PCT Day 74, ‘slackpack’ Highway 40 ‘Donner Pass’ to Five Lakes Trail Junction (Alpine Meadows), 17 miles + 3 miles

Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. – Marilyn Monroe

It is so nice to awaken in Jayne’s beautiful, soulful home. She takes Ruby out and begins cooking the most awesome breakfast burrito ever, while I organize the bear box, warm gear and new La Sportivas Richard sent with a mug of coffee to sip. We eat slowly and talk a lot, mostly about the negative energy I’m carrying around with me on this journey and how it’s coloring all of it.

Jayne is the kind of friend I long for, one willing to give it to me straight especially if I’m full of it. She argues with me when I make a statement that I attract people who frustrate me. She disagrees, saying that I allow them in. What a shift in power that concept is! She’s on a roll and speaks about enjoying people where they are and bringing out the best, but making space for myself and bringing forethought to relationships to manage if my energy is being sucked away. It’s a paradigm shift for me to choose to be less of a victim and more a master of my own destiny. We speak of the four agreements –

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  1. Don’t take anything personally.
  2. Don’t make assumptions.
  3. Always do your best.

– and find a magic in their simplicity as well as a door to a changed life, one more positive and grounded.

I realize her intentions are to help me, but also to remind herself of the most effective way to deal with the myriad relationships she also encounters. She describes hiking as a physical manifestation of my desire for more positivity – inhale beauty and exhale the bad as I make contact with the earth, sending it into the magma to burn and dissolve. She laughs when she tells me she wants me to enter her Sierra with the negativity expunged.

As we drive back to the pass and my mind and heart ponder all these ideas, we talk trees and how at this altitude the ‘prickly’ Ponderosa is replaced by the ‘gentle’ Jeffrey, with sap smelling like butterscotch. The air is sweet with ‘cowboy perfume’ sage and warming up. She walks me up a few switchbacks, then waves me on until tonight’s dinner in Alpine Meadows. I walk up on granite steps, high above Truckee on a windy ridge with spectacular views all around. This is the kind of place that puts ‘crest’ in Pacific Crest Trail.

Many day hikers work their way up, commenting on my hat as I pass carrying only some food and water for the day. It’s dry, low-to-the-ground plants cling to the gravelly dirt. I wonder about how a more positive attitude might have affected my recent work. For just a moment, I gain a bit of perspective, that I was authentic, honest, hard working and dedicated, but it simply was not what these people wanted. There’s really not a thing I could do if I was giving all of me and that was not what they wanted. How can I possibly take that personally? I begin to wonder if in spite of the fact I did really cool things and made great radio, if I truly thrived in that environment. Perhaps there is a better place for me.

Ahead of me are huge knobs I will go up and around. The trail is obvious, flattened in the crunchiness. I laugh thinking of Jayne giving me a choice of ice cream sandwiches last night, “Anything but strawberry, vanilla or mint,” leaving only cappuccino. It was mostly for comedic affect, but a good thing we both only like cappuccino!

I pass a day hiker, then meet two thru-hikers coming off Tinker Knob. The views are huge, open, stunning. I am tiny up here, but so alive cruising along this highest point. Soon, it’s downhill into the forest and thick blankets of wildflowers. I stop only for a moment at the bottom to drink a liter of gatorade left at the ski lift by a trail angel, then I just keep moving, amazed I can do this all day. I pass two backpackers on sand-covered granite cheering me on for going ‘all the way.’ I tell them I’m slackpacking is why I move so fast and skip right up the switchbacks towards the Squaw Valley ski lifts.

I sidle the bowl here, only a small platter of snow left in this hot summer. I imagine how lovely it must be skiing here in winter as my new shoes sink deep into the sandy trail. Up and over this pass takes me into the Granite Chief Wilderness of Lake Tahoe National Forest, greeting me at its entrance with flowers I have not yet seen. The pines are huge and gnarled and I somehow think I am getting closer when I pass a trail junction.

But I still have a ways to go down, the foliage thickening making progress slower. At one steep sidling section, I cross a meadow with mules ears for hundreds of feet in all directions. I sing Vivaldi’s Gloria as I descend, thinking I have surely passed my turn off. But the one before appears with Chef sitting there filtering water. Poor guy was stung in the face by a wasp and developed shin splints, and yet he continues to possess a charming demeanor and twinkle in the eye, one of my favorite hikers, calling me ‘Singet.’

I tell him I need to press on to make dinner and the trail heads up, much to my consternation. How funny it all is, the trail reflecting life and being exactly what it is just when we want it to be the opposite. Patience, acceptance, presence and groundedness are all demanded of a thru-hiker if she’s not to get frustrated. It’s not hard, and I feel good reaching my junction in no time.

But when this trail goes up, my patience is tested and I realize I am not entirely sure just how far the trail down to Alpine Meadows goes. I curse the air and feel trapped in my bad planning until it does seem to move slightly in the right direction. Oddly enough and on cue, at another junction, a hiker appears telling me it took her an hour to get up here. Ah! Not so bad going down and I fly on towards the valley passing huge granite slabs and chair lift towers.

It’s a good walk down and I do it in reverse tomorrow with a full load, but I put that out of my kind when I reach the road, the day hiker, Marybeth, catching up and offering me a lift to Casper and Ursula’s gorgeous home. They invite Barb, a nearly eighty-year-old outdoor phenom I aspire to be like – skier, backpacker, world traveler, with an easy laugh and sassy personality. Both Barb and Casper are recovering from shoulder surgery, looking like the Bobbsy Twins in matching slings. Alain comes as well, a French-speaking Swiss who hikes and skis and flirts (harmlessly) with me from the start. He’ll walk me up to the top in the morning. Jayne brings my bear box and belongings and we all sit down to a huge meal, talking non-stop. It’s absolutely splendid.

I show my shredded pants to Ursula and she says they can’t be fixed. But Barb offers up a pair of hers and Jayne picks up three to try. Friends, one pair is the exact same ones I have, same size. The party votes I use them for the remainder of my trip. Maria from Ashland sewed a heart patch on mine and they are very special, so the pants will he sent home to maybe make into shorts.

I feel so happy and fulfilled. A big day of spectacular beauty and an evening of people active well into their 70’s filled with energy, inquisitiveness and humor. They are role models, for sure, and also new friends.

Reader Comments

  1. That second paragraph? Re-read it every morning until it’s stuck in your craw! It’s what I’ve been thinking all along.. . . and said so simply. A good reminder for all of us.

  2. I like Karen’s advice. This Buddhist metta compliments the four agreements. Together they make a nice daily prayer (“pray always”):

    May I be in loving kindness
    May I be peaceful and at ease
    May I be free from suffering
    May I be happy, may I be well

    1. ♥️♥️♥️ but does the prayer help with s bear-box laden backpack uphill?!? ‘yay!’ Kidding aside, this means a lot to me!! 🐥

  3. Alison…..you have found the PCT therapist in Jayne….embroider her suggestions in your brain….or really try to remember them….good living through Buddhism….Zola

  4. Alison, Please let Jayne know that by offering you the Four Agreements, she offers them to us readers, as well. When I look at them, and re-read parts of your blog, I observe that for you, as well as for me, the Middle Two are the most difficult to follow:

    Be impeccable with your word.
    Don’t take anything personally.
    Don’t make assumptions.
    Always do your best.

    Nearly all of your “negativity” on the trail results from your difficulty in “listening to” those two Agreements. And, lest one thinks I am throwing stones of negativity right back atcha, I instead am looking in the mirror–and, dammit, I don’t care that I mix metaphors as well as cocktails! I am literally “commenting” in the “comment box,” not advising. And I thank Jayne, via your blog, for the reminder of The Way of living life well. My condensed version of all this is to both do and think unto others as you would do and think unto yourself. Nota bene: one needs to THINK well of oneself for this mantra to hold water. There: that’s my last metaphor (at least for this comment!) Onward. Upward. Southward, HO!

  5. Kia Ora e hoa…catching up again reading on an early Sunday morning while the rest of the house sleeps. Fred, our orange cat you may remember, sleeps here on the couch next to me. I think of my own experiences in the mountains. I am blessed to have a place where I see very few people, many trips not any. I used to get very angry, or at least tense when someone would show up at a hut. Sometimes even grabbing my gear and leaving to set up my tent somewhere else. It took me a long time to understand that wasn’t so much my own quest for solitude as actually my own anxieties I felt out here. Like I needed to be in the hills to let go of all that and just breathe. I was probably a real asshole to a few people I can never apologise to. Finally recognising and dealing with my own anxiety has not lessened the fact I prefer solitude but it has given me an appreciation of when I do meet people 3-4 days away from a road end that I most likely have much more in common with them than not. Not always, but at least the patience to find out. I admire your efforts not just in your amazing walks, but in the fact you do it in the company of so many others.

    He rangi ta matawhaiti
    he rangi ta matawhanui

    A person with narrow vision has a restricted horizon
    A person with wide vision has plentiful opportunities

    Kia Kaha e hoa!
    Arohanui
    Robb

  6. Dear friend,
    As usual, Jesus covered all these paragraphs in two small words: “Judge not.” Here’s my two: finish well! Guy

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