July 16, 2022
Campsite at mile 1384.7 to Burney at mile ~1411.3
The good news is that today is flat all the way to Burney. The bad news is that it’s very, very hot.
A few days ago, we were having a conversation about how to describe hot days. I recalled a phrase from my AT tramily member KG that cracked me up: “It’s hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock.” Not to be outdone, Jumbo came up with his own: “It’s hotter than a donkey eating a spicy carrot.” Personally, I think the rats are much more evocative of the particular brand of heat we’ve been experiencing, but to each their own.
No matter how you describe it, it’s been rough recently, and today is no exception. We leave camp at a decent time, not long after 6, and we stick together for the first seven miles to the water cache. On the way we pass through a little gathering of cows that is slightly too close to the trail for my comfort. But also, there are calves and they’re so cute! Hello, cows. Not long after the moo boys there’s a very nice trail register, which we sign and peruse to see if there’s anyone we know. It looks like Stinger, Spice, Mouse, and Fits are ahead of us now. Guess they started moving after Chester!
We make it to the water cache in pretty good time, not much over two hours. This particular cache has the most amazing name: Cache 22. Come on. Five Passport stars for punnage. When we get to the road, we see a pickup truck and a half-circle of folding chairs. It’s trail magic! 8 Bucks is there when we arrive, and after we’re handed our cold beverages, we sit with her and chat for a while. Then we get water from the cache and continue along the hot, dusty trail.
It’s pretty miserable for the next few hours. The trail is essentially a ridge in full sunlight. The one nice thing about it is that you can see Shasta in the distance, but apart from this, it’s just hot and sunny and dry. We eat lunch on a slope by the side of the trail, and because I’m bracing myself against gravity, it doesn’t feel like much of a rest. After lunch Tribute goes ahead and I walk with Jumbo, who slowly but surely starts going quiet and slowing down. This is what he calls “wilting,” which happens basically whenever it’s over a nice 70 degrees. I try talking to him, but he barely responds so I shut up for a while.
We pass a few hikers going southbound, and as they’re going past us one of them says, “Enjoy the trail magic!” This perks us up. Trail magic? Again? Where? I check Guthook and see that there are a few road crossings coming up. We pass a dirt road, then another, then come near a paved road, but still don’t see anything. Jumbo is apparently inches from expiration now. He goes to stand under the shade for a minute, where we notice some pinecones arranged in a 1400 formation. Woo! Apparently we’ve hiker 1400 miles! But there’s no leftover energy for celebrating right now. After a minute or two, we start moving again.
We pass a few partially full gallon jugs of water by the side of the trail. For a moment, my heart sinks. Is this the trail magic? Well, it’s better than nothing because I’m running very low on water. I fill up part of a liter, and Jumbo follows suit. Then we hear voices and walk uphill and around a corner. There’s the magic. It’s an awning set up over a circle of chairs. I see a container of sliced watermelon and people drinking sodas. Oh my god.
It turns out that the trail angels are Chris and her daughter Nikki, and they spend their summers doing trail magic in various spots in this area. They sit us down and offer us cold drinks. The Sprite they hand me is divine, as is the cold, sweet watermelon that drips down my hands as I eat it. I’m honestly almost proud of myself for not crying. It’s such a relief to be out of the sun and eating sugary cold things. They also fill up our water bottles for us, then they pour out water from the coolers all over our heads. It’s incredible, and it’s hard to pull myself away from it. But we still have miles to do and town to get to, so we thank them, give them hugs, and start back up again.
I walk slowly with Jumbo to the next water source. As we make our way across a plain strewn with soft flowing grass, he describes the state he was in before trail magic as a “donkey husk.” Thus, another Jumbo character is born: Donkey Husk is a dry corpse of a donkey lying on the side of the trail holding a half-inflated balloon that reads, “Get Well Soon.” This stage is one beyond Punished Jimmy, and both happen in extreme heat (again, read: over 70 degrees Fahrenheit). I’m cracking up listening to this. I decide to add it to our notes page that describes our tramily lore.
At the creek we talk to the friendly and incredibly named Puke n’ Rally. Turns out that she’s just really good at getting back on her feet after throwing up. You have to respect that. We get water, dunk our shirts and hats, and keep moving. Jumbo and I get sidetracked by a Guthook comment describing a privy near a lake, so we detour to said stop, then continue up a hill, across the flat top of it by some power lines, then down towards the road where Tribute is waiting. Jumbo collapses and declares that he is not hitching. So I pull myself up and go stand in my stupid cute skirt by the road and stick my thumb out. Only a few cars go by, but the third one stops. It’s a super nice woman who’s coming back from a camping trip. She clears out the back of her car for us and drops us off at Word of Life, the church in Burney where hikers can stay for free.
For days, Jumbo and Tribute have been talking about this church and what it will be like. You can tell from their questions that they are not people who go to church. “Will it be made of wood?” “Where will we sleep? Will they kick us out in the morning?” I explain that yes, some churches in America are made of wood, but there are churches made of bricks, too, and it’s probably pretty likely that they have more rooms or buildings than the sanctuary and that we will have our own space.
It turns out to be a super nice place, and it reminds me of the many church stays we had on the AT. A man named John (I think) checks us in, scans our IDs, and writes down our trail names underneath each ID photocopy. Then we each put a pin in the map to show where we’re from, and we get a rundown of house rules. After that we make a beeline to McDonald’s because we’re starving. The lobby is closed, so we end up sitting in the parking lot with our dirty legs shoving fake chicken into our gullets. It’s amazing.
After that we go to the bowling alley across the street for a beer and then return to the church, where we shower (holy crap, amazing shower!) and put on clean loaner clothes. Tomorrow we’ll do laundry. For now, it’s time to sleep on the carpeted floor of this large room that serves as a gym. I feel clean and happy and taken care of. Good night!