Day 18– July 21, 2014
I never did eat any of those cookies. Those lovely cookies that Aidan ended up smashing with his feet to get them into the bucket to send to Muir Trail Ranch. Those lovely smashed Joe-Joe’s Gluten Free cookies that ended up, according to Aidan, “flavored with peppermint soap, cheese vomit, and a little hint of the plastic bear canister”. I was a little sad, but he said I wasn’t missing anything.
We woke up late. 6:40am. We’d slept for twelve hours, even after hours of napping yesterday. We had nearly thirteen miles to get out of here. Thirteen miles to help. It was a little scary to look at Aidan. He had a desperation in his eyes and said he needed medication immediately. But I saw determination too. He’s a strong man, and he was certain we’d get out today. “We’ll see,” I said. We agreed that I get to decide whether or not it is safe to continue. I was willing to make him stop if we needed to, but it would be hard for me too, considering how badly I wanted to get out of here to get him some help.
He was weak and I was frightened. He was wasting away before my eyes. He was a trooper. I smiled at him. We got this.
You know those based-on-a-true-story shows you see on TV? The ones that start with the guy’s voice all low and he says, “The first in a series of what proved to be nearly fatal errors…”? That’s what this felt like. Day after Day.
We hiked slowly, stopping less frequently than I expected. The grade over Bishop Pass was really hard, but it was manageable. We plodded slowly along. Left foot…right foot…repeat. We crossed some streams, and I chatted about this and that as we zig-zagged up the mountain.
Ranger Matt caught up to us. He’d thought about every aspect of our situation and wanted us to know that he felt we hadn’t done anything wrong. We’d been so careful with our planning, and so meticulous about everything…it’s just that sometimes bad stuff happens. He thought we’d done the best we could with our circumstances. We thanked him. It made me feel a little better.
We finally got up to Dusy Basin. Aidan needed food. We stopped. He crammed Frito crumbs into his mouth and told me he could finally smell how badly I smelled. I apologized. He laughed a little, “I don’t care, though. You could roll in pig shit and sit next to me, and that would be fine because I have bigger things to worry about now.”
When he felt a little stronger, we crawled on. He asked me to talk to him. About everything. About anything. As long as it was about something other than sickness. So I did. I talked about each dog I ever had. I told him stories of every one of my aunts and uncles, each cousin and their spouses, stories from my childhood. I talked for hours. “Happy Chattering Noises,” he called it. Once in a while he’d stop me to tell me I’d told a story out of order or started talking about someone else prematurely. I’d regroup and start over, smiling behind his back.
He kept going. He was trying so hard. I was so proud of him.
The scenery was some of the most spectacular we’d seen on the trip. Unbelievably, we made it to the top of Bishop Pass, just as I ran out of cousins to talk about. I looked at the sign…another storm beginning to brew behind us. Aidan impressed me over and over again. Such tenacity. Such determination. I was amazed. He powered through his exhaustion to get over that mountain. Then he powered on to get down the other side.
He wasn’t looking so good, though. He was still wasting away before my eyes, thinner by the hour. I hit the SPOT locator for the third time. I wanted my parents and friends to know we were still okay. We were going to make it out. I really wanted this to be true.
I wished I could call my parents. We still had no cell service. I hoped that at the bottom there would be a campground and we’d be able to get a ride. We stopped more often. Aidan was so exhausted, but he mustered up energy from somewhere deep inside his soul and we traveled on. And on. And on. He was a little shaky on his feet.
Where was the bottom of this thing? We passed beautiful little lakes and stunning mountain scenery. It went on and on. And on. Around every corner, I expected to see a parking lot. No luck.
It was getting dark. And then… The parking lot. Civilization.
WE MADE IT.
…but there were no people. Lots and lots of cars and not a soul to be seen. Were they all backpacking? Where were they?
I hit the SPOT again. I took photos of the last evening light on top of the mountains of the Range of Light. Goodbye, Range of Light. Aidan used the restroom. Still no humans anywhere. We retracted our hiking poles and put them in our packs. Looked around, and then just started walking down the road. We held hands. We looked around at a boarded-up bait shop. No humans.
We thought we saw what might be a campground ahead so we started walking down the road. Worse case scenario, it looked like there was an intersection a few miles away. We’d hit the campground and see if we could pay someone to take us into Bishop.
It felt strange, walking on pavement. We had no cell service. We weren’t sure how far we were from anything. We’d only walked a few minutes when we saw headlights coming toward us. We decided to flag them down.
The vehicle came closer. It was a truck. It came a little closer. I saw the license plates.
It was my parents.
“Oh My God! It’s My Parents!” I fell to my knees on the pavement and put my hands to my mouth. I cried out with relief.
The truck stopped and my Mom ran out to meet me. She gathered me into her arms, kissing my face. Aidan was hugging my Dad and grinning ear to ear. I babbled between sobs. “Sick…Aidan…hospital…so difficult…so grateful you are here…thank you…never backpacking again…the JMT hates us…”
My Mom just held me and held me and then said, “Honey, I didn’t understand a thing you just said. You should go put your stuff in the truck now.”
It was right out of a movie. It was the perfect ending to a terrible, terrible movie. We put our packs in the truck and climbed in. Completely surreal. Mom handed each of us a Gatorade and lightly salted rice cakes. I watched my grimy hand reach out to take it – all shiny and plastic-y and clean and perfect. Our rescue wagon. Our heroes.
Stories started spilling out of us, jumbled together, racked by both sobs and laughter. I cried and chewed and talked. Then I realized just how far we were still away from Bishop. We were around twenty miles from town. I knew without them we would’ve been screwed. We were so, so far away.
They took us to a hotel. Aidan wanted more than anything to be clean and eat uncontaminated food. I used three little bottles of shampoo on my hair. The water black bubbles around my feet. I couldn’t believe this was happening. “Of course we came,” Mom had said, “The Ranger told us where you’d be, so we came to get you.” Just like that. Like it was the easiest thing in the world. Like it made the most sense.
Mom and Dad gave us some of their clothes to wear. They were too big. We were so grateful. We went to Denny’s. Always Open. It was 9:30pm. We hadn’t been up that late in weeks. I ordered a t-bone steak, eggs, hash browns, a side of fries with ranch and a strawberry lemonade. The waiter knew from my order we were hikers. Said he gets a lot of us.
Aidan was too tired to deal with the hospital. Just wanted to sleep first. Okay. Whatever you need is fine.
Back at the hotel, we hugged each other, high on our good fortune. We are so lucky to have such loving people in our lives.
I lay down, queasy, in cool clean sheets. Got up. Vomited. Tried to drink a beer. Cried. Slept.
It was over, but it wasn’t, too.
Odometer Reading: 177.3 miles – total actual/accurate trip mileage: 180.2
Miles today: 12.8
Camped: La Quinta Inns in Bishop, CA – elevation 9,741
Today’s Key to Success: The Tenacity of an Amazing Husband, and the Most Phenomenal People on the Planet