Wingman from the Roadside:
Our scheduled meeting place was to be Red’s Meadow store but this option was now getting complicated. Runningbird had mentioned exiting on the Horseshoe Lake spur trail which left the PC Trail earlier but was slightly longer. Because of the timing this option now made more sense but I had no way of letting Runningbird know. This option would also allow me to hike in to meet her as long as I could get onto the PCT before she passed the spur trail.
I shut down my office at Starbucks, got my pack, and was at the Horseshoe Lake Trailhead about 10 A.M. It was a 3.7 mile hike on this trail to intersect with the PCT and I made this my immediate goal so that Runningbird wouldn’t slip by me and keep going with the old plan. On this first section I enjoyed seeing I had entered the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I’ve long been a fan of his works and especially of his work in the Yosemite Valley. I was making good time as the much of the spur trail was downhill and soon I turned south on the PCT. As I walked I was awed by the beauty and expanse of the mountain peaks and deep valleys. I could see huge rivers and waterfalls way off in the distance. I was getting just a peek at the things Runningbird was seeing day after day. I crossed small creeks and walked beside lovely meadows with meandering streams. I was keenly aware that these were the very waters that would grow into the large and dangerous water crossings challenging hikers along the PCT and JMT.
As I hiked I did the math over and over again on the miles I was covering against the time Runningbird had been hiking and trying to come up with a reasonable time that I should be meeting up with her. How many miles would I end up hiking? What time would it get dark? Where was she? I couldn’t read the tracker without cell service. Consciously I had slowed my pace so I wouldn’t end up having to hike so far back in. Was that cheating? It was getting near 4 P.M. now and I was nearing 11 miles out. I would need to camp or turn back at a gallop and even then hike some in the dark. As I contemplated what to do, Runningbird came hiking down from a meadow after a river crossing and, not expecting to see me this far out or immediately recognizing me, said “hi”. I enjoyed the moment and watched her face (from under my hat and behind my sunglasses) as she slowly realized it was me. I said “hi back” and then enjoyed all the hugs and tears and smiles and emotions of where she had been and what she had done.
We moved on up the trail with new energy and enjoyed sharing the awesomeness and beauty of the landscapes in the setting sun while still knowing we had many miles yet to cover. I led the way and put forth a strong pace being concerned about finding the last miles of the unfamiliar and less travelled spur trail in the dark. As the sun started to set, Runningbird’s pace began to slow. She had already been hiking since before daylight and had traversed some very difficult miles and river crossings today. For that matter she had been pushing hard for a long time now. Still she kept moving. Slowly. Tears came and went, she was exhausted, spent. Now on the spur trail we put on our headlamps and kept going. She insisted she had to find a boulder to sit and rest on. I immediately presented several options but she didn’t like any of the choices and pressed on. She had now been moving for about 15 hours now without stopping. Her nutrition for the day had probably consisted of peanuts and peppermint candies. In time we came upon McLeod Lake, and with just one mile to go to the car, we found some new energy and soon the taillights of the few cars left in parking lot reflected in our headlamps. At the truck we shared hugs and marveled over not only the accomplishments of her day but also the week. She had covered over 29 hard miles today.
It was after 9 P.M. now and Runningbird was resting in her epsom salt bath and slowly enjoying her Cesar salad. Just a few miles back Runningbird had passed the 900-mile mark in 41 days.
…and though she be but little, she is fierce.
Starting out on the Horseshoe Lake Trail to the PCT.
This little guy popped right out of the sand on the trail in front of me and did an excellent job of now letting me find him…for a while.
Shortly after turning south on the PCT to find the Runningbird.
Looking to the west from the PCT, High Sierras.
High Sierras and where Runningbird had hiked from.