I finished the Tahoe Rim Trail Sunday, the last Sunday of September, the 27th, with a 23 mile section from Kingsbury Grade South to Big Meadows Trailhead. There was one final last minute trip to Trader Joe’s, where my mom and I picked up Mac ‘n Cheese, and lots of good-sounding things like a bag of salt and pepper chips, ginger snaps, apple sauce, Luna and Lara bars, pepper meat sticks and jerky, dried apples, and instant coffee packets with chocolate hazelnut milk. I am experimenting with the Chip Backpacking Diet that I made up, because chips are light and come in every flavor you want, like pepperoncini or barbecue.
We spend the next morning putting our packs together and driving, driving- it’s really horrible to drive a Prius up a mountain. We call it the Meat Grinder. I have to stop a few times at hairy roadstops to let the trucks and SUVs pass, then we arrive at the trailhead, which is hidden in a tangle of ski resort and one-way road. I got hiking sticks for an early birthday present on the way up. ‘Lekis and Bic Lighter, feels legit,’ I say, sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the car at the gas station. Even though I don’t know how to use a lighter and can barely make it spark, and at first I swing the poles too far until I have a rocking, frustrating gait. It’s 9 miles to Star Lake for camping- views of Washoe Valley on one side of the ridge with little crop circles in burgundy and green and channels of green water, and a gridwork cluster of houses and trees tightly hugging the highway. On the other, mountainsides thick with pines, and oddly shaped peaks silhouetted in the distance. Slogging, circituous and winding- up the slumping backs of bald passes and around the sides of monsterous, looming slopes- a merciful lack of switchbacks.
Mom tells everyone we meet that I am almost done. We meet an older couple, Nancy and Rick, who are section hiking too. Nancy is going to do the John Muir Trail next summer too and we give her our contact info. We have made a habit of carrying business cards and it’s come in really useful. She wants to know when I will be hiking the John Muir Trail, and says that she will hike with me. When mom tells me this later I laugh. “What?” she says. We meet many more people who are planning on the JMT next year. I will have plenty of people to hike with. I do not want to decide before. I do not want a chafeur.
After many false procamations that it must be around the bend, we find Star Lake. The shore is surrounded by sandy footpaths and granite juts out into the water. All of the campsites are too close to the water, and we pick one in a broken-in sandy slope. The water slaps and sucks at the rocks and sounds like an animal drinking or water gurgling into a bottle. The wind that drives across the lake is cold and whips our hair and we hurry to set up the tent and cook food. I sit down on my pad and impatiently stir the macaroni, stop the stove before it is fully cooked, and empty cheese powder, a mayonaise tube, hot sauce and pepper into the pot. It’s good. Needs more hot sauce, and maybe Madras lentils, my mom says. Just before we duck under the tent fly a group of young people cheers as they crest the rise and see the lake, two guys and two girls, poles clacking on granite. It’s gloaming and the sun is setting salmon-red and lavender above a strip of white sky.
We read a short story I brought for Creative Writing about a crazy raver girl who is under the influence of meth and alcohol and goes to a nun because she needs a famous DJ resurrected for a party so she can get a job at this radio station where she interns but the nun sends her to a santeria lady but the santeria lady basically steals her money and says she can’t help and the piece ends with the girl dancing on a street corner to music from a car that’s probably driven away ten minutes ago. Got that? Me too. I think writing class in general is an excercise in broadening your mind, while writing itself is an excercise in narrowing it.
There are some things about a bonfire on the far side of the lake and flashing headlamps at them and calling dad to have him call the forest service because, it’s a drought goddamit. Something about staying awake until ten when they put the fire out, finally. The last day is very beautiful- As we leave Star Lake is covered in bubbles from the wind, then off we walk to more giant ridges that we meander up the rounded sides of, then drop down the other side with incredible, far away views. We meet a few more people. A geologist from Oregon and two ladies who tell everyone they meet that I’m about to finish so everyone seems to know now. The last two miles we go incredibly slow, because our ride is late and we want to let the dog have a walk. We are walking above the highway when we see a blue Prius with a black hairy dog’s head sticking out drive by. We are incredibly slow after that. Look at that feather! Mushrooms! Pictures! Let’s eat something to burn time! It’s like we are four again.
The black dog and the crazies finally find us a quarter mile or so up the trail and we head down together. We reach the Big Meadows parking lot and there are various pictures- it feels like mild papparazi. I straddle a short post with the TRT symbol on it. But really it’s just another backpacking trip ended, and the papparazi loses interest. I get cookies and a kiss from dad and then jog down to the far end of the parking lot, tag the TRT dirt and hobble back. For good measure, I guess. The ladies we met drive by in a huge truck and congratulate me again. I think they must have waited for me because we were really slow coming down for that dog.
We are driving up the road to the highway when a big congregation of people are shouting and waving at us from the parking lot. What is it? The back door of the car is open and our backpacks are about to spill out. We reverse down the road, close the door. As we go back up again we shout and wave, “Thanks!” Then we drive home.