Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day 91 (8/16) Moving Quick (Or At Least Trying To)

After my late night yesterday I had no desire for an early morning today. Nonetheless, I forced myself to get up and moving because time was of the essence. I still had another 55 miles to go, and I needed to finish by tomorrow evening. Not unreachable, but definitely moving faster than the last few days. The first thing I noticed was that the pain in my foot had not abated overnight, and it was only by walking gingerly that I could avoid a return of the piercing sensation in my sole. Progress was slower that I would’ve liked, but I pushed myself ahead of a 2.5 mph pace, which was more than enough to get me to the finish line in time for the train.

Gorgeous lake with Mt. Shasta
I spent less time today admiring the scenery than I would’ve liked, as I was busy keeping a watchful eye on the ground underfoot, deftly avoiding stepping on anything that might cause discomfort. A couple hours into the morning I ran into a pair of gentlemen who were happy to chat for a bit. I was happy to rest my feet, so I was more than willing to chat as well. We got to talking about my experiences earlier on the trail and how I had been injured in the Sierras. A funny expression came over John’s face as he exclaimed “I’ve read about you on the PCT-L!”. For those who aren’t familiar, this is the listserv for any PCT related discussions, and apparently someone had heard my story and relayed it in this online forum. What a small world. I promised I’d try to dig up that post to add my own two cents to the story of my experience out there. After bidding them farewell, I very soon ran into Crasher and her parents who had joined her for a short section on the trail. She’s one of the few solo women I’ve met out here, and I don’t really understand why that isn’t more common. I’m familiar with family concerns about safety and so forth, but once you get out here its easy enough to pair up with other people during the sketchy sections while still maintaining an independent hiking pace and style. I think it would drive me crazy to be tied to a hiker partner for the whole trip like some people are. Just another 20 minutes down the trail I ran into ANOTHER set of hikers, and I was starting to think I was coming up on a pretty sizable pack. I only chatted with these two for a short while as I was feeling an urge to start making miles and though I enjoy talking, I could feel the clock ticking in the back of my mind.

Positive ID!
Well, as it was, I would only make it 10 feet down the trail after saying goodbye to this pair before I knew I was in for a long break. Up ahead on the trail there was none other than Positive ID, still wearing that same orange soccer jersey with the company logo ‘Bimbo’ on the front. He’s lucky that didn’t become his trail name! It was a happy reunion, and we shared stories of everything that had happened since we parted way back at Kearsarge Pass. He had taken a week off to visit friends in San Francisco, so he had dropped behind many of the people who were with us at Independence. Nonetheless, over the next month he steadily progressed northward and caught up to every single one of them except for Drop Dead who I had seen a few days prior. Pretty impressive if you ask me. I’m awed by the fact that in the early parts of my trip I spent a good amount of time hiking with two guys (Noah and Positive ID) who have been able to consistently power through the miles and keep up a backbreaking pace for three months straight - a pace that sidelined me for a few weeks when my body decided enough was enough! It was really amazing to get to see him one last time, and I wished him the best on the last 1,000 miles of his trek. Watching him hike away really made it sink in that this was the end of my journey; I was coming down to the final day, and boy what a ride it had been. A crazy mix of emotions bubbled up inside me, as my mind raced to replay a highlight reel of my experiences out here. I was overcome with the magnitude of what I’ve done so far, and the magnitude of what I’ll be leaving unfinished.

The rest of the day moved on as a blur as I charged ahead, trying my best to make up time and close the distance to Castella where I could finally stop, finally rest, finally call it quits. Somewhere in the next few hours I started limping as my foot became raw again and the rocks underfoot continued to mercilessly wear away at the practically unprotected flesh. I’d been counting on solid progress all day, but at 4pm I had only covered 16 miles when I reached a remote trailhead. My trail maps don’t make note of any towns down the road, and it wasn’t even listed in the guidebook, so I wasn’t expecting it too be much. But, at this point I was facing a harsh reality - my feet were no longer in decent walking condition. In normal circumstances I would’ve stopped days ago to soak and rest them, giving them a chance to recover and heal properly. But I’d booked my travel already, and that put me in a bind. Slowing down would’ve helped my feet heal and let me walk faster, but I didn’t want to lose the time needed for rest. Well, that series of decisions left me here, 39 miles from my train, with just about 28 hours to get there. For once my extreme optimism in my abilities was tempered by a sobering dose of reality. I might be able to make it, but I’d have to hike through most of the night, and it would absolutely destroy my feet. As much as a macho part of me wanted to just stand back up and push onward, logic prevailed. I started laying out my options. This was the last road before Castella, so if I wanted to bail, this was the time. There was a parking lot with a few cars, but who knows when they would be back. I decided to give it an hour as I ate some food and elevated my poor feet. Only 15 minutes later a car drove up, and I went over to talk to the driver after he parked. He was going backpacking out here for a few days, and was quite helpful. He showed me the road map of where this road led, and which towns were nearby. He also mentioned there was good cell service just down the hill. I began formulating a plan. It was 10 miles down the road to town, and then another 30 to Dunsmuir where I would catch my train. If I hiked partway down tonight I could get to town in the morning, then either hitch or find a bus or taxi to get me to the train station. I put in a call home to my Dad and discussed the plan, and he agreed that this was the most sensible idea. Part of me just wanted to make sure that I was acting rationally and wasn’t missing anything as I decided to deviate from the original plan. I was surprisingly unconcerned about missing those last 39 miles into Castella. Sure, I’d wanted to visit Castle Crags state park, and hit my official 1332 mile midpoint of the trail. A certain calm had settled over me, and as I started walking down the road, I was actually smiling about the situation. Well, my smile turned into a full, uncontrollable grin less than two miles later when a sedan pulled alongside me and offered me a ride. Not just that, but she was going all the way to Mt. Shasta, which was 10 miles from Dunsmuir, and had a bus that ran there every hour. It was so perfect I could’ve cried.

I talked to my impromptu trail angel for the whole ride, and it was cool to hear her story. She hadn’t done much hiking ever since spending a few years as a backcountry forest ranger during her 20’s, but had just recently decided to try it out again. She said my story inspired her to stick with it and make this a greater priority in her life. Then, she wouldn’t even take any cash for the ride, and I was totally floored that someone would drive me nearly 30 miles just out of the goodness of her heart. What a perfect experience to end this magical trip. She dropped me right at the main hotel in Mt Shasta, and gave me directions to the bus stop and convenience store before heading on her way. Wow, I just couldn’t believe how well that had turned out. Just two hours ago I had been weighing my options at the trail, and somehow in that time I had been speedily whisked away off the trail and into the comfort of city life.

The original Black Bear diner with Mt. Shasta
Of course, every fairy tale has a few rough spots. In this case, it was the fact that for some reason this hotel, and the rest of the downtown hotels were fully booked on a Tuesday evening. I ended up walking a full mile out to a hotel with one room left - a massive queen suite that was more luxury than I’ve seen in years. The lady at the desk was super nice and gave me a pretty reasonable rate considering how nice the room was and the fact that I had almost no other choice for lodging. My first priority was a shower, followed by another shower, and then dinner. I walked back a ways to the Black Bear Diner, where I ordered a massive Tri-Tip dinner, a salad, and a malt, and proceeded to make each one of them disappear. Finally feeling satisfied I made my way back to the hotel where I indulged in a little bit of TV, watching a couple episodes of Top Shot before collapsing into the all too plush queen bed. After months of sleeping on a thin foam pad, or occasionally a cot or cheap bed, this was beyond anything I could have dreamed of. My body didn’t know how to react, and I struggled to fall asleep. For a moment I was tempted to pull out my mat and sleep on the floor, but that seemed like an awful waste of a fantastic hotel room. In the end I did drift away to sleep, thankful that for the first time since May 18th there were no more miles to walk tomorrow.

Miles Today: 16 (+3)
Trip Mileage: 1318
PCT Mile Marker: 1545

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