28.0 miles (1470.7 to 1498.7)
I leave camp at 6am wearing my headnet. After awhile, it’s not mosquitoes swarming my head, it’s gnats. Little buzzy gnats mob my ears and the sides of my face and manage to fly at exactly the speed I’m hiking. I don’t like gnats.
The day’s first task is a climb of over 1,700 feet. Along the way, I pass a SOBO. I haven’t seen a SOBO in days.
As I hike, I add more things to the list of things I need from home. Mom plans to meet me in Ashland; she’ll bring my resupply box and (hopefully) everything on my list. The list includes new shoes. It seems like I just picked up these shoes, but that was in Tehachapi, well over 500 miles ago. Today, I can feel those miles. These shoes are beat. The calluses on the outside of my foot suddenly hurt again. That blister between my toes (from a few days ago) still hurts. Actually, I probably shouldn’t walk to Ashland – another 200 miles – in these shoes. Maybe my parents can meet me at Castle Crags State Park tomorrow. They could bring me the things on my wish list. I could switch to a new pair of shoes and get my new solar panel (more on that later). Actually…if I do 28 miles today, I could be at I-5 tonight. Maybe my parents would pick me up and take me home for a zero. After all of this stomach trouble, I could use a day off.
At the top of the climb, I get reception. I talk to Mom. They’ll pick me up! What time will I arrive? I consult the app. I-5 is 22 miles from here. It’s 9am. I have another climb; I’m going to need several breaks; by the end of such a long day I’ll have slowed down significantly. I should arrive around 8-9pm. As I hike away, I realize how bizarre was the conversation l just had. In what realm does someone say, “I’ll walk 22 miles and see you tonight”?
I descend 1,300 feet through Douglas fir-dogwood forest, where huge Doug fir rise from a lush understory. Big leaf maple, alder, and poison oak line the way. At Squaw Valley Creek, I stop for a short break. Then I begin the second climb of the day: over 2,200 feet. On the elevation profile, the first three miles look steep, the next three and a half not so bad, and the next two nearly flat.
Not far along, I pass three SOBOs. They don’t look grungy enough for thru-hikers. Section hikers, probably. The one in the middle stops to tell me they saw a rattlesnake 400-500 yards back. I thank him for the heads up. How far is 400-500 yards when you’re on steep switchbacks? I can’t keep track of how far I’ve come. Just when I decide the snake must have moved away from the trail, there’s a rattlesnake on the trail. And for some reason, I’m scanning the ground near my feet, rather than the path ahead, so I come ridiculously close to the snake as it slithers off to the right. Then it stops, and I stop, and we have a bit of a standoff.
For my comfort level, the snake is too close to the trail to allow safe passage; I would be within striking distance. The snake stays still for a few minutes, then starts moving around, eventually moving in my general direction. No, I’m not ok with that. I back up. Snake turns away. Finally it moves just far enough downhill that I can sneak by. Two rattlesnakes in two days. Even in the desert, they always seemed to come in pairs.
I resume the climb. At the top, I’m greeted with a stunning view of Mount Shasta and Shastina. And a series of eroding clear cuts. What a contrast.
A little farther along, Castle Crags appears. What a gorgeous formation. I take pictures with and without the clear cuts. To hide one cut, I place a little pine over the raw spot. I feel slightly dishonest doing this.
Now begins the 2,600-foot descent to the Sacramento River and I-5. I can see the freeway far below. It’s still nine trail miles away. Come on, feet.
My poor feet hurt. It’s these old shoes. The descent itself is nearly ideal: the trail is neither too steep (like Belden) or too mild (like San Jacinto). The trail engineers got this one exactly right. Even after walking more than a marathon’s length, I’m making good time. In fact, I’m going to arrive much earlier than expected. My parents should arrive around 7pm; I won’t be far behind.
I cross the Sacramento River.
I get a text. Mom: “We’re here.”
I can see their car through the alders. I text back: “Me too.”