Vermilion Valley Resort to Marie Lake
Day: 12.9 Miles
Trip: 111.7 Miles
The VVR, a short drive away from several nearby towns, caters to the locals who want to get drunk and party around raging bonfires. This is unfortunate, because the folks who run the VVR allow it to happen ten feet away from the designated backpackers campground. Since most long-distance hikers don’t have the time or energy to get inebriated until four o’clock in the morning, it seems like an obvious problem that the VVR could easily fix. Despite trying to block out the sounds of debauchery with earplugs, I listened to a Budweiser-fueled parade of rednecks slur the lyrics to “Brown Eyed Girl” six different times, before I was able to pass out from complete exhaustion.
While examining my swollen and throbbing feet, I decide that a handful of ibuprofen is a viable option for breakfast this morning. I supplement my meal with a three-dollar cup of coffee and begin the process of packing up my gear. I do all of this, while listening to a campsite of four girls discuss the trials and tribulations of delivering proper fellatio. While considering what it means to “suck a man sideways,” I decide that I’ve spent enough time at the VVR. I return to the general store, next to the backpacker’s campground, and purchase an eight-dollar token for a shower and a twelve-dollar ticket for the ferry that crosses Lake Thomas Edison.
The VVR “ferry” turns out to be a small dinghy that snuggly fits four passengers. When our shuttle drops myself and three other hikers off at the landing, I notice that the “captain” is using a small bucket to bail water out of the vessel. I jokingly ask if our boat has a leak. “It’s just a small one. No big deal,” he replies, with a short laugh. I scan the lake before us and decide that I could swim to the shore if the “ferry” should happen to retire during our voyage
The indications of climate change are undeniable at the reservoir known as Lake Thomas Edison. Dwindling snowfall, over the past few years, has significantly reduced the water level here, forcing the VVR to consider shutting down their ferry service in August, rather than October. As we approach the end of the lake, tree stumps that used to be submerged in water can be seen protruding above the surface. Our Captain jokes that he has names for most of them. “That’s little Jimmy over there,” he says with a smirk on his face. “I know where they all are, so I can get to the shore without running anything over,” he explains, while shutting down the boats engine and gliding us through an obstacle course of wooden stubs. Normally, our ferry would carry us through another mile or so of water, but that part of the lake has vanished, leaving behind sand and dirt.
I walk two miles from the ferry landing to the trail junction with a northbound PCT hiker named Boone. A seasoned thru-hiker, Boone wears a dusty pair of New Balance sneakers, a stained pair of cargo shorts, and a long, disheveled beard. Shouldering a six-pound bag, he more strongly resembles a broke college student on his way to class than a backpacker in the middle of a 2,600-mile hike. “I got a late start this year, but I’m going to catch up soon. Just gotta do a few more 30 mile days,” he tells me, as we walk steadily through a maze of tree stumps that used to reside beneath the surface of Lake Thomas Edison. This is Boone’s second PCT hike. He has also completed the Appalachian Trail twice and the Continental Divide Trail once. “This is by far the best trail to hike,” he says. “The weather is perfect, you don’t have to deal with all the rain, and it’s so beautiful.” We talk about the simplicity and solitude of long distance hiking alone and Boone tells me that he’s made countless 24-hour friends on the trail. When we get to the trail junction and part ways, I thank Boone for being my two-mile friend.
There are very few places on the JMT that you can get cell service, and I’ve heard a rumor that the top of Bear Ridge is one of them. I make the two thousand foot accent, set down my pack, and learn that this rumor is bogus. No cell phone service for me, but a little ways up the trail I see a tall and lanky man talking into a phone that is pressed against his right ear. The tall and lanky man is named Ben, and he has service here, because he has AT&T, not Verizon. This kind soul offers to let me use his phone to call my acquaintance from Long Beach and verify that she still plans on picking me up when I complete the JMT. Thank you, Ben.