Once I finally made peace with leaving the John Muir Trail via Kearsage Pass instead of the traditional Mt. Whitney finish, I started looking forward to what came next: food, television, and a real bed.
I tore down camp and finished my descent to the Onion Valley parking lot. The steep, downhill hike of endless switchbacks under a hot sun was the last trail I had to tackle before I could relax. And it was unbearable.
Every time someone gave me a cheery hello, asked if they could sneak past me or tried to make small talk of any type, I wanted to punch them. Hard. I’d never had an injury that affected my mobility so much. I could finally empathize with life’s slow-movers, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many people wanted to punch me when I gave them a huge, friendly grin while passing on the trail.
When I finally neared the bottom, I asked a man passing me if he was by any chance heading into Lone Pine. He was. Who knew hitch hiking could be so easy?
I might have been more nervous about getting into a strange man’s car if it weren’t the norm in this region. Many people hiking the John Muir Trail stop here and hitch into town to resupply. The fact that my driver looked like an older, slightly nerdier Elijah Wood also helped.
The ride into the small mountain town of Lone Pine took about an hour. Just a little more small talk and I was home free…
I learned that my travel partner had planned on backpacking in the John Muir Wilderness for a few days but ended his trip early due to gastrolintestinal issues. It sounded very unpleasant. I told him my story and he sympathized. Later I told him I had met a doctor who guessed a diagnosis and gave me advice.
It was at this time that my travel partner decided to disclose his doctor status. He proceeded to give me a diagnosis so in depth that it could rival any WebMD page, taking the time to write down the specific type of tendinitis I likely had and explain the pros and cons of Ibuprofen.
I was relieved to finally arrive at the motel.
All I wanted was food and a shower, but I had no clean clothes. And the motel didn’t have a laundry room. Rather than spending a few hours at the local laundromat, I decided to by an oversized t-shirt at a grocery store near my motel.
Other purchases at said grocery store included: Snack Pack pudding, Doritos, Oreos, potato chips, cheese, a liter of Coca Cola and a bottle of wine.
I then hobbled to McDonald’s and ordered a Big Mac (side note: I never eat Big Macs), fries and a strawberry banana smoothie. All of my food choices for the next few weeks were purely based on what I felt like eating, with a complete disregard for time of day or amount of artificial flavoring.
My motel room was small. The restroom, which included the shower, was located down the hall and shared among the entire floor. None of this mattered. To me, I was staying at a 5-star resort.
The water from the shower head went from cold to burning hot back to cold with the slightest adjustments, but it was the most refreshing shower of my life.
Back in my room the bed enveloped me. I placed all my snacks within arms reach and flipped through the limited cable channels. I learned about events I had missed on the trail, including Hurricane Harvey in Texas and raging fires that still burned in California. My phone buzzed with missed notifications. The room slowly filled with the faint sound of people and cars on the street.
My backpack and its contents started to seem foreign as I reintroduced myself to faucets, toilets, and the idea that a bear canister was unnecessary. I felt a bit of culture shock, similar to someone arriving home from a trip abroad. But old habits started easing their way back into my routine as the familiarities of life became familiar again.
I did not return to the trail to finish the last section of the JMT.
My husband flew into California so we could spend some time there together celebrating my hike. Our vacations usually consist of hiking and camping, but this time we stuck to a rental car and hotels. We drove through Death Valley National Park and a smoke-hazed Yosemite National Park. We relaxed at Lake Tahoe and soaked in the Travertine Hot Springs. We got massages, and my masseuse spent so much time focusing on my entire left leg that my back went untouched.
As for my knee, part of me wishes I could tell you that I tore something or required a surgery of some sort. At least that would make my decision to leave the trail feel justified. But after a week of icing and attempting to sight-see in California, I spent a week at home icing and doing absolutely nothing (besides eating copious amounts of food). And after that, like magic, my knee was healed.
I guess I have a reason to return to the High Sierras.