Day 75: The Last Breath of Familiarity

This is the longest day of the entire year. (It’s also Hike Naked Day, but that’s another subject.) I’ve always been highly sensitive to sunlight — I love being out in it, need lots of natural light even when indoors, and rue the decreasing daylight hours in fall. Every winter, I think: next year, I want to spend as much of the time outdoors as possible in the summer — to soak up every bit of daylight that I can. Well, what better way to do that than out here? We’re outside all the time, for all practical purposes. Even now, as I lie in the tent writing with the sky still plenty light, I can tell I’m out in it. It feels wonderful to experience nature this way — the way humans have for nearly their entire existence. It feels like the way things should be.

Ironically, I’m also trying to get to sleep as early as possible…because I didn’t get much sleep last night at all. I remember thinking as I went to bed: is it going to be the wind, or the mosquitoes? Our campsite on the edge of a ridge, while spectacular, had both mosquitoes buzzing around and some impressive gusts of wind. Well, several hours later, I had my answer: after spending half the night waking up constantly because of how much noise the wind made when it hit the tarp (and concern for the structural integrity of the tarp), we arose at 1:00 AM and took it down. We fell back asleep in our sleeping bags underneath a limp net tent (to protect us from the still-present mosquitoes), which was a great improvement, but not enough to salvage the night of sleep. I’ve found that being short on sleep is probably the single fastest way to make hiking miserable for me — hence my desire to get as much of it tonight as humanly possible.

In a way, today felt like saying goodbye: it was our last day of hiking on the John Muir Trail, across all sorts of familiar terrain — passes, canyons, rivers, meadows, you name it. While I won’t pretend to remember every last mile of the JMT, so many places out here do either ring a bell or seem incredibly familiar. It’s at once wonderful and something I’m looking forward to leaving behind: I loved these places, love them still, because they’re some of the most spectacular scenery in the entire world. On the other hand, I’m looking forward very much to seeing things that are completely new to us, too. Only six miles, and a resupply stop at Tuolumne Meadows, sits between us and things that are completely new. It’s exciting!

The terrain is also getting easier, too. Passes used to be “easy” at 2,000 feet of climbing, “hard” at 3,000 feet, and “crazy” at 4,000 feet. Now, even the worst ones are barely over 1,500 feet. The trail is still often rocky and steep, which makes for slow going, but this happens quite a bit less often than it used to, and we’re slowly getting more trail across soft dirt — which is where we can really move. I’m conscious of the fact that, soon enough, we’ll need to really move. It’s in northern California (still several hundred miles away, by a PCT definition of “northern California”) and Oregon that most through-hikers really make their miles during the trip. We’re not there yet (nor do we have to be), but we’re conscious of it already and thinking about how to scale up.

Tonight, we’re falling asleep here in Lyell Canyon, next to gently rushing water, across from a beautiful meadow. Sometimes I write these entries and feel like my words utterly fail to capture what it’s like to be out here — and this is one of those times. I know so many of you have wonderful beds, wonderful places to fall asleep tonight, and nearly all of you will wake up tomorrow to breakfast of pretty-much-whatever-you-want from a fridge (or shall we go out today?). I’m jealous of that plenty of the time; the deprivations of the trail are very real, and I look forward to the day when I can have those things again. Yet, right now, being here…I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

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2 responses to “Day 75: The Last Breath of Familiarity”

  1. John Margan Avatar

    Your photos are awesome ! I wish I was there with you guys or in the vicinity. I cant wait until next April when Ashleys dad out myself come out to San Francisco. We will make it a point to hike yet another area of the PCT. You will have to tell us where we should go. But please, no bears….just kidding.
    Keep up the good work, keep having fun and keep the emails and photos coming.

    When do you think you will complete the PCT ?

    Take care

    John Margan
    PO Box 56
    Kinderhook NY 12106
    Birth place of Martin Van Buren 8th President of the United States (right next to my house)

  2. […] first time made me feel a whole lot worse, even though it was completely invisible to people. Just before getting to Tuolumne Meadows, I took a tumble and landed on top of my camera, on my side. The camera was OK (completely […]

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