Only 12 downhill miles left through the Desolation Wilderness, but they are a brutal 12 miles. I don’t mind the first half of the day. I don’t even mind when two chipmunks harass me at my morning break, begging for food like puppies. I especially don’t mind walking past alpine lakes set in the granite landscape, and passing walls of boulders that look like they’ve been frozen mid-avalanche. The landscape is one-of-a-kind, so the uneven ground and loose rocks don’t bother me too much. But once I pass Lake Aloha, the day hikers and weekenders come out in droves. The descent is a slow and painful game of which-rock-should-I-put-my-foot-on-next and I find myself stopping every 30-90 seconds to let groups of brightly clothed hikers, smelling of laundry detergent and sunscreen, pass me going the opposite direction. What gets me through is the hope that the trail will bring me close enough to Echo Lake that I can jump in. Finally, with one mile left between me and my car, a faint path appears through the bushes down to a rope swing and a small beach below. I barrel down, not caring that my legs get all scratched up, and submerge my body in the water. I let the lake wash away all the dirt from my legs and dunk my head under. After this I am a new person. Ready to take on the final mile of this 170-mile loop. Upon reaching the crowded parking lot I stop briefly at the store to buy a cold iced tea but am too nervous to drink it. Images of broken car windows float through my mind and I fear for what may have become of my Subaru after all these nights alone with the bears. A 50-foot climb brings me to the upper lot where my car is parked. It is untouched, sitting perfectly, precisely where I left it. I breathe a sigh of relief, touch every window gratefully and open the trunk. There I sit, happily drinking my iced tea, content to be still in the last moments of the adventure.
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