Central California: Sonora Pass to Sierra City

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June 26, 2003.
After yesterday, I awoke depressed, thinking that I had reached the pinnacle. The best that the trail had was behind me, I thought. How could I go forth, knowing what I was leaving? Such thoughts were silly, I assured myself. Who knows what today, or tomorrow, or the next 1600 miles might bring? I just had to be here and let it happen. The trail wound through the forest along the edges of the valley, slowly climbing up one of the confining walls, until it switchbacked steeply up to the top. I was tired already and needed a break. I needed to rid myself of the thermal underwear that I had slept in during the night and left camp still wearing, the cool of the morning making hiking in shorts an unpleasant alternative. The others were around, somewhere, but I needed to be alone. The intensity of the day before had driven me to look inside, and I could not do that with the others around. Since leaving VVR, this had been coming: I needed to separate from the others and reclaim this hike as truly my own. To be by myself during the day and during the night, with only the land and its plants and trees and flowers. With its four legged inhabitants and winged transients, the land would be my companion. If only the others would not be around. Will and Sharon would prove no problem and it was only Glory that I did not know how to deal with. A mature, intelligent person would explain things simply and directly to her, hoping she would understand. But I was afraid. To speak directly to her would hurt her feelings and then mine in the process. Even if it would achieve what I wanted, I was afraid of the consequences. So, I did nothing, hoping that by some miracle a natural separation would occur.

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This was no longer a land to be feared. The snow had disappeared for the most part and the imposing rock and mountains were being replaced with soft forest and gentle slopes. Green abounded and brought a sense of security to me. The beauty of the High Sierra had been imposing and stark: It was not a land to be trifled with and it was constantly making sure that I felt small and insignificant. Almost like dating the Prom Queen, I suppose. This land, however, was nurturing and caring, a place where one could dally or waste away a day with few consequences. The numerous lakes would provide not only fish and swimming, but also a shore to contemplate by. This was a place that I could built a small cabin in and spend a summer doing nothing but walking around, thinking, napping, and writing. It was like dating the quiet girl that was ignored by everyone, yet with only the world to give.

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The trail was easy today, with gentle climbing and descending now that we had left the valley below Wolf Creek Saddle. I was alone and happy, but soon ran into the others. It would soon be afternoon, and that meant a break for a hot lunch. There was no reason to push the others away and a little company during lunch was usually nice. The day had grown warm, but there were numerous places with shade and with water close by. A Russian proverb warns that a donkey will starve to death in front of two equal piles of hay. This rang through my head as we passed perfect spot after perfect spot, all in a search for a perfect spot. Someplace just a little better must be only a few more minutes ahead. It was two in the afternoon before we finally halted, close to a trickle and in the shade, with a view of the surrounding mountains. As always, the sleeping bag, groundcloth, and a few bits of clothes went out into the sun to dry out from the evening's condensation and the morning's sweat. I thought about announcing to the others that after South Lake Tahoe I was going to hike on my own for a while. I looked at my maps instead. What I found disturbed me a little: I had only brought the maps and guidebook sections to get me to South Lake Tahoe and had left those necessary to get to Sierra City, 100 miles further, in my drift box. My drift box was nearing Sierra City, and I would be hiking with only the benefit of the data book, the same as Glory. I became slightly annoyed and then slightly afraid. I thought about Glory, and understood a little more than I did before. I still needed and wanted to be alone, but perhaps I was a bit wiser.

The afternoon brought a darkening to my mood. While the land stretched out as before, the warm feeling from it could not penetrate an iciness that was permeating my body. Glory was close, but not saying anything. We were traveling along, and all I could think of was her and her nearness. I wanted to be alone, but could not hike away from her. She was just too strong. My courage to directly confront her was buckled under, hiding somewhere in my soul and would not come out when I called. I stopped, hoping she might go by. She stopped and sat as well. I stared at my data book, not wanting to talk, and played a childish game of silence. Glory seemed to be talking to me, but all I could do was grunt occasionally. Was this the road? I looked around, and not seeing any road could not believe she was asking this. Will and Sharon moved past and I made motions as if to leave. Glory followed them, assured that I would be along shortly. Instead, I sat back down to get some space, leaving ten minutes later.

Dropping down into a valley and climbing back up the otherside, I was happy again. All my problems seemed to vanish and my heart was contented again. It seemed that the ease of the land was providing the time for my mind and heart to think and be dissatisfied. Yesterday, the excitement and power of the land drove the longing for solitude away. Today, the longing was overpowering at times. Spotting Glory in the forest ahead, I stopped and hid behind a tree, hoping that she had not seen me and would continue forth. Peering around the tree five minutes later, I could see that she had left. My happiness was gone along with my maturity, and I stumbled down the trail in a black mood.

As the trail crossed a small state road, I spotted the three sitting on the other side in the middle of a break. I could not stop. I had to keep going and be alone for just a little longer. I said hello and continued up the other side, climbing along the trail past a parking lot and into the Mokuleme Wilderness. Shortly after the parking lot, a spur trail ran out to an overlook, which I thought the others might pass by. I walked out to the overlook to rest. I sat in the sun, out of sight of the trail, and contemplated the open world around me. Life would be much easier if I could summon some courage every now and then. The warm light felt good upon my skin, and I had no intention of leaving for a while. I heard Glory's foot steps coming up the trail and then heard them nearing me. She came to within ten feet of where I was sitting, but either did not see me or was more perceptive than I was giving her credit for, was better able to read my mood than I had thought. Either way, she retreated and continued down the trail.

Will did make it out all the way to the overlook and I chatted with him a bit, confessing my current state of mind. He understood how I was feeling and pushed on. Sharon was next to come down the overlook trail, and she too understood. We talked for a while about Glory and her empathy helped. Even if I was not strong enough for a confrontation right now, talking with Sharon alleviated some of my pent up frustration and we left the overlook together, talking along the way.

After recovering from being briefly lost, we encountered Will and Glory again. Sharon and Glory started up a conversation, with Sharon walking slowly, helping to separate Glory from me. I was glad beyond words, for I felt that I was near a breaking point with Glory: I needed some space from her, otherwise the tension upon my nerves would have built up to the point where I might lose my temper. Losing my temper would mean saying things that I did not mean, saying things whose only purpose was to wound. I did not want to do that, and Sharon helped rescue me from that fate. I surged out ahead, alone, and at least partially happy. I must not camp with the others tonight. This was a big land, and I could surely find my own place. It was not to be.

In the pink-orange light that so distinguishes an evening in the wilderness, I traversed the open hill side of the Mokuleme, hoping to spot some isolated and small campsite on the hill side. Nothing was to be found, despite my scrambles into various thickets and groves. After my third such attempt, I found that the others had gone by and were now standing on a small ridge, staring at the snowy trail below. The trail dropped from the mountain side that it had been following into a valley and that valley was coated in snow. We would have to camp here, or face another hour of hiking. It was 8 o'clock, and we had already covered more than 30 miles. No, here it would have to be. Will and Sharon set out toward a small pasture on the other side of the trail, while I retreated to check out a flatish looking spot in a thicket on the side of the mountain. I searched and searched, but could find no ground clear enough and flat enough to camp. It was 8:30, and I returned, full of failure. The pasture that Will and Sharon had explored was full of dried cow dung, but it was reasonably flat and there were enough open patches of dirt for everyone to have a little space. I found a slot between two large boulders, out of the wind, and where I could feel at least a little separated. Glory was back up on the ridge cooking a dinner. What was I to do, I thought, when Glory came back down? Instead of doing anything constructive as she returned from cooking and eating, I simply buried my head in my sleeping bag and closed my eyes. An ostrich could not have done any better.

My dour mood continued in the pale morning light that usually brought so much comfort to me. I set out early from our cow-dung campsite, hoping that the stillness of the land would bring about the open heart that might allow me to reach an understanding of what it was that had been eating at me for the past few days. An understanding of that thing that had driven me close to fury the day before. What was it that, truly, that I found disturbing about hiking with Glory that I did not find disturbing with Will and Sharon? Looking inside oneself in a search for understanding is not an easy task, and neither is it a pleasant one. Only so much progress could be made at any one time. Perhaps it was her constant presence that made me lose my feeling of possession of the beauty that I was moving through. That seemed to happen when the others were around as well, though. Perhaps it was something as simple as the noise that her trekking poles made against the rocks along the trail. No, I did not think I was as petty as that. Perhaps it was the need of another human mind for companionship that struck a chord with me. Glory needed and wanted to be with others, whereas Sharon and Will seemed to be more independent. Was it something as simple as seeing a reflection of myself in Glory? Whereas I was striving for an individual hike and plenty of time for thinking, Glory seemed to represent the opposite. She seemed to reflect those things about myself that I was trying to avoid. Her desires were different from mine, and seeing these, perhaps, brought out a fear that I would be drawn to them. I wanted to be self reliant to the greatest extent possible, while she seemed to want to be with others, to share the burden of a wilderness, perhaps. I thought about independence and self reliance and the conflict between individuals within a collective group. My thoughts strayed from the task at hand and roamed to other places, other problems. Within a society, what responsibility did individuals have to the group, and what responsibilities did the group have to the individual? Who made the rules that governed this conduct? Did they come from just a few words on a piece of paper, or were they more natural? I found myself along a mountainside, with Glory nearing. I had to have more time to work things out, but there she was.

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I decided on a simple and childish expedient. Deception, rather than confrontation or tolerance would be my (temporary) salvation. After cresting out on the mountainside, the trail entered a dense forest. I ignored my sense of honesty and stepped ten feet off the trail, hiding behind a large tree. A few minutes later, I heard Glory's footsteps go by. Stepping back onto the trail, it was quiet again and I sat down to take a rest. Will came strolling by and was amused by my trickery. He understood and moved along, walking slowly to let Glory lead ahead. Sharon came by as I was getting up to leave and was unamused with my trickery. She was understanding, but her understanding was complete. She understood my motives, but also my failures. Or, at least, I thought I could read such things in her eyes. My deception gave me more time to think, although I could not regain it in a pure form. Instead I engaged in an internal debate over the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It seemed to fit in the general tone of my morning's thoughts, but was not what I needed to concentrate on. I would have to wait another day to think things through.

At Wolf Creek, I found the other sitting in the sun by the water, beginning to cook a lunch. This would make for a nice lunch spot, I conceded, and moved to join them. My dourness was gone and I was happy again, the morning's contemplation having done me good. In a place as idyllic as this, it was impossible, I thought, not to feel good. My mind had already forgotten yesterday. Up from Wolf Creek, I came through the trees, running out in the open, waving grass, beneath craggy peaks and with distant, snowy mountains on the horizon. Artists and poets, musicians and writers. It would be nice to be able to create art, I thought. To have that talent for expressing emotion and thought in a condensed form. In a form that might be able to express the majesty of the world around us without direct experience of it. On the other hand, I had the direct experience now. I had the end goal of art, and that was a satisfying feeling, even if I could not convey it to others without the experience.

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Running along the side of a mountain, as the trail seemed to prefer in this region, the expanse of the land lay to my side, always there for a quick look when I wanted. I found Will snapping photos like a madman, impressed and overwhelmed by the lakes and the open air of this section. I understood completely and we chatted about the grand land on the way down to crossing of several dirt roads where we rested. Glory appeared, followed by Sharon, just as Will and I were setting off to leave. Glory followed, and we left Sharon under a tree, happy and content with herself. It was really hard not to experience positive emotions out here, the past few days excepted. Encountering masses of snow for the first time, we also encountered our first hikers for a while. An older man and woman with a couple of dogs, they were out on a hike and had decided to go off the trail to avoid as much snow as possible. Besides, there was little trail to follow with all the white stuff around. Losing the way once, twice, many times,they seemed to have had the right idea. The speed with which we had moved this morning and early afternoon ended, and a slow, measured progress now began. Maybe if I climb to the top of this boulder, I'll be able to see something. While I could always see plenty, this scheme never netted me the trail. Will separated from Glory and I, following a path that he thought was right. He was and we heard his long, "Traaaiiillll!" howl from a distance, in a thicket of trees well below the rocks we were standing on.

Even with the trail located, hiking would not be easy. For, after another mile of hiking, we reached the formation that the guidebook called the Elephant's Back, or Head, or Snout, or some such body part. I could see nothing to justify this, but I could see the trail. Or, rather, part of it. The part that was not buried by a steep, well shaded snow slope. Testing the snow, it was ice hard. The slope was steep and ran into rocks below. A fall here would be bad. I sat to smoke and contemplate as Will moved out along the snow, as bold as ever. The two day hikers and their dogs showed up fifteen minutes later. Will had made it thirty feet out onto the slope, not even half way through. I formulated a plan to walked down to the valley below to where the rocks were, traverse over them, and then back up the rock to the trail, where it looked as if the snow improved. The four of us and the dogs set out down the trail, with Glory following the day hikers through the valley toward the forest on the otherside, while I climbed up through the loose rock to reach the trail again. Tired from my climbing I watched the other three moving slowly across the valley floor until they disappeared from view in the trees. Will was not in sight, having made it across the bad snow and along the trail through snow that did not look as intimidating. While Glory was taking a safe route, the high route here was well worth it. The snow was still slick, but it was on more moderate angle and a fall was much less likely. The danger of pitching over the edge and down the slope was still great, but with care I picked my way through, hearing Will's howl of success perhaps a half mile up. Cresting out on the top of the Elephant, I had the most marvelous views down into Carson Pass itself.

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Unsure of where to go now that I was on top, I wandered about, failing to pick up Will's tracks, nor catching sight of him. The trail was sure to be below me, but the map was of little help and I did not want to go down the wrong side, only to have to climb back up. I moved around the plateau trying to assure myself that I was going the right direction, when the trail was spotted below and Glory and the day hikers appeared from the forests below, quite pleased with having avoided the snow. Dropping down the trail toward Carson Pass, I chatted with the day hikers and found them to be of a most enjoyable type. From Berkeley, the woman was a retired mathematician who used to work at Lawrence Livermore laboratory. The snow was gone and the easy trail was back, but after the recent snow experience, I was going to have to carry my ice axe until at least Sierra City, rather than mailing it home from South Lake Tahoe as I had planned. I found Will waiting at the highway parking lot at Carson Pass, pleased that he had gotten through the snow slope in its entirety. I explained the different methods that Glory and I used and sat down to wait for Sharon to show up, hoping that she had passed through the snow without difficulties. The day hikers offered Glory a ride into South Lake Tahoe, which she declined. I was searching through my food bag as Sharon arrived, having followed Will's careful tracks through the snow and my wandering, lost prints above on the plateau. My food bag was most empty, with only a King Size Snickers bar and two granola bars left. I was going to be hungry tonight and tomorrow. Perhaps it was for the best, though, as South Lake Tahoe had all you can eat casinos just across the California-Nevada stateline. In my jocularity, I made a joke trying my best to imitate Glory. Initially there were chuckles, but when Glory did not understand that I was mocking her frequent behavior at rest stops and added that it was funny that I was behaving in such a way, Will and Sharon almost lost control of their bodily functions. After recovering from my own laughter, I glanced over at Glory, who now understood. She looked like a kicked puppy dog, and I no longer felt my self so humorous.

Glory was not the sort of person to stay hurt for long, and within a mile of crossing the highway and heading toward the Truckee River, she seemed to be back to normal. Spirits were high as we knew that South Lake Tahoe and all of its attractions were close by. Will and Sharon were not planning on going in, as both had mailed themselves resupply boxes to Echo Lake, where a resort stood right on the trail. I knew that their talk of bypassing Tahoe was a hollow one, and I made pains to explain to them where I was planning on staying. I had gotten a recommendation from a thruhiker in 2002 named Mags for a place to stay that was close to the casinos and fairly cheap. Will seemed to know that it was unlikely, when push came to shove, that he would be able to pass up a classy buffet.

We hiked through the mosquito inhabited meadows surrounding the valley of the Truckee, encountering more and more backpackers. It was now nearing the start of prime season and no longer would we have the land to ourselves. I suspected that the land north of the Desolation Wilderness, just out of Lake Tahoe, would prove to be unpopular with backpackers. After all, the grandeur of the land we had just passed through should prove irresistible to people with only two or three weeks of vacation time a year. North might be the domain of thruhikers only.

We had all seen it coming. In order to truly cross the meadows and continue into the mountains on the other side, we had to cross the Truckee at some point. Finding the trail at an end on one of its banks, we turned upstream briefly to look for a narrow spot where we might leap the river. We had leaped one of its tributaries not five minutes before, and that gave us hope. Nothing narrow enough to jump appeared. However, I spotted a large, sloping boulder close by. Perhaps a running jump from it might be enough. With the added elevation that the boulder provided, it might be possible. I steeled my nerves, took a few loping steps, and launched myself into space from the boulder, clearing the river by a good two feet. Will tossed his pack across to me and soared across without problems, our tall bodies playing to our advantage. Whether or not Glory would make it, with her foot shorter frame, was in doubt. Across came her pack and she lined up a good ten feet from the boulder. Making a sprint toward it, she took off.

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She came down with an inch or two to spare, happy and proud. Will and I gave her a round of cheers and waited for Sharon. Following tradition, across came her pack, then her camera, which almost fell into the river. She was not as sure as Glory was of success, and paused at the starting line thinking it through. This was the best way, though, and across she came, landing with her heels in the water, but across nonetheless.

With the river crossed in such fine style, we headed around the lakes on the other side of the meadows, and then up into the mountains. As always happens when one begins to look for a campsite, we found ourselves switchbacking up a mountainside, with no flat land to be had. My stomach was growling even though I had just put my last candy bar into it. We had covered more than 90 miles in the last three days and had another thirteen or more to go till reaching South Lake Tahoe. I had two granola bars and nothing for tonight. Topping out on the mountain, we strolled to a grove of trees with clear ground beneath, the dark waters of Schneider Lake below, and called it good. My lack of food particularly worried me, but I was cheered that town was within striking distance tomorrow. Will and Sharon again assured us that they were not going in to South Lake Tahoe. When Will discovered that he had left his ice axe back at the parking lot at Carson pass, I knew they would be in town tomorrow night. Will would have to hitch back to Carson pass to try to retrieve it. Sharon was sure to go along. Once they were hitching, I knew they would be drawn into town without fail. Will mentioned that it might be a possibility. Perhaps we could meet at 6 pm at the South Shore Inn to go to the buffet together. Yes, that might be possible. For the first time in several days, I slept warm and without the frustration that stemmed from my relationship with Glory. The stars were out, I noticed, seemingly for the first time in a while. Of course, they had always been there. I was able now to see them again, to appreciate them for what they were. The stars never made me feel small or insignificant. Rather, they filled me with hope and wonder, and it was that feeling that took me and my empty stomach into the realm of dreams yet again.

I woke weak and lethargic, my empty belly reminding me that I did not have the fuel to make this a pleasant stroll to HWY 50 and the fastlane to South Lake Tahoe with its buffets. I ate one of my granola bars and set out, with Will only a few minutes in front. Passing by the lake below our campsite several large tents came into view. Their size and weight meant that the people who can camped here had not come far and were obviously not thruhikers. Somewhere in front of us were Walt of the PCT Express, and Floater, another thruhiker. They had left Tuolumne the day that we had gotten in, though I was a little surprised that we had not caught them yet. My body continued to weaken, and with it my judgment. Glory and I became lost in the snow and milled about, at which point Sharon found us, also lost. We spread out in a fashion to search for a trail, which I eventually found in some trees. Not thinking that there could possibly be more than one trail in the area, the three of us followed in into a boggy meadows. Sharon began to have doubts. Her compass indicated that we were going in the wrong direction and that we should not be crossing a meadow anyways. We stopped and pondered and spotted Will on the far side of the meadows. He couldn't be lost, we speculated, and walked out to him to confer. Sharon was sure. Will and I studied the map and were equally sure. However, we decided to cut cross country in hopes of reclaiming the trail without retracing our steps. Sharon returned to where we had become lost initially, hoping to pick up the correct trail there. Glory followed Will and I into the woods.

Cross country travel in the dry West is much easier than in the water soaked East, where the abundance of precipitation chokes the countryside with life. Walking through the forest here, off trail, is simply a matter of picking a direction and walking on soft pine needles, rather than on a trailbed. But, without being able to see very far to sight a landmark, it is easy to become turned about. Running into a cliff, we knew that we were nowhere near the trail. The cliff turned out to be the top of a deep valley, the other side of which probably held the trail. Looking at the maps and trying to identify the mountains about us, it was clear to Will that we needed to head back toward the rim of the head of the valley. I concurred and Glory let out a squeal, upon hearing our thoughts, that she knew she should have followed Sharon. I wanted to tell her...what? I didn't know how to respond without anger at her. Not so much because Sharon was right in this case, but rather because I didn't like the feeling of having someone else view me with responsibility. That is, I wanted to be our here and be independent of the care of others. If I had someone else to help and guide, if I had to be responsible for another, I could not be truly independent and much of what I wanted to get out of my summer would be lost. This was the answer, I thought, to my questions and searching of previous days. This was what had irked me about Glory and drove me to frustration. It all made sense now. Will and Sharon were completely independent and I did not have to look out for them beyond what common courtesy, and the desire to help those you care for, demanded. Glory was relying upon others to help with her hike. She was doing all the walking and carrying her own gear, but there were aspects of the PCT that were beyond her experience on the Appalachian Trail and she needed help to get through those things safely. I could sympathize with her, but felt that there were better hiking companions for her than I. There were people who might be able to help her and would feel upon whom she could rely. Without a mutual desire for something similar, relationships become one sided and both parties suffer. I felt better now that I was beginning to understand, but was still unsure how to proceed. I ate my last granola bar and thought, instead, about how fatigued I was.

An hour of cross country hiking brought us to the top of a steep, forested slope that was partially covered with trees. The trail must be close, Will declared. Indeed, Sharon was standing at the base of the slope, on the trail, and called up to us. Racing along the trail for the highway, I stopped at a fine meadow and a cluster of rocks for a final break. Will and Sharon said their goodbyes and proceeded on. I was sure I would see them again shortly. Glory and I sat about for a while, soaking up the sun, until my stomach forced us to move onward. While the snow returned in bursts, the descent down to the highway saw few problems, and we emerged from the woods and onto a dirt road leading to, quite closed, ski resort. In hopes that the resort might have a restaurant in it, Glory and I investigated the main building, but found that uninhabited and quiet. Setting down to rest again, I thought only about the food that awaited in town and my dead body. I would not make the mistake again of not having enough food, I promised silently to myself. Two twenty-somethings appeared at the building, apparently workers at the resort who were moving out today. The started up a hack between themselves and we chatted away as the little sack flew around them. One of them declared that, upon finding out what we were doing, he was going to hike the PCT next summer. Encouraging him as much as possible, Glory and I then faced the litany of questions that we knew were sure to come. How do you get food? What kind of shoes do you wear? What about the bears? Answering them as best we could, we took our leave of the youths and went to the highway. Remember, one of them called to us, a big smile all the time. You're sure to get a hitch if you do.

At HWY 50, we found a place where a car could safely pull off and put our thumbs out. Any annoyance with Glory had faded the moment we had left the woods. I no longer felt like I had to look after her and this seemed to lift a burden from me. We chatted and laughed together as we had not since the first few days of the trip. After twenty minutes of no luck, despite the parade of traffic, I decided on a social experiment. I sat down next to Glory, with her body between me and the oncoming traffic. A motorist with very sharp eyes might be able to see me, but it was unlikely. Within three minutes a pickup truck stopped, and we quickly ran over to it. The driver was another twenty-something, bare chested with several colorful tattoos on his arms, and a mohawk. Very friendly, he told us he couldn't take us all the way into South Lake Tahoe, but could get us into the next town where we were sure to get a lift. He was a carpenter from a near by town and was making a run to a hardware store to get supplies. Glory and I hopped into the bed of the pickup truck and we flew down the mountainside on the highway.

There is, perhaps, no better way of seeing the country from a car as from the bed of a pickup. With the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces, it was a most pleasant ride, watching the mountains that we had struggled through recently fade into the background easily and quietly. We arrived at the town on the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe where the hardware store was. Thanking the driver profusely, particularly since we were next to a supermarket, we took our leave of him and went into the store. Aisles upon aisles of food spread out before our eyes, although their charms were a bit too much, perhaps. The starving donkey in front of the two piles of hay came to my mind again. Rather than think, I grabbed a super-sized bag of cheetoes, a liter of Squirt, and a quart of chocolate milk and joined Glory out in the parking lot.

How happy these days, eating junk food and feeling transient, yet purposeful. The freedom that this hike allowed was a powerful stimulant, highly addictive and yet still good for the entire being. That freedom would have to be asserted when I returned to the trail. Glory would have to start to find her own way, or find a new group of hikers who were more interested in hiking as a collective, rather than as individuals. For now, though, only sunshine was about. The soda and cheetoes finished off, a ambulance pulled up. Glory and I quipped about how stylish it would be to get a lift into town from an ambulance. Maybe they had room in the back? The paramedics went inside to get some lunch and Glory and I joked about the possibilities. Ten minutes later they came out again, their lunches in hand, and Glory got up to find out. Asking sweetly and nicely if they might be able to give us a lift into town, the paramedics took it as a joke. When Glory appeared to be serious to them, they gravely said that it was not possible under the regulations. That unless we were hurt and going to the hospital, we could not ride with them. I thought about making a display of a hurt ankle, but realized that they would not take kindly to me running away from the hospital. Besides, there was a lot of slow moving traffic on the road and hitch should not be hard.

Our thumbs had been out three minutes after the ambulance left and we had a ride. From an orange BMW no less. The driver was a local fisherman on his way back from a morning of casting and was as friendly as possible. A former Easterner, his New England accent was still thick. He had come across some years ago for a job, which did not last long. As he started to hitchhike back east, he made it out to Lake Tahoe and fell in love with the place. There was much to love. No signs of casinos or the vulgarity of Las Vegas could be seen. Patrick drove us around town, with a pride stronger than I had seen any where in the midwest, showing us the sights. I had a vague notion of where the South Shore Inn was located. Somewhere on Pioneer, maybe a 10 minute walk from the state line. Around town we went, stopping at a pharmacy where Patrick needed to pick up a prescription, and along the outskirts again so that we could see some of the new housing that was going up. Ordinarily tract housing would not interest me, but this was being done in a small stretch of forest and it seemed that the builders had a sense of what they were doing. The houses were hard to see through the woods, and did not appear to be the usual suburban sprawl that characterized so much of new housing. No, the builders were trying to create a community that might fit in with nature, rather than an antiseptic block with emerald lawns and a few small decorative trees, the houses pilled upon one another.

In the parking lot of the South Shore, Patrick dropped us off and wished us well on our journey before speeding off for home. Inside of the Inn the owners gave us a special PCT rate, effectively half of the norm. It was a Thursday, and from Thursday to Saturday prices were double what they were during the rest of the week. We got a double and the owners told us we could use their washer and drier tonight if we wanted to. We could also use their computer and internet connection if had such desires. The fact that we were doing what we were had a tendency to bring out kindness from strangers to strangers, something which warms the heart of all who see it.

Glory and I spent the day lounging about, taking only the effort to shower and to make a run over to the local shopping mall to buy food for the next leg and to look around an outdoor store. I wanted to buy another pair of pants and Glory was hoping to find the guidebook. She had had hers sent to Tahoe City, which was another 50 miles up the trail and a long, hard hitch off of it. Returning to the hotel will several sacks of food, a new pair of pants, but no guidebook, we settled down in front of the TV. Feeling energized, I crossed the street to the 7-11 to buy a quart of V-8, a newspaper, and some donuts, returning to find Glory unmoved. Email was checked and food repackaged, but even these meager tasks were looked upon with suspicion: It seemed wrong to do anything at all other than eat or rest during a partial day off.

Six o'clock came and went and we could wait for Will and Sharon no longer. Perhaps I had underestimated their will power. Walking down to the state line in the still warm evening air, the number of people and the bright lights and loud sounds were a bit too much. After the quiet of the forest, we had the flashing lights and booming stereos of Nevada. Caesar's was on our minds, with its huge buffet. The huge buffet had a long line of truly obese vacationers and I had to take an electronic buzzer to let me know when there might be room for us. Glory had struck up a conversation with a little kid, not more than 8, who was waiting for his mother. They had gotten up very early in the morning and made the drive out from Sacramento so that she could spend the day gambling. Not being able to afford a babysitter, the child had to come along and was now stuck here, sitting on the plush red carpet, quietly passing the time until his mother would be done. I left Glory and the kid to themselves and walked about the casino, finally stopping in a bar to have a beer. Boxing was on the television, although I had little interest in it. Glory appeared and sat down next to me, and was quickly ejected by the bar tender. She was only 19, and could not be in here. I felt like telling the bartender that she was my daughter, but could not think quickly enough.

Like a starting bell at a horse race, my buzzer went off. I pounded down the remains of the beer and went to find Glory. Racing to the buffet, Glory and I ran straight into Will and Sharon, filthy and stinking and with protruding bellies from three hours at the buffet. They had finally been kicked out by the managers who informed them that there was a strict two hour time limit. We told them where the hotel was and promised to join them soon. Only, we couldn't talk now. There was business to attend to.

The amount of food in the buffet can only be appreciated by those who have carried their food on their backs for an extended period of time. There was prime rib, next to a steak bar. No cheap cuts here. Only ribeye and strip. There was a pasta bar where the workers actually cooked for you, rather than using lots of canned sauces. There was a stir fry bar. There was 50 square yards of various salads and fruit. There was a square with pork roulade and barbequed brisket, red snapper with basil sauce, one temptation following upon another. Sides and fixins' and breads and rolls and mountains of soft butter, There was a cheesecake bar, next to a desert display, next to an ice cream counter, next to a sundae bar. There were parts of the buffet that I never got to explore. Would I like another iced tea?

After ninety minutes of gorging, Glory and I could take no more. For the low sum of $22 each, we left fat and happy, having, we thought, beat the house and eaten more than we had paid for. I picked up a bottle of wine and some donuts from the supermarket on the walk back and found the PCT Express in the parking lot of the hotel. It was quite dark, but Walk and Floater were in the van along with Pat, with the Japanese Couple beside them. They were leaving tomorrow morning, however, and were staying somewhere else to boot. There were many miles left to chat, and I quickly excused myself and found Sharon and Will. Glory went to bed quickly, and so I spent the evening in their room, drinking wine and breaking into the donuts that I had bought for breakfast. They had hitched back to Carson Pass from Echo Lake, a mile from where we had hitched in, after picking up their resupply boxes. No ice axe was found and they made the decision to come into South Lake Tahoe for the night. Their ride had dropped them off at Caesar's and they proceeded into the buffet, with 150 miles worth of dirt and stench on them. It was good to see them again. We made plans for an early morning run to a breakfast buffet. All of us thought that getting back on trail by noon would be good.

I returned to a slumbering Glory after watching Terminator, some how appropriate given that I had read that afternoon that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to run against Grey Davis in the recall election. It might be a long time before I had my next real town stop. The trail didn't pass through another town the size of South Lake Tahoe, and only Ashland, in Oregon, was of any real size. Dunsmuir was of some reasonable size, but the rest were mere exits on an interstate or off in the backwoods, consisting of a few homes and a store. I slept deep, my only thoughts being of tomorrow morning's shower and breakfast. And maybe how nice cotton sheets were.

It was early and I was hungry. I had agreed to get Sharon and Will at 8 am to get some breakfast, and so rousted Glory before stepping into the shower. At 8 am, Glory and I knocked on their door. Nothing. More knocking, and still nothing. After five minutes, ready to leave without them, a disheveled and sleepy Sharon opened the door, not a bit happy that we were getting her up early. My hunger of the night before had been staved off my the gorging at Caesar's, but had come back during the night. I only had one donut left and was really hungry. They would be ready in fifteen minutes, Sharon said. Taking my place on chairs in the parking lot, I sat to wait them out, glancing at my watch every thirty or forty seconds.

My hurry was for naught, as none of the buffets were open until 10 am. I got a coffee at a Starbucks in Harvey's casino to pass the time, before the four of us descended upon the buffet at the Horizon. Plate after plate of delectable breakfast foods came and went, as I made four trips to the buffet: Three for breakfast and one for dessert. Will put away four plates of breakfast, and two of dessert. Unable to eat anymore, indeed, without the desire for food for the first time in a while, we waddled back to the hotel and began to think of how we might get back to the trail. It was a long hitch, although many people were sure to be headed out toward Echo Lake on such a fine day. As Will and I thought, and Glory slept, Sharon asked the owners of the hotel if they might give us a lift up to Echo Lake. For $5 total, they sure would. Getting a lift to Echo Lake meant that Glory and I would miss 1.5 miles of the official trail, but this didn't bother us in the least. There was no pure PCT hike and I was not in the mood to pretend that somehow my summer would be compromised in missing thirty minutes of additional walking.

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The four of us sped quickly to Echo Lake which was, predictably, jammed with tourists. Thanking the owner of the hotel, we carried our packs over to the main area and found two worn out looking backpacks sitting unattended. The owners, however, were close by and we instantly recognized each other as thruhikers. Alister and Gail were from Calgary and had started in early April, moving slowly but surely. They had left Kennedy Meadows in very late May and were the first people to get across the Sierra without the aid of snowshoes. They had been in the PCT Express the night before when Glory and I returned from Caesar's, but I could not see them in the dark of the parking lot. Walt and Floater had left at 6 am, which meant we would not be able to catch them for several days. Thruhikers were becoming rare and it was great fun to finally track down people we had been following for so long. Who was in front of them? We knew of Beast, Tutu, and Rye Dog, but of no others, and Alister and Gail couldn't think of anyone else.

Sharon and Glory got rather large ice cream cones to match those that Alister and Gail were eating, but I could not stomach the idea of more food. I bought a soda, hoping the carbonation might help my digestion a bit through burping. The lethargy-inducing buffet meal was fixing my position on the porch of the resort; the desire to hike was gone. It was sunny and pleasant and I was in a T-shirt for the first time during the hike, my long sleeve shirt being stowed in my clothes bag. The sun felt good one my arms and my face, and my generally clean body was happy to sit for a while. An hour passed, and finally the inertia of the meal was overcome. The six of us started out on the trail together, although we quickly left Alister and Gail behind, never to see them again.

The trail ran along the edge of the intensely blue lower Echo Lake, climbing past various resort cabins until these last vestiges of culture were left behind and the wilderness was regained. Today we would enter, and mostly traverse, the Desolation Wilderness. The proximity to Lake Tahoe and the incredible scenery, combined with generally easy hiking, meant that this was a popular area. Indeed, we saw several backpacking groups and, gasp, our first backcountry ranger. A recent college graduate, the ranger was a rather stunning young woman who was out to check permits and make sure people followed the regulations as regard camping and fires. Will and I were, rather naturally, interested in chatting with her and it was ten minutes later that she finally asked to see our permits. The permit system on federally owned land is really rather civilized. Permits are issued by which ever agency happens to manage the land where you start. As long as you do not stray from the trail too far, the permit, once issued, is good for all federal lands. Thus, I was carrying a permit from the Cleveland National Forest, and it was quite good for travel in the Desolation Wilderness, which was managed by the Tahoe National Forest, more than 1000 trail miles north. Will, Sharon, and I all had permits, but Glory had neglected to get one before setting out. Knowing this, Will and I shielded her from the ranger's attentions, allowing her to move down the trail without having to make up an excuse for not having a permit. With our permits checked, I continued to chat with the ranger about anything I could think of, enjoying the company of an attractive and interesting young lady for as long as I could. Finally, bidding her farewell, I continued down the trail, quickly tracking down Glory who had stopped two hundred yards up to wait.

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After battling through thick forests of pine, the emerged into the landscape that gave this wilderness the name of Desolation. Rock benches spread out everywhere, surrounding numerous small tarns and larger lakes, the most impressive of which was Aloha. It was along the snowy banks of Aloha Lake that we found our second backcountry ranger of the entire trip. Again, a very attractive recent college graduate, she was out checking permits and dispersing signs of campfires, breaking up fire rings, and generally looking out for the tourists. Again, Will and I talked with the ranger intensely, while Glory was able to slip past. Could she see our permits? Why, of course you can, and, by the way...I, again, thought of any way to extend the conversation with the ranger, but again had to leave eventually.

A third, and again attractive, recent college graduate, ranger was met, this time with a dog, just before we began the climb up to Dicks Pass. She was not checking permits, but was acting as some sort of liaison officer. From how she described her duties, it sounded like she was being paid hike and camp in the area and find out the needs and wishes of the various people who visited the area. Again, I was loathe to leave her, even the slowly fading sun. Dicks Pass was not far ahead, although this last ranger, who had come over it the day before, had warned us that the snow on the other side was thick and the trail obscured. Furthermore, we should make sure not to drop straight off the pass, but rather head to the right, climbing up, before dropping down. While I listened attentively to the information she was imparting, she could have recited the phone book for Indianapolis and I would have been as alert.

As the climb up Dicks Pass began, my stomach become to trouble me. I became rather nauseated and was on the verge of losing what ever part of my breakfast had not been digested yet. Climbing higher and higher was certainly not helping, even though the grade was easy. The trail was partially buried, which meant that I had to take to the rock next to it for long stretches. The medium sized rocks dictated a sequence of hops, like crossing a stream, and the jolting was not doing my stomach any good. The top of the pass was windy and unsheltered and would hardly make for a good spot to cook dinner. I was uninterested, anyhow, in eating, and so we followed the ranger's directions and climbed up to the left. Not far along, the trail flattened out and dove into a small grove of pines, providing a good wind break for a meal.

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Beyond lay a land of lakes and trees, with the glint of snow sitting at their bases. The others began to quickly cook dinner, but I could barely manage to sit still and not vomit. It was odd that I should be affected, and the others unaffected, given that we had eaten at the same places in town. Perhaps it was the plate of blueberry blintzes that pushed me over the edge. Two pounds of sweet cheese, pancakes, and blueberry topping might not have been the best thing to have before hiking fifteen miles.

Setting out after an hour of rest, I did feel marginally better, which was good as the hiking became decidedly difficult. Hard snow buried everything and there was no way to follow the trail. We began to hike down the slopes of the mountain, heading for a lake in the distance where we thought the trail would be. Dodging in and out of the trees, picking our way slowly through the undergrowth, Will and I took turns leading the way down. An hour of confusion brought us to the lake and to the trail again. It was here that we met Stone for the first time,in the waning light, camped on a spit of land in between two lakes, smoking a pipe and stroking his thick beard. We had not heard of him before and were most surprised to see another hiker out here. My desire to chat with him was overcome by my desire to find a campsite for the night before it got too dark.

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Dropping down on the trail, well out of the snow, we approached the Velma lakes, after another thirty minutes of walking. Even though it was practically on the trail, there was a small clearing in the trees that had lined the trail which was large enough for four. Even better, a short walk led a cascade of rock benches leading down to Middle Velma Lake. I walked out to the benches for a view of the setting sun, perched well above the lake. The familiar orange and pink light greeted me upon leaving the dark wood, the sun throwing those rays of so much hope upon me. I was going to regain my independence as soon as possible, I thought. I would have to confront Glory, lest the dark feelings of a few days ago return. Walking back to the others, I spread out my ground cloth for the night and unstuffed my sleeping bag. Making camp was as easy as that. No impact, no effort, no waste. While not the style of camping that would make many people happy, this simple life was all that I wanted. Putting up a big, solid, safe tent would isolate me from the woods, its smells and sounds wasted. The weather was good and there was no reason to sleep indoors. Yes, this was how things should be.

Dante once lamented that during the middle part of his life, he found himself lost in a dark wood, where the true way was lost to him. Fortunately, for him, he found a guide through the wilderness of the soul in front of him, and a guide well versed in story telling to boot. In the middle of this this long journey of mine, I found myself neither lost nor lamenting for a clear path, but rather happy and proud to be here. Today was the half way point, time wise, of my summer walking. I had another 53 days in which to hike and more than 1500 miles to go to Canada. By the end of the day I would have made it 1139 official trail miles from the sheet-metal fence that divides Mexico from the United States.

I spent much of the morning and early afternoon alone in the woods, leaving the Desolation Wilderness shortly after leaving camp, with Will and Sharon out in front and Glory ranging somewhere in between. Shortly after crossing a forest road at Barker Pass, I decided, quite without reason, to have lunch at a trailhead parking lot. Glory stopped with me, though Sharon was determined to keep up with Will, who was well ahead at the time. Will's birthday was in less than a week, July 6, and she wanted to stay together until then. My plans for lounging in the sun over a quiet lunch were broken, however, by the distinct lack of water here. All morning I had convinced myself, that there would have to be water here. I had only my data book to go by, the relevant guidebook sections sitting in my bounce box in the Sierra City PO, and naturally assumed that a trailhead would have some sort of water source. Finding this lacking, I had to continue on, with Glory close behind me. Winding through the hills, passing one off-road trail after another, and hearing the high whine of two-stroke powered motorcycles racing down them, I found Will and Sharon sitting in the shade of a steep slope, taking advantage of a small bit of snow melt. My stomach problems of the day before were long gone, and I joined them for a meal consisting of a half pound of pasta with a sauce vaguely resembling pesto. A disagreeable meal in the end, but what could I expect from a pesto sauce that came out of a packet?

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Shortly after lunch we entered and then crossed the Granite Chief wilderness and were rewarded with our last views of Lake Tahoe. Negotiating what I hoped would be the last of the winter snow, the trail climbed along covered mountainsides, presenting a challenge considered easy only in relation to what we had traversed so far. I was not going to send my ice axe home until I had one full day of hiking without taking it off of my pack. Sierra City was only two more days ahead, and I wanted to mail it out from there. Failing that, I would have to carry it to Belden, or even Chester, The trail came out of the Granite Chief wilderness and into the beginnings of the ski area around the Donner Pass area. While still many miles from the infamous pass, the ski resorts were beginning to appear. Denuded slopes and mechanical devices, run-boundary markers flopping in the wind, everything seemed so out of place here. For miles and miles the views extended in almost every direction with little sign of the hand of man. However, a look in one particular direction and a mass of steel and aluminum would strike the eye. The vastness of the wild combined with the deliberate construction to form a incongruous whole. I found Will on the side of a ridge, mesmerized by the snow slopes below. Someone had been skiing down them recently, their tracks still apparent. Will, having grown up in Golden, CO, was a skier and was looking at the runs lustfully, as a gourmet does a basket of truffles.

As the day stretched out, I was again alone with my thoughts as the light began the transition from clear to yellow to pink to orange. The transitional time that is almost never noted by city dwellers, myself included. No, in the city there are only two kinds of light: The complete light of noon and the blackness of night. The gradations in light were fascinating to watch as I stepped across the trickle that represented the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the American River. The American River was one of the most important in the history of California, providing water to the inhabitants of the upper Central Valley and transportation to and from the Sierra Nevada. Before the coming of railroads, and the roads, rivers had been the primary means of moving the oar cut out of the granite of the Sierra Nevada. The American river was one of the largest and most important of these transportation links. Its headwaters looked to be outdone by a garden hose.

Climbing away from the Middle Fork, the trail was leading me toward a pass, on top of which I could see more apparatus of the skiing industry. My friends were somewhere far ahead, a fact that seemed to have little relevance right now. I was here, and that was important. I would certainly see them tomorrow or the next day in Sierra City. For now, though, the prospect of being able to camp by myself snuck into my thoughts and cheered me, bolstering my spirit against the growing cold. Topping out on the pass, I could see their footsteps clear in the snow, leading cross country down the steep slopes to the valley below. The snow was hard and slick and again the axe was out, cutting steps where necessary, but mostly acting as a belay point in case of a fall. I would not fall far, however, as I was descending through the trees would surely crash into one quickly if I did fall.

Finding myself at the bottom of the slopes, I also found my friends standing on the other side of a creek, which I hopped over, both happy and disappointed to see them. I liked being around them, but I also wanted to have a night to myself. It seemed so silly to me that here, with all the space and the freedom to go where ever I saw fit, that I would feel constrained and hemmed in by others. But, I also knew that Glory would stop and camp where I did and I did not feel like a confrontation just now.

Distributing some wasabi-roasted peas to the others, we began the climb out of the other side of the valley with the sun almost on the horizon and a distinct chill in the air. The nights had been fairly mild since leaving the Sonora pass area and I had been sleeping well. The falling temperature indicated that tonight would not be an easy rest. Just before all light was lost, we crossed a trail junction to the Granite Chief on top of the last hill for the day and called it good. There were plenty of clear places to camp and room for all to spread out. Will's snoring or, rather more accurately, clucking, required a minimum of twenty feet of separation in order not to disturb my sleep. On some of the previous nights I had barely been able to manage five feet. I camped next to a snow drift, a good twenty feet off, and ate my evening cookies, thinking about how simple today had been. There had been no negative emotions on my part and I had gotten plenty of solitude. With the exceptions of lunch time and little stretch through the Granite Chief wilderness, I had been alone most of the day until now. We had covered nearly 33 miles today, making it the longest of the summer so far. I wasn't tired or exhausted, as I had been on some much shorter days just a few weeks ago. The trail was moderating in difficulty and my body was strong and fit for the trail head. Despite being two hundred miles short of the distance-half-way point, I had arrived at the time-half-way point. If I was to have any hope of finishing the trail this summer, I had to reach Ashland, OR, roughly three weeks from today. But, I assured myself, finishing wasn't important. I was above such petty, goal oriented thinking, wasn't I? Burrowing down inside my sleeping bag to escape the cold air, I wasn't so sure anymore. Surely finishing wasn't more important than enjoying my time out here, but would I sacrifice the enjoyment of a day or two to crank out long miles in order to make it to Canada this summer? I wanted to say no, but I could not be sure. I just have to walk, to spend the time, in order to find out what my desires are.

The cold of the night was continued into the morning, and I left camp at first light with my thermal underwear still on and my Frogg Toggs anorak covering up my upper body. It did not help things getting lost right away. Will, Sharon, and I started down the trail but were immediately confronted by a small, snowy meadow, the other side of which did not appear to hold the trail. So, we wandered around the mountainside for thirty minutes, until Will actually walked to the other side of the meadow and found the trail. By this time, Glory had packed up and was with us as we set out for Donner Pass and I-80. In September of 2000, I went on a weekend backpacking trip through this area, leaving from I-80 and hiking along the PCT for a mile or two before splitting off and heading to Waren Lake. Even this passing moment made the place feel like home. My axe was out quickly as the trail made a short traverse through a icy slope. In the afternoon this stretch of trail would not have caused any problems for hikers. Right now, though, the snow was rock hard and footing non-existent. Will borrowed one of Glory's trekking poles for support and moved out onto the steep slope, followed by Glory. I was taking no chances and spent some time cutting steps into the slope, moving slowly but safely, with Sharon right behind me.

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The trail quickly climbed out of the trees, leaving the snow behind, and out onto a long ridge line, with views extending to...Well, to wherever. If someone told me that I could see France from here, I would believe them. The mountains, crinkled upon the earth, stretched back for as far as the eye could see. Even the curvature of the earth could be seen in one direction, where the mountains flattened out after Donner Pass. I could see Will scrambling up a small peak, just off the trail, with Glory following. I wanted this all to myself kept going, battling the strong, ever present wind.

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Even with the cold, punishing wind, this place would forever be etched in my memory, I thought. The expansiveness and feeling of space that large, open places give are good for the soul. Whether a long tract of desert or the vastness of an ocean, there is something about being in an area with unlimited views in every direction that promotes reflection. It is as if the mind no longer has small details to focus on and instead turns inward. The human being becomes truly important, for there is nothing else to consider. Except, perhaps, for a perfectly shaped throne of lava on the side of the ridge, out of the wind and in the sun.

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I could not pass up such a wonderful resting spot and sat down on the world's most scenic throne to have a bite to eat and a little tobacco. Sharon came rumbling by, impressed with my choice of a rest spot, although she herself wanted to get out of the wind before taking a break. I completely understood. That was one of the attractions of my throne, you see. As I pushed forth from the throne, I could see the others a mile or more ahead, still following this glorious ridge whose end I could see not much further along. Nature could only hold out so long, and I vocally thanked whoever was responsible for putting the trail up here. Sure, this would be a terrible place to be in a storm, but right now it was only a step away from Heaven.

Dropping down off the ridge, we came face to face with the Donner Pass ski resort. Or, rather, we saw it from far below, but were forced to confront it because of snow. The trail cut across a short, steep slope that happened to be covered with very hard snow. Even cutting steps on this thing, it would not be very safe. There was another way: Just climb up to the top, where a ski lift terminated, then come back down. An easy solution, even if it required a steep climb. Arriving hot and sweaty at the top, the mangled ski area looked even worse after the perfection of the previous ridge. Dropping down, cross country, there was simply nothing wild left. Nothing but signs and banners, towers to support the lift and its steel cables overhead. I wanted out, right now, racing down the hillside, heading for I80.

I had been sitting, alone, just above Donner Pass and the old highway 40 for twenty minutes when a dog came up to chat. I needed to take off my warm clothes for it was nearing noon and I was getting hot. The dog, obviously used to humans, didn't have much to say but was rather inquisitive. I tried to spark a conversation, but had little luck until his human owner came strolling up the hill, out on a day hike to the top of the ski resort. Another forty minutes later I was finally underway again, the victim of a good conversationalist with interests common to mine. We had talked about mountaineering and alpine climbing, what the PCT was like, ways to lighten up a load, where my pack came from. I had been resting for an hour and was sure that the others were now vastly far ahead of me. I might even get the rest of the day to myself. Unfortunately, I had a date tomorrow that I wanted to keep. This was one of my first, and hopefully last, races against a post office. I wanted to get to Sierra City tomorrow in the early afternoon in hopes of getting my bouncebox, new shoes and sleeping pad, letters from home, and sending out a maildrop to Burney Falls State Park. That was almost 45 miles from here. I needed to hustle, and that put me in a bad mood. To resolve the bad mood, I was determined not to hustle. Then, it would occur to me that I had to hustle...and so on and so forth.

At HWY 40, I found Stone, who had gone by me while I was talking with the dog and dayhiker. I was swinging toward the no-hustle state of mind and so stopped to talk with him a while. He was trying to hitch to a small town close by in order to get a burger. I didn't think his prospects too good, as the road was small, he was alone, and he had a big, thick beard. Stone was from Fairbanks, Alaska, and was done in the lower 48 for a summer romp, away from the mosquitoes and the midnight sun of his normal residence. I spent 15 minutes talking with him before I set off again, now in my must-hustle mood. Tearing around the mountain side, I passed many climbers out taking advantage of the solid, easy rock. Many short routes were evident and everything could be top roped, making this area highly attractive for beginning climbers. Toss in its proximity to a road and you can be sure of its being filled during warm summer weekends. In my rush, I got lost on the innumerable climbing-use-trails, detouring for perhaps 20 minutes before finding the true path. Rather than go around the mountain, as the PCT normally did, the trail went over the top of it.

I passed the other three having lunch in the shade shortly after topping out on the mountain. They had found a convenient spot for lunch,but I wanted the interstate first. Besides, it had been so nice to be off on my own for a while that I continued forth. The interstate rest stop, by which the trail passed, might have a soda machine and the notion of pounding back a few cans of sugary syrup sounded delightful to me. I rumbled on, eventually becoming annoyed that the trail was not shorter. I was in my must-hustle mood and was not to be trifled with. I eventually recognized the trail from my previous trip here three years ago, knowing that the interstate was close. The trail ran underneath it via a drainage tunnel and came out on the other side close to the rest area. Hiking up along a creek quickly got me to the junction where I and my friends had split off from the PCT to go to Waren Lake. A side trail ran to the rest area and I thought this an excellent lunch spot.

The others came and went as I cooked and ate my lunch of instant mashed potatoes with Velveeta, stopping, as I knew they would, for a thirty minute break. Will even ran down the side trail to the rest stop, only to report that there were no vending machines of any kind. They moved forth as a group, leaving me with a dirty pot and a King Sized Snickers bar for dessert. My must-hustle mood was broken by the lunch time hour, and I set forth from the trail junction at a leisurely, unconcerned pace. Strolling slowly and comfortably, I walked alone and in the quiet of the woods, bypassing even a ski hut that was identified in my data book. There was no reason to go there, even in my relaxed mood. Stopping at a near by stream to rest and get some water, it was already 5 pm and I still had a long way to hike tonight if I wanted to make Sierra City by early tomorrow afternoon. My mood would rotate yet again.

Stone appeared and sat down beside me, intent on taking a long break before setting out again. He tended not to take a long afternoon lunch, as I did, but rather took an hour off around 5 to relax and smoke a pipe or two, before continuing on for another hour to camp and a hot meal. The others were at the hut, he said, and he had been successful at getting a burger. Shortly after I left him, a young lady picked him up, dropped him off at the burger shack, and came and got him twenty minutes later. She had some sort of business in the town and so it was very convenient for her. We both thought her brave and friendly for doing so, though. Will, Sharon,and Glory came walking by, amazed that I had not detoured to the hut, which was filled with various bits of old food. Not yet ready to leave my relaxed mood for a final spring this evening, I let them go on for five minutes before setting out at a furious pace. Stone assured me he would be in town tomorrow night, but might not make the PO before it closed.

It was nearing 6:30 and starting to get cold when I came across the other three huddled around a young woman, chatting nervously and seriously. She had set off from the rest area in the morning with the intention of hiking to a peak in the area. She had gotten lost and decided to hike cross country to try to find the peak. Unfortunately, for her, the way to the peak was not obvious and her route finding skills were not good. She had a rudimentary trail map with her and a compass, but that was about it. She had wandered through the woods for quite sometime, eventually finding the PCT, where we later found her. She was in shorts and a t-shirt and had no warm clothes beyond a windbreaker in her pack. No food, either. She had a friend that was supposed to meet her back at the rest area in the evening, so at least someone could call in help if she didn't show up. However, a search would not be started until sometime later, unless her friend could convince the authorities that she was in immediate danger, which she was not. We showed her where she was, a long 9 or 10 miles from the rest area. Sharon and Glory began giving her food and even bits of clothing and a light, which the woman reluctantly accepted. They gave her the address of the PO in Old Station and Dunsmuir for her to mail the clothing back. We told her about the hut, not too far distant, in case she needed to spend a night out in the wild. I advised her, strenuously, against this, however. It would be cold tonight and she would not be able to stay warm without building and maintaining a fire through the night. Even this would prove to be uncomfortable for her. The trail was good, more or less, but for an inexperienced person, in the night, it might be hard to follow it across some of its snowed-in places. While simple for us, after having dealt with the snow for several hundred miles, it might be easy for her to lose it. But, if she followed our tracks she might be able to make it back to the rest stop in four or five hours. It was crucial for her to keep moving in order to keep up her body heat. We offered to take her along with us, as there was a National Forest road another two hours ahead. She could spend the night with us and then walk the road back in the morning. She declined, thanked us, and we parted ways.

Sharon and Glory were worried about her fate, but neither Will nor I had too much sympathy beyond hoping that a life would not be lost so foolishly. When a person hikes off trail, that person must be prepared to spend a night out of doors in case of encountering a problem. She had taken no precautions and had still left the trail to wander through the woods. Hopefully she would make it back safe, but it was in her hands now. Setting out in my must-hustle mood again, I verily raced down the trail in the waning light. Sensing that the road was near, I began looking for a campsite, though none appeared. The cold came on as the light left, though with luck we reached the National Forest road and a stream with a few minutes left to find a campsite before total darkness set in. At the stream, we found a hammock strung up between two trees and a tarp-tent rigged next to it. We had finally found Walt and Floater.

They had been camped here for some time now and encouraged us to camp with them. They, like us, had not seen many new thruhikers in quite some time and wanted some new company. Although I wanted the same at the moment, there was nowhere close by, that I could see in the low light, to camp. The others seemed intent on camping with our two new friends and so I moved off by myself to find some place quiet and flat to camp. Ten minutes up the trail, almost in the dark, I found Glory behind and was a little put out that my mind alone was not to be, yet again. I found a small clear spot off the trail large enough for only one person, hoping that Glory would push on. She found a place next to a tree, eight feet from me and started setting up. Five minutes later, Will and Sharon arrived and also found places.

I was tired from the thirty miles that I had hiked today, but I was much more worn out from my worries about making the PO in Sierra City early enough to get everything done before it closed. It is 21 miles to the road leading to town, and then another 1.5 miles on the road. Pushing hard, I might be able to make it by 3 pm. I didn't like being on a schedule like this. It took away a measure of the freedom that I so lusted after. If I didn't make the PO before it closed, would it really be so bad? I could just stay around until the next morning and simply get a later start out of town. Why hadn't I thought about this today during my rush? The answer was simple, there in the woods. I was rushing because there was a goal in front of me that I could make if I tried. I had not examined whether or not I really wanted the goal itself, or just to achieve it. That is, the prospect of doing something was more important than the thing in and of itself. In some cases, this was a good thing. The walk from Mexico to Canada was the important part. Being in Canada was not. In some cases this desire was not good, as today showed. Being able to recognize the different situations was the hard part.

It was time to run. Walt and Floater went striding by as I was getting out of my sleeping bag, and that seemed to push me to start my race to Sierra City. Pushing hard coming out of the campsite in the woods, my enthusiasm faded appreciably with each step I took toward my goal. By the time I reached Jackson Reservoir, one of the largest bodies of water we had yet gone by, my drive was completely gone and I was in hobo mode again. There was no reason to rush, at least for now. Relaxing by the side of the park access road that the trail crossed, I passed my time in style, eating dried, sweetened cranberries and listening to the forest twitch and move in the wind. A loud crash and the sound of chainsaws drowned out the stillness. This was prime logging land, I had been told. The loggers carved out a checkerboard of land, slowly turning over the land they cut to the forest service. With luck, the land might come back and the forest service might decide not to sell the timber if it did. Perhaps in fifty or a hundred years this land might not feel the bite of the logger's saw. I was dubious. After all, the National Forests were created initially as a way to manage the trees as a material resource, not to lock them away indefinitely. If the land was not tagged as a wilderness or given some other higher protection, and it was accessible enough to be profitable, it would be logged eventually.

The trail was heavily impacted by the logging in some areas, and greatly helped in others. In some places vast blow downs had been cleared by the loggers, though it was unclear whether or not the trees had come down as a result of bad weather, or only a chainsaw. In other places the trail was completely blocked by down trees, requiring a short climb or slither. Occasionally trees were down parallel to and on the trail. Because of the steep mountainsides, this usually meant that going around was not possible and instead I had to climb onto the tree itself and walk it. With a bare log, this is easy enough. However, a tree has branches and these branches make tree-walking a difficult proposition at times. Strolling peacefully, I passed Sharon taking a break, while Glory and Will seemed miles ahead. The trail began its plunge toward Sierra City, needing to lose several thousand feet of elevation before making the highway. The elevation would have to be regained on the other side either tonight or tomorrow.

Switchbacks have a way of never ending, particularly when you begin to get close to a town. Every 100 yard long switchback seemed to drop me down perhaps five feet. To get down at this pace would take forever. The un-driven me, at the time, decided to fight the system as best as I knew how: Take a break in the shade and relax. Accordingly, I flopped over into the dirt and spent twenty minutes examining my well destroyed shoes. I had put five hundred miles on these shoes and I could see my socks in at least four places. The cushioning was shot and every rock I stepped on left an impression in my skin. The Sierras had just been too much. I loved my shoes, but they died a hundred miles ago and I was glad to be getting a new pair soon. Sharon sauntered past, admiring my fit of resistance to the trail builders. Letting her get something of a lead on me, I continued down the trail, hoping that the switchbacks would end sometime before tomorrow.

On and on and on the went. Ten minutes of hiking would go by and it felt as if I could reach out and touch the place I was before, 1/2 of a trail mile before. Finally, and without ceremony, the trail reached the river and a pile of trash shortly later.

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The trash consisted of buckets and sleeping pads and bits of rope, along with sundry other gear. A sign pronounced that this garbage was left behind by tree sitters. By environmentalists. No, I thought. No environmentalist left this behind. People with a cause that they did not understand, perhaps. People who liked the ring of a name without understanding even the first part of what it meant. I had known many people in my short life who lived like this. They would proclaim themselves devoted to some cause and take on a title. The title gave them purpose and usually relieved them of the responsibility for thinking through their actions and words. Without understanding, or even trying to understand, they would do and say certain things because they were supposed to. Only, they wouldn't get things right. And their failure would bring disgrace and ill repute to the cause they thought they were helping. Pro-life people that would assert that to take a life was wrong, but yet still be in favor of the death penalty. People would declare themselves as anti-hunting because it was cruel to animals. Yet, they had no qualms about eating meat. Conservatives that support the largest, most expensive government in history. Unionists who support NAFTA. This trash was left by people who believed in a cause because it gave them purpose, not because they understood the cause and why it was important. I thought it a rather clever display and made sure to file it away in my memory for later use. Of course, I could be completely wrong and the trash was simply pinched from someone's garbage can and put into the woods to discredit the tree sitters. But, I liked my explanation more.

The road to Sierra City was hot and empty. I was sure that Sharon had gotten a hitch and was equally sure that I could walk the distance into town faster than I could get a lift. Setting out along the hot, black asphalt, I tried to keep in the shade as much as possible. The Sierra Buttes towered above, craggy formations of the last bit of granite I would see until the Trinity Alps, far ahead.

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One car went by, then another. A third beat me to town, but that was it. Sitting outside the post office I spotted the entire crew: Sharon, Will, Glory, Walt, Pat, and Floater. It was only 3 pm and I had more than an hour to take care of my mailing. I immediately went into the next-door store to buy supplies for the leg to Belden and for Burney Falls State Park. While not the greatest of selection, the store was perfectly adequate for resupply, and I marched out with large load of groceries, including three individually wrapped Mrs. Fields cookies. Heh, heh, I taunted Will, I got the damn cookies. In shock and awe, Will muttered something about hiding them. As things turned out, Will had visited the store a few moments earlier to buy some snacks and had seen some cookies. So, naturally he hid them from me until he could resupply. I had found three other cookies, but not the ones that he had hidden, which he thought were the only ones. Things worked out for the best and we each had a stash from Mrs. Fields to get to Belden on.

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I had my bounce box, two boxes from REI, and a letter from home waiting for me in the PO. Flipping through the register there, it appeared that there were only five thruhikers in front of us: Beast, Tutu, Rye Dog, Graham, and Falcor. There was a sixth, Wall, that I knew about as well. The resupply boxes from PCT hikers had spilled out into the reception area of the PO and were clogging up the entire place. Unfortunately, as I told the postmaster, it will be at least another week before the main pack gets here. Outside, I put all my stuff down in the shade provided by the PO and within a minute or two it was complete chaos. I carry so few things that this overload of material defeated my organizational skills quickly. My old shoes were tossed off and the new ones tried on. My old Z-rest found its way into the garbage bin and the new one unwrapped (shiny blue!). One box was stuffed with the food I thought I would need at Burney Falls. Another box took the trash from repackaging the food for the next leg. My bounce box had to be sorted through, with some stuff being jammed in and other stuff taken out, and both types of items confused at times. With 15 minutes to spare, I sent out my resupply package to Burney Falls and by bounce box to Castella.

The others were resupplying still as I sat down to lounge and eat and chat with the arrivals. I certainly wasn't going anywhere until I had something to eat, and I wasn't eating until the place across the street had their BBQ going. Moreover, I wasn't going to even think about leaving or staying until I had eaten. Sharon and Glory went off to take a shower as I relaxed with snacks and sodas from the store. Walt and Pat had gotten a cabin for themselves, as had Floater. The cabins were large and could sleep several people. Would we be interested in staying there? I vocalized the decision making process I had laid out in my head. Will wanted to leave town tonight. I repeated the process out loud again.

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The barbeque across the street was fired up and so we migrated over as a large group. Fruit was brought out and burgers and other treats ordered. The restaurant was a family affair, the husband cooking, the wife looking over the front area, and the barely 10 year old daughter taking orders. A hiker named Popcorn had been in town for a few weeks and was working at one of the local resorts trying to get up enough money to continue his hike. Stone came into town and joined us at the table. While very tasty, the food didn't have quite the bulk that thruhikers were looking for, and a second dinner was required. Then, a stop at the store for ice cream. Will and I decided to split a half gallon, while Glory and Sharon decided to split a pint. This, Will and I thought, was rather humorous. Of course, our half gallon was so hard that it was impossible for me to eat it with a wimpy plastic spoon. Will had no qualms about this and ate his half first, while I took over after it had begun to soften up. With a belly full and the sun almost gone, it was finally time to make a decision as to where to stay tonight. Given a choice between a shower and a bed and a little rest, or hiking back out to the trail, I took the easy route out. The four of us were in agreement. Stone, Floater, Will, and I in one cabin, and Walt, Pat, Sharon, and Glory in the other. I gave Floater $10 for the night and purchased a 6 pack of donuts for breakfast, along with several 24 oz. cans of beer for the evening.

The cabins were a mile down the road, which with the PCT Express made quick work. Floater and I got our one hideaway beds, while Will and Stone split the king sized bed. A shower was much appreciated, although I had worked up so much dirt on my feet over the course of the summer that I had begun having difficulties getting them clean. In particular, my Achilles would never turn anything other than a light brown, despite my best scrubbing. Settling in for the night with some beer and Larry King, I tried to get to know Floater as best I could before the morning might separate us. He was a horse doctor from New Jersey, which is where he got his trail name (horse doctors apparently have to "float" the teeth of horses). An AT veteran, he had bought the hammock at the ADZ (Annual Day Zero). A sort of kick off party to wish the thruhikers a bon voyage, it was held two weeks before I had left Mexico. There were various auctions to help support various trail related causes and Floater had gotten his hammock at one when he decided to start the bidding off. No one else had bid on the hammock and so it was his. As things turned out, he really enjoyed sleeping in it. His daughter lived in Valdez, Alaska, which gave him a connection to Stone and they swapped stories of Alaska, some true and some obviously fabrications or enlargements. It was good to hear other voices. It was good to be around people who understood what life on the trail was like and had the attitude, free and easy, that it forced upon its inhabitants. It was good to be here, right now, in this place. Tomorrow would bring the hiking back, but I felt like I was still on the trail tonight, here in this cabin in the woods with the taste of cheap beer in my mouth and the dream of 6 Old Fashioned Donuts for breakfast on my mind.