June 30, Day 57
28.8 miles [1049.5]
Deuced, then bounced; this group is fast. Hiked the majority of the morning with “Trash Bath”, “Combo”, and “Sticky Fingers” and, much to everyone’s delight, “Brownstreak”, who had caught back up. We chugged through miles of incredible vistas, even this mountain of rocks with a lone gnarled and dead tree. Took a late lunch, borrowed needle and thread and used the opportunity to sew up the holes on my right shoulder. First rip and it nearly made it a thousand miles. “Sticky’s” friends who were in last night’s hitch have joined our group: Sarah and Kevin, who seemingly reject trail names, and “Trash Can” are all new faces from the past day. We were all chatting at lunch when a pair of JMTers or sectioners (they didn’t seem like thru-hikers) told us there was trail magic at Ebbet’s Pass ending at 7 P.M. The map said 11.9 miles away and it was a quarter to three. My new friends bolted, it was a mad dash. I didn’t stop at all except to pee twice. With two minutes to spare I stumbled over the highway, legs pulsating with small spasms. A group of hikers were lounging near a vehicle and a foldable table. There was a full-on pizza oven, a kind of ludicrous contraption you might see buried in the pages of a SkyMall, which fit over a massive portable propane camping range. I collapsed against a tree with the other hikers and tried not to look too desperate. Immediately, I overheard they were out of pizza. Sarah who must have beaten me by only five minutes shared her slice with me; I don’t think I’m capable of a gesture that benevolent. The kind family noticed us last few stragglers and told us they would “make something work”. Out of their ice chests came containers of a homemade soba noodle dish. It had cilantro, green onion, pineapple, Thai basil, cabbage, all doused in a spicy sesame sauce--the most fresh vegetables I’ve had in over a week. A moment of lucidity informed me I would’ve happily paid $26.89 for it a trendy LA fusion restaurant, already having eaten two meals of my choice that particular day. I licked my cup clean just as logs of fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes were passed out. “Now who has the balsamic” I joked to the hikers, beyond satisfied at the provided bounty. “Sticky Fingers” leapt up with a mischievous and elated look, he struggled to hold back a grin. Shoulder-deep, his arm emerged triumphantly from his pack with and adorable single-serving bottle of balsamic vinegar. There was clapping. Snagged the remainder of the fresh basil and made caprese, sharing with anyone still hungry. My life feels complete. The remaining dozen or so hikers all amassed and we thanked our angels with dirty, sweaty hugs. “Your kindness can never be repaid,” I said squeezing tight, their eyes glistening and sparkling with love.
July 1, Day 58
20.6 miles [1070.1]
A sporadic crinkling of pads and tents began before the sun had risen. At some point I had acquired three packets of Folgers instant crystals, the tipping point in critical mass for achieving any type of altered state, and wiped out the straggling soba noodle from my cup and made a coffee-slurry. Reynolds and Raymond Peaks were a stunning sight and we crushed the first seven miles easy. Any moment of stillness I had was immediately filled with thoughts of the Harrah’s buffet—everyone’s going, hell “Dixie” put it on her top five. Managed to take a rare lead and hold it until lunch. I picked a spot at Lower Sunset Lake and left a note for those behind; when there’s a lake, there’s a reason to take a long lunch. Enjoyed the packet of kippers I had been saving while cold-soaking two bricks of ramen. Fruit Snacks have been a recent discovery and I must have inhaled four baggies of the little suckers. At that point the gang had arrived fully and we were all splayed out at the water’s edge, deep in lunch. A couple rolled up in their Jeep and began unloading two kayaks from the roof. They saw us, filthy and partly nude, in the shade and politely offered us water to which we politely declined. “Oh, well, in that case do you guys want some beer?” Everyone leapt up faster than I had ever seen, myself included, trying not to look too eager. Soon, a very unofficial rock-skipping competition broke out while a few joints were rotated around. “Sticky” and “TB” inflated their pads and paddled out about a hundred feet onto the lake, and with stunning success, lazily rafted. The dream had to end, we packed up and had a hilly, hot hike out, but intense mountain views were enough of a distraction. Gang got tired around 5 P.M., I was ready to hike further but opted to hang out. Had a campfire whereupon “Brownstreak” produced a two-inch cast iron pan out of his already minuscule Pa’lante. He sliced up a few fingerling potatoes and a clove of garlic, cooked it over the modest coals, dumped the whole affair into a Mountain House and passed it around. One of the rare times music seemed appropriate so I played a few bands out of my phone and everyone shared the sweets portion from their food bags. I offered up my whiskey and we all laughed until the embers slowly faded cold. My feet feel great, my muscles feel limber, I’m stoked for Tahoe and the 4th of July. And that buffet.
July 2, Day 59
19.9 miles [1090.0]
“Trashcan”, the resident chief snorer and earliest-riser, made moves before 6 A.M. Carson Pass came and went, soon after we were at the information station where the kind staff provided thru-hikers with fresh cherries and ice cold Cokes. Took a few moments in the shade and people-watched at the busy Highway 88. Cranked out 15 more sticky, stagnant, sweltering miles, the buffet, part motivation and part hallucination, was the only thought on my mind. Made it to Highway 50 where we promptly split into groups and tried to hitch. I hopped in the back of a pickup with “Trash Bath” and “Combo” knowing full-well the other half of our group would catch up. Had to grab a second hitch to get closer into town. A few miles down the road, “TB” casually mentioned he was looking to re-up and our driver shot us all a knowing glance and whipped a u-turn, making a beeline for his apartment. After meeting his friendly dog and eating some normal brownies, we continued back into town, pockets full of therapeutic cookies and a fat baggy full of recovery. Gang reconvened at Taco Bell and decided we couldn’t possibly wait another day for the buffet. We headed towards the hotel and looked for a place to stealth. Directly behind the Harrah’s parking lot was a small wooded area which seemed secluded enough. With responsibilities taken care of, “TB” smoked us all out in preparation for our feast. Achieved a nearly uncomfortable level of high, I was paranoid my horrible stench was unable to mask the smell of drugs. None of us were Diamond members so we patiently waited in line, having arrived ten minutes after opening. Once the velvet rope had been lifted we hurriedly walked into the farthest region of the dining area, with the other hikers, as to draw the least amount of confused, comatose stares from the other patrons. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I wasn’t about to load up my first plate in giddy, childish delight, slopping together whatever my lizard brain was craving. Weak. There’s one rule at a buffet: when the door’s close. After much restrained contemplation, I took a warmed plate and stood in line for prime rib, opting not to live up to my namesake when I was being served. I slowly enjoyed each jus-covered morsel, satisfied by how much it didn’t taste like tuna. Sarah was impressed by my singular first choice, her plate considerably less of a postmodern mess than “Trash Bath’s”. Red meat begged for a salad, on my second plate I heaped together as many fresh vegetables a bed of spinach and romaine would allow for and doused the whole affair in ranch which was an unbelievably nice vacation from olive oil. Having sated two of my biggest food urges (fresh meat and veg), my tastes turned ethnic and I had a wonderful chili pork stir-fry alongside a cold shrimp dish. Fairly certain I went back for another go-round, but in my binge, I can’t remember. Fifth course was dessert, I had an eclair and a handful of chocolate covered strawberries. Somehow I skipped sushi so I decided to sample their selection with my post-meal coffee. Any remaining room and/or neurosis which told me to get my money’s worth was filled with bread; empty, free calories I can get anywhere. Waddled behind the casino and set up camp. Full with a capital “F”, ready for a legendary zero.