Northern California was one of my favorite, and my least favorite, sections of the trail. Echo Lake to Honker’s Pass lives in my memory as a fantastic section of trail in every way, while Honker’s Pass to the Oregon border were some of the most miserable miles we faced.
Central-northern California was a welcome relief after the High Sierra, featuring rolling hills, fields of wildflowers, glistening lakes, and opportunities to get food when we were hungry. After our time in Sacramento I felt renewed and appreciated the nature as much as I should have.
Northern California was beautiful as well, and had many wonderful moments, but between the blazing humid heat, the monotony of still being in California, the plunge in morale, the lack of zero days, the threat of fire, and the bloody bear next to our campsite, it was one of the toughest sections to get through, and the only time that I really seriously wanted to give up.
However, nostalgia has painted this section in a very strange light. Unlike the regret and emotional turmoil I feel when I think of the Sierra, whenever I bring to mind anything that happened in northern California, I chuckle. That dumb deer chewing up our tent. People who smelled like weed and kept psyching us out, making us think they were inviting us to their houses. Bursting into tears in the McDonald’s parking lot and being comforted by a stranger. The smoke that woke us up every night. That bizarre, friendly church. The sticky heat that nearly made us pass out. Zach feeling sick all the time. Camping with Stumbles and others so that we’d all die together if a fire came. And those children in lederhosen with a teddy bear in the middle of the wilderness…
And suddenly, that whole section sounds like a bizarrely awesome story. And I can’t stop giggling.
Unlike the Sierra, I feel like I did appreciate northern California as much as I should have. Northern California itself is gorgeous, and we were always noticing that, finding time to summon a sense of wonder at Hat Creek Rim or Mount Shasta or all the beautiful bears we saw.
So now, whenever anyone asks me what was least favorite section of the trail was, I still answer, “Northern California.” And then I chuckle. Because usually the most miserable experiences make the best stories later.