Day 10–28.7 miles hiked
I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and actually feel rested. I decide to let the sun rise a little before disturbing those sleeping around me since it’s so quiet and peaceful. I get moving by 8 a.m. with nearly a gallon of water packed with me for the 26 mile dry stretch ahead of me. I have a choice to make–stop about half way through the day and dry camp with whatever water I am carrying by that point, or plow through and finish.
By lunch, I reach the camping spot and have already consumed half my water–the trail is so hot, dry, and exposed in this section. I know I need to press on and finish, which is my preference anyway since there’s one thing I want to make sure I accomplish before I fly out Thursday morning.
From this spot, It’s only 13.1 miles to the end, a half marathon distance I tell myself. I can run them in my sleep–no problem. My feet protest and remind me that I don’t run them after already hiking 14 miles with a water laden pack, and what takes me less than 2 hours to run will take over double that time hiking. I tell my feet to suck it up and we move along.
I meet a man named Julio who hales from Mexico and lives in San Francisco now. He just started his thru hike today and I am overcome with bittersweet emotions–he is starting his journey of countless memories but mine is wrapping up. Except that I am returning to the place where the sweetest memories are made.
I meet two adorable and spirited older women on horseback. The lines on their faces could each tell a tale of adventure I’m sure, and I want to bottle up their youthful enthusiasm and carry it with me for years to come. They tell me we’re experiencing an inversion and the weather is warmer in the higher elevations than the valleys. No wonder I’m so hot.
About 6 miles from the finish, I mistakenly turn onto the wrong trail and follow it about a 1/2 mile before I realize what I’ve done. It’s the first time that’s happened and I scold myself for not paying better attention so close to the end. On the way back, I meet a man hiking with his dogs and we stop for a moment and chat. He confirms my mistake and gently reminds me that I’d better get a move on if I’m going to finish before dark.
The last 3 miles are all uphill, but I’m thankful in an odd way. It forces me to slow my pace and bask in the beauty of the fading light. It’s my favorite time of day to hike and I’m filled with excited anticipation of seeing the mile marker where I took a picture when I was starting 10 days ago.
I round a corner and there it is before me. I walk up to it and kiss it, laughing while fighting back tears. “We did it, Mama,” I tell her. She just chuckles and says, “Girl, I don’t know about you.” This is what she’d sometimes say to me when I was planning a big adventure. She didn’t always understand my wanderlust but she always wanted to be a part of it.
I board the bus for my hotel, stinky and hungry. I apologize to the well dressed and perfumed couple sitting near me, heading to the casinos from their resort. They lie and tell me they don’t smell a thing but they want to know what I’ve done. “I just took a big walk around Lake Tahoe,” I say, and they proceed to ask me questions, fascinated that such a path exists beyond the walkways to the roulette wheels.
I am awake long into the night, my legs achy and twitchy. I don’t mind though–I’m simply elated I have legs willing to make the journey with me, even if they are a little grouchy about it.
I take Uber to the post office the next morning to retrieve my package I sent from Tahoe City. My driver tells me about a walking path to a nice beach and that’s exactly where I head next, to accomplish my final goal–stick my feet in the waters of Lake Tahoe. Along the path, the guy I met on the trail yesterday when I got turned around is there walking his dogs and recognizes me. “Hey, aren’t you that girl I met yesterday?” I laugh and tell him I can’t believe I don’t look that different all cleaned up. “Glad ya made it out ok”, he says. It was the experience of a lifetime, I tell him.
I approach the water at the beach. It’s cold (50 degrees, per the Uber guy–seems a bit exagerrated) but it’s just the balm for my unblistered (not a one this whole trip!) but tired feet. There is a group of retired friends kayaking the circumference of the lake and camping at night. One of them has a TRT association shirt on and so I approach him. He is friends with the man who wrote the guide book I used, and I ask him to pass along the message that I felt like I was hiking with a friend while I read it.
The women of this kayaking group notice I have a bathing suit on under my clothes and tell me I have no choice but to plunge in the cold water with them. “Forget your feet, you gotta get the full experience, girlfriend!” they laugh and tell me. And they’re absolutely right, the full on plunge is just what I should do, so I dive in and it’s exhilarating.
John Muir wrote in a letter, “I wish, my dear, dear friends, that you could share this divine day with me here. The soul of Indian summer is brooding this blue water, and it enters one’s being as nothing else does.” Ultimately, I hope any of you who followed this can find the thing that brings you back to center, if you’re feeling off kilter. It’s worth every step to get to that place.
The overwhelming feeling I have for this experience is gratitude–for a husband that trusted my sensibility and skills to encourage me to take this trip, for legs and lungs strong enough to make the journey, and for the unexpected surprise of friends (that includes all of you who are reading this by the way) who cheered me on and made me feel like what I was doing wasn’t crazy or selfish, but respected.
As I sit here on the shore, I can’t help but think of a comic strip Mama had hanging on her fridge for years of a child looking into a sunset. The caption read, “If the only prayer you ever said in your life was thank you….it would be enough.” Indeed.