Wingman from the Roadside:
Barker Pass was not a scheduled resupply point according to our plan. Runningbird is currently transitting from Ebbetts Pass to Carson Pass and on to Highway 50 near Echo Summit at mile 1093 for our next resupply. The next section will be 65 miles to Highway 80 near Donner Summit at mile 1158 where we’ll resupply again. There is one spot I could get to her between Echo and Donner – Barker Pass in the Desolation Wilderness at mile 1126. I had decided that I would check it out and if I could get up there I would add that as a resupply to lessen the weight on her for the next section.
I woke early and was on highway 89 at 0500 headed towards the north shore. I turned left at Barker Pass Road and found it was snow free and paved most of the way to the PCT intersection. I easily made it to the top, found a good spot where I could park and wait when we got to that section, and then got back down the road just in time to join the morning commute of tourists back to South Lake Tahoe.
Back at the trailer I did a bit of housekeeping and prep for the next move and then decided I would drive up (with just the truck) to Carson Pass to surprise Runningbird with a Gatorade and protein shake. I was also anxious to see how she was doing with her new diet of “fuel” food and no Advil. When I got to the top of Carson Pass the main parking lot was packed full and I had to go to the nearby Sno-Park to get a spot. I didn’t have cell service up there but did check the Spot tracks again from earlier that were still on the phone and quickly calculated that, at the pace she had been making earlier, I very well may have just missed her. I jogged to the Forest Service office at the Pass hoping she might still be there. As I got closer I could see her outside the cabin door signing the register and then going back inside. She saw me immediately when I walked in, gave me a big hug, and then said to someone else, “now I have everything I need”. Then she turned to me and said, “take me home”. I was confused. What exactly did she mean? I decided I didn’t really need to push for more explanation just now. My guess was she needed another zero day.
I carried her pack to the Sno-Park lot and in the distance we could both see the white and black “Runningbird” flag I had put up on the back of the truck as I had done so many times before at our resupply points. She was limping a bit and I could see the tears swelling up in her eyes and I knew something was different. She was ready to go home. She had pushed and pushed and now she was done. At that moment I was very proud of her. I was so proud of her for all the challenging miles she had covered in the heat and the snow and the elevation since June 1st. I was proud of her for all the work she had put in to come back from her femur injury; all the training she had put in starting with that day at the hospital in November when she had the titanium plate and screws removed; all the days (and nights) she put in hiking in the snow and rain and dark and had walked in the door sopping wet and freezing with her backpack. I was now also really proud that she was having the courage to say this was enough for now. She has the strength and determination to push on through almost anything. Now I was proud of her strength and courage and awareness to stop now and live to fight another day. I’ve often quoted my mom and at this moment it seemed even more appropriate, “prudence is the better part of valor”.
I put her pack in the back of the truck and turned off the Spot tracker – but only for now. We cried, we smiled, we celebrated as we drove back to Brad’s house and hooked up to the trailer. South Lake Tahoe is crazy in the summer and we decided to get right out of town and away from the rat race. We pulled the trailer up and around Lake Tahoe, thru the traffic of Tahoe City and the “Y”, then up to Interstate 80 and headed West. As we drove we talked about next year, the hardest part of the PCT done, and the time she would now have to properly recover and train for the second half of her “walk home”. She would wait a while to gather her thoughts before posting her next blog (thus my delay in posting).
Peggy chose our next destination, a KOA in Orville, CA, where we would stay and rest and have some time together and process all that had happened. The campground was excellent, meticulously clean, had a pool and spa, green grass, hot showers, and while it was associated with a casino (Feather Falls), it was quiet, peaceful, and hot – 102 degrees. There were no mountains to climb, no rivers to cross, she ate real food, slept on a real bed, bobbed in a warm pool. We talked more about what she had just accomplished. She had not just dreamed. She had not just talked about it. She had taken action. She had stepped out onto the trail at Campo and started to walk home. She is not yet done.