Day 76: Back Into the Unknown

Today we launched ourselves back out onto new trail, leaving behind all we knew of the John Muir Trail for all those points Further North. It’s exciting to be onwards to new things. (Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it: since yesterday midday, we’re now in Yosemite National Park…which, judging by the crowds here, every single person on Earth has visited at least once, you included!)

It was also a day of respite and resupply, at least in the middle of the day. After hiking six miles to Tuolumne Meadows (which, today, meant hiking from 6:30 AM–9:00 AM), we got a chance to have breakfast at the small grill there…and then pick up our packages. This was exciting because we had not only a resupply bucket with food, but new shoes for me, new pants for me, and lenses for her iPhone for Bucket.

My new pants are the product of a revelation: although light-colored clothing may be great at keeping you cool, on the trail, it looks dirty really, really fast. As I’ve mentioned before, my “homeless Jesus” look wasn’t really what I was going for, so the pants are just a darker color of what I had before. (After all, I can’t really change something I’m named for!)

The shoes, on the other hand…well, that’s a whole tale. Here’s the short(-ish) version: the Brooks Cascadia has been an incredibly popular PCT shoe for years, as they came out with revision after yearly revision. My 9s (as in, ninth-generation) acquitted themselves really well up until Lake Isabella, when the “Cascadia holes”, which had recently developed, got quite large. However, since the 9s were no longer available on Zappos, I ordered the new generation, the 10s.

Big, big, big mistake, as it turns out. Trail chatter has it that the 10s are defective in design, and, I gotta say, that seems exactly right. While it took my 9s almost five hundred miles to develop holes, the 10s had small holes in them within a hundred and twenty miles…and huge holes within 250. Given that running shoes are supposed to last 400–500 miles, that is, frankly, ridiculous.

I’d heard tales of people calling up Brooks and fighting with them for ages about it, only to get a free pair of the 10s — yes, the same defective shoes — sent to them. So, instead, I emailed Zappos. You know what their response was? “Oh, we’re so sorry, that’s unacceptable. Just send them back, even used, and we’ll refund all your money. Oh, and here’s a $20 gift certificate for your trouble.” Um, OK! And then: “Your prepaid UPS shipping label is awesome, but I’m hiking the PCT and only have access to a Post Office. Got a postal address I can send them to?” “Oh…in that case, never mind, we’ll just refund your money anyway and you can keep the shoes and do anything you like with them.” From now on, I’m ordering from Zappos whenever I possibly can. Amazing.

Anyway, that’s how I ended up with a brand-new pair of my good ol’ trusty shoe, the Brooks Cascadia 9, at Tuolumne Meadows. I’m excited for many reasons, not the least of which is that I now won’t have sand in my shoe for eighteen miles each day because it just comes directly in through the enormous hole in front.

The Tuolumne Meadows Post Office, where we picked all this stuff up, is quite a spectacle unto itself, too. It’s a tiny, tiny little place — really, just a curtained-off corner of the “general store” there — that’s stacked literally floor-to-ceiling with hiker packages, every single one with a giant last name marked in Sharpie on one side. There easily are three hundred packages there, just waiting to be picked up; I’m not even sure if that PO actually does anything other than General Delivery (i.e., “hold for pickup”). Every hour, someone comes out with a clipboard to where all the hikers come out and takes down last names of everybody waiting for a package. On the next hour, they come out with a giant cart full of boxes for those people and ring a bell…”come and get ’em!”. You listen to a bit of a speech about being a good PCT citizen (how to bury your poop, use bear cans, etc.) from the ranger, and then you get your stuff.

We even got to see how the mail gets delivered there today: some guy drives up in a 15-year-old light-blue Toyota Corolla with boxes filling the trunk and every seat, and carries them one-by-one into the store. Then, a different guy comes out of the store with the outbound boxes on a big cart, accidentally spills half of them into the road, picks them up, and loads the car again. Beautifully-automated UPS, this sure ain’t. But it did get us all our packages, which is what really matters…and it sure was entertaining, too.

After spending about five hours there, all told, including breakfast, lunch, and ice cream, we hit the trail again this afternoon. Heading back off into parts unknown really was exciting, and, so far, the trail has fulfilled every part of that. We’ve been meandering along beside the Tuolumne River all afternoon, which is sometimes a lazy, twisting, slow mountain stream, and other times an incredible waterfall cascading down across plummeting rocks.

We’re camped this evening at Glen Aulin, one of several High Sierra Camps run by Yosemite. We’re actually at the Backpackers’ Campground, which is largely just a lot of flat space with a tap for water, pit toilets, and so on. But the rest of the camp is something straight out of the 1950s: here, six miles into the backcountry, are dozens of wood-and-white-canvas “tent cabins”, along with cooking facilities that serve everyone (although not we backpackers) dinner when they ring a bell. It’s a testament to the changing nature of national parks that this both exists, and yet would never, ever be built now. I’m not quite sure what to make of it — mostly, it’s just amusing, watching all these people camping in relative luxury compared to us.

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One response to “Day 76: Back Into the Unknown”

  1. […] also found out today at Sonora Pass that the fire, which we’d been hearing rumors about since Tuolumne Meadows, was real — but also not remotely threatening the PCT, and we were free to go ahead. A little […]

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