Update: I’m sick

Over the last few days, my recurring stomach problem has manifested as severe diarrhea. I took four liters of fluid through an IV after a particularly horrible night on the toilet. I’m still waiting for a diagnosis. 

I intend to return to the trail as soon as I’m healthy again. Thank you all for your support.

Day 78: I reach I-5

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. 

McCloud River far below.

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. 

Can you spot the snake?

​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. 

Castle Crags, Shastina (I think), and Shasta.

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.” 

Day 77: Wildlife everywhere

24.6 miles (1446.1 to 1470.7)

Not long after I relax in bed, something rustles just outside my tent. Probably a breeze. No, probably not. Something’s happening out there. I sit up and grab my headlamp. Well, well. A mouse is perched on one of my shoes, gnawing on a lace. I shoo it away and bring my shoes inside the tent, where they usually spend the night, but they’ve grown so stinky that I can’t stand to have them inside with me. But better that than lose a shoe – or a lace – to rodent teeth. 

I sleep well. Sunrise dazzles with pink and orange clouds. I enjoy every moment of it, stocking up on pretty pictures. 

Sunrise at my campsite.

Not long into the day’s hike, the trail emerges in a shrub field with long views toward Lassen, though the volcano itself is hidden. I can see all the way to what I suspect is the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The trail takes me west, then south, then zig zags me into a close-up of Mount Shasta. I can finally see the mountain from base to tip. Wow. I can’t walk by. I have to sit and absorb this view. No photo can capture the feeling of staring at the volcano, but I keep trying. 

All of Shasta.

For the next few hours, I walk in shade cast by clouds. I move in and out of fir forest, in and out of shrub fields where the views are long. Today I’m making good time. I stop to rest twice more, then climb to the day’s high point. From here the trail will drop 3,300 feet to the McCloud River. 

I descend as far as Deer Creek Spring before stopping for lunch. So far my stomach feels fine. Let’s see what lunch will do. I eat in a campsite near the water, then lie down for a nap, but there’s too many animals around and I sit up again and again as chipmunks and birds run past me. I give up on napping just as a doe saunters into the site. She doesn’t give me a second glance and proceeds to eat her way around the area. Talking and clapping don’t scare her away. This is a tame animal. 

After an hour of rest, I continue on. The trail descends through Douglas fir forest. Massive trees appear here and there as I wrap through little drainages. At Butcherknife Creek, I take a break and rinse my filthy clothes in the creek. I also eat a snack and rescue a butterfly from drowning. It’s a busy afternoon. 

PCT, or a path into Faerie?

My stomach acts up a few miles later, but not nearly as bad as on previous days, and the emergency soon passes. Poison oak has come in thick, so thick I have to watch where I step. Near Ash Creek Campground, a thin buzz starts up near my feet. I leap, hoping I’m moving away, not toward. The buzzing stops. I prod a stump with my trekking pole. Buzz. Yep. There’s a rattlesnake in there. 

I zip through the car-accessible campground and across the river. In two miles I’ll be at Fitzhugh Gulch, where there’s a campsite. I arrive in 40 minutes. It’s not even 7pm. The campsite is empty. I sit to eat dinner. Ugh. It’s not empty; it’s occupied by mosquitoes! This is by far the worst population of mosquitoes I’ve encountered so far. As I eat, I study the app. The next campsite is 3.5 miles away. I’m in a steep canyon (yay!), so there aren’t likely to be any sites before then. I want to ditch the mosquitoes, but this is my first big day since my stomach went bad, and I want to end the day feeling well. I’d hate to push too hard and ruin my stomach. So I set up my tent and ready tomorrow’s food for a quick departure. At least I get to listen to a creek tonight, and it’s louder than mosquitoes. 

Day 76: A shitty day

20.8 miles (1425.3 to 1446.1), plus 0.4 to/from Kosk Spring

I wake in pain. I’m about to have an emergency. Headlamp on, shoes on, quick!, out of the tent, down the hill, dig a hole. Yuck. Back in my tent, I check the time. 11pm. My stomach hurts. Shit. 

Eventually I fall back asleep. A Northern Pygmy Owl wakes me at 5:10. I’d like to get more sleep, but otherwise I feel…ok. Maybe the stomach thing is over. I manage to do my foot care, eat breakfast, and get packed quickly. I’m on the trail at 6:30. 

The trail takes me up for a bit, then stays fairly level. I walk through white fir and sugar pine with a lush understory of ferns, chinquapin, snowberry, and other forbs. This is lovely. 

I take two breaks, the first at Peavine Creek, the second in a wildflower-filled meadow. Each time, I eat. So far, my stomach feels ok. Even so, I’m not going to push it. I’m hiking slow. I’m taking longer breaks than usual. When I stop for lunch at Kosk Spring, I spread my tent’s footprint and fall asleep on top of it. I rest for an hour and a half, then continue north. I still feel ok. 

Then, disaster. The trail is a corridor through dense shrubs. There’s nowhere to get off the trail, let alone dig a hole. I walk as far as I can looking for an opening, then I have to throw off my pack and tromp over shrubs and do my business over the tops of the shrubs. Yuck. Not good. 

I keep walking, slowly, slowly, so I don’t jostle my innards more than necessary. I don’t feel horrible, but I don’t feel well. I hate the thought of having to dive off the trail without warning.

Behind me, two hikers are catching up. I stand aside and let them pass. They’re really fast. Or I’m really slow. Or both. I want to get to Moosehead Creek tonight. I think I can do it, stomach pain and all. It’s not just stomach pain, though. My legs feel heavy and sometimes prickly, like my nerves are firing the wrong way. 

At least the views are nice.

As I near the campsite at the creek, I hear voices. The two guys who passed me earlier are eating dinner here. I sit near them and eat my dinner too. I mention that I haven’t felt well today. One of the guys says I’m the third person he’s met today who’s been sick. Later, I ask how many hikers he’s seen today. I’m the fourth. Hmm. So three out of four hikers in this area aren’t feeling well. I’m actually glad to hear this. I’m not the only one! It’s not me. It’s a bug, or the water, or the heat, or something else affecting us all. 

The guys hike on. After finishing my meal, I do too. At the moment my stomach feels ok. I’d really like to do a solid 20 miles today. So I hike to the top of the ridge to a rocky little site with a view of everything except Shasta. I can only get one stake into the ground, so I put rocks on top of the others and hope the wind doesn’t pick up. 

Day 75: Burney Falls

18.1 miles (1407.2 to 1425.3), plus 0.3 from Guest Ranch and 0.5 to/from Burney Falls

In the morning, Marla makes me scrambled eggs and bacon with sides of cantaloupe and parsnip chips. After, I finish packing my things. As I tighten the straps, one of the clips on the top of my backpack breaks. But the clip still holds. What a relief. I don’t want to deal with a broken backpack right now. 

We drive to the guest ranch. I put on my pack and hug Marla goodbye. We’ve only just met, but she seems like an old friend. I walk back to the PCT and continue north. The trail descends gradually through pine and oak and Douglas fir. I cross Highway 299. I cross many dirt roads. My on-again off-again stomach issue is on again. It started the day before yesterday, when I pushed too hard on an empty stomach to reach the trail magic, and it’s been squirrelly since then. After hiking a few miles this morning, I’m not feeling well. I need to find a place to sit and rest. I need to take it easy today: low miles, lots of breaks. 

Ahead, there’s another dirt road. Just beyond the road, I see a few tent canopies. Trail magic? It is. It’s Wild Bird Cache. There’s a picnic table and two coolers of lemonade, a few jars of snacks, a trail register, hand sanitizer, a garbage can, and a box of pens for signing the table. I don’t need any of that, I just need to sit. I’m immediately joined by a French hiker, who sits across the table from me. We browse through the jokes in the trail register. I can’t remember any good jokes, so I just sign my name and hope my nausea goes away. 

The trail is almost perfectly flat, which is good; if I had to do uphill right now, I’d probably cry. I trudge along flat trail through pine and oak. There’s black oak, and there’s also white oak. I wonder if the “blue oak woodland” I saw yesterday was actually white oak. I wasn’t paying close attention to the trees, peering instead at the grasses and forbs. 

I take another break. I eat a bag of trail mix. My stomach doesn’t get any worse. I plod along and eventually reach the fork to Burney Falls State Park. I follow the trail toward the general store, pausing at the overlook for a view of the falls. A trail leads down to the base of the falls, but I’m not feeling up for that right now. Really I just want to sit. 

At the store, I collect my resupply boxes: one filled with food, the other filled with my down jacket. I take the boxes to a picnic table and begin organizing my food. Wow, I sent myself too much food. If my hiker hunger returns, I might barely eat most of this. Now, I can’t even fit it all in my bear can. Good grief. Where am I going to carry all of this food?

A few hikers sit at the next table eating and talking. One is a man I’ve seen several times over the last two days, who’s been hiking out to meet his kids on the trail. The kids are always behind me, so I haven’t met them yet. Now, I finally get the chance. He introduces me to Catalyst and Sancho, and to his wife. 

After a few hours of rest and repacking, I need to get back on the trail. I plan to go slow and maybe do only six more miles. My stomach is not happy. The last two times I had an upset stomach, it passed after one day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better?

On my way back to the trail, I walk by the trail that leads to the base of the falls. I really should go down there and have a look. When will I have this opportunity again? I walk down the paved trail among the other tourists. The temperature drops. Oh, this is nice. I take photos. I meet a couple who asks me where I’m hiking. I tell them about my journey and we chat for awhile before I make my way back up the hill, across the creek, and over to the PCT. 

Burney Falls

Ok, PCT. Ok, stomach. Let’s do this. I walk a slow and steady pace and take one break on the way to Rock Creek, during which I feel well enough to eat a snack. I cross Lake Britton/the Pitt River on a dam. At Rock Creek, I meet Catalyst and Sancho again. They got ahead of me during my detour at the falls. While I soak my feet in the creek, they set out for a campsite a little over three miles away. That’s probably farther than I’ll go tonight. I don’t want to push my finicky body. 

I take off carrying enough water for a dry camp. There’s a campsite not far from the creek, and it’s tempting, but it’s only 6pm. If I stop now, I’ll be sitting around for three hours before dark. My body could use the rest, but my brain can’t do it. It wants to go a little farther. Another mile up the trail, I find a flat spot on what was probably a logging road in an old timber harvest. But it’s only 6:30, and I’m not excited about the site. I keep walking. 

Now I’m going uphill, and will be for the next bunch of miles. The topo doesn’t show any more flat spots. I may have just committed myself to hiking to the next campsite listed in the app. Sure enough, I have to go all the way. There’s nothing resembling a tent site anywhere on this mountain. 

Views open as I climb.

I find Catalyst and Sancho at the campsite eating dinner. I join them. I put on my mosquito net while I eat. Because all of my food doesn’t fit in my bear can, I have to hang some of it. I’m not as worried about bears as I am about rodents, so I don’t do a bear-proof hang. I just latch my stuff sack to a high branch. Tomorrow, everything should fit in the vault and I won’t have to deal with this. 

Near dark, another hiker arrives and decides to camp with us. In my tent, I clean my feet and discover a painful blister between two of my toes. How? Why? Why now? I cut it open, squeeze antibiotic ointment onto it, and cover it with a bandaid. Hopefully tomorrow all will be well.

Day 74: Angels in Burney

17.2 miles (1390.0 to 1407.2), plus 0.3 to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch

Less than half a mile from my campsite, I run into cattle on the trail. “Hello, ladies,” I say, to make sure they’re aware of me. “I’m going to walk by now. Nobody freak out.” I take a step. 

Behind me: “Hello.”

I turn. 

A hiker with an extra small backpack has come up behind me. I let him pass. He walks by without announcing himself to the cattle. I follow. There’s a bull in the mix, but he’s even less interested in our presence than the cows are. These animals must see a lot of hikers. 

Hello, ladies.

For maybe a mile, cattle congregate near the trail. They walk across the trail in front of me, or stand and watch me pass, or moo from somewhere in the shrubs. For long stretches, the trail is nothing but powder. Each step sends powdered soil into my shoes and my nose. Where it’s not powder, the trail is volcanic rock. I trip and twist my feet on the rocks. The slope may be mostly flat, but this is not an easy section. 

I descend from the rim into black volcanic rocks. The trail doesn’t have a clear destination. It wanders aimlessly through unpleasant terrain. Shrubs and foothill pine dominate a volcanic rock understory. How many miles of this?

I stop for lunch in the shade of a foothill pine. I text Marla, a trail angel who’s offered me a place to stay, giving her my ETA. After lunch I find myself in blue oak-foothill pine woodland. Are you sure this is the right trail? The PCT goes through blue oak woodland? I never expected this, though I probably should have, given the elevation profile. Blue oak. Foothill pine. Patches of medusahead thatch. Yellow star thistle. Unconsciously, I get to work cataloging the plants I recognize. Most are crispy beyond recognition. Someone I know once called this forensic botany – an excellent description. There’s rose clover. There’s a perennial grass. There’s a patch of perennials! Looks like blue wild rye, or something related. 

Are you sure this is the PCT?

I continue to lose elevation. It’s hot out here, and getting hotter. I’m hot and uncomfortable. The last two high mileage days have caught and tackled me. My body feels like one big cramp. My left shoulder hurts. I’m tired and I’m not feeling well. If I wasn’t already getting off the trail at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch to meet Marla, I’d probably have to get off there anyway. I’m too hot and too tired to go much farther. I’m so slow that I’m not even going to make my ETA, which I’d padded with an extra half an hour to make sure I gave myself enough time.  

Finally I leave the PCT and follow a series of hiker-friendly signs to the guest ranch. Marla meets me there. She takes me to her house, where I meet her husband Tim. They are top notch trail angels. They feed me a delicious dinner and a pint of almond milk ice cream. I get to shower and wash my clothes and sleep in a comfortable bed. Thank you for your generosity. I’m the luckiest hiker on the PCT. 

Day 73: Subway Cave and Hat Rim

25.3 miles (1364.7 to 1390.0), plus 0.8 to/from Subway Cave and 0.5 to/from Lost Creek

It’s cold. I zip my sleeping bag. All the way. Later (of course) I have to unzip. In the morning, I hike out of camp in my fleece hoody, with the hood on. My hands are freezing. I wish I’d put on my fleece gloves, but now they’re in the bottom of my pack, so I hike with icy fingers. 

Lots of hikers camped at Hat Creek last night. I stop to get water and count nine people nearby. I’m glad I stayed a few miles back. As far as I know, only deer came through our camp; no one bothered the plastic bag of food.

I walk through pine forest on sandy soil. Except for a few short climbs, the way is completely flat. I keep a good pace, but even so, two northbound hikers overtake me. I did over 29 miles yesterday, but when these two pass me, I suddenly feel slow again. I’m never going to be fast, I remind myself, but I can still do big miles. Turns out I’m an endurance athlete, not a speedster. 

Flat, easy trail.

I reach the junction for Subway Cave and follow the side trail. Chain link fence surrounds the cave entrance. I descend underground on a concrete staircase. The temperature immediately drops. I pull out my headlamp and walk through the cave. A few people walk by from the opposite direction. I exit the far end and find the parking lot, where there is an outhouse, two picnic tables, and a water spigot. I eat lunch. I load up with enough water to get to Lost Creek, eight miles ahead on Hat Rim. Then I go back through the cave in the opposite direction. If I didn’t have to hike the notorious rim this afternoon, I’d spend more time in this cave. Instead, I make my way back to the PCT and continue north.
Partial collapse in Subway Cave.

I pass a southbounder who stops and, without promoting, tells me about water conditions on the rim. The cache is empty, however there’s a stock pond a few miles north of the cache with decent water. What about Lost Creek? He didn’t hike down to it but saw others who had. Ok. Thank you very much. I keep going. Soon, I climb. I glimpse Shasta through the shrubbery. I come upon another southbounder. This one also tells me about the pond. He says I’ll find patches of shade on the rim, as well as a breeze. We chat for awhile, then part ways. 

On the rim, I have reception. I have business to take care of, including tracking down a package that shipped but hasn’t arrived, so I spend time catching up on messages. I learn that my Dad is leaving the trail at Burney tomorrow (he started at Highway 36 a day and a half ahead of me and had planned to hike to Ashland). His foot may be causing him trouble again. I’ll get to Burney tomorrow, too, but maybe not in time to meet him. There’s no word on the whereabouts of my package. 

I enjoy long views on the rim and repeatedly photograph Lassen and Shasta as I hike. This place isn’t as miserable as I’d been led to believe. It’s hot and dry, but so were the first 700 miles.

Looking back at Lassen.

I arrive at the turnoff to Lost Creek. Yeah, it’s a steep drop into a steep canyon. Yeah, I need to do it. If I’d carried one more liter of water from Subway Cave, I could make it to the cow pond and fill up there. But honestly, I don’t want to drink from a cow pond. This detour is going to be unpleasant, but the reward is cold flowing water. I leave my bear can and my tent at the rim and begin the descent. The trail’s steep angle is eased somewhat but a few switchbacks. It’s still crazy steep. At the bottom, as promised, I find a cold stream. I soak my feet and collect seven liters of water, which I have to carry back up to the rim, 400 feet above. By the time I’m back at the top and have repacked everything and am ready to continue, an hour has gone by. That was a costly stop. 

On I go. I want to do 11 more miles to the only campsite listed between here and Baum Lake, so I put on music and cruise faster than I thought possible. A SOBO appears. “There’s trail magic!” she says. “At the radio tower.” There aren’t many hikers today, so there’s lots of food available. I check the app. The radio tower is still over two miles away. It’s already after 5pm. I hope the trail magic stays put for another hour. 

I power up the trail and reach the tower shortly after my music ends. I see a canopy. Two canopies. Multiple vehicles. The trail magic is still here! A sign on the canopy says “Welcome home Zebra and Skittles!” Skittles’s mom Janine is the trail magic host, along with a bunch of family friends. I take off my pack and accept their generosity. Zebra and Skittles, it turns out, are the two NOBOs who passed me this morning. I eat a bread-less BLT, a slice of watermelon, a handful of strawberries, and piles of peanuts. I down a Gatorade, which I never do, but right now I feel desperate for electrolytes. My body isn’t feeling great, and I have more miles to cover tonight. 

Getting up is not easy. I leave the trail magic at 7pm and plod ahead. I’m tired. There’s nowhere to camp. The rim is covered with sharp volcanic rocks. Finally I find a little spot where I can fit my tent. There’s a view of Shasta. There are also cow tracks all over the place, including on the trail. Hmm. This time of year, I assumed cattle were in the valley on irrigated pasture. Maybe not. 

I pitch my tent. I photograph the sunset over Mount Shasta. I hear cows moo nearby. Great. I hope they don’t come over to investigate my campsite. I eat my noodles, which have been soaking for hours. Inside my tent, I hear Screech Owls calling. Have I heard Screech Owls yet on this trip? I can’t even remember. 

Shasta at sunset.