Part Fourteen – Rushing through NorCal
With the snow mostly behind me now, days became longer. Hiking from dawn until sunset, I tried to cover as many miles as possible daily. The landscape was changing. High rocky peaks covered in snow disappeared to unveil green and smooth hills. It was a welcomed change of scenery. The damages caused by unprecedented snowfalls in Northern California were visible: blowdowns of various sizes covered the trail and forced me to find creative ways to pass over or around them. Now amid July’s heat, the snowmelt also brought another challenge, this one less enjoyable: mosquitoes. They had become more present in the past few days, forcing me to shorten my breaks and wear pants and long sleeves to protect my skin from these bloodsuckers. But they always found a way, somehow.
In NorCal, the trail drew nearer to towns and roads. While in the Sierra Nevada, it would be common to not see a soul for a few days, here I often came across day hikers who had come out to reconnect with Mother Nature. Most of them recognized what I was doing out here immediately, probably by the sight of my dirty clothes as well as my long and untamed beard. Most of them also asked that same question: “Did you do the Sierra?” I usually never brought it up, for fear of sounding braggy, unless someone asked me. In that case, I would humbly say yes. They were impressed and congratulated me every time. Even though I never did it to impress others, receiving recognition from random strangers always warmed my heart and provided me with additional motivation to keep going. In return, I always took the time to spend a few minutes answering their questions and chatting. After all, I represented a community, that of PCT hikers, and I wanted to do it the best I could.
After crossing Interstate 80, I stopped in a rest area to get some toilet paper and eat breakfast on a picnic table. For a few minutes, I observed the cars and trucks flying by on the highway. It was a Monday morning, and all these people were probably heading to work while I was here, sitting with a tranquil mind eating my breakfast bar. It suddenly struck me that I had forgotten about work, about what they called “normal life.” To me, what I was experiencing was “normal life.” To me, this was how it was meant to be experienced. I wasn’t surviving, I was living. No superficiality. No toxicity. No bullshit. Only the truth of a simple, pure, and peaceful living.
A Musical Zero
In Sierra City, I decided to stay one more day to treat a small knee pain. I hadn’t stopped hiking since Kennedy Meadows North, and my body started to remind me of that. This small town was everything I was looking for: small, calm, with only a store, a cafe, and a hotel owned by Rob, a kind and funny character, who sat on the porch in the evening with his friends from the store across the street, talking about the world. Rob used to play guitar in a band, and all sorts of instruments were hung on the walls of his hotel. We talked music and laughed all afternoon, and in the evening, he even granted me a performance that I was able to capture with my camera for my documentary. Rob, if you ever read this, you are the man.
Back on the trail, I made my way through Northern California mostly alone, patching myself to small groups of hikers here and there during the day, but never permanently. Somehow, I wasn’t ready to be part of a group again. I didn’t know why. I liked being alone and independent, and I think part of me didn’t want to find a group different than the one I had had for so long.
Northern California wasn’t what I expected for the most part, although I didn’t expect much from it in the beginning given its unappealing reputation. But it ended up showcasing a lot of diversity. For the past few days, I had been hiking in very green and lush forests with creeks flowing left and right. Now, the landscape was becoming drier as I made my way through a few burnt zones and exposed areas. The elevation changes became much more dramatic, with long and steep climbs in and out of resupply towns, and the current heatwave wasn’t helping.
On July, 18th, I reached the midpoint monument. I had hiked 1,325 miles and had the same amount left to do in two months. It was hard for me to realize what I had done so far, and what I had left. To me, none of it would mean anything if I didn’t finish the trail. Canada was my goal, not the midpoint.
Hot, hot, hot
After passing the midpoint, I reached the small town of Chester where I spent only the night to resupply. That day, I hiked 31.3 miles, my longest day so far on the trail, and my shoes did show. Two holes on each side of each foot could now be seen, and the cushion was nearly non-existent. I realized I had been carrying them since Kennedy Meadows South, for more than 500 miles. My feet had been aching as well for the past few days, and some of my toes had even become numb. However, I couldn’t get a new pair before Mount Shasta, which was a few days away. I had to keep going and pray for my shoes and feet to hold up until then.
The hike through Lassen Volcanic National Park was strenuous. The area had burnt in most parts, and the rest of the trail was exposed to the burning sun. Ironically, there was close to no elevation gain for many miles until Burney Falls, but the heat made hiking unbearable. Water was scarce, even after leaving the park, and we had to rely on water caches left by trail angels to avoid having to carry several pounds of water for long distances. For a couple of days, I started hiking before sunrise to cover as many miles as possible before the heat slowed me down. As the sun rose, a golden glow landed on the flat plains of dry grasses that the trail cut through while cicadas broke the silence of the dawn with their loud chirping. For a second, I thought that I was hiking in the African savanna, with Mt Lassen in my back, and Mt Shasta ahead of me.
Wonders of Northern California
The trail led through a nuclear plant and along the banks of a lake. On the other side of it, I spotted a mama bear and her cub playing around in the high green grasses that bordered the water. I stood there for a few minutes, observing them. The cub kept jumping around, appearing and disappearing in the lush vegetation as if it were playing a game of peekaboo. I let them alone and continued on my path. The trail gently led to Burney Falls State Park; one of the many wonders the Pacific Crest Trail passed through. There laid Burney Falls, a 129-foot waterfall that cascaded down a moss-covered cliff face. What made Burney Falls unique was that it wasn’t a single waterfall but rather a series of intricate, interwoven streams of water that flowed from the porous rock. I had been looking forward to reaching it and seeing its beauty with my own eyes (and camera). When I got there in the late afternoon, I had the pleasant surprise of seeing some old friends from the desert. They had flipped up North to Cascade Locks (the border between Oregon and Washington) and had since gone southbound. It was great to reunite with familiar faces. After some catching up, I went down the stairs to the bottom of the falls. The temperature immediately dropped as I walked through an invisible wall of much-welcomed freshness after hiking during a heatwave. There, at the bottom of the falls, I sat and watched the force of the water crashing down from the top of the cliff. Like a wild animal, I could smell the perfume of the tourists surrounding me. I hoped for them that they couldn’t smell me…
I went back up into the dry warmth of the park. The sun was setting, and so I hiked another mile to camp on the side of a dirt road not far from the park. While heating up my dinner, a pick-up truck stopped by, offered me water and wished me luck for the rest of my journey. I went to bed, content from the day I had experienced, and touched by the kindness of strangers that I kept witnessing.
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