Day 71: TRIUMPH

June 30
Mileage 28 (!!!)
Mile 990 to mile 1018

I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, per usual, and the mosquitoes are still there. I can see them in the light from the bright moon, swarming my tent. Dang, I think. The mosquitoes here don’t even go to bed. What to do?

I pull a gallon ziploc bag from my pack and squat over it. It’s kind of the perfect size, actually. After I’ve peed I seal it, and open the zipper of my tent just enough to stick the closed bag outside in the dirt. Why didn’t I think of this before?

I wake to the hot sun on my tent. I turn on my phone and see that we’ve slept in- it’s almost eight o’clock. I guess I was tired, I think, as I sit in my bag in the warmth, eating my stale trailfood. Eventually I extricate myself and pack my things away. The mosquitoes are sparser now, in the full sun on this warm granite slab where we’ve camped. Instigate is moving just as slowly as I am, and by the time we’re hiking it’s nine o’clock. We look at the footprints on the trail, wondering if anyone has passed us while we’ve slept. NoDay is half a day ahead of us by now, and Spark, as far as we can tell, is still behind us. He wanted to hike out of Yosemite Valley on the JMT, and we’re not sure when he got back on the trail. As we hike we make bets as to when he’ll catch up with us.

“If we average 2 miles an hour at the end of the day, and Spark averages 3 miles an hour, then that means that every hour he gains a mile on us. So if he left Tuolumne Meadows in the morning the day after we did, that would put him twenty hours behind us…”

And so on.

We drop down into a meadow and suddenly, mosquito hell strikes again. They are swarming, swarming, swarming, and we cannot walk fast enough, and we cannot swat fast enough, and we are trying to do everything at once, and I am panicking. Then we see some day hikers, coming towards us from the other direction.

“Do you have any deet?” We ask them, desperately. They do, and we smear it on our legs and our clothes. Then the swarm is gone and we stand, the sun shining down on us. We are finally able to breathe.

I sit for a minute at a stream and drink some water. When I stand up to hike again the world tips, and fatigue falls onto me like a lead blanket. I walk slowly across the meadow, lifting one foot in front of the other. What? I think. Why do I feel this way? I’m dizzy and slow, and hiking seems impossible. How will I ever finish the thru-hike, I think, if I feel this way?

I come upon Instigate, sitting at a stream.

“It’s the deet,” she says. “The deet was making me woozy. You have to wash it off.”

I wipe the deet off my legs and then sit for a while in the sun. I start to feel a little better.

“Dang,” I say. “No wonder the mosquitoes don’t like it.”

Instigate is staring spacily across the meadow.

“I’m pretty sure it was poisoning me,” she says.

It’s middday now, and the mosquitoes aren’t so bad, so that’s nice. As I hike on, my energy begins to return. Then I check halfmile’s app and see that there’s a water alert- a short waterless section is coming up in a few miles, and after that water becomes more scarce. No water? I think. How can that be? There’s water everywhere? Unless…

I climb up onto a ridge, turn a corner, and it happens. The landscape dries up. The forest is no more, the lush grass is gone, the streams have disappeared. The sun is bright and the hillside is littered in slabs of granite. The air smells of sagebrush.

Hallelujah.

The best part, though, is the trail. The trail is not convoluted, mucky, running over with water, or climbing up or down through complex piles of things. The trail is flat, sandy, and evenly graded. And I can see it in the distance along the ridge, going on for miles and miles.

And the mosquitoes? The mosquitoes are gone.

Northern California!!!

My heart sings out with joy. I did it! I really did it!

I fly through the next few miles. The trail is so easy, it’s like there’s no limit to how fast I can go. I pass the marker for mile 1000. Of course I can do it! I think. I’m doing it right now! Soon I reach a footbridge over a stream and find Instigate there, happily eating lunch. We are both ecscatic.

“We did it!” She says. “We made it out of the mosquitoes!”

“Northern California!” I say. “We’re done with the Sierras!” I cannot say it enough. My heart feels impossibly light.

We lounge for a while, eating food and enjoying the absence of mosquitoes. Then someone walks across the bridge. It’s Spark.

“Y’all must be slow,” he says, “if I’ve already caught up with you.”

“You must be slow,” I say, “If you’ve only just caught up with us. Happy Birthday!” I toss him a bag of bacon jerky. Today is his birthday.

Spark has already hiked 23 miles. We’ve done 13. It’s four p.m. In fifteen miles is the highway, where we’ll hitch to Bridgeport, our next resupply.

“What if we night hiked?” I say. “What if we go all the way to the highway?”

Instigate is down.

“It’s your birthday,” I say to Spark. “You should probably do a 38 mile day.”

“Yeah,” says Spark. “Ok.”

We hike five miles and then take a break to eat dinner, at the last water source for ten miles. Then we fill our bottles and climb up, up, up onto a gravely ridge. The trail is steep but the path is smooth, and we huff and puff. We turn at the top and suddenly we can see everything, going on and on and on. The whole world! It’s dusk, and the light is stretched on the ridge in long yellow bands. We jump up and down and spin around. There’s a snowfield, and Instigate makes a snow angel. Sonora pass!

For the next seven miles, the trail follows the ridge. It’s a bare ridge, composed of just gravely rock and the occasional tiny, brightly-colored plant. On either side of us the gravely slopes sweep away into nothing and then rise up again, like ocean waves. The waves of the mountains are every shade of brown and dusky blue, and looking at all that space makes our eyes ache, as though we’re looking at an optical illusion. We walk and walk, and the yolk-yellow sun goes down and comes up and goes down again, depending on where on the ridge we are.

“This is my favorite pass so far,” I say, when we’re sitting on the trail eating jerky. The sun is setting again, for the fifth time tonight. “I love this pass.”

Then the sun sinks for good and we walk single-file in the dim gloaming, reluctant to pull out our headlamps. We cross a series of steep, slippery snowfields, and I try not to look down as I cross them, at the way the earth plunges away. The light that has gathered on all the surfaces begins to dissipate and soon we can see only shadows, and the vague shapes of the mountains. We walk closer together, guiding each other, moving in and out of darkness, trying not to trip over rocks. And then the light is gone entirely and the stars come out and we are on a tiny strip of trail suspended over nothingness. We are traversing on foot across infinite space.

Don’t fall off the trail, I think, imagining myself plummeting down into the nothingness. Just don’t fall off the trail.

There’s a lightning storm over the most distant ridge, in what must be Nevada. Flashes of yellow lighting crack the darkness and we stop and stare, amazed.

By the time we begin to descend towards the road we are exhausted. Little streams trickle out of the earth, and we stop to fill our bottles. The air grows warm and balmy and soon we reach a stand of trees, clustered on the side of the trail a half-mile from the higway. There is a flat, sandy spot of ground among the trees and we spread our sleeping pads there and fall into them, no energy left in our bodies. It’s eleven p.m.

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6 thoughts on “Day 71: TRIUMPH

  1. Congratulations on 1,000 miles, Carrot! I somehow stumbled across your blog when you were a week or so on the trail and have been looking forward to every new post since I read those first dozen posts all at one time. It’s a little like Christmas when I check my email and see a new entry from you. Love your writing style and your pictures.

    I can’t imagine hiking 1,000 miles. I do day hikes with my dogs, but reading your posts makes me dream about doing something longer than a day.

    I will be cheering you on for the next thousand miles. You can do it!

    Naomi
    p.s. Thank you for using the word gloaming. It’s a great word!

  2. Big day Carrot, congrats! You still have ate a bit of Sierra to go however. You won’t be in the Cascades until Lassen – still, welcome to my backyard! Be safe, and keep up the great blogging.

  3. I’ve been following PCT blogs/journals for a few years. I think this is my new favorite. My wife and I are planning on hiking the CA portion of the trail next year. I can’t wait to hear your vivid descriptions and stories as you march onward. Thanks

  4. Love the new picture of your current threesome. To get big miles you hiked our favorite time of day. After sunset is so cool, both literally and figuratively.

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