June 24, 2022
Spiller Creek at mile 957.3 to Kerrick Creek at mile 979.8
A huge uphill is first on the menu on this chilly morning. I start out in my puffy and wind pants but have to take them off within a mile. This climb is not messing around. In mere minutes we’re out of the valley and looking across to other granite peaks. Jumbo clearly has morning cheese because he’s immediately several switchbacks ahead of me. I puff and wheeze as I start moving upwards. If the severity of this climb is any indication, it’s going to be a long day.
Tribute passes me as I take off some layers, and I don’t see him or Jumbo again for several hours. I pass Miller Lake at the top of the climb, and by this point my Achilles is screaming bloody murder. It’s always worse when there’s a hill first. I also didn’t take any ibuprofen today because I don’t want to become too dependent on it, but I’m not sure how long it’ll last. I take a break and stretch hard, then massage the tendon. The second I stop, mosquitoes start dive-bombing me. So I have to put some DEET on, too. It’s just going to be one of those days, it seems.
I give up on the whole “enjoying nature in the morning in silence” thing after mile 2 and continue listening to my new audiobook, Firefly Lane. It’s alright. I love how Kristin Hannah creates such memorable characters. It’s like you can picture them, hear them, see them standing beside you. The plot doesn’t engage me like the other three of her books I’ve read, but the characters keep me listening. It becomes something of a lifeline today on this hilly, rocky mosquito hell of a day. When I’m not really loving a rocky downhill or a steep up, I sink into the world I’m listening to and get carried away.
There’s another pass, Benson, this morning. It’s not as steep or intense as the big Sierra passes, but it still takes me a hot minute to get to the saddle. I’m surprised at first that I don’t see Jumbo and Tribute at the top, but three seconds after I stop, it becomes clear why. Why are mosquitoes a thing? How do they sense you from so far away? Like, where do they go when there aren’t people around to suck blood from? Do they feed on deer? I hate them. Why do they exist.
It’s not long after that when I see the boys eating lunch under a tree. I don’t recognize them at first because they’re wearing full waterproof layers and head nets. When I stop, Jumbo advises me to get my rain gear and head net on immediately because the mosquitoes are so bad. He’s not messing around. They’re like an evil swarming cloud. I eat my falling-apart roast beef and cheese pita as fast as I can, drink a dup of coffee, and then get going again.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. There’s a really, really steep downhill that consists mostly of rocks poked out at really inconvenient angles, Appalachian Trail-style. I’m convinced I’ve gone at least three miles, but Guthook tells me it’s been just under one. Oh my god. This is insufferable. I finally get to a creek at the bottom of the hill and smile when I see Jumbo on the other side. He’s been doing this all day. He’ll cross a creek, then wait for me, tell me the best way to ford it, and then, once I’m safely across, he’ll inevitably get far ahead until the next crossing. It’s one of the little graces that give me joy today, especially since I’m so slow and walking alone.
I lose the boys pretty quickly again once we start to climb upwards. I feel so weak, tired, and just out of energy. I have to sit on a rock and eat the millionth bar of the day before I can even start moving again. Then I give myself a little pep talk, put on some music, and start moving. Lizzo, Doja Cat, and Lana del Rey help me up the hill this time. I start running out of steam by the time the trail gets steep, and as I trudge around a corner, I catch sight of a lake. Then I hear voices to my right and see Jumbo, Tribute, Jack Rabbit, and a few other hikers. Jumbo’s been in the lake already, and Tribute is about to get in. Oh, hell yes. I’m so hot and tired and ready to be in a body of water. After Tribute does his little splash and gets back out, I immediately get right in. It’s really cold, but maybe not as cold as some other Sierra lakes might have been. It’s actually amazing to swim around for a minute. I can’t stay in as long as I’d like to because I’m starting to seize up with the cold, but it’s a really nice break after that climb.
We have five miles after that, and although Jumbo waits for me and I start walking it with him, I simply can’t keep up. The rest of the pass is rocky and dotted with lovely little ponds that glisten in the afternoon light. The trail towards down towards a roaring creek, which it follows for the next few miles. It’s leafy and green, and the second I stop, a battalion of mosquitoes begins to attack. Unfortunately, this is is also the time that my body finally proceses the morning’s coffee and needs a cathole. So I go though that whole rigamarole, waggling and swatting and spraying on DEET. I’m not a happy camper by the end of it, and I stomp the two more miles to camp.
When I get down to the junction by the creek where we plan to camp, I see a rain jacket-clad Jumbo eating something while sitting on his bear can. He says that Tribute already crossed the creek, but that he, Jumbo, decided to wait for me here so I would know where they were. I smile a little at that. Somewhere in my mind, I was afraid that they’d move on because they both felt better than I did today. So it’s good to see him here.
We each find places to cross the creek where we feel comfortable. In my case, it’s a much deeper than expected section, which I cross while wearing my Tevas. It’s cold and I’m grumpy about it, and I start to tear up thinking about today. I wish I was faster, stronger. It’s almost 1,000 miles and I still feel so weak and tired and sad. Then I start thinking about things that are comfortable: home, mac and cheese, childhood, my mom, my dog. It all kind of compounds until I’m sniffling as I set up my tent. Then I get in it, still sad, trying to pull myself together. I make a Mountain House meal, which we’re now calling “PoshPort” meals, and it tastes comforting and nice. Finally, I lift myself out of my sad state and ask Jumbo and Tribute how their walks were today. Then Jumbo falls asleep without having changed his clothes or brushed his teeth, which kind of indicates what kind of day it was.
Tomorrow has to be better, right? A not-great day is almost always followed by a good one. I just need to sleep and wake up and see what happens.