Normal is not something to aspire to; it’s something to get away from. – Jodie Foster
The morning is cool and lazy as Moses, Steady and I roll out of our tents at about the same moment, smelling biscuits and gravy ready for our consumption. A long, hot, waterless day awaits my feet on the Hat Creek Rim, but there are two caches and a spring down steep switchbacks, so I’m willing to walk this section in the heat of the day.
I purchase a few provisions, not needing a full resupply as I will hit a cafe and a ranch for food in the coming days. Last night when I arrived, I regaled Mike, sitting on his 4×4 patrolling the property, with questions about food and their store. It’s basically serve yourself with an honor system keeping track on a little tally. I spend way too much on sodas and sweets, but I guess I need them – enough to feed a small family. Funny little lesson in all of this nervous energy I have and how everything has a way of working out, and it just wastes time and leaks out my power to worry.
I load up now even more on calories and camel up on water before heading out on the trail – which I lose immediately. I somehow get on a parallel dirt road for a ways, afraid to overland to the trail and step on a rattlesnake. But the grass isn’t too high and I just need to work around a few spiky plants before I see the way.
It’s dusty and scrubby but I meet a lake in no time filled with geese and fisherman. It’s created by a dam with an intricate system surrounding it and no camping signs provided by PG&E. The trail heads up now out of this riparian zone to something resembling desert. There’s still plenty of trees for shade as I walk on a trail twisting and turning in the driest area I’ve walked yet. This morning – and right now – are filled with camaraderie as I follow Klaus for a while, then push ahead as he chats with Moses. It’s the kind of hike I’ve longed for – easygoing, supportive, friendly.
We arrive at a highway and just beyond is a cache with several large water jugs and a six-pack of cherry coke in ice water. Absolute heaven as the heat begins to rise to have such cold drinks. The yellow-jackets hang a bit too close, but ignore my hand reaching into the cooler. I promise, I take only one coke.
I had a dream last night that I was preparing a broadcast and interviewing a musician, only to realize I would never do that again. I guess in reality, that remains to be seen, but I was filled with such sorrow losing something I loved deeply. I walk on rocky dust towards a huge wall of lava rocks, realizing that I will be on top of them soon. At my feet are thousands of pine cones dried to a gray crispiness bringing me back to my present.
Mount Lassen is the final jewel in a string of volcanoes that began with Rainier. It pops into view below and I will walk right past it in a few days. My feet crunch black pumice as the trail rises steeply up onto the rim. It’s stunningly beautiful and I’m so happy to be in this right in the middle of the day. The lava flow left this high, flat top jutting out with lots of ashy black rock visible above a wide valley. Shasta looks back at his sister-volcano over this enormous expanse.
Each step takes me higher onto the rim and deeper into drier conditions with fewer large trees and more thorny scrub. Dead trees appear in motion, their sun bleached bodies feel alive, active. The smell here is on the edge of ammonia, like dry urine until sage takes over as mother nature’s air freshener. At one junction, I see the first of the cool cut-out metal signs used in Yosemite.
At a dirt road, a cattleman has installed a tank for his cows and a tank for hikers. He asks for donations which I freely give. It must be costly to replenish this water. We filter it in a shady spot and take a long lunch break. My legs and feet are already full of dust that sticks to my skin like stage makeup. Last night, Linda told us we all had to wash our hands first before doing pretty much anything. A very wise rule. I mention to Steady the men at Big Lake who wouldn’t wash before lunch. He tells me that there is actually a ‘no shower challenge’, as if walking 2600+ miles isn’t enough of a challenge. Who comes up with these ideas?
I don’t wash, however, with the precious tank water and just try to eat carefully. Moses heads on and Klaus and I have a bit of a laugh because this strong, fast young man keeps ending up with us old hikers. I guess it’s no wonder he’s jittery about getting to the halfway point, in less than 100 miles. A couple returns from a day hike and I ask if they have a soda in their truck to sell. The guy says no, but he’d love to have a drink with me, and offers to think of me when getting his next drink. We have another good laugh, then get back on trail for the hottest part of the day.
It’s not a hard trail at all. A bit rocky underfoot, but ‘cruisy’ albeit with no views just now as the scrub is high and dense. My energy wanes a bit, but the wind is blowing steadily and I’m comfortable. There are cows up here, these without bells so they don’t attract mountain lion or wolf. I moo at my California cows so as not to startle them – at least not too much.
The trail comes to a road with a massive tank set aside only for cows. I have to go in then out on a V to avoid a ravine. At the point of the V is a trail register and my first time signing on as ‘Singet.’ Coming back around is the trail junction to the water I can hear far below. I drop my pack at the little campsite and Klaus and I brave just four switchbacks – four very long and steep switchbacks – to collect water.
I only take my two clean and two dirty bottles plus the filter, but I have to use my hands over some rock and I get nervous I won’t be able to get back up with filled bottles – or they’ll tumble out of my hands, never to be retrieved. The water is down and down and down some more, but so worth it as my shoes come off and my cling-on dustiness dunks in icy water under trees. The bottles get filled with only one scare of nearly losing the purifier in the rapids. Klaus says he wants to move on from this site to the one with a view in less than a mile, mainly because hiker trash left heaps of TP flowers.
I agree, but the sun is setting so I throw on the shoes, grab the water and head up those long and steep switchbacks, holding tight to my water bottles. I huff and puff to the top, but get a move on as the sky turns orange and Shasta peeks into view.
Just as I round a corner, I encounter an aggressive hissing and rattling. I just miss stepping on a massive rattler coiled now under a log. I’m certain Klaus hears my screams and head on to a beautiful little site looking out to a pastel sky. I begin to set the alicoop as Klaus arrives. He did not hear my screams – and I did not hear his screams either as he also gets treated to a hissing rattling fit from this massive snake.
We make dinner and watch the sliver moon turn orange. The crickets are performing a symphony and the bats are dancing above our heads. Another perfect day.
A little bonus to show you where my trail name comes from…