Wild-eyed and confused, we took in our surroundings. We smelled like sweat, dirt and campfire, with maybe just an undertone of cheap whiskey at the bottom of the potpourri. We had crossed over from alpine wilderness into the lower-elevation meadows early that morning after a breakfast of teriyaki beef jerky and a half-melted power bar. We were now being greeted with the large crowds, screaming children, RV campsites and over-flowing ice chests that marked the return to civilization.
Enjoying the first clearly-marked trail that we had seen in a while, we moved to the side to allow a family of four to pass through. The Mother and Father carried enough gear to last them a month. The kids brought up the rear with twin trails of snot dribbling from their noses and matching expressions of boredom, unhappiness, and a plain desire to be anywhere but where they were.
There was a redeeming factor to all of this, and it's name was BEER. With parched throats but a get-up in our step, we made for the general store. Steve and I waited while Will went inside to buy a 6-pack. After days and nights of quiet solitude in the California high country, we could not have been more flustered if we had been deposited on the edge of the 405 freeway during rush hour.
Two kindred souls noticed us and made their way over.
"Weird, isn't it?" the girl said.
We noticed their dirty clothes, sun-burnt faces and bemused features, and we smiled back and nodded.
Will returned with a sixer of Moose Drool Ale, so we said good-bye to our new friends and found a place to sit and drink. The beer was ice-cold and delicious, and it soothed our aching muscles, torn blisters and noise-raped eardrums. I settled my back against a smooth boulder, felt my bare toes on the grass, and took another sip.