September 7, 2018
Reds Meadow Resort and Pack Station
Total distance walked: zero
Generator exhaust permeated the campsite and drifted on a languid breeze into my tent. It was 8:30 AM and I was still burrowed in my bag. There was no reason to get up since we were taking a zero day. A zero day is a day with no hiking. It’s a time to rest, do laundry, and resupply. Chris was coming to Reds Meadow Resort around noon with resupplies for everyone. We had rented a cabin so we could sleep in a bed and take a shower before heading out on the trail again. He was also bringing our dog Ginger, plus Andrew and Sarah—Slip Knot’s identical twin sister.
All of the water I had guzzled the day before didn’t do much to alleviate the dryness I felt. I was slow-moving and my mind was still foggy with dehydration, so I sat at the picnic table awaiting Chris’s arrival. Eventually, I broke down my campsite reminiscing while I stuffed everything into the pack.
I loved everything about this trip, except maybe Day 1 with The Beast. The Beast, though, became a part of me. It was 29% of my body weight (normal is 10% – 15%). I hoisted and carried it without too much trouble, and became efficient at repacking it for a perfect fit each morning. It was like putting together a 3-D puzzle.
Sleeping on the ground every night was unexpectedly comfortable. One night I got into bed only to realize my head was aimed downhill. I did the sleeping bag shuffle to turn it all around.
The heart-pounding uphill climbs were my favorite. Downhill hikers thought I was crazy. Most of all, I loved the walk, the joy and challenges it brought, and not knowing what to expect on a daily basis—like the spectacular scenery, landscapes that exploded in beauty, and places that pierced my soul. I loved it all.
I learned a lot while on my journey thus far. What came as a surprise was, I saw the trail as a whole picture, not in detail. I thought I would explore every nook and cranny, get into the minutia of the trail and wander to my heart’s delight. I realized when I got out there, I neither had the energy nor desire to stop and investigate or go off-trail to see another point of view. My “eagle eye walks” (where I photograph all that I see) were meant for day hikes, not thru-hikes. In fact, photography was an afterthought.
Slip Knot, who was excited to see her sister, made phone contact with Sarah and asked them to come to our campsite before going to the cabin. By the time they arrived, the generator had turned off and the air returned to its naturally scented pine. Ginger leaped from the truck and began sniffing with excitement at all the new smells.
“I did things, Pa!” I said proudly, while squeezing my husband in a bear hug. He, best of all, knew my irrational fear of crossing water and lighting stoves—things I had to do daily and had become comfortable with. I told him about the mountains we had climbed then whispered, “I don’t know if I’m going to continue.” Looking into my eyes he said, “I know.” Here’s a man who knows me better than I know myself. Changing the subject, he told me about his radio show and how he kept busy while I was gone.
Chris brought burgers and hotdogs for lunch. I shoved my pack into the truck and we all headed up the hill to the cabin.
I had just a few more hours to make a decision: go home with Chris or head out on an 18-day solo hike. I honestly couldn’t decide, so moved forward as if I was going. I brought all of my trail clothes to the laundry for a good washing—including the all-purpose bandana.
Like my trail family was doing, I thinned out the food in my resupply bucket. I had packed a plethora of mini-PayDay bars—four per day—and had become sick of them. I tossed half of them along with half of the oatmeal, hummus and protein bars into a bag for Chris to bring home. I just wasn’t as hungry as I thought I’d be.
Since I was going to carry a larger bear canister and more food than the first leg of the trip, I tossed the novel (I hadn’t read it anyway), and the bible. September was a perfect time of year to hike the trail. There were no bugs so I tossed the bug spray and head net—we didn’t encounter one mosquito on the trip. I replenished my toiletries and sunscreen, added two full fuel canisters, more batteries, and a warmer pull-over.
When everything was efficiently packed, every little space filled with essentials, all of it balanced out, all compression straps tightened, and a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade secured in the water pocket (as well as a few ounces of water in the bladder), I thought for sure it would be overly heavy. My decision would be made for me: I can’t continue because my pack is too heavy.
Grabbing the backpack’s hauler with my right hand, I put my left foot forward, bent my knee and lifted the pack onto my left thigh. I slid my left arm into the strap and swung the bag onto my back. Bending at the waist I put my right arm through the other strap, tightened the hip belt, both shoulder straps and the sternum strap. Once it was secure, I walked around. It felt fine, not impossible to carry. I unburdened myself of the pack and set it next to the bed pending a decision.
Day turned into evening. My trail family’s resupply included two magnums of wine that they generously shared with the group. Instead of s’mores, we sipped wine by the campfire and regaled each other with trail stories. The soft pop and hiss from the fading fire signaled bedtime.
“Have you decided yet?” Chris asked. “No, what should I do?” I said, though I knew he couldn’t tell me. “Do what your heart is telling you to do,” he offered. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was asleep. Two hours later I woke to a deep, guttural growling. What the heck is that, I thought. My husband’s chest rose and fell, he rumbled like a mountain as he slept.
Once awake my mind churned. I had left home with a host of well-wishes, prayers, blessings, and a Mass intention. Family and friends had sent cards and e-mails of encouragement. People were watching the little bootprints of the GPS that tracked me all along the trail. One person who had walked the PCT, stuck out in my mind. We were standing together on the steps of our church after Mass and she gave me a big high-five when she heard I was walking the JMT. My husband wrote notes telling me he was proud of me, that I inspired him, and to chase my dreams. How could I let him and all those people down by quitting? I made up my mind. I was heading back to the trail the next morning.
Once the decision was made, I thought sleep would come easily. It didn’t. The hours passed and my decision waned.
TO BE CONTINUED…