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True adventures of a hitchhiker on a 12,000 mile journey across the U.S. in 1929
Excerpt #2 from Thumbs Up by Harry I. Heller
We had been advised to take the trail homeward that passed Vernal and Nevada Falls. Although it was eleven miles long, the greater part of that distance was downhill. Our informant, well acquainted with the trail, told us it should not take more than three hours for the trip.
It was early afternoon when we began the hike back to camp. We were convinced we would have no difficulty in reaching our destination before dark. We made good speed to the bottom of the first hill, and the sign there indicated we had already covered nearly a third of our trip. Under the impression that we were heading in the right direction, we continued straight ahead and, as the sign told us, over the Buena Vista Trail.
The bed of the forest we passed through was strewn with leaves, pine needles, and cones, and made a soft and silken carpet for our feet. We had eaten the two boxes of fig cakes early in the morning and had not had anything to eat since. As a result, we were ravenously hungry. However, we were in excellent spirits and thinking we were not far from food, we teased each other by describing various tempting dishes that appealed to us.
Three and a half hours passed without a sign of the Falls. Another hour followed, and we began to get worried. If our information had been reliable, we should have already reached Yosemite Valley. Another thing that entered into the situation was the fact that we had been, for the last few miles, gradually going uphill. Of course, we thought it was only a temporary change and that before long we would be going downgrade again. Nevertheless, the fact that we were ascending did not help our peace of mind.
Not a sign of habitation could be seen in any direction, but only an endless stretch of forest whose deathly silence was scarcely disturbed by the noise of our progress. Freshly-made impressions of horseshoes showed us that a number of humans had been in the same neighborhood recently, and that fact bolstered our hopes. Each time we came to a clearing in the woods, we thought we had reached the top of the trail, but upon traversing the open space we were invariably mistaken. After we had repeated the same experience an untold number of times, we began to feel disheartened.
When we had been pushing forward for five hours, we knew for certain something was wrong, and that we were as far from home and food as ever. How gladly we would have welcomed a sign post assuring us we were on the right path, but such things evidently did not exist in this part of the park. We began to have difficulty finding our way. The trail was not well defined, and we had to depend upon the blazed trees for guidance. Things did not look very promising, but we moved steadily ahead.
Night gradually descended and covered everything with its mantle of darkness. The trees assumed vague and, at times, terrifying shapes. Our searchlight at first brightly penetrated the black void and then, as if weary of life, it slowly expired and died. Still we blundered on. We continuously kept peering into the darkness with the hope of seeing a glimmer of lights but in vain. Only the crackling of dry branches upon which we stepped disturbed the calm serenity of the lonesome forest.
It had become very cold with the setting of the sun, and we were dressed in our shirt sleeves without any other protective covering. As we subsequently learned, we were nine thousand feet above sea level and to sleep at such a height without plenty of blankets was attempting to do the impossible. Fortunately, my companion in misery had three matches and with one of them, we built a big, roaring, crackling, cheerful blaze and took turns watching it and sleeping.
I was jumpy and super sensitive to noise. The least disturbance in the surrounding woods startled me. My imagination worked overtime, and I seemed to see, just beyond the fringe of the clearing, big grizzly bears whose tongues hung from mouths that watered as they looked at their two prospective victims separated from them by a frightening red monster.
The few times that I slept during my reliefs, I dreamt we were continuously running into cowboys who told us how to return to camp. Upon awakening from such pleasant wanderings of the mind, it did not take me long to realize we were about a million miles from nowhere.
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