Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that this things must be attained. – Marie Curie
The wind picks up overnight, buffeting the alicoop from the side. I reach out to check the stake and tighten the vestibule, but it rattles and the air feels cold. I sleep better in cold, but it feels like a little warning that the days are getting shorter and the nights chillier, so I can’t dawdle on my way to the Sierra when altitude will make those nights freezing ones.
Klaus is up at first light and I’m not too far behind, enjoying the glow on Shasta and this volcanic region. The walk is stunning on the ridge and I dress in layers as the sun slowly peaks over the ridges. Cows check me out. I moo at them to say good morning, then they run quickly across the trail to look at me from the other side.
I also try to call out any ‘sneaky snakes’ before I step on one, but it must be too chilly still. Lassen glows pink as I descend towards a campground where a sign tells me in 2009, 800 bolts of lightning hit the Hat Creek Valley causing close to fifty separate wildfires. After that, the land managers changed how they manage, mostly prescribing controlled burns and clearing ‘ladder’ build up. It’s so dry here, I can only imagine how fast a fire could spread.
The trail rises to a lookout and bathroom on the ‘Volcanic Legacy Bypass’ and a man comes right up to me and asks my trail name. He offers his hand as well as his name – Toe Cutter. He hiked the PCT in 1987, a totally different era. He seems so pleased to meet a hiker, likely because our numbers are thinning. He gives me home made kombucha and a pile of fresh vegetables. His friend Grace from Argentina offers a sweet roll. I am so grateful and always taken by surprise by trail magic. I was starting to feel thirsty and the ginger beer tasted like heaven.
We talk about the trail and how for a time there, locals were shooting up caches and that had to be put to a stop. Hiking is so much easier now with light gear, map apps and social media – as well as more hikers. I feel so honored that he shares his time and goodies with me.
Toe Cutter makes sure we’re headed to The Subway before we say goodbye and continue our descent. It’s a tiny spur trail to a staircase leading underground. Lava flowed and hardened, creating a kind of tube for more lava to flow through leaving behind lava-froth hardened to a bumpy pumice surface. The tunnel curves, so it’s pitch black inside. Klaus tells me to turn out my light and I can’t tell if my eyes are open or closed.
We walk out the other side and simply keep walking to a road, then the little town of Old Station. This is one of my favorite parts of thru-hiking – walking to most things. At the gas station we top up on food, mostly bars, then head to J.J.’s Cafe for a burger and wifi. Two German brothers are there finishing breakfast and preparing to eat lunch next. I’m fine with just one meal, though I’m disappointed they’ve run out of ice cream, so head back to the gas station for my own private pint of Chocolate-Peanut Butter.
Klaus spends most of the time on the phone with his wife and I answer emails and blog comments. One really touches me from a follower named Tim. He tells me that unpleasant people are really in the minority, they just get more press. How true that is – and I certainly don’t want to be the person giving them a bigger megaphone. Richard, too, tells me when we talk that I need to remember all the amazing people I am meeting, especially when my mind gets stuck on the less amazing people.
The section hiker who found my yellow sit pad shows up. She calls herself ‘Pilot’ and is fun to hang out with as we wait out the worst heat. Her hiking partner dropped out because it was too hot, so she shares his resupply box with us. I take a pile of bars, but leave the razor and homemade dinners. We need to head out soon for about another ten miles, so we wrap things up. I grab water from a spigot and a tiny frog pours into my bottle. I pour him out before I sip and hike about a mile on the road. Most everyone is a tourist and waves at us like we’re celebrities.
Fortunately, the wind is blowing and most of the afternoon is flat and in the forest. I think of a piece I read in today’s New York Times about Labor Day and Americans obsession with work – and over-working. I know I make waves asking for vacation, mental health days and, once, an extended personal leave. It is not part of our culture to lead a balanced life. The article gives statistics to do with number of hours we work compared with the rest of the developed world, also how we have fewer hobbies and outside interests. I know personally that I always had an underlying fear that had I not made work my priority, I would be out of work.
But this is not the point of the article, just the background. What the author gets at is our obsession with being passionate about work, that it must give us meaning. He then uses an argument made by Seneca that we mustn’t look for our passion, rather we should look for our duty. What are we here on this earth to do, what are we made for and good at, how we are needed the most – these are the questions to ask, he says. Duty first and passion will follow.
It’s refreshing to read as I let go of something I felt passion for and try to allow my true gifts to speak for themselves – and help me carve out my next career. Most of my thoughts now are about ‘allowing’ instead of ‘making’ things happen. Funny how my legs and feet move on their own with very little direction from me, my arms guiding the sticks to stop a stumble or lift a branch to look for sneaky snakes. I simply come along on this ride.
The last water is Hat Creek, rushing beautifully with pitted black rock to sit on a soak my feet. I camel up a liter and carry two for four miles up towards the national park. We can’t camp inside without a bear-proof canister, and most of us won’t start carrying them until just before the Sierra. So the plan is to camp right at the boundary, as if bears won’t venture out.
I come into a gorgeous valley and spot Lassen glowing for just a minute in the late afternoon sun before she’s obscured by trees and other mountains. The camp spot is just a flat place in the woods, so I climb to a ridge and see if things are better. Not really. Forest camping it is with just enough time to finish Toe Cutter’s vegetables and a bit of cheese. I somehow lost my magnesium, but my muscles feel good. And I feel good as the sky turns orange, the waxing moon sets and stars fill the sky. Good night.