Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 15 Starting the second challening half of the trail - through the San Joaquin Valley into Evolution Valley

It had to happen.  I eventually had to leave this paradise called Muir Trail Ranch and its food and comforts and start my hike again.  I keep thinking that I really could just stay here …but that is always my reaction to having to set out on my own again and leaving the comforts of the nest.  And so I send emails, have breakfast, make a packed lunch, repack and leave loads of food behind and put on my pack.  Ohhhhh, it's so very heavy again since I am needing food for 10 days.  On the bright side, my pack will never ever be as heavy again as today at least on this hike.  I don't weigh my pack since I would be completely demoralized. Better not to know the actual numbers.

I set off quite late (after 10 am) and still make good time.  I overtake a few groups, among them retired teachers from Massachusetts of all ages including 70 and 80 years.  What and inspiration.  My route is along the stunning San Joaquin River gorge.  The trail winds along the steep cliffs and it's a different landscape all together.  From now on my route will lead me over increasingly higher passes and through wilder and less accessible areas of the Sierra Nevada.  I am ready as well as anxious about the longer climbs and descents, the altitude and the weight of my pack.  I am excited about the landscapes and more remote wilderness.

It's about 1 pm and I am wavering as to how far to go today.  I can stay right here, at the foot of the 2 mile stepp ascent to evolution valley or I can continue on and find campsites along evolution creek.  I can't decide and my energy is low.  I pause, have a snack and wait for something to happen that will tell me what to do.  As always when I pause, surrender and wait - I find out.  A lovely couple that I met a few minutes earlier as we all stopped in the shade to adjust our packs and drink water is passing by me.  They look like they have the same motto - Pole Pole.  Their schedule is tigher, they have to hike out on the 20th of August, I have given my self until the 25th or more if I need to.  They continue without a break, without a glance up or backward and say to me - come along.  And so I let myself be caught and inspired by their energy.  I am now so finely attuned to my body that I can feel the food kicking in and know exactly when and how much to eat and drink.  Except at the ranch that is where I overate during dinner and breakfast and didn't sleep so well - and how would I even want to resist salads and fruits and dessert and tofu chorizo sausage cream sauce pasta and mexican tacos and…..

Moving along behind them I walk and sweat and take a pause and drink and look around and before I know it I am on the top of the cliff and the ground is leveling out.  I am exhuberant and tell the couple how much they have inspired and energized me.  We stop at the river that we have to ford, take our shoes off and I take the lead to find a way through the rushing water.  Sometimes there are deeper pools and they are hard to see. I look at the pattern of ripples on the water and the way the water swirls along rocks and the wood and the ripples guide me safely across.  And then the real slog begins.  We all think that we are just about to enter the meadow and the campsites everybody talks about with real delight.  Mc Lure Meadow is the destination for many who leave the Ranch and it's supposed to be beautiful.  We walk and walk and walk and keep leap frogging and it keeps going uphill and no meadow in sight.  Some campsites are among the trees but they are not that attractive.  And then it starts to rain which does not help our end of the day energy and mood.  Finally, a campsite that works for the couple and we say good bye.  I continue on, giving them privacy and eventually pass the ranger station and other campers.  I get to the point where I am done.  It is raining hard by now and getting dark.  It seems like all the campgrounds near water and on level space are taken.  I come upon a large group that has a tarp set up, a real camp kitchen, lots of individual tents and figure it's a fishing group and am a bit upset that they have taken up so much space.  Desperation drives me and I ask them if they would mind if I set up my tent below their space, close to the meadow, under the trees.  They dont' mind.

I find my site, a bit protected and hurry to set up my tent.  No dinner for me tonight, I am exhausted and it's too wet to cook.  I line the tent on the inside with trash bags just in case the rain splatters up again or puddles and comes into the tent.  I want to keep my down sleeping bag dry by all means.  I so hope it will clear overnight, I am getting sick of the rain.  And then a gift….I just finished getting changed when a deep male voice outside my tent says: Mam?  I am surprised and a bit rattled - Oh no, the ranger…what did I do wrong?  Too close to the water?  Do I have to pack up and leave?   I say Yes, I am here.  And the voice says:  Would you like to join us for dinner?  Wow, I can't believe what I just heard.  All I can say is: Right now?  With the group?  Are you sure?  How wonderful?  YEs yes, I'll be right there.  He chuckles and I put on my rain gear and head up.

The group welcomes me warmly,  fills my plate with mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, hot cocoa in a cup and 2 pies for dessert.  They pull a chair close to the fire and even find sticks for me to dry my socks over the fire.  What an amazing act of generosity and to notice how exhausted and tired I was I passed by them.  They are a group of hikers and horseback riders doing the John Muir Trail in 28 days.  Their luggage is carried by horse back and they have a cook and 2 cowboys, pack horses, get resupplied every so often and are in a great mood. Except, of course, for the rain.  We talk, share stories, I get to know a bit about the lives of the cowboys for whom this is a seasonal job and love the company.  It makes this rainy night bearable.    Quite late for me I head to bed.  The sky is still dark and it is raining.

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