June 1, 2018
787-Bullfrog Lake Trail at 788.5, then 7.4 miles over Kearsarge Pass
It was Day 72 and we were getting off trail via Kearsarge Pass. During the first part of the morning, we hiked among the trees, then the trail opened up again as we started climbing up toward the pass. I was feeling good today, like I could do anything I put my mind to. Like I could make it to Canada.
The switchbacks seemed endless, but I specifically remember tackling this climb very methodically and without complaint. No sense griping about it, I thought, just take it one step at a time. The trail was surrounded by loose gravel and stone, so a stray step could mean slipping down to a switchback you’d already climbed once before, or further. I matched my breathing to my steps and took the entire climb this way, one foot in front of the other, creating a sort of rhythm that kept me moving in the way certain music helps me maintain a running pace. I ended up using this technique very often throughout the rest of my hike.
On our way down the long and winding descent to the trailhead, we saw a lot of other hikers. Some thru-hikers on their way back up after a zero in Bishop, but also lots of weekend warriors or day hikers with dogs. We saw a few familiar faces, too, specifically Blue Taco and Zero.
By the time we reached the Onion Valley Trailhead, we’d already descended out of the chilly mountain range and into the desert heat, even though we were still quite a ways up from the desert valley below. Ghosthiker made a beeline for the pit toilet and I, of course, became immediately enamored with a beautiful little dog who had come over to inspect my shoes. Her name was Sadie and she was a rescue dog. The young couple who owned her had just arrived to begin a weekend hike, and they had a growler full of homemade Kombucha that they shared with us. With ice! YUM!
Shortly after that, Ghosthiker came and told us she’d found us a ride to Independence, CA with a man named Don. His wife True Grit and their two kids, Zero and Little Worm, were thru-hiking the PCT, so Don had taken time off to hike with them for a bit. They had a spread of food laid out for thru-hikers, knowing that this was a major jumping off/on point, and they encouraged us to eat. Sub sandwiches, fresh grapes, soda, chips…it was amazing.
They had a rented car and Don had just brought them and all their gear to the trailhead but he needed to go back to town to return the car, so he gave us a lift all the way to the Post Office in Independence. It was early enough that the Post Office wasn’t open yet, so I called home and talked with my mom for a bit. She told me she’d been seeing a doctor lately and had been told she has cataracts, caused by stress and too much strain on her eyes. At that time and for many, many years, my mom had been involved in several different projects and commitments that gave her joy and stress in equal measure but that required heavy use of her eyes and hands. Now she had cataracts. I know that’s not a huge deal and can be fixed pretty easily these days, but still. It was hard to hear.
I told her in no uncertain terms that I would come home if she needed me to, but she said no. She wanted me to finish my hike. I made her promise to keep me updated on whether or not she would need surgery and not to worry about my hike. Obviously, she was/is more important to me than any old hike.
I may have crumpled a little after I hung up the phone. After the stress and adrenaline of the last few days, the sudden change from freezing cold to sweltering hot, the drop from 14,500’ to 4,000’ in elevation, and hints that my UTI might be coming back, being tired and hungry, and then hearing that my mom had cataracts, well…it just kind of finished me for the day.
Cataracts are not cancer. The news shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did. It was fixable. As of that afternoon, the doctors had told my mom that the cataracts weren’t bad enough to warrant surgery yet. Mom would be fine. This was eons away from the worst news I could have received, to be sure. What was shocking, I realized, was that my parents were getting older. Every child knows this on some fundamental level, and for me, I’d always been more concerned with my dad’s health than my mom’s. He tends to push himself too hard both mentally and physically and I’d been telling him for years to please take it a little easier, to let me help, to summon one of his many sons to do things he oughtn’t to be doing at his age. This always got the classic response. Dad would give a dismissive wave and say, “I’m gonna outlive you all.” And he just might.
I’d never worried about my mom. I don’t know why. Maybe that’s why hearing she had cataracts was such a shock to me. Cataracts were something old people get. Not my mom. She’s young. The doctor must be wrong, I thought, but I knew he wasn’t.
Sparky and Ghosthiker could tell I was distressed so I shared my news with them. They assured me that cataracts are perfectly normal even for young people and that the surgery is very simple. I felt better after talking with them.
After we retrieved our packages at the post office, we stood in the heat by the side of the busy road for 1/2 hr before somebody finally offered us a ride. A nice gentleman named Randy with a fluffy black dog gave us a hitch all the way to the Hostel California in Bishop, where we got comfy beds in a 4-bed room for $25 each. When we first arrived we were each given a free beer, a tour of the very colorfully decorated historic house, and then shown our room.
The Hostel California was one of my favorite hostels along the trail. It is an adults-only hostel that caters specifically to adventure sports enthusiasts, especially climbers and hikers, and the place already had a swarm of PCT thru-hikers renting it’s rooms. There was a beautiful little courtyard right outside our room where we could sit in the shade, our beds were incredibly soft and comfortable, we got clean sheets and towels, there was an enormous, 3-tiered shelf of a hiker box to root through, and piles of loaner bikes for getting around town. Given the choice, I would have stayed for several days.
Once we got settled in we decided it’d be fun to join the crew of hikertrash who’d be going to see SOLO at the local movie theater that evening. Having made that decision, and after it had taken so long to get our hitch into town, we decided to take a zero the next day and allow our bodies a little rest after two such huge, and several slightly less huge, climbs.
I’d been considering going to the ER to get my UTI checked out, but once I’d showered, the symptoms seemed to clear up significantly. I also knew if I went to the ER I wouldn’t be able to go see SOLO. Priorities.
After the movie, we went to a nearby restaurant, but I’d eaten way too much popcorn and wasn’t really that hungry and so I just had a small salad and then headed back to the hostel. I knew I should have eaten more quality food, but I was just too tired. It was dark and the town was fairly quiet except for a couple of guys who came weaving past me on a tandem bike, cheering over their success at having not fallen down yet. I recognized it immediately as one of the loaner bikes from the hostel, so I smiled and clapped as they passed me, and they cheered even louder. What a fun and interesting group of people I’ve found.