Miles: 16.88
Camping: Tuolumne Meadows Campground PCT mile 942.5

I woke up to the sound of one of my favorite birds. I don’t know what it is, but it always sounds so hopeful and innocent. It’s a lovely way to start the day, and today isn’t just any day. I’m hiking into Yosemite! I got up enthusiastically and made cold coffee (no fuel again), ate a Pro Bar and was on trail within 30 minutes.

I hiked through a scene that reminded me of The Lord of the Rings (again), fields surrounded by mountains, great rivers giving way to beautiful cascading waterfalls. This led me to Donohue Pass, the doorway into the park. I climbed up the steep slope, no trees in sight, but every sight one to behold. My heart was beating in anticipation as I began to see familiar sights, and then I was on top of Donohue Pass. There was a mediocre plaque announcing my arrival to Yosemite but I felt it deep within myself. I cried tears of joy as the Lyell Canyon was unfolding before me, that familiar winding ribbon of a river down below, the one I swam in 13 years ago. I still feel as youthful and free as I did then. Life couldn’t be better.

I practically skipped down the pass, passing eager JMTers who were just beginning their own journeys south. Every step was full of air; I was floating. I stopped next to the river and had lunch, where a ranger came and chatted with me. He checked my permit and my bear canister and left me sitting on the banks of the river, captivated by the moment before me. Familiar territory, but the river so low…I continued to Tuolumne, crying joyful tears, reliving emotions I haven’t felt in over a decade. It was all so familiar and yet, I’ve lived what seems like a thousand lifetimes since I left this place last.

I counted 80 people on trail all day before I reached the main area of Tuolumne Meadows, where one would expect to encounter hordes of people. Most of who I saw were JMT hikers, 1 ranger and 2 young bear patrol volunteers. Some people donned gear so new I could smell the store where they bought it. We’ve come to be able to smell people who aren’t PCTers quickly: sunscreen, deodorant, laundry soap, cologne (gag), etc. I can’t imagine how we smell, but I never smell us anymore. We are natural, naturalized. It’s an interesting state of being.

My emotions grew more intense as I came into more familiar territory, signs indicating that Tuolumne Meadows grew nearer. I can’t compare the feelings I was having to anything else, it was going home to the home where I grew up (figuratively, not literally). It was remembering past joys, fears, loves, disappointments, decisions, and lives all at once; and here I am on the PCT, a lifetime in and of itself.

I walked next to the road for the last mile, cars zipping by. It was weird to be so close to cars going so fast, but I was locked into my destination. I would see other hikers and some old friends who still have jobs in the park, the anticipation was killing me. As I approached the store/post office/grill I heard someone say, “it’s Dust Bunny!” I looked up to see Hugs running towards me, and Karaoke was sitting nearly by with a few other hikers. Friends!

We all hugged joyfully. I hadn’t seen Karaoke since the Saufley’s, and Hugs since Mt. Whitney. I’d missed them both, and it always feels good to be reunited. Next, I wandered to the post office where Snake Farm was mailing a package, and my old friends Mike and Jeff were working. I haven’t seen Mike since 2001, and though Jeff lives in Portland, it felt great to see old friends that weren’t from the trail. Worlds collided in a beautiful way, it made me so happy.

After catching up with Mike and Jeff I grabbed a beer and a cheeseburger. I sat with Hugs and Karaoke at the nearby picnic table, and more friends began to trickle in, including: Pockets, Landfill, Ninja and Crackerjack (plus a few others I’m not quite as close with). It was like the stars aligned and our world was coming back together. It was a very happy time and place to be indeed.

We all congregated at the campground to make dinner and share beers and laughs. It was one of my favorite nights yet. Along with being among old friends, new friends were made. What a magical day it turned out to be, far exceeding my expectations. Tomorrow I will go to the Valley with a few others before hiking on. As much as I want to stay, I’m still on the PCT and I want to stay with my friends. I couldn’t be happier.