May 16, 2018
I woke while it was still dark (as usual) and went to retrieve my food bag from its tree and, lo and behold, there was my headlamp! I must have put it in my food bag on accident in my haste to put things away before crawling into the warmth of my tent last night. I was also surprised to find several more tents setup around us that had not been there when I’d gone to bed. We hiked out pretty early so I didn’t see who these other tents belonged to.
It was so cold that day. The sun did very little to warm us as we hiked. We’d decided to hitch into Lone Pine from Horseshoe Meadow via Trail Pass rather than Cottonwood Pass because we’d heard there was a lot of snow on Cottonwood Pass and Ghosthiker and I didn’t have any of our snow gear yet. We didn’t have our warmer layers, either, and it had been bitterly cold since we left Kennedy Meadows. The skin on my legs was numb as I hiked up to Trail Pass in my hiking shorts, reserving my silk long underwear pants for sleeping. I hiked fast to stay warm, which worked going up the pass but not so much during the long, steep hike down the sidetrail to Horseshoe Meadow.
When we finally got close to the meadow I could see Carmen San Diego a ways ahead of us. But because her pack is so small, Sparky mistook her for a day hiker.
“Hey, let’s ask them for a ride to town!”
“Who?” I asked.
“Sparky, that’s Carmen!”
We had a good laugh and told her about the mixup once we reached her. She said it was a common mistake people made about her. Seriously, her pack is TINY! I don’t know how she does it.
Horseshoe Meadow was absolutely gorgeous. The trees opened up to reveal a vast expanse of grass with a few boulders jutting out here and there and a lovely little creek running through it. We crossed this on a well-positioned log that had obviously been serving hikers for many years because it bowed quite a bit under the weight of a single hiker, so we took turns crossing.
When we got to the trailhead and parking lot it wasn’t long before we got a ride. A man in a white SUV pulled up and several hikers piled out. He offered to take us into Lone Pine and even had snacks to hand out – homemade banana bread! We learned that his name was Mike and he’d been running hikers up and down the mountain between Horseshoe Meadow and Lone Pine for years. What better way to spend his retirement, he’d said. As it turned out, this was the same gentleman who’d asked us if we needed a ride when we were walking toward our hotel in Ridgecrest! He said he has family in Ridgecrest and goes there often. It’s only about an hour or so south of Lone Pine via the highway.
The drive down the mountain into Lone Pine was a long and winding one that was literally cut into the side of the mountain, offering a nice, sheer drop-off on one side of the road as we rode the switchbacks down. Mike was very familiar with this road so he was taking the turns at a comfortable speed – for him. Meanwhile I was gripping whatever I could to steady both my body and my panic.
He took the three of us and Carmen San Diego to the post office first, where we were all greatly amused by the size, weight, and number of packages I had waiting there for me. My resupply box from home, my BV500 Bear Vault full of warm weather clothes, 3 separate packages from REI with my new ice ax and other gear for the Sierra, a box from my Mom, and the box I’d bounced ahead from Ridgecrest! It was truly a ridiculous number of boxes. I’d honestly forgotten how much stuff I had coming to the Lone Pine post office. The postal workers looked at once amused and relieved.
We had planned to stay the night in Lone Pine and then take a bus to Ridgecrest the next day, but when we looked up the bus schedule not only was the 1.25 hr drive going to take the bus 4.5 hrs to traverse, but it would cost us $22 apiece. That seemed a little high to us, but mostly it was the 4.5 hrs that we didn’t like, so we asked Mike if he knew of anyone that would be willing to drive us there. We would happily pay for their gas and their time. Mike said he’d be happy to take us himself if we were ready to go right then because he’d already planned to head to Ridgecrest after dropping us off!
And just like that, we were on our way back to Ridgecrest. It all happened so fast I barely had time to digest the change. Earlier that day I’d been hiking hard and fast to keep my body temperature up, and by that afternoon I was adjusting the air conditioner vent so it would blow cool air on my face as Mike drove us south through the hot, hot desert.
Because our stay in Ridgecrest this time around would be purely economical, Mike dropped us off at the Motel 6 per our request. It certainly wasn’t the Quality Inn but was clean and cheap and included laundry and WiFi, so there were no complaints. Mike even gave us his phone number in case we needed a ride from Ridgecrest back to Lone Pine next week!
Once we got checked in I exploded my boxes all over the table and the bed that Ghosthiker and I would be sharing. There was so much food it was absolutely laughable. I determined to eat as much of this excess food as possible during our stint south because a) I needed to save money by not dining out so much, and b) there was no way I’d be carrying this much food on my back unless I took everything else out and just packed food into the Sierra.
Our room at the Motel 6 was really warm and muggy. The AC wasn’t the greatest and we were all waiting for the room to cool down before taking our showers because we didn’t want to start sweating as soon as we turned the water off. I let Sparky and Ghosthiker get their showers first while I tried to reorganize my piles of loot from 6 different resupply boxes. I also knew I’d need to make my shower a long one, so going last seemed like the polite thing to do. I hadn’t had a real shower since the last time we were in Ridgecrest! Yuck!
The day had been an absolute whirlwind, so by the time I’d finished my shower Ghosthiker was already asleep and Sparky had gone looking for dinner. I sat out on the balcony and called my mom to let her know what was going on before she saw the GPS location on my Garmin and panicked. Once I’d finished reassuring her that our trek south was a good plan and would mean safer hiking conditions in the Sierra, I stayed out on the balcony for a while, just thinking.
Why am I doing this? Am I even enjoying it? Am I doing it now out of a sense of obligation? As in, I told everyone I was hiking the PCT and now here I am and I’d better not quit or…
Or what? Disappoint all the people who were watching my progress on social media and sending me endless amounts of encouragement, prayers, and well-wishes? Face the inevitable shame that would come with giving up, no matter the circumstances? Become a section hiker?
When I was honest with myself about it, I realized that I really wasn’t having a great time. I mean, I was, sometimes. I felt like I’d become codependent on my trail family, and I hated that feeling. I wanted to be with them, of course. I couldn’t imagine hiking without them, and it was that dependence that worried and irritated me a little. I’d come out here to find a stronger, more independent Sarah, but instead I’d found people who would essentially take care of me. At least, that’s how I felt sitting there on the Motel 6 balcony.
I hated that the Cling-On had so negatively impacted my hike right from the start. He kept showing up at various points along the trail, even at Kennedy Meadows, and his very presence put me in a fowl mood. I’d actually had a good talk with Sparky about this in Kennedy Meadows because when I’d seen the Cling-On digging through the hiker boxes by the restaurant, I’d become so suddenly and irrationally irritated that I retreated to sit by my tent. Sparky was very encouraging, saying that I shouldn’t think of my feelings toward the Cling-On as irrational.
“You have good instincts,” he said. “You’ve proven that on the trail. And you’re not the only one who doesn’t like him.”
That much was true. We’d heard it from several other hikers that his reputation had started to grow as being an undesirable presence on the trail.
As I sat there outside our hotel room, it felt wrong to be back in Ridgecrest after hiking so many miles. We wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t opened my big stupid mouth and suggested we go south to hike during what was supposed to be a Trailcation. I’d already gotten over the fact that I’d missed the miles and probably wouldn’t have come back to hike them otherwise. But it had been my idea to come back while we waiting for the snow to melt.
Why? Probably out of some misguided attempt to avoid spending extra money on a trip to Disney. As long as we needed to wait for the Sierra to clear up a little, why not be productive? Because at that moment, sitting on that balcony, I didn’t want to be productive. I was tired. I wanted to be done. Looking back now I’m sure it was the drastic changes in conditions that were getting to me. We’d gone from sweating in the hot desert sands to suddenly freezing our asses off in the mountains, and then within a day, back down into the heat. My body and brain were just having trouble adjusting.