Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity of strength. – Betty Friedan
An owl wakes me before dawn, hooting in the forest. It’s not exactly a sunrise spot, so I pack and plan to make breakfast along the way. My first water is a pool tucked under trees, fresh and cool.
The noise bothers me and leaves a bad taste with me still. I was interviewed for an article in The Atlantic about noise pollution. When the editor fact checked he asked if I consider myself sensitive to noise. I answered, “No, I think we’re all overwhelmed by noise and we feel powerless.” Noise compromises both our physical and mental health, so it’s no wonder I’m feeling a kind of aftershock.
But I also haven’t had any coffee. So I stop at a log and make some. And eat three bars. This ‘hiker hunger’ phenomenon is real. I pack up and get back on trail and soon feel much better, thinking about how to organize my bear box for the Sierra. Here, in the woods, I break into a huge smile. This hike was supposed to last a few weeks, just enough time to begin to feel more grounded. I’m not healed yet, and I’m fully in it with Richard’s blessing. Soon, I’ll be walking in the Sierra, my favorite place in the world. And to think, I got here from Canada on foot!
The trail is easy, mostly down and in the shade. A woodpecker lets out an hysterical laugh in a forest filled with a sickly sweet odor from a new fern on my walk. I see Oliver loping along ahead and walk with him as the forest thins to browned grass, oak and rock with the sound of rushing water. Falls splash down this dry, almost cliche, piece of Northern California, Klaus already has his feet soaking and I join him. We wave over a NOBO and share a tiny strip of shade.
The rest of the walk to the state park is exposed, sunny, full of prickly plants and oddly beautiful. Windmills march on a ridge in the distance. The Pitt River is dammed creating a turquoise Lake Britton and we walk right over it. Back in woods, I spy campers and cars, the tourists – most of them carrying a bit too much weight, but happily chatting in myriad languages. Burney Falls is just to our left. At first, we go to an overlook, which gives us views of tourists on rocks far below looking at something we can’t see. We edge down a bit more and I tell Klaus we need to leave our packs and just go all the way down; we might not ever be back.
He gives me the hiker first bump (no one shakes hands afraid they’re never very clean) and we skip down, jostling people dressed in shalwar kameez and tank tops and dress shoes and cut offs. Down to clear rushing water where Brook, Rainbow and Brown Trout haunt the eddies, grass springs up on rock islands and the mist offers an a/c reprieve. The falls themselves are simply glorious, looking like one you’f see in Maui or Iceland with two main channels and hundreds of others seeping right out of the limestone. This is the trick of these falls – even when the creek is bone dry, they have cached so much water inside the stone, they miraculously fall. We were mesmerized and delighted when a tourist asked if we were hikers. Now, skinny and dirty, it’s obvious.
It’s still a long walk, so we leave reluctantly and eat all the food that’s left at a weird horse camp with weeds taller than me, but fresh water from a spigot. After this, the walk is long and hot through increasingly desert-like conditions of sand and scrubby brush. The heat is intense. I drink two liters and carry one, though I feel my energy flag in this desolate area. Blue mountains surround, I can even see the snow on Shasta, but all seems marginal in here.
We hit a major road with only a few rocky miles uphill to a hiker friendly ranch. It’s Christian-based, so no booze, but Mike and Linda are ready for us with showers, laundry, a porch swing and a well-stocked hiker store. Moses is here and a guy who calls himself ‘Steady’ arrives and we all drink about four sodas before digging into large burritos.
I’m amazed that after only a few days, I need this stop to get clean and grounded. Klaus and I strategize on the porch and he says he likes hiking with me because it’s ‘uncomplicated.’ It’s true. We don’t talk a lot and we don’t always hike together, but we help each other and trust we’ll be where we say we’ll be. We also have just about the same pace. It works and I still feel plenty of solitude.
The moon is a sliver and the stars have a cricket accompaniment. Tomorrow will be hard, but it begins with a huge breakfast. ‘Til tomorrow!