JMT Day 9: Hike at the Speed of Beauty

Date: 8/26/17 | Miles Hiked: 11.4

Today was a treat yo’self day.

Feeling good about my progress on the first half of the trail, I decided to reward myself with a late start, a hot breakfast (oatmeal for the win!) and a short day of hiking. Most of the day consisted of gradual uphill hiking, with two big switchback climbs helping me gain about 2,500 feet of elevation.

The sight of deer in the morning was, as always, a pleasure. Most people feared I would encounter bears on my hike, but I often shared the trail with does and their fawns. The does never seemed bothered by my presence and would simply keep an eye on me between bites of grass. But the fawns were more curious. Their eyes locked with mine, and any sudden moves I made were met with a zig-zagging bound into tree coverage.

 

Although the day was short, it felt slow moving with my fresh resupply of food. My left foot and knee had started bothering me, making me question my ability to perform as well on the second half of the trail as I had on the first.

John Muir Trail

I stopped for lunch just four miles before camp. After eating, I left my pack and walked to a nearby stream to gather water.

As a re-approached my backpack, I noticed that my neighbor from night six was looking at it, trying to figure out who it belonged to. This must have been the 10th time I had seen him along the trail since our initial awkward encounter, so I greeted him with a cheery, “hello!”

His response was not as energetic. “Oh. It’s you again.”

I could see from his slumped shoulders that he was disappointed at his inability to shake me. Like a rock in your shoe you can never get rid of, there I was. Complete with a big smile and a meek wave.

Brushing aside how distraught he was at the sight of me, I decided to finally introduce myself. He did the same. I learned his name was Yin-Jon, or Johnny to his American friends. He was from China but was studying abroad at a university in Los Angeles. He hoped to finish his section hike along the Pacific Crest Trail before classes started.

Johnny and I chatted for a bit, mostly complaining about how heavy our packs were since resupplying. His pack was an incredible 17 pounds before resupply and 30 pounds after.

He marveled at my pack weight. “42 pounds!? You’re so strong. I can’t believe we’re hiking the same pace.” While I’ll gladly take a strength compliment any day, I hadn’t disclosed the embarrassing weight of my pack. He must have watched me weigh it at Muir Trail Ranch, his own curiosity about the size of the green giant on my back getting the best of him.

John Muir Trail Evolution Lakes

I ended my day at 3 p.m., setting up camp at Evolution Lakes. It felt good to settle in early and watch other campers arrive as the day grew later. I wished I had more time to spend at the lake; it was easily my favorite camping site of the entire hike.

After setting up camp I spoke with two older men who were hiking the John Muir Trail Northbound. They were a bit of an odd couple, with one seeming incredibly in love with life and the other a bit more hesitant. I’ll call them Mr. Clean (his actual trail name) and Mr. Zen (a trail name I made up).

Mr. Zen watched a group of college kids as they jumped into the freezing lake, their battle cries showing exuberance for life. He chatted with them, offering to take their picture.

“What a neat group of kids,” he said to us as he watched them grab fly fishing gear from their packs.

If he were 30 years younger, he would join their group in a heartbeat.

John Muir Trail Evolution Lakes

While Mr. Zen took in the sunset, Mr. Clean and I discussed the difficulties of the trail. He told me that he couldn’t help but worry about his family, just as he was sure my family worried about me. With limited means of communication it was impossible to know how they were doing. His daughter was pregnant with her first child and nearing her due date. He thought about her the most.

I had spent so much time calming worries about me, I hadn’t even thought to worry about my family. There could have been a family emergency at that moment and I would have no idea. I wouldn’t know until the next time I had cell phone service, which could be days away. I tried to push those thoughts aside.

I told Mr. Zen and Mr. Clean my end date, and they looked at me with doubt. They said it was doable but would be hard since I the toughest passes were still to come.

Great. I had hoped the second half of the trail would be less stressful than the first.

John Muir Trail Evolution Lakes

Part of me wondered if I should have put in more miles that day, but Evolution Lakes made it impossible for me to regret my decision. The point of the trail was to enjoy the surroundings; rushing through it even more would take away from the experience.

Mr. Zen worried that the pace I planned was too rigorous and that I would run low on food if I wasn’t able to keep up with my plans. His worry caused me to worry (this was Mr. Zen, after all!) and doubt my abilities. Seeing I was starting to stress, he donated two of his meals to me, telling me he had extra and they were about to resupply.

I accepted the meals and thanked him. His response?

“Don’t let anything get you down, now. Hike at the speed of beauty.”

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