I get out of the hostel before I expect, waking around 7, and get a hitch with a family driving back to San Diego from their vacation. I’ve never been picked up by anyone with kids in the car. They are both totally unphased by me. I wonder if Dad has picked up hitchhikers before?
I’m walking at 8:30 am, through a beautiful forest full of chipmunks. They seem to be everywhere, darting up and down the trail, over logs, into their tiny hidey holes.
I pass an older guy with a giant pack, he’s just out for a few days and lives nearby, but wants to do the whole thing in September. His smile is huge. When I walk on I say “have a good hike” and he says, completely genuinely, “can you ever have a bad one?!?”
I’m tired this morning, maybe because of my late-ish night last night. I’m not moving my usual pace. When I stop for lunch at Star Lake, I lay down for a few minutes.
A ways after that, my stomach begins hurting and I feel a bit sick. I should not have freegan-ed those weird cheese cups from the hiker hostel box. I slow down even more and struggle for a bit, even though this section is undeniably stunning.
It’s 5 and I’ve only gone 16 or 17 miles, and I want to camp and crash hard but I tell myself to push through a little longer. I think I have plenty of time for this section, but with the snow and river crossings, I don’t want to be rushing.
I get a second wind coming through Freel meadow, and finally make camp around 6:30. 21 miles, not as much as I wanted to get in this snow free section, but ok.
Gonna pull my hat down and sleep early tonight.
I wake up early enough to get hiking by 7, wanting to get some big miles in today before any snow slows me down. The morning is beautiful and I feel fresh and so much better than yesterday. I get to a trailhead with a parking lot around 9, sit and finish a bag of chips so I can throw it away, and read the kiosk info boards about the Washoe Indians who’s land we’re on.
It’s tragic reading, telling how white people drawn by silver flooded the area and did what we do best, namely pillage and plunder and use up every last precious resource available, until the Washoe people were left with depleted rivers and hunting grounds and the way of life they’d been living for millennia balanced well with their environment, was over within a century.
It’s a powerful reminder that there’s so much in our legacy we still need to work to undo.
Mid morning, I come to the junction with the PCT, and almost immediately see more thru hikers than I’ve seen all trip. At a river crossing they’re huddled in some shade, leaning on their tiny packs and eating lunch. Clearly a sweet tramily established hundreds of miles ago.
I eat lunch at beautiful Showers Lake, spreading a new Indian masala dish from a bag on tortillas, a grocery store find I’ll be looking for again.
Lots of day hikers in the meadows, some backpackers, then I catch up to Logi Bear, the hiker I saw behind me at Mt. Rose. We chatted a bit right before I went into SLT, and soon are joined by another thru hiker, I learn his name is Patience.
He says he’s racing to get to Echo Lake Chalet before the deli closes, and incentivized by the idea of popsicles I go hard for the next 6 miles.
We arrive after the sandwich part is closed but in time to get beer, chips, popsicles, charge my phone. Text Burdock. Chat with the hikers there- Patience is sitting next to another guy, and I learn Patience just jumped off the PCT to start the TRT and then go to Oregon with his mom. He’s also from Denver, and is the second person I’ve met this trip who works at Ophelia’s downtown. Small world.
I hike on at 6:15, trying to get past the no camping zone that extends 3 miles past the lake. Finally find a tiny spot as sunset approaches. I eat my dinner and stare at wedding photos on my phone and miss my wife more than I thought possible. I miss laughing- while you experience joy on trail it isn’t the same as the release of laughing till you cry with someone who knows how to make that happen. I miss how they can always build me up when I’m low or ground me when I’m spinning out. I love being out here but I’m glad it’s a short one this year.
9:17. Hiker midnight. Only 45 miles of this trail left!
I wake early this morning, to birds singing and light just beginning to glow. I lay between sleep and waking for a while, and then finally let the air out of my pad and turn on my phone… it’s 5:45. I seem to be waking up earlier more naturally this trip.
As I go get my bear bag down, the alpenglow is starting on the mountain behind me and I am realizing why everyone talks about Desolation as the prettiest section of the trail.
I’m walking by 6:45, up the rocky trail glowing golden in the morning light, looking back at Echo lakes. By 7:45 I arrive at Aloha lake, and my jaw quite literally drops. I think I also said “holy shit” aloud. It may be the most picturesque lake I’ve ever seen- a perfect mirror reflecting the mountains above it, white rocks shining, crystal blue waters so clear you can almost see the bottom. I spread out on a rock to eat a breakfast bar and stare at the lake. It’s a busy area, lots of people camped around, but it’s still and quiet this early.
Not far behind me comes Patience, spreads out on his own rock and then goes to say hi to some friends camped nearby, maybe fellow PCT hikers? I leave before them, but expect he’ll catch me before too long.
The trail winds along Aloha and then a few other lakes for several miles, there are snow patches covering some trail but they are nice and flat with lots of footprints to follow, and they don’t really slow me down.
After a while the trail breaks from the lake shores and cuts down, I follow the PCT junction signs and get a little thrill each time- I’ve thought about the PCT so much for so long, it has almost mythological power in my mind. And now I get to set for on it for the first time and follow it, for just a while.
On a long talus slope I spy Patience behind me and I increase my speed, not quite in the mood to hike and chat. We hiked similar pace yesterday, but he was maybe a touch faster, so I assume he’ll catch me or I’ll take a break and see him later.
I’m walking quickly and singing Atlas: Enneagram 6, thinking about grief and love and fear again, thinking about the heaviness and brightness of the world.
I repeat the last verse over and over and cry some more, hearing the swells and crescendos much bigger even though I sing very softly
I want to believe
No, I choose to believe
That I was made to become
Fear won’t go away
But I can keep it at bay
And these invisible walls
Just might keep us safe
With vigilant heart
I’ll push into the dark
But I’ll learn to breathe deep
And make peace with the stars
Is that courage or faith
To show up every day?
To trust that there will be light
Always waiting behind
Even the darkest of nights
Mid morning I stop for a snack and to spread out my shelter and sleeping bag on some rocks, they’re wet with condensation from last night, the first time all trip I’ve woken to wetness. I expect to see Patience pass me before too long, and maybe he does without me noticing, but I don’t see him again.
I’m staring up at Dick’s pass, the only major pass in this section and the one I’ve been hearing a lot about with the snow.
I do some calculations and realize that I’m less than 40 miles from Tahoe City again, so unless the snow is terrible and really slows me down, I’ll probably finish tomorrow night, much earlier than I thought.
I’m excited and thinking about looking into changing my flight from late Friday to sooner if it’s not wildly expensive, and also feeling a bit caught off guard by the shortness of this trip.
Dick’s pass is a long ascent, some snow but nothing major, I don’t even get out my microspikes. At the top is a large group of kids and some leaders, one’s on the phone. I check to see if I have service, and it’s just enough to text B my updated schedule and the hope that I can jet home before Friday.
I can see a lot of snow on the descent from the pass, so I put on my micros for the first time and DAMN I wish I put them on that first snowy section last week. I didn’t then because I didn’t want to take them on and off for the patches, but immediately I can feel it would’ve been worth it. I travel so much faster.
Before long I’m down, eating lunch facing another lake below the pass. I’m relieved I didn’t bail on Desolation, the snow has been nothing compared to Relay peak and the scenery is mind blowing.
I make camp near a lake, next to several other hikers and car campers since there’s a road nearby, my feet ready to stop after walking wet all day.
22 miles left tomorrow, and that’s it for my summer hike. Damn.
I wake and find my bear bag looking undisturbed, a bit of a relief since camping in established areas is always a higher risk for bears habituated to food there.
I start walking fairly late, around 8, and pass a big chunky marmot scrambling over rocks in the forest. I don’t see fast this morning, I keep slowing and stopping to snack or filter water or apply bug lotion.
I walk in quiet, trying to absorb every forest sound and smell on my last day out here.
My first 7 ish miles go pretty easy, my feet have a few little hot spots which is unusual, but nothing terrible.
I see a PCT hiker I chatted briefly with at the Echo Lakes store eating a snack at a vista overlooking a part of the lake, the first view I’ve had of Tahoe in days. I sit and eat a bit as well, before going on.
I hit some patchy snow again, while descending through a forested section from a saddle. It’s enough to slow me a bit, but there are plenty of footprints and it’s not steep enough to get out spikes.
Within an hour, I stop again in a high open meadow to eat a full lunch and the same PCT hiker joins me shortly. She’s about to get off trail and head home to England- she only had a few months off and just planned to do the first third of the trail.
Shortly after I leave her, I split again from the PCT and keep descending through patches of snow in a forest. Here, I go much slower, using my app for navigation because all the footprints are gone. Not many TRT hikers this year, it seems.
My feet are increasingly sore and painful, I think I feel blisters between my first two toes? Incredulous, I stop at a creek and check. Sure enough, two bold white spots are swelling near the balls of my feet. I haven’t had any major blisters in about 3 years, since I discovered Injinjii toe socks, and I can’t imagine why these have decided to surface on my last day. I suppose it’s because of my wet feet yesterday, but that’s not unusual either and doesn’t usually lead to blisters, especially not the day after when I’m in my new and dry socks.
I soak my feet in the cold water and then resume walking.
Unfortunately, the pain just gets worse as the day goes on, and I’m walking much slower than normal, feeling pain with each step in the blisters, but also the balls of my feet and my left heel, strangely.
The rest of the day passes with me trying to distract myself with podcast after podcast and some music.
The last 5-8 miles are particularly painful, a long and rocky road walk that aggravates my feet, and I’m so ready to be done but also so frustrated that I’m not present for this, my last day of the thing I look forward to all year. But I also think about the power of my body, and sit in awe. How incredible we are, these bodies a marvel. My legs , quietly capable of this walking all along, in my daily life, carrying me around my classroom and apartment and on the occasional run, but holding the ability to take me so much further than that, to wake up and walk and walk and walk for hours on end till the sun goes down. I think about how it’s what, more than anything else, we were made for, built for, evolved for, and how rare it is that we get to do it.
Around 6 I walk out of the woods to the official trailhead, sit on a bench, and FaceTime Burdock in tears, unable to think about walking the next half mile to the hotel I’m planning to stay at tonight.
As usual, they ground me and when we hang up I’m much calmer, enough to buck up and walk 10 more minutes, passing the point I started walking 11 days ago and feeling so much satisfaction at being able to get another whole trail in. It feels wonderful, despite the anticlimactic ending.
I stare at the lake through the trees and think “Thank you, thank you, thank you” for the last half mile I’ll walk with this whole pack on me, in these smelly clothes, as part of this beautiful loop winding around a blue jewel nestled in the mountains.