|I have absolutely no pictures from this day. Here's a pic from the day after, of the sign by our campsite.|
July 27th, Sunday
I knew that it was going to be a bad day when I woke up to discover that my period had started. This hadn’t happened since the desert, since in the Sierra I was literally starving. Apparently, though, I was now well-fed enough to be fertile again. Groaning, I crawled out of the tent and headed to the bathrooms.
It was Sunday, and since we were stuck in Castella anyway, we decided that we should try to go to church. Zach researched some online and we finally decided on a church in the nearby town of Dunsmuir.
We weren’t sure if we were going to stay at the campground tonight, so I convinced Zach to pack up everything so we could have options. Hiking slowly, we left the park, vowing to return to pay cash for our night’s stay.
We stood by the on-ramp to the highway, hoping we’d have better luck with hitchhiking today. I chewed on a half-melted Snickers, sweating in the humidity. Fortunately, though, a man drove up very soon and let us hop in his car. We chatted as he drove down the highway (we could see Mount Shasta close at hand), then he dropped us off at a convenience store on the edge of Dunsmuir. Zach and I decided to buy breakfast sandwiches, because they were pretty cheap here.
As we were walking into the store, we saw an old couple, and they asked us about our backpacks. When we told them, the man said in a depressed voice, “Did you hear the news this morning?”
Zach and I got a little worried. “No. We’re really out of the loop.”
“It said that California seniors are now the largest group of people with AIDS in the country.”
We stared, open-mouthed. “What?” I spluttered.
“Yup,” he said. “Hearing aids, Roll-aids, Flavor-aids…”
This caught us so off-guard that we both burst out laughing. His wife shook her head in a long-suffering way as the man said, “Welcome to Dunsmuir!” That was our first hint that the people here were some of the friendliest we’d meet.
After getting some breakfast sandwiches, Zach and I started walking down the road toward the church. This town reminded me more of a Midwest town than anywhere else I’d been— despite the mountains rising up on either side, the houses were made of wood and were laid out on a flat grid, and the town was small and shabby and had a rather decrepit downtown, as I’m used to with the rural Midwest. The church was in a glass-covered store front, and Zach and I hesitated a long time before timidly venturing in the door.
Two women turned to look at us with surprised smiles. One was an old woman with white hair and a polka-dot pants suit with ruffles at the collar, who stood up very straight. The other woman was large and jovial with a brightly-printed dress. They immediately welcomed us and drew us in, asking where we were from and thanking us for coming and telling us to set down our backpacks. We told them about the PCT— a trail that they had little knowledge of.
“I must admit, I was nervous coming here,” I said, “since we’re kinda dirty bums at the moment.”
The younger woman huffed. “Well!” she said. “I’m pretty sure that Jesus walked everywhere he went, and he was probably dirty most of the time too!” Then they hustled us into the sanctuary, gave us gift bags filled with pens and tic-tacs and evangelical literature, and proceeded to introduce us to the other two people who had arrived so far.
The sanctuary was small, probably seating about thirty. The walls were lined with banners and different-colored flags, and a rotating fan at the front tried to put a dent in the humid heat. I glanced over the literature, then leaned over to Zach and whispered, “Just to warn you, this could get weird.”
Soon more people began filing into the sanctuary, and almost all of them immediately came up and introduced themselves and thanked us for coming. Soon the pastor waddled in, with a tie too short and a huge gut hanging down over his pants, with his wife in tow, who was a pretty and voluptuous bleach-blonde.
Now that everyone was here, the service began. There weren’t enough people to have a worship band, so the pastor’s wife stood up front with a microphone and sang along to a CD. Zach and I sang along with the congregation, listening to songs that I hadn’t heard in ages. Some people gave the occasional, “Thank you Jesus!”, but the real Pentecostal in the group was the pastor, who hung on the edge of the congregation, mumbling in a booming voice, “Lord Jesus. Lord Jesus. Thank you Lord. Lord Jesus.”
After a few songs, the pastor’s wife told everyone to turn and greet each other. Everyone in the church who hadn’t yet said hi to us took this opportunity to do so, enthusiastically greeting us and saying how glad they were that we were here. Over the sound of a loud CD playing, I tried to explain to people what the PCT was and what two Missouri dwellers were doing here in Dunsmuir.
After the greeting, the pastor’s wife announced something (muffled in the microphone), and they began playing a song that I knew from when I was a kid:
I sing praises to your name, O Lord
Praises to your name, O Lord
For your name is great, and greatly to be praised…
Those are the entire lyrics of the whole song— it’s a repetitive song to begin with, but they decided to play the song on loop. As they did so, almost everyone in the congregation surged to the front and formed a veritable dog pile of weeping and praying. One of the women, a physical woman with flowing hair and a bohemian muumuu dress, bounded back to us and took our hands in hers and prayed that the trail would be good for us, then bounded away. The droning song continued, accompanied by very 80s-style saxophone part, which was starting to grate on my nerves. I was also tired and feeling a bit sick. I put my head down, pretending that I was praying, as did Zach.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pastor waddling toward us. Before I could lift my head to greet him, he circled behind us and placed his hands on our backs. Then he began mumbling. I honestly could not tell if he was speaking in tongues or just not enunciating his words. And on the song droned, and on the people wailed, and on buzzed the saxophone, and the rotating fan stuttered back and forth, back and forth. I imagined that this was what a drug trip felt like.
At last the pastor said, “Amen,” and let us go, toddling back to the edge of the room. Zach and I exchanged glances, trying not to laugh or run for it.
At last they cut off the music abruptly in the middle of a phrase, and everyone scuttled back to their chairs, wiping their tears away. Then the pastor took the podium.
If this experience had felt like a drug trip before, the pastor’s sermon took it to new heights. To say that he rambled is a gross understatement. He jumped from thought to thought with no obvious connection, often starting halfway through a sentence with no context whatsoever. 90% of the time I literally couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. Instead of saying, “Amen?” like most pastors, he would let out an explosive, “Huh?” And the people would murmur assent. I don’t know how long his sermon lasted, but it felt like hours.
When he at last concluded (did he conclude? what was the point? was this reality?), Zach and I let out a sigh of relief and lurched to our feet, feeling like we’d just woken up from a very bizarre dream. People began to file out of the church, making a point to say goodbye to us. Despite the weirdness, it was definitely the friendliest church I’d ever been to!
The muumuu-clad woman who had approached us earlier came up to us again. “Do you want to come over to our house for showers and lunch?”
I almost cried with gratefulness. “Yes, please!”
The woman’s name was Anne, and her husband Bob came over to join us, and we piled into their car. They drove us to the edge of town and pulled up to their house, which was decorated with beautiful artisan lawn ornaments. Inside, the house was breezy and clean.
Zach and I took turns showering. I stayed for a long time in the shower (my last shower had been at Honker’s Pass two weeks ago), and grimaced a little when I got into my dirty clothes again. Then they fed us a delicious lunch: sandwiches and juice.
We had a nice time talking with them— they were down-to-earth people who loved their church and their town and their area. Bob worked for a local bottled water company, and talked about it enthusiastically.
When we were fed, they packed us some food to go (including fresh fruit— yay!), and asked us where we’d like to be dropped off. We decided that we might as well go into the nearest big town, the city of Mount Shasta. They gladly gave us a ride.
As we drove along the highway, they pointed out Mount Shasta, showing how its top resembled the figure of a woman leaning back and looking at the sky. They both lamented how little snow was on it this year— because of the drought, the snow pack was shrinking by the year.
“Mount Shasta is a very spiritual city,” Anne said as we drove. “A lot of witchcraft and occult and New Age stuff.”
Bob added, “There a dedicated group of people who believe that one day, Mount Shasta’s top will blow off and aliens will come out of it!”
The town was huge, at least by PCT town standards, and they dropped us off at the Safeway and wished us godspeed.
We wandered around Safeway, bought a few things, then went and sat on a strip of grass under trees on the edge of the parking lot, feeling at a loss. There were a lot of non-hiking homeless people around, and I began to appreciate, in a small way, how difficult it must be to be homeless— there are no good places to sit, or hang out, or take a nap.
Zach had tried to get ahold of some family friends who lived in Mount Shasta, but neither of the numbers we had were any good. I was longing for a roof over my head tonight, but there was no way that was going to happen. We might as well go back to Castle Crags and camp. At least there was a cheap place to spend the night!
At last, listless, we wandered over to a Taco Bell/KFC so we could hang out in the air conditioning. I stared out the window at the sunlight glaring off the cars racing along the road. It was all shiny and bright and hot and busy. My brain felt scrambled. It was just a weird day.
I wandered outside and called my best friend to see how she was doing. She was happy, and enthusiastically talked about how her week had gone and the trip she was getting ready to take. I stared ahead, feeling sick. I was sick of the noise and exhaust and sunlight glancing off car hoods. I was sick of calling home and being completely unable to convey what my life was like right now. I was sick of not being able to explain why hearing about daily showers made me so upset that I wanted to sob.
In the middle of a sentence, my friend paused. “Are you okay?”
I burst into tears.
There was no way to explain why I was crying— I just couldn’t put it into words. I told her that the trail was hard, and I told her to keep talking, because trying to put it into words was too stressful for me. Reluctantly, she began talking again, while I felt drained and sick and helpless on the other side.
We hung up. I stared out at the gleaming cars racing by. I sobbed a little more, then slunk back into Taco Bell and sat across the table from Zach, slumped in depression. I didn’t want to be sitting in Taco Bell. I didn’t want to be stuck here all day. I wanted to be hiking, because if we were hiking it meant we were getting somewhere. If we were going to hang out and eat fast food, I wanted to do it at home, with my family.
I realized that I really hated zero days.
We sat for a while longer, staring out the window at the hippies and skateboarders who swarmed around the city. Then we decided we might as well try to hitch back.
We skirted the main street, but there wasn’t any good place for cars to pull over there, so we ended up on the on-ramp to the highway, on the edge of a broad “leaf” of the cloverleaf. The sun was soaking us with heat and I felt miserable. We held out our thumbs.
Nearly an hour passed as we waited for a hitch. People often smiled at us, or waved, or gave us a thumbs up, before racing by. One woman drove near to us and made a slashing motion across her throat.
When the sun was late and golden in the sky, and our arms were sore from holding them out, a car pulled up on the opposite shoulder and a woman about our age called for us to jump in. Ecstatic, we ran over and piled in.
She was a thru-hiker from 2008, introducing herself as “Enviro Pyro.” Her job was to coordinate controlled burns of the forest in order to prevent huge wildfires. We thought it was the coolest trail name ever.
“Mount Shasta has a lot of hippies and homeless people,” she said, “so nobody wants to give hitchhikers rides around here.”
She drove us back to Castle Crags State Park and dropped us off at the front ranger station. We’d gotten cash in town, so we paid for two night, then hiked nearly a mile back to our campsite.
We had company tonight. On Point was there, as well as an older guy named Trailblazer. The four of us chatted for a while, then we set up camp again.
When we finished setting up the camp, we found a couple talking with On Point and Trailblazer. The guy had hiked the AT, and gave us a bag of plums from their fruit tree back home. It was fun to talk to them.
We crawled into the tent that night, utterly exhausted. All told it hadn’t been a bad day, but it had been too weird and surreal and hot and full of bright lights. At least tomorrow we’d be able to leave Castle Crags behind and keep putting miles under our feet. I couldn’t wait to get out of California.