Day 44 – Back to the Grind

4:30 comes way, way too early, everyone’s alarms going off in sync since we’re in town on the network. I’m the only one set for 4:50, so I get to lounge for a few more minutes. This bed is so soft, the covers are so warm, how could I ever leave? But there’s a bus coming at 5:30 and there are people scurrying thither and yon, stuffing things into backpacks. I suppose I should join them, and I do even though I’m tired-nauseous and have to sit down a lot.

The bus to Lake Isabella, right outside the Kern Lodge, takes no time, mostly because there’s no one else wanting to be up and about in this tiny little tourist town this early. At Lake Isabella we sit for a while, and are joined by a man and a woman, the latter of which I’m 100% sure is the woman who took that photo of Evac and I. She’s still pretty sketchy, loud where the bus is quiet, and after some “confusion” hands the man a couple of pills. So that’s cool.

She asks questions and U-Turn answers them, the rest of us not wanting to deal with this as early as it is. She makes as if to get off at our stop, the Onyx Store, but the store’s closed and we’re off like a shot, the bus driver complicit in our escape.

There aren’t a lot of people going our way, so Yoda and I lurk on the outskirts of folks and chat about the Game of Thrones episodes I watched last night. Those folks get a hitch, and then it’s me, Yoda, and U-Turn trying to get back to the trail. There are apparently a ton of hikers in the area, because a woman headed out for a day hike stops for us. She’s hiked the John Muir Trail, and we chat excitedly about what’s to come.

Then it’s back to the trail for an 8-mile climb.

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It’s hard, but it’s not the worst; my pack is heavy with food and always too much water, but it’s smooth sailing up the hill.

When I crest a switchback, there’s someone lying stem to stern in the trail, adjusting their hat, feet up on their pack. She doesn’t move as I approach, and her friends just kind of stare at me like I’m the weird one for coming upon them. I’m a little indignant about having to walk off trail to get around her – particularly since there’s a flat spot off trail not 25 feet from where she’s laying – but once I’m fully past her, out of eyeshot, I justify her behavior to myself. Maybe she’s hurt, maybe she’s having an asthma attack, maybe she was bitten by a snake and they’re awaiting rescue. Just around the corner, I stop to pee, and as I’m coming back to the Trail one of her friends is there, smiling at me. I ask after the trail-taker-upper – is she okay? Yep, she always lays like that, apparently. Cue righteous indignation.

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Lotta up today – up and actually catching up with some of the Pack, seeing old friends, meeting new ones.

The down is actually kind of underwhelming when it comes – it’s just flat for a minute then down it goes, but as I head downward, in the distance there are snow-covered peaks. I’m looking at the Sierra from here. I get tingles, and wonder where Pineapple is. If the view is better where she is.

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I look for a food spot, find an okay one, decide to pass and immediately find a fantastic one. I hork down the leftover mac and cheese from yesterday, struggle to clean my Talenti jar of the milky, buttery goodness. I write a bit, then can’t keep my eyes open, so it’s a 15-minute nap to shake the sleepies. Or maybe 20, 20 is better. Make that 25. So it’s a full 70-minute break for me. Even though breaks are somewhat anxiety-inducing. Will I make it to the water now?

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Everyone’s been talking about music and podcasts and and and, so I downloaded the audiobook of Karen Miller’s Innocent Mage from the library yesterday. I’d started it, but never finished it – I turn it on and get sucked back into the story as the miles go by. It’s fun – it’s really fun, actually – but I don’t know how I feel about it, having gone 650 miles without, 650 miles of mostly successfully entertaining myself. I feel like maybe it’s a crutch, maybe I shouldn’t be using it. It takes up pretty much my whole day. But I want to hear the end of the story.

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I make the water, 17.1 miles in, by 5:30, catch up to the Pack again, but while there are apparently plenty of campsites nearby, they want to make it a 20+ mile day. I probably should, too – it’s early still, and every mile we make now cuts down on our time into Kennedy Meadows – so I drag myself up one last hill, one last, steep, emotionally-taxing hill, praying there will still be a spot for me.

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When I arrive, there’s an unfamiliar tent in the spot out front, but Wolf’s wolf plushie is sitting on a stick arrow next to a trail leading further back. Sho nuff, all six are there, plus Canary, who they met earlier on the trail – she’s moving on tonight, so I slip into the spot she was eating dinner in as she departs.

Everyone’s complaining about the cold, but I don’t feel it – not at first, with the hiking heat on me, not until it slips into my bones and forces me into my bag, where the wind hushes us all to sleep.

Start: 652.1 • End: 672.8 • Day: 20.7
Notable Accomplishments: Basically finished 2 of 3 climbs into Kennedy Meadows • Nearly 21 miles by a reasonable hour after starting at 8am • Almost done with this audiobook, annoyed I didn’t rent the second in the series

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