We spent the next full day in Yosemite Village. In the morning we walked the paved pathways around in circles searching for Housekeeping Camp, where we could do our laundry and take showers. The granite cliffs rose above us everywhere we looked. We sat on the sandy beach by the Merced River and watched families and children play, amazed at the number of people we were suddenly surrounded by.
The next morning, we caught a ride back up to Tuolumne Meadows with a girl and guy on a road trip in a huge white van with an inflated boat where the passenger seats should be. Sprawled amid the boat and a sea of suitcases, clothes, and other possessions, Phil immediately fell asleep. I spent the 90-minute drive crouched under the boat, straining to look out the window and keep from getting carsick on the windy road while Jimi Hendrix blared.
Rejuvenated from our break, we set out that afternoon for the 150-mile journey to South Lake Tahoe, our next resupply stop. We’d heard from a few sources that this stretch was often thought to be one of the hardest on the trail, both because of its constant and unforgiving elevation changes and its mosquitoes, and I found this to be true. The trail wound through a remote part of Yosemite and was full of steep, rocky climbs to the tops of ridges, only to suddenly drop down the other side into a mosquito-infested forest. Each forest seemed to be followed by another rocky ridge that, inevitably, you knew you would climb. They just kept coming. On the second day, we passed a sign for Benson Lake and decided to check it out for a short break. After following a short, forested trail, we were spit out into the most idyllic setting. The lake was crystal blue, surrounded on all sides by granite mountains except for where it met a perfect sandy beach. Best of all, it was, magically, free of mosquitoes. We ended up spending five hours there. A downfall of this respite was that we both got the worst sunburns known to man.
After three days of elevation chaos, we came to Dorothy Lake Pass, the official end of Yosemite. As we left the park, it was amazing how the scenery seemed to change immediately, the rocky crags behind us and strange bare, red mountains ahead. We crossed Sonora Pass, an amazingly beautiful stretch of trail that winds along a ridge of bare, austere cliffs and lava rock. It looked like we could be on the moon. Behind us were our last views of the high Sierra, and ahead were endless rows of mountains.
Over the next two and a half days, we seemed to hike nonstop. We entered a forested cow pasture-like area, the terrain became much easier, and we upped our mileage, sometimes hiking until 10 or 11 pm. The day before the Fourth of July, we finally arrived in South Lake Tahoe. We had sent our resupply box to Echo Lake, a quaint lodge right outside of town, and practically ran the remaining 17 miles that day to get to the tiny post office before they closed at 2 pm.
South Lake is quite a destination for the Fourth. The town was full of people, and looked more like a Cancun party scene than a quiet town in the mountains. We stayed at a Super 8 motel, the pool and courtyard overrun with hoards of college boys drinking as much Coors Lite as possible and hosting dance parties in the grass outside. Once again, it was strange to be among so many people, especially after being in such remote wilderness for the last six days.
We spent much of the Fourth walking all over South Lake, trying to get our various errands done. Since we often don’t really have a place to go while in towns, we’ve mastered the art of loitering in public places and have developed a keen eye for outlets. We sat outside of Safeway for a long time after shopping there, then Radio Shack, then Denny’s. Surprisingly, as this journey continues, I’m gaining more and more respect for the homeless population and realizing how hard it would be to be truly homeless. I sometimes feel so displaced when we arrive in a town, always on foot and dirty, backpacks on our backs. We have phones and debit cards and our status as “homeless” is relatively temporary, but for some, it is their daily existence. Where do you go? Where do you sleep? It has been eye-opening for me to experience even a tiny sliver of this life.
That evening, we joined a gaggle of other hikers to watch the fireworks show on the beach. Having not booked a motel for a second night, we disappeared into the woods behind the middle school to sleep that night. I tossed and turned, the orange glow of the school lights a constant companion, and the next morning we hitch hiked back to the trail.