Day 74: It’s All Downhill From Here, Right?

June 3, 2018

Back over Kearsarge Pass to an Unnamed Campsite 1 mile from the PCT

The next morning was a Sunday and there was a Calvary Chapel nearby, so I decided to go to church. I can’t say I was all that impressed with the sermon – it felt really rushed and a lot of verses were getting skipped, which felt strange to me, but the worship was really good and the people I met there were super friendly, so all-in-all it was a nice Sunday morning.

After that, I met up with Sparky and Ghosthiker at a restaurant in town called Jacks Bakery, where we hatched our plans. Depending on what time we arrived at the Onion Valley Trailhead, we’d probably hang around there for an hour or two for the heat of the day to pass, then hike up and over Kearsarge Pass. We had no ambitions of making big miles that day. I’d already packed up all my things before going to church, so all we had to do was swing by the hostel so I could grab my pack, then we were out on the road to hitch a ride to Independence. 

That morning, for some reason, I’d been thinking a lot about the men I’d loved thus far in my lifetime. There have been some simple, hit and run infatuations, some connections so strong and moving that they changed the way I looked both at the world and myself, for the better and for good, and there were some that went so wrong and were so damaging I may never recover. It occurred to me quite randomly that morning that I wouldn’t trade a single experience for anything in the world. 

A young man named Wes gave us a lift to Independence in his fully lived-in van and told us the story of the LA Aqueduct and how it had robbed this valley of its rich soil and, subsequently, many of its small towns. It was an interesting and educational ride, to be sure, and I later went home to do some research on the aqueduct. 

Hitching from Independence to the Onion Valley Trailhead was tough. Anyone going that way was either planning to hike up the mountain or would have to make a special trip for us. One gentleman said he’d take us within a half-mile of the trailhead for $40. We politely declined. Then a man named Brian in a pickup truck offered to take us up for $20 to cover gas and his time, and we accepted. Riding up the winding mountain roads in the back of his small pickup was a little nerve-wracking for me, but Sparky seemed fine so I assured myself all would be well. It was. 

When we got to the trailhead we paid and thanked our driver, then I meandered over to the restroom to put my socks and shoes on and use a normal toilet one last time. It was pretty hot out, so I assumed our “wait out the heat” plan was still in effect. Turned out I was wrong. When I emerged from the pit toilet Sparky and Ghosthiker were already well on their way up the trail. Either they hadn’t seen me go into the bathroom or they just assumed I’d catch up, but either way, the fact that they’d left without saying anything kind of set me in a bad mood. You’d think by that point I’d have learned that hiker groups don’t have to stay together the whole time. Sparky had insisted that we all hike close together throughout the Sierra in order to make sure no one got stuck crossing a sketchy river or hiking over a dangerous pass alone. Kearsarge Pass is not dangerous, at least it wasn’t at the time, so there was really no reason for me to be irritated by the fact that they’d seemingly left me behind. But I was. Emotionally unstable, remember? 

Because I was under the impression that we’d be waiting out the heat, I’d been chugging cranberry juice all morning to help offset any impending UTI symptoms. Hiking up steep switchbacks with a stomach full of cranberry juice is now on my list of least favorite moments on the trail. I definitely left some of that juice and a good bit of my breakfast along the side of the trail heading up the pass. It was shortly after that that I had cell reception and received several texts from my mom, so I decided to take a break and give her a call. I needed to relieve the pressure my hip belt was putting on my stomach. I’d been able to talk to my mom a lot since coming down off the mountains, and I think it was making me homesick. That or I was just PMSing, which was just fantastic because I didn’t have any supplies with me to deal with that. 

I think I sat in the shade chatting with my mom for about 45 minutes. This put me significantly behind my trail family but that was OK. I listened to music and hiked at a steady pace and didn’t see anyone until I was almost down the other side of Kearsarge Pass. I was in my head a lot while hiking and didn’t take any photos or videos the whole day. Oh well. (The cover photo was borrowed from tomorrow’s photos)

As I descended the mountain pass, two young men were plodding up the trail in my direction. One passed me with a nod, but the other looked straight at me as if we were old friends and said, “Damn, this shit’s hard!” I laughed. I couldn’t help it. He looked like he was in so much pain and was breathing so hard, but had enough air in his lungs to make that statement and was even smiling. 

“It’s not so bad.” I said. 

He proceeded to rattle off some numbers about elevation gain per mile and some such, and I told him his trail name ought to be Numb3rs, with a 3 instead of an E, like the television show. He laughed and said he wasn’t sure you could give someone a trail name you’d literally only known for a minute. His name at the time was Steve and would later become Deva Steve. It suited him.

I wished them a happy zero day in Bishop and hiked on. Much later in the day when I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of my trail family or any other hikers for that matter, I was completely alone among some trees when I heard someone shouting my name. I looked over and saw Sparky waving his arms and smiling. I’d have recognized his white button-down shirt several miles away (and had to, several times). They’d found a lovely spot amongst some trees and I threw down my stuff on a nice, flat spot. It was the first night on a long, long trek through the mountains, and I was psyched. This was it, the part of the PCT that would either make or break me. I’d survived the desert. If I got through this, I’d be golden. 

That evening I was so excited I could barely eat.

That night when I used the restroom, it burned. A lot. Shit.

Published by rogerssj23

I'm a long-distance hiker, an audiobook producer, and an amateur writer. I live in the woods in a renovated 1972 Airstream with my Golden Retriever Zoe. Read more about my hiking adventures at sarahhikes.com.

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