Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement. – Golda Meir
My spot is absolutely flat and I am, oh, so comfortable. Suddenly, a giant in snappy flip flops passes three feet from my head and shines his headlamp at my face.
“Knock it off!” I yell and he slowly flip-flops away. I’m now comfy and wide awake, considering everything that could go wrong in my life, wondering if my reputation is in tatters.
It’s up to me to calm myself down. I cry and then talk soothingly to myself. I’m glad I brought my tiny Kobo reader. I eventually fall asleep and a new day dawns, absolutely crystal clear and cool.
The trail takes me up and over a saddle under Devil’s Peak. So many mountains and crags get the name ‘devil.’ This one looks like a mini El Capitan curving gracefully. I reach the last water at a stunning view where campers are packing up. I camel up, but carry no water for what I believe is an eleven mile jaunt.
It’s rocky here, and exposed, so I put on sun gloves, hat and buff. A man passes me telling me it’s rocky for a long way and the mosquitos are awful once I meet the trees. I show him my bug burka and say I don’t mind rocks.
A short set of switchbacks pull me to the top where I see the snowy frosted cake of Mount Shasta for the first time. I am ecstatic. California is calling, so I begin singing Joni Mitchel’s hit, “California, I’m comin’ home!” I love how all of the jewels string out on this hike from Rainier to Adams, Hood to Jefferson and now Shasta. A hiker passes me and says I’ll be seeing it for weeks – and apparently, it never appears to get closer.
The trail does stay on rock atop a ridge with views down to lapis blue lakes, tall trees reflected in the glassy surface. The rocks are beautifully shaped and make a tinkling sound as I walk. I need to use my sticks to keep from tripping.
Several hikers pass and it gives me such joy to hear “Happy trails!” in a foreign accent and said with a smile. I come up and over and begin a descent when I suddenly realize that I flipped my day. I thought the eleven mile stretch was in the morning, but it’s in the afternoon. I need to walk nearly seventeen miles with only two liters of water in my body – and all of it quickly being expelled.
A couple I meet, both in straw hats, are concerned, but I assure them I am ok, sucking on hard candy. The day is not that hot and the exertion is minimal. They tell me it’s “mostly down” so off I go into a section in need of trail maintenance with many downed trees and small ones growing up right into the trail.
I keep moving, though my attention gets distracted by every little muscle pain. It’s that whole balancing act of moving fast to get through and yet moderating my speed so I don’t stress my overused muscles.
The trail goes down into dense forest for a while and I begin to see why people call Oregon ‘flat and boring.’ It just seems to go on and on without change. The time confuses me as though so much has passed. yet it’s still morning.
A woman approaches and holds out her phone showing me a bearded young man she’s looking for. I tell her they all look the same to me and she huffs off. Another man arrives, music cranked on his phone.
Soon the trail comes back into the sunlight, but it still feels endless. I’m thirsty, but mostly just tired. I don’t get ‘hangry’ but rather sad when hungry. I feel such a failure miscalculating the distance and that begins a pile on of all my failings. I truly don’t think I’ll faint away from thirst, but I am in a kind of trance from the non-stop walking in the sun, the spring so far away.
I begin to cry on the trail and a lovely young hiker tells me, “It’s ok! It’s literally five minutes away!” And five minutes on the nose I come to a sign for Christie’s Spring, an oasis in this parched upland – the lakes are full of fresh water, but about 1000 feet or so below the trail.
It’s down a trail to a wide pool with water gurgling through. I fill up and drink two liters right away. Then I take more up to the shady spot by the trail where David is eating and Tim, an Oregon section hiker, joins in. I have two lunches and feel like a new person.
We talk about all sorts of things including hiking, of course. I mention that no one hikes with me – at least regularly – because I saunter, except the one time when Cheerio followed me. Here, David jumps in to mention she must have wanted to go slow with a broken femur. I crack up. That would describe my speed – ole broken-leg Al.
Then he mentions he has a crush on Cheerio. I think they all did. When we leave, I do pick up the pace for a few miles so we can talk. He may have me convinced to listen to something on headphones when the going gets hard. I’m not a purist, I just enjoy being totally present.
But soon, he speeds on and I plod the final push. I want to mention that I am not walking crazy long distances to prove anything. The trail is ‘easy’ because it’s a ramp, so seems to beg us to go further, which you can do if you walk all day as I do.
There is the pressure to get to the Sierra before October to avoid getting caught in the first snow. But today was all about water. I arrive at Christie Spring at 1:00, far too early to camp. I’d have to carry water to a ‘dry camp’ or walk to the next source, so I plan this big mile day to camp next to water.
This section is wooded, though I see a hint of Mount McLaughlin and her snowy fingers through the trees. David is right that I ought to listen to something in places like this that just roll on and on for miles. I really have nothing to say except I sing and walk for three and a half hours, the final part endless through a dark forest.
When I finally arrive at the rushing stream, David has placed himself in the rapids. I rinse my feet, face and hair and look for my ‘wee single camp spot by a bubbler.’ And I find it! No bugs, flat ground, plenty of water (drowning out highway noise) and solitude. I lean against a tree as the sun filters through and make dinner, drink magnesium for my muscles and then get horizontal. It’s late and I am absolutely bushed. A shorter stretch tomorrow, but now, sleep!