Day 64: The climb

23.0 miles (1238.0 to 1261.0)

I hike through the last of the dogwood bloom. The white flowers are beautiful. I pass through patches of huge sugar pines. For the first few hours, I get to walk without my hat. The breeze in my hair feels good. I’m vaguely going downhill, with lots of uphill patches along the way. Later today, I’ll be doing miles of uphill. I hope my body can handle the long, hot climb. But of course it can. I should know that by now. These little uphill bits are only tough because right now I’m mostly going downhill. Once my uphill muscles turn on, I’ll be fine. 

Just upslope, sticks break. I look. A fawn is running away from me. Immediately after, sticks break on the downhill side. I look. Whoa! A bear. A bear is charging me! I jump sideways to put a tree between us. With the tree in the way, I can’t see the bear. I can’t hear it, either. It’s not coming closer or running away. After a moment, I lean sideways, around the tree. And it’s like a cartoon: on the other side of the tree, the bear is leaning, peering around for a look at me. The instant our gazes meet, it shoots off down the slope. So it wasn’t charging me, after all. It was simply charging uphill, having no idea I was here. We scared each other. My legs are still shaking. My first bear encounter of the trip has occurred shortly before 8am at mile 1243.0.

There’s bear hair all over this sign.

I continue. The trail descends steeply into live oak and poison oak. I climb over fallen trees. I pass six southbound hikers before I reach the Middle Fork of the Feather River. I have enough water, so I don’t even stop. This is going to be a long, hot uphill slog. I need to knock out a few miles of climbing before I stop to rest. 

Middle Fork of the Feather River.

At Bear Creek, 12 miles into the day, I finally halt for lunch. I soak my feet in the cold, cold water. I check my progress. Seven miles of climbing remain, followed by 4-8 miles of relative flatness, depending on how far I want to hike today. 

So now it’s climb time. I collect enough water to hike to the next spring. I remember this as a relentless climb. I expect to work hard and be uncomfortable, possibly miserable, for the next three to four hours. It’s hot out here, but I keep a steady pace. I pass a few southbounders (SOBOs) sitting in the shade. I get lost in an audio book and, before I know it, I’m at the first spring. From here, it’s just over mile to the top. I’m doing well.

I reach Lookout Spring and the top of the climb at 3:10, drenched in sweat. I sit on a rock and take off my shoes and socks. Wham! A huge branch falls out of a snag near me. I watch it hit the ground. That was close. I scan the trees overhead for dead branches. None. Good. I eat a snack. Unexpectedly, I burst into tears. Wow. The full significance of this climb only dawns on me after I’m sobbing. Two years ago, climbing this mountain was a major milestone on my path to recovery; then, still on antibiotics, I wanted to find out how far I could hike in one day. Now I’m here as a real thru hiker. I’m not sick anymore. I sob for several minutes, smiling through the tears. I’m not sick anymore

More tears trickle out as I continue north. I pass Lookout Rock, then skirt along the ridge and descend toward Big Springs Road. I decide to stop at this lower road rather than trek another 4.4 miles to Bucks Summit. I text my mother-in-law. She’s available to pick me up. I sit by the road and wait. My body feels like it’s taken a beating. With snowbanks, fallen trees, and elevation gain, these have been a tough few days. 

At Lookout Rock, looking toward the Middle Fork.

Bib arrives with another hiker in the car, one I’ve never met. We drop him off, then continue into town. I’ll spend tonight at home and resume my hike in the morning. In three days, Greg will pick me up at Highway 36. Getting there in three days will require an average of 22.6 miles per day. I hope I’m up to the challenge. 

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