After more than 900 miles, my trusty Sawyer filter slowed down until no amount of backflushing could restore its speed. In Mammoth Lakes, I bought a new one. The outfitter didn’t carry Sawyer, so I chose the equivalent Platypus product. I took it back to my motel, removed the packaging, read the instructions, and checked that the threading fit my collection bag. I stopped short, however, of actually testing it in the sink.
Now, ten miles north of Red’s Meadow, I go to filter water, and its flow rate is a tiny fraction of even my worn-out Sawyer. It takes two full minutes of death-gripping the dirty water bag to squeeze just a cup of clean water into my old Gatorade bottle. Based on the rate advertised by Platypus, the full 20oz bottle should take less than 15 seconds to fill.
I still have phone service, so I look up product troubleshooting videos on YouTube to ensure that I’m not operating it incorrectly. Maybe there’s some kind of seal I was supposed to break? But I find no explanation. I must simply have a defective product. Inwardly, I’m kicking myself for not testing the filter in my motel. Then again, my only crime was trusting a brand new product to function as designed. Screw me, right?
I sigh. I was already feeling a bit glum because my friends have left me behind due to my ongoing hip injury. I can’t blame them. In Mammoth, the traveling PT, Blaze Physio, advised me to slow down while I let the tendonitis in my hip flexor heal. I was already the slowest member of the Second Breakfast Club, and I couldn’t expect them to keep waiting for me. At the same time, the others had been saying repeatedly that they wanted to slow down, not rush through the Sierra. I guess I was holding out hope I’d still be able to keep up.
Thru-hiking is weird like that. Friendships can form so quickly because of close proximity and shared challenges. It’s where the whole dynamic of “tramily” comes from. It doesn’t take long out here for people to go from strangers to feeling like teammates or even blood.
Meanwhile, the overarching ethic out here is still HYOH: hike your own hike. You make wonderful and oftentimes lasting friendships on a thru-hike, but everyone’s primary loyalty is ultimately to their own journeys. If your friend is faster, you encourage them to go on ahead. And if your friend is too slow, you say your goodbyes, and you leave them behind. It’s a natural and inevitable part of thru hiking.
I know all of this, of course, but that doesn’t keep it from being a bummer.
Now, with the added frustration of my broken filter, I’m feeling sorry for myself and resentful of the trail in general. And yet, the weather is good. The Sierra is beautiful. I feel rested after my zero in Mammoth. I remember that I’m still lucky to be out here.
Just as I manage to shake off my self-pity, I hear a familiar “Howdy howdy!” behind me. To my surprise, it’s Jackrabbit. He explains that the group decided to camp several miles earlier than they’d originally planned last night. Moving very slowly but late into the evening, I had hiked right past them.
I’m glad to see everyone. We have second breakfast at the stunning Thousand Island lake and then hike up and over Donahue Pass, which is mostly snow free at this point. I’ve been listening to a new audiobook, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s an unusual story about a young French woman who is granted immortality but cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets as soon as she is out of sight.
We make camp early. Jackrabbit pushes a few extra miles so that he can take the bus into Yosemite Valley tomorrow.
Day 61. Miles: 14.5 Total: 948.3
The next morning, it’s a pretty easy cruise down to Tuolumne Meadows. The weather is cloudy today. Dozens of hikers crowd around picnic tables with snacks from the general store. Since leaving Red’s Meadow, I’ve felt sort of between bubbles, but suddenly all the hikers are here.
Billie Goat is debating pushing big miles today because she’s meeting another friend in Kennedy Meadows North on Saturday. But when it starts to rain, we cluster under the awning and eat snacks and ice cream sandwiches into the afternoon. She and Poseidon drink cans of wine until we joke that we’ll have to just sleep here.
Eventually we hike on. There are lots of day hikers around because we’re in Yosemite now. Jackrabbit is in the valley, but the rest of us decided to keep going. I am eager to tour the valley and hike Half Dome in the future, but I didn’t want to give up a full day of hiking when the valley would be socked in with fog.
Captain Something and I get to the Glen Aulin Camp, which is tucked beside a huge waterfall. We’d talked about going a little farther, but the campsite seems too good to pass up. We leave a note at the trail junction for Billie Goat and Poseidon and pitch our tents.
When Billie arrives later, we realize that Poseidon has missed the note and gone on ahead. Captain Something heroically does two extra miles to chase him down.
Day 62. Miles: 19.2 Total: 967.5
This stretch of trail is steep and rocky like the AT, which is unusual. Even though the mountains here reach so much higher, the trail itself is usually graded in steady switchbacks, with packed earth or crushed gravel footing. This stretch, although well-built, is made of bumpy cobblestones and tall granite steps.
Just as my knees begin to complain in earnest, the trail smooths back out again. The sky is getting dark with storm clouds. We have lunch at a lake, and our friends Feels and Booster catch up to us. They’d been a couple days ahead since Bishop but had gone into the Valley to hike Half Dome. They tell animated stories from their side quest while it begins to rain, then hail.
The bad weather clears as quickly as it arrived. We camp at a beautiful cliffside campsite with a hiker from Israel I haven’t met before. The sunset is gorgeous. I’m tempted to cowboy camp, but soon the mosquitos drive me into my tent for bed.
Day 63. Miles: 19.4 Total: 986.9
Today, we agree to have lunch on the far side of a river. This would be one of the widest fords on the trail, but we’ve read on FarOut that there’s a log upstream to cross on. When I reach the edge of the river, Captain Something waves across at me. Ever the team MVP, she gestures for me to follow along the opposite bank and guides me to the fallen log. Once I’m safely across, she leads the way back to where the group is eating lunch.
When we make plans for the afternoon, the rest of the group intends to hike over 10 more miles. It’s already mid-afternoon. There’s no way I’ll be able to do this without night hiking.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to get past Wilma Lake,” I admit, citing my ongoing hip injury.
We say goodbye. Captain Something gives me her filter so that I’ll be able to drink water until I catch them again at Sonora Pass. Then, they’re gone.
I keep hiking, feeling a bit sad because this means that I will cross the 1,000-mile mark alone tomorrow. But I wouldn’t want to slow them down, especially knowing that Billie Goat wants to spend time with her friend. And who knows? Maybe they’ll change their minds and stop early, like they did after Red’s Meadow.
I listen to more Addie LaRue as the afternoon wears on, but the book takes a grim turn, detailing the evening when one character decides to commit suicide. Eventually, I can’t listen anymore. I’m out of podcast episodes, so I switch to another book, Gifts, by Ursula K. LeGuin.
I’ve read it before, but many years ago. I loved it then, and now the familiar story wraps me up like a hug from an old friend. I immerse myself in it, trying not to think about Henry from the other book or about how nonchalantly my friends left me behind.
Maybe this is a good thing, I tell myself. I began the trail wary of falling into a tramily too quickly and sacrificing my independence. I made it a point to camp alone sometimes and listen to my body, not other people, when determining how many miles to hike each day.
Then, between Wrightwood and Acton, the Second Breakfast Club seemed to coalesce organically. At that point, I was happy to let it happen. Especially going into the Sierra, I was glad to have a group that felt solid and would look out for each other.
Now that the Sierra is almost done, maybe it’s a good moment to once again embrace self-sufficiency like in the first month of the trail. Maybe it’ll feel gratifying to cross a thousand miles tomorrow alone, the same way I started.
On the AT in 2018, I fell in love for the first (and, as of yet, only) time. Confident that I would have a solo adventure, I met another hiker less than 20 miles into the 2,190-mile journey and ended up dating him for nearly two years. Although this experience felt magical, it meant that the Appalachian Trail was not what I envisioned.
That’s part of why I’m here. Since that relationship eventually ended in 2020, I’ve often wondered if I would have completed the AT at all if I’d actually done it alone. Of course, no one truly thru-hikes in isolation. In fact, a major takeaway of the AT for me was the value of interdependence– being humble enough to rely on your friends when you need help, and helping them in return. Both literally and figuratively, trail friends lighten each other’s load.
That said, I wanted to do the PCT in a much more independent way. I hoped to challenge my post-transplant body and test my own internal resolve to do this without someone helping me along. Now, perhaps I can challenge myself to tackle Northern California on my own, happy to see friends when I can but ultimately making plans for myself.
By the time I get to camp, I’ve mostly talked myself out of feeling abandoned and into a better mindset. The mosquitos at Wilma Lake are the worst I’ve ever seen, but I go to bed with anticipation for tomorrow. One thousand miles!
However, my positive outlook doesn’t last long. The next day, I come down with COVID.