The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

“As in ‘it’s downhill from here’?”

She bit her tongue to stop herself from reminding him he had asked to come, that it had been his idea. It was too early in the trip, and too early on a pristine morning to go down that road. Instead, she began disassembling the tent around him. He held out while she removed and folded the fly, but when she slid the pole out and the tent collapsed on him, Dante relented. Once he was up, the cold accelerated his preparations and within twenty minutes, they were on their way.

The trail took them past Brensen, firmly lodged in his cocoon. Liz commented it was a shame his face wasn’t visible so they could take a photo and send it to the tabloids when they got to Tuolumne Meadows.

Dante twitched with excitement. “There’s reception there?”

“So they say.”

“Bueno!”

“And a store with lots of food.”

“Really?”

“And beer.”

“Beer!”

“And campsites with plasma screen TVs, Dolby sound and reclining chairs with cup holders.”

His footsteps stopped. “Really?”

Liz turned, put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him. “No.”

“But you weren’t joking about the beer, right? Because there’s nothing funny about that.”

? ? ?

The prospect of evening refreshments buoyed Dante’s mood for several hours, right up until the moment he was splashing water on his face and slipped into Cathedral Lake. He was soaked from the knees down. All he could do was change his socks and march on. The moisture would worsen his blisters, but at least the terrain over the remaining five miles to Tuolumne Meadows was relatively flat.

They knew they were close when they passed three dozen Korean tourists wearing sneakers and Vans instead of boots. Signs pointed them to the campground, an enormous maze of sites, most of which were occupied. And not simply occupied but fully inhabited. TVs glowed through the windows of RVs bigger than school buses. Generators hummed. People in tidy clothing watched them pass from screened-in picnic tables and lounge chairs. Liz felt like a refugee carrying all her worldly possessions through a city that had never known war.

She couldn’t understand the attraction of parking a rolling house in a national park. For her, the section of the John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows was a gauntlet to run. Sure, the scenery was beautiful, but she resented having to suffer crowds to enjoy it. They would be turning south tomorrow, toward the wilder reaches of the trail. It could not happen soon enough.

In an ocean of RVs, the backpackers’ campground had a throwback feel, but with the amenities of a picnic table, a fire ring, a bear locker and access to a store, running water and real toilets, it was barely camping. Dante was delighted. He dropped his pack at the first open site, changed his shoes, asked her what she wanted from the store and took off.

Liz did some reconnaissance to find a quieter site. Not far from the entrance she passed a yellow tent. No one was around. On the picnic table were two blue backpacks she recognized as belonging to the brothers they’d met yesterday. She headed in the opposite direction and selected a site with a measure of privacy. She tore a page from a small notebook, drew an arrow on it and returned to Dante’s pack, where she wedged it under a strap. Returning to the site, she began to make camp.

A half hour later, Dante showed up with his arms loaded. He grinned and said, “Guess who I saw at the store?”

“Another celebrity?”

“No, those guys from yesterday. Remember?”

“How could I forget? They were pretty weird.”

“I don’t understand why you say that. Payton and Rodell were extremely friendly.”

“You’re kidding me, right? About the names?”

“No. Payton and Rodell Root. From Arcata, wherever that is.”

“Northern California. Way, way north.”

“Maybe it’s a regional thing. Anyway, they didn’t name themselves.”

“I guess not.”

“They met some guys having a bocce game later. They invited us.”

“Later? When later?” She checked her watch. Nearly six already.

“Eight or so.”

“Eight or so, I’m asleep. We have to leave early tomorrow. Aren’t you tired?” Stupid question, really. If there was a social activity, he was game. Always.

“No! My feet hurt, but I’m good.” He unpacked his haul: beer, cold cuts, bread, chocolate and ibuprofen. Dante’s food pyramid.

“Dante, I’m serious about leaving early.”

He frowned. “What’s the rush? I love it here.” He held up his phone. “I’ve got three bars!”

“You know what the rush is. We have to make it to Muir Trail Ranch, the halfway point, before they close for the season. Otherwise, we have no food for the last nine days. If we don’t walk an average of fourteen miles a day, we won’t make it. You know all this.”

“Okay, but I also know this is supposed to be a vacation. And so far it doesn’t feel that way.”

“It is a vacation. A strenuous one.”

“That’s a . . . what do you call it? An oxymormon.”