After a hiker’s dream breakfast full of carbs and protein at Red’s Meadow Resort, we started on trail at 8:20am. Hiking with companions for the first time, Bella (trail named Buggy) and Keeley (Bear), we chattered nonstop, openly and honestly about life, and the miles passed quickly as we became fast friends! With similar hiking speeds, limitless life stories to share, and the rarest, tear-inducing laughter, the time flew. Most of the afternoon, we awed a forest fire in the valley below and the beauty of distant and closer-than-comfort rainstorms, grateful they were staying away from us….that is, until 1.4 miles from our campsite. Without warning, the temperature dropped rapidly and the dime-sized hail began pelting our bodies (see video). Situated between Duck Pass and Purple Lake on an above-treeline exposed ridge at 10,500 feet elevation, we had no choice but to hike to lower ground. Suddenly, the lightning started right on top of us! The brightest, blinding lightning and thunder as loud a Zeus scoring a strike in a mythological bowling game were coming fast and furious at less than half-second intervals. We began to crouch while sprinting down the steep and rocky trail with 30+ pounds on our backs, soaked shoes sloshing through flash flooding. Finding ourselves in this uncomfortable dilemma for 45 minutes with the lightning and thunder following us down trail as our soaked feet tried to keep our balance at speed sprinting down a steep mountain, we feared for our lives!
Finally ending our desperate race to a safer, lower area, the lightning subsided and Zeus stopped bowling. The rain continued, but the storm moved on to terrorize other distant hiker friends. Drenched and bedraggled, we plopped our packs on the soggy dirt, celebrated the dryness of the items inside, and cheered a tiny patch of dry dirt as a better place to sit than mud.
Out here living in the elements, the simplest of joys carries the highest value…the deliriousness of a $1 per minute, 15-minute shower after five days without, the shade of a tree in the afternoon trail sun, the ecstacy of removing wet and worn feet from trail shoes after a 22-mile day, and even the sight of a toilet at a campsite. Not having to poop in a hole in the woods is always a treat! The things I take for granted in everyday life become the ultimate pleasurable experiences when lived without.
This journey has been quite lonely at times, generated high adrenaline flight hormones, offered human-sized buffet options for swarms of hungry mosquitoes, and has challenged me in ways that six months on the Appalachian Trail never did. I miss my family back home, especially Todd & our pups. After just a week living as a nomad in the desolate alpine wilderness, one remembers how much there is to love and appreciate about everyday life just as it is–perfectly imperfect.
The Sierra trail is one of the most breathtaking places in the world — peace and harshness defined. Sometimes, you suck, Trail. But that brings life to the lessons you have to teach us, and those moments make every step worth it.