Mileage 40 (!!!!)
Mile 1032.5 to mile 1072.5
I sleep amazing- I have wild dreams- I dream a bear attacks me and drags me away and I can’t scream or make any noise. I wake at six a.m.- late! And by the time we hike it’s almost 7. But it was worth it- I needed that full night’s sleep bad. Now I feel pumped, rested, awesome. This section is crazy beautiful- ancient juniper trees on bright granite ridges, canyons filled with light, carpets of yellow mule’s ears. We climb in the cold wind, now and then pick our way over slicks patches of snow. I told everyone that Northern California would be warm. Now I feel bad. But hey, last year I came through here three weeks later. Three weeks! Everything was different. How am I so much faster this year? A mystery.
Speaking of fast, everyone has packages at the post office in Lake Tahoe. It’s friday, and the post office closes at 2 pm on Saturday. It’s 60 trail miles to Tahoe. If we miss the post office we have to stay in Tahoe until Monday, aka zero in the most overwhelming and difficult to navigate trail town ever.
We haven’t seen our friends (they got back to the trail yesterday three hours before us) but we know how they think, and we think we know what they’re doing.
They’re fucking booking it.
We decided yesterday to say fuck it! And take our time, and accept the fact that we’d have to zero in Tahoe, get our boxes on monday, maybe fall behind our friends. But as we hike in the bright, enchanted morning, we start to wonder- what if we did a forty mile day? And then slept a couple of hours, got up, and did the last 20 to the highway? Are we capable of a 40? What would that even feel like? The most either of us has ever done is a 34.
On a saddle above a glittering lake Twinkle has reception and he calls the post office in Tahoe- they close at 2, but a nice woman working there says that they’ll be working until 5, and if we can make it before then we’ll be able to get our boxes.
Suddenly everything seems possible. A forty mile day? Fuck yeah.
I’m not a fast walker today but I do the math and figure that if we don’t take too many breaks, we’ll make it by 11 pm. I put in my headphones to power myself up the climbs (numerous but gentle- my god it’s good to be back on cruiser trail again!) and I walk all over the convoluted surface of the earth. By seven p.m. we’ve gone 30 miles and we stop to break next to a stream- the cold’s returning, the light is growing pale- we put on our layers, dig out our headlamps for later and I sit on the damp ground and shovel granola into my mouth. I’m ravenous and I feel exhausted- we’ve already gone 30 miles and we’ve got 10 more to go. second wind, second wind, I think. Come on.
I get my second wind right at dusk, when we’re powering up a climb in the dim woods, talking about life’s irreconcilable contradictions, the uncertain nature of the universe. Never any real ground to stand on, only shifting sand. We pull out our headlamps for a while but the then moon rises over the mountains, big and full, and we can see everything, our own moonshadows marching along beside us on the volcanic landscape. I’ve got my period- it’s early but the trail is weird like that, I’ve slept outside every night and I’ve synched with the earth, the moon, the universe. We’re climbing up over the flanks of a tall grassy mountain and far below us are dark valleys, lakes shining in the moonlight, the twinkles of day hikers’ campfires. The first stars are out, the temperature drops. I start singing Cat Stevens songs, but I don’t know the words. Clack, clack, clack go our trekking poles, as we stumble over the rocky trail. There are a few sketchy snowfields, frozen slick, and I face death or the approximation of death. I live to see another switchback- always another switchback, another bend in the trail. What is life but a series of switchbacks?
We reach the dirt road that signifies 40 miles at 11:30 p.m., delerious and stiff with cold, weary, stumbling around in the cold wind on the exposed ridge, looking for someplace sheltered to camp. There’s a clump of trees and we spread our bedrolls there, scooch into them and ravenously attack our food bags. I eat handful after handful of tortilla chips with mayonnaise and mustard squirted on top. I call it “trail nachos”. Besides the exhaustion, I feel amazing- I have no blisters, no foot pain, no joint pain- only a little pain in my right shoulder, where the strap of my pack cuts into it. Morale is high too, and I happily devour my chips until my hands are too numb to feel and then I curl up in my bag, letting the warmth (and farts) gather around me. A forty mile day! That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Our alarm is set for six. Tomorrow we catch our friends!
Note: I just realized, two days later- I did my first forty mile day on a friday the 13th that was also the full moon! Trail magic!!
Photos on instagram