I sleep in (7am, such luxury), waiting for the store to open so I can charge my phone before heading out. But fire rumors abound, confounding plans. It’s one mile from the trail. Three miles from the trail. People are turning back because of the smoke. It’s not affecting the PCT at all. The trail is open. The trail might be closed in two days. The list goes on, even the rangers (hovering near, warning us to pick up our trash and checking for bear cans) are not in agreement.
Knowing I will be very concerned hiking through smoke, I make the call to my amazing friend Hanie who has offered to drive up from Davis and take me around the fire if needed. We are supposed to meet near Tahoe on the fourth, but the fire is between here and there. She’s sitting on an airplane about to take off and we make rushed, and hopefully coherent, alternate plans to meet at Sonora Pass this Thursday morning. I am relieved to have this option, and now I only need to carry out a bit more than half the food in my pack. A problem I immediately set about remedying.
Basically I spend all day sitting at the picnic table eating and listening to new bits of contradicting fire information. I eat a Lunabar. The fire is mostly contained. A tortilla with peanutbutter an jelly. The fire has doubled in size. One of my now extra dinners. A beer. A banana. A flavorless meal in a bag from the hikerbox that I douse in barbecue sauce from the cafe. Watermelon.
I pause to read my job contract, amusingly addressed trail-style on official UC stationary to “PCT Hiker, General Delivery, Tuolumne Meadows.”
It’s for a two-year postdoc as part of an interdisciplinary group studying water. I am incredibly excited to meet the team and to talk about possible new projects. And also by the phrases “annual salary,” and “benefits,” increasingly scarce in academia. I sign with a well-travelled sharpie, before gleefully dropping it back in the mail. I resume eating until I am drowsy, and then curl up in my Tyvek, between table and a tree beside the road in the Tuolumne store parking lot. “Tyvek nap. So hikertrash,” joke those around me.
The clouds darken, drops falling here and there. We don’t want to hike out in the rain, so we sit out in it instead, too tough to retreat to the shelter of the store awning (full disclosure: I retreated to shleter). Sometime after 5, Soccer Mom, Rooster, Crunchberry, Water Bed and I head toward Glen Aulen a two hour walk away. The path through the meadow is practically a road, built to accommodate masses of day trippers. We stop and take turns reading interpretive signs aloud, learning about granite basins, pocket gophers, and the ‘subnivean’ space under the snow where tiny animals scamper through the winter.
At Glen Aulen, we wedge our tents into the crowded backpacker section of the high sierra camp. A woman hiking southbound quickly identifies us as fellow PCTers. She shares the news about good food and bad phone service ahead, and tells of hiking through the smoke breathing through a bandana, though actual conditions, as always, may vary.