July 13, 2016
We start the morning with a leisurely breakfast in camp. I’ve realized that there’s no reason to hustle through these miles. We’re going to meet a couple of friends, Brian and Suzy, at Vermilion Valley Resort in a couple days, and we’re close enough to reach there tomorrow.
The first short climb brings us up to the Sallie Keys lakes. They are sepia mirrors. Walls of gravel frame us in and the path cuts right down the middle. A corner of one lake has a logjam, and the trail crosses on that. The shade here has rendered the lake’s surface invisible and trout float effortlessly, as if suspended on strings above the silty zen garden below. As the first time I passed through here eight years ago, I am note the absence of tension within me. We linger to gather water. There are mosquitoes, but they cannot touch the peace inside me.
We climb to Heart lake, shaped appropriately and small enough it seems I could hold it in my hands. A small fountain gently fills the pool at one end, burbling with music and sunlight as it falls over the rocks. I am feeling especially grateful and loving today, and I think I know why. Today is our third wedding anniversary
We climb up Selden Pass, which greets us with one of the most spectacular views in the Sierra: Marie Lake. It is a beauty, speckled with granitic islands that are each in turn similarly dotted with bonsai-like pine trees. It crackles and sputters with late morning light. The land falls away on one side of the lake to reveal distant mountains layered on top of one another. A mother and daughter are resting here, and they kindly take our picture.
We quickly descend to the lake, where we stop to wash our faces and collect more water. The peaceful stillness and gentle splashing of water is quickly pierced by whining mosquitoes that swarm in to feast on our flesh. We make quick business of refilling our bottles and hop back on the trail.
It’s lunchtime, so we stop at a granite bench just out of mosquito range from the lake. The formerly sparse trail has become a parade of hikers as we sit on the sidelines and snack on dried mango. All of the late risers have finally packed up their tents and and started their miles for the day.
After lunch, we make our way down to Bear Creek Ford. The guidebook tells me that it can be a dangerous crossing, with crushing waist-high water that will try to sweep us off of the slick granite and crush us against the boulders downstream. Instead we find a modest creek, calf-high at best, and no boulders in sight.
A mixed group of six hikers in their fifties and sixties is in process of crossing with no difficulty. The lattermost woman in the group strikes up a conversation with Lindsey. I am passively listening, but mostly I’m observing the group as a whole. I’m not sure why, but my brain recently seems fascinated with groups of people interacting with the land. I think I’m watching for different levels of mastery and comfort. By their body language, I can usually pick out a group leader and the person who is most comfortable outdoors within a minute or two. They are often the same person, but not always, and I find that to be an interesting fact. I’m in the process of trying to suss out the differences, when I hear Lindsey’s new friend speak a name that I recognize.
“Oh my gosh! Yes! He played at our wedding!” Lindsey says, and it’s true. I rewind the tape in my head to try to catch up to the conversation. I can only remember snatches of Lindsey’s side “…Bay Area…musician…specialize in early music…IU…” Then “Do you know…?”
It’s surprising, that this random stranger is a family friend of Lindsey’s friend, but perhaps not that improbable. Early music is a small community within a small world. Still, it’s an enjoyable and well-timed coincidence: it gives us another opportunity to reminisce about our wedding day.
We leave the group behind and follow Bear Creek downstream for a bit. Our pace and conversation flow easily along with the creek, swift but relaxed. The flow of water and ice has sculpted the rock over eons into a slick slide. Trees have grown up alongside the granite, and the trail dips back and forth between the shade and the sunny rock. I am looking for a riverside beach sculpted out of a single slab of granite where Brian and I relaxed once after a dip in the river. Memory is imperfect and several of them almost fit the bill. We are starting to push the limit on miles without a break, and Lindsey is tiring. Finally I think I’ve found my beach.
Lindsey settles in the shade for a nap, and I go for a dip. The water is, of course, ridiculously cold. I can only force myself in to the waist, and only for a short time. I retreat from the water and read my book instead: Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. It’s one that Brian recommended to me years ago, but I never got around to it until now. It’s part mystery, part boyhood wonder, and it’s the perfect book for these longer stretches of reading that I’m getting.
After Lindsey wakes, we finish the day with a big climb up Bear Ridge. Wildflowers fill the south-facing slope: red paintbrush, columbine, tiger lilies, monkeyflower, lupine. A southbound hiker recognizes Lindsey from high school. The world feels ever smaller.
The campsite we stop at is a large flat area right between switchbacks. It’s big enough for more tents, but no one else stops, though plenty of hikers come by. I build a fire out of pine cones and downed wood, the first fire since Lindsey joined me. We share a packet of freeze-dried gourmet indian food we’ve saved to celebrate our anniversary and we spend the rest of the evening recalling our favorite memories from our wedding and our marriage, and sharing the dreams we have for our future.