Miles: 20 something; I hardly count anymore
As someone who blogs daily, I always welcome the discovery of 4G phone service from remote ridges, roads, mountaintops. Especially now in the Sierras, where these moments can be pretty far between. If you do not venture into town, there are exactly two places that I know of with AT&T coverage between Chicken Spring Lake and Sonora Pass, near 300 miles (Bear Ridge and heading in and out of Red’s Meadows if you are taking notes).
Sometimes I check intentionally for service, while ridge walking with a town in sight, or anytime I have a clear view of Owen’s Valley. Other discoveries are surprises. Like today, when I took my phone of airplane mode to allow the GPS to update my location (phones have separate GPS antennas that work independent of cell service, most PCTers take advantage of this for navigation). A couple weekend hikers Cheese and I were talking to on the ridge above a lake had asked how far they were from Carson Pass. As my Halfmile App updated (7.5 miles was the answer) I picked up full service. This cut conversation short as I retreated excitedly toward the internet.
But sometimes the communication webs are waiting for me, asking me to respond. To sign things I cannot sign, or edit things I cannot edit out here with just my phone. Today little red notifications pop up everywhere at once. A voicemail from my sister, urging me to call as soon as I can, bad news though no one, she clarifies had died. Sad enough, though, to merit Very Expensive long distance calls to Canada.
As I talk to my sister, dark thunderclouds which have gathered extra early today, crest over the peak and head in my direction. I need to call my parents but more immediately, need to get off this ridge. I have Big Life Questions to contemplate today, between thunder claps and another afternoon of dashing across tree-less trail. But today the stormy skies seem fitting to the news. So strange to have distant problems echoed by the local weather.
I also had trail magic for motivation. The guys who asked the distance to the road told us there was a cooler of fruit waiting there. As I climb the last big hill before the road, the dark clouds brewing in the west move in, initiating a new round of thunder nearer than the last. I leave the tree-line, eyeing the sky, looking at the trail ahead zigzagging across bare rocks up over a ridge devoid of any vegetation. Even the ubiquitous flowers are missing, little-lone a tree taller than me. I look up at the clouds, back at the trail ahead. But the chance of fruit outweighs the chance of being struck by lightening, and over I go hoping desperately that there are trees just out of sight on the other side.
Trees are not far, offering their stalwart protection as I descend. Near the bottom, I run into a family headed to a nearby lake. I stop to chat, hoping for an update on the possibility of food at the road. There’s a young girl, maybe eight years old, and I ask her to guess where I started walking. She’s shy at first, but when I explain how far, she asks “do you take rests?” When I answer that I’ve taken a few days off, but should probably take more breaks, she gets excited and explains that she drew a line in the trail a little ways back, a place to take a break. About a half mile down the trail I see a line drawn across the trail, and the words “Stop. Rest” scratched into the sand. So I do, despite the promise of produce, closing my eyes for a moment and taking two long, deep breaths.
At the road, there’s a tidy log visitor’s center run by volunteers, and still open. A man appears, “I’ve heard you have fruit?” I ask hopefully. “Where are you coming from, he replies.” Mexico, I say, realizing that in my little used bright new rain jacket, clean legs and shoes rinsed by wet vegetation, I am lacking my usual telltale layer of hiker-trash dirt. But my answer suffices and I am led to a cooler full to the brim with fruit and soda, and a bin of chips and other snacks.
They are closing soon, I have just made it, but realize Soccer Mom will be too late. I ask if I can take some for friends, and am welcome to as much as I’d like. Outside on the porch, I wait out the rain, chatting with a day hiker. I’ve hidden my small bounty, a banana, pear, two apples and two sodas, under my sunhat (the only real work it has done today). Soccer Mom and her father arrive, “they’re closed” I say, the sign in the door backing up my claim. Sad faces all around, until I reveal the treasure and all is ok in the world again. So many thanks to the kind volunteers, lords and ladies of the fruits, at Carson’s Pass. The day hiker, Jose, and his partner, offer us tortillas, granola, chocolate chips, as they are leaving. And we pre-dinner feast until the storm lessens and it is again time to go.
Up over the next ridge, the frist view of Lake Tahoe. And the flowers ever more spectacular. Even more new kinds, a field of purple iris; yellow stars growing on steep volcanic slopes, like nothing I have seen before.