July 22nd, Tuesday
1382 to 1409
I woke up the next morning to feel a cool breeze over my face, and sat up to see the tip of the sun spilling light across the flatlands to my right. I stepped outside the tent and looked out, over Hat Creek Rim to the mountains beyond, bathed in golden light and shadow. It was going to be a good day.
Zach got up and we packed up in record time, hitting the trail by 6:30. As we began walking, I looked far in the distance to the north, and glimpsed a massive snow-covered mountain. I stared at it, rapt, as clouds the same shape as the peak closed in and shrouded it again. I had gotten my first sight of Mount Shasta.
We sped along the path with easy strides, still waiting for it to turn into lava beneath our feet. But it never did. The weather was mild all morning and the sun, while hot as it gained the sky, never felt too deathly. And as we walked along the perfectly-flat trail we enjoyed dramatic views of the rim to our left and the flatlands to our right.
We paused at an old lookout station and found a cache of water, although we only topped off our bottles. Several miles later, when we were a bit sweaty from hiking so long in the sun, we stopped at “Cache 22,” a cache in a little hut of sticks near Forest Road 22. A few other guys were sitting there. I can’t remember all their names, but that’s where we first met FIG JAM (we later learned that his name was an acronym: “F---, I’m Good, Just Ask Me”). He was an incredibly skinny guy, about 6’6” if not taller, who had golden-brown skin, hair like Zach’s, and a wry sense of humor. He was drinking a bottle of maltodextrin in a desperate attempt to get more calories.
We sat with him and a few others under the shelter of twigs, sipping water, talking about calorie-dense food, and watching flies buzz around the watermelon rinds, remnants of an earlier hikers’ feast.
We hung around the cache for a little while, but the sun was still not too hot, so we hiked on, beady with sweat but otherwise not uncomfortable.
We paced FIG JAM and the others all day, never walking together, but always catching up to each other. They had started at Old Station earlier that morning, and were headed for Burney Falls tonight, a trip of 42 miles. I could see why the challenge might be fun— in a theoretical sense only. We wished them luck.
I loved the openness of the landscape. We kept on glancing stunning views of Mount Lassen behind us, and, once the clouds cleared, Mount Shasta ahead of us. To our left, the flat valley, dotted with trees, was covered in great cloud shadows. Volcanic rock pocked the landscape all around, but the trail was dusty and smooth. Hat Creek Rim was turning out to be much more pleasant than we expected!
We followed the Rim for many miles, but at last began some mild switchbacks toward the valley floor, which was rising to meet the rim. After walking on perfectly-flat ground all day, our knees and feet were unused to the downward slope of the trail, slight though it was!
The trail delved down into a woodland, crossing forest paths and cutting through humid woods and into a slightly industrial area. It skirted the edge of a fish hatchery, past rushes and water-grasses and a wide area with netting over the surface of the water. We still saw a lot of native fishers: cormorants, pelicans, and an osprey! Seeing these ocean birds after so much time in the mountains was bizarre to me, like we were walking through a zoo.
Then the trail departed the hatchery and climbed a little bit, cutting through a fir forest on perfectly-flat ground.
It was barely mid-afternoon, and Zach and I had already walked 27 miles. So when we came to Highway 299 and saw that the town of Burney was just a hitch away, we decided to go for it.
We stood by the shoulder for several minutes, but got picked up soon enough. The guy was terse but friendly, and tried to get us to go to a pizza buffet instead of McDonald’s, which we politely refused because we didn’t want to spend too much money. The town was a small strip of road with buildings on either side about a mile long, and he dropped us at the McDonald’s and wished us luck. I got a dollar-menu burger and a McFlurry.
As we sat eating our food, we looked over our resupply strategy. Today was Tuesday, and our next stop on trail was Castella, about 90 miles away. Going more than twenty miles a day, we’d get there on Saturday. However, when we checked our sources, we saw that the Castella post office wasn’t open on Saturdays. So we would have to spend the weekend there and leave on Monday.
For some people, this might not have been a big deal. However, for me, it was a delay that I didn’t want (and where would we spend the night?). I was so eager to get to Oregon, and so tired of California. I didn’t want to hang around for two days doing nothing! But it looked like we would have no choice.
I distinctly remember packing our resupply box for Castella: there were two places to send it in Castella, the post office or Amaretti’s Market. Indecisive, I finally said, “Ah, let’s just send it to the post office.” Instead of the market that’s open every day. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I wanted to go back in time and slap my past self.
I didn’t realize how upset I was until I called home and started talking to my mom and telling her what was going on. I paced outside the McDonald’s, feeling more and more agitated. When I hung up, I leaned against the hot brick building and began to cry.
A car pulled up in front of me, and a graceful black woman looked out the window at me, her face open and earnest. “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad,” she said.
Taken aback by this, I sniffled, “Oh, I’m okay… just… having a bad day.”
“I know,” she said. “But I wanted to acknowledge your pain.” Then, with a compassionate smile, she drove off.
This odd encounter threw me off, and I returned inside, feeling a bit better.
Hitching back to trail took forever, since slightly bigger towns couldn’t always tell the difference between a hiker bum and a non-hiker bum. But at last, when the sun had gone behind the horizon and twilight was in the sky, a guy coming home from his shift at UPS picked us up. He liked to trail-run in the area, often on the PCT, and told us that there was a nice cache about a mile down the road. He dropped us right at the trailhead and we thanked him, then hiked into the dark woods.
Sure enough, in about a mile we came to the cache— and what a cache it was! Someone had built a free-standing cupboard completely stocked with canned goods, a cooler full of soda, and a picnic table covered in hiker names! We ate some snacks and read through the trail register, where they had asked us to leave our favorite joke. I went for the shortest and simplest one I could think of: “There once was a tavern known as The Fiddle because it was such a vile inn.”
I sat back on a lawn chair and nibbled on a Reese’s, some crackers, and a fig newton, sipping orange soda and feeling considerably mollified. It was impossible to feel sorry for myself under such conditions.
Zach and I decided to camp there, celebrating our longest day yet at 28 miles. Just as we were ready to pick up our packs, we saw movement next to his bag and saw a cute little rodent snuffling at his bag— a rat! We shooed it away and walked several yards away to camp, hoping we wouldn’t be bothered in the night.
I woke up in the dead of the night, hearing the snapping of a twig. My adrenaline pumped through me as I stiffened, half awake, trying to hear what was going on. The twig snapped again, and I realized that it was just the sound of wind in the bushes. I relaxed a little, but my body wasn’t willing to let go of the adrenaline it just spent, so I was wide awake. I tried to fall back to sleep, jumping at every little noise.