Waiting for Jen

The rest of the story…

Yosemite 2 began its 1987 season working in the south part of Yosemite, at Wawona. Our front country camp was on the banks of the South Fork of the Merced River at an NPS house usually used to house seasonal fire crews. It was called Comfort House. We didn’t sleep in the house. The NPS workers did. We were outside in tents. For the first few weeks of our season, we would commute to the worksites in our crew van and pick up trucks, whether that was a trailhead for a maintenance run or the Wawona Grove of sequoias.

Our front country work projects at this time started with maintenance runs all over the south end of the park. The hiking helped to acclimate us to the higher elevation in the mountains. However, the main project in Wawona was building a long section of causeway trail through the Wawona Grove of giant sequoias. We spent more time rolling rocks than hiking for a weeks. By the beginning of June, since we were getting closer to our camp move date to Tuolumne Meadows, our bosses decided that we needed to get some more hiking in to start toughening up for the move to higher country. Instead of loading into the van at the sequoia grove at the end of the day, we hiked from the grove over a ridge to a trailhead where the van would pick us up.

Trail crews never hike in one huge heard. NPS has a minimum speed of three miles an hour, but as long as a crewmember met that criteria, he/she could hike however they wanted. Some people would hike in groups of two to four people. Some people would hike solo. People usually didn’t get spread out too far, and with everyone going down the same trial, there really was no hazard of getting separated and lost from the rest of the crew.

The first day we hiked out of the Wawona Grove was great. There was a little climb up the ridge. Then the trail followed the ridge for a bit before dropping back down to the main road through the south end of Yosemite. The trail followed the road for a few hundred yards before getting to the trailhead. There were several ‘unofficial’ paths connecting the trail to the road before the trail actually got to the trailhead. Since we had hiked a lot of maintenance runs for the first two weeks and had seen a lot of trail, it was fairly easy to tell that these spurs were not the main trail. Well…for most of us, anyway…

Glen Meyer had driven the van from Wawona to the trailhead. One by one we came down out of the woods and threw off our daypacks, wiped off the sweat, and sucked down some water. Before long, the entire crew was assembled, except for one. Jen.

Jen had begun the season with a cheerful upbeat attitude. She spoke with a Valley Girl accent, and always put a cheerful Valley spin on things as they happened. She had a willowy, thin build. She had been having a hard time keeping up with the hiking and rock work. Everybody was pulling for her to get into shape and have a successful season, but at this point, that was in doubt. We waited for almost thirty minutes for her to come down out of the woods. Finally, Moose had Glen take the crew back to camp. She was going to wait for Jen. After Glen had dropped the crew off, he was to come back up pick up Moose…hopefully, with Jen.

There was a general store and the Wawona post office right on the corner of the main road and the road to Comfort House. Glen dropped several of us off at the store to pick up some snacks and then hike the half mile or so up to Comfort house. Then he drove the rest of the crew back to camp.

I remember buying ice cream at the store. Ice cream seems to be the most popular snack food for trail workers right off the trail. I was eating my ice cream with Tammi and Cory outside the store when we saw Glen, with Mark Guthrie in the van, drive by on his way back to pick up Moose and Jen. No sooner had Glen and Mark driven out of sight, then Jen came walking around the side of the store.

“Sooooo…you went off and left me, huh?” Jen teased.

“Where did you come from? We waited for you at the trailhead and never saw you!”

“I got to the road and never saw the van. I thought you guys had ditched me, so I hitched a ride.”

Jen had obviously taken one of those side spurs off the main trail down to the road. She thought she had reached the trailhead, but she had still been a few hundred yards short.

Moose and Glen and Mark were still waiting for Jen to come down out of the woods.

The solution was obvious, but nobody was eager to get it done. Somebody had to let them know Jen was back. And since we had no vehicle, the only way to do that was to hike back down to the trailhead. We really had no idea how far that was. One mile driving down a highway feels really different from hiking one mile. The trailhead could have been one mile up the highway; it could have been three.

Finally, Tammi, Cory, and I started hiking back up the road to the trailhead. This was no tranquil meander through the woods. I thought I had hiked hard to get to the van. I really kicked it into gear now.

Twenty minutes later I was at the trailhead. It had turned out to only be one mile! Good news!

As I struggled to catch my breath, I got out the word that Jen was back at camp.

Jen didn’t last on the crew much longer after that. Her boyfriend came up to visit one weekend, and she just went home with him. Jen’s memory lived on, though. “Sooooo…you went off and left me, huh?” and “I thought you guys ditched me, so I hitched a ride” said in a Valley accent became regular fixtures in Yo2’s lexicon.

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Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, CCC, Hiking, Yosemite | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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