Slowing Down (& Speeding Up) in NorCal
“I want to be able to look up at the views while walking and not risk falling off a sun cup or into a raging river or down a snowy slope. Or imagine… being able to look at the map without stopping?” Well… here I was. On dry trail in NorCal. Officially gone were the days of waking up at 2:15 a.m. to race the sun and hike before the snow got soft. It was finally time to slow down – to jump in the lakes, to take lunch naps, and to pick up all the large pinecones. It was also time to speed up – to start picking up mileage.
In the Sierra, hiking 10-15 miles through the snow was physically exhausting, mentally taxing, and would take all day. Now that the dry trail of the PCT was back, it was time to start hiking 20, 25, 30 miles per day (I was trying to reach Canada, after all!!).
Trying to slow down and speed up felt like a joke. I was still processing the intensity of the Sierra. My body was sore adjusting to the extra miles. My feet ached and burned (a truly gnarly sensation) with every step. NorCal’s large burn zone areas, long climbs, and bigger miles were about to test me in a way that I was not fully ready for after the Sierra.
July 25 / PCT Day 86 / NorCal Day 13 / 10.1 Miles
“You saw some things out there didn’t you… I can see it in your eyes.” the guest keeper at the Bidwell House B&B said as she poured me some orange juice on the patio during breakfast. I had just told her that I had walked to her little town of Chester, CA, after hiking through 600 miles of snowy mountain terrain. After a day and night of rest, multiple showers, and lots of food, I woke up finally realizing my feat – hiking half of the Pacific Crest Trail over the last 85 days, and it was all over my face (and eyes, apparently). I was starting to understand more about myself, my abilities, and my drive. And I still had another 1300 mile to hike.
Later that day, a trail angel dropped us off back home – at a PCT trailhead in the middle of the Dixie Fire burn scar. My freshly cleaned clothes and ash free bare legs were about to be no match for the next hundred miles of burn zone. After hiking about 10 miles, we reached a group campsite where a handful of hikers in our new “bubble” were setting up camp. A group dinner, a packed-out beer, and good conversation was a perfect way to kick off this next section of trail.
July 26 / PCT Day 87 / NorCal Day 14 / 28.2 Miles
When you think of the PCT, the first image that comes to mind is probably not a steaming geyser… Until a few weeks ago, I did not know that a geyser would be on my PCT itinerary. As I hiked into the boundaries of Lassen Volcanic National Park, I was curious for what the day was going to hold. We had picked out a number of blue blazes, trails that are off of the PCT, to visit National Park highlights including the Terminal Geyser and Boiling Springs Lake.
As I hiked down the blue blaze to the first field trip of the day, I started seeing steam high in the sky. I felt like a kid as we rushed down the steep side trail to get a better view. I laughed as I watched the impressive display of water shooting up from the rocky crevasse and the steam consistently spewing. How random. I had a feeling I was going to like this little, weird section.
July 27 / PCT Day 88 / NorCal Day 13 / 29.4 Miles
Today began with another field trip! A diner breakfast at JJ’s Cafe and a trip to the Lava Subway Cave. I was starting to really enjoy the blue blazes of NorCal. Don’t get me wrong, hiking North for 88 days straight had been great, but the distraction from hiking north and choosing nearby places to explore was refreshing and reenergizing. After pancakes, a detour to the cave, trail register reading break, nap, and a surprise trail magic break, the sun was setting before I knew it.
Hiking nearly 30 miles takes a long time, and by taking any breaks, making it to camp before sunset is unlikely. I felt uneasy as I looked at my watch, knowing there was a good chance that I would be hiking in the dark to my selected campsite at the mile 1400 milestone. As the sun began to set, my anxiousness melted away a bit. Time slowed. I took in the beautiful golden trail in front of me. If hiking longer miles meant experiencing this feeling every evening, maybe I wouldn’t mind it too much.
July 28 / PCT Day 89 / NorCal Day 14 / 20.7 Miles
ICE CREAM! TOWN FOOD! WATERFALLS! It was Burney Falls day – a day I had on my radar, as I was excited to see the towering waterfall that sat just beyond the PCT.
Today consisted of a lot of core memories. Mexican restaurant town food. Washing my dirty feet in a grocery store parking lot. Soda. Hitching a ride from a cop. The best ice cream cone swirl. The biggest waterfall ever. A group camp dinner hang. It was a good day (editing this post trail makes me laugh at the components of a “good day” on trail).
As we gathered around for the biggest group camp dinner I had in a while. Chewy, Maya, Brooke, Spud, and I sat in a circle and talked about one of our bubble’s most talked about subjects – the Sierra. The topic that seemed never ending. It felt good to be surrounded by people who were also still reflecting and processing their time out there. I felt seen when I talked with them about it. “Okay serious question. Did you all actually enjoy the Sierra? Or did you just get through it?” Chewy asked. I respected this question. I also respected that no one knew how to answer it.
July 29 / PCT Day 90 / NorCal Day 15 / 28.9 Miles
I often find myself on a trail on my birthday, as it helps me connect with myself and reflect on my past year and year to come. This year, the choice was easy. I would be hiking on my birthday! The day started with a sunrise walk past Lake Britton and over the Lake’s dam. There were views of Mt. Shasta and dandelion lined trails and no cell service and quiet. I had packed out some birthday cards that friends and family sent me and a beer to celebrate. As I watched the sun go down while tucked into my quilt, I thought to myself how lucky I felt. I thought about how full life felt. I thought about how much I cared for the people I had met on trail and for the people back home. I thought about how content I was with my little backpack and a trail. Cheers to 27 years old.
July 30 / PCT Day 91 / NorCal Day 16 / 29.5 Miles
I took in the views of Mt. Shasta on the horizon appreciating its beauty after the miles of green tunnel I had just hiked through. For the first time in a while, I felt ready for a break – a day off from racing North, a day of nothing, a day off of my feet.
Today I felt the length of each mile. Today I thought about how important finishing the trail and reaching Canada was to me. I thought about if this goal took away from my journey. If my commitment to reach Canada by whatever means necessary was the “wrong” mindset. I still don’t know the “right” answers to any of this. But knowing how my story ends, I would not change a single thing.
July 31 / PCT Day 92 / NorCal Day 17 / 22.8 Miles
Today’s goal…? Get to the town of Mt Shasta before my feet fell off of my body. Dramatic? Maybe. Realistic? At this point, maybe.
I was at the point where unless I tapped into a different part of my brain, I couldn’t help but limp along the trail due to the burning, aching feeling in the balls of my feet. It was no doubt time to upgrade my poor trail runners, and I was in luck. The gear store in town, Fifth Season Inc., had a reputation for fixing thru hiker foot concerns. The man in charge was affectionately called “Shoe Jesus”, and I could not have been more excited to pay him a visit.
We got a lucky hitch in an RV along the highway and an unlucky drop off at the highway ramp leading into town. I hobbled up the street into town and headed straight for Shoe Jesus (I was in rough shape… barely able to cross the crosswalk before lights turned green again). I walked into Fifth Season Inc. before realizing how absolutely filthy I was. I decided to buy new trail sandals to air out my achy feet before returning tomorrow for a proper fitting and consultation with the man in charge.
My mind and feet felt a little relief as we walked through town making our triple B strategy – Burgers, Beer, and Bathroom (we later added more B’s to the criteria list including Burritos, Bed, etc.).
August 1 / PCT Day 93 / NorCal Day 18 / 10.1 Miles
After a magical visit with foot Jesus, a brand-new pair of shoes and insoles, a candy resupply, a trail bubble reunion, and another strong triple B showing at the Black Bear Diner, it was finally time to get a hitch out of Mt. Shasta and back to trail. A car slowed and pulled over, “Hey guys! I will take you back to trail, BUT I need a favor. My kid is asleep in the backseat, and I need to pop into the grocery store without waking him up. Can you guys babysit in the car real quick? …I trust PCT hikers.”
The PCT community is truly special, and today marks 3 months of being in that community. 3 months of living on the Pacific Crest Trail. What a beautiful 3 months it has been. I have felt strong. I have felt weak. I have felt happy. I have felt scared. I have felt supported. I have felt true exhaustion. I have felt an intense love for life. I have felt freedom.
I feel thankful every day that I took a leap of faith and chased my PCT dream. I chased down my big, scary, silly dream, and I feel so damn lucky every day.
August 2 / PCT Day 94 / NorCal Day 19 / 28.4 Miles
I woke up and sprung up, motivated to knock out the morning’s climb in time to catch the full moon set at sun rise. I credit the moon for a lot of motivation throughout the trail. I had been really feeling the “NorCal Blues” over the last few weeks.
Today was different. NorCal Blues… meet the Trinity Alps! As I hiked up and out of the green tunnel, the Trinity Alps glowed with the morning light. I saw day hikers (!) enjoying the Trinity Alps grandeur. I ran into an old friend from the Desert when I stopped at a spring for lunch. We talked about how far we’d both come since the Desert. I felt happier than I had just a few days ago. I felt more refreshed and content and ready to embrace the NorCal miles ahead.
August 3 / PCT Day 95 / NorCal Day 20 / 32.6 Miles
The Trinity Alps ridges kept me going on for a solid 32.6 miles today. Wandering on the ridge and getting closer and closer to the Marble Mountains had been in awe for most of the day. Days like this were quiet and filled with episode upon episode of podcasts (Jay Shetty, Diary of a CEO, How I Built This). Experiencing days where I just put one foot in front of another and zoned out to the beauty and a podcast felt healing. I paused when I reached the top of a pass at the end of the day before descending a quarter mile down trail to camp. I looked at the mountains and lakes below, felt the weight of the wind, and just took a full stop, pause. I wandered down to camp where I immediately passed out in my tent in the middle of yet another burn zone.
August 4 / PCT DAY 96 / NorCal Day 21 / 29.6 Miles
I sat on top of my backpack in the gravel parking lot with a group of hikers and trail runners who had also just reached the parking lot. They opened the hitch of their car and pulled out a cooler. I sat on the ground drinking a lemon spindrift and eating a pickle. It started to lightly rain as we spoke. I sat there, unbothered by the rain, unworried about the thunder, and completely content in that moment.
I felt a little sad as we said bye to the other hikers who were hitching to Etna. I had enjoyed my quick conversations with Beetle Juice and bubbles of hikers were rare at this point in my journey due to various flip flops (spoiler! I would see Beetle Juice again!).
“29.6.” I said and shrugged my shoulders as I unclipped by backpack’s hip belt. It was 7PM, and I had been hiking all day… yet I somehow felt unsatisfied by the missing 0.4 miles. How was it never enough? It was addicting. Once I hit bigger miles, I no longer recognized the challenge that came with every single mile. Spud and I cracked open trail magic beers we found along the trail and celebrated the 1600 miles that were officially behind us.
August 5 / PCT DAY 97 / NorCal Day 22 / 28.7 Miles
I woke up and hiked slowly along the ridge, enjoying the show as the sky turned deep orange preparing for the sun to peak over the horizon before I dipped down to the other side of the ridge. On the other side of the ridge, laid countless fallen trees over the trail. If I had to guess, by noon, I had probably climbed over 200 blow downs (fallen trees). Some fallen trees could be easily stepped over, some required short reroutes, and some involved true “blowdown parkour” which I now feel certified in.
I stopped dead in my tracks when I rounded a bend and saw about 10 horses roaming around. I laughed, searching for signs or explanations for why they were wandering around the PCT. I quickly saw a trail maintenance team and gear… these were work horses! I took photos of the horses, excited to talk with Spud at camp about if he saw them as well. When we got to camp, I pulled up my blurry little photos and he pulled up a photo he had taken as well. I am his stealing his photo below because I am still curious how he got this work horse to pose on the side of the mountain for this stunning shot… Thank you trail maintenance teams for all the work you do to making hiking through this section possible!
August 6 / PCT DAY 98 / NorCal Day 23 / 25.3 Miles
The morning was full of more blowdown parkour and burn zones. But in 25.3 short miles… I would be eating town food and showering and probably drinking a soda and/or beer.
“Potluck dinner is at 6PM. We will have salad and hot dogs and hamburgers and ribs and pie and ice cream and MORE.” The camp host at the Wildwood RV Park said as I handed him cash for a tent site and shower. I looked around and saw over 15 hikers laying around the RV Park. When I looked closer, I started seeing familiar faces. The Wildwood RV Park was the place to be! I sat down at the dinner table with Spud and Ricardo who I started hiking with from Day 2 onward throughout the Desert. Platinum and her trail family that I met before hiking the LA Aqueduct rolled in halfway through dinner. Mountain Goat who I met at the The Hostel California in Bishop sat near the end of the table. And so many more familiar faces smiled and shared stories over the best food I had eaten in a while.
The camp host shared stories from his first year of being a trail angel and hosting hikers at his RV Park in the heart of the small Seiad Valley downtown. I was once again blown away by the generosity and kindness surrounding us in this PCT community.
August 7 / PCT DAY 99 / NorCal Day 24 / 22.3 Miles
As I walked away from the Wildwood RV Park, I tried not to psych myself out for the daunting climb out of Seiad Valley ahead. “Blackberries!” Spud said as he stopped and started collecting a handful and giving me some. At least we had snacks for our climb!
It was a long, hot climb up and over Rattlesnake Mountain where at the top, I hid in a bush for a shaded break, hoping not to see the mountain’s namesake as I laid down. Today was my 99th and last full day hiking through California. Around lunchtime, a large shady area, a slow trickle of water, and a very curious deer made for the perfect lunch and nap spot before tackling the rest of the day and additional climbs.
As I descended down to the road, I saw a giant rock sign (always an exciting moment on trail). “GO KAREL!” it read. I was very aware that Karel Sabbe had been on my heels over the last few days as he pursued a supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) hike (READ: run) of the PCT. Updates from Karel Sabbe’s team as he ran through the – still snowy – Sierra and was still on track to break the FKT record had inspired me over the last few weeks. This sign made me smile as I knew he was going to pass me soon on his race to Canada. Spoiler: Karel Sabbe passed my mile marker on the PCT while I was in Ashland for a town day! And I am still sad about it! Spoiler 2: Karel Sabbe broke the FKT record this year!
August 8 / PCT DAY 100 / NorCal Day 25 / 28.9 Miles
Today was a big day. After 100 days of hiking north through California, I would finally cross into a new state. Oregon was coming. When I reached the California – Oregon Border, I grabbed the trail register book and sat in the dirt. Trail registries told so many stories of old friends. I started flipping through the pages. Hikers were prompted in these books to write the date, their trail name, and direction they were hiking. I paused when I saw sometimes written in the margins “1:00 AM…3:00 AM”. Detour, Cinder, Booster, and Rocket had all reached the border in the wee hours of the night two days before.
I laughed picturing their conversation and unhinged decision to hike the 50 miles from Seiad Valley to the border in 1 day. It made me smile knowing that they were just a day or so ahead of me. It also made me smile that it was not 3 AM, and that I could see the border sign and my first view of Oregon from the PCT.
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