All clear

Awareness crowds in, whispers with every mile that ticks from ahead to behind: this will not last forever. Appreciate every step. A few more days, one last town stop, then the scramble to Whitney. I get teary thinking about a ground squirrel, or unrolling my gear, obvious symptoms of pre-nostalgia: missing something while it’s still happening.

Carrying everything necessary, how it cares for me! (Oh seriously... this is getting syrupy.)
It’s probably good I’m on the home stretch… this is getting syrupy.

Also, the nervousness that dogged me so often has mostly dissipated. I got used to living outside, and hadn’t even noticed. The nerves’ absence creates a vacuum, which draws in observation, reflection, whimsy, and just being. I’m getting past the smoke, both the literal stuff and the haze of fretting. The smallest moments begin to glow:

A guy runs breezily up Mather Pass with an Arc Blast and a silver sunbrella.

A crazed meteor streaks through nightly light show that is the silver lining of having to get out of a warm tent at 2:00 am to pee.

Best seat in the house
Best seat in the house

A waterfall plunges into a stain of lipstick red at its base. Graffiti? Here? My confused, civilized brain automatically categorizes shapes in the woods as urban things: a rectangular stone reads as an abandoned mattress, what looks like a cigarette butt is actually a two-inch snap of branch, and the graffiti? A dense cluster of crimson flowers. Much better. (The exception: whenever I hear a rumbling in the sky, I still assume it is a thunderstorm approaching, although invariably it’s just another airplane roaring out of LAX.)

Sometimes I don’t photograph the glowing moments, even if my phone is handy. This is just for me, I think, predicting that Dollar Lake will, under the influence of memory, expand into a mythic beauty greater than two-dimensional reality, amplified by being unquantified. Perhaps some things are best left unshared.


Helping other hikers, even in very small ways, also gives a good feeling that lasts for miles. How satisfying to be able to provide from the small amount carried on one’s back in the middle of the John Muir Wilderness. I am able to do this twice:

Crossing Glen Pass, I find four extremely tan people lounging on top. They are waiting for the fifth in their party, a woman I ran into on the way up– almost literally. I was sweating and grunting and staring at the trail beneath my feet so intensely that I didn’t notice her until she was practically underfoot. She’d found a tiny column of shade under a rock and was breathing hard, resting. She gave a few words of encouragement, and I squinted through a stinging mix of salt and sunscreen and chirped my usual “Beautiful day!”

View from Rae Lakes to Glen Pass, bumping against deep sky

Up top, while I chug water, they wait for their friend and discuss caloric miscalculations. They hired a pack mule string to deliver a resupply, but it won’t arrive until tomorrow morning. All they have to feast on is the view. They casually, carefully intimate that they are out of food for the rest of the day. This is called yogi-ing, probably after a certain bear of “What’s in that pic-a-nic basket?” notoriety. It’s not outright asking… just apprising passersby of one’s situation and… and… ?

Fortunately I have lots of pemmican to share. A fellow shakes my hand enthusiastically, then slices each bar into five rectangles with a tiny knife. Thus divided, it doesn’t look like much, but maybe it’ll take the edge off. The caboose hiker appears at last, to cheers and a snack.

Later, I meet a father and son from LA, hiking for a week. They just started, but already the son’s trekking pole is failing. “Do you have tape?” he asks me, by way of greeting. My repair/first aid kit is tiny but decent. I hand him two feet of duct tape carefully wrapped around an eighth-inch diameter metal tube that encloses a sewing needle. (Got to keep the needle safe, else it’ll put a pinhole in the groundcloth, the tent, the inflatable pad, or one of a dozen other sensitive items. This is the stuff you tinker with obsessively during the long winter before a journey, when it’s too cold to hike.)

The man’s father speaks little English, and they talk softly with each other while the son twists tape around the pole joints. The son’s accent makes his gladness all the more appealing: “Thank you, thank you!” he shouts. “I will tell everyone that I have been saved by a beautiful hiker!” I’m not sure he’s saved– the duct tape probably won’t hold all week, but maybe for a few days… or at least until he meets the next beautiful hiker with tape to spare.


The trail passes through different neighborhoods, so to speak: here’s a scrubby, run-down patch where the working stiffs live, there a fine Japanese garden, next palatial old-money estates of old money, and now an abandoned lot. Nature wears many costumes.

And watch out when she’s wearing chinquapin

Considering this, I pass a couple of guys hiking north. “It’s even prettier upstream,” they tell me. Not half a mile farther, I hear a “whoop!” as four pale, skinny-dipping men flail for cover when they see me coming. “The world’s smallest towel!” one moans, dodging behind a bush with a hankie. Was that what they meant by “prettier upstream”?

I laugh my way south. This is gonna be good.