July 9, 2022
Middle Fork of the Feather River at mile 1249.7 to Quincy via Bucks Lake Road at mile 1267.9
Oh, dear God. Everything hurts. I didn’t sleep well. It was really warm and I was too hot in my quilt. I tossed and turned all night. Now I feel yesterday in my joints and feet and leg muscles, and even in my back and all the unmentionable places that are chafing. 18.2 today? That’s what I did before lunch yesterday, but the thought is still exhausting. I snooze the alarm for almost an hour before I finally pull myself together and start moving.
“Don’t do it, Passport!” Tribute hisses when he hears me moving.
“You’re already packed up!” I accuse, seeing his pack outside his tent.
“Yeah, but I’m going to sit here and have my coffee, so take your time.”
I make a peanut butter and orange marmalade wrap and a cup of coffee, because the thought of doing this morning sans caffeine is incredibly painful. Then I slowly pack everything up and get ready to move. Tribute heads out a little before me, then I pop some ibuprofen, stretch, and start moving.
It’s uphill for about a mile. It takes me a long time to warm up, but I don’t feel too bad, all things considered. Soon it’s a downhill, and after an hour I’m at Bear Creek. I don’t see Jumbo or anyone else, but it is pretty late, I guess. I know it’s a long uphill from here, and from what Andy told me when we were texting the other day, it’s not a fun one. I take a deep breath and start up the hill.
After about a mile I come across a water source where Cookie and Goldfish are hanging out. I grab some water, chat with Cookie about our respective Sierra City experiences, and then continue up. It’s really not that bad so far. There are some steep sections, but it’s not as rocky or terrible as I was expecting. I do some Good Omens for a while, then, slowing down and wanting some speed, switch to music. But it’s a running playlist day. Lizzo and Katy Perry. Don’t at me.
At the top of the hill, after about three hours, there’s another spring. Cookie, Goldfish, and another hiker named Cali are there. I spot a red AT tag on Cali’s bag. “Did you hike the AT in 2019?” I ask.
“Yeah! Well, half of it.”
“I hiked in ‘19, too!”
I hike with Cali for a bit after that, talking about our AT experiences. She was hiking with a guy named Lucky Strike, who got his name because he got struck by lightning. As a result, she’s very careful about thunderstorms, which probably isn’t a bad thing. We stop at a bin full of books, but none of them interest me much. I do sign the logbook inside it, though. A deer ambles through the trees not far from us, completely unbothered.
I part with Cali and start hiking alone for a while. I turn off my airplane mode and have service. Jumbo and Tribute have both texted asking where I am, so I reply. Sounds like I’m pretty close to them, but Tribute must have been feeling great because he’s a couple of miles ahead even though he didn’t start much before me.
I kick it into zoomy mode now that the climbing is done, doing math in my head. If they’re three miles ahead, that’s about an hour they’ll have to wait for me. I know they’ll wait at the road, but I still have this primal fear of being left alone to hitchhike. I reenter a forested zone and then all of a sudden, there’s a green backpack with an orange foam mat at the base and a purple R1 strapped to the top, and above it, a shock of stringy fake-blond hair. I gasp and Jumbo turns around.
“Hey!” he says, beaming. I clamber over the log he’s sitting on, and he gives me a hug. I present him with the dark chocolate Milky Way and two packets of malt vinegar from Sierra City.
“I couldn’t bring you fish and chips,” I say, “but I can bring you some malt vinegar.”
He laughs. We start babbling about our last two days, and I brag insufferably about my 33.7 miles. Tribute is there, too. Once they got my message, they realized I wasn’t far behind and decided to sit and wait. It was good to have some space, but it also feels good to have the band back together.
We walk together for the next seven miles. I don’t know how seven miles feels impossible after 33.7, but it does. It’s hot, there aren’t a lot of views, and it feels like we’ll never get to the road. But there are also really pretty lilies. And I force Jumbo to play Green Glass Door with me. We call a trail angel in Quincy and confirm that we can stay with her tonight. And then, after a couple of hours, we’re at the road.
We aren’t optimistic about hitching because we haven’t had much luck before. But this time, Jumbo and I stand at the road and a car instantly pulls over. It’s a very chill family on their way back to Quincy. Jumbo sits in the back and instantly falls asleep on my pack. Tribute and I sit in the back seat next to the couple’s young son, who is not happy about us being in the car. I understand. We’re creepy and we stink.
We get dropped off in the middle of town, which is a super cute Main Street. We end up at the brewery, Quintopia, for lunch. I order a Mediterranean beef pita wrap and a basket of bacon blue cheese fries and drink two pints, which puts me over the moon. Then Veto, Gumby, and Nugget come in and join us. Tribute gets his cord back from Nugget. Sorted! A local woman named Bette comes up to us and says that she’s so happy to see hikers again after the past two years. She’s the sweetest, and we talk to her for a while. This town, man! It’s so friendly so far.
Tribute, Jumbo, and I amble to the Rite-Aid, where Tribute gets some insoles in a Hail Mary move to make his feet stop hurting. Then Debra, the trail angel, picks us up and takes us to her house. She is so chill. She has laundry clothes laid out for us, and she makes us feel so at home. In the shower I scrub off nine days of disgustingness and then put on clean, comfy loaner clothes that feel so good compared to my nasty hiking clothes. Then she makes us a pasta dinner, which we eat while watching the Tour de France. Debra is very excited about the Tour de France. She tells us about how it works and who the cyclists are. I have a cup of tea and then cuddle up into the couch with Turbo, one of Debra’s three very friendly dogs.
We start watching an episode of The Office, but we don’t make it very long before falling asleep. I am the coziest person in the universe. I am clean and I am surrounded by puppies and tea and love and friends and I am not sleeping inside a dirty plastic bag tonight.