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North Texas

Mammoth Push

While the most difficult passes were behind, that didn't mean there was nothing difficult left. Despite being 1,000 ft lower, most of the remaining passes still had some snow. Less snow, but it was still there. So were the rocks and mud.

The mosquitoes, in particular, have gotten worse every day. Normally, mosquitoes are most active at sunrise and sunset, and they don't like the cold. These mosquitoes are apparently cold-resistant, because they're incredibly active even during the cold mornings, and they don't go away during the day either. There's no time of day you avoid them. Deet slows them down, but doesn't make them disappear. From what I understand, if you eat a lot of garlic, they're not as attracted to your body odor. I resolved to buy a vial of powdered garlic next time I was in town.

The new obstacle was a forest fire. Slowly, word about the fire spread up and down the trail. Generally, we heard the fire was contained, but still burning. At its closest point, it was 20 miles from the trail. Not close enough to be dangerous, but enough to make the trail smoky. I wondered if it would ever become dangerous, but if that ever happened, a ranger would've been sent to the trail to get people off.

After Kennedy Meadows, the next few resupply points were a hassle. Two of them involved hiking seven or eight miles off trail, then hitch-hiking 30 miles away, not even entirely on the same road. Resupplying would take an entire day. I wasn't interested in that. Nor was I interested in the small store later, where you'd have to pay $6 each way for a ferry that ran only twice a day, meaning you'd lose a day there, too (and $6).

Instead, I loaded up on food at Kennedy Meadows with the goal of making it 200 miles to the next accessible resupply point. If I had to, I'd bail out at one of the less convenient options. Halfway there, it became evident that I'd make it.

I'd planned on getting off trail at Mammoth, not only to resupply, but to take a half day off. It had been weeks since my last shower or laundry, and there were a lot of emails I needed to send. I hadn't had a reliable phone signal since sometime before Kennedy Meadows.

However, about thee miles before the turn off for Red's Meadow, I got a data connection on my phone. I managed to take care of all that most important emails: there was a pair of shoes waiting for me in South Lake Tahoe, my Kennedy Meadows package was likely lost entirely, my aunt was unlikely to meet me on the trail, the World Cup had almost concluded the group stage, and the forecast called for more sunshine for the next week, with a few cold nights thrown in. With that taken care of, there was perhaps no need to go into Mammoth, especially since the only way in was an $8 bus. I didn't like the idea that the whole town had a cover charge.

Instead, I decided I'd resupply at Red's Meadow, a small general store practically on the trail, the same place as the turnoff for Mammoth. When I got there and saw their prices, I reconsidered. $5.40 for a can of beef stew. $2.50 for a single-serving package of trail mix. $2.80 for a Slim Jim. Those can be found out a gas station, 2 for $1. I went back outside and took inventory of what food I had left. Almost all of it with some kind of powder, but enough for two full days. If I was okay with living on it for a day and a half, I could make it to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. The prices there might be just as high, but it was impossible to imagine them being higher, and at least I'd be supporting our National Parks.

As a result, it was a 240-mile push from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows with no resupply. The longest stretch with no resupply on the AT is the so-called 100-mile wilderness. Supposedly, the tail crosses no road for 100 miles, only it does, about half a dozen times. However, those roads are sparsely used forest service roads and lead to almost nowhere. The reality is you have to hike 100 miles without resupplying. This is essentially the last 100 miles of the AT, so you'd think those hikers, by then, would be able to do so. However, many hikers find a way to drive in on the unpaved roads ahead of time and leave food caches in the woods. That way, they won't have to hike an unthinkable five days on one supply.

Powdered food turns out to be extremely useful for hiking. I had always known this, but I'm learning it more and more. It's light, it's calorie and nutrient dense, and a ziploc bag of it can take whatever shape, making it easy to jam ton of it in the cracks of whatever space is available. A little bit of it goes a long way. Without relying heavily on powdered food, I would've never been able to make it this far without resupplying.

Related, I've invented a new dish I called "breakfast slurry." One scoop of Carnation/Ovaltine/Nesquik (essentially hot chocolate powder with less sugar and more vitamins), one scoop of powdered milk, one scoop of powdered peanut butter, and half a scoop of protein powder. Add some water, stir, and you get something like a creamy chocolate peanut butter putting. It takes pretty good, and it's surprisingly nutritious, too.

At Red's Meadow, was where the smoke from the forest fire got bad. After a few miles of hiking, my nose started to burn slightly, but I never had trouble breathing. All around, the forest was blanketed in a grey haze, and the Sun shining through it cast an eerie orange glow, almost like sunset, only it was the middle of the day.

About ten miles past Red's Meadow, the smoke started clearing out, and that afternoon was spent doing some of the most beautiful hiking I've ever seen.

By the time I got to Tuolumne Meadows the next day, I was down to just enough powder to make one more bowl of Breakfast Slurry, and nothing else. I was hungry.

By doing nothing but raid the hiker box, I left entirely full, and with enough supplies to easily make it to Lake Tahoe, 150 miles away. Hiker boxes are the bomb. Sometimes they make you wonder, who left this behind? Are they too good for oatmeal? For mac and cheese? For peanut butter and tortillas? What do they normally eat every day that this food isn't good enough for them? Sometimes it feels like everyone else is hiking first class, and I'm the only one hiking coach.

Jun 25, 2018
from PCT South
Thanks for sharing. Beautiful photos and such an epic journey. You are so inspiring

Jul 05, 2018
Evelio Villarreal
Rob, You're awesome. Such incredible pictures! Keep on posting and safe travels!

Jul 05, 2018
Mary S.
OK now I want some Breakfast Slurry. (Not quite breakfast tacos, but daaaang your concoction sounds yummy.) Congratulations on making it so far without re-stocking! Fantastic job. Doug would be so impressed with your progress and your ingenuity! Great pictures too. Thanks for the update. Best wishes on the next stretch.

Jul 05, 2018

I am a carbon-based life form.


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