Day 1 (31.3 miles)
California smells the same. Not that it would have changed from last year, but very early into my morning hike the smells hit me and gave that great, positive-memory sensation one can only get from smells. The hot pine, the dry dirt, the wildflowers, I was immediately brought back to all of last summer, and happy for it. Johnny dropped me off at the Tahoe City trailhead around 6:45. I was mad to not be starting the hike 100%. Yesterday's mountain bike accident has my hand nice and swollen, needing to be wrapped, and rendering my left trekking pole useless for the time being. I also am right in the middle of a head cold. I know I can hike on it, did the whole Sierra sick last year, but it sucks. My throat gets drier faster and my nose is always dripping. Nonetheless, I set off on a short little thru-hike today and I'm glad I did. Right away it was clear that being out here was what I needed. Even hanging with Johnny the last two days was fun, but I couldn't help but gaze at the mountains last night. I am in my element again. It's calming. Despite some good climbing right off the bat, I made it 14 miles to a great spring for lunch. I ran into a counterclockwise thru-hike there names outback and we chatted. He knew of Darwin so I did a little name dropping and told a few D stories. He gave good advice on water for the east shore, it'll be my only real stretch with water issues. A couple miles later I ran into another counterclockwise couple. No clockwise hikers today. It was 17 miles from my lunch spot to the next water, but I did it anyway. A lot of tough climbing over the afternoon but I was just so happy to be out here again. Of course, the star of the day was the lake. So vast, awe-inspiring. It's big, blue haze dominates the landscape. I know I'll have fewer views of it on the second half of this trail so I'm trying to savor it now. I'll get a full moon over it tonight. Overall pain levels aren't too bad. Usual sore spots in the hips and shoulders to go along with the wrist issue. All in all, it was a good first day. Excited to spend the night in my new tent. Hope it doesn't get too cold, I'm at over 9k tonight. Morning might be rough.
Day 2 (32.7 miles plus 2.5ish extra)
It was surprisingly not freezing this morning. I woke up a few times in the night and got some great looks at the full moon over the lake. Too lazy to get any good photos though. I was exhausted. Day 1 will do that to you. I got on trail around 6:15 and already had full daylight. My first three miles took me up to the TRT high point at just over 10.2k ft. Stunning views of the lake and Donner lake to the north as I sat for a morning Pop-tart. I felt very happy to be doing what I'm doing in that moment. It was an easy couple miles down to the Mt Rose trailhead full of plenty of day hikers. After that, I entered a really popular mountain biking section on the east shore. The bikes were annoying, but I could tell why it's so popular. Easy, flat trail, and just absolutely stunning views of the lake the whole way. My entire afternoon featured great lake views. Of course, being so high up on the ridge meant a totally dry day. I'm camped in the midst of 34-mile dry stretch. Luckily there were water pumps at the Spooner lake picnic area, just over a mile off-trail, so I made a pit stop there towards the end of the day. I've done two huge days so far and my body is feeling it. Blisters on both toes, hips and shoulders dead, and a bad cramp in my left foot. It's all second nature to me now, dealing with this kind of pain. I don't like it and would rather be without it but I must admit the familiarity is kind of comfortable. This trail is amazing. I'm so happy I decided to do this hike, even with how short it is. I met some day hikers today from the TRTA and had a lovely conversation with them about the trail. There's a lot of passion behind this trail and it shows. Well, one more night in Nevada before heading back to California tomorrow. It's a windy evening up on the ridge I've made camp at. Still getting the hang of pitching my new tent. I didn't do a splendid job tonight. Hope it doesn't collapse on me in the middle of the night.
Day 3 (32.0 miles)
It was a classic trail gods day. I mean that in the sense that they set me up with a bad morning for a perfect afternoon. Funny how all these miles later they can still get me. The morning wasn't bad for any particular reason. It was cold, colder than yesterday, but still not a big deal. But I got off to a rough start. I woke up to find my bladder had a leak in it (bye-bye vecto) and did a shitty job packing up my tent and pack. So 5 minutes in I had to repack it. I also tried to use the left pole today but that was also nixed after 5 minutes. Still one-handed. The morning climb was tough -a theme for the day - and by the time I made it back up to the top of the east shore ridge I was gassed and needed a break. I took a quick pop tart and poop break and enjoyed just spectacular views of the east shore. As I continued, downhill and slowly making the turn around to the south shore, I found myself getting a headache. I think it may have been a caffeine one but still, it sucked. Plus a lot of shit hurt. I finally crossed back into CA and was rewarded with the first one trail water source in 34 miles. But I was cranky. In pain, the water tasted bad. Not good vibes. I stopped for lunch with a nice view of the Carson Valley where I rode through on my first bike tour in 2017. I always love revisiting places. After lunch, I continued up the massive climb up towards star lake. When I got there, my rewards began. First, just getting in the beautiful lake, icy cold as it was, it just felt so awesome. I got good and clean, then washed my shirt and hung it on a rock in the sun to dry. There was a cool mountain biking couple there too. We got to talking and hanging out, and upon my leaving, I got some sweet trail magic. Turns out the guy grew his own weed so he gave me two joints and a puff off of his. How awesome! I don't have a lighter but I'll gladly smoke em when I'm done. I got good and stoned and hiked out the rest of the afternoon. I just love this trail so much. Every mile has been spectacular. It's also been cool to see how the wilderness has changed as I've gone from North shore to east shore now to South shore. It's like Mars up here tonight. My campsite is atop a Sandy, gravely ridge, overlooking the lake in the distance. Life is good tonight on the TRT. So thankful to be out here tonight.
Day 4 (21.0 miles)
It's pretty rare to get two perfect moments in one day but I think I can count today in that rare group. I'll start at the beginning though. I woke up to another cold morning but still put the hat and puffy away when it was time to hike, braving the hour or so of chilliness until the sun was up long enough to warm me. It was eerily quiet but in a cool way. I think I camped higher than where the birds best maybe? Not sure, but regardless it was totally silent as I packed up camp and began my hike. Gorgeous colors of yellow and red from the sunrise colored the lake to my right as I walked with the quiet. It was an all downhill 8 miles to CA 89, on which I passed a group of hikers breaking camp. There were two hikers at the little parking area/bathroom at the highway and I found they were also clockwise thru-hikers. They didn't seem too eager to talk though, so I headed up to the road to get a hitch. To my luck, the second car that passed me picked me up. Two guys from Sacramento, out for a weekend of mountain biking. They were pretty cool and fun to talk to, I didn't even mind being crammed in the back with all their stuff. I had them drop me in Meyers even though they were headed all the way to South Lake. I figured it would be a little cheaper and save me the hassle of getting a hitch all the way back up to trail. I got my groceries for the last 2.5 days of the hike then went to the Meyers Downtown Cafe. Cute little place. Great coffee and damn good huevos rancheros. Even on a short hike like this, the delight of town food is almost overwhelming. I sat, ate, charged and chilled for about an hour then walked to the intersection of 50 and 89 to hitch back up. Lucky again, I only had to wait about 5 minutes. Upon returning to the trailhead I ran into the group I had passed breaking camp on my morning hike. We recognized one another and chatted for a bit as we all put on sunscreen. They're also clockwise thru-hikers, and even though I got ahead of them after that it was nice to chat. It was a pretty nice climb up from the highway but I didn't mind. I was high on caffeine and full of town food and had plenty of energy. Shortly before the TRT joined the PCT I passed another hiker, a young woman my age, going pretty fast to boot. We ended up hiking about a mile together and chatting. When we got to the Truckee river, right after the TRT/PCT junction, she stopped to wait for her friends and camp. I sat with her for a bit, then said goodbye and continued up to Showers Lake. Now in familiar territory, I knew what it would be like, and was rather excited. After a mile or so of fantastic wildflowers, I made it to the lake where I had camped last June. I booked it to the North end where there were big boulders on the shore, sitting in the sun. After a nice refreshing swim and bath (warmer than Star lake) I climbed onto the boulders and sat in the sun. This was perfect moment number one. For almost an hour I just sat under the warm summer sun, admiring the lake and surrounding mountains, still with patchy snow on their north sides. No phone, no people to distract me, just me and the Sierra beauty. It was overwhelmingly peaceful. After my nice little siesta there, I got dressed and hiked out, only 5 miles short of where I wanted to camp. In my head, last year I camped at showers lake and it was all downhill to 50 the next day to hitch into South Lake. Wrong. There was some good climbing on my afternoon hike. I didn't mind. I was feeling so good. I got to my camp spot and sure enough, memory served me well. Huge boulders overlooking the lake, and the valley in between, with a perfectly flat spot for a pitch behind them. I quickly set up, then climbed up and out, basking in the sun once more and enjoying the view. How lucky I am to be here. I've been up on the boulder an hour and a half now. Everything about this is perfect. The lake in the distance, the deep blue sky, the valley lush with California white pines. The sun on my back and wind on my shoulders. I hope I always remember this exact moment. I think I will. When I'm not on trail so many things get me down. Mostly loneliness, wishing to experience life with other people. But up here, on this boulder, I'm rather glad to be alone. As I was at the lake earlier today. Not that I wouldn't love someone's company right now, just that I don't need it for this moment to be perfect. There's a lot of power in that feeling. I think it's why I keep coming back.
Day 5(21.3 miles)
I let myself sleep in this morning. Well, relative to when I have been waking up. I didn't get up and halfway out of the quilt until 6 today. But I knew I had a shorter, easier day planned, plus it was rather chilly. I still hit trail by 6:30 and descended to the US 50 crossing. Hilariously, I lost trail in almost the exact same spot I did last year. I guess I just have bad luck there. I passed the thru-hikers I met briefly yesterday just before Echo Lake. It was still cold by the time I made it to the lake just after 8. I got a cup of coffee at the store and sat and drank it for about 20 minutes. Plenty of hikers were getting out of their cars, preparing for some overnights it appeared. I watched a bunch of them leave then promptly blew by them all after I departed. I know it's not a positive emotion but I do get a kick out of passing the weekenders. Gotta work on that. The climb from Echo to Aloha was waaaay hotter and more exposed than I remembered. Probably because I had a cold rainy day for it last year. I was good and sweaty by the time I got to Lake Aloha which worked out great because the water was freezing. I set up on a big rock slab that just kind of sloped into the water and took a quick, icy bath. Then I just at on the rock in the sun for a while, drying, warming, loving life. I stayed for lunch too, all in all, a nice 90-minute break. It's been nice slowing down the last two days. I've been able to enjoy each moment fully. From Lake Aloha I only had 10 miles left to me desired camp spot for the night, but it included Dicks Pass which I remembered to be rather difficult. God damn was it a hot and exposed climb. Last year the pass was entirely snow-covered - I had to butt slide much of the decent. But by this late in August all but a few patches of snow were gone. I enjoyed the lovely view and cool breeze up top for about 15 minutes, then dropped 3 miles down to Fontanalis Lake. While looking for a tent spot I met a couple lounging by the lake with their dog. Turns out they're TRT thru-hikers as well, also starting/ending in Tahoe City. I'll finish a day ahead of them tomorrow but I'm hoping to see them again and maybe even get a ride to Reno with them. We'll see. After chatting for some time I ventured around the lake looking for a good place to pitch. Found one, close to the lake and set up quick. Right after I stripped off my shirt and shoes and hopped in for my second lake swim of the day. Can't beat two in one day, can you? This one was a little warmer than Aloha, but I still only stayed in the water for 30 seconds before climbing on a big, sunny rock, where I sat for quite a while. I looked, listened and breathed. I took in all the Sierra environment had to offer. I felt entirely happy. And tomorrow this hike will end. Not without a fight - I've saved a nice 33-mile day for myself to end it. But, barring anything unforeseen, this truly wonderful thru-hike will end tomorrow. I would say it's too short, but the distance actually was nice. A lovely little 6-day hike full of everything I could hope to get in a thru. Sitting on my evening boulder now, I'm very happy to have done this. One more day tomorrow, mostly through familiar territory still on the PCT. It's been great seeing the same section of trail again a year later. When I finish, I'll be happy to see Johnny and tell stories and celebrate. But tomorrow night, sleeping indoors, I'm sure I'll miss my nightly views of the lake, underneath the Sierra summer sky.
Day 6(32.9 miles)
I got my earliest start of the hike this morning, on trail just after 6. As great as the hike has been, and as bittersweet as I was feeling about its end, anticipating town is exciting no matter what. I woke up ready for some good food, beer, a shower, and a fun night with Johnny. Even with a long day ahead of me, I came out of the gate hot. I crushed the early morning miles, I had 12 in before 10 AM. The temps were cool in the Desolation Wilderness, much of it being down in valleys that didn't see significant sunlight until the late morning. I quickly passed the couple I met yesterday and exchanged some small talk and hope to meet up tomorrow in Tahoe City. We'll see. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the day warmed I took a lot of pleasure in getting all the Sierra beauty one more time. I love the transition from morning to daytime up here. The smells change, the warmth brings out the wildflower scents and deep pine. I cranked out big miles all morning and came by Barker Pass trailhead almost an hour before I had anticipated. Funny little moment getting there. I didn't remember it and figured it was a random trailhead, one I had blown by last year. But as I made the final approach to it, uphill through a field of wildflowers, I realized I actually had a fun little moment here last year. I stopped and used the pit toilet just around lunchtime, then sat and hung out with two other PCT hikers I hadn't met before for a bit. Totally forgot that memory until seeing the trailhead again this year. Memory is so funny. Hiking in a familiar place is a good reminder of that. Last year after that little break I crushed the last 1.5 miles up to Barker Pass where I took lunch and dried out my tent from a wet night the night before. As I crossed the pass this year I recognized the very bush I had my tent draped over a year ago. It gave me a little smile. Great views of the lake all the way from Barker Pass to Twin Peaks, the last climb of the TRT for me, where I met one more thru-hiker. He was a pretty old guy named Bob, who had just started Sunday at Echo Lake. His wife was on a retreat for 11 days and he said he took the opportunity to go do the TRT. I love meeting older hikers, people still slapping miles in their 60s and 70s. It's badass and inspiring to me. And they always seem to have a sense of calm appreciation for what they're doing. Conversations with them are so good for me and help me reaffirm why I'm out here. Bob was a cool dude. I wished him luck on the rest of his hike and he congratulated me on mine. After that, I raced the last 10 miles into Tahoe City. It was all downhill and honestly the most boring 10 miles of the entire trail. So I crushed it. I rolled into T city around 5, walked along the Truckee River, crossed it, then turned up Fairway Drive to where Johnny had dropped me off six days prior. I walked up to the tree he'd snapped my start photo at, gave it an emphatic kick, and with that became a TRT thru-hiker. At such a short distance, the moment of finishing wasn't as overwhelming as previous hikes, but I knew it wouldn't be. It still felt damn good. I sat on a rock right there and ate the rest of my Chex mix, entirely proud of what I'd just done. By then it was almost 6, and Johnny didn't get off work until 7, so I walked down into town and headed to the beach. I figured it would be the best place just to post up and chill and wait for him. As I sat down on the sand, I looked out at the lake. This massive body of water I had just circumnavigated stared back at me, it's calm waves whispering. Six days of stunning views of it, but always from a great distance. Now only yards away, I couldn't resist. I tore my shirt off, unlaced the Altras one last time, and dove in. The warm, late afternoon waters washed the dirt of the Sierra from my body, perhaps the only fitting end to this hike. I floated in the water for a few minutes, staring up at the mountains I had just hiked. It was a calm moment, full of love between me, the lake, and the mountains. One I won't soon forget.
Bonus day! (Chilling in Tahoe City)
Well, Johnny and I got hammered last night. It was really fun and a great way to celebrate finishing my hike, as well as celebrating just being with one of my oldest friends. But I woke up with a mean hangover. They're so bad the older I get. How I miss being 19, able to pound booze all night if I wanted and wake up and be pretty much fine the next day. But I suppose the bad hangovers are a good deterrent for binge drinking, but I still indulge on occasion and last night was one of them. So I woke up, head pounding, drank some water and took two Aleve. It didn't do much good and within 15 minutes I lost my guts. God damn it. Johnny was up around 9 and we left at 9:15 for him to go to work and drop me in Tahoe City to chill all day. I went straight to the beach, where I knew I could just lie down and be still and wait for the worst of the hangover to go. It worked pretty well. The sun actually felt really good, and just lying there and sipping seltzer for an hour did me a lot of good. Still with a headache, but no longer nauseous, I walked a half-mile to the post office and sent my trekking poles back home. The walk helped a lot and by then I was finally ready for food. I went to Rosie's cafe, and being boring, got huevos rancheros again. They were better here than in Meyers the other day. By the end of the very large, greasy meal I was basically cured of the hangover. I took one more Aleve for good measure, then headed to the public library to get on a computer and write some emails, and just catch up on a week's worth of internet bullshit in general. Upon arriving at the library, I found a sign on the door saying closed from 12-1 for lunch. It was 12:05. But I didn't have anything better to do and could still connect to the library's wifi from outside, so I sat down on some steps ready to just chill for an hour. After about 10 minutes, a young woman walked up to the door, noticed the sign, and let out an audible "fuck". To my surprise, she came right over to me and sat down and started talking. She was young, younger than me I guessed, pretty, and wearing some big, flowy pants and a tank top, along with some John Lennon sunglasses. We got to talking, and my suspicion of her age was confirmed when she said she was 22. Really aggressive, eccentric woman. She seemed really eager to talk to me and I didn't know why but it was fun. She couldn't wait around for the library to reopen because she had to be at work soon, which was working as the first mate on a sailing charter down the street at a marina. We talked for a few minutes, then she had to go, but upon leaving invited me out on the boat. I asked how much, and she said just to make sure I tipped her well. Pretty awesome score, I told her I'd see her there, in my head still mulling over doing it or not. She left, and I hit the library once they opened up. I worked on the computer for about an hour, at which time I needed to head to the marina if I was going to take the boat ride. I was admittedly nervous, but I figured fuck it, when else would I get the chance? Plus, I feel like taking up pretty girls on offers for free boat rides is the exact type of spontaneous thing I need to be doing right now. So much of my life, even when I'm on trail or traveling, is rooted in planning and routine. It's good and allows things to get done efficiently, but I do want to be better about just taking things as they come. So I headed down to the marina, signed the waiver saying I wouldn't sue if I died, and got on the boat with the other passengers who actually paid for the cruise (suckers). The girl (her name was Briana) welcomed everyone aboard and gave a big smile when she saw me come on. Still a little nervous, having a history with motion sickness, I sat down towards the back. As we set sail I was relieved to find I not only didn't feel sick but actually really enjoyed the small rockings, that got a little bigger as the captain told Briana to open up the sails. It was a windy day, and we sped along the west shore, headed south. Just an awesome time on the boat. I sat there, enjoying the breeze, looking up to the mountains I had just spent a week hiking in. A fitting exclamation point on my Tahoe trip. Briana stayed busy serving passengers drinks, schmoozing with them and working them for tips, and doing general sailing stuff. It was really interesting to pay attention to the work that goes into sailing. She did come and sit by me whenever she had a few minutes of time though. Very strange girl, aggressive, but I liked it. She was rather entertaining. The boat ride took two hours, and we were back at the pier by 4:30. I gave Briana 20 bucks, and we said goodbye. She had to do another cruise in an hour. She told me to message her later that night to hang out, and I said I might, but I knew if I could get a ride to Reno I had to take it. I was more than a little bummed to miss out on hanging out with her more later, but that's the life I live I suppose. Short, one-day adventures with strangers. It's bittersweet and frustrating but also really cool to make so many connections. Back in Tahoe City, I headed down to the grocery store to get a lighter to finally spark up one of the joints I had received days earlier. On my way there, who should I pass drinking their margaritas at the Mexican restaurant but the couple I had met at Fontanalis lake two days ago! What luck! They were with their friend who had come to pick them up and heading back to Reno once they finished their dinner. Trail gods looking out for me man. They said I could totally hitch a ride with them and I graciously accepted. Johnny wouldn't be off work until 7, so I figured it would be better to get their earlier and save him the trip. I called him and told him, and thanked him for everything and said goodbye. It would have been nice to see him one more time, but he's a friend for life. I know we'll be together again. I ran to the store, got the lighter, and a bag of Cheetos, then headed back to the restaurant just as they were finishing their dinner. We piled into a small sedan with two dogs as well and were on our way. A really fun car ride, great conversation about hiking, cycling and their life in Reno. They definitely made it out to seem like a cool place to live. We got to their house and chilled for a bit, then their friend drove me to my hotel. Honestly the casino/hotel vibe in downtown Reno sucked. It was really sad. I had considered gambling but as soon as I walked in I just wanted to go to my room, shower, and chill. So I did. I walked outside and smoked half of a joint behind the loading dock. I had intended to smoke the whole thing but halfway through I was fucking blazed. So I got a quesadilla, went back to my room, housed it while watching lord of the rings then passed out. A pretty awesome day, it really felt like a zero-day even though the hike was over. A fun way to end a great trip.