July 29th, Tuesday
1516ish to 1542
Zach and I woke up the same time the next morning, both feeling much more alert. My sick feeling had passed, and I was ready and raring to go, as was Zachary. We made it our goal to slay some miles today.
We filled up our water at a nearby spring— there was definitely reason for caution in these dry hills— then took off down the trail, striding at a furious pace. The woods rolled by around us, sloping off steeply to our left. As we huffed along, sweating profusely, we heard an ethereal sound from deep in the forest to our left— it sounded like zen wind chimes of some Buddhist monastery. We were pacing FIG JAM that day, and when we asked him what he thought it was, he replied, “Cows.” We felt a bit silly, but of course he was right: they were cow bells!
We paused at a spring that was a bit off-trail, and Zach went down to get water. I ended up chatting with a hiker named Shrek, whom we had first seen in the desert and spotted a couple times since. Dirty even by hiker standards, he had even a lower budget than Zach and I did, which was unusual. We chatted and watched red-breasted nuthatches hopping on a nearby tree.
When Zach returned, we kept hiking, soon leaving the forest to walk along sandy open ridges. The sun poured down on us, and although there wasn’t much humidity here, we still felt a bit faint. We could see a storm brewing off in the distance, though.
For some reason, all the trail signs in this section were written in kilometers, not miles. We were too lazy to do the math, but we saw that something called the Trinity Divide was coming up soon. We soon learned what it was: a massive ridge of mountains that the PCT ran along. It was covered in low bushes, which made the landscape open and beautiful, with great views of Mount Shasta. However, my body and spirits were flagging today, so I asked Zach to borrow his phone so I could listen to music.
Zach handed it over and I plugged in the earbuds. I turned on Weezer’s The Blue Album, and felt transported back to being a young teen, when my brothers listened to their music and we’d all sing together and giggle at the lyrics.
If you want to destroy my sweater
Pull this thread and I’ll walk away
Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked
Lying on the floor, I’ve come undone!
I retreated into the world of music, moving my limbs mechanically as the sun poured down and washed my body in feverish sweat. I escaped into a different reality for those 41 minutes and 17 seconds. I thought of my brother Eric, who loved this band. He went on to become a full-time musician. It was his birthday today. He was turning 28. He was moving to Nashville in a couple months. Boy I like this song…
The last note of Only In Dreams sounded, and my own dream was over. I was still hiking, the landscape was still beautiful, and I was still sweating like someone had dumped hot syrup over my head. I felt a bit trippy.
At last we saw a small patch of shade under some trees. There were a few people there, but we figured there was room for a few more. We saw a girl about my age I didn’t recognize, looking hot and a little sunburned. We said hi to her, then saw her two companions— and recognized Freebird and Raven! It was great to see them again, and they looked as chipper as ever.
“I remember you guys!” Freebird said, laughing in his carefree way. “This is Pocahontas, one of Raven’s friends.”
The five of us stood in the shade and chatted, talking about how hot it was, and what they had been doing. This was Pocahontas’s first backpacking experience, and she had been doing pretty well. They were finishing up this section and then hitching over to Mount Shasta.
My curiosity had at last gotten the better of me, and I asked the three of them how they knew each other. They exchanged glances, then chuckled.
Raven said, “I met Freebird when we were both living in a money-less commune in some caves in Utah.”
Pocahontas added, “And I met Raven at a Buddhist temple when we were both living there.”
“Whoa,” I said. They told us more about the communes and how much they enjoyed living money-free. At the same time, though, they seemed to enjoy money enough in the present, since they were headed to a pizza buffet!
We confided to Freebird that some days it just felt like we were hiking so we could get a medal (the PCTA will send you one when you complete the trail). He told us that the medals were actually quite impressive: big and heavy and personalized with your name. This excited me way more than it should have. On some days after that, when I was feeling low, I’d yell at myself, “If you don’t finish, you don’t get a medal!” and would feel more motivated.
As we were talking to them, on this ridge of mountain in the blazing heat in the middle of the wilderness, a family walked up. The mother and father, with their hiking sticks and wide hats, looked pretty normal, but I stopped, speechless, and stared at their two little daughters.
The girls, blue-eyed with two blonde braids each, were dressed in lederhosen. One of them wore a green outfit and the other a red. The younger one was holding a teddy bear.
I felt like I had fallen into a weird hallucination. Was this real life? Was I going crazy? Why were they children with lederhosen in the middle of the California wilderness?
I came to myself to hear the parents talking to Freebird in heavily-accented English. “We are from Prague,” they said. “We are enjoying the hikes in the area. And you, you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?”
Freebird smiled. “We’re just doing a section,” he said, completely skipping over the fact that he had thru-hiked three times. He then pointed at us. “These two are hiking to Canada.”
He said the comment offhandedly, but it really struck me. The couple turned to us expectantly. “Really?”
“Yes,” we said, and I felt my resolve harden as I said so. Yes, we were going to hike to Canada. Freebird had said so. Freebird thought we could make it. This was the thread of hope that I held onto for many days to come.
The family from Prague said goodbye and hiked on, making me feel a bit discombobulated. But Zach and I said goodbye ourselves and kept hiking.
Soon we crossed a road and kept plowing ahead. For the first time in many days we struck up a conversation, talking about anime: its many forms and conventions and Zach’s favorites. All the while, the sky got darker and we saw a thick blanket of clouds coming.
Toward the end of the day, we found ourselves on a fairly barren ridge, which didn’t seem like the best place to be in a storm. We practically flew along the trail, winding between reddish chunks of rock and bushes and small trees. In the distance, lightning flickered. The clouds swept over us, and we felt tiny needles of rain.
The sky was nearly black by now, but still it didn’t pour on us. It was a dry lightning storm. Before long, we had hiked back into the sunlight, although it was late in the day.
We paused at Porcupine Lake to gather water, and I watched the geese and tried to gather water from the shallow shore, which was no easy task. We considered camping there, but decided to take advantage of the daylight and try to make it to the next camping spot.
We ended up hiking all the way to Deadfall Lakes, which was further than we intended, but seemed like a good place to camp. The lake stretched out in a subdued grayish blue. On the far side, we saw some tourists swimming in the lake. FIG JAM arrived soon after and the three of us sat together and cooked supper and chatted. For dessert, FIG JAM poured about half a cup of olive oil into his half-full peanut butter jar, stirred it up, and drank the concoction straight. “I just can’t stop losing weight,” he said, looking at his stick-thin legs and arms.
Zach and I set up camp in the grass and snuggled in— it was actually cool enough to sleep under the sleeping bag tonight. As we were drifting off to sleep, in the dim light we saw deer moving around near our camp. They didn’t seem interested in chewing up our gear, though.
And so we went to sleep with the rainfly off under the brooding clouds, while silently the dry lightning storm swept over California like a plague.