full of good nutrition and good feelings.