Days 130-139: The final stretch

September 10th-19th

I got home and immediately fell into “zero day” mode; lounging around and eating pints of ice cream. It was weird being at home and it hadn’t fully sunk in that this was it. As more of my trail family hit the border, I heard that more of them were going back to the Sierra now. It seemed like the weather was really good and I had been restless at home. I had taken almost an entire week off, so I felt like my body was ready.

I messaged part of my group and said I’d be in Tahoe around the time they passed through, then I could finish to Mt Whitney with them. I jumped on a train and left. Why did I take the train?!?! It was terrible! It broke down in the middle of the night and I didn’t get to South Lake Tahoe until much later in the day. Because of all the people, lights and noise, I got very little sleep on the train and by the time I hit the trail at 5pm, I was exhausted and slightly out of my mind. After hiking a few miles, I made camp and immediately passed out; I’ll try for bigger miles tomorrow to catch up.

The next day I left camp by 6:45am with a big day ahead of me. I was hoping I’d catch Sour Straws, Pinata and Jupiter. I didn’t see many people at the beginning of the day, but by the end I caught up to other southbounders, those that flipped and weekend backpackers. I met Hot Dog, Mascot and Festivus, a few southbounders. I took a break with them for a little while and then powered on. I wanted to hike until 8pm, but just after 7 I was physically done.

Overall, the day was grueling; I was exhausted hiking 34 miles after a week off, the altitude was getting to me, and my ego was pushing me hard to finish as fast as possible. I also realized that my phone cord was no longer working, meaning I couldn’t charge my phone at all. Again I asked myself “why am I out here?” My feet were suddenly blistering, my toenails felt like they were peeling off and my knees were newly swollen. I want to finish the trail completely, but I also don’t want to break myself permanently.

The following day, September 17th, I woke up and pushed hard. About a mile in, I couldn’t find my sunglasses and turned back around to camp. On the way, I ran into Mascot, who had camped a few miles before me last night. I searched the area for my sunglasses, but couldn’t find them. Shit!  I took off my pack and…found them….tucked away in a pocket. DAMN IT! I wasted two miles of walking for nothing.

I pushed on, climbing to the top of a 9,000 foot pass. I was so exhausted at the top, so sat down to have second breakfast. The three boys caught up to me and luckily had a cable I could charge my phone with. I wanted to get to Sonora Pass tonight (11,000 feet), but was becoming more unsure of that possibility. After second breakfast, I did feel better as I made my way down the other side.

I cursed myself for bringing my heavy Keen sandals. Again, “what was I thinking?!” I had used my flip flops for camp shoes and now the weather is much cooler, why would I hike in my sandals, why did I bring them?

Later in the evening, one of my heel blisters popped. It stung so bad! After a little limping, I put on the sandals and was suddenly thankful for them. I got to Carson River after 7pm (28 miles) and made camp. There were 8 more miles to Sonora Pass, the road and then the hitch into Kennedy Meadows North. I thought I’d catch my trail family today and was disappointed that I didn’t. My body was in agony as I went to bed. “I’ll get up super early and maybe catch them at Kennedy Meadows.”

A lesson that I should have learned on the trail, if you sleep next to a river and set an alarm, make sure the volume is turned all the way up! I didn’t wake up at 5 like I planned, I left camp at 7 instead. I felt miserable, my knees were screaming and mentally, I was done. After chatting with Rafael, I was ready to come home. Looking over my situation: my body is broke with potential to really hurt myself, I’m out of money, and my phone can’t charge. What if I never catch up?

I got to the top of the pass and paused. I knew it was beautiful, but I responded with “Oh…that’s nice” and continued on down the trail. Just before hitting the road another thru hiker heading north mentioned that there was a snow storm on the way. Shit, so what if I don’t catch them, my phone dies and I’m caught in a snow storm?! So many questions raced through my mind; is this a sign that I’m done? Is this just a bad day? Will I regret leaving? Will I regret staying?

When I got into Kennedy Meadows, I felt like a wild beast. There were very few people I had seen in this stretch and I felt even more out of place in the tiny restaurant. I ordered my breakfast and tried to figure out my plan. Do I stay or do I go? I took a shower, got my bear can full of food and sat on their back porch.

With my pack and food scattered in front of me, I sat and stared for a long time. It was one of the most difficult decisions. The Sierra are suppose to be a jewel of the trail and I was just over it. With so much happening, I gave in, I’m done, I’m going home. It seemed so rash and I could hear Flame’s reminder from the first week on the trail: “don’t quit on a bad day.” Was this just a bad day? Would I regret it? I’m sure I would regret it either way…but I also want to enjoy myself. Quickly, I threw my food into the hiker box, packed my bag and walked back to the highway, throwing out my thumb.

A Mustang convertible whipped to the edge of the road, offering me a ride. It was an older guy from Germany, who was vacationing in California. I explained what I was doing, which he thought was crazy. He talked about loving to drive through these mountain roads as he whipped around corners. “I’m going to die here,” I thought. He was going way too fast for my comfort and I was terrified! I asked him to take me to Bridgeport, where I’d find my way to Reno and an airplane home. When we got closer to Bridgeport, I finally got service and received a message from Jupiter. They had been at the road until 9:30 this morning, I got there at 10, I had barely missed them and could have caught up! When I got to Bridgeport, I bought a new cable and then debated…do I go back to Kennedy Meadows, pick up my food out of the hiker box and then hit the trail? Or should I just continue my journey home?

Stalling, I lingered at the gas station for a few minutes. Finally, I gave in, wrote a sign to hitch to Reno and immediately got a ride to Carson from an older couple who lived nearby. From Carson, I took the bus to Reno and hopped on a flight home the following morning. It was such a quick few days, but I was ready to be home and start a new adventure.