We reach Sonora Pass in the midst of swarms of clean day hikers and raucous hillsides of wildflowers. Sonora Pass Resupply is there with our resupply box, and trail angel The Owl has an elaborate trail magic setup which includes bowls of fresh fruit, printed celebratory banner, and a copy of the New York Times, among many other wonders.
There are signs posted about the nearby wildfires, but the PCT is not actually closed—despite the days of rumors—and Casey of Sonora Pass Resupply assures us that it’s nothing to worry about. Some hikers are hitching ahead to Lake Tahoe to avoid potential heavy smoke, but we decide to continue on the trail.
The wildflowers continue to impress, as does the unfamiliar red rock landscape. It’s strange to find all of this in California, which I’ve lived in and traveled around for eight years—so much variety, so much that’s unfamiliar.
On Day 83 we cross Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass—we last passed through here in a car, and I remember pausing to look at the PCT markers on the side of the road when the trail was just a pipe dream, not even a plan. We get bits of cell service at the top of a crest and check in with the world to discover that Obamacare has been upheld and gay marriage is legal. It’s surreal to learn of something so momentous days after the fact and without anyone around to celebrate with. (Fancypants points out that the most unbelievable part of this story to future generations won’t be that gay people at one point weren’t allowed to marry but rather that there used to be places without cell service.)
The wildflowers. Seriously, THE WILDFLOWERS. Day 84 brings even more. There are dozens of varieties in all different colors covering hillside after hillside with orgiastic exuberance. If this were a constructed movie set, the director would be all, “Let’s dial this back a bit, guys—we want it to be believable.”
We hike through a meadow of irises, and I take lots of pictures for my mom.
The approach to Carson Pass is a popular area for day hikers, and we start to feel like celebrities as strangers, seeing our packs and probably also going by our level of dirt and smell, ask us if we’re hiking the PCT and pepper us with questions. Old ladies stop us to marvel at our GoLite umbrellas—which we have up as sun protection—and then congratulate us for having walked here all the way from Mexico.
Day 85 is a quick hike down to the Echo Lake Chalet where we have ice cream for second breakfast and get a ride into South Lake Tahoe. There we pick up a rental car and head down into the desert to Reno—we’re taking a zero day there rather than Tahoe because the hotels are cheaper and there’s an REI where Fancypants can get a new backpack, as the metal stay in his second ULA pack has busted through its sleeve (just like his first one did).
Driving even in our crappy little rental car feels whizzingly fast. Reno appears to be a depressing shithole, but we eat lots of food, go see Inside Out at a movie theater, and are gleefully horrified at the ubiquity of gambling—there are slot machines at the convenience store, the CVS, even embedded in the bar at a pub where we stop for food.
We go to a public park on our second and last morning in town to treat our clothes and gear with permethrin, an insect repellant. As we sit surrounded by our backpacks and ragged-looking laundry, a young mother with three small girls arrives to eat lunch. As they are getting ready to leave, the mom sends the two older girls over, and they shyly extend a small wad of dollar bills towards us. It takes a minute to fully process what’s happening—she’s told them to offer money to the homeless people: us. We have to explain that we’re hikers and we only look homeless. We feel bad that she seems embarrassed—it’s a totally reasonable assumption and such a sweet gesture.
When we arrive back in Tahoe we find a veritable horde of hiker trash milling around Lake of the Sky Outfitters, a PCT-friendly store. It’s Friday, July 3rd, and people are in town to party. We promptly leave town, taking three separate hitches—all from locals, it’s always locals who stop for us, everywhere we go—to get back to Echo Lake.
We hike out in the evening light past beautiful lakeside homes and set up camp just past the wilderness boundary as a yellow moon rises over the trees.
Day 81, June 27: 11 miles, Mile 1017.8 to 1028.8
Day 82, June 28: 19.7 miles, Mile 1028.8 to 1048.5
Day 83, June 29: 20.3 miles, Mile 1048.5 to 1068.8
Day 84, June 30: 20.5 miles, Mile 1068.8 to 1089.3
Day 85, July 1: 5.2 miles, Mile 1089.3 to 1094.5
Day 86, July 2: Zero miles!
Day 87, July 3: 3.2 miles, Mile 1094.5 to 1097.7