The difference between successful people and others is how long they spend time feeling sorry for themselves. – Barbara Corcoran
It was a bit of a whirlwind waking up and getting ready to go. I wish we had a week together to talk, make food, take some hikes and even see a few plays, but there was only this sliver of time to get to know Maria – like a soul sister.
We still talk non-stop as I pull together my resupply and Maria sews a denim heart patch on the bottom of my ripped pants. They’re now as cute as can be – and serviceable, maybe even to the end. Maria feeds me eggs with kale, pepper and onion plus plenty of coffee and we’re off, back to highway 66 to pick up where I left off as she will go on a hike in California to a hot mineral spring.
The day is again clear and beautiful. The sun is warm, but there’s a cool breeze. I think about some of the comments I am receiving about this hike, that I’m less fraught, my words are more uplifting, that I seem less fearful. I was afraid when I went to New Zealand, that something would go wrong – and it did. Perhaps now that I have that out of the way, I can simply focus on living in this moment without fear.
At the trailhead, we take selfies and hug goodbye. I see Erin, Rook and Bounce starting off too but they don’t wave. It’s probably best to stay behind them anyway as we are not on the same hiking wavelength. The first section is through private property, dry with a sharp sweet odor like slightly burned caramel.
Ten nasty NOBO’s pass me, all seemingly mute. Maria tells me of the ‘two week Oregon challenge’ where hikers try to walk the nearly 500 miles in 14 days. She loves these trails and can’t fathom why someone would want to charge through as fast as possible like walking a treadmill. Perhaps sheer exhaustion has put these particular hikers in foul moods.
My challenge is to continue being totally present by not wearing headphones and by acknowledging those I pass with a smile and a few words. This statement might get me in hot water, but I think those going fast, head down, no talking, headphones jammed in, are actually wimps. Sure, they have strong legs and lungs, youth is on their side for that. What they lack is the emotional strength to stay in the moment of their own thoughts. I mean, really, isn’t the beauty of this place enough stimulus?
I come to a meadow, open to views of Shasta and more meadows. Ahead is a parking lot where I meet John, a sort of permanent parker working on his trailer deck. He says this is the best summer in twenty years. There’s a pit toilet but no toilet paper.
I continue up towards my first water source, a pond with a few springs. Several day hikers pass, all the polar opposite of thru-hikers – happy, friendly, relaxed. They tell me not to bother with these little hard-to-reach streams, and offer to fill both my bottles with their own water. I call these lovelies ‘on-the-trail angels’, as generous as can be.
Another hiker stops to ask if I’m walking ‘the whole way,’ and I say yes and he gives me a huge smile, tells me he thinks I’m doing great and shares his excitement for what’s coming up in the next several miles. I am deeply touched – and feel so privileged. These people love their trails and I am a guest. I know I’ll enjoy all that’s ahead.
I find a shady spot in the forest to drink a liter of water with added electrolytes. I lay out all the bars I bought at the superb market in Ashland where nearly every kind is available. Variety is the key to surviving a thru-hike and I have it in spades for the next four days.
I work my way down and skip a puddly water source with one liter in my belly and one on my back. It’s a long way to the next source, but I feel confident. A good climb takes me towards Pilot Rock, a basalt uplift with play-dough-like trapezoidal columns squeezed out from an ancient eruption resting on tilted shelves. The trail comes around, then down towards the interstate, loud but still far away.
I cross bridges over dry stream beds and pass black oaks covered in large yellowish balls. The road I reach is 99 and I walk on it for maybe a half mile, passing under 5 then back up and above it. I call Richard to check in and we have a great talk, missing each other a lot but both happy that I’m away and doing this thing now while I can.
A spur leads to a resort I’ll skip since last night can’t be topped. I meet a gal named Kate out for just the next four days, but she is still getting her trail legs and I move up steep Mount Ashland a bit faster, stopping for water at a stream and then continuing up and up to an old inn, now a private residence, where the owner seems content allowing us hikers to top up at an outdoor faucet.
Weighed down, I climb a bit more to a clearing in the woods and set up next to several huge boulders. The wind blows in the tops of the trees and Kate catches up, setting nearby. It’s a creamy corn chowder for dinner given to me by Maria with added cilantro flakes. And now it’s dark and I am off to sleep, preparing for tomorrow when I just might walk to California.