*The following reflections were written in my Rite in the Rain while on the John Muir Trail.
Andy and I are in our tent that we received as a wedding present seven years ago. This tent has seen many places and now it will go 200 miles on the John Muir Trail. This morning we flew out of Albany at 6 am. Two connections and three planes later we arrived in Reno, Nevada around 1 pm. Tim, Henry, Karla and Josh picked us up from the airport, we pit stopped for some food and got to Yosemite by 4:30 pm. After dinner, I went for a short hike up a granite dome near camp, lay on the shoulder and watched the sunset. A crescent moon shone in the distance. This land of meadows, rivers and granite rock is stunning and inspiring. The trail reminds me to take one day at a time. All we have is the present moment. The Sun. The Rock. The Moon.
Day 1, 8/15
Our first morning broke cold and clear. I enjoyed a good night’s sleep and my body was excited to get on trail. A group of six, we started in Yosemite Tuolume Meadows. Wildfires are raging in California, some not too far away. The air is a bit hazy and you can catch a whiff of smoke every now and then. The first stretch of trail was flat and gentle. Red currants grew along the trail and I saw signs of horse travel in the dusty soil. We followed a clear river and then we began to gain some serious elevation and went through a stunning pass. I love the mountains, ridges, and switchbacks. Josh and Karla are a young recently married couple that live in a tiny house. They’re on their honeymoon. Both are warm and outgoing. Karla has trail experience, thru-hiking the Appalachian trail, while Josh describes himself as a novice. Henry is Tim’s thirteen year old son and though he’s the youngest in the group, he’s far from novice and covers the rugged terrain with ease and without complaint. This kid has been going on adventures since he could walk. And he’s going to be joining us on the Aconcagua expedition.
My favorite part of the day was at the top of Donahue pass. At 11,056 feet, the sky darkened and a few drops of rain pelted down. Pink thunderheads rose in the far distance and I shivered. This is what it feels like to be alive.
Day 2: 8/16
I think Andy and I might be short on food. My mistake—I miscalculated. Pretty much forgetting to multiply our breakfast, lunch and snack calories by two. So, we have enough food for one person for 11 days. Though the JMT is very remote, there are options for us to resupply. This morning we said goodbye to Josh and Karla, who are taking more time to hike the trail. Tim, Henry, Andy and I put in 18 miles. We did riddles in the afternoon to help pass the time and distract the mind from bodily discomforts. Camp tonight is by a river. I’m lying in the sun and watching small trout catch their dinner. How quickly the rest of the world can fall away.
Day 3, 8/17
Up at 6 and on trail by 7. Systems are falling into place and I enjoy the morning routine of camp life. I think of my home in Keene and I do not miss it—nor my bed where I cannot see the stars. Last night we drew names and murder weapons for a round of Assassins. The game sounds way more sinister than it is. Everyone gets assigned a person “to kill” and an object to do it with. For example, I drew Tim and Hat. The kill has to be a clean hand off of the object to the person. During our lunch break, I searched for a way to causally give Tim a hat, but then when we were refilling water bottles he handed me a water bottle and killed me. I didn’t see it coming and was the first one out. I reshuffled the names and objects and soft spoken Henry went on to kill Andy and his father to become the first Assassins victor.
Camping near a beautiful blue lake tonight. My favorite campsite so far. The water was so cold it gives you brain freeze. Certainly refreshing.
Day 4: 8/18
“To endure the exertion, the loneliness, the exhaustion.” Reinhold Messner Reading Everest without Oxygen at night. It’s powerful to go into the unknown, face it and understand it. We had another 18 mile day. I love the coolness of the morning. 11 am – 2 pm gets pretty hot and it’s harder for me to push through mentally. The terrain is very dry and exposed. At lunch, I drenched my shirt in the river and lay under a pine tree. On trail we talked about God, superheros, voodoo, and life emerging from a pond. Out here, I’m constantly reminded that there is something bigger than us and the creator or forces that created us do not need a name or justification. The day finished off with a flat section down to a river. After our water run and dinner we played 21. Laughing and betting with rocks and sticks.
Day 5: 8/19
FOOD RESUPPLY! John Muir Ranch has saved us! I felt like a black bear raiding a campsite. Grabbing jars of peanut butter and bags of trail mix from the 5 gallon pails. This is a resupply point for hikers on the JMT and Pacific Crest Trail. And because of pack weight and dialed trail systems, lots of hikers will leave extra food and exchange items. There are also bins of books and gear. You could practically get everything you need from this very awesome station. Note to self: Measure out food for Aconcagua, label bags, Day 1, Day 2… etc. Create specific food plan and don’t “guesstimate.”
Day 6: 8/20
Big day going over John Muir Pass. Morning began hiking up a stunning valley and forging through a river. In the afternoon, Henry had energy blocks with caffeine and was practically running down trail. We sang, “Don’t stop believing,” and around our 20th mile of the day, he suggested we keep hiking through the night. Andy shook his head. “Wish I had that kid’s energy.” A few miles later, we found a nice campsite by another beautiful river. We’re more than 100 miles and halfway through the JMT. I’m thankful for all around me.
Part II to follow!