Part Fifteen – So Long California: Entering Oregon
Don’t Quit in Northern California
The unexpected difficulty of this section, paired with an incalculable number of blowdowns, the suffocating heat, and my growing impatience to reach Oregon was getting the best of my body and mind. After leaving the town of Mount Shasta with new shoes and a rested body, I anticipated this next stretch to go smoothly and quickly. It was the opposite. Despite still covering close to 30 miles nearly every day, the “NorCal blues” were hitting me. I was getting tired faster, constant pain ran through my feet and legs, and I wasn’t enjoying the dry and partially burnt landscape of Northern California. I realized that I hadn’t recovered completely from traversing the Sierra Nevada, and for the first time since the start of my journey, I was angry with the trail, as if I were with somebody. Alone, amid the day, when fatigue set in, a personified version of the trail appeared in front of my eyes, wearing different faces of people from my past and present, including mine. There, as I kept walking under the burning sun, the silence of the wilderness was broken by the loudness of my mind. Replaying parts of my life, thinking of things I wished I had said or done, and others I wished I hadn’t. Alone, amid the day, I was talking to those faces in a futile attempt to resolve outdated issues, as if I was trying to rewrite how things had gone, how I wished they had. But in reality, I was talking to myself, and in realizing so, I came to grips with the fact that it was time to take ownership. It was time to swallow my pride and to accept that everything that had happened and could happen to me, was a consequence and reflection of my own doing and thinking.
When they say that the trail provides, people like to think only of the good and the happy side of it. But the truth is that the trail also provides pain, suffering, and self-introspection. Thru-hiking, contrary to popular beliefs, isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, far from it. Thru-hiking is the true definition of what an adventure is, to me at least: a medley of beauty and ugliness, a dance with joy and despair, a contrast between light and darkness. And the thing is, that this contrast is necessary. Without bad days, one cannot appreciate the good ones. If they didn’t exist, the adventure that we were looking for would just become a bland and monotonous routine which, although seemingly comfortable because of its lack of uncertainty, was a slow and invisible killer of life. To live is to accept the lows as much as the highs. It’s to be adaptable in the face of challenges and willing to take your body and mind to places you didn’t want to, but knew you needed to. It’s how growth happens. And at this instant, even though it felt like everything sucked, I was growing. It wasn’t showing yet, but I knew later on that I would come out stronger from these moments.
Ironically, I found pleasure in these moments. Well, not during the moment, when I accidentally kicked a rock for the tenth time in the past hour, cursing at it because I knew I’d just said bye-bye to my toenail. The kind of pleasure I am talking about is not instant but delayed. It’s one that you need to work for to earn it. And every day, you must work harder for it. I realized it was these kinds of moments I had been waiting for, ready to deal with. Moments when your body didn’t want to do it anymore, when your brain tried to tell you to stop, that it would be okay to quit. Never. This was my “why”: to prove to myself that I could endure hardships. To prove that I could be the best version of myself when feeling at my worst. I suddenly recalled something a hitch had told me back in Idyllwild: “Don’t quit in Northern California.” I won’t. Ever.
Welcome to Oregon
Still, the trail could interrupt these moments of struggle with short and unexpected moments of glorious beauty. In NorCal, deer were highly present, searching for food or anything salty, like your trekking pole handles or even your piss. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to go pee, only to end up observing the silhouettes of three deer lit by the moon on the edge of a lookout rock. Another time, while eating dinner in the comfort of my quilt, a family of wild turkeys just randomly walked past my tent, to my amusement. A few days prior, I had even confused a bear for a deer. The friendly-looking beast was feasting on a bush full of berries, a few feet away from me, not paying even an ounce of attention to me. These moments acted like small breathers during hard days and reminded me why it was all worth it. But one of the most beautiful of all was just around the corner: Crater Lake National Park.
I crossed the border with Oregon on Friday 4th of August. Instantly, the terrain became easier. Or maybe was this just a construct of my mind due to the relief of finally feeling like making progress. Either way, I was energized again. After a quick stop in Ashland, I made my way toward Crater Lake. Along the way, I met a dad and his young son, with whom I had lunch. We spoke about the trail, the wilderness, and what it brought to us. Seeing their dynamics made me think of my dad. At this instant, I wanted to be with him to share this journey I was on. I hope I can one day. Later that day, I met a Southbounder named “Worthy.” We chatted for a few minutes. He was a schoolteacher, and at the end of our conversation, he gave me a little piece of pink paper folded in two. He told me that before leaving, he had asked all his young students to write a word of encouragement that he would give away to people on the trail for them to read when in need. I was touched by the gesture and promised to take care of it and to open it when I needed it. (I still have it today)
A few days later, I finally reached Crater Lake National Park. Formed by the now-collapsed volcano, Mount Mazama, Crater Lake (1,949 feet (594 m) deep at its deepest point) is the deepest lake in the USA and one of the most pristine on Earth. The lake’s water commonly has a striking blue hue, and the lake is refilled entirely from direct precipitation in the form of snow and rain.
I stopped in Mazama Village to pick up a package at the store and take a quick shower. I then headed to the lake in the afternoon, following the blue alternate that went around the rim. Surprisingly, the trail climbed steeply toward the edge of the lake, and soon after I left the Village, I was already drenched in sweat. “Who had the great idea to hike up 1,000 feet during the hottest part of the day…” I thought to myself, knowing damn well who was to blame. But, once I reached the top, it all became worth it. The trail suddenly came out of the woods and opened up to unveil the immensity of Crater Lake. On the left inside, Wizard Island stood out proudly, and up on the far left of the rim, the Watchman Tower looked over the whole scenery. This was my destination for tonight. The trail meandered between the rim and the road driven by day tourists until it eventually reached a side trail that led up to the tower. The sun had begun its slow descent behind the hills far away when I reached the closed wooden cabin. There, I sat on the stone wall that separated the cabin from the void under and admired the view for a long time, silent. People with the same idea came around to grab their Instagram pictures, and the place was soon buzzing with camera noises. But I was numb to all of this. I was in my world. Later, I was happy to see “Bubbles”, a young German hiker, whom I had met a few days before. We ate dinner together while observing the sunset and the shadow of the peak we were on slowly covering the whole lake. When everybody else left, I placed my mattress and quilt on the ground and laid down, eyes wide open toward the starry sky. Suddenly, a bright meteor flew by in the dark. Then another one. And another one. I smiled and remembered that tonight a meteor shower was predicted to occur. Things worked out quite well.
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