I heat up a maple sticky bun in the church’s microwave. Forty seconds later, you’d never even know it was a day-old. Don’t think the church’s microwave can work the same redemptive magic on Folgers, so I cross the street to a coffeeshop. Inside, a group of older, local Dubois men are gathered in what looks like a daily convention. They comment on people and cars that pass and demand explanation of origins and intent from out-of-towners that enter the shop. I feel like they should be sitting at the bar in a greasy spoon diner, but instead they’re making do with a few huddled high tops in a trendy coffee shop. Ch-ch-ch-ch-chaaaanges.
Hitching back to the trail is delightfully easy. I only make it a block with my thumb out before a man pulls over and rearranges his car to make a Double Happy sized space for me. Like most conversations I have these days, it turns to the topic of solitude. This happens because, well, I bring it up. But also because I believe the people of solitude seek me when they see me in town, on trail or on the side of the road alone. They know I’m one of them. My ride talks about how he personally spends time outside alone because it’s the most direct way he knows to get back to The Real, i.e. “when I can smell dirt and sunflowers.” (Do sunflowers smell?)
Back on trail, I am officially in my most anticipated section: THE WIND RIVER RANGE! I am so damn excited about what’s to come. But first, many miles of dirt road and then forty miles of grass and dried up trees. If the Winds are as spectacular as everyone says, then this grand creasendo starts at pianissimo.
On the morning of Day 45 I take a short alternate that follows an ATV track along a barber wire fence (I miss you too, Montana!) and offers distant views of the Tetons on one side and the Winds on the other. Small herds of deer like creatures (Antelope? Prong horns?) flee in all directions from my approach.
When I pass over Gunsight Pass into the Green River Valley, the creasendo gains momentum. Square Top Mountain is looking stark and beautiful in the distance. The scenery reminds me of a Ted Talk I listened to a few years ago about concepts of beauty. Turns out that regardless of culture, we tend to agree that pastoral landscapes (green lush hills, water, flora and fauna) are beautiful because our ancestral brains think: Yes. Excellent. I could create progeny here. Oh the progeny of mine this valley could support.
Right at the junction for the Green River Lakes Campground, I run into a nobo named Dixie. She’s debating hiking on, but I charm her into camping with me. “Does the campground charge for camping?” I ask a fisherman passing by. “Yeah, twelve bucks or something like that… But if you want you can use my tent spaces, I’m sleeping on top of my car.” Yes please! Dixie and I are sold. When Eric, the fisherman, gives us a ride up to his site, he realizes that he recognizes Dixie. Apparently I am in the glow of celebrity! Dixie is a YouTune thru-hiker sensation. At his site, Eric unleashes spontaneous trail magic on us: chicken apple sausage, mashed cauliflower, good bourbon and s’mores. Thank you, Eric!
The next morning I head south, Dixie heads north and Eric heads toward his Utah home. The only sound I hear for the first mile is the sound of aspens shaking in the wind — until: “Double Happiness?!” I turn around, and there stands Sonic! The other solo female southbounder I’ve heard about. A friend! We talk for ten miles straight and my response to everything she shares is “So much same, girl. So. Much. Same.” We both grew up in the Seattle area, we’re both roughly the same age, we’re both wearing Mount Rainier hats, and we’ve both felt deeply consonant highs and lows since Glacier. We’d be hiking partners of a lifetime!! If only we walked the same pace… She’s averaging 37-40 miles a day. LOLOLOL. Ah well, at least we get to share the entrance to the Winds and Knapsack Col today. I’ll take it.
Sonic disappears ahead as we head towards Cube Rock Pass, but fear thee not, we’ve planned for a lakeside lunch in a few miles. I have lunch plans, tehehe. The scramble over the pass is tough but immediately transports us into alpine wonderland. At lunch, I gape at the scenery as I wrap cheese and tortilla around a core of crushed Fritos. Meanwhile, Sonic wraps tortilla and Nutella around a core of crushed Fritos. Touche.
We get beta for the scramble up Knapsack from hikers headed in the opposite direction. Follow the drainage up, then climb straight up the col! My body is working hard. On the way down, it’s a mix of scramble, boulder hop and (reluctant) glissade. Man, my body’s working really hard. Oof. I feel nauseous. Sonic says she’s “gotta boogie” to keep her pace up for the amount of food she’s packed. She’s aiming for another 8 miles, but me? I gotta camp asap. I wave farewell and watch her slip ahead between the boulders and lakes.
I set up camp as soon as I meet a section hiker just a few minutes later. His name is Mark and he’s so, so friendly. He wants to show me the wild flowers by the creek and asks me questions I can’t bring myself to answer because my world is nothing but nausea. I try to eat dinner. And then, for the first time in years. I vomit. All the pre-cut Knorr Noddles I could swallow but couldn’t bring myself to chew are now nestled in the grass, looking just as they did in the zip lock bag ten minutes ago. Only softened. I chock it up to altitude. Even though I’ve been twice as high as this in the Himalayas without a hitch, it must be altitude.
Thank goodness I vomit, because once I do I immediately feel like a new woman. A new woman who has pitched her tent in the Titcomb Basin! On the night of a new moon and the peak of the Perseid meteor shower! Minute by minute, I arrive back, and the beauty of the basin floods over me. Mark offers me post-vom mints and some fizzy electrolyte mix called Aclim-Mate. Praises be for Mark! Is he an angel? Now let’s look at those wildflowers!
The next morning I feel 100% better. I take my time through Titcomb and beyond to revel and swim and generally luxuriate. I get a mile off trail somehow and have to backtrack the mile back — but even this feels like a gift given the area.
As I approach the outlet to Pinedale, my mid-Winds resupply, I text my PCT friends Country Mouse and Shadow who are planning to be in the area. Next thing I know, they’re parked at the trailhead to pick me up! Seeing them is like seeing family. I cannot express how restorative it is to rest in their good company. Country Mouse, who taught me to mash pop-tarts up in my chocolate pudding, and Shadow who the first night we camped together on the PCT said: “this is your first thru-hike? Well… You’ve gone and f-ed up your life now!” They buy me beer and dinner and we laugh and swap stories all night. I feel so humbled that they’d make the effort to see me out here. It’s a relief to speak plainly about the ups and downs with them and not pretend it isn’t hard. Are they angels too? Is everyone out here an angel?? Must be the answers to my Beppa’s prayers for me.