Back in civilization, we found ourselves in Lone Pine, California with our good friends Jeff and Cheryl. My left leg felt gimp. The shin was blown up like a balloon. The inflammation made my toes look like stubs sticking out of my foot. Still, it feels good to sit in a kitchen and catch up with friends. Good to munch on chips, guacamole and salsa washed down with cold beer. Everything feels like a luxury after only eight days on the trail. Eight hungry days. Food !!
I sat in the kitchen in the time between Mexican munchies and dinner. Dinner from Cheryl which always means southern cooking. We’d been her most ravenous supper guests many a time. Finishing the 260km or so hike with another epic day lasting over seven hours made us almost eat them out of house and home.
We made it, as painful as it was for me. That run down Forester Pass turned into a dull ache in the shin and then morphed into agony.
That morning every cell in our bodies wanted to stay in the sleeping bag a little longer. We knew the rhythm and routine had to be maintained, if only for that one last day. And so it was that we awoke at 4:30am to the sound of Peter’s watch alarm.
One last time we were out of the bags at that ungodly hour. Out came the syl nylon poncho normally used for rain but then acting as a vapor barrier liner for me in the cold nights. Out came the silk cocoon that added a bit of warmth as well. It was the coldest morning yet and frost covered the open Crabtree Meadow where just the night before we saw a fawn and twin does grazing.
I’d been up since 2:30am and though it was torture to leave the warmth of camp I was relieved to get up. Routine again led to changing into hiking gear and stuffing gear into appropriate sacs. Over to the bear storage container to retrieve the bear canisters.
Food was all but gone and the containers were down to their 2 lb or so weight each. All the calories we started with were eaten and burned from our start in Mammoth Lakes, seven days earlier.
Down came the tarp shelter while I heated water for our last hot chocolate. Then, the last coffee and last powdered soy milk.
Then began the now pre-dawn ritual of walking into the sun that would eventually rise. First the land illuminated in the cold air, and then the bright glow hit high ridges in the west. As we walked most everyone slept. I limped behind Peter’s brisk pace with that swollen shin making me curse each step. Still, the beauty all around made me almost forget the pain. At least it made me accept it as payment for entry into the High Sierra.
Up and up we climbed. Past guitar lake made obvious from up above. The damn thing looked like a massive guitar. Groups of hikers passed along the way smiled and commented encouragement for our pace. Even with my limp, we moved faster than ever, feeling a slower pace all but impossible.
No challenge was made to our pace comfortable to us at those elevations. The highest point of the hike was made that day on Mount Whitney. The exact height I don’t know, but from what I gather it’s a hair shy of 14,500 feet. Much to the chagrin of Colorado, it’s the highest peak in the lower 48 states.
The contrast this time around to the end of the same hike fourteen years ago could not be stronger. Back then we finished the hike on Labor Day weekend. It seemed that much of Los Angeles made the trip north to hike up the trail. More like crawl up the trail. I can’t imagine going from sea level to that height. Most people do it while not in the best of shape, either. We remembered feeling animosity whenever we tired to pass others. Blatant disdain.
This time it felt like a supportive community of strangers, cheering each other on. At the trail junction we shed our packs, grabbed a bar and jog/walked up the trail to the summit. It was still before noon and we’d yet to eat breakfast. Silently we agreed to eat when back down. How fun it was to race up that trail with no weight on the back. My shin still hurt but less without the load.
It was 1.9 miles to no more rock to climb and we were there in less than 45 minutes. The trail was a jumble of rocks at times and smooth gravel at others. Lookouts perched over sheer cliff drops leaving terror for those afraid of heights. The faintest of breeze and brightest of sun brought us up and soon we sat on the rocks up top, just past the hut.
What a trip it had been. Satisfaction was shared having made such a long, hard way with little preparation in such a short time, together. It was here that Peter shared his idea of continuing south. To Mexico. Yes, another 900 or so miles to the border was his desire. Of course I had to laugh. Of course Peter wanted to keep walking. That he loves it so much makes me love him even more.
The mountains displayed magnificence to us. Their magestic beauty had all of us in a trance. All those up top of Whitney enjoyed their own private satisfaction mirrored in natural beauty all around.
I thought of each day, each step, each camp. I thought of the entire trip and the significance of each of these things along the way. In a sense the end meant little except disappointment not to continue when the aches and pains healed after a few days. Because we took the time to appreciate the awe this end had little significance save for personal satisfaction.
And what a trip it was. The trip that was now over for me. Officially done. But Peter, well, my Peter of course he was not done just yet. It was those last few days that he shared with me this idea brewing inside. The idea that I am sure he’d pondered as possibility each day we walked the high sierra. His thought of continuing south, down to Mexico. It was one of two last segments he had left to do in order to complete the PCT as a ‘section hiker’ that I have written about already. This section being Mount Whitney down to Campo, California. Effectively the end of the PCT and the Mexican border.
And so we went our own ways for a little while as we often do. Peter out on the trail and me traversing the continent, doing what I do as previously an athlete and now officially a non-athlete. I felt like I was walking with him those next 6 weeks and 900 miles. Walking with him because I could directly relate to the beauty and the toil.
And now, as I sit having breakfast in Rwanda of all places, I think of those eight days I’ve shared. The hiking trip that easily could have not been done. I continue to experience myriad people, places and downright outrageous situations. My life has been in a suitcase and too many hotels to count since leaving California. It’s an adventure I’m most grateful for and continues to open my mind, heart and head to the possibilities in life.
Thanks for reading about this trip of ours. I encourage everyone to seek out and then just go out and do their own adventures. If you only have a day, or even two, it’s enough to get out and challenge yourself in ways the ordinary in life just does not allow. Step into that unknown and come away feeling most alive. Come away with a sense of wonder for the world and desire to have another adventure to live for.