Thursday, June 30, 2016

VVR to Mammoth Lakes: Getting Off Trail (Sorta)

     In my tent, I am finally by myself. I walk through the woods, down the trail, but there are always potentially others. Nice people who say good morning, wish you a good hike. I am in my tent, finally alone with many other people surrounding me. I showered today. Looked at my body in the mirror and wasn't sure what I was looking at. The days from Kennedy Meadows caused my ribs and hips to poke out from underneath my skin. The days in Bishop hid them again, but since Bishop, my body has grown muscle and trimmed the fat from my sides. I pull my waistbelt tight and it no longer pushes anything extra out from underneath it.
My body is sunburnt, more so than in the desert. Schweppes said it's because we're closer to the sun. Underneath my nose and chin, the skin is peeling from the light reflecting off the snow after hours of walking through it. My shoulders blister. I walk towards the passes in anticipation. The approaches drain your energy, pulling your body towards the ground. On the steep, rocky switchbacks, I tell myself I only have to make it to the next shady spot and then I can stop and breathe. When I make it to that spot, I tell myself there must be a better spot to stop and rest and so I walk on. By the time I finally recognize the spot I would like to sit, the rocky incline usually flattens and I continue on my way.
     It's the mile before the pass that my excitement comes to me. I am able to look up, see other hikers slogging up the switchbacks, kicking footholds into the snow. I can see the top, where most often, there is a mound of snow that you must climb up almost vertically. My body is in constant pain, a dull ache that feels natural. I no longer grunt when I hoist my backpack onto my back. I know now that it belongs there, the straps hugging my shoulders, my filled camelback resting in the dip on my lower back. It took five days to make it to VVR, a campground they call a resort that gives you a ferry ride across the lake and a free beer when you walk in the store. When I made it to the spot where the ferry would eventually pick me up, there were four others scattered around the rock outcropping, a couple hunched under their sun umbrellas, a couple others shifting along with the shadows. We all waited four hours, all the while watching as hiker after hiker appeared from the woods. Everyone began to shift as 3pm came around and then a girl said, "There!" She pointed to a speck on the water, all of us squinting, laughing how that could not possibly be the ferry we had been waiting for. Sure enough, a rocking, fourteen foot outboard fishing boat comes skudding up, an older lithe man hopping around the two hikers inside it to keep it from slamming into the rocky shore. Somehow, he managed to fit six of us in there with our bags strapped to the bow. All through the ride, all I could think of was how if we were to tip, thanks to my swimming skills, I would be able to make it to shore and at one point in the ride, I looked to the side of me and noticed a sticker with the recommended weight. I looked around, counted the bags, and came up with a number a few hundred pounds over the weight limit. As long as we hit no waves on the seven mile ride, we would totally be fine. 
     I stayed there for a night, sitting around a fire with others-- PCTers, JMTers and a photographer. I got back to the trail midday and climbed Silver Pass, knowing this would be the one of the last of the passes in Sierras. When I reached the top, I didn't stop, I could see someone up ahead and I would try to catch them, but with the snow there were many different paths and this person somehow just disappeared. A JMT hiker warned me after the pass, when you dropped down into Tully Hole, the mosquitos would be horrendous so try and make it up the switchbacks. I smiled and nodded, yes, sure I would make it up the switchbacks. I lasted another five miles and set up my tent next to a narrow, fast running creek. I moved as fast as I could. I would snap a pole into place and then swipe along all of the exposed parts of my skin. Finally when my tent was standing, I unzipped the door and threw all of my belongings in as fast as I could. After ducking in, zipping the door back up, I swatted at all of the small flying blood bags, my palms showing remnants of wings and innards. All through the evening I watched them buzz around me, bouncing off the mesh walls, wanting in. I made a quick sweep of the walls to make sure there were no new tiny tears in the fabric and went to sleep. 
In the morning, I came to the switchbacks I was supposed to make it up the night before. I walked a quarter of a mile and would stop, take a breath, grab my water bottle and gulp down what I could. I would look up, sure that I would be able to see the trunks of the trees in their home at the top of the hill, but it would just be the tips of the branches, reaching out above the trail that I would see. When I reached the top, I zipped along, lightfooted and eager that I only had another 600ft to climb before Red's Meadow. After a mile, my body became tired and I couldn't make it happy again. I sat beside the trail and dug out a Twix bar, chewed at that for a few minutes and watched as six separate people passed me. I nodded to myself, thinking surely it was because we were only 15 miles from a town that I was seeing so many hikers, how yes, I had to be expecting this in the Sierras. But as I got closer to Red's, I couldn't shake that feeling of the trail no longer snaking through the wilderness, but instead it sat just on the outskirts of town, tricking all of us into believing we are experiencing everything nature can throw at us, but really it's like the Truman Show and it's not real after all. We are all just playing at backpacking in the woods. 
     The last six miles, I walked and walked, not stopping for any water breaks, passing hikers going south. When I got into Red's, a city bus pulled in front of the cafe and I got in the line behind all of the people in clean clothes with plastic water bottles, all of them sweating and yelling in the direction of their young wandering children. I flopped my bag on the shelf and sat down, people staring at me, wondering where in the woods this dirty, frowning girl had com from. The bus zipped into Mammoth, and I was let off near the city center, where I walked slowly to the brewery. I shed my bag outside and went to the counter and ordered their burger on a brioche bun with gouda and kale and tomatoes. I asked whether it came with sides and the girl informed me most people didn't even usually finish the burger so they don't give a side with it. When I ordered a salad as well, she looked at me with a smirk and when they came out, the burger took up most of the plate, and I sat there, the burger in one hand and a fork in the other, alternating bites. I sat there, my body aching and when Schweppes texted me, asking if I was staying in town for the night, I left and walked up towards the hostel. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping, buying real food and beer and when we got back to the hostel, I made him my favorite childhood meal of broccoli rolls and he made a massive tray of lasagna and we ate our double dinners and sat on the couches and we watched Orange Is the New Black with all the other hikers. We really were unaware of what was happening on the screen, but were so very content sitting next to sunburnt strangers in a generic resort town miles from that trail that was eating us all up.