Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 78, July 3 - Adventures with Storms

Mile 1,000 to Sonora Pass, Mile 1018 Today was intense. I'm happy it's over, and I'm happy to be alive. Even happier to see friends! We left camp at 7, but it was a rough day from the start. Brett received a text from his Mom that he'd overdrawn his checking account due to a check that wasn't cashed that he'd forgotten about - not the best way to start the day, especially when you're living in a world where you forget about the everyday concerns of normal life (i.e. $$$!) The day was gorgeous, and we got to the start of one of our last major Sierra climbs early and I felt great. I motored up the switchbacks while Brett readjusted some electronics, and as a rare treat (or maybe he just wanted me to think I was flying), Brett didn't catch up to me until the end of the climb. I felt like I ran up the whole mountain! We decided to jam up the side of the very end for a better view, and stupidly skipped the trail to hike straight up...which meant that we missed a turn off for the PCT and wound up on a different trail for a bit before realizing we'd made a wrong turn. We had to cross country back to the PCT, and before long noticed that clouds were building from the South. KingStreet's guide had quite explicitly stated that "the top of the climb towards Sonora Pass is NOT a place you want to find yourself during a thunderstorm", so we hurried along as fast as possible as we were hiking pretty solidly above the tree line. Unfortunately, we had over 5 miles of exposed terrain to hustle across before heading back down to safety, and run as we might, those clouds were building, and building, and building. Brett seemed pretty nervous about the impending storm which in turn terrified me - he doesn't worry unnecessarily, so I knew we were in a bit of a tight spot if the clouds opened up on us and electricity started striking. Most of the hiking was across scree and some leftover snow patches, and the only trees in sight were thousands of miles down the mtn - a POSSIBLE last minute evacuation, but certainly not ideal, as even those were short little stumps that wouldn't provide much cover in the event of an electrical storm. Clouds continued to build and surround us, and I had a minor panic attack, something along the lines of "I DON'T WANT TO DIE HERE!" while hysterically crying (for reals - I swear I'm not usually so dramatic). When the storm finally opened up on us, we had made it within a QUARTER MILE of the descent (and safety!) Unfortunately, not close enough to continue hiking and finish our day. Fortunately, close enough to some low hanging shrubs and trees as to provide a bit of shelter in an electric storm in the Sierra. We were only a mile from our meeting point with friends, but had to literally sprint down the side of the mountain to take cover after the entire sky seemed to light up with the first strikes of lightning, and the ground shook from the rumbling thunder. We may as well have been 100 miles from the Sonora Pass PCT junction at HWY 108. The storm started out tame enough, but soon enough it began hailing all over - the hail got to be the size of golf balls, and it hurt. We were huddled under these tiny little trees trying to stay warm, sitting on our sleeping pads (the foam doesn't conduct electricity) waiting out the storm. Usually, afternoon Sierra storms last an hour, maybe two at the most. After 4 hours, we were both getting very cold, and worrying this thing might not let up. We realized it might not just "blow over" and Brett suggested just hiking down. The lightning was everywhere, and I questioned his logic - when he couldn't explain WHY this was a good idea, I knew he wasn't well - usually I'd take any of his backcountry advice, but he wasn't making sense. I went to check on him and saw his entire face was blue - his lips were particularly blue and I realized we were in trouble. Time to set up the tent. We didn't previously because we didn't want to set up a metal rod in the ground, but I realized it was time we warm up - the only way I wasn't shivering uncontrollably at that point was by singing songs to myself and remembering happy times and warm places. I pitched the tent and got Brett into warm clothes, and felt safer when I saw he was finally warming up. We hunkered down...a total of over 5 hours until this crazy storm ended. I thought we'd be there forever, and was so glad when it finally cleared up. It was a really scary experience, and it's definitely the closest I've faced mortality in my life. Too intense! I cried again when it was all over, but was glad to know that I can help make good decisions for our little team if needed. The end of the day was weird - the storm blew over and we packed up and headed down the hill the last mile. We expected our friends to have been waiting around all day for us, but they arrived literally 2 minutes after us! Perfect timing, and I've never been so happy to see friendly faces. We spent the night at the trailhead as everyone arrived with great fanfare, and everyone looked forward to our long weekend together!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 77, July 2 - 1,000 Miles on Foot

Rancheria Creek, Mile 981 to MILE 1000!!

Well, I can't believe I made the next huge milestone. A few reflections on today, and the first 1,000 miles... 

Today was harder than expected, which meant the day mentally kicked my butt. I've learned that, while hiking, some of the highest highs come from successfully completing a challenging day more easily than expected, and some of the lowest lows come from an unanticipated struggle on what was supposed to be an easy day. A climb that was listed in my maps as only 400 feet (a walk in the park) was actually straight up over 1,000 feet in less than a mile - that's SUPER steep in the PCT world! That climb began only a few miles in, so it didn't set the tone for a good day when I was sobbing at the top of the surprise climb. To add insult to injury, it was SO HOT. We lingered in camp in the am with KingStreet (KS), Rocky, and TRex - enjoying coffee, breakfast, and companionship before what was expected to be an easy day. Really wished I'd gotten moving sooner after the sweltering heat!

As the miles dragged on, the sky darkened and we anticipated another afternoon thunderstorm - I was happy to have at least completed the climb and descended from the exposed granite before the dark clouds materialized into an electric storm. Slosh and I hiked on and soon heard familiar voices yelling our names - Rocky, TRex, and KS had taken shelter for lunch away from the building clouds under the eaves of a cabin right off the trail in the middle of the wilderness. After enjoying lunch and socializing for a bit, we determined the storm wasn't going to materialize, and made the decision to charge toward mile 1,000. My heels are pretty torn up right now, and my feet have been constantly wet the last few weeks due to stream crossings - the last few miles were absolutely brutal. At long last, I crossed the 1,000 mile marker! The campsite we're all at is awesome and right on the river (although absolutely overrun with mosquitoes...) We had an awesome bonfire before hopping in bed.

ONE THOUSAND MILES BY FOOT: I feel stronger than I have in a very long time, and I feel empowered! I'm frequently struck by how hard this STILL is (today=good example!), and everyday I still hope for the moment when all this seems to come easily. I'm so happy to have great friends out here, and I'm so much happier when we all get to hike together. It's funny to think back on my biggest fear - that I wouldn't make any friends. I've made some awesome friends - people who I click with and have felt close to since the moment I met (or re-met, in the case of Rocky!) - but I also have learned to enjoy my alone and quiet time more than expected. That's pretty refreshing. I'm more in touch with nature and the world around me - I know when the moon waxes and wanes these days! Today was one of those days I was ready to have HAD the experience but wasn't enjoying HAVING it, but those days have become far more scarce. I've never yet actually gotten close to giving up LT pointed out in one of our early conversations, I'm far too stubborn to ever turn around or give up; I've already told too many people I'm doing this! Still, the thought of our sweet apartment in Oakland and a fully furnished bedroom/living room/kitchen always sounds pretty alluring. We've gotten to the point where, as of tonight, we all sat around camp talking about reaching the Canadian border together, and what that would be like. That will be so crazy! I've given far less consideration to "Post-PCT Life" than expected, but I feel pretty happy just living in the now...for now. I know that's not necessarily the most responsible long term plan, but it's nice to just enjoy life as it comes. Mostly, tonight, I am exhausted and in need of a good night's rest. Amigos arrive tomorrow - must be on A game!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Days 73-76, June 28-July 1 - My Dinner at the Ahwahnee & Reunions at Long Last

Lyell Footbridge in Yosemite Mile 932 to Tuolumne Meadows Mile 942, Day 0, to Trailside Mile 958 to Rancheria Campground Mile 958

The 10 miles to Tuolumne on Friday morning were fairly expectedly longer than expected. I've come to learn that 10 miles will seem like nothing if you're close to town, but those miles tend to drag so much longer than the average 10 miles! Also, sometimes the flat and easy seems to drag on forever. We made it to the store and Post Office around 11:30 and bumped into some old friends - Buff, Happy Hour, Squeaks, Grande Burrito, and a few others. We bought a pint of ice cream and a 6 pack of beer to share among the 3 of us and toasted Jon's successful trip from Mammoth, picked up mail, then quickly headed out to Yosemite Valley for our planned meetup with Gail, Brett's Mom. I had all kinds of goodies waiting for me in the mail! Shya and Renee sent a fabulous birthday package complete with baked goods, temporary tattoos, and backpack flair, my uncle sent a really great card, and my former coworker the hilarious Steve sent the 3rd of a number of letters to me. What a treat! They made my day.

Gail and Jon treated us to dinner in the dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel - so amazing and delicious! The dining room looks like the great hall from the Harry Potter movies, it was so grandiose and majestic! They brought a few of our bottles of Ridge from home and we enjoyed them with our various plates of pork, steak, or lamb. I almost forgot what foodies we are at home! These days a fancy dinner consists of something you have to actually SIMMER in boiling water before letting it sit and digging in.  At the end of the meal, they brought birthday cupcakes out for Jon and I, and Brett ordered the "red velvet cake for 2". For 2 was no joke! The slice was probably a foot tall and wider than his head - even I was a little surprised he managed to finish the whole thing on his own!

The time went too fast, and the next thing I knew it was time to check out - of course no laundry was done and I'd only completed a fraction of my correspondence, chores, etc. There's never enough time in towns! Jon and Gail headed back home and Brett and I hit up the market in the valley to tackle resupply until Echo Lake, and then hopped on the bus back to Tuolumne Meadows. As we got on the bus, who should shout out our trail names but the one and only Sour Cream?! He had planned to meet his Dad in Yosemite but his Mom also flew out to surprise him and hike with him as well, so we had the pleasure of getting to know both of them. It was so great and refreshing to see Sour Cream after so much time, and fun to catch up on his time in the Sierra. As the bus pulled into Tuolumne I looked out the window to see none other than Rocky and T-Rex also! Finally seeing our friends again is such a game changer!

Our plan was to hit the trail right away, but of course that wasn't about to happen after catching up with so many friends. Brett and I decided to stay at the Tuolumne Lodge for a good night's rest in one of their tent cabins. Hit the trail the following morning and moved slowly after realizing that we drank beer the previous night but never bothered with dinner. It was a rough day, and our extended relaxing ever since we arrived in Mammoth took its toll. We caught up to Rocky, TRex and KingStrett the next day and hiked with them in the afternoon - it's sooo good to be with trail friends again! And home friends get here in just 2 days!