Mileage 9 (on the Kearsarge pass trail)
I wake in the cold morning and crawl out of my shelter and squat in the dirt to pee. I retrieve my bear canister (each night I feel as though I am setting a “trap”, and each morning I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t “catch” anything) and sit in my sleeping bag, eating the dregs of my food from dirty ziploc bags. Almond crumbles, the dust of crackers. Just nine miles to the trailhead!
I hike past several beautiful, twinkling lakes and then climb up and up and up, to Kearsarge pass. On top of the pass I manage to get my phone to turn on and discover I have reception, for the first time in nine days! I call my dog sitter to check in and talk as fast as I can.
“I’m on a twelve thousand foot pass,” I say. “My phone might die.”
And then it does.
I put my phone away and sit on the pass and look out at the world. I’ve been in the high sierra for a week and now, suddenly, I can see the desert floor again, way, way down below me. Death Valley. The trailhead is only a few miles down but the towns where I’ll resupply, Lone Pine and Bishop, are all the way at the bottom. The desert! I think. It’s been here all along, it’s just been out of sight! I also realize, for the first time, how high up I am. The valley down below is all hot, burning sand and joshua trees, but way up in the craggy peaks- a wonderland of water and light! Lush meadows and little flowers! Soft pine forests full of deer! No wonder John Muir thought it was so amazing.
The trail goes down, down, down, seemingly forever, a winding staircase of rock. The switchbacks are strange and labyrinthine, and sometimes it appears as though the hikers below me are actually coming up.
“Like we’re in an M.C. Escher painting,” says one thru hiker who passes me. At last I am at the bottom, at the trailhead, and I drop my pack onto the pavement. I drink some water and assess the situation. Lush, craggy peaks tower up around me, and day hikers lean into their trunks, organizing supplies. This trailhead is the end of the road, and everyone seems to be going in, not coming out. How will I get to town?
I am sitting on a metal bear box at the edge of the parking area when a little pickup truck pulls up next to me.
“You need a ride to town?” Says the man inside. He is small and tan. His silver hair is neat and he is wearing ray-bans.
“Yes,” I say.
“I was just in the area,” He says, “and I thought I’d come by and see if any thru-hikers needed a ride.”
The man’s name is Yawn, and he hiked the trail a few years back. He takes me to the main road and drops me off and I stick my thumb out- within a minute another car has stopped, a little sedan. Wow, I think. I’ve forgotten how easy it is to hitch when I’m by myself. In the car is a woman and a pug, on their way to a funeral somewhere east that I don’t catch. The woman chatters at me in a soothing voice. The pug sprawls in its bed in the front seat and eyes me sleepily. Under its head is a bag of pistachio nuts.
I look out the window as we drive through Death Valley. Sand and heat, sand and heat. And the air is as thick as pudding.
The woman drops me in Lone Pine, a little stagecoach town that looks like a movie set for an old western. I pick up my resupply box at the post office and then walk to the hostel. I get a private room with two sets of bunk beds. It is clean and filled with light. I open the window to let in the good desert air with all its oxygen and take off my clothes and put them in the tub. I shower and wash my clothes (it’s astounding how much dirt an injinji toe sock can hold) and then put on my synthetic t-shirt and running shorts, even though they’re wet. I know they’ll dry in the time it takes me to walk to the store and back. Everything else I hang over the bunkbeds to dry.
The store is small and cluttered and they is a gaping hole in the chip aisle where the fritos should be. They’re out of everything else I might want to buy, and the aisles are crowded with unopened cartons. I buy some potato chips and an apple and return to my room, disappointed.
“The store in Lone Pine sucks,” I text NoDay. “I guess we should go to Bishop to resupply?”
A little while later it’s evening and I get a text from her.
“We’re at the trailhead. We’re coming to Lone Pine? There are seven of us.”
Then everyone arrives. Their shirts are wonderfully filthy and their arms are filled with beer. Track Meat tosses me a bag of fritos he found at the gas station. The door of the room is propped open to let in the good evening air and we all take off our shoes and sprawl on the landing to drink. There is a Rock Paper Scissors tournament and footrub exchanges and then we sit, watching the little stagecoach town go dark. After awhile we are hungry and we pound down the stairs and set out into the warm, empty street. We check the dumpster behind the pizza place but there’s nothing there. We all pull our pants up real high. Veggie has a giant lollipop that he’s eating.
“Who feels like only skipping?” Says Spark.
We skip together down the dark sidewalk. MeHap runs by, slamming into us with his shoulders.
“Juice! Juice! Juice!” He says. It’s a game of his invention, and only he knows the rules.
Carl’s Jr. is the only thing still open and we order burgers and watch Ciara videos on my phone while we eat them. Afterwards, back at our room, Track Meat and I watch the video again and try to copy the moves, but it is impossible. Everyone else laughs. Then it’s time for bed.