Day 75. Miles: 15.3 Total: 1172.3
After a leisurely morning in Truckee, I find a ride back to the trail. Finally, I’m feeling recovered from COVID. I still cough occasionally, especially if I start to speak or laugh for the first time in a few hours, but I’m feeling normal and energized for the first time since the Sierra.
The wildflowers are gorgeous today. I use an app called Seek for plant identification. It only works 50-75% of the time, but I’ve still found it an excellent way to add to my PCT experience. If Seek can’t find an ID, I’ll often send photos to my friend Kenzie from back at REI. With her botany background, she can usually provide an answer when technology can’t.
This section is filled with mule’s ears, lupine, paintbrush, and mountain coyote mint, covering the hillsides in yellow, purple, red, and white, respectively.
Mountain Coyote Mint
Day 76. Miles: 23.5 Total: 1195.8
I hike alone all day today. I see lots of wildlife. The squirrels and lizards make an inordinate racket when they skitter through the brush, sounding much larger than they are. I still haven’t seen a bear on this whole trail. Every time I hear something rustling, I scan the woods hopefully, but somehow it’s always just a chipmunk or a squirrel.
The best sighting of the day is a bald eagle in the afternoon, drifting above the ridge on currents of warm air. It’s July now, and the weather is getting hotter, especially as the trail crosses lower elevations.
I finished The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and now I’m back to podcasts. Chameleon tells stories of weird, elaborate cons, and Firebug investigates an infamous California arsonist. This is the closest I’ve ever come to getting into true crime podcasts– usually I like the more light-hearted or educational stuff– but these are just strange and crime-adjacent enough that they’re intriguing rather than unsettling.
I camp alone just past the road to Sierra City, which I’m skipping after just leaving Truckee yesterday. Now that I don’t have COVID, I am looking forward to making new friends, but I’ve somehow arrived back at contentment with being on my own. It’s a warm night. I’m beginning to sleep better on my Z-lite mat alone, and it’s nice to not spend a few minutes inflating a pad each night. Maybe when my new pad gets to Quincy, I’ll send it straight back to REI. The lost sale would be their own fault, after all. I’d never have learned to be content with just closed cell foam if they hadn’t mistakenly sent me a spork instead of a NeoAir.
Day 77. Miles: 20.2 Total: 1216.0
The trail climbs and climbs after Sierra City. The switchbacks are as gentle as always, but relentless. I encounter a rattlesnake on trail, the first I’ve seen since before Tehachapi.
When I arrive at camp, there’s no one here. It’s a beautiful campsite, made of nice flat tent sites with little windbreaks made of stones. I am already in my sleeping bag when I hear footsteps, and then, “Possibly?”
I recognize Wild Card’s voice.
“Hey!” He and Leaky skipped Truckee, leapfrogging ahead of me, but they stayed in Sierra City last night, so I leapfrogged them right back. I was hoping to run into them again on this section, but I didn’t expect to see them until at least tomorrow.
We catch up briefly, and then he sets up a short distance down the hill. Just as dusk fades completely into darkness and I’m rummaging for my headlamp, I hear more footsteps. Sure enough, it’s Leaky. We chat until the mosquitos chase her into their tent for dinner, and I go to sleep.
Day 78. Miles: 25.5 Total: 1241.5
I do a big day today, but the miles never feel too difficult. Wild Card catches me when I’m stopped for lunch. I wait around a bit for Leaky, but we’re hiking through a long burn, and I don’t want to try to find a safe campsite in the dark, so eventually I keep moving.
With Seek, I identify a new flower, Sierra penstemon. As the afternoon wears on, I listen to podcasts and my new audiobook, The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-year-old Man, by Jonas Jonasson. It’s the sequel to a book I read in print called The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The story is quick-witted and weird, but the narrator is horrible. He puts on a barely comprehensible wheeze when speaking as the elderly protagonist, and when Jonasson introduces Korean characters, the accents make me cringe. I give up and return to Braiding Sweetgrass, which I’m finally close to finishing.
A screenshot from Seek
Day 79. Miles: 22.0 Total: 1263.5
I leapfrog with Wild Card and Leaky today. We agree to split a motel once we reach town. There’s one sizable mid-morning climb, and then the trail descends toward the road into Quincy. I get a lucky hitch on the quiet road and head into town. My stomach is rumbling. I didn’t ration my food well on this last stretch. Usually I try to reach town with at least an extra ramen or potato packet and a couple granola bars to spare, but all I had for 22 miles today was poptarts, a Lenny&Larry’s cookie, and a Starkist tuna salad packet, for a total of less than 900 calories. All that remains in my food bag when I get to the road is my tiny bottle of hot sauce.
In Quincy, I shower and wait for Wild Card and Leaky. When they arrive, we head to dinner with my friend Harry. Harry and I were on the same backcountry crosscut crew back in 2020, and he recently moved to Quincy for a forest service job. When he saw on Instagram that I was on the PCT, he reached out and I’m so glad he did. He drives us to a restaurant called Polka Dot, and it’s one of my favorite meals on trail so far. For under $20, I get a burger, fries, and a root beer float in portions too large for a thru-hiker to finish (which is really saying something).
Enjoying myself at Polka Dot
Toward the end of the Sierra through Tahoe, I was really struggling. I felt isolated, drained by COVID, and weary at the thought of over 1600 miles still remaining. My prospects of finishing the trail felt grim, and it was made worse knowing that quitting would only land me back in “real life,” where I was equally miserable.
But I feel better now. It’s hard to pinpoint why. I mean, not having Covid anymore certainly helps. And it’s good to be hiking with Wild Card and Leaky again, and to see a friend in Quincy. But even the days I’ve been alone this week, I’ve felt far more content than before.
After a string of bad luck including my hip injury, two falls, COVID, and two broken water filters , the sleeping pad/spork swap was such a bizarre, blatant stroke of misfortune that I could only laugh at the absurdity of it. And somehow, when the bad luck got so bad in such a goofy way, it was like the spell was broken. And since then, I have been okay. I feel ready and able to keep hiking.
And suddenly, we’re almost halfway done.
What Do You Think?