Around 3:30 am I hear a phone ding from Land's tent and think to see if I have phone service. I do! I also have a message from my husband saying to text him. I knew the inreach messages didn't go out the night before, but couldn't fix it. Didn't even think to check my phone! I text him and he quickly calls. Poor guy had been up all night worrying while I slept. We have a really meaningful talk. I boo hoo a bit. We talk until my Platoon wakes up and begins tearing down tents. I hang up and then break down my tent too. I am going home. Hugs all around, I love these guys. They set up a camera and get a group shot and then I head north while they head south. No head torch needed because the moon lights up the sandy path. I'm a bit unnerved at first and for fun pretend I am a spy like in a Mission Impossible or a James Bond movie. I hear the soundtrack in my head and I jump into shadows of trees and look and listen. Haha. It's fun, then the tranquility of hiking in the dark sets in. I pass tents all zipped up at Crater Creek. As I enter the burned area of the Rainbow Fire the sun begins lightening up the Minarets. Sweet.
I get to Red's just in time to clean up in the bathroom a bit before the restaurant opens. Kevin, my Donahue Pass big talker, shows up and we have a lovely breakfast together talking about the pros and cons of walking solo. He already seems a bit changed from his hike. Or maybe I am. Nice guy. He's going on, but wants to lighten his load, so I offer to take his extra stuff and mail it home to him. The ladies from Washington show up for breakfast as well and give me their contact info. Gene, the effervescent 66 year old, takes my photo and says he will see me next year. I take the bus to Mammoth and have a second breakfast of smoked trout on a bagel in the swanky Village and then catch the YARTS bus back to my car in Tuolumne.
Hanging out at Olmstead Point I ponder my first venture into solo hiking. There were pluses and minuses. On the plus side is the meditative gliding along the trail. Zen walking. Stop when you want, walk when you want. No need to worry about keeping up or slowing someone down. On the minus for me is the lonely bed at night (I missed my husband!) and the vulnerability I felt as a woman. Anyone could overpower me. I like being a woman, but sometimes I think being a man might have some perks, especially when alone.
I'm not really disappointed I didn't go on. I'm proud I tried at all and happy that I enjoyed it. I have been with my husband since I was 15 and this is the first time I have ever done anything significant by myself. I often worried about my beloved dying and my ability to do things alone, and while I wasn't completely successful, I was successful enough. I know I can do things solo. I stretched myself and grew as a person. Growth. I think that is important.
Now, for the very first time in my 53 years, I'm at a cool historic hotel all by myself in Groveland. Another adventure! Tomorrow I will finish the drive back home to the love of my life. I can hardly wait.
Rosalie Lake in the morning light is beautiful. I slept so well here. I awake to Tony out fishing for his breakfast and the Japanese man packing up. It is after 7 AM. Late for a hiking day. I make coffee and eat my probar. I feel great. I see a huge, beautiful coated coyote alongside the trail. Well, hello there Mr. Coyote! I catch up to a group of 3 young military men I met on Donahue Pass yesterday. Army, Navy and Airforce or Trout Slayer, Land and River. I hike silently behind them for a bit and then startle them. We all laugh. They have been friends since grade school. These are country boys and they remind me of the young men from where I grew up. I like them. A woman northbound hiker passes us and calls me the den mother. We all get a kick out of that. I start calling them my Platoon. The 8 miles downhill hike to Red's Resort fly by. We pass many small lakes and a really nice grove of big evergreens. The trail is always changing its view. In a really dusty section, I stumble over nothing and twist my ankle again. OUCH! I shake it out and keep hiking.
The Devil's Postpile is such a cool geological feature and the trail goes right by the base of them. My Platoon hikes over the top, I do not. There are a lot of day hikers out. People from all over the world come here. At Red's Meadow Resort I resupply, which I have to buy, because they don't have a hikers' bucket anymore. Darn. That has always worked in the past. I guess they had folks just staying out in the woods and living off the box and they were scaring the tourists. Haha. I bet. I purchase a shower and it feels great. River says I look human again. Was I inhuman before. I wish I had known. I call my husband and we chat. I am really missing him, especially at night. He is missing me too.
Grey clouds start to roll in. I go over to put my pack on and get this weird feeling of eyes on me. I kinda feel hunted. It's weird. I trust my gut and decide not to hike out alone. I go hang out with my platoon. It is fun. They really don't mind me, or at least show no signs that they do. Gene, this 66 year old hiker, who I remember from last year (this is his 4th time on the JMT) joins us at the picnic table and I love watching him talk. He is bubbly and animated and really enjoys talking to the guys because he was in the military during the Korean War. His eyes dance while he speaks and his head bobs like a bird. Gene decides to make me an honorary Marine, so all the branches of the military are represented. I have never wanted to be a marine, but oh well for Gene I will be a marine. At 4pm the platoon and I head out, leaving Gene behind with his face all aglow.
The leader, Trout Slayer, sets a 3 mph pace and we make the 1200 feet and 4 mile jaunt to Crater Creek fast. I sweat a bit keeping up with them, but I do keep up with them. I feel a little pull in my ankle though on every step and begin to wonder if it is going to hold up for the whole trail.
We get to Crater Creek and the camping spot is full. We hike on a bit and find a nice sandy camping spot. My tent stakes don't hold and I find some rocks to hold in the important ones. I send out a message to my husband letting him know we are at camp while the sun begins to make everything golden, but I don't feel golden. After being creeped out at Red's I am really questioning this solo hiking thing. I feel vulnerable. I'm really missing my husband. My ankle is throbbing a bit. I start to cry. I don't want to be worrying that somebody is going to accost me out here. I know it is a ridiculous thought, but I can't really get it out of my head now. My platoon is nice and treat me like a treasured mama, and they say I can just keep hiking with them all the way to Whitney. I really like these guys, they feel like my kids or friends of my kids, but my plan was to hike solo. I don't want to keep shadowing them for my peace of mind. What is the point in that? All of a sudden I decide to just hike back to Red's in the morning and catch the bus back to my car. I want to hike with my husband. I am happy I tried hiking solo, but the winds have changed and my sail leads me north. I'm going home happy.
The guys make a fire and we sit around talking of our high school days and life. It is a nice ending to my hike.
Great day hiking along this section of the trail through the Minarets. It is my favorite section of JMT. I just floated along all day in awe. Except when I fell. I also lost my reading glasses so I can't tell if I'm spelling right or if photos are clear. Oh well.
Up and over Donahue pass under a cover of clouds. Marmots dance across patches of snow. A young Japanese man smiles as his head bobs as he quickly passes me. I am not standing still, that kid is fast. I slowly catch up to a man named Kevin and we walk at almost the same pace. A long conversation down the other side. Nice man, but a big talker.
At the Marie Lakes trail junction I sit to soak my feet, and get some water. A mule train comes toward the crossing. Cool. I think as I ready my camera. Splash!!! Icy cold water rains down on me. At first I am shocked and quickly dry my phone off, then I realize what a treat it is to be in the splash zone. Live in the splash zone, I think. Enjoy the unexpected. A young man and woman walk up. They are finishing their north bound JMT hike. His face glows as he talks about it. I understand that look and we exchange silent kindred souls smiles. He has the hiking bug. I have the hiking bug and we both know it.
Thousand Island Lake as pretty as ever. The granite, the water, the steely grey skies overhead.
I quickly put my sleeping clothes and sleeping bag on the bush in the photo to dry a bit. I make myself a protein shake and get ready to settle down for a meditative sit and the sky starts rumbling. Oh boy, here it comes. A young day hiking woman sits down near me and asks questions about what to do in lightening and I give her the lowdown and wish her well. I pack up my stuff and then head on up the trail as light rain begins to fall. No swim today.
I hike past lovely Emerald Lake, then Ruby. I love the blue color of Ruby. Pure. The rain begins to fall in earnest, but thankfully the rumbling is far away. I see no flashes . I put on my rain gear and pack cover and hike on towards Garnet Lake. I get a bit more water at Garnet and eat some trail mix before heading on. The trail seems deserted and my feet just skim across the trail. Magical place this is. I think about my first hike on this foot path and miss my husband. We had a lot of fun. I am having a lot of fun this time alone too. It is just different. I feel slightly ethereal. Here but not here. Thinking. My thoughts roll around like pebbles at the sea.
Hiking down into the Shadow Creek drainage, Tony from yesterday passes me. I ask him where he is camping and if I can join him as I am starting to feel a little alone out here and don't want to camp alone. As he quickly moves on with a bounce in his step, I fall. Hard onto my right knee. It bleeds, but seems okay. Onward I hike to Rosalie Lake, my camping spot for the night. When I reach the creek, it is beautiful in sight and sound. The water sings and dances its way down the channel. I meet 3 young Austrian men who want to know how far it is to Garnet Lake. We chat as best we can. Only one seems to understand English.
I am now at Rosalie Lake sitting on a large rock overlooking the water enjoying the view and sending out an Inreach message . Strangely enough, my knee seems fine, but my ankle is throbbing. I must have rolled it when I fell. Tony is here and the young Japanese hiker who passed me this morning. I think I hiked pretty far, but I'm not checking mileage. I'm just walking. Smelling the flowers along the way. I made sure not to pass anyone today. I'm trying to tame my competitive nature. There is no need for that here.
Had a great day hiking. Currently camped at upper Lyell Base camp with a whole bunch of women.
Lovely Lyell canyon is a joy to walk up. I meet a ranger and my permit and bear canister get checked. I pass a young man named Jordan and Tony from Washington. They both seem nice, maybe I will see them again. I pass Rachel and Arthur that I met yesterday in line. They are already injured and limping slightly. I wonder how they will make it. I take a leisurely 1 hour lunch break and wash off in the Tuolumne River and dry my gear and send my husband the, "I am at lunch" message on our inreach device. I told him I would try and send out a morning, noon and night message, but not to expect all three. This solo hike is especially hard on him. It is always harder on the one who stays home, isn't it?
The clouds are starting to boil up, so it looks like some thunderstorms are coming. I hike on enjoying each step. It begins to sprinkle. Then thunder and rain. I put rain gear on and the pack cover and enjoy the cool. Lightening flashes. I count to 7, I don't think that's too close. Right? I'm always under a cover of trees anyways, so I keep hiking with a few butterflies in my stomach. I pass three grey and grizzled men hiking downhill, their eyes crinkle at the corners when they see me, big smiles split their faces. "Keep going," growls the one in front as they step off the trail for me. Trail etiquette says the one going uphill gets the right away and that's me. I'm climbing now, still with stunted trees around me and granite all around. The meadows of Lyell canyon gone. I meet three ladies from Washington. They are hunkered down on the trail having lunch. We chat. We count the time between flashes and thunder, 5 is the closest they had counted, it is at 6 seconds now, then 7 then 8. The storm is moving away. I hike on wishing I had lady friends that like backpacking. My heart beats loudly as I climb, but it's not too hard a climb. I feel like I was born for this.
Arriving at the bridge over Tuolumne I see a couple people hunkered down in the thick trees, waiting out the storm. I walk over to one older man. Jim from Alaska. We chat and discuss the storm. I move over a bit closer to the river and take some photos and stretch and enjoy the sound of the rain, river and thunder. The storm is really slowing down. I take off up the trail. I just love the endorphins that come from a good climb.
I arrive before 4 pm at my camping spot for the night. The ladies from Washington arrive a bit later and I have sweet leisure time of chatting. There is another woman, named Kit, here as well and a couple from Britain. Kit charms me. She hikes alone a lot. It is hard to guess her age because her face is disfigured with scars, but her elequance and beauty shines out. I wonder her story as I just watch her talk.
The sun comes out chasing the clouds away. It is incredibly beautiful here. I make my dinner of chicken chili and sit on a granite rock all alone to eat with a view of Lyell Glacier. I have a cup of tea. I stretch. So much time till sunset, but after my lovely day yesterday I've decided to not rush, not push my limits too much. I'm not even going to keep track of miles or elevation gain. I'm going to try to savor the hike, to just saunter along, but I have to admit I still enjoy passing people.
I'm 10th in line for the walk up permits and it's only 6:30 am. Crazy. The ranger station doesn't open until 8. I'm 8th in line for the JMT though, so no problem as there are 10 walk up permits issued each day for that trailhead. For future reference the walk up permits work like this. The ranger walks down the line at 8 asking what trailhead you are entering on. If there is space available for that day then you are sent inside where they write your permit. If there isn't space available you can ask to be put on a cancellation list and at 10:30 you will be plucked from the line if there is availability. Their words, not mine. At 11:00 am a ranger gathers all the rest left in the line for next day permits and gives a ranger talk on trail etiquette. I got a gold star. A sticker really. I have a hard time letting his questions bump up against the faces in the crowd. I smile, I answer, I get a cool sticker. I also get a permit for tomorrow.
The line is actually quite fun. I met lots of interesting people and had nice conversations.
I hike out to get a drink at soda springs. Minerals have to be good, right?
There is music and a poetry reading at Parsons lodge. I'm moved. Tears flow. Wow. I didn't expect that. All the poets were great, but Kay Ryan was fantastic, for me today anyways. I wander out afterwards listening to the fiddle music drift across the meadows and I meander around. Looking at the grand stage as well as the tiny things.
All alone. I soak my feet in the water and some prose pops out. Not quite done, not really good, but still fun, restorative.
I hear the deep knock of the fir tree
Amidst the noise of the cheerful sound
of water ripples.
The waters always a stir
Take center stage.
But not deep.
Step back from the noise-
Hear the solitary knock
Of the wood in the wind.
Immobile amidst the flutter
Of winds, rain, clouds and stream.
Slowly changing shape
The same but different?
Here's the rock I was looking at.
I wander back to the backpackers camp at peace. It feels like I just had some satisfying love making and I suppose I did.
After a long, long, drive in horrible traffic, 11 hours total, when it should have been 9, I arrive in Tuolumne Meadows under gray, steely light. Pieces of granite shine in the light of the setting sun. I think to stop and take a photo, but press on, stopping to only clean out the food garbage from my car at the store and grab a banana and an apple for dinner. I can't find a place to park. Not one spot. I eventually do at the end of the dirt road that leads to the trail to Soda Springs. It's deserted. Just the kind of place solo women should avoid. Near a highway and no people. I hike into the backpackers camp under a sprinkle. I know this place. The camp is full, but some young guys say I can camp near their spot. I fumble with the new tent. I should have practiced. I feel ridiculous. I drop clothes in the dirt. Then my hat. I've never done this alone before. My hands shake. I feel warm. Anxiety. A panic attack sinks its claws in. What am I doing?
Sleeping. I'm getting ready to sleep. I ignore the monster causing my heart to race and my head to spin and he leaves. I'm no fun. I don't let him really bother me anymore. People stomp by. I'm really questioning my ability to do this solo thing though. I think I bit off more than I can chew.
Voices from a campfire fill my thoughts and it reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents had friends over and I was sent to bed. Good night.