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PCT Day 54, seasonal creek to Etna Summit trailhead (Etna) 15 miles

It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody. – Maya Angelou

The morning begins pink – and damp. I know this going in. If I sleep on grass next to a stream, my tent will gather moisture and I’ll feel cold. But it’s worth it for the solitude, the stars and this beautiful mini-Sierra valley.

Yesterday, I came across light gray rock that had a melting, molding look but also slices as though a whet stone. When I touched it – like all climbers do – it had a rough, grabby texture that over time, would shred my fingers. Today’s rock is smoother, harder. Is it granite? I love its slabbiness and the light it gives off.

I see Colleen at her tent and a very dusty NOBO peeking out of her tent before I head up and down on a roller coaster of a trail filled with shards of my slabby gray rock. It takes me to perfect lakes nestled into the crags, trees looking down on their mirrored image. I realize sitting on a gnarled, disintegrating log at breakfast how happy I feel in this paradise I pass through, but also how badly I need reassurance that I am doing well, that I will succeed at my walk, that all is ok. This impulse is natural to want connection and comfort, but I often reach to the wrong person or fail to recognize people less fit to offer me support. When a hiker I consider a friend hasn’t seen me in a week and the first thing she says to me is, “We didn’t know you were ahead,” it’s unhelpful and isolating. I also find it curious that she – and her large group – would care about me, a solo hiker. Are they competing? And why with someone twice their age, I wonder.

I feel proud to be out here alone. Well, not entirely. You’re with me and Richard, but as far as all the little decisions, I am making them on my own. When I feel lonely I remind myself how strong and capable I am to do this on my own. The trail rises up to a crest, but then simply passes over to the other side of the ridge and continues. A hiker I met a few days back told me how interesting this place is. Like a maze, it looks as though you will never find your way out. The mountains march on and on in rows, as the trail sidles in and out like ribbon.

Last night, I met a hiker in my tiny magical mini-Sierra and he was also awestruck by the beauty, almost bewitched by it telling me he was bored with Northern California until here. I shrugged and told him he really ought to begin looking at small things. His eyes lit up and he said that as a photographer he must do just that when it’s foggy.

I like the analogy. We can’t see something clearly, so we change our focus from the big or obvious to the small or obscured. It helps us change the story and write our own ending. Here I see tiny yellow fungus on charred bark; the remains of tent sites on a ridge used last night but only with mattresses, their baffle marks imprinted in the dust; and a feeling that I’m in a theme park with a ride that whips me around a corner as the trail switches directions and I no longer know which way I’m headed. It shouldn’t surprise you that I sing “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka while here.

The views out don’t disappoint either, though dry and forbidding, lots of burned forest. A hiker passes me wearing two different kinds of tick removers on his pack. He tells me I’m the 13th hiker he’s passed and to make sure I fill up on water at the upcoming seasonal stream. I do just that because it is a long way to the road. I feel like I walk fast, but it takes all morning to go around and around with plenty of up and down and finally emerge at a road in full sun.

Another hiker admires my hat, saying it’s a Mad Hatter hat. I’d agree. But he’s just having lunch before hiking. I need to find a ride into Etna and there is no one around. One car comes out of town and parks and I ask if they’re headed back. They are not, but they do offer me a Pepsi.

We chat about the beautiful weather and I pet their dog when a truck comes by. At first, they’re reluctant to give me a lift because they’re fully loaded, but they make room in the back and I squeeze in with Olive Oyl and my sticks next to their heavy packs and sit on a mattress much like the plastic kind in the New Zealand huts. And what a ride! Ten miles downhill on tight hairpin curves, then cruisy straightaways where the wind forces me to smile. I feel like Katherine Hepburn in ‘African Queen’ when they take the rapids. Did she say the most exciting or most sensual experience of her life? I can’t remember.

I walk to the motel, though the guys warn me it’s Friday and likely sold out. But the trail provides and I get a room to shower, organize and use decent wifi – all things badly needed. Colleen appears a little later and we both resupply at the Dollar General around the corner. I cannot promise that I am eating well. But so far, not sick.

We meet later and walk to the main street taking in a local beer and live music, talking about some of the hiker attitude she calls, “I’m very important and I did a hard thing.” At least I have someone to laugh with, but it does cause concern that a lot of what I see on the trail is like life where people don’t care about others or our environment beyond what it can do for them right now.

Eighteen-year-old Milk Jug gets served – must be the beard – and brings a friend I have not met who calls himself ‘Silly Moose.’ He is a lovely person and I can’t figure out how I hadn’t seen him yet when he suddenly asks if I was camping under Mount Thielsen.

Oh dear. Friends, this young hiker came up the hill to my perfect little camp spot and instead of saying something nice like “hello” I asked, “Are you quiet?” I am so ashamed. It was getting late and I was fed up with loud hikers crashing into my solitude. Besides, hikers across the stream had a barking dog. But all Silly Moose came up for was to eat dinner and have a view. And he was so nice! He replied with something about my needing space and ended up making his dinner just below me, very quietly.

Fortunately, he seems to have a good sense of humor and will likely let it slide. I don’t want to be a selfish jerk trying to claim this place all to myself, but the loud groups do fray my nerves.

Tomorrow’s a new day and the Trinity Alps are calling, a place I hiked in my teens with my dad. I can’t wait – and I promise to be nice.

8 Responses

  1. So nice to “hear your voice” and see your beautiful photos again. A lovely contrast to all the bleak news.

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