Day 89: Donner Pass

Six at night is my favorite time to hike. I am slogging up a hill, my very bones weary with my too early wake up, and the ripple of a song is moving across my senses, bringing visceral joy to my heart strings.

At this time of day the sun is shooting its rays as straight as a master marbler sends those glass balls. Each ray smashes against objects around me, all set out for the last warmth before the night settles in. 

 It is this time I play acoustic songs and let my mind wander, trying to synthesize the day into some small piece of something that I can share with you all. Something that will last the ravages of time on my ill fitting memory.

Today, ignoring the ever increasing mosquitoes (will they never die?!), I think about detours. Today I woke up way too early and hiked as the dawn threw itself around me. I moved straight through to get to Donner Pass at 9am, as planned. The ridge I was walking along gave me expansive views and lit up the ending of Peter Pan with their beauty. 

 When I arrived to the Donner Pass Ski Ranch (half an hour late because of my inability to wake up on time), Ant was just arriving. We saw we had an hour and a half until the food was served there, and we planted ourselves outside to wait. It was pure luxury.

After our brunch of fried ski lodge in the summer foods we walked out to the abandoned railroad tunnel. It was marvelous. Eerie, graffitied, cool, filled with history: it was everything I could have ever dreamt it would be. And after six months of breathless researching, it lived up to my sky high expectations. 

 Even better, Ant and I got to walk it together, Ant taking stunning pictures and me memorizing the texture of the walls (jagged from dynamite in some places, smooth concrete retaining walls in others). We love creepy things, and an abandoned tunnel underneath the very pass where the Donner Party horrors occurred is very creepy.

I finally got back on the road at 3.15pm (after getting thoroughly and happily distracted by trail angel Reno “The Demotivator” Dave). I danced along the climbs for a while, encountering endless and exceedingly clean day hikers. Then my feet began screaming. One foot has a touch of plantar fasciitis and the other has decided on tendinitis of the top of foot. I gave up, sat down, took all sorts of pills from my mother, and ate a bunch of candy. 

 I immediately felt better, put on some pop music, and hopped along the trail. All of a sudden I came upon a family playing in a murky stream.

“Is that your house?” I asked, pointing toward an adorable house tucked in the woods.

“No. That’s the shelter.” The dad replied. 

 I couldn’t miss it, even though I was .2 miles away from it. I turned around, briefly becoming a (gasp) southbounder, and explored the shelter. It was a charming detour — a ladder took you up to the door where a loft greeted you. If you took the other, very skinny, ladder at the back of the loft you found yourself in a kitchen of sorts.

I signed the register and skedaddled. I climbed more and more, then went right down into a horrible lake area filled to the brim with mosquitoes. It was called Paradise Lake and (I am ashamed to say) I cursed its existence, scoffing at its name as I passed. 

 Then up I climbed again, the day getting very late, until I got atop the ridge and settled down to camp. As my dinner simmered I saluted the sun, feeling my muscles all relax with the delightful stretch.

What a day in paradise.