Day 6, July 15th: Pocket Meadow to Vermilion Valley Resort. 3.6 miles. (Note: these entries are from my trip last summer. I am writing them after-the-fact)
Cowboy camping is great, although I have a fear of rolling off my groundsheet and getting my sleeping bag covered in dust or mud. My nose is cold from poking out of the cinched-up hood. We pack up and eat our random things for breakfast, then leave. We're both in a good mood. It's still smoky, and the flowers are incredible, but we can't stop to appreciate them. Will we catch the ferry? The trail switchbacks down through nodding Black-Eyed Susans and hanging orange Tiger Lilies, hot pink newberryiae Penstemon, and everything besides.
We're going to miss the ferry time if it's actually at 8, but we still keep going in case the info we have is wrong or if the ferry waits. If not, we can always have a meal at the lake and walk the flat 8 ish miles to VVR today. The trail splits off to VVR through a thick and meadowy forest. The path becomes narrow and dense grasses brush our legs, a few mosquitos find us and half-heartedly follow.
The trail disappears at the edge of the lake where a sign with the ferry times is posted on a tree. The time we had is wrong, it's actually 9:45, so we'll catch the ferry after all! The lakeshore is cut by small ridges of granite filled in between with water. We make our way across one of the ridges to the upside-down orange Home Depot bucket sitting on a metal post that marks where the ferry will land. I set my pack down against a granite ledge and unfurl my accordion foam pad. I'm about to break open some snacks for an early lunch when the ferry boat comes up, early, and scrapes onto the shore the next granite ridge over. I shove my things back in and we scramble over the rocks. We get in with a PCTer couple. It's a big boat, and we lay our packs and trekking poles down the middle length-wise with plenty of leg room to spare. We pull out into the middle of the lake and idle, waiting for more hikers to appear. The engine is too loud for conversation and the air is tainted with exhaust. After half an hour we start heading down the lake towards VVR.
The wind roars by and forces me to squint and keep my head down. Apparently there's AT&T service in the middle of the lake, but we have Verizon. The boat pulls up to a high dirt bank, engine puttering, and we slide up onto it with a crunch. Paddle boats and canoes and random junk lines the bank. We step out and skirt around a stack of old windows. The man gives us a tour, pointing out the bathrooms and laundry, explaining the honor-pay system. My mom gives me a mischievious sideways look as we walk past the tent cabins, and I shake my head at her, grinning. We set up our tents in the camping grove, leaving our packs inside, and go to the store to set up our tab and get our free drink. There are more PCTers here than I've seen in a while, as we've been hitting the tail end of the herd. There are so many people around and things to do! We watch as a helicopter dips down to the lake with a gigantic bucket, fills it with water, and then flies to the fire that's by the side of the lake. Because of the fire, they won't be serving lunch, and we sit around talking to people for 6 hours, waiting for dinner.
I check out the hiker boxes, which are mostly mystery-powder ziplocs. There are some peanut packets left over from the person ahead of us who only packed chocolate bars and peanuts, and I pocket one, and also a bag of chips. In the store, a bear skin hangs on the wall. I can see the gray dash where the bullet went into its head. There's a refrigerated wall of drinks, and boxes of pawed-over and dirty drink packets. They have a packet of TJ's brand chia seeds, and other completely random things that look like they've all been pulled from the hiker box or abandoned hiker resupplies.
We talk to two guys who are about to head off on a big cross-country mountaineering trip. They go by their backpacking forum internet-handles, Alpine Mike and Ultra-Photonic, and we talk about photography, ultralight gear, Norman Clyde, and philosophy, all of which Alpine Mike is passionate about. My mom puts us in the laundry queue. Finally the dinner bell rings and we get inside. The rice that comes with the salmon we ordered tastes rancid, but the chili cheese fries were really good. I go to the bathroom after and on the way back start to help out with making lunch bags for the firefighters. My mom finds me and starts helping, too. We started with 60-80 bags until news came in that more fire fighters were coming, and we upped it to 120. We pull all of the remaining snacks from the store to fill them and joke about the spelling of Bologna when we realize several of us are labeling the sandwiches "baloney." It's dark and ash from the fire is fluttering down like snow in the light of the porch when the work finally slows down. I sit by the fire pit for a while and listen to people talking. Photonic is telling a crazy but true story about a hiking trip with his dad, who brought a homeless person along.
I finally head to my tent and snuggle in my sleeping bag, everything smelling like smoke.
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