Day Five: 22.8 miles/9hrs
Up at 4am to the alarming sound of rain falling. Rain? Rain !! In a panic I retrieve dirty clothes from various open-air hanging perches, stake out the vestibules that were set wide-open for maximum air flow the previous night, get everything under their protective cover when it promptly stops raining. A friendly warning from the wet-weather gods. I’ll take it.
Decide to get up and within an hour am packed up and walking into the darkness.
Feel good so I walk and walk and walk some more into the 3.5 hour zone which seems like a lot because all I’ve consumed is a coffee with butter and full-fat powdered milk. That’s the challenge everyday: how far can I walk before eating my granola and rehydrated powerdered milk before eating. The reason? So the ‘breakfast’ can see me into many more hours of walking and finally snacking but not having a meal until the day is done and camp is set and I’m ravenous hungry almost chewing my arm out in response to a rumbling stomach. Okay not quite that bad but what you eat is what you carry and the little challenge each and every day is making the weight of that food last and fuel the miles. Many hikers eat dinner then walk some more but I like camping too much to do that quite yet. Which may change but right now this rhythm is finding its groove and it feels just right.
When I finally do stop it’s in plain and close view of the Sierra Buttes. That little jagged range that seemed so far days before was now close enough to touch.
I walk on after my little breakfast and see more and more people as I approach the trail climbing up to the Buttes. It’s always the same at popular and easily accessible not to mention beautiful trailheads more and more folks and there I am smelly with my little pack, looking closely for the fork in the trail road when I leave all these ppl and continue south on the PCT. How I walk right past this junction and start climbing up up up to the watchtower on top of Sierra Buttes is beyond comprehension but I do.
More embarrassingly I only realize this when an older man asks ‘so you’re taking the tower side trail but you’re on the PCT?’
My pride prevails and after I finally turn around after checking my app to see where the hell I am, and pass him again I mutter ‘decided it was too far up after all’. No need to metion I screwed up haha.
He’s behind me when I miss the junction AGAIN and yells out ‘hey Canada, the trails that way if you want the PCT’. I have to laugh.
Then the rain. The rain. I put my rain jacket on and walk, down down down all the way down to the highway to Sierra City. It’s a mile and a half to the little tiny not-even-a-town so why not just walk. Which I do for a few hundred meters when an SUV pulls up slows down and says through the u rolled window ‘want a ride to town?’. I happily oblige and meet Cesario. He’s from Mexico and is stoked when I speak my meager Spanish and proudly tell him where my Mother and Father and law are from in his home nation. He grins at me and asks ‘Tienes niños???’ I tell him no but we have bikes and backpacks. He just laughs and makes me feel so good as a human being. ‘No problema’ that I stink, he says, he always gives the hikers a ride.
Cesario leaves me at the General Store scene of NOBO’s and section hikers strewn about on benches, buying beer and eating copious amounts of food. And here I thought I was trail dirty. It’s a good vibe and though I don’t fit in, I’m happy to see it. People of all ages and shapes and sizes trying to continue the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mode of continuing what they started. Many have braved the snowy Sierra and don’t seem to want to leave. By what I know of the trail they are all the tail end of the Northbounders, no longer in the bubble of the masses who will most likely ‘make it’, whatever that means. I buy some beers and offer the extras to some of the guys. I’m a lightweight and why not share.
I see Pooh Bear, a SOBO thru-hiker I met near Chester. She’s 57 and has great energy. I meet Topo who’s probably ten years older than her who’s section hiking and like her, too.
I eat a massive 1/2 lb burger which seems small considering there’s a full pounder on the menu, beer, fries, stuff it all into my mouth and almost forget to chew. I swear the trail turns one into a cave person or what I imagine that archaic form of human to be. Feast or famine, I guess. When nobody’s around why not go prehistoric and hoover anything with flavour?!?
I’m in front of the store when an annoyed NOBO sits beside me and acts annoyed. A section hiker named G-Man stops and chats. He’s going for a nice meal down the road and for some reason annoyed girl (who’s actually Quoi, a French-Canadian hiker I come to like) and I tag along. I’ve already eaten but why not eat again. Why not?!?
Quoi talks SO LOUD like many of my French Canadian friend do when they speak English. It makes me smile because I love this culture and the people I came to love when living in the Easern Townships. Everyone in the restaurant (one other table) joins in our conversation and the food is so good. G-Man is right wing but sort of interesting, although it’s a little creepy how animated he gets when talking about making ‘bear carnitas with all the grease and grizzle’ in a big cast iron pot. He’s a hunter so I get tips of bears and cougars that I dot quite believe.
Quoi has just graduated with a degree in addiction therapy. She works with many who will never get off drugs and alcohol and other addictions, instead using the reality that if a person can ‘use’ more responsibly (like after work not before a shift) that encouraging a better approach to substance abuse is perhaps more apt to have a person functioning than cold turkey quitting which is impossible for most. It’s all very interesting so I ask her how she thinks hiking would be for someone who struggles. ‘Depends on the person. For some this would be the worst possible scenario. It’s feast or famine and an environment that normalizes binges (on food/alcohol/drugs/etc) when you hit the towns. The towns would be dangerous for a user and they would be in a very dangerous situation out on the trail if they used and OD’d.’
This fascinated me because I always thought the pursuit of something like a long distance hike would be good for most. What she said made so much sense. I have so much to learn.
Now I lay in the hotel room beside the apparently best breakfast joint in town, feet tired, spirit happy, well past ‘hiker midnight’ at 10pm (9pm feels like ‘midnight on the trail and 9am feels like noon!!), clothes hand-washed with soap and shampoo rung out in the towel I used after my shower drying in front of the fan, thinking about the possibility of a zero (day off) ultimately deciding I don’t need nor want one yet, not here not now. Not yet.