Day 11 – July 14, 2014
Odometer Reading: 111 miles
Miles today: 9
Camped: Muir Trail Ranch Backpacker’s Campground – elevation 7,600
Today’s Key to Success: Hot Springs
The muted morning light pulled me from a dream. That, and I had to pee super bad. I prepared myself, blasted out of the tent, and bailed a hundred miles an hour to the nearest pee spot. I got bit thirty times on my butt and the inside of my thighs while I peed. I swatted like a madwoman, trying not to pee on my shoe with all the violent commotion. I thought, ‘I don’t have enough hands to pee’, and then I thought, ‘That was a weird thought’. I ran and dove back in the tent. I made it ahead of the swarm, but just barely. About ten made it inside. The cloud of mosquitoes slammed into the side of the tent just as I zipped the screen closed. A thwarted meal. They screamed with frustration. My adrenaline was pumping.
Deep discussion ensued about the best way to smash them. “You have to sneak up on them slowly. Like this,” Aidan slowly moved his finger toward one that was hanging out on the tent, “and then you just push.” He squashed it against the screen. “See?”
I scratched my butt and opened a bear canister. We had to go out again eventually, but eating in the tent instead of cooking sounded like a good move. We ate some food. We decided to hold off on coffee-making until we got down the trail a bit and out of the swarm. We ate some more items.
“I can’t take it. This has to be done.” Aidan slipped into his mosquito combat gear and took a deep breath. “I gotta have my coffee.”
Don’t do it. It’s too dangerous. But then I knew he was right. I needed my coffee too. He was a good man, putting himself in danger for the sake of his family.
I stayed in the tent, packing our stuff and listening to my husband swear. I picked up a great big old black ant and put him back outside where he belonged. I poked the sleeping bags into a stuff sack and watched a daddy long legs wander around on top of the tent. Humming birds hummed around. I never knew the Sierras were so packed with hummingbirds. So cool.
We’d passed the 100 mile mark late last night. We wanted to make a “100” out of pine cones in the dirt and take a photo of us next to it. But the mosquitoes were too bad and besides I was too worried about Aidan. We supposed we’d do it later that day.
Still no blisters on our feet. Aidan had been using a Blister Defense Stick every day. He smears it all over his feet and between his toes before he puts his socks on. He loves it. He calls it his sugar stick.
Aidan had a heat hangover. He was still feeling off. We had to take a break at 7:45 after walking for only 15 minutes.
My phone was dead. My crappy charger was busy not working. I couldn’t even take any photos. I wanted to get to Muir Trail Ranch (“MTR”) as fast as possible and charge it up again. I felt like we needed to hustle. We were picking up our resupply, and we were nervous about it. We’d put the same cheese in this resupply as the last, and I wanted to know how bad it was.
I made Aidan drink an electrolyte drink. He didn’t fuss. Then he felt a little better.
We got to the top of a climb and stopped for a snack. I was irritable. I was worried about getting to MTR in time. Aidan reminded me that we were on vacation. I still felt like eating and walking and never ever stopping was completely reasonable. Aidan sat down for a snack. I sat down too.
We skated past Heart Lake and Sallie Keyes Lakes. Sallie Keyes was my favorite place so far. Everything about it was perfect. I’m gonna hang out there for a couple of years after I die.
I felt crushed for time. When several people travel together, it can be much slower than traveling alone. Every time one of us had to stop to pee, I’d get frustrated that we were stopping too much. Aidan and I made a deal. If one person had to pee, we’d both pee to cut down on future stop time. We shook on it.
Flies were bad, and they were biting. Hard.
I looked at my dead phone and wondered how long it was going to be until the face of a cell phone would also be a solar charger.
We finally got to the cutoff for MTR. The trail got really, really rough, and headed nearly straight downhill.
We came through a gate on the ranch. We were given a tour of the backpacker area. Where to find the charging station, where to sort our goods, where the little store was, and the hiker buckets. Oh, the hiker buckets! We plugged in electronics and signed for our resupply. Aidan asked if there was a place to wash his hands. He was denied. Couldn’t wash your hands unless you had advance reservations to rent a room there.
We went into the little store. They charged $10 for 15 minutes of internet time. It wasn’t worth it. Aidan found some star spangled gaiters to keep the rocks out of his shoes. He was Captain America, my Superhero.
We took a deep breath, cut the tape on the bucket, looked at one another, and pulled the top off. The stench hit us like a brick. Right in the face. We gagged and put down the bucket. Walked away for a minute to pull ourselves together. Took some deep breaths and went back to try again. There were buckets at MTR for food to be burned, and plastic to be recycled. A woman stood nearby to instruct people to remove food from its plastic, separating the two properly. I had no gloves. I grabbed the cheese and ran for the burn bucket. I gagged and measured myself, trying not to vomit. I opened the plastic and dug my bare hand into the rotting ooze, smearing it off the plastic into the bucket. I was being watched. I dumped the plastic in the other bucket. There was no water. Nowhere to wash my hands.
The hiker buckets. There were probably twenty hiker buckets, filled with stuff other hikers discarded. Good stuff, free for the taking. Aidan dug through some of them and found some wet wipes. He gave them to me. I wiped my hands. The cheese was under my fingernails, glued to my cuticles. I couldn’t get it all off.
We pulled bags of food out of our resupply. Cheese vomit everywhere. Covering everything. Other hikers started complaining about the smell. We didn’t know what to do. I tried using the wet wipes, smearing the cheese off the baggies. What a disgusting mess. Disaster. I’d gone through almost the whole pack of wet wipes, and I wasn’t a quarter of the way through our food. It wasn’t helping anyway. It was in the crevices of every pop tart package, in the nooks and crannies of the top of every Ziploc baggie. I’d never looked at a Ziploc to realize just how intricate they were. It was in the folds of everything.
As we moved through the food, we had to throw away more. Corn tortillas – moldy. I used bare hands to pull them out of their packaging. I looked at my hands. Aidan handed me the salami. The ends were green. I pulled it out and re-opened the burn bin. The bin was almost full. I pushed the salami into the soft, oozing cheese. Bile boiled up into my mouth. I turned my head away. Put the plastic bag in the recycle bin. I was watched.
Mortified. Other hikers were moving away, moving their stuff to other tables.
I thought about it for a minute. If we could just get all this stuff to a campsite, I could mix some soap and water in a bear can and wash each baggie. We talked about it and then started loading our stuff into our Loksak Opsak bag. It was an odor proof, giant plastic bag that we had along to use at night in case we had extra things which smelled and couldn’t fit in our bear cans. We’d been using it for chapstick and sunscreen and the Powerade bottle that we used for electrolyte drinks. Now we used it to hold a crap-load of contaminated food.
I gritted my teeth. I’d never been so embarrassed. My shame overwhelmed me. If this had happened when we were alone, that would’ve been one thing, but in front of all these people? It was almost unbearable. We had to get out of there. For my own sanity.
We strapped this giant bag of nightmarish food to the top of my pack.
Aidan went through the hiker buckets again. We didn’t have enough food. We’d thrown too much away. He found some sausage, cheese, a KitKat Bar, Parmesan, hot chocolate, Toblerone, Ritz crackers, and some Starbucks Via, zinc oxide sunscreen, and a new chapstick. It all looked okay. He pushed it in a bear can. It was almost 5pm – the hour MTR kicks out all hikers. We wanted to get the hell out of there. We also knew we needed a campsite, and soon. If all these hikers left at 5pm, we may not have a campsite at all. We’d be crowded out.
If we went over the hill and down to the river, we could cross and find a camp on the other side. Plus, there were hot springs over there. That sounded like heaven. After all we’d been through, we desperately needed something nice. And some serious privacy. We needed to deal with all this “food”.
I grabbed the electronics. They were not charged. I didn’t care anymore.
I pulled my pack onto my knee. Pushed my arms through the straps. Swung it onto my back. Leaned forward. Clipped my waist belt. Stood up…and almost fell over backward. This was not how you pack a pack, but I knew I didn’t have to go far. I just needed to leave. Immediately.
We hiked up the hill and were stopped by a Ranger wanting to check our permit. Get me the *f* out of here! We took off our packs. Aidan pulled out the permit. It was almost 5pm. Did they wait here every day to try to bust every single hiker leaving MTR at 5pm, or did I just hate the whole planet? Hikers backed up behind us, pulling out permits and grumbling. We finally got moving again. We crossed the river uneventfully and found a large, private site. We dumped food in a giant pile. I mixed up some soapy water and set about cleaning every baggie of food. Periodically I’d take a break and leave camp to breathe and practice keeping my lunch down. Aidan read his Kindle about the next day’s journey and ate his clean Toberlone and Ritz crackers.
I looked at my gluten-free Joe-Joes’ cookies. Smashed by Aidan’s feet way back when, specifically to fit in that ill-fated resupply bucket. I’d been so sad that the cookies had to be smashed, and now they wore a cheese vomit coat. I washed and re-washed the baggie. I saw a dark stain spread on the inside. There were holes in the baggie. Now it was covered in cheese vomit and biodegradable soap. I set it down and looked at it. Sad beyond words.
I carefully lay each baggie out to dry.
Aidan The Optimist: “It’s peppermint soap. Now we have peppermint chocolate cookies!” My despair was complete.
Aidan re-packed our food in the bear cans and dragged me off to find the natural hot springs. We found them in a large and beautiful meadow. A log or two lay across the pools to help folks get in and out. They seemed a little sketchy to me. Aidan crawled in one, went underwater a few times, and insisted they were fine. I reluctantly slipped in. They had a mud bottom that seemed a little bottom-less. Reminiscent of quick sand. I held the cross log with both arms. Aidan wanted me to relax. I tried to comply. I put my head back and scrubbed my scalp.
Feeling more confident about the pools, we jumped out of that one and ran across the meadow. We were little kids, full of laughs, jumping and hopping, wet and happy and kind of clean. We leaped into another, this one with a stone bottom. It felt better than the first. We floated and hugged and took selfies, despair temporarily replaced by a moment of bliss.
We got out of the pools and headed back to camp. We met our neighbors on the way back. Ben and his wife Judy, and Ben’s little sister Sarah. They were amazing. So much fun we didn’t want to leave. We stood there, dripping wet and fully entertained by their back and forth. We hoped to be with them much, much more. They were our people.
We got back to camp and hopped straight in the tent, happy with our new friends and a happy end to a most disastrous day.
I marveled at how much emotion a day can hold. I marveled, and thought, and slipped into a dreamless sleep.