Mile 848 to mile 863
I wake up in the dark before dawn and realize that I’m bleeding. My period… and the relief that comes with it, like the pressure dropping when it’s been overcast and finally starts to rain. I’d dreamt that my dog Kinnikinnick was lost in a ravine, and calling out to me.
“Carrot!” She’d said. “I need you to find me! Only you can find me!” But I was too far away, on the PCT. There was nothing I could do.
I fall back asleep for a little while and when I wake it’s light. I’m having cramps so I take ibuprofen and then I sit in my sleeping bag and eat trail mix, picking out the parts I like best. I wasn’t expecting to bleed. I’d been losing weight and my period was two weeks late and I figured I might not get it at all- bleeding on the trail is random at best. But then here it is.
I put an almond in my mouth and bite down on something hard. I take the hard thing out of my mouth and brush the smashed almond off of it and turn it around in my hand. It looks like a piece of a tooth! I run my tongue along the inside of my mouth. There is a strange, jagged hole where the side of one of my molars should be.
Jesus christ, I think.
It’s a tooth where I had part of a root canal done once. I’d run out of money and I’d never had the crown put on so I knew that the tooth would break eventually. According to the dentist it would last a year, and it had lasted two years. Two years is pretty good, I think, running my tongue over the tooth. I can’t stop touching it now. The inside of my mouth has become a foreign landscape.
At least there isn’t any pain. And in a few days I’ll be in Mammoth Lakes to resupply, and I can go to the dentist there. What is Mammoth Lakes? I think, as I carefully chew a cashew on the other side of my mouth. And how can a dentist possibly fix this busted tooth?
It’s cold and I shiver out of my sleeping bag and down jacket and into my hiking clothes. There’s a climb and a long descent today and as soon as I’m on the trail I feel it- fatigue, dizzyness, cramps underneath everything, dulled by the ibuprofen. A short day, I think as I hike. All I want right now is a short day.
I ford Evolution Creek, the only substantial stream crossing, this year, of the entire Sierra. The water is cold and clear and up to my knees and I wade across in my shoes, bracing myself with my trekking poles. That wasn’t so bad, I think, once I’ve reached the other side. I cannot imagine doing stream crossings in a high snow year, when every one of them is dangerous. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine hiking the Sierras in a high snow year at all.
I walk and walk, but all I want to do, today, is sit in a patch of sun and rest. I feel worn out, depleted, empty inside. Like I’ve got nothing left. I’m sitting on the warm ground at a trail junction, reading my emails (first reception in days, and at this random place!) When MeHap and NoDay appear. It is rumoured that there are hotsprings, down a side trail somewhere, so we set off to find them. We think that this is where Instigate, Spark, Track Meat and the others are. We haven’t seen them since the day before but we’ve been following their footprints, which we know by heart.
The trail winds down into a dry valley carpeted in lush green grasses and trickling everywhere with water. I wander through the woods, feeling lost. Then I hear strange noises.
Through the trees is the river and at the edge of the river, sitting in the grass, are Instigate and Spark. The hot springs are on the other side of the river, they say. You have to wade across. In the meadow on the other side of the river is a warm pool, like bathwater, and a hot pool, like a real hotspring.
The others have been here too, but now they’ve left.
For a while we all sit on the edge of the river and make screeching noises with blades of grass. We pinch the blades between our palms and put them to our lips and blow through them. We pretend we’re in a band and we all play blades of grass. It sounds like dying ducks. Then Instigate and Spark shoulder their packs and head back to the trail and NoDay, MeHap and I cross the river. The water is knee deep and cold and the current is strong but it’s hot in the valley, and the water feels good. I cross barefoot to keep my shoes dry and immediately regret it. The rocks hurt my feet!
On the other side of the river is a patch of forest and a grassy meadow. To the left of the meadow is the warm pool- a sort of hole in the grass filled with muck and greyish water. The water is like tepid bathwater and there are bubbles coming up through the mud. We climb out a few minutes after climbing in and stumble across the meadow to the hot pool, which is clearer. The hot pool feels really good, but then it’s too hot. I put my clothes in the pool to rinse the salt from them and then we lay on the grass and let the sun bake us. MeHap has a handful of little baggies which contain the contents of an oreo pie mix. I think that one of the baggies would be prepared like a pudding, and when it had set you’d put the other baggie, which is crumbled up oreos, on top. Or maybe the crumbled up oreos would be the crust? But we’re on the PCT so MeHap mixes all the baggies in his cookpot with a little water from the stream, stirring until there’s a thick grey mass. He passes the pot around the circle and we eat spoonfuls of the thick grey mass. It tastes like cake frosting mixed with brownies.
Afterwards a mysterious spell of sleepiness descends on the three of us and by the time we’re putting our shoes back on, it’s almost evening. We’d proposed the idea of a “sixteen mile day” to Spark and Instigate, and they’d agreed. They are waiting for us, now, at a lake four miles up the trail. We reassemble our packs and shoulder them, struggling through our sleepiness. We cross the river again, and I wear my shoes this time. Four miles, we think. That’s nothing. We start to hike through the hot forest, and the trail climbs up, and up, and up. It goes up and up and up some more. What is happening? I say. The trail is like a spiral staircase up the forested mountain. I am huffing and puffing, up towards the lake.
We brainstorm ways to prank south-bound JMT-ers, like relaying “messages” from their friends in front of them that they did not send. I say that MeHap should climb up passes behind day-hikers, and sing while he does it. While twirling his trekking poles like batons. Somehow we start joking about Spark using whey protein to wash his clothes. (Spark loves whey protein.) We’re laughing a lot and since we’re climbing we’re already breathing hard, and so it feels like we’re going to suffocate.
It’s almost dark when we reach the lake. Instigate and Spark are there, and so are Egg and Ole and a few other hikers that we’ve just met. They’ve built a fire and are huddled around it, eating dinner. I make some dinner and set up my shelter- it’s cold at the lake. It’s always cold at lakes. Then we sit around the fire and have storytime until it’s too dark to see. A sixteen mile day! I think. Lots of laughing! Hot springs! I am happy! This is exactly what I needed.