Northern California: Belden to Old Station

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July 6, 2003.
Today, or yesterday, depending on your point of view, was another milestone in the hike: I left Central California and was now a NorCal kid. The data book for the PCT is divided into five sections: Three for California and one each for Oregon and Washington. Belden marks the end of the Central California section. As with Mojave in Southern California, and Kings Canyon and Donner and Sonora passes, I had some connection with Northern California as well. In the summer of 2001 I had taken a trip with my adviser to climb Mount Shasta (we failed) and Mount Lassen (we made it). A few days later, I went on a July 4th weekend trip to the Trinity Alps. I would be passing through the towns of Castella and Dunsmuir in a few days and remembered each town faintly. The spectacle of Shasta can never be forgotten and I remembered the Trinity Alps with great fondness. Northern California felt like home, in short.

Will was sleeping peacefully less than 10 minutes up the trail in a broad, flat area. He had even built a rock arrow for me to find him in case I made it up his way last night. I thought for a moment about piratical jokes, but eventually decided that my bear impression was not good enough for laughs, and passed by. Even though I was frustrated with all the climbing last night, I was happy today that I had done so. The trail kept going up and up, but at least I had only 2000 feet to gain this morning instead of 5000. An hour passed by, and still no Will. I hopped numerous creeks and tight-roped several logs over larger rivers. Up and down the trail ran, ending in a large, open meadow, where the clear way was lost. The trail just sort of died out in the middle of the meadow. I searched here and there, climbing up a hill and backtracking to make sure I hadn't missed a turn or something. I spent almost forty minutes wandering around the meadow without luck. Losing patience, I decided to cross the meadow, which is what I should have done in the first place. About 3/4 of the way across, I started finding small cairns, a sure sign of the trail, and nearing its edge I found clear trail again. I was surprised that Will had not caught up. Must be feeling lazy this morning.

Winding around on a sequence of small ridges, gaining altitude in style rather than by switchback, snow came into play again. The last remnants of the winter were still laying about, hard enough to skate on but not otherwise troubling. Cresting out, finally, I was presented with yet another of California's most common gift: Open, expansive, never ending views. Too glorious to pass up, I found a nice tree for some back support and shade and positioned myself properly for a sit. Out came the Nutella and tortillas; an excellent brunch, even if it was a bit early (10 am) for brunch. The last of the chocolate-hazelnut burritos finished, Will came strolling by. Sharon apparently had woken him up! She had stayed the night in Belden, but got up super early to make sure to catch him on his birthday. Off he went, with me not too far behind. I had told Sharon I would help her celebrate his birthday and if I would keep my promise, I had to stay close to Will. Odd, I thought. I've been cranking out 30+ mile days for more than a week now, and I am still in danger of being left behind by another hiker.

My best intentions were looking to be not good enough as the day wore on. The heat of the afternoon was back, and so was my lethargy. I had seen neither Will nor Sharon for sometime. Sharon had passed me shortly after Will did, telling me her story of the morning. After I had left Belden last night, Stone came into town. It was his birthday and they had a celebration at the bar before settling into the NFS campsite. When a bear strolled into town in the early evening, hanging out as if nothing was amiss, the group decided to camp on the other side of the highway where a picnic area was located. Sharon got up around 4 am and tried to get out of camp without disturbing the others. Glory had heard her, however, and started rustling around in her tent. Sharon told her to go back to sleep, which she promptly did. Sharon spent the morning hiking furiously up hill in a mad chase to catch Will. She even had 4 pounds of no-bake cheesecake on her back.

It was late in the day, and I was out of water. There was supposed to be a small spring about 1/2 mile off trail midway up the climb of Butt Mountain. My assumptions as to the relative location of the others was greatly shattered when I found them lounging at the trail junction down (why is it always down?) to the water. As per the usual ritual, Will had slowed toward the end of the day. They had already been there for 30 minutes and were pushing on. I told them I would probably finish off Butt mountain and be done with the day, to which Sharon responded with an imploring look. Yes, okay, I'll try, I looked back. It was odd, somehow. I was not hiking to celebrate Will's birthday so much as I was hiking to help Sharon celebrate the birthday. Will didn't seem to care one way or the other about turning 20. Sharon wanted to do something nice, though, and I wanted to support her in that.

Circling up toward Buck Mountain, the day cooled to a comfortable level and life seemed very good again. My body regained its strength and my mind its clarity. On top, a glorious expanse of land opened up, complete with stunning views of icy Lassen, just beginning to dance in the yellow light. Looking up the trail and glancing at the data book for confirmation, it appeared that the trail would stay on this plateau with gorgeous views. Maybe I would be able to rival the Bunker Hill ridge campsite. I would have to camp with the others in order to celebrate, but surely they would pick some nice spot with a view. Confident, I sat down, squarely in the dirt, to bask in the light. That delicious light that I experience before Bunker Hill was again upon my cheeks. I took off my hat and my bandanna and let it wash over my sweaty head. The lethargy was gone, even my legs were not quite fresh still. I started walking again around 7:30, certain that Will and Sharon would be camped somewhere close. At 8:05, I was beginning to despair. I had passed four or five great campsites, with plenty of room and a view. My despair was mixed with anger and my hope that they were in a scenic place was beginning to fade. Hiking this late usually meant stopping when it got dark, wherever that might be. I wanted to look upon Lassen as the sun sank past it. The light show was going to be spectacular. Okay, they have 15 minutes, then I camp, I decided. Five minutes went by along with another great place. Another 8 minutes passed along with another mini-Eden. Looking at my watch again, they had 30 seconds. Then 5. When my watch hit the 0 mark, I turned a corner and there they were. In a clump of trees with no view but of some dirty snow.

I was crestfallen. Then angry. Then sad. Of all the places out here to camp, they had to pick the least appealing of them all. True, it was sheltered from the wind and there was space for three, but I wanted to see the show. In my frustration, I announced that I was hiking on. The cheesecake was already in preparation and Sharon looked heart broken. I tried to explain why without expressing too much anger in their selection. I just would not compromise the quality of my hike any longer. I set off in a huff and two minutes later, I crossed a long snow back and found a perfect spot. It might have been a tight fit for three, but it was perfect. Under a tree with open views of the valley below and Lassen in the background. I quickly set up camp, which just mean putting out my groundcloth, unstuffing my sleeping bag, and putting on some warm clothes. Will was just then blowing out the candles on the cheesecake when I walked up. Sharon seemed noticeably happier, but looked confused when I declined the offer of the 4 pounds of cheesecake. I just didn't want any right then, in the middle of my mood. I wanted to get back to watch the show before it was over, but I also wanted to be here for Sharon. We talked for a bit as they ate, and I parted just as the sun was setting, racing back to my camp to see the sights. I caught only the end, a little trail of pink on the horizon with a black hulk of a mountain breaking it in two. Snuggling into my sleeping bag, I was happy at the decision that I had made. The view from here was still grand, just not as lit-up as I had hoped it might be. Snuggling inside my sleeping bag, I gazed out over the darkening valley and looked into the future. I was getting ready to enter Lassen National Park, the fourth on the trip so far. And once through Lassen, I would have to deal with The Rim. The boogeyman was still many miles away, however, and tomorrow I could celebrate: The half way point, mileage-wise, would be crossed early tomorrow morning. I looked into the past, and found a heap of memories and learned lessons already. I tried to look into the present, and found this most difficult of all. Who was I, right now? Was I any different than when I left Campo? The present was much more difficult to understand than the past or the future. Maybe someday I would be able to see in the present with the same clarity that I thought I could see the past or the future. I could hope.

I clenched my shoe with a force only a frightened animal can know. It was still pitch black out, the only light coming from the thousands of stars over head and the glow of the snow just a few feet from me. But, something was moving about. Sleeping out in the open almost every night had made me a good light sleeper. Mundane noises, such as a branch falling from a tree or a squirrel rustling about, would not wake me; only sounds that indicated something large or out of place. There was something large moving about close by my camp. Perhaps my theory on bears was about to be tested, and I reached for the only weapon I could find in the dark. A shoe. I didn't stop to think that perhaps a shoe would not do me too much good. A minute of silence went by before I heard the steps again and the bushes being pushed a side by a body at least as large as mine. When I first started camping, several years ago, I could hear an ant crawling on a leaf and assume it was a bear. Even in a cornfield in Illinois would my mind play tricks on me. No longer, however. I could distinguish size by sound, and there was a mass large enough to inflict some degree of pain upon my body.

The pause in sound allowed my mind to focus a little more on the situation and I reached out for one of the rocks that I had gathered before going to bed. I always collected a few rocks of appropriate chucking size before sleeping for just this eventuality. I had slowly unzipped my sleeping bag and moved it off my upper body, my hand around a rock, ready for a fight. A few more sounds. The animal, I supposed, was unaware of my presence. By this time I had lost the myth of the all knowing animal and realized how easily a human could hide in the woods simply by sitting still. Without the distinctive smell of deodorant or laundry detergent, which even I could smell now from a mile away, animals rarely seemed to notice me unless I made a sound. As the animal came closer, I became more and more convinced that it did not know I was there. I had to give it a chance to run before I pelted it with my rock. In an angry and strong voice (as tone is more important than words when speaking with those who do not understand our language), I told whatever it to leave here quickly, lest it suffer a calamity. Perhaps in not in those civilized words, but with that meaning. The bushes exploded in a sound and fury, and I heard what I thought were the distinctive sounds of a leaping deer echoing off the rock around me. I stayed awake for another ten minutes, listening to the silence. Sleep overcame me as my mind told me the danger was gone, if there was any in the first place.

With the sun I was up and moving, examining the tracks in the snow that my visitor in the night must have made. The hooves of a deer were interlaced with mine from the night before. A large deer had simply been out for an evening feeding, perhaps not wisely. and stumbled upon my camp without knowing it. At least until I threatened it. Chuckling at my gravity during the night, I also noticed that there were no tracks from Will or Sharon. They were still asleep, but sure to be moving soon. The trail continued its run along the plateau, until that narrowed into a ridge, with the trail diving off onto the flanks of a mountain, descending gently toward the valley below. Cruising in the cool of the morning, I was reminded off all those desert mornings in Southern California, when the cool air inspired speed, knowing that soon the heat would be upon me. Down and down I dropped, seemingly without effort, until I reached the a small creeklet in a hollow, where I determined to rest after the 7 mile hike. I wasn't tired in the least, nor did I need water. It just seemed like a comfortable place to sit in the woods. I was not alone, however. Deeper into the hollow, where it broadened into a small flat, was a tent and a person asleep next to it, sleeping out just as I had. They had to be thruhikers. It was extremely rare to find anyone else who would simply sleep out in the woods. But which thruhikers? Since leaving DNA and Mr. Tea behind just outside of Tuolumne Meadows, I had encountered only three other thruhikers: Stone, Walt, and Floater. Three thruhikers in more than 300 miles of hiking. I pondered the question, hoping that one of the hikers would awake and I would be able to find out. The slumbering figure in the sleeping bag rolled over, the only movement I had seen in the twenty minutes of sitting there. I hiked on.<

Stopping at Highway 36 briefly to smile and congratulate myself for having hiked the first half of the PCT, I was tempted to continue north. It was still cool and I was feeling strong. Still, I wanted Will and Sharon to get here so that we could celebrate together. Across the highway was a maroon SUV, next to which I sat and ate a celebratory Milky Way bar. Should I hitch into Chester for some breakfast and ice cream, I thought. It might be nice to get rid of the ice axe finally. A half gallon of ice cream might be nice. Caught between the two piles of hay, I sat and did nothing. A man came out of the woods, interrupting my nothingness, accompanied by two large, hairy, Irish Wolfhounds. Crossing the street, he introduced himself as the owner of the SUV, and perhaps I had seen two hikers? From my looks, he assumed I was a thruhiker and that I would know the location of his friends. I told him of my silent encounter with the hikers back in the hollow. He was waiting for them, you see. They were friends of he and his wife, or at least one of the was. I had walked past Falcor and Graham, whose names I had read in registers long ago. He gave me some turkey jerky to chew on while we told me his story. His wife appeared with another two wolfhounds, and they set about getting them watered down as the tale rolled on. Falcor was a friend of theirs and the three of them were active breeders of Irish Wolfhounds. In fact, champion breeders. One of their older hounds had won several large competitions, but was now retired, with one of the younger pups taking her place. They were waiting for Falcor and Graham, who had met Falcor while hiking, to give them a ride into Chester. They were just out on vacation and had swung by to meet there friend for a day. I saw the PCT Express drive down the highway, but was not able to flag Pat down in time. The presence of the PCT Express here was a sign that Walt, Floater, and Glory were somewhere close by.

As almost an hour had passed sitting in the parking lot, I decided to keep hiking north. My pack on my shoulders, I said my goodbyes to the husband and wife and had taken a step or two to the woods, when the husband cried out, "There they are." I looked back and saw the four of them moving through the woods on the other side, and instantly reclaimed my spot next to the SUV. Will and Sharon had found Graham and Falcor awake and stopped to talk with them while they ate breakfast and packed up their camp. Chattering away for twenty minutes, the subject of Chester and breakfast came up. Might we like to go into Chester with them? Such a question was, at this point in the hike, more rhetorical than inquisitive. Husband, wife, five hikers, and four Irish wolfhounds piled into the SUV, our packs tied down to various parts of the exterior of the SUV, and off we sped for Chester.

As I looked down upon the pile of plates in front of me, I felt for the first time on the hike that I might be in trouble. A standard town breakfast for me was an omelet, and whatever came with it, and a short stack of pancakes, accompanied by coffee. I had ordered a sausage, onion, tomato, cheese, and green chile omelet, along with my short stack and coffee. The waitress had to make several trips before all the food for our table came out. Glancing about, I had to make a plan of attack if I was going to finish all my food in style. One plate held a biscuit larger than my fist. A large, oval plate was completely obscured by a bed of hashbrowns. More than double the amount of a standard serving (even by fat American standards), and topped with an omelet that could not possibly have been made by the three eggs that were advertised on the menu. Stuffed with the fillings I had ordered, it was magnificent. Putting together an omelet with tomatoes (or any other liquidy filling) was a task beyond most chefs in small town breakfast joints. The omelet gets watery and loses its structure unless the chef really knows their art. This one was perfect. The last plate, as large as the one the omelet came on, held three pancakes, each the size of a standard notebook paper, and eat approaching an inch thing. Chunks of butter cut out of a tub with an oversized ice cream scoop dotted the cakes. I would have to put in a man's work this morning if I did not want to disgrace myself by leaving food on the table.

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The devastation on the table was complete. Dishes with only bits of crumbs were left and my belly had bloated out to the point where it was now resting against the table. If my shorts had a belt, I would have removed it. If they had a button or zipper, I would have undone it. It had cost me the princely sum of $8. The Kopper Kettle was a contender. A contender for the best breakfast on the trail. The only competition was Thelmas, way back in Big Bear City, where the amount of food was smaller, but of such a high quality. I still had memories of the cinnamon roll I had eaten that morning back in May during my first zero day on the trail. We left the scene of gluttony and dispersed about town. Will wanted ice cream (he had the same breakfast I had just eaten), and Sharon and I needed to send our axes home. The others were poking about and would be in town the rest of the day doing laundry and other chores. I grabbed a liter of soda at the gas station next to the post office (wasn't it twenty minutes ago I was ready to loosen my non-existent pants?) before sending my axe to my mother in Evanston, holding the entrance door open for a old woman about her mornings duties. The smile and short conversation we had as she passed through the open door made me feel a little special inside. Helping another, even in this little way, had made me feel good. I understood, on a small scale, what the people who had helped myself and others this summer must feel. That is, what they got out of their help. The help that they gave was appreciated, but it was their soul that was the largest beneficiary. Relating the story to Sharon on our walk over to the supermarket was unnecessary. She had hiked too many miles and been helped by too many people to need to hear my tale. I told it anyways, because it made me feel good.

Lazing away in the shade of a tree next to the parking lot, the six of us sat still. The four wolfhounds were curled up next to us, with Will the only missing member of the breakfast club. He had hitched out of town after his quart milkshake, something Sharon and I needed to do sometime soon. Graham had traveled quite a bit, including a climb of Aconcagua a year a ago. But, more interesting, was that he knew Brian Frankle, the designed and sewer of my pack. I had met Brian at the ALDHA Gathering in October, where he had set up a display of his packs. Graham and Brian had lived together briefly while Graham had set up his resupply boxes for the PCT hike. Moreover, Brian was mailing out Graham's boxes at the appointed times and driving Graham's truck about Logan, Utah, in exchange. We talked about the pack business in general and Brian's creations in particular: Graham had ULA pack as well, although a model different from mine. Even with the good conversation flowing about, I had to start hiking again, and sometime soon. Rather than make a move to leave, I called my mother from a pay phone to let her know that I was okay and that my ice axe was on the way to her. I always like chatting with her from the trail, at least partially because of her enthusiasm for my hike. Everything was as usual back home. The garden was coming in nicely and it was hot and sticky after a long, cool early summer. Normally mundane details from home were much prized out here, where the exotic and phenomenal became routine and ordinary.

An ice cream and more talking later, the husband gave Sharon and I a lift back to the trail head. Will, had not made it very far, feeling lethargic from the breakfast and ice cream, and the three of us settled down next to a nicely flowing creek to wait out a little of the heat. An hour passed, sitting at that creek. I didn't think ourselves lazy. After all, we had just crossed the half way point and we really did have to celebrate. Even after we coaxed ourselves into walking again, we didn't walk far. Perhaps an hour passed before we crossed the Feather River on a large bridge. A place so idyllic that another rest was required.

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With the Rim looming only a day or two away, we had to make some distance. Will and Sharon quickly got in front of me, as my heart reacted against the need to hustle. Late in the day, I crossed into Lassen Volcanic National Park, amid a throng of mosquitoes so bad I had to stop to put DEET on for the first time in a very, very long time. A throng of mosquitoes so dense and furious that I could not even stop to take my normal break after two hours of hiking. I had to hike on for another half hour until I found a slightly exposed hill top where the wind was sufficient to at least make the mosquitoes job just a little difficult. Clapping my hands together in front of my face killed who generations of those most maddening of insects. To make matters worse, the trail was becoming littered with dead trees. Frequently requiring difficult maneuvers to pass by, or short, steep scrambles to climb around, or belly-dirtying crawls to pass under, the trees tired me, and slowed me down enough for the skeeters land on me in droves. The obscured the right direction, and I found myself lost on several occasions after walking around a blow down and picking up a game trail on the other side. With 8:30 approaching, it was time to sleep. Another precious night on the trail had been procured by my slow moving in the afternoon, although even with the four hour break in Chester, I had still managed to hike almost 27 miles today. I camped on the windiest looking hill I could find, a quarter of a mile from Terminal Geyser. The hill and the countryside around me was covered in sage and pine, reminding me of Southern California. The land was getting drier as I moved north, a sure sign that the Rim was getting close. Soon I would be traversing the longest, driest, most inhospitable (or so I had read) stretch of trail since coming out of the Mojave. As I settled in to sleep, my bug net separating the mosquitoes from their meal, I was comforted by this very fact. The Mojave had been one of my absolute favorite places on the PCT so far. If the Rim was supposed to have challenges and characteristics similar to the Mojave, perhaps it would also bring a similar joy. This was heartening indeed, and the Rim became a new feature for me as I drifted off to sleep. No longer a fearsome obstacle was it. No, it was becoming a place to be anticipated and looked forward to.

Today was yet another town stop. Towns, no matter how small, were coming fast and furious at the rate I was hiking. Three days between the gorging at South Lake Tahoe before I reached Sierra City. Another three days to Belden. A day and a half to Chester. Today I would reach Old Station and the start of Hat Creek Rim, The Rim, as I thought of it. Because of my lazy day before, I would have to hike a significant number of miles if I hoped to get out on it tonight. I knew, in my heart, that this would not happen, though. Old Station was ahead and days with towns in them always saw a reduced number of miles being hiked.

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Despite what I knew to be true, I got an early start on the morning, and quickly the smell of sulfur permeated the air. Boiling Lake and its plumes of smoke and steam, appeared before me before I was fully awake and still in the chills of the cold morning. A large basin of heated water, it was took much to take a dip in: The supernatural greens, blues, and reds of the shallow parts of the lake indicated a long and painful death if I was foolish enough to tempt the waters. A clutch of tents could be seen in the woods ringing the lake, not far off the trail. Why would anyone every camp in such a foul smelling place? Sharon and Will were discovered on the other side of the lake, just now waking up. I said my good mornings to them, pondering their choice of a campsite, and pushed on down the trail. Weaving around a resort in the middle of the park, I followed a paved road for a few yards until it ended at an outhouse and picnic area.

Will and Sharon were upon me after the break at the bathroom, although they both remained when I left, with plans similar to my own on their minds. The trail followed the road through a developed campground, closed for repairs and tree trimming, before climbing up and away from the valley. I had spent so much time walking on flat ground for the past day that the sudden uphill swing of the trail was appreciated. Icy Lassen had been blocked from view since the previous morning, and I wanted to get another look at her from her homeland. Will and Sharon powered on past me, although staying within sight mostly. Emerging into the sun and warmth on top of the hill we had been climbing, I was treated to the sight that I had been missing for all of a day. Lassen is the southern most of the Cascade volcanoes, and its near presence drove home the fact that I was leaving my transition stage from the Sierra and entering a new land. Just as the land north of Mojave had transitioned me from the deserts of Southern California into the snow of the granite laden Sierra Nevada, so too the jaunt from Sierra City to Lassen a transition from the granite to the volcanic. Rather than the rainy, lush rain forests that characterized so much of the Cascade range further north, here in the south it was dryness that ruled. Dust floated into the air with every step, and the country side appeared ripe for a fire. Even with the green of the pine groves, there was little trace or smell of moisture apart from an occasional creek. These creeks were fed by the snow melt of the mountains high above them and provided the parched land with little relief. When the creeks ran out a little further north, I would begin chasing the Rim. The PCT would avoid much of the dry land to the north by making a large swing to the west just south of Mount Shasta, just as it had swung west from the San Jacintos to avoid the dry lands of the Mojave in the South. Indeed, the PCT would cross to the west of Interstate 5, before turning north through the Klammath range, traversing it, and then heading north east into Oregon.

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We sat and rested in a meadow with a small creek and a view of Lassen, happy to be in a land that was so less dramatic, the peak excepted, than what we had traveled through before. Glory came to my mind, as I frolicked in this happiness. I hoped that she was happy with Walt and Floater. Most likely Stone had caught up to form another band for her to hike with. Graham and Falcor might even link up with them to create a veritable war party. I liked how my hike was progressing, with Will, Sharon, and I completely independent, not needing to look after one another, but with fellowship in our hearts when we were together. I could come and go as I pleased, without worrying about what they might want or need. Of course, the three of us would look out for each other in case something happened, but each of us knew the others were more than capable of hiking alone with complete safety. We had spent most of the morning apart, hiking past a sequence of lazy lakes that broke up the dry land into tolerable components. There was, however, a certain boredom sneaking into the day, as we left the meadow. Row after row after bloody row of planted pines were the only things to look at other than the interminably dusty trail. This land had been logged heavily and replanted with the precision of surveyors and engineers. Nature was not nearly so fastidious in its arrangements. For the first time on the trail, I really felt like I was simply passing time before getting to Old Station. I was simply putting the miles in till something else came my way. It was a feeling that was hated at home, where it seemed to be the dominant one. How to break it?

It was story hour, I declared to the others. Seeming interested in my suggestion, I proposed that each of us tell a story in turn as a way of passing the time as we walked to Old Station, through that damnable dust. We made three full rotations, each taking a turn to tell a story of some part of our past. I had been a much different person in college, and my stories of some of my wilding of Youth came as a surprise and comical delight to Will and Sharon. So, asked Will, did Action ever speak with you again? Was there really a bottle of Nighttrain taped to the handlebars? Did crushing the 55 gallon drum hurt? I assured them that the stories were all true, or at least as true as I could remember them to be. Certain details were, of course, only fleshed out after the events happened, usually with a pounding head ache around Sunday dinner in the dining hall. With Sharon's final tale, we reached the dusty (that most hated dust!) turn off to Old Station grateful to be mostly done for the day. Old Station was supposed to be just a little gas station and so none of us thought that we would spend more than an hour or so there.

The town of Old Station did indeed have a gas station in it, along with a post office, but most importantly it had the Coyote Grill, a new establishment that had opened only at the start of the summer. After drinking down a liter of Pepsi from the gas station, I joined Will and Sharon in the air conditioned restaurant. On the walls were various news clippings from reviews of various restaurants in New York City. As it turned out, the chef used to work at some high profile places in that largest of American cities and blood-rival of San Francisco for title of America's best dining city. A trip to the salad bar and my standard bacon double cheeseburger later, I was feeling fat and happy again as the heat and the dust of the outside world faded away. Will was ordering desert, as usual. When the Coyote Ugly came out and was set in front of him, I instantly piped up, "I would like one too, please." A mound of apple bread pudding with a bourbon sauce, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream, the Coyote Ugly was a treat that could never have been expected in such a small town in the middle of nowhere in Northern California. Even with my full stomach, every bite was a sensuous experience that would stay with me for many days to come.

I came out of the gas station after buying enough food to get me to Burney Falls to find Pat and the PCT Express sitting in the parking lot. Walt, Floater, Stone, and Glory had actually been in Chester when we had, but had somehow missed seeing us lounging in front of the supermarket right on the main drag. Glory was not doing so well with the others, as things turned out. She had cried extensively after leaving Belden and not finding us around. She had thought we had abandoned her and was not happy about it. She had wanted to be at the half way point with us and was sad not to find us there waiting for her at HWY 36. Walt and Floater seemed to feel like we had dumped her on them. Apparently, were beginning to experience some of what we had. Such an idea summed up very well my feelings of hiking with Glory. I did not want to be hauling around an object that could be dumped or picked up at will. I wanted to be with individuals who were independent and capable of traveling alone. Not a group, but a collection of friends. We had not dumped her on anyone. We had simply hiked on. I didn't like the idea that she was feeling so sad, but neither did I want to be hiking with her again, at least in the style we had in the past. For now, though, Glory was still with the others. They had spent the night in Chester and were expected to get into Old Station tomorrow before starting on the Rim

It was already 6:30 and the heat of the day was leaving, finally. We had spent several hours in the restaurant and resupplying and talking with Pat. Will and I thought about the dust and pondered a ride from Pat to a campground just 3 trail miles north. Then we considered a road walk. Finally, the three of us walked back to the trail and started north again. As if to show Will and I that we had made the right decision, the dust miraculously ended at the junction to Old Station. The pines began to diminish in number, and the plants of the deserts in Southern California began to dominate instead. We were walking through an old lava flow, flat and wide, with lava rocks scattered throughout. Indeed, there were even deep, vertical caves where lava had once flown, or burrowed out, or somehow excavated.

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We could see the rim over to the right. Rising up out of the plateau, perhaps 1000 feet above us, was the rim of the valley which we were currently walking through. While the highway that Pat had driven in on, and the I had driven on the way to Lassen two years ago, continued across the valley, following Hat Creek, the trail had been routed up onto the rim of the valley for some reason. Perhaps land issues. Perhaps, I hoped, it was routed up there for scenic purposes. The government had looked for water extensively on the Rim, drilling many wells, but none of them proved reliable. It was 30 from the Subway Camp ground to the next water source. Approximately 15 miles into the Rim hike, Road 22 cut across and there was supposed to be a large cache of water stashed there. Euphemistically called Cache 22, it would provide aid for hikers low on water. As in the South, I did not want to rely upon it and had purchased several liter bottles of soda to expand my water capacity. I consumed the last of the soda shortly after reaching the Subway Campground, where we bedded down for the night in a space that Pat had purchased for the night. She would sleep, as usual, in the PCT Express, while we were out in the open on our groundcloths. Tomorrow had the potential for being difficult, I thought, and I filled up a full 2 gallons of water for the trek. An early start, I told myself, would be essential if I was to get up onto the Rim and partly across it before the heat of the day arrived. No unnecessary breaks, my mind told my heart, at least until the heat of midday arrived. Sleep came fitfully as my mind worried and fretted, despite my heart telling it that things would turn out okay in the end. The Rim was waiting.