edited on trail, August 25th, 2016
Greetings from Castle Crags State Park, near Mt. Shasta, California! It’s been awhile since I last checked in (1099 miles later), but that’s because I’ve been a little preoccupied trying to get some big miles on my way to Canada before the winter dawns (it is coming…). Since I last checked in it’s been 400 miles of sweat, sunshine and further grasping what it takes to label myself a thru-hiker. And what it takes I’m finding out, is a lot of footsteps and a strong will to finish what you started.
At the beginning of these last 400 miles, my hiking partner, the infamous Sunburn, had to depart trail to resume her scholarly pursuits back home, and for the first time in three months, alongside the dispersing crowd of hikers in Northern California, I found myself truly alone on the Pacific Crest Trail.
There is a literal difference about traveling the backcountry alone. Your thoughts and feelings become magnified as the sun descends on the mountain each night, also magnifying the noise of all the mountain life scurrying about. It’s a raw moment each evening, watching the sun fall, alone in the wilderness, and it is where the quiet companion of loneliness seems to join me the most.
Thankfully, with the big miles behind me in the day, I don’t seem to lose much sleep over my solitary situations, and in the morning, when the sun rises over the same landscape I’ve watched darken the night before, the new light of the day helps brighten my perspective and realize in me that I am one step closer to the goals I set out for nearly 4 months ago.
Before anyone starts to worry about my safety (or sanity) while I’m off walking the woods alone, I’m never far from another hiker in either direction, and this far into the trail, I’ve been meeting more and more of my counterparts; the southbound hikers heading to Mexico. Their is a pulse to the trail, one that I now take in more fluidly, and often at the times when I feel like I need something the most, the trail provides.
One such example includes the end of a 9 day segment, one where I felt my efforts becoming futile, my own thoughts unable to entertain my day, and as I descended into my planned resupply town of Belden (pop. 12), suddenly music came to my ears. It was a rolling baseline, followed by a crashing high hat, and all trumped with a guitar riff that caused me to hike a little faster. Just as I was feeling the weight of my pack the most, as the thoughts of the miles to come were becoming wrought with anxiety, I literally walked right through Funk Fest 2016.
Funk Fest was a definite celebration. While the festival attendees were celebrating funk music and the weekend, so was I, but in my mind I was more about celebrating the fact that I was nearly, or unofficially, at my halfway mark in the trail. Funk Fest stayed up late, and I did too, havin a great time talking to non-trail folk, meeting the bands, and just taking a moment to step off the trail and get a little more perspective on the world around me.
My stop in Belden and Funk Fest wasn’t a great physical recuperation, but it did the mind just right, and with a shower, shave (just kidding), and hearty breakfast, I was out the door and back on the trail with a renewed energy. From Belden, I continued down the trail to cover over 220 miles in nine days (which brings me here).
Throughout those nine days, and with the week that proceeded it, I passed through what many local California’s referred to as “God’s Country”, or “Big Foot Country” depending on who you asked. Either way, in areas like Desolation Wilderness (which was much more crowded then you would think), Las Plumas National Forest, Lassen Volcanic National Park and now, Castle Crags State Park, it’s been not only stunningly beautiful, but the terrain is also getting easier to navigate. Within the past two weeks, I have managed to pull down some big miles, including one 30-mile day that was spurred by a dwindling food bag and a cup o’ coffee or two (or three).
It’s a different chapter of my thru-hiking experience, hitting 25+ miles day after day, and trust me, the hardest part isn’t doing it once, it’s waking up and doing it again. But now, with these big miles underfoot, I can’t say that I’m smelling all the roses, that at times I’m not exactly “soaking it all in”, and it leads to the question and concern that I’ve shared with many other hikers who find themselves in situations like mine; what reason did I come out here in the first place?
While I’m still trying to find out the answer to that question exactly, I do know that at this moment in my trip, with both winter and Canada seemingly waiting my arrival, that at the end of each day, after the sun has set, when I hobble into my sleeping bag and begin my only elongated break from hiking, and my feet have the soreness of 25+ closer to my destination, it’s been the best sleep that I have ever gotten in my life.
Up ahead of me on trail is mile marker 1641, which will signify that I have less then a 1,000 miles to go, and just after that, at mile marker 1,690 is the Oregon border – marking my exit out of California after nearly four months of hanging out here. As for my mind, body and soul, I feel like a young man again standing atop a large hill with his wagon wheels pointed down. Big miles once again will be the name of the game, and with any luck I’m aiming for Canada in time. Thanks for the well-wishes, interest and support – it could not be done without you. Until next time,