Monday, June 4, 2012

Day 21

The day begins with sprinting to a suitable bathroom area, which turns out to be directly below trail. A hiker passes me as this happens and I have no idea what they witnessed, but hope they didn't notice. I have a sluggish morning and only walk for about 20 minutes before stopping, but enjoy perching on a log, letting the sun slowly warm me (it was a cold morning) and drinking coffee made with cold water, watching the stream below me. I ford the very cold stream a while later and continue on over the very sandy trail. At around noon I reach the detour, which is a junction with a bridge. If you opt to take the detour, you miss the hot springs. I heard that the trail is mostly repaired (it was closed due to rock slides and erosion) and so I plan on not taking the detour (which also has some unpleasant road walking)I wade under the bridge, notice another hiker has set up tent on the bank (which is strange because it's the middle of the day, but I assume that they are taking a day off on trail, or just a very elaborate nap). I end up using a section hikers aqua mira drops to treat my water, bump into some more forest service employees while using a nearby bathroom, and then hike on. I later learn that the hiker who I thought was napping instead had a hurt foot and other hikers had called for help in getting him out to the road and off the trail.

It turns out to be a dreadfully hot day, and I feel dehydrated. I collapse on trail and Stretch walks up and offers me some electrolyte mix, once again saving the day with his generosity. I feel much better after drinking this and hike on, looking forward to the hot springs. The trail winds onward from on high and towards dusk I have a stand-off with a rattlesnake, who is so still that at first I think it's dead, until I see the tongue flicker. I throw a few rocks towards it, hoping to spur it into moving on, but nothing works. There is a steep pitch both above and below and I am getting desperate. Finally I scramble in the loose sand above and this prompts the snake to slowly move away. In the late afternoon I reach the hot springs and as I walk closer I see naked people, and no hikers. My poor overheated brain feels overwhelmed and I can barely manage to respond to the "welcome to paradise" that a naked hippie has cheerily greeted me with. I avert my eyes and plop down next to Stretch, who is cooking dinner. I slowly become acclimated and the hot springs are really nice - there are a series of 100 degree pools hugging a cliff and the creek has widened enough to almost feel like a river. More hikers show up: Ruby Locks, Calf, Rattlebee and a few others and I come out of my shell even more.

Knowing that it is a Friday night and this is a popular spot, I backtrack and camp on the very steep descent leading up to the hot springs. I'm right, and people show up around midnight, and thru-hikers walk right past me. Despite their interruption I sleep better than the hikers down below me on the beach, who tell me that people were up partying until around 3 am. The highlight of the evening was definitely the human flute, a strange being who was ululating at the top of his lungs in one of the tubs.

Day 20

I wake up with none of the loneliness and sadness of yesterday. I plan a short day and a lazy morning, with the excuse of resting my knee. From my tucked away campsite I watch as a forest service employee hikes by and this stirs me into action at 9:45. We end up chatting twice, and she is very kind. She knows Teddi, who is this amazing woman I met at Kick Off who coordinates trail crew volunteers and thru-hiked solo in 1977, which was way more challenging on several levels. I meet Stretch while taking a break and we commiserate over aches and pains and he is kind enough to give me some extra-strength anti-inflammatories. I meet and walk with Caveman and a dayhiker named Kevin, for a few hours.The weather is beautiful and I nurse the 2 liters of clean water I saved from yesterday, making it last.

The bluebells are incredibly prolific and are an extra luminous blue-purple in this area. I didn't realize I would be walking through yet another burned forest today, but here I am. I can't say I love this terrain the way I do NH and ME, but it is beautiful in its own way. Just before the final road crossing of the day I stumble across a real hobo camp, with chair and solar light and  old pick up truck and tent but no occupant in sight. It's slightly unnerving just because I don't know what the owner is like or where they are. I keep walking and a few minutes later smell smoke and discover Chili and Pepper camping by the stream. They are a father son team that I first met on the AT. Chili is only 13 and is on his second long distance hike. They had met the man living near by and said he seemed harmless. I chat for a while and they offer the use of their filter, which is a great relief, since I wouldn't normally trust this water source.

Walking on I discover the perfect tent spot, dropping down from the trail onto a sandy beach protected by boulders and abutting a small cataract of water. It's lovely. I do struggle to find a site that isn't overrun by ants, though. I immerse my knee in the cold water, rinse off, and dig a fire pit and have my first fire of the trail with driftwood. There are tons of stars and a white-throated wood rat comes creeping round as the fire burns down low. He is moving around sluggishly and seems unafraid, even when I crouch over him with my camera. Dinner is mashed potatoes with olive oil, textured vegetable protein, sun dried tomato, dried vegetables, and melted mozzarella stick and pepperjack cheese - it's delicious. It was a good day, and my knee barely hurts. I do experience a brief moment of anxiety when I realize how close I am to another road, and I think I see a bright light off in the distance but I calm down because the bed of coals is warming me nicely and the sound of crickets and the dull roar of water are the only sounds.

Real time:

I'm at Kennedy Meadows attempting to finish an overwhelming backlog of journal entries. Here's some breaking news to entertain you in the meanwhile:

I never ended up hiking with a town dress, because  half the time I don't even stay in town. Also, a full disclosure would be that it was the one item I forgot to pack.

Snow is predicted for tonight in the Sierras. I have yet to check the forecast myself, though.

I've hit that stage in the journey where I am too tired to journal at night, and so am attempting to recall about two week's worth of incidents and campgrounds.

I continue to be overwhelmed and impressed by the generosity and kindness I encounter within the hiking community. Friends of friends, people I haven't even met in real life, total strangers... you know who you are, and you are all wonderful.

Also, I may or may not have had a misadventure in the high desert involving snow and no shelter. Full disclosure forthcoming eventually!