Northern California: Belden to Old Station
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.