We are in South Lake Tahoe, which means…
We did it. Our final tally is 1067 miles of california desert, mountains, marshes, meadows, roads, and pretty much everything in between. Before we dig into a breakdown of our whole trip, here’s how the last few days went down:
We left North Kennedy Meadows (NKM) feeling strong and well fed (it was a really great stop), but a little wistful. The next stop, a mere 60-80 miles away, was our last and we would officially be off the trail. The first day out of NKM (also Jean’s 30th birthday) was the biggest uphill of the rest of our trip, and the weather was absolutely beautiful. The walk was a 900 or so foot climb up the side of some very nice volcanic rock formations, leading to a great view of the carson range ahead of us. It was a late start – back on trail around 130pm – so we resolved to just get as far as we could, to get a jump on the final stretch of our trip. That day we managed to put in 12 or so miles, finishing at a nice little open spot on the side of a valley. The views were great – volcanic peaks pushing up amid granite outcroppings – and we slept without the rainfly for the first time in a while. The night was warm and the stars were amazing as usual – when the moon is set, the milky way is as visible as a cloud against the night sky. Talking that night, we decided we wanted to get as far as we could the next day, as both of us were feeling ready to get to South Lake Tahoe and begin relaxing.
We got up the next day and got a good start about 8am. We were headed for somewhere north of Highway 4, but without a specific goal in mind. We went through the Carson-Iceberg wilderness past wolf creek pass, down around Asa lake, and across highway 4. Along the way we met quite a few day hikers, including a couple from San Francisco who told us that they had spotted a cooler across the highway with a label that said “for PCT hikers”. The promise of trail magic put a spring in our step, and as we crossed Highway 4, we were greeted with some other, unexpected trail magic. Another couple was walking down from the trail and asked if we would like a red pepper! We gratefully accepted, and I can definitely say that I have never treated a vegetable with such reverence and care. I gingerly tucked it into my pack, and we decided that we would eat it with the onions and garlic that Joanne and Andrea had sent in Jean’s birthday care package. We found the cooler – which was full of Emergen-C, cookies, and apples. We ate a huge number of cookies, signed the trail register and looked for our friends in it, and then moved just a few hundred feet up trail to eat dinner. After we cleaned up, we made it just about 4 miles further over some incredibly nice and easy trail to make camp above lower Kinney lake. Off in the distance we heard the unmistakable sound of a herd of cattle, complete with their bells.
The next morning we started off again down the trail. At this point the hiking was pretty easy – only a few hundred feet to gain every couple of miles, and descents that were steep(ish) but really not too bad compared to where we’d been. We noticed the work of one PCT crew and passed another – a group of about 8 or so volunteers who come out to the PCT and repair the trail where it needs it. These folks are basically what make the trail walkable – without them, eventually the trail would just turn to an overgrown series of washouts. We also happened to pass a group of 4 day hikers who were hiking from one road crossing to the next at Blue Lakes road. We were stopping for water and food quite a bit at this point, so we wound up leapfrogging with them for a couple of hours, chatting with them as we did.
When we got to Blue Lakes Road, it was busier than we expected. This was the first possibility in terms of getting to South Lake Tahoe, the others being Highway 88 and Highway 50. We were tired, and thirsty, and walked across the road to get some water out of the drainage. While we were sitting and hydrating, we decided that it was too late to get a reasonable hitch to SLT from here, so we would head for 88 the next day where there would be plenty of folks headed to town and it would be easy to get a ride. As we prepared to head up trail, an older man rounded the corner, headed in the same direction we were. We got to talking – he was a botanist who was headed up the trail on a tip about some good wildflower viewing. He had recently moved to South Lake Tahoe and offered us a ride when he got back to the trailhead! We told him we would discuss it while he was walking and if he found us when he got back, we’d love a ride.
He found us when he got back. We talked it over for only a couple of minutes while he was away before we decided that this was surely Providence talking. Our goal was SLT, by hook or by crook, and this seemed like a great way to get there. We made our last meal on trail – our red pepper with garlic and onions sauteed in olive oil, plus a generous helping of cabot seriously sharp cheddar and some Annie’s pasta. We built a cairn where we had stopped and where the trail headed north, scratched our names in the dirt, and headed for SLT. Beaker and Lady Luck were here.
The ride was great. About an hour in the car with our new friend Glen, who was very knowledgeable about the geology and biology of the area. He told us what our favorite trail plants actually were, asked for good wildflower spots on the trail, and related stories about his days as an environmental consultant working for the Forest Service. When we got to SLT, we of course had absolutely no idea where we were going. Glen was happy to drive us around to figure it out, and so we set ourselves to finding a place to stay. At the first hotel we went to, an older guy came out and informed us that he had just rented the last room, and by the way, we were unlikely to find anything else. He mentioned that if we had a tent, we could crash in the yard around his hotel, which seemed… like a possibility, albeit an unappealing one. We were in the mood for a bed, but it wasn’t looking good for one. He tipped us off about the Lake Tahoe campground not far away, and we headed for it.
The Lake Tahoe Campground bore a striking resemblance to the encampment of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Half clothed teenagers struggled across the street, while others in a drug induced trace slouched against the office door. A strange music was carried on the wind from deeper in the campground, and the dim, pallid lighting seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. I timidly approached the office, hoping desperately that the campground was full to the brim of this grim cadre of lakeside zombies. A group of the undead parted, likely frightened by the life in my eyes, and I was blessed by a vision of a “will return at 8am” sign. They were closed! I hurried back to the car, closed the door quickly behind me, and tried to conceal my glee as I told Jean and Glen that the campground was closed for new reservations. Jean was also visibly thrilled, and we announced firmly that camping outside the hotel was the best idea we’d ever heard.
The gentleman back at the hotel didn’t exactly remember us, but he was happy to see us nonetheless. We haggled with him for a moment over the price and settled on 20$ to camp behind the hotel building. After we settled on a site, we got to chatting with him, and he gave us our money back. Yet another example of the good will we’ve been on the receiving end on during our time on the trail. Despite the comparatively loud and bright site, we slept like babies and woke up at the definitive end of our journey.
Wooooooo!!! We made it! South Lake Tahoe. Nearly 1,100 miles of PCT hiked. Goal completed. Mission accomplished. Tan lines from hiking shorts and my pack chest strap permanently outlined on my skin. Ripped leg muscles too. And now the softening begins…hahaha. Mike “Hikerbox Special”‘s advice was “I recommend going low carb until your hiker hunger fades”. I have been starved for food since we got off the trail a few days ago, but so far have allowed myself eggs florentine, about 5 mexican pastries, a burger, lots of salad, pizza, beer, and Mexican food. The way I see it, we’re still on our “hiking trip”, so when we get back to Seattle I’ll try to eat like a normal person again…
The last few days of trail – from N. Kennedy Meadows to the South Lake Tahoe area – were great: beautiful and nice with good weather and trail magic to boot. However, I was also tired and ready to be off trail. They say running is 90% mental, and so by extension I have to say that hiking is at least 90% mental, too. It was hard to find as much motivation for that last stretch compared to all of the earlier sections because the end was practically upon us – why push myself and “train” for the next demanding section of trail when the “next thing” consists of roads, chairs, tables, computers (aka., the real world)… but my other theory is that I haven’t had enough protein in my diet and have therefore been more exhausted than usual – a real possibility. Anyhow, we made it and I’m definitely looking forward to my next hiking adventures: the remainder of the PCT next year (just 1,500 miles to go), day hikes and section hikes in the coming months (Washington is supposed to be beautiful in August), and even the Wonderland Trail in September (the demanding 93 mile trail around the base of Mount Ranier)!
When we left N.KM, we caught a ride right away. A really cool Yosemite ranger on his day off picked us up in an old pseudo-military old school jeep convertible. We talked about bear cans versus ursacks in the park and he mentioned wanting to do more trail angel and PCT support now that he’s a ranger, owns a cabin nearby, and is no longer working in the “private sector”. We hiked a solid 12 miles that first day back on trail – over mostly volcanic terrain with the occaisonal outcropping of granite. I was feeling a bit ill and we set up camp at a beautiful site with a view of at least 4 extinct volcanic peaks and a pink sunset. We ate epic proportions of mashed potatoes with butter powder, milk powder, bacos, and dehydrated onions and garlic (4 cups!) and slept well. Not a bad way to wrap up a 30th birthday…
The next day on the trail we made it a nice 22.5 miles – from mi 1030 to 1052.5. My feet are tired but I’m feeling pretty good. Today is another big day – Jared and my “1 year anniversary” of reconnecting in Portland OR. We celebrated by exchanging tiny gifts we’d picked up at the N.KM General Store – a topo map bandana for me from Jared and a can of pineapple juice to Jared from me. We came across lots of volcanic terrain today and passed many day and overnight hikers, including a group of 6-10 guys in their 20’s to 40’s that we came across when they spotted a deer – the first deer many of them had ever seen in person. We also came across our first trail magic in at least 500 miles – a cooler full of cookies, apples, and emergen-C courtesy of “Meadow Mary”…we hit it just in time (dinner time) and ate our fill before cooking a large pot of pasta alfredo with tuna, trekking on a few more miles, and setting up camp on flat, white sand near a lake. I read the article that Andrea and Joanne sent from the latest issue of Backpacker, about Heather “Anish” Anderson, PCT speed record holder. Great article to read near the end of our trip.
This next day – our last day! – we put in 14 miles before accepting a ride to South Lake Tahoe at the PCT-Blue Lakes Road intersection. The trail was very gentle and mild for our last stretch, mostly downhill, but nothing steep by any means. We met some day hikers (including a couple – Piedro and Vanessa from nearby Nevada who were very friendly and chatty) and passed a trail crew (many thanks to this and other trail crews for maintaining the trail to keep it free of fallen trees, properly drained, and smooth, flat, and free of debris). When we reached mile 1067, or Blue Lakes Road, we stopped for water and a friendly botanist named Glen came upon us. He offered us a ride to town and we (after some deliberation) jumped at the chance. While he hiked in for wildflowers for an hour or two, we made peace with the trail – we cooked our “last supper” which was truly amazing, our best trail meal ever. We ate Annie’s mac and cheese with an entire brick of Cabot’s seriously sharp cheddar and fresh onions and garlic from Stout Oak Farm in Brentwood NH (courtesy of Joanne and Andrea – thanks ladies!) and an organic red bell pepper (thank you random trail couple we met yesterday!). We built a farewell cairn. And then Glen whisked us down to SLT, pointing out flowers, fens, and mountain passes along the way. He sweetly shuttled us between motel and campground until we eventually settled in at a motel with cabins (we never did catch the name of the place in the dark…) where we camped – the owner, Jerry, offered us a place to stay because everything was full up. We haggled from $30 to $20 and after some chatting he returned our money to us and told us to buy a good breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop across the street. Nice guy. We had made it to town. We were down with the trail. We slept well and dreamed of what was next…
And we’re off the trail! The past few days – and the next few to come, I imagine – have been spent in SLT. Eating food (great breakfast at Ernie’s Coffee Shop, amazing burgers at Big Daddy’s Burgers, good pizza and beer at Base Camp). Doing laundry. Talking to family and friends – this is the most connected we’ve been in a long time. Adjusting to life after the trail. Stopping in at the internet cafe and running into Snake Charmer. As we walked down the road yesterday, our trail friends Piedro and Vanessa spotted us as they were driving by and stopped to chat! We talked about travelling and they told us about the bicycle touring they did across Europe, with their cat. Amazing. And their passion for mushroom hunting. Delicious. We met up with some other PCTers last night at Base Camp for pizza – Sneaky Elf, 1-Track, the Jolly Llama, and Rocky IV. We picked up our final packages from the post office and it “felt like Christmas” as Jared described. It was great. I picked up my birthday present from Jared – thanks for the Zuni bracelet, it’s beautiful! Thank you for the birthday card, Emily! Thanks for the lovely note, “Mother” Brenda Yanker! And thanks so much Tyler and Amy for the great PCT poster, we love it! And of course thanks Anna and Brandon for sending us our post-trail stuff from Arizona. It’s both great and weird to wear different clothes, not the same tattered compression shorts day after day after day. Jared shaved his beard and it’s also great and weird to see him without a face of hair (see before and after photos). In the next couple of days, we’re going to stay at a spa and get amazing foot massages, travel to Reno and check out the Great Basin Brewery, and then jet from Reno to Seattle (travelling at 500 miles per hour?!? it’s going to be bizarre….). Stay posted for more post-trail updates…