Lean on me
Day 9. 9/12/13
In the small, cold, dark, wee hours of the morning, someone had been up early preparing giant breakfast burritos inside the VVR Restaurant/store/main building. Lindsey and I awoke and left our tent cabin to go check out the usual breakfast offerings- cereal, coffee, toast, oatmeal. None of these things have prices. No one knows what they cost. I settle for some toasts and a packet of condiment style salsa. It had a 35 cent sticker on it. Not sure that got put on the tab. I do think that the toast and jelly went on there. As well as the coffee. The Brits came in shortly after and put a hurt on the burrito cache.
After breakfast we packed our washed clothes, washed selves, smelly backpacks and reluctantly headed for the cash register. It was time for us to move on so we closed out our tab, which had accrued nicely after a tent cabin, a few beers, lunch, dinner, and a salsa packet. And laundry soap.
The ride/shuttle service to Bear Creek was free, though. As we waited for the shuttle (which was a Chevy Silverado driven by an 18 or 19 year old employee who normally operates the water taxi) I rummaged through the 55 gallon drum outside that was labeled "Hiker barrel." A few Clif bars. Some mac and cheese, other unnamed delicacies that had been discarded by desensitized travelers.
We bade farewell to Simon and Jonas. They'd decided to stick around VVR another day to explore and hang out. Kevin and Allison were gone or sleeping. We didn't see them. The Brits were breaking camp as we got in the truck. They'd camped atop the soft pine-needly camping area.
The Chevy Silverado quad cab taxi drove us to the Bear Creek trailhead which isn't anything more than a sign at the end of a road which is in the middle of the forest. After 7.6 miles, the Bear Creek trail intercepts the John Muir Trail 6 miles beyond where we'd originally turned off JMT proper the day before. This circuitous route circumnavigates a devious looking section of switchbacks and allowed us food, civilization, company.
The kid in the Silverado delivered us to the trailhead. With the car running, he hopped out of his driver's seat to help us get bags and shake our hands. Good kid. Firm handshake. He'll go far in life.
If there's one thing I can do, it's judge character on the slightest bit of information. That kid had moxy. (which, if you're ever in the Northeast, is also the name of an odd but delicious tasting soda.)
I adjusted my black Osprey bag on my back and off we went.
Here's what I knew of Bear Creek--they make powdered soups that are a backcountry staple.
We wandered up and down a not very well worn trail. It was late morning by this time. 10:30 maybe. We stopped after 15 minutes to address foot needs for Lindsey. I opened my bag and got out the bag of beef jerky I found. I planned on eating a bite or two.
I ate about the whole bag. I'm not sure if it was my body's way of adjusting to the massive intake of calories from proper meals and saying "KEEP FEEDING ME!"or if I had a parasite, but I was ravenous. I ate. We moved on. We stopped. Filtered water, did the whole bit. We were not traveling slow by any means, but the day was not going by quickly.
A couple of miles in the skies thickened with low hanging grey clouds.
I tried walking faster. I couldn’t. I tried taking bigger steps. My body wouldn't let me. My body as a whole was revolting for some reason.
Every step was laborious. Uphill was a nightmare. I felt like I'd been saddled with an extra 80 pounds. Movement took on the speed of molasses crawling up the side of a bowl. Lindsey, for once, was the fast one. I trudged along the trail as it slowly gained elevation. Time crept on.
After an indiscernible amount of hours, I looked up to examine the sky again.
The trail took us through some more vegetated areas; thick brush and foliage choked out the dim light and made me feel like I was walking down an unlit hallway.
I heard the faintest "click" sound. After a second, I heard another one.
We were going uphill on a section of the Bear Creek Trail that was flanked on one side with low bushes and leafy vegetation, small aspens and an occasional huge pine tree on the other side. The clicking hurried.
It sounded like a chorus of 100 people clicking pens as fast at a comfortable pace. It was raining.
I was tired, I'd hit a wall. Food did not give me any energy. I felt like a toy with dead batteries. I slumped my body down on the uphill side of the trail under one of those huge pine trees. I laid myself on the soft semi-wet ground that was teeming with beetles, ants, spiders, sap, pine needles. In the fetal position, I rested. Lindsey sat upright under the tree.
The sky dropped rain drops steadily, but not heavily. Under our tree, none of them reached us. I must have laid there with my eyes closed a good few minutes. Then I laid there with eyes open. Then I half-assedly sat myself up, leaning heavily on my left elbow. I'd come to the conclusion that my body needed electrolytes. I had no other explanation why my muscles which were unsore would not respond to what my brain told them to do. It was the damndest thing.
I chugged a nalgene bottle of water with two NUUN tabs.
20-30 minutes later, I got up. Lindsey got up. She hiked on up the incline of the trail. I hiked slowly in her wake.
Psychologically, I convinced myself I felt better. A short bit after my long break under the pine tree though, I was back to feeling like I was running on no energy. I walked slow, head down, staring at the ground and into my site pops the most glorious thing.
Lindsey is clanking away up the soil and granite with her trekking poles. She'd offered me one but I didn’t want to take it. I used hers for a little bit and offered it back to her.
I'd spotted on the left side of the trail in a cluster of dead tree debris the most perfect, arrow-straight staff in all of the woods. It was about 6 feet long, 1 inch in diameter. Straight, smooth, weathered. Old.
This would be my hiking stick.
I took one end and wedged it between a rock and a tree trunk. With heft, I pushed my weight into the other end of the stick and it broke with a loud "SNAP." It was the perfect length.
For the next few hours, I'd hike with the help of my staff. On the climbs and uphill steps, I would plant the stick in front of me, grab it with two hands, and use all of my upper body strength to hoist myself up the 7-10 inch steps that littered our route. It was slow and hard. I'd swing the staff forward in my right hand. Plant it in the ground. Push it into the ground with all my might. It would shake as I transferred my weight forward past the stick. I'd pick it up and repeat. In my head for the next few hours as I'd rely on this twig to get me where I wanted to go, I couldn’t help but imagine the stick singing "lean on me, when you're not strong. I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on. For it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on." Me and that stick had a bond. We were partners now. It was my pony and I was its 200-something pound jockey.
That's how this day went. Off and on sprinkles. A constant struggle to maintain a casual strolling pace, much less a decent hiking pace. Staring at the ground instead of Lindsey.
I did start to feel better a couple of hours after drinking my electrolyte mix. By the time I felt better, we were off the dirt and soil trail and onto a large granite hillside. I was bounding up it at regular speed! It was a miracle. I used the stick, but didn’t have to force all my weight on it. At the top of the granite hill was a small notch that led us down a tight granite corridor. We dropped down on the other side of the rise and then Lindsey yelled "OW…" and a mix of bad words.
She'd been feeling the hurt Achilles sensation here and there as well. Whatever she did and however she stepped- she was immobilized. She limped over to a rock and I taped her ankle up to immobilize it. We ate some Fritos we'd bought at VVR. After a good long rest, we walked slowly forward.
Not much later, we hit the trail junction and saw the familiar JMT trail blaze on a tree. It felt awesome to be back on track but it was not a good day. We hiked past some folks camping near the trail and filtered water near their area. It's about 6 now, which amounts to a bit less than a blistering 1mph of hiking. It's not dark, but it's certainly evening and we need to be thinking about camp. Lindsey is hurt, I've been leaning on a twig the better majority of the day, it is still cloudy, and we don't know what's in store weather, campsite, or dinner-wise.
The JMT follows Bear Creek further up stream and we get nearer to its source. On our left a trail junction appears. It's a side trail up to Lake Italy. Some fractions of a mile after that, a meadow opens up in a wonder of stream meanders and creek crossings.
We're camping here.
Tired, hurt, now completely beef-jerkyless we set up our tent on a rock and gravel island. We sleep with Bear Creek to the west, Steep Sierra cliffs on our right. The moon is waxing and getting brighter every night. The 30 or 40 percent that's visible shines with spot-light intensity. We eat. I get in the tent, make my notes, (there was a lot to write about) and then I sleep.
Notes from the trail:
STAYED @ VVR LAST NIGHT.
10AM NOW, CATCHING SHUTTLE TO BEAR CREEK TRAIL.
DID LAUNDRY AND SHOWERS.
STAYED IN TENT CABIN.
PLACE NICKEL AND DIMES EVERYTHING.
NOT TOO GOOD OF A PLACE.
FEEL RESTED THOUGH.
FOOD WAS OK. (this was initial general displeasure talking. Food went hard in the paint)
PICKED UP BEEF JERKY, CHEEZ-ITS, AND
MAC&CHEESE FROM HIKER BARREL.
MUIR TRAIL RANCH IN 2 DAYS.
NOT SURE HOW FAR WE'LL GET TODAY.
VVR IS HIKER TRAP.
-FUCK THIS DAY. APPROX 10 MILES.
LEFT @ 1030 FROM TRAIL.
IN BED AT 1940.
9HR. 10MILES. THAT'S SHIT.
MY BODY WAS AT 60% FOR SOME REASON FOR 3/4THS OF THE SHIT HIKE UP BEAR CREEK.
DOWNED A BOTTLE OF NUUN (32OZ) AND FELT BETTER
LINDSEY HURT ANKLE PRETTY BAD. TAPED IT.
HARD TO MOVE FAST.
12+MI DAY TOMORROW SO EARLY START PENDING WEATHER.
GOT RAINED ON LIGHTLY ALL DAY TODAY.
NOT SURE HOW TOMORROW WILL BE.
STILL HURTS ME TO WALK BUT HURTING IS NORMAL NOW (Damn that's emo)
FEET OK OTHERWISE. WOULD LIKE TO BE DONE IN 10 DAYS.
MIGHT ABORT IF LINDS CANT GO OR HURTS TOO MUCH.
FUCK BEAR CREEK TRAIL.
BROKE R SHOELACE.
SHORTS FITTING WELL NOW.
NO IDEA WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD…