July 28th, Monday
1498.6 to 1516ish
When I woke up the next morning, sunlight was shining through the trees above my head, and Zachary wasn’t next to me. I sat up, a bit disoriented, blinking. Up the hill at the main campsite, Zach was talking to On Point and Trailblazer. Hurriedly I got up to join them.
It was 9:00 (that was really sleeping in on trail!), and according to our sources, the post office opened at 10:00. Zach and I packed up quickly. On Point and Trailblazer, who had had their boxes delivered to the market, wished us good luck and hiked out. Zach and I plodded along the mile-long road walk to the post office.
Once we reached the post office, we found it closed. A handmade sign on the door said it wouldn’t open until 11:00. Zach and I groaned. It was already murderously hot out here, and we knew we had a huge climb to get out of Castella, which we would really rather not tackle in the heat of the day. There was nothing to do but wait, though.
Fortunately, we had company. A gaggle of hikers were sitting at the picnic tables under some pine trees near the highway, sorting their resupply boxes. Zach and I joined them. We saw Nick there, who gave us several packages of hot cocoa. We also scored some nice snacks. As we were sitting there, tiny sprinkler heads rose up out of the grass and began spraying water everywhere! Nick, thinking quickly, slammed his empty resupply box over the top of it while all the other hikers raced to get their food and maps out of the way.
Zach and I split a breakfast burrito from the market, and I called my brother Eric to wish him a happy birthday. At last 11:00 rolled around. Zach went over to the post office.
The post master was there, a thoroughly disgruntled and world-weary woman who was standing out front watering the plants. Zach mentioned that we had a resupply package, and she snarled at him, “You can’t pick up packages until 11:30,” and went back to her watering.
This was driving me insane! I wanted nothing more than to kill some miles today, and it looked like we weren’t even going to be able to get back on trail until noon! I sulked and the other hikers tried to cheer me up. And all the while the air got hotter and thicker and heavier.
At last 11:30 came along, and we (along with a couple other fools who had sent their boxes to the post office) patiently waited for our boxes. She threw ours on the counter as if it disgusted her, and we made a hasty retreat.
Now we had a new map, and I glanced over it, looking at what we’d be up against. When I saw, my heart sank. Our next resupply point was Etna, roughly five days away— and it was closed on Saturdays as well! If we didn’t break our backs making miles this week, we’d be stuck in Etna over the weekend too. At this point I felt beyond tears. This was just not fun.
At last, though, we were packed up, and took the Baker’s Hat Trail that would lead us back to the PCT. It was steep and ascended a sharp set of switchbacks through the forest. Even though we were in the shade, I felt like I was going to pass out— the air felt like a smothering hot wet blanket around me. Zach checked the temperature and saw that it was 97, not counting humidity.
We continued plodding up the mountainside, starting to move in slow motion, as if the humidity was turning the air into hot soup around us. I was sweating from every pore, soaking my clothes and dripping down my face, my arms, even my fingertips. My period was still giving me sharp cramps today, and I felt sick and dizzy and lightheaded. Still we stumbled on, and all I remember of the climb is the white dapples of sunlight through the trees and the constant cramping pain and feeling like I was going to pass out.
Why are we doing this?
I took another shaky step, willing myself to keep moving. I felt like I was going to vomit.
Why should we keep going?
I put one foot in front of the other, feeling a gnawing longing to turn around.
This feeling surprised me. All through the waterless stretches of desert, the terror and starvation of the Sierra, I had never once sincerely wanted to give up. It wasn’t the drama that had broken me— it was the monotony. California with its pleasant pine forests and pretty lakes and sweltering heat was never going to end. It was never going to end. We were never going to reach Oregon. And I was cramping so badly I was afraid I’d throw up.
Why are we putting ourselves through this?
At last we reached the junction of the PCT, and crumpled onto the ground. Zach had scored some corn nuts from the hiker box, which we ate with abandon— the saltiness was very welcome at this point!
After a snack, some water, and a little rest, I felt marginally better, so we continued limping along. The trail left the trees, winding through the manzanita. We weren’t passing over the Castle Crags, unfortunately, but we could see them behind us as we continued along the ridge of the mountains. Now that we were out of the valley, the sun was still hot but the humidity had lessened. I stumbled along doggedly, still lost in a haze of alternating dizziness and discomfort.
Soon we were in the forest again, and now that it was later in the day, the heat had gotten less brutal. We saw some hikers lounging next to a pleasant stream, and decided to join them. I dropped my pack on the ground and crumpled to the ground, curling up on the dust with my backpack as a pillow.
Two other hikers, who introduced themselves as E.T. and Poison, chatted with Zach for a while. I listened, but I don’t remember anything they said. After a while, they asked if I was okay.
“Yeah,” I murmured. “Just feeling sick.”
E.T. reached into his pack and held out a banana. “Would you like a banana?”
I looked at him, registering a round face and blue eyes and little round glasses. “Yes, please,” I said, taking the fruit gratefully. They wished us luck and hiked on. I chewed the banana slowly, feeling my body almost sigh in relief to be getting some vitamins.
After a long break, I felt a bit better again, so we hiked up the mountain, trying to get at least near the top. We spotted some people we knew, including Ché, who we hadn’t seen since the Sierra, and FIG JAM. We waved to them and found a camping spot nearby, in the shadow of a tangle of bushes. We set up lethargically, not in a hurry since we had stopped early. Zach cooked some spicy beef he’d scored from the hiker box and mixed it with mac n’ cheese. It was ridiculously delicious.
After supper, I sat on the ground with my diary and wrote about the day, trying to hit the highlights, trying to make it stick in my memory. After recounting the events of the day, this is what I wrote:
“I feel more like giving up than ever before. The walking is hard and feels like a futile trudge. I have blisters and it’s hot all the time. I am always, always uncomfortable for one reason or the other. Oregon feels so far away. Every night I’m terrified by all the sounds. I feel stressed and/or unhappy pretty much all the time.”
I was writing furiously now, my hand gripping the mechanical pencil.
“I want to quit so badly. But how can we, after all this effort and hardship? If we give up now, we fail.”
With that, I slammed my diary closed. I felt oddly self-satisfied. There, I had said it. I had said I felt like giving up. But we weren’t. You know why? Because it would be too hard to get a hitch from Castella to Sacramento, that’s why. And besides, we’d already climbed this mountain. Too much work to go down again.
If we gave up now, we failed. For some reason, this thought consoled me.
As I went to sleep that night, touching Zach’s hand but nothing else because of the heat, I kept on thinking to myself, with intense and almost ecstatic determination, If we give up now, we fail. If we give up now, we fail.