July 19th, Saturday
1340ish to 1345
I woke up that morning feeling like someone had tied my intestines into knots. I was so weak I was trembling, and I could barely choke down our cold oatmeal for the morning. When I ducked into the maze of manzanita to go to the bathroom, and I realized I wasn’t going anywhere today.
“I’m sick,” I mumbled in a weepy voice as I crawled back into the tent.
I sniffed and crumpled down onto my sleeping pad. “Very sick.” I was sweating, even though the circle of tall pines around us provided some shade for now. I fumbled for the Camelbak hose and sucked on it, too weak to raise my head.
Zach decided to backtrack to the spring about a mile behind us, because we didn’t have enough water to last us the whole day. I thanked him and laid, listless and half-asleep, in the tent until he returned.
When Zach returned, he was busy filtering some of the water when we heard two people walk by, and they stopped to chat. I laid in the tent, unable to sit up at the moment.
“What are your names?” Zach asked.
I heard the woman say, “I’m Thistle and this is Ouzel.”
I gasped and sat up, poking my head outside the tent. Zach said, “I remember you guys!”
We had met them, eons ago it seemed, at Big Bear Lake, and seen them once or twice in the desert. They were such a sweet couple, and it was surreal to see them again. We chatted for a bit, and then they hiked on. We never saw them again, but I was happy we got a second chance to say hello.
By this time the sun was fully bathing the tent, so I crawled out and leaned against a tree, trying to avoid the large droplets of pitch. Zach sat next to me and together we read one of the last chapters of Lord of the Rings. At intervals, we would both inch to the side, following the shadows, to stay out of the brutal sun. It was sometimes hard for me to concentrate because I was feeling queasy, but at least it was good distraction.
At about 5:00, I was finally starting to feel a bit recuperated, at least well enough to put on a backpack and limp a few miles. We decided we should, at minimum, try to camp at some water tonight. When I lifted my pack, I staggered a little, then felt my body kick into automatic and strengthen itself.
We plodded along through nice pine-filled woodland, although most of it is a hazy blur in my memory. The sun sank below the mountains (though the actual sunset wasn’t for hours), and storm clouds began to gather overhead. We found ourselves sweating in the oppressive humidity, plunging into a dark valley where the North Fork Feather River ran.
We found a campsite on the edge of the river, and debated for a while about whether or not to camp here, since we had only gone five miles. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to stay and hope to make better mileage tomorrow when I was (hopefully) feeling better.
Zachary worked on cooking dinner while I filtered water. The river was shallow and pocked with rocks, making it easy to crouch on the bank. Young slender cottonwoods grew along the shallows, their leaves trembling slightly in the still air. We heard the roll of thunder and began to think that camping here was a good idea.
We sat on a fallen log and ate our mashed potatoes (my appetite was returning, so that was a good sign). The thunder began to rumble louder, and now, in the narrow strip of metallic-blue sky between the mountain ridge and the overhanging tree branches, lightning flickered. The oppressive heat and humidity deepened.
Zach and I realized that we needed to get the tent set up ASAP. We wolfed down the rest of the potatoes and rummaged through our backpacks, pulling out the tent and rain fly. Within two minutes the tent was up, and in another ten our sleeping pads and bag were inside and our packs safely stowed.
We looked up once more, and saw a rainbow. It arched across the strip of sky, and the last vestiges of the sun broke through, turning the sky an eerie orange.
Then the rain began to fall. Big fat raindrops splattered through the canopy of trees above us. We ducked into our tent, hearing the rain turn to a downpour. The trees and river roared with raindrops, and we saw water seeping beneath our tent.
Despite this, it was still hot outside, and the inside of our tent felt like a sauna. We sat apart, sticky with sweat, wondering if we’d be drier if we sat outside in the rain.
Then the raindrops started hitting our tent harder and more urgently. Zach unzipped a bit of the rainfly at the alcove and pointed. “Hail!” Sure enough, grape-sized hail was spitting from the sky, bouncing along the saturated ground, melting quickly in the sauna-like heat.
I’m not sure why, but Zach and I both began laughing. We were so hot that we were dripping with sweat, and it was hailing on us. We began singing songs (although I can’t remember what), and whistling, and laughing about how ridiculous it was that we were camping in a hailstorm. We joked and giggled and laughed more than we had laughed since we left Sacramento. Then we flopped down on our pads, sweating like pigs, and fell into a nice, deep sleep.