PCT Day 70: Joy

June 27, 2022

Kennedy Meadows North to Sonora Pass to Wolf Creek at mile 1039.3

22.4 miles

We try to get breakfast at the restaurant, but because they’re short-staffed and a lot of hikers descend at once, it’s ages before anyone even gets to our table. Tribute and I decide to go to the store instead, and I wind up with a bean and cheese burrito and a much larger cup of coffee than I would have gotten otherwise. I’d call it a win.

Being silly with Beetle again

At 7:30 the shuttle takes us, along with Knuckles, Power Plant, Topo, and Beetle, back to the PCT. At the trailhead, I take an inordinate amount of time to reorganize my pack, braid my hair, and generally prepare myself for the day. Then I start out hiking at a breakneck pace with Beetle and Jumbo. I’m feeling great! I’m fed, I’m somewhat well rested, and excited by all these wildflowers and views. It’s already hot, but there are cool rocks and lakes and mountains in the distance.

I can’t keep up the pace for more than a mile, though, so when the trail turns upwards I lose them and hike alone for a while. Then I catch back up with Jumbo as I’m coming down the other side of a climb. The trail is very snowmelty here, with mushy drifts still clinging to rocks and the trail turning into a muddy stream every now and then. While we walk, Jumbo ponders his work options for when he returns home. It’s impressive to me that he’s thinking about it now. I’m doing my level best to avoid thinking about the concept of work at all.

A little less than ten miles in for the day we hit a waterfall right next to the trail. It’s a lovely spot and we decide to have our lunch here. I love lunch on days right out of town because I can slather on however much food I want. After one tuna wrap, I make myself a peanut butter, pretzel M&M, and crushed Oreo dessert wrap. That’s living.

I smell the pungent aroma of tiger balm and look to see Jumbo slathering it on his right shin. He says this pain started out of nowhere a little while ago and it’s been getting more noticeable. Sounds like shin splints, which is bad news bears. He says it’s not too bad, though, and he’ll see how it goes.

It’s super steep after that. I haven’t seen an angle like this on the PCT before. It doesn’t even bother to switchback but rather slices straight upwards into the trees along a ridge. Jumbo isn’t going that fast, but this hill is rough and I just can’t do it without gasping for air every few steps. Luckily, it levels out after a while and returns to the thick of the forest after treating me with some lovely views of distant mountains and rock faces. I relax a little and settle into a rhythm. I’m feeling some slower stuff, so I go with Sufjan Stevens. Damn, I forgot how good Carrie and Lowell is. Sad, a little bit of a downer, but so good. It puts me in a sort of pleasantly melancholy headspace for a while. I’ve not seen anyone in hours by now and I find that I’m enjoying being alone.

I pass by a creek that is the last water source for a while, fill up, and submerge my sun hoodie in the frigid stream. It’s freezing at first, but it soon becomes really comfortable as I work my way uphill. It’s definitely not the hottest it’s been, but I am pretty toasty today. I switch to Wincing the Night Away by the Shins and am cruising along when I spot the telltale flash of orange and the long, slightly limping legs that tell me that Jumbo is not having a good time.

He steps aside to let me pass. “You look like a person that has cheese,” he says. I ask how he’s doing and he shakes his head. He’s in a lot of pain and the shin is just getting more and more sore as he goes. It sounds awful.

I continue past him, feeling pretty great. There’s not a lot of major uphill now, just some mellow waves. I stop at a really nice meadow, then float through some forest and out into a sort of open field area. I stop for a break for a while because we have time and why the heck not. Jumbo catches up, then Tribute, and then they start going again.

By the time I’m moving after the break, I’m feeling so good. We have five more miles and it’s so cruisey. I coast the edges of these dry ridges and try taking photos but they don’t turn out very impressive. In the Sierras, even the lowest-effort shot yielded an impressive photo. But this is a more subtle beauty. It like its trickiness and I give up taking a photo. Instead I listen to music and soar. There’s a line in “Magenta Mountain” by King Gizzard that keeps running through my head: I am tectonic, I am megalithic. I feel at once huge and ancient and very, very insignificant. I feel a deep, pervasive joy. I let my mind wander over some things that have been bothering me. I stop and write them down and let the boys pass. It’s golden evening now and things feel right.

It doesn’t take me long to run into them again. Beetle is pulled over, having just talked to his girlfriend Rachel on the phone and found out about the Roe v. Wade reversal. He’s properly outraged, and it makes me outraged all over again. I end up hiking the rest of the three miles with him, talking about it and other political issues and getting very fired up. Recently, it feels like every time I get to town and look at my phone, some other horrible piece of news has landed. There’s so much loaded privilege in saying I don’t want to pay attention to all that, but I feel a certain level of overwhelm right now that makes me just want to go back to the woods and stay there.

I’m a little calmer by the time we start switchbacking down into the valley, and our conversation flows from intense into relaxed. It’s really nice to have Beetle around us again. I’ve missed his absolutely bizarre humor an the way he makes me laugh so hard I cry. I’m in stitches by the time we cross a few creeks and wind up at our campsite. I decide to cowboy it because I simply can’t be bothered to set up my tent. I pass Jumbo and Tribute as I’m going back to pick up some water. Jumbo is properly limping now, and I’m starting to get really worried about him. Shin splints are no joke. It’s a good thing we’re done for the day.

I cook my Poshport meal of choice: Peak Refuel biscuits and gravy. It’s divine. Definitely beats the Mountain House one, which is saying a lot because that was my go-to for ages. It’s really fun sitting around at camp with the welcome addition of Beetle and his weird energy. I lay down to sleep content with my body’s work for the day and happy to be in the trees with my friends.

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