June 23, 2022
Mile 937.7 to Spiller Creek at mile 957.3
It’s a lot easier to wake and pack up when you’re cowboy camping. The daylight streams through the forest, and we have food and hot coffee on our minds. The trail is flat this morning, following the meadow and river. I walk with Jumbo for a bit. He’s on a mission, though, and I soon fall behind when I have to take off my layers. Alone, I listen to Where the Crawdads Sing and get engrossed in the dramatic story. Before I know it, we’ve reached the turn-off for the Tuolumne Meadows store. I hang a right and walk down the road until I see the white building I remember. Out front, there are a cluster of tables where hikertrash sit waiting for the store to open. I make use of the actual bathroom, and by the time I’ve done that, the store is open.
It’s not a great selection, not by thru-hiker standards, but we manage to find a few things. I grab a microwave burrito and some coffee on top of my food for the next four days. Outside, we eat our miraculous snacks, drink our coffee (seven of them in Jumbo’s case, I believe), and repack. I look over at Tribute and see him putting Cheetos in his burrito.
“Cheeto burrito!” he says gleefully.
“Neato mosquito Cheeto burrito!” I add.
(At this juncture I feel it important to to explain that on the day we camped below Silver Pass, Jumbo was slowly losing his mind. Out of nowhere, and in a cartoonish supervillain voice, he said, “I am the Neato Mosquito!” Thus was born Jumbo’s other villainous personality, who occasionally makes an appearance when there are a lot of mosquitoes about.)
We hang out at Tuolumne long enough to eat our food, pack our bear cans, and, in my case, write a couple of postcards. Then we put our only slightly heavier packs back on and keep walking.
The trail is flat for a bit, meandering past the meadow, just like I remember. In 2017, my then-partner and I were camping at the Tuolumne campground, and just before it got dark, we went for a slow, leisurely walk in the meadow and across the river. I remember the sky and the way it looked above the meadow, and I feel a deep nostalgia and a sense of peace being here again. Jumbo asks Tribute and me one of his high-quality left-field questions: if we could go to any concert of any band at any point in time, which one would we choose? My immediate answer is the Dead at Cornell, May 8, 1977, because that’s my favorite live album, but I think about it a while longer and ponder some others. Jumbo says he’d see Nirvana at Reading. I can’t remember what Tribute says, but they get into an intense conversation about it that I can’t quite keep up with, and they start walking faster as they talk.
After that, I let them get ahead of me. I love Tuolumne, I love Yosemite, and I don’t want to rush past it. This huge meadow is so impressive. We make a stop at Soda Springs to see the bubbling water, and after that the boys blaze ahead. But I hang back, listening. I have a deep urge to stop and sit under a tree, not because I’m tired but because it seems such a shame not to drink in this place. I want to be like Kya in the marsh in Where the Crawdads Sing. I want to take in everything around me and learn it. Sometimes I love hiking for hiking’s sake, but it strikes me in this moment what a shame it is that often thru hiking necessarily puts miles ahead of moments. Isn’t it just an extension of colonial thought to “crush” big mile days or “destroy” a big section of trail? It’s hard to feel present and determined at the same time. I want to drink in Yosemite and Tuolumne gently, not inhale it or get through it or pass it by.
But that isn’t how thru hiking works. And if I want to reach my goal, I have to keep moving. So I do. “Bye, Tuolumne,” I whisper as the river and meadows and peaks disappear behind the trees.
It is beautiful walking for miles and miles. The forest smells so good. There are a couple of creek crossings, nothing too bad. It’s so flat and I just let myself zone out. I put in my headphones and start listening to the end of my audiobook. It’s getting so good now.
The trail crosses the Tuolumne River on a bridge, and I stand there looking at its clear, powerful depths. The path soon turns downwards, occasionally over some very annoying staircase-like ramp rocks that I’ve already come to despise in the last two days. Then I’m at the magnificent Tuolumne Falls watching the water tumble down into the rocks. It’s so beautiful here. I can’t get over how much I love Yosemite’s backcountry.
I run into Jumbo and Tribute sitting on a rock a bit after that. I pull over and have a brief lunch. Then we get down to the bottom of the climb, filter water, and start back uphill. It’s gentle, though, and I get lost in the end of my book as we move upwards. It turns into more perfect, lovely forest with soft paths. As my book comes to a close, I stop in my tracks and say out loud, “Damn. That was a good book.” And then I keep walking.
I listen to a few albums after that and then decide that I want another audiobook. I look at what I already have downloaded and settle on Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. The synopsis doesn’t interest me as much as her other books have, but I decide to give it a whirl and get lost in the description of the mid 70s.
There’s a nice meadow that I’d really love to stop and savor, but the moment I start to do so, mosquitoes start dive-bombing me. Frustrated, I pick up the Skittles I’d just dropped all over the ground in an effort to murder the evil little jerks, then bolt ahead. I don’t stop much for a while, not until I see Jumbo on a log. We talk for a moment, but the bugs are so bad that it becomes unbearable. I have to stop to pee at one point, which is a circus of swatting and waggling to keep the mosquitoes away. This is… not fun.
There’s a pretty major river crossing where Jumbo waits on the opposite bank until I get across. Then there’s another crossing where I just completely give up on rock-hopping and walk straight through in my Tevas. There’s a short uphill and then a down, and soon we arrive at our lovely little camp on the bank of Spiller Creek. The mosquitoes aren’t too bad here, so we sit around in a circle and cook our dinners, enjoying the sensation of actually being at camp at a decent time and having a chance to relax. I write for a bit before retreating to my tent beneath the pine trees. Ahh, sleep. I’m very excited for you.