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PCT Day 65, Lassen Volcanic National Park boundary to North Fork Feather River, 26 miles

The challenge is not to be perfect, it’s to be whole. – Jane Fonda

The only visitors overnight are curious deer. I hang my food away from rodents and very short bears. Nobody disturbs the food bag. Klaus uses an alarm, much to my consternation, and faffs about in the dark. I prefer a bit of light before packing up and leave after him, knowing I’ll catch up.

Mount Lassen is pink in the morning sun, but she’s hidden by folds of mountains and soon disappears for good. It’s quiet and I am all alone on a trail through burned areas and soft brown grass. It’s easy walking up and down and the air is cool, fresh. My mind wanders to the time we moved across country when I was nine. I felt so out of place in a suburban school after living in the country. In gym, we put all our clothes in a personal basket to change into a uniform. My grandmother had just died and all of her Navajo jewelry came to me, silver bracelets with turquoise, not valuable I don’t think, but precious because they were hers. I wore all of them at once to school, like nine year olds will do. They all had to come off for gym, but when I returned to my basket one day, they were gone.

I don’t know why I never told an adult. Maybe I felt ashamed that something like this could happen to me. Maybe I felt responsible. I told my classmates and one girl, Jean, took me into her confidence that it was another girl who took them. I got so wrapped up in the intrigue, I never did anything about it, just talked and talked until I forgot about it. My mom didn’t notice for some reason and I moved on.

Years later, another classmate named Mary told me Jean took them and hid the jewelry in her piano bench, then threw them away. Of course she did. I felt so betrayed and heart sick. And I blamed myself completely. I can still feel the little silver arrows on my tiny wrist.

This morning is heavenly – sunny and cool. I pass the ranger’s cabin then at Lower Twin Lake, a deep azure surrounded by pines. Klaus is already in, and I’m right after him. At first I hesitate because the wind is blowing and the sun is barely up, but the water feels so good and it’s a sandy bottom, easy on my feet. I am very slow, moving inch by inch, but finally go under into this spectacularly clear and clean lake. Absolute bliss.

Lassen is full of lakes, and I move on quickly to warm up towards Swan Lake, singing Tchaikovsky’s main theme – though I see no bird life at all.

The trail heads down towards a rushing stream where I stop for a snack. The contrast of sandy, dusty trail to riparian environment is stark. It makes this place special. Back on a steep uphill, I meet a fire ‘project manager’ named Joshua who leads a crew building a break. Many of the trees they cut are alive, so they won’t set it until next year. He says this summer is more like the past when fire season didn’t begin until October. I certainly hope he’s right. He tells me I have a lovely radio voice and makes my day.

At the top, the view opens to a huge valley of springs both cold and hot. The trail sidles the mountain with drip-castle like rock formations buttressing the cliff. I pass through a campground and immediately get lost missing my turn to Drakesbad Ranch. Klaus and I really hoof it once we find the road since lunch closes at 1:00. We arrive with three minutes to spare and most of the buffet gobbled up, but Shelby tells us lunch is on them, and besides, their wifi is down and they can’t charge us anyway.

Leftovers work for me! I eat enormous helpings of rice and lentils, beef and mixed salad plus about six glasses of lemonade. Hiking makes me very hungry. Drakesbad invites hikers to soak in the hot spring after a meal and I do just that, lounging on an assortment of ‘noodles’ in a swimming pool of 100-degree natural mineral water. I speak to a trio of three generations sharing some of my adventures. They tell me to write a book and I give them the blog address.

As we dress to go, another family arrives. The mom manages a ranch right near the trail so knows all about what we’re up to. She gives us the highest compliment of the hike – we don’t smell! It’s kind of true because we both like to swim, but also the material of our clothing doesn’t hold the stink. Maybe not looking like s thru-hiker is a good thing.

We certainly walk like one though, and head back out, hoping to go another eight miles or so. Dragonflies dance in the meadow as we detour to pass Boiling Springs Lake, where a sign warns not to venture too close. The sulphur smell burns my nostrils, the mud bubbles and steams in one cauldron, burps and farts in another. Two hikers were unimpressed with Terminal Geyser, but we dump our packs and head down anyway almost a mile to a steam vent plus more boiling mud and a hot hissing stream. The wind whips the cottony steam as if it’s solid matter. Klaus gets very close then runs back saying his feet are burning on the hot rocks.

The trail continues through forest, out the park with a side trip to water, but we don’t need it. The views are subdued of mountains covered in pine trees dotted by browning meadows. It’s up and up until finally a long way down. The campsite near a spring is a bit depressing. I look ahead on the map and see we can get right to water and camp if we walk another mile.

Which we definitely do, grabbing our liters, washing the feet then setting up above the soporific stream which is lulling me to sleep after this lovely day.

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