August 29, 2015 Day 12: unnamed pond to unnamed stream via Pinchot Pas
Dinner time just below Mather Pass
Something shifted since my zero day at Rae Lakes: I feel like I finally found my stride, settled into a thru-hiker mindset, and got my hiker legs! They seem to be all tied together. I’m getting stronger and acclimating to the high altitude, but I also finally realized today that slow and steady is the way to go. I hike more efficiently and feel better when I pace myself on the ups, the downs, AND the flats. The first 9 days I was so focused on speed… how fast can I get there? I have to keep up with so and so. So when I’d trudge up giant mountains and over rocky passes I’d try to make up time by hiking as fast as I could downhill and on the flatter parts of the trail. (note: there seem to be no truly ‘flat’ parts on the JMT), frantically calculating and recalculating my miles per hour and ETA with each step. I have to make up time. Hike fast… FASTER! No wonder I’ve been exhausted all the time and feeling completely worn out both physically and emotionally.
I succumbed to the rhythm of the wilderness: I enjoyed being on the trail just for the sake of being on the trail. I meandered through forests and faded meadows, across lazy creeks babbling gently with the last of winter’s snow melt and up yet another dramatic granite pass.
Today I relaxed into the trail and soaked it all in realizing I’m not out here to win any hiker land-speed records, so who cares how fast or slow I go? Why am I always competing against some impossible ideal I set for myself? Not just out here but in my everyday life: work harder, go faster, be stronger. Constantly scolding myself: you should be doing this or you should be doing that. Or you should be this or you should be that… And no matter how hard I work or how much I accomplish, I always fall short. It’s never enough. I am never enough… Today, at least as far as hiking the John Muir Trail goes, that changed. My thru- hiker mindset kicked in and all those “shoulds” were replaced with, “who the fuck cares??? Just hike!”
That’s my new answer to all my nagging expectations and criticisms: “Just hike.” I gave myself 30 days to hike this trail, so I just need to settle the fuck down and hike it. 30 days. That’s 30 days of experiencing nature. Of being exposed to the elements and the challenges of thru-hiking every single day. I don’t have to add to the challenge by being so damn hard on myself and having crazy expectations of hiking 3 miles per hour! Hell, surviving out here 12 days on my own, hiking 80 miles, over 20,000 feet in elevation is a big fucking deal! Isn’t that enough? Or maybe the real questions is: why isn’t it enough? Why do I take myself and my accomplishments for granted? Why? I guess that is something I can contemplate over the next 17 days as I “Just Hike!”
So today I hiked at a tortoise’s pace. I conquered the Sasquatch steps, hiked steadily at a comfortable pace, rested and took breaks whenever my body, mind or eyes wanted to. I swam, I stopped to soak in sweeping views of valleys and lakes, I had leisurely conversations about the trail and the smoke with South Bounders and still managed to hike almost 12 miles and climb and descend over 4700 feet in 8 hours. I’d go so far as to say this was my best day yet: I did my 7th pass crossing (6 passes, because I did Kearsarge twice) and I’m less than 2 miles and 1500’ from Mather Pass! My new mindset seems to work for me!
And I got trail mail!!! As I approached the Bench Lake Junction sign, I noticed a tiny note duct taped to the post. I thought it was going to be another warning about the smoke and the wildfires, but as I approached, to my surprise, I saw that it had my name on it! It was from Lee – one of the Arkansas Four. Lee knew from the beginning he wouldn’t be hiking the whole JMT, he had to get back early for work and Bench Lake was his planned exit from the trail. The note was dated yesterday morning and he wrote that Robert injured his leg descending Glenn Pass, but was hiking on anyway, like the trooper he is. He wrote that they’d planned on climbing Mather Pass that day (yesterday). I was thrilled to read that: they aren’t as far ahead of me as I thought… just a little over a day! Lee said goodbye to me and left his email to exchange pics and keep in touch. I smiled for miles. I was ecstatic to get that note!! It was comforting to know I have friends – a community out here – who are thinking about me. How cool is that? It was icing on top of a lovely chocolate cake of a day (hmm, do ya think I’m hungry?).
That reminds me, I realized today that another reason I’m sluggish is because I didn’t pack enough simple carbs (aka, sugar = instant energy). I try not to eat a ton of sugar in my everyday life so I resisted the temptation to pack it. Part of my goal after all, was to lose a little weight on this hike. But that strategy is failing me miserably: I’ve been eating too much protein while I hike which takes forever to convert into energy and is doing me no good on these climbs and long days. I had a package of Twizzlers in my Onion Valley resupply and the helped, but they weren’t enough. I can’t wait to get to Muir Trail Ranch and raid the buckets. Trying to eat too healthy has been hurting my endurance.
I’m also struggling with a rash on the back of my legs from my butt down to my calves. It burns as I hike and my hiking pants rub against it. I think it’s dry skin or maybe chaffing from not drying off completely before putting my pants back on after the lunch-time swims and sitting in the waterfall yesterday. All I have is Carmex which works for chapped lips, so why not chapped legs and butt? I rubbed it on and believe it or not, it helped (after it stopped burning!) I want to put something on it now, but Carmex has a strong scent and I don’t want to be an invitation to bears. My zinc oxide is all I have that’s odorless and that’s too greasy. I have Neosporin, but I don’t think that will help, I wish I’d brought Cortisone cream. Maybe I can get some at MTR.
I have the most beautiful campsite tonight in a barren and rocky landscape below Mather Pass. I feel like I’m on the moon! I’m near a crystal-clear creek cascading through the rocks and earth from Mather Pass. I found a little pool between two boulders. It was big enough to squeeze into and have a bath. It was even pretty warm! It felt good to splash the trail dust off my grimy body.
I’ve just seen one lone hiker heading toward the pass, about an hour ago and he didn’t see me. Other than him, I haven’t seen anyone since early afternoon. I have the whole moon all to myself! As usual, the smoke is obscuring the jagged peaks around me, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and snap some pictures while it’s clear.
It’s time to make dinner and settle in. I hope to sleep well tonight, I have a big day planned tomorrow. My goal is to reach the middle fork of Kings River. It’s about 13 miles after Mather Pass – all downhill. That’ll (finally) put me over the 100-mile mark!
Now it’s time to “Just Relax!”.