With a new year looming on the horizon, after the impending holidays, I can’t help but to look back at what a year I have had with friends and family. I am feeling blessed. I also feel that time goes by way to fast as you and I are enmeshed in our lives tending to what needs attention, just living and looking forward to the next big adventure (if you have one on the books). After England I set out to do last-minute preps for the through-hike planned for 5 of us from Echo Summit to Yosemite. The highlight would have been the full moon summit on Half Dome but it never came to fruition.
With help from an old friend who picked us up in Yosemite where we parked. She and her “trail angel” friend Kelley, drove Gina and I to Echo Summit to start on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) trail heading south to Sonora Pass where we meet up with 3 more friends who were all going to finish the last week with us heading to Yosemite. Gina and I started with our 50 pound backpacks with high hopes we had everything we would need for the next week until we met up with the others who had food resupply and a clean change of clothes for us. Little did we know what we were getting into together, but off we went with lofty ideas.
The beauty of the trail and the surrounding wilderness can’t be beat. It didn’t take me long to realize all over again why I LOVE TO HIKE! All the hard work and thought that went to into preparing my body would pay off on the challenging inclines. We would have many summits with Half Dome being the ultimate goal. The preparation in food for 14 days on the trail including snacks that keep the body moving even when it would rather stop including the almighty Clif Bloks and electrolytes for our water for the elevation gains that could kick your butts.
With the first night on the trail with only a few miles hiked in we set camp with high hopes for the rest of our adventure. The feelings I felt to be in the wilderness soothed my soul and fed my spirit. I wasn’t sure how Gina was feeling but I was on a hiking high and excited to keep moving in the morning. No tough elevations presented themselves until the fourth day which proved to be a challenge to both of us. The incline stared us in the face and we “Bloked” up and hit it. Unfortunately, the elevation effected Gina negatively and made her sick. The worst part was our location on the side of a mountain that was 4000 feet down and past the twenety-inch-trail cut into the side of the mountain it continued to rise over our heads another 3 to 4 thousand feet. We had little room to navigate and could see the trail for miles ahead still cutting a small path along the mountainside.
The night before we had camped at a beautiful lake surrounded by granite boulders and a thick forest. We thought we smelt smoke but were unsure. By the time the sun was setting the sky looked smoke-filled and the smell was far more evident. I have a 2-way Inreach satellite phone and my son had sent a text stating that we were headed straight into a fire burning miles south of us. My response was please keep us informed as to the status because the only ears and eyes I had to the outside world would be his updates on the fire. The day hike on the fourth day did smell of smoke as we went south but not too bad. What was bad was how Gina was feeling and the trail that was not giving us a break. We didn’t intend to hike 21 miles on a that day but that was a stretch of trail we didn’t plan on especially with Gina not feeling well. We took several long breaks to re-charge and re-group during the day and one break ended badly for me. How I managed to trip and fall is of no surprise to me. With trail fatigue setting in from such a long day hiking my foot failed to lift over a tree root and BOOM! I was down with my pack on my back. It is amazing how quickly the momentum of a fall takes over . The pack is not your friend during a fall. I did feel that of all the places I could fall, I fell in the safest place possible. If it had been elsewhere I could have gone down thousands of feet into the depth of the valleys I couldn’t see from the trail. A little blood, the need for re-adjusting my pack and a lot of laughter propelled me forward to the spot we finally decided was flat enough to pitch camp and call it a day. Gina was still recovering from a really rough day and her appetite poor at best making it difficult to muster any energy to continue on let alone set camp.
The smoke was filling the air a bit thicker and the smell was defiantly present. The fire certainly was a worry as we were walking right into it. During the fifth night I received a text from my son that his biological father had passed away. I laid in my tent, taking everything into consideration and made a decision. I needed to go home to be with my son. So the morning of day 6 Gina and I agreed we would bail off the trail at the next highway crossing and hitchhike back to Yosemite. We had hiked in about 65-70 miles. We needed to let our friends know that the conditions were worsening on the trail with the smoke and that the fire would be changing our plans. We got out to highway 4 that meets up to 89 which would take us back out to 395. We got to the highway and met up with some PCTer’s moving north. They were complaining of the air conditions south of where we were and said that others were bailing off the trail as well due to breathing difficulties. This confirmed our decision to be the right one. We stuck our thumbs out in hopes of a ride. Many, many, many drive-bys went passed. We kept walking in the direction of highway 89. Finally a guy drinking beer in a tyed-dye, brightly colored shirt and dirty gray sweats with a white poodle on his lap stopped. He began asking us where we were going, were we came from and why. Fortunately, we had befriended a young man off the PCT who was headed to Markleeville for resupply and he did most of the talking. ‘Beggars can’t be choosy’ so we ended up in the bed of the guys truck with our backpacks. The PCTer sat in the cab with the driver who agreed to take us to highway 89. He gave us a beer and a bag of Doritos’ ….which were yummy!
He went above and beyond as he drove us all the way to highway 395. After our hour plus ride we hopped out and flipped our thumbs as we walked the busy highway. Semi’s sped by with cars and RV’s in the traffic too. It was hot. The black top didn’t make it any better. A beautiful motor home drove past and we both looked at each other. Gina said, “There’s no way they would stop for us”. And as we kept walking we realized it did stop for us. The door opened as a women yelled out, “Hurry up ladies….run!!!” We did. As soon as we got to the motor home door the women said, “I told my husband stop this thing…those women are my age…we need to give them a ride”. And her husband piped in saying, “I had backpacked a lot in my younger years and always wondered why no would stop for a backpacking hitch hiker. I said to myself…. I will always stop for them, as I wish they had for me”. Wow…..I’m pretty sure Gina and I were both thinking how lucky could we were. The motor home was cooled with AC and comfortable with leather interior. Both Darlene and Jim, a retired couple traveling from the east looking for a place to call home that would be closer to their two daughters, who both relocated on the west coast, couldn’t be more lovely or generous. We stopped in Bishop to wonder around, fill up with diesel and get lunch. They offered to drive us into Yosemite if we went with them farther south to get a rental car since their RV was too large to go over Tioga Pass.
After lunch we loaded up and headed farther south. They pulled into the mobile station at Lee Vining to let us out and for our good byes. They were so kind we were sad to say adios, but we did. We went back into our hitch hiking mode as we walked back out to the highway with our thumbs out hoping for a ride. A white van with no windows in the back stopped. My head was thinking trouble but they pulled over and opened the slider side door asking where we were headed. We stated Yosemite visitor center was where our truck was parked. The van held 3 young adults with dreadlocks and the smell of marijuana as perfume. We accepted the ride and sat in the back on a plywood raised bed with only a sleeping bag for padding while another young lady sat Indian style on a octagon dark wood heavy side table. The male driver and female passenger in front seemed to be a couple. Their music was playing while incense burnt. They were friendly folk who all worked seasonally in the Yosemite. They had a day off work and drove out of the valley to go grocery shopping. Lots of small talk about the fire took place and then they asked if we minded if they smoked. We said “sure”. Up went the windows and out came the joint. We were “hot boxed’ all the way to the truck.
We offered them gas money and they took it. Laurie had given me $20 when she had dropped us off at Echo Summit. I had thought, “Why do I need money on a trail?” ….but hey….I did. Thank you Laurie, that worked out perfect. Great thanks to all who helped get us back to the truck after 158 miles of highway hitch hiking. What an adventure that we didn’t plan on. We contacted the other girls who were to meet up with us and told them we are off the trail and the fire was too big making the conditions unsafe to breath. Thankfully, they had a plan “B”. Gina and I made it to Tucson in record time, ultimately disappointed that what we had thought we would complete came to an abrupt end. We were safe, so it was all good. Of course, Gwen and I are planning another hundred plus mile hike for 2019 with a prayer we will make it! I was back home for a brief time before the Alaska adventure started which I will blog about next.