Day 3: Cold Creeks and Rocket Ships

July 21, 2017
Misc. campsite along Yosemite Creek tributary to original site on Yosemite Creek
Mileage: 3.59
Elevation Gain/Loss: +281' / -641'

After waking up at dawn and ensuring that no bear bears had gotten our food, I decide I'm up for the count and begin our new daily routine.

Life is so simple here: Wake up, get water, boil water, make coffee, sip coffee, let your body and mind warm up with the sun, wake up the girls, serve breakfast, clean up breakfast, pack up camp, stretch, walk all day, take breaks when you're tired or hungry, find a camp spot, set up camp, cook dinner, clean up, look at the stars, make a plan for tomorrow, go to bed. Repeat. 

We've traded in the stress of bills and busy schedules for the constant mindfullness the wilderness requires. As living breathing humans, the thing we must be most mindful of is water.

 A buck stares me in the face during my morning Nature Break.

A buck stares me in the face during my morning Nature Break.

I love the act of gathering water—at least in Sierra country, during wet years, where water is plentiful and flowing. I love knowing where my water comes from. I can see and touch the creeks we gather from (even if I can't see the true true source) rather than water flowing mindlessly out of a tap. I love being able to see if the water has floaties, if it has those weird oily films on top I can't figure out, or if it's silty at the bottom. I love being able to feel if it's ice cold or heated by sun-warmed rocks. I'm grateful to have abundant water, to be cognizant this is a task generally left to women in the developing world, something they spend backbreaking hours gathering and carting back to their homes or villages, and to be spared that burden. 

After breakfast, Laughs and I gather water at the creek one last time. We are the "watermasters" today. We sit on a flat rock in the middle of the creek, letting our hands go numb as they hold bottles beneath the water and the creek's flow replaces air with water. I bask in Laugh's creativity, letting it drive my own.

Short ferns surround us, bright green in the early light...

Doesn't this look like Jurrasic Park? 
Couldn't you imagine a T-Rex crashing through the ferns over there, trees aswaying?
What's your favorite dinosaur? 
A pterodactyl. 

I show her the crazy pterodactyl impression my friend Caitlyn taught me to make in high school. 

"It's so beautiful here."
 "It's so beautiful here," she repeats. 

I love these moments. Letting a kid's guard unfurl, seeing what happens when they have a moment to sit and soak it all in. 

 Laughs teaches us about the whirls, swirls, and patterns of our fingertips. 

Laughs teaches us about the whirls, swirls, and patterns of our fingertips. 

Today's hike is hard for me, even though it's supposed to be easy. The trail is simply flat, along Yosemite Creek as it roars through granite drainages and mellows out into a gentle flow once again. No crazy ups or downs, but still I'm dying, lagging behind the group, slowing them down and sapping their mental energy. I know I'm dragging down everyone, including myself, but I can't snap out of it. Last night's fitful sleep must have really gotten to me. 

 The granite pools of Yosemite Creek. 

The granite pools of Yosemite Creek. 

I've been reading Carrott Quinn's book about doing the PCT in 2013, Thru-Hiking will Break Your Heart. I was surprised how fast I fell in love with her book, and it's the one thing I miss from home while I'm on the trail. Today's landscape helps me visualize what she's talking about when she describes the perfect swimming holes of the Sierras: water flowing from granite pool to granite pool, beautiful bathtubs made of stone. 

In the afternoon we stop near the creek and I gather water, bumming instant coffee off Cherub in hopes of picking myself up with a caffeine boost. I'm crushed when I realize I must wait 30 minutes for the iodine treatment. Dammit. The alternative is filtering my water right here, but it's too complicated to fish out my water bladder from my stuffed pack and unclip my filter from where it hangs in-line. I give up and just wait. 

This is another thing the trail demands of you - waiting. There are no "hacks" or gimmicks out here, no twenty-first-century inventions to make life easier. We walk and work and eat at the pace of nature, the pace of pre-industrial humans. 

Before the iodine timer is even done, we're at our campsite, an awesome granite dome with a scattering of trees and blow downs. Another group is there, trying to claim the whole dome for themselves, but BadAss fights them off like a momma bear, pushing them to pick one side of the dome and let us camp on the other half. 

We never stopped for lunch, so we're all hungry and hot and tired. BadAss apologizes to me for how she talked to the squatter group, which cracks me up. I don't give a rat's ass. We're a family out here and we protect each other and stand up for each other and don't let anyone mansplain that this giant clearing in the wilderness isn't big enough for a group of 8 people and a group of 5. 

Dust dust everywhere. Our side of the mound is damn dusty. Hecka dusty, according to the MJ and Laughs. I secretly love that someone along the way trained them not to say "hella", lest they curse despite their birthright as Oakland residents to say the word. 

Two or three ancient, huge downed trees separate our half of the mound into cozy quadrants, all the proper distance away from our kitchen. They will be the perfect sleeping area. We each pick a quadrant, letting the blowdowns provide a bedroom for each of us, a semblance of privacy. As humans, we're constantly doing this: separating the big wide world into rooms, as if all the world was our house. Over there is the kitchen, here on some logs is our sitting room, this is my bedroom, the creek our backyard. 

I want to cowboy camp tonight, but also don't want to offend Cherub, accidentally suggesting "I don't want to share a tent with you tonight". I wait, thinking I'll set up my sleep stuff later. 

We bushwhack down to the creek, and it is glorious. We pass a ponderosa pine that has lost its top half, bark chips scattered around the base like debris left on a launch pad. We dub it The Rocket Ship. 

The water is coooold, brr brr, and the sun has already started to slink down the sky. It will dip beyond the trees in the next hour or so, but we don't care. We are so dusty from flopping ourselves in the dirt during lunch. When we met Catch Em at the backpackers' campground yesterday morning, he said we looked like PCT hikers (probably the highest compliment I've received while backpacking - my ego inflated) except we were too clean. If only he could see us now. We were officially dirty. 

All this dirt means we will submerge ourselves in the hip-deep water, shrieking and clenching teeth against the cold. We will take bandanas and scrub the caked dirt from our calves, splash icy liquid cupped in hands, over faces and necks and arms. I will attempt to wash my shorts as I'm still wearing them, flapping the material under the water and swishing them around. Toes grip sandy patches amongst the smooth granite boulders. We give the current in the middle of the creek a wide berth. 

A few guys set up camp across the creek, stringing a complicated layer of hammocks over each other. Where will they poop? Or sleep? Hemmed in between the creek and another granite mound, they surely can't get 100 Leave-No-Trace-yards away from the water. Oh, bro bros. 

Laughs and MJ wave at the guys and squeal with delight when one waves back and shouts hello. I'm in awe of the way they're easily entertained. On the first day, we stopped on a rural highway for a "nature break" (as the girls have taken to calling peeing/pooping in the woods), and they delighted in waving out the window to cars going by, similarly squealing and cheering each time they got a wave of acknowledgment. 

Time seems suspended here, away from technology and any real responsibilities beyond surviving.

How can responsibilities be more real than that, anyway? 

We wash ourselves in the creek until we can't stand the cold, then scramble up the slick rocks, out of wet shirts, into down jackets, leaving our clothes to dry on sun-warmed granite and lying down on a trio of flat rocks to bask in the last of the sun's rays. 

Later, the broken-off branches of the blowdowns in our bedrooms will form the perfect hangers for our half-dry clothes. A magical backcountry closet that I will long for once we leave this campsite.

 Backcountry closet at its finest. 

Backcountry closet at its finest. 

Laughs dubs her rock The Ariel Rock, mermaid-ing herself in imitation of the movie's iconic rock-singing scene. 

My awe of them is constant. That Disney movies are still appealing to 13-year old girls, that they haven't gotten too old for them or started to pretend they don't like them, in favor of more scandalous movies. That they get along with each other so perfectly, with patience and kindness and humor, and I hope for their sakes that this is the beginning of a long, meaningful friendship. That they can entertain themselves in the creek for hours, with no complaints of "I'm bored" or "what can I do now?"

Throughout the trip, MJ and Laughs are gracious, accepting, composed. Wise beyond their years. They bear burdens with little complaining and push themselves beyond what they thought themselves capable. Perhaps it helps that neither one owns a phone, but not once do I overhear them pine for texting or Instagram or YouTube videos. Not even TV or music. The girls seem to transition seamlessly to the backcountry. Are they simply used to going without? Are they in awe of what they're experiencing? I still don't know. 

Despite not speaking English at home, their English is better than my Spanish, and they're half my age. I've had double their lifetimes to practice. Rarely do they not know what an English word means.

I begin to recognize the verbal crutch Laughs uses when she can't remember an English word, stalling for time as her brain translates and strings together words. What I thought was a product of Valley Girl talk or immaturity has a purpose and I empathize, while also chastising myself for wanting a child to talk in the way I think they should talk. By the end of the week, I don't even notice it. 

Once everyone is cold and tired and hungry, we wish the creek goodnight and trudge back up the hill to camp. Slightly less bushwhacking this time. 

Earlier, during lunch, Cherub took on the monumental task of rearranging and repackaging food to try and fit as much as possible in our bear cans. We don't want another fitful night spent with food hung from a tree, especially after seeing a pair of Rangers armed with bear-scare air soft guns earlier in the day. There must be bear sightings around here recently. 

Miraculously, Cherub fit everything into the cans. In a genius move, she cut the excess plastic off our big group food bags. This frees us to eat whatever we want for dinner tonight, not constrained to the meal with the most ingredients to use up and make space. 

Prior to the trip, I pre-packaged breakfasts and dinners for myself using freeze dried ingredients ordered off Amazon. I threw together potato flakes and spices, rice and vegetables, all topped with a hearty portion of dried butter and chicken. I'm pleasantly surprised by how delicious, filling, and comforting my meals are. 

 Laughs cracks us up by wearing her 'Neo' glasses at night.

Laughs cracks us up by wearing her 'Neo' glasses at night.

We eat and eat. Eventually night falls and we migrate to our couches, logs around a charred fire pit. We look at the sky, trading sketchy bits of information about constellations we vaguely remember. There is no google out here. We go off of facts or figures someone has tucked away in a long-forgotten corner of their brain. I wouldn't be surprised if at least a quarter of what we talk about in the backcountry is made up or wrong. We are all wafting between educator and bullshitter. 

We begin to catch glimpses of shooting stars, two or three of us seeing the same one and oohing in awe while the others whip their heads around and miss it just barely. At a magical moment, four of us happen to see a big shooting star, probably a meteor, pass lazily across a low corner of the sky. It's moving slowly enough that BadAss has time to turn around and see it too. It is cartoon-ish in its perfectness, a bright orange glow followed by two parallel streaking trails of light. Just like in the cartoons. We bask in the wonder of this sighting: all of us sharing a common corner of the universe for a second or two. 

Immediately, Laughs wants to see another. For the rest of the trip, she'll clamor at the sky to get dark, beg the sun to set so we can try to see another shooting star like this one. 

This is one of those moments we'll play over and over until it becomes a well-worn stone in our minds. 

After the girls go to their tent, we take a few minutes to have “adult meetings”, which isn’t really necessary since we’ve been together all-day every-day for three days now, but we oblige and do it anyways. 

Tomorrow is our “Summit Day”, a challenge day the girls have picked out for themselves. We’ve been working towards this, and it will be a highlight of the trip, a feat of accomplishment. 

We’re going to bag El Cap. 

 One of the huge downed trees around camp.

One of the huge downed trees around camp.