Today is my brother’s 24th birthday. It’s also the beginning of our sixth trail day, around mile 57, and we only have a liter of water left. A paradox of this trail: While water is frequently visible, it’s often too far away to drink, especially on the eastern shore, in Nevada. We’ll have to hike four miles before getting an opportunity to refill at Watson Lake. "Drink shallowly," Rob advises.
Massive pines surround Watson Lake, and we take a long midmorning break, the sort I rarely allowed as I rushed, like a 21-year-old, from Georgia to Maine. Glutted on water and pepperoni, we fall into a sunny daze. Time has slowed down. Sometime later, idling down the trail, we meet an ultra-marathoner doing the TRT in six days. He doesn’t notice our speedinis, or at least doesn’t acknowledge them. Rob wonders if he notices anything as he runs.
The speed hiker dashes away, and we decide to do the opposite: slow down even more. Birthday dinner will be in town. On the TRT, amidst some of the wildest beauty in California, once you hit a road you’re rarely more than a 10-minute thumb from a beer. Near Brockway Summit at CA 267, 19.2 miles from Tahoe City, we don trousers and get a ride to King’s Beach and the
Char-Pit’s justly famous burgers.
Despite our short break from the trail, or maybe because of it, we find our rhythm. By mid-afternoon on day seven, we summit Relay Peak, the highpoint of the trail at 10,338 feet – halfway around our particular circle. Just before we reach the top, Rob speeds up, as if he has something to prove. Maybe he does: I’ve been ahead our entire lives. "We just raged up that peak, bro," he exclaims. It’s hard not to agree, peering down at Castle Peak, with Donner Lake pulsing miragelike to the west.
We hit the Mt. Rose Highway at sunset, and Rob suggests hitching, again, to Incline Village, ostensibly for forgotten supplies – which I take to mean sunscreen, though he means whiskey. We won’t be able to get back to the trail until morning, but he’s sure we’ll find nice bedding in town. Two hours later, we’re sleeping in a drainage ditch. In the darkest part of a sparse thicket, we stash our packs and unfurl our bags. I can see condos. Rob falls asleep quickly while, hot and anxious, I swat at ants. Is this the jolt I needed? Here, a difference is quite clear – to him this is freedom; to me it’s one step from homeless.