The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg




To Richard





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I owe my agent, Maria Carvainis, a huge debt for help with this book. I sure needed it. I also thank Elizabeth Copps for her keen insight.

I’m grateful to my editor, Claire Zion, who saw before I could what Liz’s story was really about. Thank you, Claire, for pointing the way. I’m also grateful to Jennifer Fisher, Caitlin Valenziano, and the rest of the team at Penguin.

Helga Immerfall, Julie Lawson Timmer, and Jerry Smith read earlier versions; I value your advice, time, and friendship. My wise and wonderful daughters, Rachel and Rebecca Frank, read numerous versions, putting aside their college texts to give me a hand. I wouldn’t dream of submitting a manuscript without first running your gauntlets.

I also acknowledge a group of writers, most of whom I’ve never laid eyes on, but who are, nevertheless, my friends and dear to me. Eileen Goudge, Samantha Bailey, Richard Kramer, and Melissa Cryzter Fry—thank you for your wisdom and open hearts. The same goes for Ann Garvin and the other fabulous members of the Tall Poppy Writer collective, whose advice and support is my new drug. Oh, and thanks to all of you for the laughs.

Richard Gill walked with me the two hundred twenty miles of the John Muir Trail, and walked them again and again in draft after draft of this story. His photographs of the Sierra inspired my writing daily and kept me true to the Trail. Our shared love of this landscape is inscribed on every page. Thank you for taking that journey with me, and all the others as well, especially this longer one, where in my heart we are forever walking along a mountain trail under a blue sky filled with invisible stars.





I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.


—JOHN MUIR, FROM JOHN OF THE MOUNTAINS,


THE UNPUBLISHED JOURNALS OF JOHN MUIR,


EDITED BY LINNIE MARSH WOLFE.


BOSTON: HOUGHTON MIFFLIN CO,


1938, P. 439.





CHAPTER ONE





Liz hopped from foot to foot and hugged herself against the cold. She glanced at the porch of the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Office, where Dante stood with his back to her, chatting with some other hikers. His shoulders shrugged and dropped, and his hands danced this way and that. He was telling a story—a funny one, judging by the faces of his audience—but not a backpacking story because he didn’t have any. His idea of a wilderness adventure was staring out the window during spin class at the gym. Not that it mattered. He could have been describing the self-contradictory worldview of the guy who changes his oil, or the merits of homemade tamales, or even acting out the latest viral cat video. Liz had known him for over two years and still couldn’t decipher how he captured strangers’ attention without apparent effort. Dante was black velvet and other people were lint.

Their backpacks sat nearby on a wooden bench like stiff-backed strangers waiting for a bus. The impulse to grab hers and take off without him shot through her. She quelled it with the reminder that his pack contained essential gear for completing the three-week hike. The John Muir Trail. Her hike. At least that had been the plan.

She propped her left hiking boot on the bench, retied it, folded down the top of her sock and paced a few steps along the sidewalk to see if she’d gotten them even. It wasn’t yet nine a.m., and Yosemite Village already had a tentative, waking buzz. Two teenage girls in pajama pants and oversize sweatshirts walked past, dragging their Uggs on the concrete. Bleary-eyed dads pushed strollers, and Patagonia types with day packs marched purposefully among the buildings: restaurants, a grocery store, a medical clinic, a visitor’s center, gift shops, a fire station, even a four-star hotel. What a shame the trail had to begin in the middle of this circus. Liz couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.

She fished Dante’s iPhone out of the zippered compartment on top of his pack and called Valerie. They’d been best friends for eleven years, since freshman year in college, when life had come with happiness the way a phone plan came with minutes.

Valerie answered. “Dante?”

“No. It’s me.”

“Where’s your phone?”

“Asleep in the car. No service most of the way. Even here I’ve only got one bar.”

“Dante’s going to go nuts if he can’t use his phone.”

“You think? How’s Muesli?” Valerie was cat-sitting for her.

“Does he ever look at you like he thinks you’re an idiot?”

“All the time.”

“Then he’s fine.”

“How’s the slipper commute?” Valerie worked as a Web designer, mostly from home, and had twenty sets of pajamas hanging in her closet as if they were business suits.

“Just firing up the machine. You get your permits?”

“Uh-huh.”