Day 21: Dusy Basin to South Lake
We have not just visited, we have lived in the wilderness. The stuff of the city has truly become a distant memory. The thought of turning on my phone now feels less like a promise of protection and more like a nuisance. My dreams have also radically changed: no one drives in my slow paced dreams where the only option is walking.
As we walk these last seven miles, past some of my favorite spots, including Long Lake, I am comforted because I know that once we resupply and take a few zero days, we will head back in to finish the last 60 miles.
As this 100 mile through hike winds down, the family is recounting each campsite, their favorite thing about that site, their favorite day of hiking and why, and any other unforgettable moments. It’s the shake down.
Without even hearing the kids’ answers, I already know which day was their favorite. I can see it by the slight increase in the puff of their chest and the straightness of their backs as they stand a little taller today. I can hear it in the faster pace and higher pitch that their words are tumbling out at. By far the day they will remember is yesterday’s 15-mile hike.
They started the day with a quiet determination in their eyes that they’d pull it off, but that determination came with it’s nebulous partner: doubt.
I think back to the days leading up to the 1st day, and subtle ways eyes would dart and shoulders would slump spoke of the quiet demon of doubt that swirled beneath the excitement. There might have been fear that they’d be the one who’d “fail” the family and stop the trip short.
To make it to our destination in time to set up camp and make dinner, we all knew we’d have to get up early and break camp quick to be hiking by 8 am. Our two determined kids woke up with a fire lit under them, ate fast, and did their necessary chores to meet goal #1: we touched trail at 8 am.
I could sense a nervous, excited energy in the troops as we began our ascent to Muir Pass. Normally, the wilderness is devoid of all man made comforts but the top of Muir Pass is an exception. It contains a spectacular, circular rock hut, built in 1931 by the Sierra Club. As we sat in it on that blue sky, August day, it was hard to imagine that the Muir Pass shelter has kept many alive as they wait out blizzards and wind storms, sometimes holing up for a week until it’s safe to move on.
With that pass under our belts, we began the descent to the bottom of Laconte Canyon. We had to make it to the junction of the JMT and our trail up to Dusy basin by 2:30 if we wanted to accomplish this. This resupply was an extra 27 miles of hiking but for us was well worth it as Dusy basin makes for stunning photography.
Our determined duo strategized that we’d need to eat a 30-minute lunch to stay on schedule. The steep downhill followed the San Juaquin River which ran alongside the rugged 13 and 14, 000 ft Laconte Divide. Lunch spots in this type of chiseled landscape were hard to find but eventually a flat spot opened up near a safe watering hole.
A group of four was also taking advantage of the unique spot creating conversational breaks between us of the joys of the JMT. Our 30-minute lunch, consequently, stretched into a long hour and the kids feared we’d lost our chance at the 15-mile day accomplishment.
We headed on with more determined kids than ever with our sites set on that junction. Fast hiking and trail games knocked the miles down quickly. With squeals of delight, we hit the junction on time and to add celebration to the moment, the backcountry wilderness ranger stood there with a ready smile and another “atta boy” to hand to the kids.
Five miles of uphill remained and surprisingly, the kids attacked the trail with vigor. When we arrived at the lower Dusy basin our “tired” kids helped set up camp and then eagerly took off to fish.
It really wasn’t until the next day that I could see the slightly taller stature that both Cade and Bekah now had. As we walked the final five miles that last day to our exit at South Lake both kids began dreaming and planning. Excitement over huge dreams bubbled out of them. Words came fast.
“I want to be a veterinarian for sure. What are the college classes like? Are they big classes? Maybe I could partner with another Vet and we could job share so we both have more time off so I can still backpack?” spewed out of Bekah in one long paragraph that lasted for at least a mile or 2.
Cade spent miles of trail asking about engineering, robotics, and design. “Could I design motorcycles for Kawasaki? What about building a solar/electric car? Oh, you know what I would love to do? Work for MSR or Marmot and design backpacking equipment!” With determination, Cade announced that mechanical engineering is most definitely what he wants to do.
Some of these were revisited ideas, expanded on and built upon, some were brand new dreams being spoken for the first time, with conviction and belief in the real possibility of these dreams.
As I compared trail talk on the 15-mile day with trail talk the day after, the notable difference was a new confidence. Endorphins mixing with the new reality that, “I just hiked 15 miles, I did it. I wasn’t sure if I had what it took, but I did – and now I’m almost done with 100 miles! I feel great and I am on my 95th mile! I can do this!” produced kids hiking down the trail that now believed that they could do anything they set their minds to.
The doubt demon had been knocked down to make way for big dreams. And when it rears it’s ugly head again, I know that these trail lessons will kick in: perseverance, determination, sweat, and hard work got me up that mountain, so here I go, doubt and all, I am not giving up.
Another ray of the God Rays shining down on our 200-mile summer.