Day 72: A Gentler Kind of Beauty

Every time we leave a hotel, I feel like I just want to stay in bed for hours longer and continue eating at restaurants and sleeping in a real bed. Yet once I’m hiking for even a half-hour, I get excited to be back on the trail, outdoors, and look forward to sleeping in our tent somewhere Out There that evening. It’s remarkable how fast that transition happens, and probably part of the evidence that I really do like doing this crazy thing that we’re doing, down deep.

As we’ve moved from the southern half of the John Muir Trail to the northern half, just as I remembered, the trail gets no less beautiful, but a different, gentler, less rugged kind of beauty. Our spectacular, craggy mountaintops with passes thousands of feet above treeline have been replaced by passes that still have trees on them and are much easier; the snowfields have grown from vast expanses blocking our path to small, easily-avoided piles of snow in the shade that are fun rather than difficult; and the miles of picking our way among giant rocks have turned into miles of walking through green, wooded forests with babbling streams and flowers. No one side is any better or worse, but it certainly is different, and I’m glad to be part of it.

My feet and legs are glad, too, because it means the hiking is considerably easier. Even though we’re still ascending and descending like crazy, which is still aerobically plenty tough, the trail surface itself tends more towards actual dirt that’s graded, rather than countless rocks and giant steps. This makes a huge difference in speed and in comfort, as you don’t have to spend all your mental energy just trying to pick steps that won’t make you fall down.

This isn’t always true, though, as you can see from one of the photos above. Part of the ascent towards Silver Pass today was relentlessly steep, and the trail crews had made nothing short of a giant staircase made of rock for us to climb up. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but the steps out here aren’t exactly small, either: many of them are two feet high, and some are even up to Bucket’s mid-thigh. Getting up even one step like that is a major effort, and dozens of them in a row is quite exhausting. We’ll be glad when those are all done, and, as we proceed north, we imagine we’ll run into fewer and fewer of those.

Once we crossed Silver Pass today, we had another fun trail marker of our progress: by my calculations, we’ve now completed more than a third of the Pacific Crest Trail! As fun as that is, it’s also kind of amazing, because we’ve been hiking for two and a half months, or nearly so, and we still have twice that far to go. It’s intimidating and yet exciting, all at once. This time, too, nobody had made a sign for ⅓ of the way yet, so I got to build one with white rocks off to the side of the trail myself. Hopefully it’ll stick around for a while — this is a long way we’ve come!

This evening, as we found a campsite, we also encountered by far the most yet of one particular kind of wildlife, and it isn’t a kind we like very much: mosquitoes. Before this, it’s largely been too early in the year and/or too dry for us to even have to think about the nasty creatures, but there were literally swarms of them where we stopped tonight. I broke out my (extremely fashionable) headnet the moment we stopped to camp, as well as my raingear for its protective abilities. Fetching water was an exercise in sheer trust in my gear, because I could see hundreds of the nasty critters flying around, desperately trying to get to my blood. Fortunately, I think I largely escaped getting bitten very much. I’m hoping so, because I fully expect the mosquitoes to get worse, not better, and to be with us for a long time now as we continue our journey northward. I suppose it’s just another hazard of the trail: we don’t have to worry about water now…so we have to worry about mosquitoes instead. Oh, well.

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