More Foot Pain, Enjoying Lassen National Park and the Solar Eclipse with Nicole, Staying with Christians in Burney, Near-Bear Encounter, and Leaving the Trail.
More Foot Pain
Right below the outside of my ankle, a stabbing sensation would come whenever I put my foot down. I couldn’t really put pressure on it, it felt unlike any plantar fasciitis or twisted ankle pain I’ve had before. I couldn’t remember rolling it, I just woke up like this. Maybe it was all the running downhill that I had done in the last 80 miles with Mika. I was careful not to put much weight on it but I was walking downhill, which made it hard not to. I wondered at what point my injuries will become too painful to keep hiking. So far, everything just hurts enough not to stop. But I know from past experience that 75% is when I should stop. I had a couple days off-trail in Lassen to look forward to, so that was my motivation to keep going that morning. Only 12 miles to go.
Lassen National Park
I met Nicole at Drakesbad Guest Ranch where I showered, ate a delicious gourmet buffet lunch, and a lovely care package from my cousin LuAnne, which even included much needed toothpaste. Nicole and I took advantage of their nice hotsprings-fed swimming pool before heading back on the trail. We then did a “short” 12-Mile overnight hike up to Summit Lake to watch the eclipse the next morning. My foot still hurt, but it wasn’t excruciating. Luckily we found a family with extra viewing glasses and were able to enjoy the awesome umbras during totality. It was such a special experience – watching everything get dark and cold, and bright and warm again within an hour. Nicole and I also had a chance to connect over nature, meditation, share our learnings around self-work and relationships, and explore business ideas and strategies, all in between lake swims and naps.
In just 3 days, Nicole was able to gain some unique experiences that are typical of thru-hiking: a creek crossing, mid-afternoon thrunderstorms, lake swims, hitch-hiking, and even some trail magic. We hitched back to the car where she had a cooler full of goodies: yogurt, broccoli salad, soda, homemade asparagus casserole with saffron rice and mushrooms. But when she tried to start the car, the battery had died. I ran down the street to another couple who was packing up to leave and asked for a jump and they were very willing to help. Nicole and I explored Lassen by car a bit with a short day hike to Cold Boiling Lake and picnic at Hat Creek. Then I took a trail in the Devastated Area and hiked 4 miles back to the PCT. At times the trail felt like it had been neglected for the last 5 years since the Reading Fire in 2012. It was overgrown with so many fallen trees that it was difficult to walk through or navigate. I scratched my shins up pretty badly crawling up and over the branches at times. The burn area was great for black and white pictures through.
Trail Magic in Burney
As I approached Hat Creek Rim at 4pm, still 12 miles to water cache 22, it started raining, followed by thunder and lightning. I asked a couple stopped at the trailhead parking lot if they were going to Burney and they said no, they were going the opposite way to Susanville. Then I asked the only other car in the trailhead parking lot, a man and his son if they were headed to Burney and they said no but that they would be willing to drop me off back at Old Station and I could get another hitch from there. As we got to know one another in the car, they decided to drop me off at Burney anyway, even though it was out of their way. Maybe they had a change of heart after getting to know me better.
Guthooks mentioned the Word of Life Church having a free shower and great trail magic so I asked them to drop me off there so that I could stay in town to pick up my package in the morning. When I arrived at the church at 5pm, I was greeted by a woman named Kathy who said that she was closing up in a few minutes but that I could use the restroom and peruse the hiker box. The church was super spacious and clean and the hiker box was, to my surprise, large tables full of useful items like ramen, granola, oatmeal, and snack bars. I stocked up! When I was about to leave, I asked Kathy if she knew of any cheap places to stay or camp in town, and when she couldn’t think of any, she paused and I could see the wheels turning in her head about something. She smiled, and with what seemed to be some apprehension, offered me a night at her house instead. I was astonished at this warm gesture, and felt so fortunate because she said she had never hosted a hiker before.
Then she asked if I liked salmon. My eye widened in excitement. She said she was planning on making it for dinner, and my heart melted. I love salmon! She also had plans to go for a walk with her friend Sarah after work who was preparing for her own backpacking trip to Lassen, and asked if I’d like to join. I said, of course, I’d love to! I hadn’t hiked more than 10 miles that day so I was feeling pretty good about some bonus miles without my pack. Sarah picked my brain about ultralight backpacking gear pretty much the entire time and I was happy to share my research and experiences. We went back to the house and I conducted my first shake-down, and ended up trading out her sleeping bag, which was too big and heavy, for mine, which was at least a pound lighter, and suitable for what she would need in Lassen. I was about to get a new sleeping bag the next morning at the post office anyway, so I was glad to be able to offer some trail magic of my own.
When we sat down for dinner, Jim led us in saying grace. It had been the first time I said grace in probably 20 years since I stopped going to church, but it felt wonderful and appropriate with this group of people. We connected over the delicious food and lost track of time chatting late into the night. There indeed was a lightning storm that night, and I could only imagine how scary it would have been for me to be stuck camping out there in the exposed dry woods.
Kathy and her husband Jim turned out to be some of the most welcoming and open Christians I’ve ever met. I felt safe enough to be open about my sexuality, and talked about my girlfriend Amy freely without feeling judged. They even invited us to come back to stay with them in the winter for some skiing at Mt Shasta!
In the morning I was spoiled with fresh eggs from their backyard chickens and blueberry buttermilk pancakes from scratch. Then they took me to the store and post office before driving me back to the trail. I’m so glad they took a leap of faith with me, having never hosted a hiker in the past, I’m sure it felt risky to have a stranger in their house. I think mutually positive experiences like this, especially amongst people who you would not expect to have similar ideologies, builds trust and restores a little faith in humanity for all of us.
Back on Trail to Dunsmir
At midnight, I was woken up by loud sniffing/breathing/grunting sounds that went on for an hour. I tried to see what it was with my head lamp, but it was hidden in the trees so I couldn’t make out what it was. I was in my tent, frozen with fear. Since bear canisters were no longer required, I had been sleeping with my food in a plastic Loksak under my feet. Could it really be a bear? They have been seen frequently in this area according to Guthooks. It was also stumbling around like one, unlike deer, which are more light-footed. After making what sounded like a large circle around my camp, the noises faded, and I fell back sleep. The whole next day I was so tired and paranoid looking for bears.
Leaving the Trail
After a week of reducing my mileage down to 15-miles/day, stretching morning and evening, my left foot was still hurting. I was only 50 miles out of Burney and had another 3 days before the next town, so I was torn about how to proceed. I posted on the PCT Trail Angel’s Facebook page asking for a place to rest and assess my foot in the Dunsmir area, but no response. My options for going further north were becoming fewer due to the new fires popping up in Oregon. Even if I decided to keep going north, I would have had to skip the section from Etna to Ashland, which was my final destination anyway. I spoke to some south-bounders who said the smoke in the Crater Lake area was horrific. There were people who said that even in Etna the smoke was getting pretty bad. I felt like there were no good options for me to get to Ashland.
I thought about just going home and resting for 3 weeks before heading back to finish the Sierras section with Amy, but 3 weeks seemed like a long time to be off-trail. I wasn’t quite ready to stop hiking yet completely. I had to think fast because I was approaching McCloud River, which was the only viable option to get off-trail before the next town via a trail head. I had service, so I contacted Kathy, from Burney. She said that she would be happy to pick me up and take me to Dunsmir to figure out my next steps.
The next morning, I asked some campers who were heading back out to town if they would be willing to give me a ride, and they were more than happy to. Being from Berkeley as well, they were happy to, and we shared stories of Berkeley life on the way.
In Dunsmir, I was able to charge my phone and get in touch with my friend Austin who was organizing a backpacking trip to Evolution Valley, a 5-day, 57 mile loop in the Inyo National Forest overlapping 26 miles with the PCT. I asked if there was still space to join the group and he said yes, and that they would love to have me! I would need to leave from San Francisco in 3 days. I was renewed with excitement about being able to hike with good friends for a change, at a slower pace, and even with a few days in between to rest my foot.
Later that day, I reunited with Kathy and Jim again, who drove up to meet me for lunch at Yak’s, their favorite burger joint in town. When I told them about my new plans, they offered to drive me to the Greyhound station in Redding, an hour away, so that I could get home sooner that evening. I couldn’t believe the kindness and generosity that these people showed me. It was so serendipitous that I had just met them a week before and now they were treating me like family. So just like that, 3 months later, my NOBO journey on the PCT was over. I still had 15 days of hiking in the Sierras to look forward to, but Dunsmir was as far north as I would get this year. It was a bittersweet end to the trail for me, but I accepted it given the circumstances and was grateful for all the transformative experiences I’ve had the pleasure to walk through.
This isn’t goodbye, just the beginning of another adventure.