PCT Day 52: Kearsarge Pass to Bishop

June 9, 2022

Non-PCT miles: 7

PCT miles: 0

It’s pretty easy to wake up on town days. We have barely any food left and just seven miles to the trailhead. We’ve been fantasizing about town food and beer and drinks and washing our hands. Before long, we’re hiking and passing people coming the other way. We ask them all questions about how they got to town and recommendations in Bishop. Every person we talk to makes me a little more excited.

Kearsarge is far from the hardest climb we’ve done, but it still takes me a hot minute to make it up. There are beautiful views along this stretch, including Bullfrog Lake and Kearsarge Lakes. It’s annoying that we have to hike so far just to hitch so far, but the Sierras are really remote, and this is just the way it is.

Jumbo is ahead, and he doesn’t even bother stopping at the pass. We’re in town mode now. Catless passes me, and I end up hiking all the way down with Trash Balloon. She’s so cool! We talk for the entire four and a half miles to the parking lot about book recommendations and the bookstore I’ve always dreamed of opening and where I should put it (California? England? New Zealand?), her work as a city planner for San Francisco, nail polish, the dynamics of being a woman on trail, and our disenchantment with capitalism.

Trash Balloon and Qwerty run into a tramily member they haven’t seen in a while, and I go ahead. Just a few hundred yards down the trail, I see Jumbo and Catless stopped and talking to another hiker: Petra! She’s just come out of town, and she has a totally new hiking outfit. I tell her to take a couple of days off in Mammoth so we can see her. She seems to want to do pretty big days, and she’s just doing her own thing now. It’s badass, but I hope she’s okay on the passes. I give her a big hug, and then we continue down the trail.

As it turns out, we have to wait two and a half hours until we can get a hitch. It seems like it’s mostly day hikers, and since we get to the trailhead in the morning, no one is leaving. We sit around for a long time in the sun. On the bright side, there’s a PCT hiker who had to get off trail who is doing trail magic. The cold soda, chips, and pastries are a lifesaver. Jumbo decides that he wants to join the colorful nails club, so I borrow Trash Balloon and Qwerty’s stash of yellow and blue polish and go to town.

Eventually, a backpacker returning from an overnight trip comes down and heads to his car. Jumbo does his thing and turns up the polite Britishness to full tilt and convinces the guy to give us a ride. He takes us down the hill to Independence, which is a shockingly long ride. At the gas station, we get cold drinks and ice cream, and Jumbo scores us another hitch all the way to Bishop with a guy who’s hiking the PCT but taking a break to wait for his sister to join us. I owe Jumbo so many drinks. He is SO good at hitching. It’s a 40-mile drive, and when we arrive in town, our driver drops us off at Erik Schat’s bakery. We thank him profusely and prepare to smash so many calories.

At the bakery, we run into so many people we know: Power Plant, Knuckles, Topo, the Belgians, and Andy! That’s one of the things I love the most about going into towns—walking into any restaurant and having a virtual guarantee that you’ll see someone you know from the trail. The bakery is chaotic. It’s apparently a popular road trip spot, and there are tons of people in there buying bread and pastries and sandwiches. I make it to the front of the line finally and order a half turkey sandwich and half roast beef. We eat outside, which isn’t ideal because it’s hot, loud, and right next to the road, but the food tastes amazing to me. (I learn after this that Jumbo was very unhappy with this stop because he hates sandwiches. Sorry, Jumbo! Real non-sandwich food next time.)

We check into our Motel 6 after lunch. It’s nothing fancy, but the room is clean and the bed feels so soft. Naturally, I still have the decorations from James, and I put them up on the walls. The celebration continues! We have to do laundry across the street, which is annoying because it’s stinking hot and the walk over in my rain gear with a trash bag full of three hikers’ dirty laundry isn’t pleasant, and then I have to wait in line forever to ask the front desk manager for $4 in change. But it gets done.

Once we’re back in actual clothes, we walk down the street to the bowling alley. We read on Far Out that this place has some of the best food in town, and I haven’t bowled in years, so I figured it would be a good way to celebrate my birthday while we’re in town. Andy and Beetle meet us there, and we give them some more gold crowns. Andy buys me a mojito, my drink of choice, and I order—weirdly—a chicken Caesar salad. It’s just okay. It’s nice to have some greens and to sit at a booth with my favorite hikertrash boys.

Beetle hands me a hilariously wrapped present from Petra. It looks to be made of purple duct tape and zip ties, with “PASSPORT” written in nail polish across the front. She wrote me the sweetest note and gave me some cool stickers. She’s the only member of what once was our tramily who’s not here, and I feel her absence acutely as I read the note.

After dinner, we pick a lane and start bowling. Soon, we’re joined by Knuckles and Power Plant. I love looking at all the trail names up on the screen and seeing all my trail friends laughing and having a good time. I’m very bad at bowling, and, as I predicted, Andy is weirdly good at it. (Cornhole? Bowling? Hiking really far? What CAN’T the man do?) I’m holding my own in the game until Jumbo challenges me: “I’m going to beat you.” Competition mode switches on in my brain, and… I start rolling nothing but gutter balls. He does indeed beat me, as does everyone else, but that’s about what I expected.

Andy and Beetle split (hah) after we finish, and I give them big hugs. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, as they are both doing pretty big miles in this next section, Beetle to meet up with some friends and Andy to get ahead before he leaves for his little side trip to Guatemala. I’m so glad they came tonight. The trail has a way of showing how impermanent everything is. The moment is everything. I don’t know what will happen next, but I have my friends in this moment, and I hold it near.

The rest of us, however, have not had enough party. We start walking towards a bar that, as it turns out, is not there anymore, so we decide to go to another called Rusty’s Saloon. It’s definitely a local place, a hole in the wall, and it’s exactly what we need. Knuckles buys me a birthday beer, and we sit around a hightop table talking about the trail, obviously. We get a few more drinks, and by the end we’re properly sloshed. We walk with Knuckles and Power Plant back to their Airbnb, then make it back to our hotel around midnight and go right to sleep.

Town days. Birthdays. Friends. Party. The trail. I love it all.

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