Trail Update #7: Home on the Trail (Sort Of)

Day 77 (Wow…), 9:30 PM

Well hello! It’s been another beautiful stretch of hiking since I last wrote, with the land changing beneath our feet quickly and drastically, the high mountains rounding out and softening as we’ve headed north. We came out of Mammoth, hiked through Yosemite Wilderness, and worked our way up to the Tahoe area, where we took a nice couple days off in a cabin with my family. We hiked north from there through places that are familiar and homey to me (most notably through Sugar Bowl, the ski resort I’ve spent the most time at), dropping down into Sierra City yesterday and passing by the North Fork of the Yuba River. My mom and step-dad drove to meet us at Sierra City with a nice picnic, which was lovely. Ben’s parents also flew out to visit and are treating us to a night off-trail in the small town of Portola.

We’re officially way out of the High Sierra now and onto the Northern California section of the PCT. It’s hot and dry again, which would be jarring if it weren’t such a familiar climate to me given that less than a week ago we were walking right by snow banks and drinking snowmelt; to be fair though, it’s been a slower transition than that. Mammoth was the sort of end-point marker for the High Sierra; for the most part by then we’d finished up with the really high altitude, the high snowy passes, and the creek crossings through snowmelt-swollen water. The passes we did after that were 10,000 ft and below for the most part, and we saw some snow on them but weren’t significantly hindered by it. By the time we made our way to Yosemite we found ourselves repeatedly in the most beautiful, green meadows, framed between forests and impressive formations of granite. Yosemite Wilderness also had a series of mini-passes, where we’d climb up steep rocky ridges and drop down into mini-valleys, only to quickly repeat that process. In one of these valleys was a lake called Benson Lake, which had a white sand beach on one side of it. It was mountain paradise. Somewhere in Yosemite Wilderness we hit mile 1000, on the 4th of July. It was the quietest 4th of July any of us have ever experienced (though we did sleep next to a river, which was actually pretty loud.) I didn’t wish to be anywhere else.

Looking ahead at this point, it became pretty clear that we were going to hit the Tahoe area, by some miracle, right when my dad and step-mom Anna were going to be there for their own little vacation. Excitedly, I contacted everyone else in the immediate family to let them know we’d be there for a day or two. My grandpa reached out to a friend with a cabin in the area and got us a beautiful place to stay, and basically my whole family flocked to us. My grandpa, my brothers, obviously my Dad and Anna (staying at another cabin), and my mom all made appearances. It felt so fitting, after hitting 1000 miles the week before and reflecting on what this trip had been thus far and what I wanted from the rest of it, to have a nice break and see the family. It’s the kind of thing you miss on the trail, the homey feelings and laughter that come with a night of cooking and eating and being merry. I love falling into a rhythm when my family all gets together. We’re loud, and we love to cook and eat. One night we all cooked together at the cabin, and everyone was helping put things together in the kitchen; I was marinating portobellos, my dad was making burger patties, Emily was chopping veggies for salad, Aidan was toasting bread with garlic and olive oil, Mathew and Ben and Enzo were doing odds and ends, Anna was setting the table, my grandpa was on the grill, and relatively quickly our messy kitchen turned into a beautiful buffet line of fresh food. We stayed at the table together for a long time, sharing stories from the trail and laughing, and then all helped clean up. The next day we got all-you-can-eat sushi for lunch and went to Sand Harbor, on the north-west side of Tahoe, where Enzo’s girlfriend Jessee works and got us free paddleboard rentals. Altogether it was a really, really nice couple of days! Big thank you again to my family, especially my grandpa Papa Jooge, for bringing a slice of home to me on the trail! I left Tahoe feeling refreshed and energized.

One thing that’s been different on this last stretch is we’ve been a little more relaxed in our group dynamic. We split off into pairs more often to go at different paces, deciding on where and when to meet up a few days out instead of at every snack break. That’s mostly been a logistical thing, to accommodate us getting off at different places to spend time with family (Mathew and I visiting with my mom in Sierra City, Ben and Emily getting off earlier than us to see Ben’s parents, etc.) but it’s actually been pretty nice. The nature of hiking in a group has continually been a point of reflection and self-questioning for me, and often a source of frustration. Hiking in a group is by nature slower than hiking solo, and it requires a degree of coordination that at times seems to go against the natural flow of things out here.

Everything is going to change soon, though. Mathew and Ben have bought their flights home and are leaving the trail in 10 days. After that, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. Emily and I will probably have a conversation about what we each want from the rest of the trail and how to go about making that happen. Personally, I want to step up the pace. We’ve been doing pretty well, and I feel fit and accomplished, but I think there’s still room for me to grow, that I can be continually improving as a hiker on this trip. I’m not sure that’s where Emily’s at right now. I guess we’ll see.

I am looking forward to the next phase of the trip, but Mathew leaving soon is a definitely a source of sadness for me. It’s been such a wonderful experience hiking together! People say this kind of thing is a trying circumstance for a relationship, but for us it’s been nothing but positive. A learning experience, yes! – but in a good way. When it comes down to it I think we are just compatible hiking buddies, and my trip has undoubtedly been more fun and full of laughter than it would have been without him. It’s going to be a big change when he leaves. To think that despite all we’ve seen, all the changes in our group and on the land we’ve walked over, we’ve not even come halfway on this absurdly long trail! It’s probably best for me to not think about that too much.

In a few days I’ll see my mom and Paul again; they are planning on bringing another picnic to us at Belden (I really do feel spoiled and grateful and loved by all this family action in the last week!) and that will mark the end, for now, of the family visits. We’ll hike on from there into areas I don’t know very well, some of which I’ve been to before, including Lassen Volcanic National Park – I’m pretty excited for that one – and some that I haven’t, like Burney Falls State Park, which will be the end point for Ben and Mathew.

Hope this reaches you all well! Thanks to everyone following along, making me feel loved and motivated to continue writing about the journey as we go. Until next time 🙂

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