The walk into Tuolomne Meadows the next morning was fast and easy. Any trail is easy when you're hungry and there's some fresh food ahead. Well, fresh-ish; the restaurant at Tuolumne is kind of a hamburger stand, and all the ingredients come out of a Aramark truck. Heavy and I ate a lotof National Park food when we were on the CDT, and we took to calling it an "Aramark burger" -- always the same odd brown disk of meat, same condiments.
Still, it beat anything in my pack, or that has been in my pack, or that will be in my pack in the foreseeable future. The breakfast menu was still in play when I got there, so I ordered a couple sausage and egg sandwiches. They handed me my receipt with the order number on it, which I immediately crumpled and threw in the trash. I am so, so bad at town sometimes. My reflex to throw the receipt away is grounded in solid hiking instincts -- fieldstrip everything, and never pass a garbage can without emptying your pockets.
But now I had to get back in line, and once up at the front, explain to the counter staff that, no, I wasn't placing another order, it's just that I threw away my receipt, so could they keep an eye out for my order of two sandos?
"You ordered two sandos?" asked the woman behind the counter.
"Yeah, like ten minutes ago. Not trying to rush you! I just feel stupid that I tossed the receipt. I don;t know what my number is."
"Let me check that order for you," she said. She poked her head into the back, had a chat with the chef, and came back out.
"Really sorry, seems like we lost your ticket lost in the shuffle. What was your number?"
"I lost my receipt."
"Oh, right. Well, I ordered you another one." I stepped back to salivate by the condiments.
The next hiker up ordered a soft-serve ice cream, and only remembered upon seeing the cone that he wanted a chocolate and vanilla twist. The counter staff (and I mean they were saints in there, dealing with idiots like us) gave me the mistake vanilla cone, much to my delight.
Then right away my order came up, with a ticket. The chef had it the whole time.
Then my rush-job replacement order came up, the extra one the counter staff had made him make.
So I walked out with four sandwiches and a rapidly melting cone of soft serve, making me the richest person on the plant, thank you very much. I ate the sandwiches and half of the ice cream before pawning off the rest of the cone on a JMT hiker. He looked like he was eating it to win a bet with his friends or something.
There's a post office at Tuolomne, so I sent my ice axe and fishing rod home. This lightened up my pack considerably -- I took a quick stroll across the parking lot with my stripped-down kit and was quite please with myself. There is also a pretty great store there, so I decided to buy irresponsible amounts of food. Thus ended my pack's ten-minute Lightweight Period, and ushered in yet another Age of the Lumpy and Ungainly. But it also meant I could hike on past the next road crossing -- Sonora Pass -- and push on to South Lake Tahoe. And I was into that.
Here's the thing: Town was not as tempting as it used to be. On the CDT, and for that matter on the PCT in 2008, I was a total bar-bagger. ("Bar-bagger" being one who wants to enter and experience, or "bag" as many bars as possible.) But now I just want to hike. More often than not, I want to be out with the wind and the moss, certainly more than I want to be with young macho dudes swilling Coors. So I stuffed my bearcan to the brim and figured, what the hell, it'd be light within days. I was just beginning to consider the process of psyching yself up for an eventual depature when I spied a very skinny dude with a Hawaain shirt and an infectuous smile. It was John Z!
It was far more awesome to see him than I would have guessed. We discovered some mutual friends (Carrot and Amanda, your ears must have been burning) and agreed we'd see each other down the trail. I bugged out from that land of dudes drinking morning IPAs and trucked down the trail.
He caught up to me by the time I'd made five miles. He is just way, way faster than I am. But he graciously slowed down enough for us to talk, and so we did. It was a real, old-fashioned guy talk session. We talked about the explosion in hikers on the PCT, about how reckless people are on snow, about gear, about relationships and fidelity, about the girls we like (or in my case about the woman I am in love with and engaged to). He's also a Triple Crowner, and he agreed that the trail was not what it had once been.
"If this doesn't work out," he said, "I'm going to Colorado." He meant: If the PCT does not turn out to be the hike I should be hiking.
"What will you do in Colorado?" I asked.
"I've been looking at the Colorado Trail," he said, "and I'm pretty sure I could get the FKT." FKT is hiker talk for Fastest Known Time. I loved how casual he was about this.
Now I am not an FKT kind of guy. In fact, it's kind of cool in the long-distance world to look down on FKT culture, because they have to focus on mileage so much that, the theory goes, they do not properly enjoy the trail. But John really humanized that world for me. I could see in him great joy at being fast. It helps that he looks a bit batty, all smiles and wacky hair. It wasn't masochistic, I realized. He was like a part of me that had been taken to its logical conclusion.
"To try and hike a trail that fast," he said, "you really have to love it. You sort of have to sacrifice yourself to it." I could totally understand that.
We walked into the dark, wet canyons of northern Yosemite. Just talking it all over.