The campsite, after we cleaned up and were ready to go.

I went to sleep early enough that I woke up feeling rested. I still didn’t want to get up at the alarm, but it wasn’t a chore to do so. Plus, there was bananas foster to lure me into motion. I got dressed and started packing before preparing our dessert breakfast.

The cheesecake and the banana cream pie before it both required cold water, but the bananas foster wanted boiling water. I decided to prepare it in the pot rather than the pouch. Preparing freeze dried food in pouch sometimes means sacrificing the food. Either you can’t get at it or it doesn’t all get sufficiently exposed to water.

I wasn’t sure how tasty this would be, but I had a suspicion that I would like it a lot. I boiled the water and let the dessert soak while Ambrose and I did more prep work. He took care of water and I took care of the tent. I think it’s a bit unfair that since I have the cook pot, he’ll always be ready to go before I am if we’re cooking. But the tent does weigh more than the cook pot, so I guess it’s fair enough.

The bananas foster had only one flaw: there was not enough of it. Not nearly enough. I was glad that I hadn’t put my bug stuff on yet, because I wouldn’t have wanted to clean the pot with my fingers if I had. And there was no way I wanted to leave that delicious sugary sauce on the pot.

This side of the campsite was ruled by the ants.

When I explored the river crossing the day before, I advised Ambrose that we shouldn’t bother to put our boots on in the morning. The crossing was so close to our campsite that we should just walk our packs over in our river shoes. From the campsite we could see a blaze on the opposite bank that we needed to cross to, but the river itself was a lot wider than we realized.

I led the way as we crossed to what looked like the opposite bank, only to discover that there was another crossing to be made. And another. We sloshed through cold water, deep enough to hit my thighs in places, for entirely too long for my comfort until we reached the blaze that marked the other end of the trail.

On the other side, I found a log to sit on while I got my boots back on. I was going to lead the way today. The sleep had made me feel better, and I was dealing with the period with judicious doses of naproxen. This really was supposed to be an easy day. Not a lot of elevation changes, generally downhill and, best of all, the car waited for us at the end of the day’s miles.

One of the hard parts of the “easy” day.

And the car would bring us to Idaho City, where we would purchase some well-earned milkshakes.

But before we could enjoy the fruits of our labor, we had to complete it. I led the way past some tricky fallen trees as we followed the Queens River downstream. I knew that the trail followed the river all the way to the trailhead, and that it would turn from flowing south to flowing west before we met up with the portion of the trail we had explored back in June.

I felt good as I hiked, and so I was a little reluctant to stay at the keep-Ambrose-in-sight pace. I knew from experience that it was only a matter of time before the foot pain from yesterday returned with a vengeance. I’m not sure how long it would take for my feet to get used to backpacking every day, but I haven’t found that point yet. My feet just get sore and sorer.

We hiked past a huge debris covered snow bridge over the river. I was tempted to go closer to it. I wanted to see if a kayak could pass below it, or if it were stable enough to take weight on top of it. But I decided against closer exploration. I really didn’t want to take a single step away from my goal of the trailhead.

Which made getting lost all that much more painful.

Snow bridge!

I was enchanted with the meadows full of flowers ranging in height from my knees to over my head. The trail was a little more difficult to find among them, but I was doing okay until we got to the burned area. The trail took a turn to the right, and then seemed to lead me in a circle back to where I came from.

In retrospect, I should have gone back to that circle and kept going past where I thought it wanted me to turn back. Instead, I went back and tried to forge ahead, directly into a muddy, ashy mess of water, dead trees and some vicious dead bushes that tried to break my ankles several times.

I had to stop for a call of nature. Ambrose tried to quarter the area after putting his pack down. Eventually, he found the trail, conveniently located above the boggy burn out. I went up to the trail and then traced it back while he got his pack.

I might have gotten lost because I was looking at the flowers, just like Max in Flight of the Navigator… 

Soon after that, we came to our second to last ford of the Queens River. The forest service personnel had clearly been out this far, because we found the crossing with the help of orange nylon flags – fresh, clean ones (as opposed to dirty, faded ones).

I think there’s a flag in this picture, somewhere across the river…

Again, the waters were too deep for us to cross without doing the boots off dance. Once we reached the other side, we took a break and ate some snacks. We wanted to get back to the car before cooking lunch, if possible, and that meant a little more snacking in the morning to keep us going.

It was on this side of the river that we encountered the worst tree barrier across the trail of the entire trip. It seemed illogical that there should be such a tangle when the forest service personnel had clearly been up that far. My only thought was that this huge tree must have fallen after they had already come back from that area. Uphill of the trail, more tree, downhill, more tree. Tangles of smaller trees, limbs and brush surrounded the trail as well. There didn’t seem to be a good way to go.

This is the path I took through the tree. 

In this case, Ambrose and I split up. I went uphill of the trail only a little bit and forged my way through the limbs and over the trunk, only to find a bigger mess on the other side of the trunk. The footing was uncertain, since I had to step on slippery pine needles and piles of limbs. But I managed to regain the trail, and then turned back to watch Ambrose make his way. He got past the main tree more easily at his crossing point higher up the trail, but had a harder time getting back down to the trail through steep brush and loose rocks.

The trail meandered above the river, but before too long it came back down and we reached our final ford of the Queens River. At this point, Ambrose said that I could go on ahead to the car after I crossed. We hadn’t quite explored to this crossing back in June, but it was close enough for him. I, however, wanted to be prudent, since this was still our first time in this terrain. I told him he was stuck with me until we found the section of the trail that we had been on before.

The last wet crossing of the trip.

Part of my reasoning for this was that we turned back last time because we lost the trail. And the other part was that I enjoy spending time with Ambrose out there. Even if he is slower than me.

And it was a bit farther to a familiar area than either of us expected, I think. The trail stayed quite close to the river for a time, and then we started seeing flags. The trail was diverted up above the flooded area that we had seen before. To me, the diversion seemed to stay high for too long, but we did finally reach a familiar area of burned forest, and I was off.

Yup, this trail goes to Atlanta. Atlanta Idaho, that is.

I wanted to go quickly, but I also wanted pictures, a perennial dilemma. I stopped infrequently for pictures, because every time I stopped my feet begged me to get off of them. They felt like they were going to burst, but at least when I was walking forward I had progressively less steps to take to get to the car.

The trail was drier than it had been before, but water still flowed in the larger streams. Not enough to justify taking my boots off, but enough that I had to take care when stepping through. The seeps that had flowed down the trail itself were dried up completely, and I could already see some of the flowers dying off from the dryness and heat of the summer at this lower elevation.

I kept thinking that I was there, and then I wouldn’t be. But then I was. I wanted to dance, but my feet hurt too much. So I continued walking instead, reaching the car before 1pm.

I moved the car to the small campsite where we had spent Thursday night and started my preparations. I wanted to rinse myself off a bit before I put my clean(er) clothes on for the drive home. When I was still out there, my plan had been to get some water into bags and then bring it up, maybe heat it so I could rinse myself with warm water. Of course, that plan was also dependent partially on an empty trailhead campground, and such was not the case. One of the sites was fully occupied, leaving me no chance to get naked.

This gives me a good gauge on how long it should take me for my solo hike. 

I did, however, remove my boots, and then walk down to the river to get water for lunch. And while I was there, I discovered that I was so hot, I didn’t care about the water being cold. I took my shirt off and waded in wearing shorts and my sports bra. Then I dipped my head in.

That’s when Ambrose walked up.

As we sat at the picnic table, a girl emerged from the wilderness area. She looked way too clean to have been in there for long, but when Ambrose asked, she said she had done the same route that we had. She was wearing a t-shirt from a cross-country triathlon, but I just wasn’t sure I believed her. I mean. She was really clean, not sweaty looking. And her pack was full-looking, as if she hadn’t taken any supplies out on her trip. But I was planning on doing the trip by myself in the next few weeks, so it wasn’t that I didn’t think a woman could do such a journey alone. I just knew that when I got back, my pack would be sagging where my food used to be and I would stink from yards away.

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