Wednesday, June 18, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 31 — Charlotte Lake to Bubbs Creek

I woke several times in the night and felt Kai’s forehead.  There was no sign of fever, and he hadn’t had a dose of ibuprofen since midafternoon.  He slept restfully, and when he woke in the morning his eyes didn’t have the same glassy look that had freaked me out the day before.

“You feel better?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Anything hurt still?”

“I don’t think so.”  He shook his head.  “I’m thirsty.”

I unscrewed the lid of a water bottle, handed it to him and watched him guzzle several gulps.

We took it easy and let Kai relax around camp all morning.  Thanks to the nurses we ate a little extra food, and the boys each had a second cup of hot chocolate.  I walked down to visit Rick and Suzanne at their cabin and tell them Kai was feeling better, and it was fun to get a glimpse into their life as rangers in the Sierras.  Their one room cabin was small but cozy, cupboards and shelves stocked with gear for all circumstances, nonperishable food items, maps, books and an assortment of clothes.  A small gas stove and a narrow wooden counter defined a small kitchen in the corner, where Suzanne had recently set a large pot of water to boil.

I’d often dreamed of being a ranger when I was a kid, and I’d even considered it during graduate school, but in the end I’d decided it might be a hard path to take if I wanted to get married and eventually have a family.  But as far as I could tell, Rick and Suzanne had a great setup.  Clearly it was a lot of work.  They had to deal with people like us!  And already that morning their radios buzzed with information about fires and injuries.  Soon they would be setting off to help with rescue operations.  But they got to spend months together in these beautiful mountains, doing meaningful things, living a healthy existence and sharing peaceful moments together between the many crises they dealt with.

“I just want to thank you guys again,” I said.  “It was such a relief to be able to contact a doctor and get input last night, and now Kai seems almost all better.”

“We’re glad we could help,” Rick said.

We talked for a while before I hung my head sheepishly and brought up our food situation.  “I hate to ask this, but do you guys by chance keep a stash of food for unprepared hikers?  We’ve been running low, and now that we got slowed down by Kai getting sick we’re going to be scrimping a little.  We have enough to survive, but it would be good if we could stuff some more calories into the boys each day.”

Suzanne smiled at me.  “You shouldn’t be embarrassed.  People ask for food all the time out here.  You should ask other hikers too.  They often want to get rid of some weight.”

“We’ve got a bear locker outside, and I think we still have some stuff that backpackers have left behind,” Rick added.  “And we might have some extra stuff in here we can give you too.”

They set about sorting through their cupboards and a large metal bear locker out back, and ended up putting together a sack of stuff including a full jar of peanut butter, a large bag of oats, some crackers, a little trail mix, a couple energy bars and some homemade pasta that Suzanne had freeze dried herself at their winter home in Grass Valley.

“This is like Christmas,” I told them as I said goodbye and headed back to my family.  “You guys are so great.”

We ate an early lunch that involved a lot of creamy peanut butter, and afterward we just sat there smiling at each other for a while.  The boys wrote thank you notes and drew pictures for Rick and Suzanne as Pam and I packed up camp, and we set off around midday.

We hiked about five miles, dropping more than a thousand feet to Vidette Meadows then climbing another thousand to camp beside Bubbs Creek at around 10,500 feet.  Kai moved a little slower than usual, but given that we’d feared he was on his death bed the day before, I was impressed that he trudged five miles without complaining.  The next day we would crest Forester Pass at 13,180 feet, and from where we set up camp we’d have a short but steep three mile climb to the top.

We spotted a buck deer as we set up the tent then Kai and Pam went to play by the creek while Noah found a peaceful spot to lie down and read.  I cooked dinner and we ate on a flat rock by the water’s edge as the sun set.  To our north the Kearsarge Pinnacles glowed red, and the stream’s surface turned plum colored, the water serenading the high valley as it slipped past.

Pam and I sat close to the boys, and I knew she was soaking them in the same way I was, quietly celebrating their youth and the wonderful fact that they were alive, feeling thankful to share this time with them, wondering at the unwritten pages life had in store for them.  “I love you guys,” I said quietly.

“You too.”

We went to bed early, and I slept without stirring, as if I’d become just another stone in the landscape.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.