Elena Praggastis is a senior at Tahoma Senior High and a sophomore at Green River Community College. She is a member of the Church of the Holy Apostles, Washington parish and has been since 2010. Elena is an opinion writer for Green River’s The Current.
I yelled ahead, asking for the time. Four-fifteen. We had been walking for two hours nonstop since the last break. Roughly six miles since we started today. The hip straps on my thirty-five-pound pack were sinking into my already bruised and tender flesh, causing me to all but scream into the blistering heat. My face was so covered in the dust from the trail I was three shades tanner than usual. The only thing keeping me sane was the rhythmic movement of my feet, which felt completely disconnected, as if in a dream.
Right left, right left.
Over and over again, fortifying muscle memory in my near-to-death legs. Dad yelled from the front and told us to break. I didn’t want to put my pack down because I knew I wouldn’t be able to pick it up again. So I just stood in place, thinking to myself if I somehow sank into the granite earth at that very moment and was never heard from again, I’d be okay with it.
Once everyone in the party caught up to us, we established that we were lost and burning daylight. A group scouted ahead to see if we were anywhere close to Buena Vista Lake.
As I stood with the others and waited, I gazed around. Somehow, amidst the pain and discomfort, I was able to stand in awe of the beauty. Three days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes since walking out my door in Washington, and I was finally standing in the heart of Yosemite National Park.
For the first time, I was more than eight hundred miles from home, and I wasn’t homesick. It was probably the tall evergreens, enormous granite faces, and endless meadows speckled with wildflowers reminding me of my Pacific Northwest home. There, a forest surrounds my residence, where, as a homeschooler, I would take refuge and play with my fairy friends when being inside with textbooks and restrictive walls was too much to handle. Here, in California, I was in the ultimate fairy-land escape, with no worries of the work and college life I’d left behind. Even for all the pain and discomfort, I would take a life of isolation in God’s intended nature over industrial city culture any day.
Our scouts returned defeated, with no knowledge of the location of Buena Vista Lake. The spirit of the party was confident, however; if we kept going just a little longer, we were bound to hit some type of water source. Perhaps just over the granite ridge we were facing, some suggested. We re-assumed group alignment, and plowed on once again.
Right left, right left.
This time, we were gaining three hundred feet in elevation for each half-mile. The pain I had been experiencing earlier was only magnified as the slope steepened. The protective stiffness in my legs, gathered from standing still, was ripped away to expose my raw, quivering muscles. I was so focused on my own personal agony, it took someone screaming in excitement to get me to look up. The most beautiful and pristine body of water I had ever seen was looking back, beckoning me to its edge.
A gigantic granite-lined basin held glacial runoff measuring one third of a mile lengthwise. Water so transparent I could see the bottom for nearly fifty yards away from shore. Ponderosa pine bordered the crystal clear drink.
It was paradise.
We stripped down to what we could consider swim wear, and plunged into its freezing depths. I could feel the dirt packed on all over my body washing away. I could feel the throbbing in my hips and legs die off into a lulled numbness. Fourteen miles done, fifteen still to go. I allowed my whole body to smile. I swam across the lake.
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