“When one tugs at a single thing of nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir
Usually when we hike, we don’t run into more than a handful of people. Many times we are nearly all alone. We like that, to be honest. But on our Tuolumne to Taboose hike, we ran into a lot of people. This segment of the PCT shares roughly 210 miles with the John Muir Trail (JMT). The JMT is popular and visited by thousands of people per year. This, for us, was a unique experience in a social component kind of way.
The hikers this year were not as chatty as last. Instead of getting into conversations with nearly each person we passed, we would get the polite smile, and a “Have a nice hike.” The age group this year was much older – our age or older for the most part. We also noted hikers weren’t using trail names. In fact, it seemed most hikers eschewed it. So before we found out names, we created our own trail names.
NORTHBOUND TO TUOLUMNE:
We met Ozzy and Harriet, a couple from Tasmania. He was charming and quirky. She had beautiful blue eyes, was kind and liked conversation. They both had a great sense of humor. Lynn first “met” them while he was beginning the hike up Donahue Pass. They had already settled in at a campsite. She smiled and said hello when he walked by. She was putting on lotion or something and he could smell it from where he was. We ended up finding a camp site nearby as we headed north. The next day we continued walking further apart, sure that we’d never see them again.
We met Deer Hunter, or Wisconsin as Lynn called him. He was a kindly man, our age, with a quick smile. We joked that we left Los Angeles back in the 1980’s because we were hearing gunfire out our back window. Deer Hunter commented the only guns he hears are during deer season.
As we walked north, we also met Old School. Old School was heading south. He was taking a break on a rock at a stream. We nodded at each other. He was reading a book. Must be a day hiker. Who else would be carrying a book? He’s “old school” we thought. We moved on.
An hour or more later, we were passing another stream. Across the water was a huge rock, big enough to sit up on and maybe take a break. We noticed a blue baseball cap on the rock. It had a white snowflake design and red lettering ALTA. I knew I had seen it before on a younger man. Feeling empathy for the owner of a lost hat (mine is somewhere near Silver Lake), we wondered what we should do? Leave it or take it hoping to catch up with the guy. We went ahead and picked it up and put it in Lynn’s side pack pocket. We would ask around if someone lost a hat. Over the next two days, we asked several people we met if they had lost a hat. But by the third day we were pretty convinced that we would never find the owner of the hat we found and gave up asking.
SOUTHBOUND TO VERMILION VALLEY RESORT (VVR) & BEYOND:
Along the way, we met a slew of southbound hikers. One morning in particular, we finally really met the Tasmanian couple, Ozzy and Harriet (AKA Harvey and Betty). And we came up again with Deer Hunter (AKA Jim). Then, ten minutes after seeing Deer Hunter and Ozzy and Harriet head out from a stream we all stopped at, we saw Old School close behind. We all ended up leapfrogging each other for the next few days. At one point Deer Hunter was taking pictures and said he was photo-journaling his hike with a DSLR camera. Old School was taking pictures too, but with a film camera! Seemed our name Old School fit just right. A book and a film camera. Can’t get much more old-school than that! It was ironic that he was the youngest hiker we met.
At PCT mile 888 or so, we picked up a short side trail and hiked to Lake Edison. It’s a man-made hydro-plant, lake owned by the electric company. From there we picked up a ferry to take us to VVR. We had a resupply box there. We hoped to get a good meal, collect our box and move on. The “ferry” was a little fishing boat which held four people (plus the “captain”). VVR has bigger pontoon boats but both of them were out of commission. As we approached the dock, a guy camping out along the tree line of the river said, as we passed by, that we were more than two hours early.
It was early, and a little cold so we went up to the rocks that were getting sun. Eventually, we saw others had approached the dock below, but didn’t think much of it. But then we thought, hey, why are they are standing in line? We went down pretty quick after that and sure enough, people were lining up for that “ferry” and we lost our place in front. How foolish! By then, the boat had already arrived and took the first four, and now we were fourth and fifth in line for the next rides. We felt the whole day would be spent getting over to the VVR. Lynn especially was annoyed that this was happening. But suddenly, the guy who yelled out earlier that we were early, volunteered to give up his space for Lynn so that “the couple wouldn’t be split up.” We later learned this was Shaun. He was the only PCT hiker we met. He was doing a thru-hike. And he had a trail name from the Appalachian Trail that he completed last year, but he wasn’t really using it. It was “NTN” – No Trail Name. He had to get off the PCT when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. He was placed on blood thinners and had to suspend his PCT thru-hike for three months. He originally was NOBO but after this delay became SOBO and was headed to Wrightwood to finish up.
While at VVR, we also finally formally met Old School. He just landed a job near the same town as Deer Hunter lives. Later at Vermilion Valley Resort, VVR, sitting next to Old School, we commented about his book. You know, when on the trail, if you want a book, get a digital copy. Or xerox the chapter you want. I used to read up on sections we were preparing to do and make a copy of the chapter to carry along. But, he said he now knows every tree on the trail.
Before we even saw that Old School was at VVR, we found Harvey and Betty. She approached us while we were going through our resupply box. She was very motherly and beautiful and even offered to share the cost of one of the hotel 4-bed rooms that they took. They were hoping to find two others to share the cost. But we preferred to stay in our tent and declined. Camping was free there to hikers. Although I had my regrets later as it was really noisy at night with three different parties going on late into the night. At 1 am I was quickly reminded why I don’t like sleeping in campgrounds.
Lunch was served at about 11:30. The menu at the VVR is limited. But the food is really very good. We had offered Shaun a beer for his generosity but at the VVR, your first drink, even if that is a beer, is free. It’s a perfect marketing tool and is very effective. So, instead of the beer, we bought him lunch and we got acquainted. By the time we ordered, Brian came around bumping fists with Shaun. And Brian had someone with him, whose name we didn’t know. He became “Not Brian” when the waitress handed a plate to him and said “Brian” to which he replied, “I’m Not Brian.” We also ended up having dinner with them, and a lot of beers and laughs!
We noticed when we first walked up to the general store to check in that there were two hiker boxes. These were marked “Food” and “Non Food.” Knowing that the hat we found would never be back with its owner, we threw the cap into the Non Food box hoping that it would be used by somebody eventually.
Once we got set up and had eaten, we decided to play a round of cribbage using a board we saw in the store “library.” We took our game to one of the outside picnic tables. A few minutes into our game, Old School approached us. We chatted about his reccent college graduation, his new job, his time he was taking to travel before moving to Wisconsin, and how he will be close to Patti’s home town at the border of Iowa. After a while, this couple, Andrew and Becca, came up to us.
The hat in Andrew’s hand didn’t immediately register with me. But he turned to Old School and said, “You lied. You really don’t like this hat.”
Old School’s eyes got big. “Where’d you get that”
“Found it in the hiker box.”
“There couldn’t possibly be two hats like this?!?” Old School speculated.
It took a few moments for it to sink in with us.”We’ve been carrying it for the last three days looking for its owner! We finally just tossed it into the hiker box.”
So that’s the story of the hat and the happy owner who got it back.
Old School’s name is Tim. Tim and Andrew and Becca are friends. Andrew wasn’t feeling well, so he was going off trail, but Tim and Becca planned on moving on with their hike to Mt. Whitney. Andrew would take their car and meet them when possible at the end of the daily hikes, but eventually meet them and pick them up when they completed Mt. Whitney. The next day, they gave us a ride to the trail head at Bear Creek Trail, which was an alternate route out of VVR to reconnect with the PCT. Because this was not part of the PCT, we didn’t have any GPS and we didn’t have paper maps, either. Tim was quickly ahead of us on Bear Creek. But Becca, unsure of the trail, was a bit behind. Often we would catch up to her and discuss assurances we were on the right trail. There were places when the trail was not so clearly defined. We often feel relief when we see a PCT marker on the trail. Having been lost plenty of times that sign becomes our security. Becca was dubbed Trail Sign, when we saw her ahead we knew we were still on the right trail. At some point she got ahead and out of sight. When we reached the juncture, it just so happened that Tim was finishing up a break there and getting ready to leave when he heard two people talking and saw it was us. He told us Becca was a little worried about us.“Well, you can tell her we made it!” I said cheerfully. I thought it was sweet that she was worried a bit. Tim said they were going to stop at Marie Lake, another six miles away. We hadn’t had lunch and knew we didn’t have another six miles in us. But, still, I thought we would catch up eventually. We made four more miles that day and never did we see either of them again.
Right along PCT mile 855 the trail passes over the San Joaquin River. We wanted to camp near water that night to wash off before bed and found a nice site right over the bridge. There were several groups of hikers/campers in the area, so when we saw some smoke come up through the river valley, we just assumed it was smoke from a campfire, which, by the way, was not allowed this year in the Sierra. But then we realized that was a lot of smoke for a campfire and realized it was smoke from a forest fire. But how far away?
Lynn got to talking to a hiker who was just coming up from the north where we just came from, and said he hadn’t noticed the smoke. But as soon as that was going on a helicopter started circling around the area. It circled some more and then it focused on a small plot of land to the south and slowly and with amazing exactness, the helicopter landed right there in an incredible small patch of open forest. It was a LifeFlight.
The EMT that came out was in full garb. Lynn just assumed they were here about the forest fire, hoping they weren’t kicking us off trail. But instead the EMT was looking around for a woman who hit her SPOT (a satellite-enabled emergency response system) because she broke her wrist. She said she was near a bridge and needed help. The EMT scoured the area, asking each of us groups of hikers, and, then satisfied this wasn’t the place, moved on. But not before the EMT told Lynn that the fire wasn’t a worry and the smoke would dissipate.
One of the last people we met on the trail this trip is a sweetest couple from the Bay area. By this time we found out everyone’s names and gave up on trail names. This couple we leapfrogged a couple of times the last three days. Karine and Oliver, like us, were booted off the trail last year because of the smoke and were back this year, like us, to finish it. It was Oliver who suggested he take a photo of us on our anniversary in front of Wanda Lake. Then they decided to pose “just like us” below. Oliver also reached out to us in an email, which I read when we started working on this post!
On our last day of the trail, we were on the south side of Mather Pass heading to Taboose. All morning I often thought of Tim. I had wished when we last saw him at the juncture of Bear Creek and PCT/JMT that I knew then we would not see him again. I’m a hugger and certainly would have given a proper hug goodbye. I had just assumed we would keep leap frogging.
In a way, the universe connects dots for us. When we approached the turn-off at PCT mile 810 or so, there was a big rock with a piece of paper on it held down by a small rock. It was a note from Tim.
To top off the story of connections and small worlds: as we discussed in Part 1 of this series, we were lucky enough to meet a woman hiking alone near the top of Taboose Pass right before the rocky and very challenging descent to the trail head below. She offered a ride to us from the trail head into Lone Pine, a fair distance. Her husband and kids would be picking her up. As it turned out, her husband worked for the Law Enforcement Department of the Forest Service and the EMT Lynn met the few nights before looking for the hiker with the broken wrist, in fact, worked under his supervision!