Coming Home from the Sierras: Summer Prompt Week 2
I woke up staring at the tops of coniferous trees waving above me, starkly dark against the unwavering blue California sky the color of robin eggshells. I smiled, knowing that I had just passed my last night in a sleeping bag for a very long time. After eleven days of hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, I was more than ready for a real bed with a mattress and a pillow. But more than that, I longed for a shower. I had ever since the second day, when I woke up in the tent and realized that I would not be able to wash off the thin layer of trail grime with a quick jump in the shower, and that I would not be able to for a very long time.
But the day had arrived, the day our group of smelly hikers would re-enter the society of the well fed and well bathed. I scrambled from the sleeping bag, trying not to awaken the girls to my left and right. Last night another backpacker in the same campground had proclaimed she found a scorpion in her tent, but we had braved it and slept outside under the stars anyway. It was our last night in Yosemite after all.
People were beginning to stir, and even the three teenage boys roused themselves when our teacher returned from his walk to the campground store with three boxes of sugared cereal, a box of donuts, and a bunch of bananas; the first real breakfast food, other than oatmeal, we had tasted in over a week.
After our breakfast banquet, we quickly packed up our camp, shoving tents haphazardly into their bags, knowing full well that we would not have to unfold them again, and throwing tin plates back in our packs with a thin layer of donut powder still clinging to them. Then, after our teacher looked at his watch and exclaimed that we had a mere ten minutes to catch the next bus, we jogged, packs thumping against our backs, about half a mile to the bus shelter, which was the same one used by the designer-label-clad European tourists who came to Yosemite to take photographs of the waterfalls and sleep in the upscale hotel, far from our campground.
Smiling at the strange looks cast in our direction, we took full pride in our sweaty, travel-hardened condition, and stood throughout the whole bus ride while holding the metal ceiling rings, cruelly allowing the stench from our underarms to fully encompass whoever was sitting below.
Later we changed from the public bus to a tour Premier bus where a thin man with a sunhat tied under his bobbing Adam’s apple described the various waterfalls and historical sites visible through our wide windows. Many of my fellow campers groaned at the droning voice of the man and tried to drop off to sleep. But I rather enjoyed his stories, especially the one about the Fire Fall, where people would drop burning embers off the side of the cliff, giving the impression of a waterfall of fire cascading down the mountainside.
We reached another campsite called Tuolumne Meadows, which we had hiked through a few days earlier and where our group leader had parked one of the vans needed to take the group to the hotel where we would stay during our last night in California. Since only half the group could fit in the van, it was decided that the seniors could go to the hotel, while the underclassmen, including myself and most of my close friends, would remain behind at Tuolumne until the teacher could drive the other van from the hotel to get us. We ordered hamburgers and French fries at the snack shack beside the parking lot, savoring the fast food banquet that was not prepared in a single pot nor was eaten with a Spork.
When our teacher returned with the other van, we piled into the three rows of seats and drove to a hotel at a ski resort in Mammoth, California. It was very strange to arrive at the hotel and see the grass-covered mountain and the stagnant chair lift swinging sadly in the July heat. We entered the hotel room and marveled at the wonders of technology that seemed incredibly beautiful and cutting-edge after our time in the woods: the plasma television, the dishwasher, the queen-sized beds, and especially, the shower.
Out of sheer desperation I won rights to take a shower first, and I was horror-struck and at the same time awe-struck as the clean water turned to mud when it touched my skin, and it took many rinses before I finally felt clean. Stepping out of the foggy bathroom into the dry California heat with a towel wrapped around my head and changing into clean clothes I became overcome by happiness that if our flight were canceled the next day I felt I could happily remain in the hotel room for the rest of my life.
Later that night, we hikers stuffed our sleeping bags and packs into large duffle bags for the flight, and ordered Hawaiian pizza from a nearby restaurant. That night, as I sank into bed, I had only a few moments to enjoy the warm comforter and the plush mattress before sleep enveloped me.
The next day we arose bright and early, and having no other breakfast food, ate leftover instant oatmeal and snickers bars, which was incredibly ironic, each of us having vowed yesterday that we would never eat those foods again. Then we crammed into two vans and drove to the Reno, Nevada airport, stopping along the way at a mini-mart with a cashier who resembled Dolly Parton in every way except the blue button-down shirt she wore with a nametag reading Dorothy.
We arrived at the airport, which apart from the usual food court area also had a gambling room complete with slot machines and a wheel-of-fortune game that our teacher lost one dollar playing. The group sat in the waiting room, alternating between annoyance and amusement as one man named Dick was repeatedly paged over the overcom.
The plane we boarded was small, and bound for Minneapolis. I sat in the middle seat next to a middle-aged woman with dyed brown hair who took it upon herself to fill me in on every aspect of her journey to the mid-west, including the names of the relatives she would see at the reunion and her current standing with each of them in terms of how long they got along. But I did not mind, for she was pleasant and wished me a safe trip home when we exited. This was a stark contrast to my seat partner for the flight from the Twin Cities to Boston, who determinedly pulled down the screen over the window so I couldn’t watch the plane take off, and silently buried herself in a stack of Food and Wine magazines for the entire trip.
When we arrived at the Boston-Logan airport at around 9:30 at night, the terminal was almost completely deserted, apart from a Chinese family trying to find the international terminal. Being the group of rowdy teenagers we were, we ran around our small section of the airport, buying excessive amounts of candy from the one open shop and staring in awe at the Logan’s signature kinetic sculptures that carried small balls through a maze of slides and rotating parts.
Finally, the school bus arrived to take us home to Vermont. As I lay down, my face toward the back of the seat in front of me, the lights from the city shining down into the bus, I was overcome by a feeling of peace that falls upon travelers at certain points in their trip when they feel completely connected and satisfied with the world around them. So I plugged in my iPod, closed my eyes, and let this peacefulness wash over me as I dropped off to sleep, knowing that I would wake up at home after an excruciatingly tiring but also an enlightening hiking road trip.