June 7, 2018
If there was a good day to accidentally sleep in, this was it. I completely slept through my alarm twice and woke up just before 5:00am, but that was okay because we didn’t have any serious mountains to climb that day. Don’t be deceived into thinking that means a relatively flat, easy hike. In the Sierra, there is no such thing as a flat, easy hike. When I say we didn’t climb any mountains, all that means is that we didn’t climb up to outrageously high elevations very quickly and then drop down just as suddenly. The two different “easy” days spent hiking the distance between two mountain passes were full of constant smaller climbs and descents, so while they may have been easier than going up and over a pass, they were by no means easy.
Anyway, back to sleeping in. I woke up a lot in the night feeling uncomfortable and ill, so I guess I needed the extra sleep.
Throughout the day, some new plans were hatched now that we were all planning to go into VVR. Ghosthiker is thinking she’ll skip Mammoth Lakes and resupply at Reds Meadow, which is right along the trail. That way she can make more miles without stopping. Her husband is flying into Reno, NV and renting a car to come see her, and she wants to be in South Lake Tahoe or Truckee in time to meet him. Because she’ll be taking three zero days while he’s in town, she doesn’t feel like she’ll need any zeroes before then even though his visit is still a couple of weeks away.
Once Ghosthiker announced her tentative plan, Sparky seemed to think it was a good one for all of us. We all knew Ghosthiker had this three-day vacation in the works from day one and had planned on taking our own little vacations at the same time, assuming we were all still hiking together by then which, much to the surprise of other hikers, we were.
I was fairly disappointed with their decision not to go into Mammoth Lakes. I had been really looking forward to it and wasn’t quite ready to trade a stop at VVR for a zero day in Mammoth Lakes. Not only had I heard it was a pretty cool town, but I knew I was going to need to see a doctor if my symptoms didn’t clear up on their own, which they sometimes did. This did not feel like a normal UTI, though. I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone but I was experiencing some alarming symptoms I wasn’t accustomed to. I had a feeling I’d need to go into Mammoth Lakes with or without my trail family but decided to wait and see how the next few days went before I made that decision.
Sparky’s decision to skip Mammoth Lakes came as a bit of a surprise to me because he’d told us last night that he’d been suffering from a mysterious stomach ailment for well over a week and was thinking it’d be a good idea to see a doctor sooner rather than later. Well, “later” would mean a solid two weeks or more if he didn’t go into Mammoth Lakes. I guess we’ll see.
We didn’t leave camp until about 7:30am, which is a late start for us but that was alright. It was technically going to be an easy day, and despite the news about Mammoth Lakes, it was one of the most enjoyable trail days I can remember experiencing in the Sierra. We hit a beautiful, wooded, six-mile stretch that was everything I originally imagined the PCT would be. A dirt path with the occasional rocks, roots, and pine cones, not an entire trail of jagged rocks and sand. There was a lot of uphill, but that was ok.
We were heading toward Muir Pass and we got to within 3 miles of the summit before we were bogged down by slushy snow several feet deep. We knew this was a possibility and so Sparky and I found a nice little camp spot just before the snow started. Ghosthiker insisted on going up just a little further to what was supposed to be a better campsite but Sparky and I were already tired, had already found a spot, and were convinced that the site she wanted would be covered in snow based on the condition of the trail. Ghosthiker was insistent and so she hiked ahead to scope it out. Sparky and I waited for what felt like forever, neither of us really wanting to hike any further, especially into the snow. We’d hiked all day without having to get our shoes wet and we didn’t want to start now.
We wondered what could possibly be taking her so long. When she finally returned and said she’d found some nice spots by a lake, we followed her. I was a little irritated at first, but when we got to the point where we’d have to trudge through slushy snow for about a hundred feet to get to wherever she was leading us, I became frustrated. Was this 1/10 of a mile really worth it? Couldn’t we hike this tomorrow when it was frozen and our feet would stay dry?
In a very short amount of time my shoes were soaked and partially full of snow. By the time I caught up to them at this supposed better campsite, Sparky and Ghosthiker had already claimed what looked like the best spots to me (probably because I was already cranky) and Sparky asked if the third spot would work for me. It was a little slanted and I said “I guess so” as I dropped my pack. Ghosthiker asked if I’d prefer we go back to the other site. She could tell I was irritated and was trying to accommodate me, and such goodness just made me feel guilty and thus more irritated.
When I’m angry, I try my best to be silent rather than risk the harsh things that may come flying out of my mouth. In this instance, I failed. Miserably.
“Well, I’m not trudging back through the snow so I guess not.” I grumbled harshly. Then I immediately walked away to see if I could find a more suitable spot for my tent, leaving my pack behind. My anger was unjustifiable, as it usually is, and I knew it at the time.
9 times out of 10, I know when my reaction to something or someone is irrational. One look around told me that this spot Ghosthiker had found was absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth some wet socks and shoes. It was a wide expanse of rocks with several nice flat spots for free-standing tents. To the north was a beautiful lake backed by mountains. The lake emptied out via a gently flowing river that went around and past our campsite and then, in the distance, disappeared over a cliff that afforded us a wide, open view of the mountain ranges we’d already crossed. It was breathtaking and I’d been blinded to it on arrival. It was too late to take back my harsh words and now I didn’t even have the satisfaction of being justified in it.
There’s a chance I might be bipolar.
I found a fantastic spot sheltered by small trees and rock, perfectly level and more than wide enough for my tent. But I felt terrible about my attitude and what I’d said, and I could take no pleasure in this beautiful campsite now. I sat there for a few moments to try and calm down, then headed back to retrieve my pack.
When I got near my trail family, Ghosthiker approached me. She came with a very calm blend of reproach and apology, which I at first didn’t even want to hear due to a nice blend of anger (now at myself) and shame. But I knew I’d been very wrong and she had every right to call me out on it. She voiced surprise that I’d become so agitated over such a little thing even though they’ve been very accomodating to me in the past (mostly with my feet issues and my slow pace early on) and she didn’t understand why I was so angry. She said she can always tell when I am and always gives me space because I clearly don’t want to talk when I’m like that, but that this time she just couldn’t. She apologized if there was anything she’d done to make me angry.
That, of course, made me want to crawl in a hole and just die. She had nothing to apologize for. I was the one completely in the wrong here, and I said as much, along with my own apologies. I told them I’d found a flat spot for my tent, collected my pack, and headed back in that direction.
Rather than set up my tent, though, I left my pack in the spot and found a nice, big rock with a view of the river and mountains where I sat and had a good little cry. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just keep it together? I knew my now wet shoes and socks were not the issue, they were just the final straw that day. It was so many things, mostly how tired and ill I felt. I needed to be eating more food but it was just making me feel sick. I needed to get to Mammoth Lakes and see a doctor, but that might mean separating from my trail family and maybe not being able to catch up with them. Maybe now after they’d seen what a terrible person I am, they wouldn’t mind. I cried some more.
A long time passed, my tears exhausted themselves, and I was fairly calm when I saw two hikers coming up the snowy hill. I hurried to claim my perfect tent site before they arrived, standing right in the center with my pack sitting next to me, acting as if I was trying to decide where to pitch my tent in the wide space, but when I saw them struggling to find a spot big enough for their shared tent, I felt ashamed. They had a much bigger tent than mine (feels like everybody does, honestly) and it felt wrong to deprive them of the only spot big enough for it. Also…I didn’t feel like I deserved such a beautiful spot anymore.
I picked up my tent and, without looking back at the spot I’d be giving up, I walked over and directed them to my previously claimed spot.
“It’s huge. You’ll have plenty of space.”
“Are you sure? We don’t want to take your spot.” They said, seeming genuinely surprised that I was giving it up. They looked like they’d had a rough day, which only strengthened my resolve.
“Trust me. I can camp anywhere. I have a very little tent.”
I went back over by where Ghosthiker and Sparky had pitched their tents and silently started clearing little rocks away from the slightly slanted open spot. My trail family came over right away and helped me clear rocks away without saying a word, but they were bo smiling. They were glad I’d come back.
I gathered myself, preparing to make another apology, and almost as soon as I opened my mouth the tears started falling. I guess I hadn’t exhausted them all. I thanked Sparky and Ghosthiker for putting up with my emotional instability and for sticking with me. I tried to explain why I bottle up my anger, that I know it’s usually irrational so I distance myself from others until it passes. I told them they deserved better than this, better than me, for all they’d had to put up with.
They laughed and hugged me and Sparky had tears in his eyes, and they told me they wouldn’t have me any other way.
Truly, I do not nor ever will deserve this trail family.
Everything was better after that. A surprising number of hikers trickled in and etched out tent sites for themselves, including Gently Used and Breaker, whom we’d been leapfrogging through the Sierra so far. What seemed like only 3-5 tent sites quickly became space for about a dozen hikers, but it was all on a large, flat stone slab, so hopefully it wasn’t too damaging to the environment. Some hikers arrived later and moved on, seeing that there was no space left. Brave souls. I hope they find somewhere safe to camp before the pass.