The Red Eye
The overnight bus from Portland gets into Redding around 5am. I had very low expectations, so in a relative sense feel rested from my few hours of sleep. After a resupply at the 24-hour grocery store, an early morning diner breakfast and getting kicked off of a patch of grass where we were taking a nap, we get on a 10am bus to Burney. At Burney, a trail angel shuttles us to Old Station and we are back to the spot where we headed north back in June.
It’s August 7th, and today Head Start and I are heading south. We are ahead of the true SOBOs, and anyone going NOBO at the moment will need to hustle if they’re going to reach Canada by October 1st. It’s a stark contrast to hiking in a bubble for most of the journey; now there are many days where we hardly see a soul.
We walk through several burn zones, and the solitude and landscape pair nicely.
The quiet of the burn
It’s business as usual up to and past the town of Chester. We manage predictable 25-mile days. One evening, with six miles to our planned camp, Head Start pulls up short with an injury. It’s an old IT band issue that has caused problems in the past while running, but never from walking. She was worried about it before starting the trek, but thankfully has remained healthy throughout these nearly 2000 miles.
On this first night, it’s so painful that we have to stop and make camp right then and there. We mentally prepare for the prospect of taking a full trail zero tomorrow. In the morning, Head Start is reluctant to stand up for fear of what she will be faced with. When she does finally test it out, we are much relieved to find that she can walk.
With cautious confidence the journey continues. But fifteen miles into the day, the pain comes back.
Over the next week, our daily miles are limited by breaks for stretching and upper bounds to how far we can realistically go.
Apart From That
There are some lovely towns and stops in this stretch. We have the pleasure of lunching in Chester and taking a night off in Quincy. Trail Angels continue to be amazing, with one in Quincy even offering to do our laundry while we resupply and eat dinner. There are rides to and from trail and soda handouts along the side of the road.
In Truckee, Head Start’s family rents a cabin and takes us in for the weekend. Meals, games, good cheer and unparalleled relaxation abounds. For the first time on the trek, I give myself two days of no chores and just enjoy the company of these wonderful people.
Nice to meet you too!
I reflect on the Angels that have made this whole journey possible. From surprise trail magic that lifts my spirits to townward rides that would otherwise be too far to manage and everything in between, I am so grateful to all those who have contributed to this experience.
As we set back out southward through the Sierra to Bishop, these positive vibes will help propel us through struggles.
SNOBOs Come to California Again
If you’ve been following along this year, you’ll know that there were many versions of NOBO travel after Kennedy Meadows. Some hikers went all the way through continuously, some skipped ahead to avoid the snow, and some like us did a little of both. Head Start and I hadn’t heard of anyone else doing an itinerary like ours, so expected to be mostly alone for a month here in California.
Many SNOBOs planned to walk all the way to Canada before returning to California. We decided to save the last of Washington for the end, so that we could finish at the border. Thus, we are here and separated by a thousand miles from all other hikers we know.
As it turns out, two fires around Stehekin close the trail in mid-August, so we have friends returning to California early. Perhaps our route will be the needle-threader after all! We–and everyone else coming to California now–hope that those Washington closures will lift in a month.
Wildfires are sad, but necessary, but also a complicated discussion for another time. Setting that aside, in this context I am at least happy that this may mean we see our friends on trail again. Maybe we will even finish together at the border with some of them.
We had resigned ourselves to knowing that this last divergence would make the trail end differently. These fiery curveballs give us hope for some reunions.
Head Start and I walk south toward Yosemite and the Sierra. Friends are already setting out south today from Burney, Chester and the like. With our lower knee-injury-affected miles, they may catch up in the next couple hundred miles or so. Will we be traveling north together to finish the trail in September?
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