PCT Day 81: Long, Strong, and Beautiful

July 8, 2022

Campsite near Little Jamison Creek at mile 1216 to Middle Fork of the Feather River at mile 1249.7

33.7 miles

My alarm goes off at 4:30. I groan. No, no, no. I’m cold and my sleeping bag is damp with condensation. I wish I’d gotten to camp earlier last night. I don’t know if I have a 30 in me. But I sit up, go through my litany of morning tasks, pack up, stretch, pop some Vitamin I, and take a deep breath. Right. It’s time to boogie. I’m a woman on a mission today. I am going to do the thing.

I’m noticing that it takes me longer to get moving in the morning now. For the first mile, my body creaks in protest. I give it gentle mental encouragements, take small steps, breathe. I don’t feel like listening to anything yet. My brain is kind of pleasantly empty this morning and I want to keep that rolling for as long as I can stand. There’s forest, then rocks, then ridges with mule’s ears, then more trees, downhill, uphill, and a huge down.

Flintstone passes me just after a sweeping vista out across the morning. “We got our first view of Shasta and Lassen,” he says excitedly. I totally didn’t notice either when I was at the viewpoint. Oops. But it’s unbelievable to me that we’re already so far north.

I still don’t know what these plants are, but I found them on one of today’s ridges and thought they were so cool.

I decide I’m ready for audio content about five miles into the day. I put on Anansi Boys and don’t stop until it’s finished. It’s the only Neil Gaiman book I hadn’t read until this point, and I don’t really know why. I think the synopsis never really interested me, but it didn’t take me long to get hooked on the story and now I’m really loving it. Props, Neil! Everything you write is utter magic.

I get water at a creek where I see Veto, Gumby, and another hiker whose name I didn’t catch. I chat with them for a bit and tell them that I’m trying to do 33.7 miles today to catch Jumbo and Tribute. “Jumbo and Tribute are ahead?” Veto asks incredulously. Apparently Nugget, a woman they’re hiking with, borrowed Tribute’s charging cord and then hung around in Sierra City thinking he’d be there because they saw me, but they didn’t know he and Jumbo had gone ahead. Oops. Hopefully they’ll meet up in Quincy for the return.

The miles before lunch are pleasant, rolling, and chill. I hike a little further, stop for another load of water at Whiskey Spring and chat with Flintsone while I’m there, then cruise some more, forest to ridge to top of hill to forest, rinse and repeat. I’m lost in the magical world of Neil Gaiman and breathing in the trees and feeling really good.

Lunch is a campsite by a dirt road covered in ants. I’ve gone 18 miles and it’s not even 1. I’m so pleased with my progress and how good I feel today. I eat a quick wrap, inhale some dried strawberries, and then get going again. I’m a little slow after lunch, but I have some instant coffee in my little bottle that gets me through the sleepy hours.

It’s more forest to ridge to views. At a dirt road, the trees thin out and I start to get very warm. I turn my phone off airplane mode and a flood of WhatsApp messages come in from Jumbo and Tribute. Sounds like they camped about ten miles ahead of me last night, but when I tell Tribute where I am, he responds that he’s only four and a half miles ahead. So it’s looking like I’ll catch them either tonight or tomorrow! It’s cool knowing that I can do this accordion thing if I want to: dip into a town, chill, take some time, and then pull a huge day. It’s the kind of hiking I would have loved to do on the AT but never felt like I could, so it’s nice to know I have this ability in my back pocket if I really want it.

I finish Anansi Boys with a pleasant sigh, then switch to music for a while. Then the burn area starts. This burn goes, on and off, for about 130 miles, and this is the start of it. It’s not consistent; sometimes there are sections of only blackened trees with crisp orangey needles, but then a live section pops up again. There are some really cool wildflowers I’ve never seen in these sections. One looks like an Easter lily, and there are these purple orchid-looking things everywhere.

I pass by a couple of hikers going southbound who stop and ask me about my hike and what my trail name is. Then they say they do a section of the trail at a time, and that they give trail magic to every NOBO they pass. I have a choice between a bag of chips, a Starbucks instant coffee, or three Werther’s caramels. This being the sleepy afternoon, and already having a caramel in my mouth, I opt for the Starbucks. On-trail trail magic! How exciting! I thank them and then continue on my merry way.

I stop for a minute by a rock when I remember that I forgot to dry out my quilt at lunch. I lay it out in the sun and sit down next to it in the shade while I eat a Protein Puck. I decide to start another round of listening to the audiobook of Good Omens, one of my all-time favorite books. This is probably my fourth time listening to it. It’s the best. I can recite most of the opening scene. It’s like comfort food, like a blanket and a cup of tea, like an old friend.

After about ten minutes my quilt is mostly dry. I stuff everything back in my bag and continue through the burn zone. It’s around 4:30, and I still have eight miles or so, but it’s all downhill. I continue with my audiobook for a while, and then the need for a cathole hits me. I sigh, annoyed. There’s hardly any cover, so I have to go all the way up a steep hill and then wrangle the very packed-in dirt. Then when I get back down to the trail, I realize I must have dropped my Kula cloth. UGH. I go back up the hill and comb the entire area, but I can’t find it. I come back down, trying to retrace my steps, but I can’t see it anywhere. So annoying. I lost one on the AT, too. I feel bad for whoever finds it, but I don’t know what else to do, and I need to keep moving. This eats up way too much time from my quickly fading daylight.

I switch to music. Any guesses? If you guessed Butterfly 3000 for the thousandth time, you’d be right. Congratulations. You’re really paying attention to what I write. This album just slaps. SLAPS. I listen to it all the way through, moving up and down in waves through the burn zone. Then the big downhill starts in earnest, and I switch to an old playlist, one that reminds me of Arizona and road trips and simple moments. The light is fading, everything is a soft purpley color, and I feel like being peaceful.

The Guthook comments made me scared of this downhill, but it’s really not bad. It’s a ton of switchbacks all the way down. I can hear the river from a couple of miles away. There are flowers everywhere and the sunset over the hills is so lovely. Soon I’m just about at the bottom, and the Middle Fork of the Feather River is roaring through the canyon. It’s astonishing. I follow the trail over a bridge perched high above the water. I can feel the wood and steel shaking gently and hear the current gushing below. I take a minute to breathe in this place. Can this trail get any more amazing?

I cross the bridge and then turn right towards the campsite. I don’t think I see the tent of anyone I recognize until I get closer. It’s a duplex, but that’s not the color of Jumbo’s duplex. But could it be Tribute? I get closer and see the telltale beard. “Rob!” I call out. (Secret’s out: we don’t really use each other’s trail names much in conversation, except for mine because I’ve had it since the AT.) He looks up as I get closer.

“Holy shit!” he exclaims. “You did it!”

I’m giddy when I get down to camp, babbling about my last couple of days and high on endorphins from this huge day of hiking. We compare our experiences from the past 48 hours, and I give him the little treat I got for him in Sierra City: a Payday bar and a packet of mayo from the Red Moose. It’s the little things.

“Where’s James?” I ask, looking around and realizing Jumbo isn’t there.

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since this morning,” Tribute replies.

“I bet he went to Bear Creek,” I say, thinking. “He’ll probably want to do that big climb first thing in the morning.”

I go down to the river and put my feet and legs in. They are atrocious, probably the dirtiest and most disgusting they’ve been on the entire trail. The ash in the burn zones just gets everywhere, and my legs are grey and caked in it. It feels so, so good when the water rushes over my tired feet. I use my bandana to scrub down my legs. It’s divine. I still smell like a dead thing, but at least my legs are clean.

Before my river bath…

Dinner is couscous with spices, dried apricots, and almond slices with chicken and olive oil. Thank you, past me. You did a great job on resupply boxes. I eat this in my Duplex, hiding out from mosquitoes, then drink a cup of tea (or part of a cup of tea, anyway. I accidentally spilled some in my tent first). I feel weirdly awake. Why am I not exhausted after a 33.7 mile day? I feel so thrilled and excited by what my body is capable of when I really put my mind to it. I even have some time to read the book I picked up in Sierra City. By the time I finish my tea and brush my teeth, it’s almost 10. I guess I should lay down and try to get to sleep.

Not long ago, the idea of trying to push big days was really stressful and frustrating to me. But now that I know I can do it, I’m excited to see what else I can achieve.

Town day tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “PCT Day 81: Long, Strong, and Beautiful

  1. And that photo of your legs reminds of the saying

    “You know you’re a thru-hiker when someone writes “wash me” in the dirt on your legs” ~Angelhair


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