The blessing, among many when hiking with a German is their general dependability, frankness and efficiency.
Twisted and I wake always at the same time, usualy he a little before I. And so we both stir in the darkness of the draw we both fell asleep in. The one that smelled like non-human animal.
I ready myself for the mosquito assault. I bolt out and break my tent down as fast as possible, still chewing on whatever bar and meat stick I had for breakfast. I feel weirdly ill, like nauseated. We turn up and off and, why oh why did we camp while we were climbing? The trail starts off steep and I am sweating within minutes of walking.
I stop where the trail switchbacks and bend over, leaning on my poles.
"Are you OK?" Asks Twisted as he somehow telepathically senses when I stop hiking.
"No. But I'm fine." I say.
We are never OK, but we are always fine.
We climb and climb and then we're cruising. I keep enough distance to make it so we can't talk to each other. I can handle small bout of conversation, but mostly, I aim to hike in quiet alone.
I catch him and we hear it, crash crash rustle rustle. We both look down the slope to our left and there a small black blob darts past up and up the mountain.
"BEAR! Let's hike!" I say and we both laugh and make dust.
After a while I stand at a saddle and vista and order wind pants on my smartphone with a spotty connection. Below me is the desert, while I stand in a totally different ecosystem. I see what looks like moisture farms, and I think of the Star Wars planet Tatooine. After some frustration my wind/rain pants are ordered and sent to a hostel in Bishop, a town outside the Sierra.
We move on, the both of us. As Twisted moves a small distance in front of me I see it: a snake, tumbling down, down the slope to his right.
A huge rattlesnake about 5 feet long, rolls and rolls and I see the beautiful splash of yellow and white on its belly. It lunges at Twisted the moment it rights itself on the trail. It hooks up into a high arch and lunges again. Twisted turns on his heel and back to me.
"Holy fucking shit." I say.
Twisted says nothing at me.
"It must have tripped or something, it's really mad. It's embarrassed."
We drop back down the trail, since we cannot pass the mad snake. The trail situated in a way we cannot move around it on either side. So we wait for the snake to calm itself before we move on.
"It gave me goosebumps," Twisted says finally.
"Yeah, that was a close one."
We take a moment of rest to eat food, as we do. Twisted opens a fragrant bag of peach rings and I eye them longingly. Why did I choose such bad candy to eat?
He frowns at me, rolls his eyes and hands me one. And I take it from him with a smug grin.
I stand and peer around the corner. No more snake.
"I think it's safe now." I say.
We stand and carefully walk up trail and arm ourselves with trekking poles incase the snake still lingers, but there's nothing. So we hike.
The day spreads out thinnly before me and I make a distance between us. It grows hot and the landscape is showing signs of changing. Desert, but... different. Massive boulders and rock formations and trees that leave a scent on the air. Pinion? Is that you? I wonder to myself. I wonder of the tree, as I have no guides. Nothing to go on but faint guide book memorization.
I find Twisted eventually. We dip down towards water, I can smell it before I see it. My senses now more understanding. Green flies bite at us and we move as fast as possible. Stopping at a stream to collect water, we swat at them. They bite us so deeply, drawing some sort of depraved ecstacy from our blood, so painful! But they are easy to kill, once they land and bite into us - so we let them.
We run away from the creek and begin to climb. I languish in the heat, even my umbrella doesn't help much. Chills enter my body and I have to pause occasionally to cool off, knowing that I am nearing heat exhaustion. As I pause, a small horned lizard watches me from below a pine. It looks sleepy and it rests, like I would like to be doing but I move along.
I finally make it to our afternoon resting point, a trough full of trickling spring water waits down the hill between willows and white alder. We meet a hiker named Happy, who seems suited to the name with his disposition and choice of clothing color, all a bright white and yellow. He strips unashamedly by the trough and washes his body while we gather and filter water. We chase the shadows, eat and nap. The flies make such a loud sound all around us, I can hardly sleep through them tickling my face and legs, so I wrap myself in my polycryo sheet and sweat builds between me and it while I doze in and out of consciousness.
I slowly shove a snack cake into my mouth while I watch Twisted cold soak a bowl of ramen. "Do you want my stove?" He declines me stubbornly. I mock him while he complains of the dull flavor and still crunchy noodles. We slip into sleep again.
He's getting restless and eventually the restlessness finds me too. Time to move.
We're up and out of the small oasis, pushing now back into the heat that presses into us, however less imposing. The shadows lengthen and we roll though a burn area. The mountains folding around us, perfectly into deep layers of dark and light. My favorite vision of how the mountains let us see them... endless seeming, unspeakable vastness. And yet, limitations do exist within them.
A part of me wishes for mountains so volatile and fierce that no man can penetrate them. To keep places untouched, unhaveable, unconquerable. But what haven't we touched? What haven't we marred with our own existence?
I laugh at myself quietly, as I stride by the sagebrush and long ago remnets of ash. Oh the new life of a burn, the health that it brings. Yet another thing we seek to control, and yet still we lay waste to forests, to mountains, to those inhabitants that cannot speak for themselves.
I grow angry and I stew as I twist around ridges and begin to drop, drop down and down into the valley we will sleep in before reaching the Sierra gateway. I feel watched as I move down the mountain. Cougar habitat.
I fly into the flat of the valley, skipping past blooming shrubs to find Twisted at the creek, peering into the water.
"Better to collect up from here, I think," He says to me.
We seek out good camping spots, away from everyone else. Two other hikers here tonight. I can hear one of them blasting music from their phone and it irritates me.
"It seems there is a problem bear in the area, according to guthooks," Twisted says as he look up from his phone.
"I will cuddle him to death then," I say, a bluff. It does make me nervous, but the only thing we can do is sleep and see what happens.
The mountains embrace us into the night, where the milkyway spreads out before us, the best I have seen all trail. A twinge occurs deep in my lower abdomen. My period is coming. I sigh, pleased at the functioning of my body but loathing the process of taking care of it.
Sleep takes me, as I dream of burying my face into the rough neck of a bear. Held.
Kennedy Meadows! I think when I wake.
I guzzle down my whey protein and eat a melted and re-solidified twix I found in a hiker box. Who in their right mind would toss this? I wonder.
My pack up time is just a few seconds ahead of Twisted and I turn out quickly to the trail. I am hungry for this moment, of reaching a new dimension to the trail. Something different. I pass a few other hikers, moving at a steady 3mph. The landscape now changing dramatically, but the heat still permeating. It's only 11 miles this morning and I do not stop to eat or drink. My stomach protests, then my body decides to respond with a manic, shaking hunger that overrides me to walk faster. I pass Twisted at some point and I can hear him struggling behind me as I breeze through thick creek plant growth. Willows and alder, artemisia and unidentifiable plants. I start to shake a little more, but I persist. I fumble for a bar in my hip pouch and I eat it without even tasting it.
I feel the tension in my muscles relax with glucose now working its way through.
We put our feet on the pavement, the worst part, even it it is a scant few road miles. I hightail it. I want food, food!
As we approach what I assume is the general store, other hikers cheer and clap us in. I drop my pack and rush to a small window where they're serving "breakfast". I order eggs, two sausages and a juice. It is the smallest meal I have ever seen and the juice is literally a shot glass worth of Sunny Delight. I can't be mad at the meagerness of the meal as I inhale it, hardly putting a dent in my hunger.
The store doesn't open until 9am and we have an hour to wait. There's a shuttle to a restaurant called Grumpy Bears, other hikers tell us not to do the walk. I pace around, feeling my hunger gnawing at me in a way I haven't felt quite yet before.
I finally seat myself and wait, patiently. Listening to hikers smoke, drink and talk about Sierra strategies. I try not to listen to the fear mongering, the air is thick with it.
The truck pulls up, dumps off a bunch of hikers and we all load up and ride in the heat towards breakfast. Inside the building the air is stifling. And the folks running the place seem irritated and well, grumpy. I scrub my hands red in the bathroom stall outside, as noro has been making the rounds. I pee and notice that I am bleeding, great. We eat mediocre pancakes, potatoes and eggs.
I feel restless and cranky. We load back up and get dropped off at the now open general store.
Piles and piles of boxes and new gear and shoes, a line out the door... I finally get my goods. New socks, iceaxe, bear can, microspikes and new shoes. Twisted has his packages too, and we sort it all, among all the other hikers. 50 or so of us, milling about.
Then I see a big black wolf, Archie! And Hershey! The Crotchless Underwear Heathens show up: Spice, Pullout, Boulder, Phoenix, Stranger Danger and Dragonfly. Other hikers I have seen in passing. We all sit out on the big deck.
Twisted and I together feel out groups we could join up and we make longsuffering looks at each other, from across the deck. A hiker named Snake flirts aggressively with me and says something about being able to smell a woman's pussy in his beard, my insides turn. He is drunk and his friends look at me with morbid embarrassment. I walk away and find Twisted.
"So, do you just wanna do this together alone? I'm not feeling this." I say.
"Yeah, I'm feeling the same." He tells me, with his usual dark look, squinting eyes and oddly British sounding flecked with German accent.
This lightens us both up considerably. Why did we think we needed to be part of a larger group? Fear mongering.
I finally find a way to fit everything in my 40 liter pack, including the bearcan. I heave it onto my shoulders.
"I hate this," I say at Twisted. My pack is very, very heavy. I can feel my weight sinking down into the cushion of my new shoes.
He shrugs and we both decided to hang out for a little while longer and then leave. No point in staying in a noro infested shitshow of a vortex, we think.
The hour finally arrives, the sun is a hand width from the ridge that flanks us to our right, as we set our feet back on the trail. We decide to camp just a few miles out, at a well established campsite with a privy even. We both drop our packs at a picnic table, they feel awkward and strange to us both.
"I can't... I can't open my bear can." I say out loud. It hurts my fingers after a while, pressing into it to unlock it. I want to kick it.
"I always knew you were a bear," Twisted says to me as he walks away to the privy.
He comes back, smiling big at me. "I am very happy right now."
I smile back at him.
"So am I." And we hold a strange, beautiful joyful moment together, in the dusky mosquito flecked light.
I boil up some mac and cheese and can't finish it. So Twisted eats the last of it for me. I curl up in the dirt next to a tree, listening to the creek sing next to us down the way. I roll a cigarette and feel the nicotine flood my system and, always it relaxes my hips but then anxiety creeps up my spine. I put it out into the dirt next to me. The stars spread out and I fall asleep, a little nervous of what waits for us ahead.