July 2, 2018
I only saw one hiker go by the previous night and hadn’t seen a soul since. It was eery, being so alone. The morning was warmer than mornings on trail usually are, which didn’t bode well for my feet.
Shortly after I began hiking I realized the trail follows a ridgeline for several miles, offering a perfect view to the east and west. I immediately regretted my chosen campsite the night before and said so in a comment on Guthooks, making sure other hikers would know there were several great 1-tent sites along the ridge. Someday I’ll come out to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail again and camp in one of those sites.
I didn’t see any other hikers for the first three hours, but as I descended below the treeline I saw a day hiker headed my way. She asked me where I was headed.
“Canada.” I said.
“That’s the answer I was looking for!” She replied and pulled out a ripe plum and handed it to me. It was nice and soft, just right for eating. She said her name was Nancy. I thanked her profusely. The plum was delicious! Trail magic is one thing, fresh trail magic is…well, magical!
After a long while of hiking, I finally came to Five Lakes Creek at mile 1136 and that’s where I ran into Bean Dip, an Australian hiker I knew who’d flipped north before the Sierra Nevada and was now hiking southbound like so many others I knew. I saw her hiking buddy Moonshine shortly thereafter. We chatted for a while about trail conditions both north and south and then went our separate ways. It was good to see familiar faces again.
The day was a struggle. Honestly, I just wasn’t prepared for such intense heat! My tennis shoes were starting to fail me pretty badly now, and so much of the trail consisted of jagged rocks to be picked across carefully. I swore a lot on the scree-covered descents. But then, of course, the trail changed again. It has a way of doing that to you, of messing with your head.
At one point the trail opened up to the most gorgeous ridgeline view I’ve seen since Tinker Knob. I decided it was then, after almost 1200 miles and my music app never choosing it in shuffle mode, that I’d play Ends of the Earth by Lord Huron. So much about this song spoke to me and motivated me while preparing for this hike. I wanted to hear it during the perfect moment, and this seemed to be it. Now it seemed to be saying, “This is what you came out here for. To be free, to see this beauty, and be part of it. Now, release yourself.” I started crying. The pressure of the last few weeks, of this illness, of worrying if I was making the right decision by staying on trail, it all came crashing down on me then. Something inside me knew I couldn’t continue like this, even if I hadn’t quite realized or accepted it. I was feeling crushed by the weight of what quitting would mean.
When I finally got to Donner Peak trailhead, I walked a little way to an area with a parking lot where hikers usually hitch into Truckee. I planned to walk over to the Donner Pass lodge and get that rumored free 40 oz hiker beer. But as I approached the parking lot I saw the two people I’d recognize anywhere. I whistled our familiar whistle, as is our group custom, but they didn’t turn. I whistled two more times before Ghosthiker finally looked over and saw me! It was a lovely reunion. Ghosthiker said she’d actually seen me coming a long way off and didn’t realize it was me – I looked too skinny! It’s my new shorts.
They were staying at an Airbnb and had a rental car, so instead of getting a cheap beer and then camping for the night, they drove me into Truckee and I got a bunk at the Redlight Hostel, then we went to the Old Town Tap because we’d heard hikers get free beer and ice cream (which is totally true, ftr).
Sparky asked how my hike was – I know they can see it in my face that everything is not well. I said it was good, I’m just very tired. After dinner, we went to Safeway (not Vons, SAFEWAY!!) and I got some delicious Rainer cherries, a turkey wrap, chips, salsa, and a bottle of Bulleit whiskey. While we sat outside eating some of our snacks, I confessed to them that I’m really struggling with continuing on. This mystery bacteria had me so stressed, it was like a looming shadow. And I wasn’t sure I could face several hundred miles of intense heat again. I’m not even sure how I made it through the desert. Would my feet react the same way now? I just didn’t know what to do.
Either way, I’m gonna buy some HOKAs tomorrow at the local outfitter because whatever I do, I’m not hiking another blessed day in these tennis shoes. I’ll hike to Sierra City at least. That’s my goal for now. Sierra City. I’d like to make it to the halfway point, maybe even finish California and decide then. But these next few weeks were going to be brutal as hell. So damn hot. Why do my feet betray me!?
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