Before I settled into camp at Ruby Lake, the night of catastrophizing where I became determined to bring appreciation rather than fearful anxiety to what could have been my last night alive, I sat near the lake and prayed, is this the right spot for me to stay tonight?
The lull of the late afternoon ascended as the sun descended behind the craggy peaks of Ruby Lake. The stillness of water, save the champagne like glistening of sunlight dancing across the small expanse, sedated the day's activities. Birds flitted here and thereto find their last nuggets of seeds and bugs for their evening nourishment. The dragonflies, jokering around in two- and threesomes, swerved in and around me at water's edge, occasionally hovering briefly at eye level, as rainbow glistening wings reflected splashes of sun rays. A chipmunk came next to me, perching on a rock overlooking the lake while munching on a pine cone.
Paying me no never mind, I wondered if it had the same awe I did this time of day? Did it choose this specific spot for the view at sunset? Or was it just a convenient relatively flat place where which to eat dinner?
"They really are intimidated by humans," Sally said as we sat around the picnic table at Red's Meadow Resort eating our highly prized Red's burgers. "Just scare them off with loud sounds and act big."
I'd heard this numerous times along the trail. Brown bears--those bears we find in California--aren't interested in humans, but are interested in our food. How many evenings before bed since learning how to backpack three years ago were spent painstakingly going through the ritual of making sure that "everything that goes in or on your body" is safely sealed into a bear-proof canister and stashed some distance from the tent?
So many hours spent fretting about having residual mint fragrance from toothpaste lingering in my mouth or the scent of lotion on my dry cracked hands. Was it enough to be detected? Images of the young camper who awoke to a crunching sound--which turned out to be the sound of his own head being munched by a bear--repeatedly forced their way into my head. I shuddered every time.
Reflections from the John Muir Trail 2020: Part II - Appreciation and Gratitude shift fear and anxietyRead Now
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, the first few days on the trail I experienced an inordinate amount of fear and anxiety, particularly in the evenings and throughout the night. The fear was so fierce that I wasn't able to enjoy any of my time. I was reeling in a flood of anxiousness and reactivity. My desperation lead to exhaustion night after night.
One night in particular my catastrophizing mind thoroughly convinced me that I was doomed--that this would be my last night alive. (This was before I worked with the Just Five Breaths practice.) I was certain that I would become the meal of a wild animal!
The first few days on the trail are usually filled with some anxiety and many questions: Did I remember to pack the soap? Is there enough food? What about bear activity? What am I supposed to do if I encounter a bear? Do I look them in the eye? Act big and try to scare them off? Did I bring too many pairs of socks? And on. I fiddle with equipment and work to remember where to put things that make the most logical and efficient sense.
For some reason this year, my mind was super activated and super scared. This was my first time solo for 14 days and needing to resupply along the route. My legs were also super antsy at night after hiking five or so miles with 35 pounds on my back. My senses, as always when I'm out in wilderness, were on high alert, particularly listening intently for movement in and around camp in the evenings. I try to arrive at my 'home for the night' early enough in daylight hours so my nervous system can settle into the space before dark. It's something I learned with Shyla, my canine companion, many years before.
I also make an effort to not be right next to running water that is loud enough to block my ability to hear movement around me. It's all survival instinct, I know, and I do my best to make myself as comfortable as I can when I solo hike.
I pulled into the familiar bustling village at Tuolomne Meadows. Here, tourists and backpackers of all levels converge to take advantage of the camping, park information, day hikes, store, grill and post office. It's a popular resupply spot for hikers on the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. I grabbed a fifty-fifty softie ice cream cone and chatted with some hikers at the picnic tables under the tall conifers outside the grill. The day was spectacular--crisp and clear--but a young woman cautioned of the upcoming cold spell due that night that was to last for three days. As I headed out, I verified the expected temperatures with the weather report posted on the message board--lows in the mid to low twenties. Hmmm, last year I was there in July and hadn't really thought about the potential difference in the season.
After I picked up my back country permit, I took a leisurely walk around the flat meadows. I witnessed a large hawk on the ground near the creek bed tearing at the flesh of a small critter. I'm always conflicted when I see a feast --I'm sad for the critter but happy for those that get the meal. It's always a good reminder of the interconnectedness of everything.
I perused the store for any last minute items I could have forgotten or not known were even in existence, as is my wont, and headed up to the backpacker's campground. I loved this campground, as right next to it was the amphitheater where nightly ranger led programs around a big fire pit came to life. I was thoroughly impressed with last year's programs--I didn't recall being as fascinated when I was young, and certainly hadn't noticed that the rangers were deep ecologists. Had they changed or had I? Or both?
I'm appreciative of the fact that backpackers can camp the night before their wilderness permit starts so we can get a fresh start on our journey. It's also a great opportunity to make sure we have all the equipment we need and to test whether it's in good working order. Being in the back country is not the best time to discover that your stove or water purifier isn't working properly.
I pitched my tent and stashed unneeded supplies and equipment in the car. At least I thought they were unneeded for the night. I hadn't prepared for super cold weather--my gear was rated for three seasons--so I rifled through the car and found a bulky pair of wool gloves/mittens and grabbed my jammies I used at the Airbnb the night before. They were way too heavy to take with me on the hike--my pack was weighing in at about 36 pounds--but I'd at least have extra warmth and comfort for the first night.
After the engaging and entertaining campfire program that included poetry and song, I tucked myself in for the night. Clothed only in my base layers with a scarf around my neck, I climbed into my 30+ year old down sleeping bag. The bag was rated to 30 degrees, so I felt pretty confident I would stay warm through the night. Rarely do I have to 'mummy it up.' In fact I mostly use it as a blanket and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning I'll need to zip it up.
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