Day Zero: Big Tuolumne Meadows

16 Sep

Day 0: Reno to Tuolumne Meadows. 2 miles.

We wake up early and move around the house, making breakfast and collecting gear. It’s the big day! I have a list of last-minute things that I need to do: make sure my phone is charged, fill my water bottles, turn off my computer… I didn’t pack completely yesterday, and now I carefully stuff my sleeping clothes and jackets around my bear can in my pack so it won’t poke into my back. I put my bright yellow stuffsack on top and close my pack. Everything seems in limbo- Mom and I doing our last-minute-nothings, I fidgeting and tidying my room. Finally we reach escape velocity. I take a picture of my finished pack sitting against my bed, and then I shoulder it, grab the plastic bag with my shoes and extra snacks, and squeeze through the front door.


As we start getting into the car I joke that we could just stay home and photoshop ourselves into JMT pictures off the internet. We throw our packs and trekking poles in the back of the car, and pile into my dad’s blue Prius, named Sirius Blue. My dad and mom in the front with the dog, and me in the back with my brother. I feel a muted thrill of excitement in my stomach as we drive through our neighborhood and get on the highway. We pass through Reno and Sparks in the mid-morning dearth of traffic, through Washoe Valley looking up at the mountain ridges that we walked across on the Tahoe Rim Trail, through road construction in Carson, the sky a pale, stratified shade of blue. It’s a familiar road trip to me; although I haven’t been this way often, the landscape has been seared into my memory. It’s beautiful, with streaks of bright-green aspen and purple willow following springs up into the brown folds of the hills, the sagebrush, and of course the mountains always on the right. Eventually you can see the crown of pale granite peaks that is the Sierra towering behind the hills. Above Mono Lake we pass a section of road where the hill is seared black from fire.


Then, finally, we are in Lee Vining. We stop at the visitor center and ask them if they know where the YARTS bus stop is. It’s a half mile back. We get there, a big parking lot filled with RVs, and wait, watching the highway for the bus. I kiss our dog as he sits in my shade, mussing his soft schnauzer ears and telling him incessantly that I love him. The bus finally comes, and my mom and I say goodbye to my dad and brother. And, of course, many kisses for the dog.



Our packs are stashed and we find seats by the front of the bus. My stomach aches, tense from expectation, but I know that all of the stress will go away once we’re there. I barely pay attention to the view outside of the window as the bus turns into Lee Vining and begins its drive up into the mountains. Mom talks to the other people on the bus and I listen. There are two women from Texas, Vicki and Barb, who ended their JMT hike early to have a staycation at home. When we get to Tuolumne we end up getting off the bus together. I’m surprised to see a bunch of PCTers in front of the Tuolumne Grill. A few come over to talk to us. They’re holding beers and wearing the usual grubby trucker hats. They’re lean and starting to wear that hungry expression that becomes prominent in northern California. They’re happy to have food. One of the PCTers says we all look “legit” and I puff up a little bit inside.


We go with Vicki and Barb to find the Backpacker’s Campground. It’s behind the regular campgrounds and up a hill. We set up next to each other and then walk back together to the grill to get late lunch. I’ve been trying to be vegetarian but I get a burger.img_5097

To kill the afternoon, we hang out at some spaghetti trail-magic (an act of random kindness given to thruhikers). It’s being put together by a family that lives nearby. Someone leaves a bottle of wine at the table and we carry it up to the backpacker’s campground to pawn off on people. We give most of it to a table of thruhikers who have a neon green bong that they’re passing around. We talk for a while, the air heady and strong with a smell like burning rabbitbrush. I feel like I’m suffocating and wonder if I could get high from just the smell.


We go to a campfire program led by a ranger, who sings a song about “Big Tuolumne Meadows” to the tune of Big Rock Candy Mountain, and then stumble back to our tents in the dark. People are talking loudly and walking around, their headlights shining through the thin wall of my tarp tent and throwing shadows of pine needles onto my sleeping bag. Someone hums Big Rock Candy Mountain. I get up once to get my earplugs from the bear box and fall asleep to the muffled sound of someone setting up their tent nearby.

Hello Again, Faithful Friend!

16 Sep

It makes me sad to see my blog sitting here, lonely and dusty, without love. But, it will stay here waiting for me to write in it indefinitely (until North Korea decides to drop an atomic bomb on the Great Internet Hard Drive, wherever that may be, starting WW III. I plan on being somewhere up in the mountains when that happens).

The point is, I have been compelled to start writing something in here again. Here is what my life is like now, what is on my mind, and what I plan on doing in the future.

  • I hiked the JMT this summer. While I didn’t really feel like writing up a journal for the TRT, which was very fragmented due to it being a section hike, I want to write a series of journal blog posts for the JMT. I maintained a written journal up to the half-way point (MTR), at which point I was very behind in my writing and gave up. I also took video during the hike and plan on making another video like I did for the TRT.
  • I got two of my poems published in the TMCC literary journal, The Meadow, which can be found online here (my poems are on pages 57-58). I read one of them at a The Meadow poetry reading at Sundance Bookstore. My short story almost got in, too; I will have to settle with runner-up. While I want to continue writing poetry and fiction in my free time, it’s difficult with college classes and hiking.
  • The TMCC semester has started again. I am taking Modern US History (since the 2nd Industrial Revolution) and Philosophy on campus, and Women and Literature online. While I was super excited about the classes and teachers, I am only somewhat enchanted with my on-campus classes, and I like my online Women and Literature class the most. I am planning on taking only two classes next semester to rest up for the next semester when I go on to “real” college…
  • I am currently doing All The Fun College Application Stuff. I took the ACT + Writing test a weekend ago, am researching colleges and major programs, and we are working on making my transcript. October is the beginning of college application season, which means essays and filling in forms. There is also a Graduation to plan for the spring! Oh, the excitement of homeschooling and senior year… It’s like a whole other class! I am looking at outdoors-oriented schools that are preferably on the West Coast. Humboldt State looks promising. I want to major in writing of some kind, and Outdoor Education/Recreation Administration.
  • Amid other things, I also got to visit grandparents in both Florida and Cape Cod, at the beginning and end of the summer respectively! I am also now a cousin! Hi Lexi and Zoe!
  • I am planning a section hike of the PCT next summer. I want to do California sections I, J, K and L, which is from Sierra City to Tuolumne Meadows and is about 253 miles. I am just starting to research the route and resupply.

So, it’s been a busy summer and the school year ahead continues to promise a full schedule as well. I think that covers the catch-up. If my plan goes as promised, sometime soon I will be making good progress on my JMT journal posts, on my JMT video, and maybe a post on what I did/didn’t like about my gear setup.


Heading Off to the John Muir Trail!

8 Jul


My mom and I are leaving for the John Muir Trail early tomorrow! Dad will drive us to Lee Vining to catch the last YARTS bus, and we will be spending the night  in Tuolumne so we can get our permit on time. Then we hike!

I brought a small journal, so there may be reconstructed blog posts, and I think (due to popular demand) I will be doing another short video. Everything is set, all I need to do is to pack my pack and go…

I will be hiking with my mom until MTR/Blayney Meadows, where she will get off- we have a night at the tent cabins. I will hike for a week solo, to Kearsarge Pass, where my dad will be meeting me with resupply. He will do Forester Pass and Mt. Whitney with me. Then home!

I have the pre-hike jitters, and I don’t really want to leave my puppy.


Tahoe Rim Trail Video

27 Feb


Short Story Up!

13 Nov

This is just to let everyone know that my ENG 205 short story is up under TMCC –> Grinned the Boy, Laughed the Uncle. It needs more revision, this is the version I turned in as a second draft. I could post a link to the doc to make it easier to read. -A

Photos of Photos

29 Oct

I still have no idea how to convert my photo projects, here are just random iphone pictures I’ve been able to take of them.




Above are 3 out of 4 of my Photoshop assignment- all of the images I used were jPEGs from my Iphone, these are just pictures of the screen. The last you may recognize, it’s Uncle Ben’s buildings in the basement, with sky and ground texture added.

Below are the first prints and proofsheets I did for the Midterm Assignments. I would take more pictures of pictures but they are off being graded ;)

For finals, I am doing a typology of chicken portraits using overexposure, a “life in the day” of chickens series, and then a kind of retro series of stalking light in interesting ways and using colors to achieve this 70’s kind of asthetic. The teacher is amazing and it’s really exciting to work with her towards focusing all this. I am also kind of being an over-achiever person as I only need a prototype of a typology and a series, and I only need to finish one for Finals. But I am aiming for three :) Bye!!!

IMG_2604[1] IMG_2606[1] IMG_2623[1]


14 Oct


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.

Sunset above Star Lake

Sunset above Star Lake

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.

Super Moon from Campsite at Star Lake

Super Moon from Campsite at Star Lake

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.