Day 4, July 13th: Red's Meadow Resort to Duck Pass Trail Junction. 10.8 miles. (Note: these entries are from my trip last summer. I am writing them after-the-fact)
We sleep in, and as usual I wake up to my mom getting ready for the day. It's a huge cabin, with a full kitchen and 5 or so beds, half of them in an upstairs room. It feels weird to have it to ourselves. Our packs sit by the couch, still mostly packed from yesterday. Gritty trail dust forms a film over the floor near our trail shoes, gaiters lying limply beside them. We decide not to bother with the washing machines down near the store and rinse some of our clothes in the sink, leaving them to dry on our trekking poles stretched across two chairs. They're not really that dirty yet, especially since there is so much water along this trail and we swam at Thousand Island Lake the other day. I follow my mom down for breakfast at the café in my rain and sleeping clothes. Eggs, sausage, and bacon. This hike has been luxurious so far.
The café is full and the open area between all of the buildings is scattered with hikers fiddling with their packs, few of them showing motivation to leave. We talk with a few, a PCTer named Mover who hikes every year and knows Billy Goat, and a JMTer named Kapiko from Hawaii. They offer my mom encouragement and advice to HYOH after the hard moments in the heat yesterday.
Finally, after dilly-dallying quite a bit more, we get moving at 10:20; late by hiker standards. The first mile after Red's the trees are once again snapped in half, or uprooted completely, and littered across what was once the forest floor. We wade through ferns that tower almost to our waists. We meet a hiker named Robert, who is carrying three bear cans and a month's worth of food, hiking from lake to lake and fishing. He explains that there was a huge, sudden windstorm that swept through the Sierra a few winters back and caused huge swathes of trees to snap off. It was a combination of incredible wind speeds and the fact that the wind came from the opposite direction than normal, where the trees didn't have root systems to support them. (I find evidence of this event as far south as Kearsarge Pass. Without Google to corroborate, this explanation was as good as any and as far as I've researched it seems true).
The rest of the day is a steady uphill along dry and sandy ridges. Good cell service continues well past Red Cone, a volcanic-looking red and conical mountain. PCTers pass us, including a group that have dirty dreadlocks down to their waists and are gray with a film of dirt and grime. I think they must be stoned, although I'm not even sure what that looks like, because they don't react or even blink to my hello as they stumble past me. They're the first I've met that smell bad (I disagree that thruhikers really "stink". They just smell human).
We pass a group of JMTers, including a girl who just got Altras at Mammoth Lakes (Red's) to replace a pair of problematic boots. She's excited that I have a pair, too, and calls me her sole sister.
I'm sorry if these entries are all just about the people I meet and interactions; the JMT truly is a social trail.
We find a campsite by a creek near the Duck Pass Trail junction and decide to stop here, instead of pushing up an elevation rise to Purple Lake. We eat Mac n Cheese, and I add a sweet and spicy tuna packet that I was gifted in Tuolumne. I wish I would have just eaten the tuna by itself as it loses its flavor in the watery noodles.
My "sole sister" and the rest of the big group she's with camp on a rise across from us. They've brought a red hammock and it hangs between two pine. I go down to the creek to filter water and sing Christmas songs to pass my least favorite chore. The sun is below the ridge and the light is turning grey. I sit in the meadow on a rock and try to write in my journal, but there are mosquitos and instead of writing I catch them to press between my journal pages like flowers.
I go to bed to end the buzzing and biting. I'm cozy and I turn my phone volume down as low as it will go, set it by my ear inside my sleeping bag, and listen to Lullabye by Billy Joel on repeat. My dad used to sing it to me and my brother when we were upset, and it's soothing. I love the symmetrical and geometric ridgeline of my tarp-tent, the way it sways gently when the wind runs over it. How the moon makes it bright inside and casts shadows. The rustle of the wind and my mom as she turns over in her air mattress. I tell my tent in my mind how much I love it, euphoric, thoughts running through my mind like a creek over stones. I need to go to bed though, my legs throb anc are tired.
I get up to pee, crouching barefoot behind a bush willow, hidden by the dark. I stand by the entrance to my tent, reluctant to get back in. A PCTer cowboy camps in the meadow below us, cooking in his sleeping bag by the light of his headlamp. The fading light of the sky, stars fading in, and his headlight beam moving back and forth are the only light. I stand barefoot in the dark, breathing silently. I love this place, I love being here, I don't want it to end. I let the mountain cold sink into my body, the cold, sharp, earthy smell of it clinging to my skin. I stay there for a while, watching the meadow and the stars.
Finally I give in and crawl into my tent. It's a long and gradual while before I fall asleep.
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