PCT Days 17-24: Does It Spark Joy?

Back on my Feet

After two zeroes in Burney, a trip to urgent care for a steroid injection, and a nero in which I slackpacked eight miles to see if my knee could handle it, I was finally ready to leave. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my time in Burney. I met wonderful people and had a great time exploring the town. But I’m out here to hike, not to sit around all day.

In order to keep my knee as happy as possible, I vowed to not hike more than 15 miles in a single day. I managed to actually keep that up for one day, too. Then I had to do 20 miles in order to get close to Lassen so that I could make it the 20 miles through Lassen in one go.

As I approached the northern boundary of Lassen, I was met with a rather foreboding warning. A nobo hiker passed me, and all he said was, “Turn around.” I already had been dreading the Dixie Burn Scar, so this was not necessarily welcome.

Sparking Joy (or not)

I never watched the Marie Kondo Netflix series, but I understand that the basic concept is that an adorable, petite woman comes into your home and asks if certain objects spark joy. If they do, you keep them. Otherwise off they go. 

Since my hike was always going to be a LASH, I found myself with a more open mind than on the AT. When the snow banks north of Etna sparked not joy but anguish and desolation, I skipped them. When my knee refused to cooperate once I hit the Burney Falls campground, not even taking me the last eight or so miles to the highway, I listened and didn’t despair the missing miles. 

But it was in this section that I fully developed my approach to this hike. And it had everything to do with Marie Kondo. 

I hiked the northernmost 35 miles of the Dixie burn scar, from Lassen to Chester. In that time I saw what had once been beautiful wilderness reduced to charred remains. The sun beat cruelly down, no tree canopy remaining to block the rays. Every inch of me was covered in a layer of ashy dirt, and each time I blew my nose I could see black ashes in it. I was not having fun. It was depressing to see the destruction. This did not spark joy. 

So I decided I wouldn’t hike more of it, and immediately I felt freer. 

Unfortunately the bus between Chester and Quincy doesn’t run on weekends, so the next day I found myself embarking on an ambitious and ultimately three part hitch to Quincy. Thankfully I had the High Sierra Music Festival working in my favor and people were flocking to Quincy that weekend. Once I got to town, I resupplied and grabbed a late lunch, then got a fourth and final hitch back to the trail.

Ultimately, this section of trail gave me renewed energy: my knee, while not pain-free, was allowing me to keep piling on the miles, and I’d found a way to hike where I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

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