Northern California: Old Station to Dunsmuir

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July 9, 2003.
There is a clarity in the morning light of a dry, desolate place that is unknown to those who never venture forth from their safe, isolated homes and sealed office buildings. It is not so much an ability to see far into a physical distance, but rather a clarity of mind, filled with hope for the coming day. It is also a time of trepidation, as the cool morning air serves, through its contrast, as a reminder that in a few hours the heat will be upon the land and the sun no longer a giver of hope, but rather an imparter of punishment. The land around confirms that the pleasantness of the morning cannot last and that the soft light and soothing air will soon turn to something else.

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I had been hiking, in the dark, shortly after five in the morning, alone, with Will and Sharon barely stirring upon my leaving. Two gallons of water was weighing me down, a companion whose weight I did not want, but whose utility I was going to need up on the Rim. The morning could not be spent resting, breaking, or being lazy, and it was with a slight pang in my heart that I passed by the parking lot on top of the Rim, after the climb from the valley floor below. At the parking lot was a magnificent lookout over the valley, above which I would be hiking today. Looking to the south, the icy peak of Mount Lassen was thrust up, and to the north the bulk of Mount Shasta could be seen distinctly in the clear air of first light. It was the first view on the hike of the mountain that had turned me back two summers ago. The valley floor below was covered with the pale green canopy of dried pines, struggling for survival in a desperate land. I very much wanted to stay and sit and look, but could not. For the heat was coming, as sure as the sun rises and sets. I contented myself with a look at the mountains through the telescopes on the edge of the parking lot and pushed out onto the Rim itself.

The desolation of the land reminded me immediately of parts of Southern California: The San Felipe Hills, the mountains above Cajon Pass, the Mojave, Kelso Valley. Places that were dear to me now. Waves of brown and yellow grasses blew slowly in the slight wind on top of the rim, with burned out trees interspersed through out. The entire Rim had burned just a few years ago, depleting its meager supply of shade to almost non-existent levels. Hiking a a rim, as opposed to a ridge, can be a frustrating experience. A rim hike is almost never straight. Instead, it bobs and weaves, dips and climbs, as it follows the edge of the plateau. A straightline hike, as on a ridge, would be quick and rapid out here, but would have to be far from the rim itself, and thus would deprive hikers of the beauty of the land; it would emphasize only the austerity of the land, enabling hikers to pass through quickly, rather than rewarding them with beauty. I was glad to be out here, I thought. At least I was, while the air was still cool.

Ten o'clock found me far out on the Rim, having hiked alone the entire morning. The heat was building already and the temperatures were past 90 degrees. No clouds could be seen and I was resting in the shade of a clump of bushes just large enough and with enough leaves, to cast a shadow. I was perhaps five feet from the drop off to the valley below, and Lassen was still looming in the past. Shasta had been blotted out by the rise of the sun, its white bulk obscured by the cruel white light, and the path north looked never ending. I could see the thin, brown line of the highways snaking its way through the valley, and thought of how much easier, and less pleasant, a road walk would be. After all, it would be hotter in the valley, perhaps with little shade, and the heat coming off the highway's asphalt would be of a magnitude I did not want to contemplate. It would be shorter, but walked without joy. Will came by, finally, having gotten a later start than I but now was moving fast. Sharon was apparently some ways behind him. He moved forth on his own shortly before I, too, continued the trek.

Sweating hard, my shirt and shorts soaked in sweat, I arrived at Road 22 to find a massive collection of oddly shaped bottles, jars, and jugs in a small hollow in a grove of trees. It was Cache 22. Everything from old water bottles, to milk jugs, to former orange juice containers, the cache was mostly full. Apparently stocked by an assortment of locals, it seemed to be a community affair, rather than a single organized effort. There was a lady getting water out of it, and I stopped to talk with her for a few minutes. It was past noon, and the day was scorching. The time for efficient hiking was over, and the hours of lethargy were fulling in place. The lady was out hiking a long section of trail with her friend, who was resting in the shade down by the road. She seemed to be managing the heat well enough, but did not think that they would be hiking much further today. After her departure, I sat in the shade to drink away some of the weight from my back. I was down to 1 gallon of water, but well hydrated. I took a liter out of the cache and signed in the register, wishing those who were to come behind me luck, and thanking those who had come to stash water for weary hikers. I didn't really need the water, but it was nice to have the luxury. With only the gallons left on my back, I would have reached the next water source slightly dehydrated, but more or less okay. Now, I would be able to reach it in good health. Will, who I had passed as he took a break, arrived and declared that he would cook here. I wanted to get off the Rim before cooking, not for any logistical reasons, but simply to be able to sit and enjoy a meal and a long break knowing that the hard part of the day was behind me.

I was alone again for another two hours and had left the Rim itself. The trail had come down off of it, much to my surprise, and was not making a straight shot for Hat Creek itself. Much of the land I was passing through was private and the trail existed only because of the cooperation of the local landowners. I did not know if that cooperation was forced by the federal government, or cajoled out of the owners via tax incentives. I was thankful for the cooperation nonetheless. Striding through a scene that reminded me of all the photographs I had seen of the Serengeti: Fields of waving, yellow grass, as tall as my knees, with nothing but a gnarled, ancient tree far in the distance. I hoped and prayed that the trail might be led close to it. It was time for a break, and the tree was the first thing in quite a while that was large enough to have its own shadow. The heat waves danced above the grass as the tree got closer and closer, until finally the trail passed within a few feet of its cool haven. Sitting at its base and leaning against its sturdy trunk, this oak was my best friend at the moment. Leaving the furnace of the open land behind, the few steps I had taken into its shadow felt moved me from an oven to what felt like an ice-box. I did nothing for a good ten minutes. Just sat and rested and let the sweat dry into salt upon my head and shirt. I didn't even reach for the water that I so wanted during those ten minutes. I just sat and sat, and sat some more.

I could see Will's hat moving through the grass from far off as I drank down my hot water, rested enough to enjoy it. It was another five minutes before he arrived and sat next to me in the shade of our mutual friend. I was surprised to see him, as I thought he was going to cook and eat at the cache. Instead, he informed me, he had decided to push on and finish the rim. I had originally planned to cook and eat somewhere around here, but decided to push further on to the water source. Although I was off the Rim itself, the land down here was just as brutal and unforgiving and I wanted to reach water before truly relaxing. As he lit up his Esbit tablet to boil water, I waved goodbye to him for the moment, sure I would see him later in the day at the water. Striking out into the furnace again, my enthusiasm for walking was curbed quickly and suddenly, as if I had been struck down by a truck.

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The tall grass and a few scattered trees gave way to lava flows, perhaps the worst terrain in the world to hike over in the sun and heat. The black rock, and the lack of shade, seemed to increase the temperature on my skin a thousand fold over the simply dirt and grey rock of the Rim. When I had hiked across Southern California earlier in the summer, I had worn long, tan pants and a long, white shirt. Now, I was crossing equally harsh terrain in black shorts and an orange T-shirt. Even with sunblock liberally slathered on my skin, the sun was punishing my folly. I should have worn the long pants that I had purchased in South Lake Tahoe and my long sleeved shirt, both riding comfortably in the bottom of my pack. It was too late now to recover today and the only option was to continue hiking north; forever north. I crossed a road with giant footprints painted across it, in lieu of blazes, and checked my data book for mileage. I was nearing thirty miles already, and it was not even four o'clock. I still have a few to go before the water, but the land was starting to cool, or at least my heat-addled head kept telling me so. I was leaving behind the shadeless land and when I found that the trail was entering a substantial forest, just past a rancher's pasture, I celebrated with a mandatory rest, only a mile or two from water. Drinking deeply from my superheated water bag, I finished the last of the two gallons that I had carried with me from the Subway Cave Campground this morning. Two gallons plus a liter had already passed through my lips today and I was still a little thirsty. I was not dehydrated by any means, but I knew that I would most likely drink down another gallon today. With no more water on me, it was time to hike. Time to get a new supply.

The thump-thump-thump of Will's feet could be heard well before he could be seen. Why could I hear him, I pondered? Hikers are usually quiet when they walk, unless they use trekking poles, which Will did not. Besides, trekking poles go clank-clank-clank. Will was a runner now, not a hiker. Desperate for what he called a little exercise, Will ran past me at a 6 mile-per-hour lope, waving as he went. It was one of the funnier moments that I could recall, watching him speed past as my body was slowly recovering from the heat and sun. He was not to get far from me, however. Barely a half mile down the trail, I came upon him sitting by the banks of Hat Creek, chatting with another hiker. The hiker was apparently a section hiker, who had started off with the intention to thruhike. The heat of Southern California and the snows of the Sierra Nevada had convinced him to jump further north and then hike south, reaching the Sierra Nevada when the snow had mostly melted off in the late summer.

Hat Creek was most disappointing. While wide, it was extremely shallow. Flowing very slowly, the mud and flies and general look of the place warned against stopping here to refill and rest. I hopped the creek along a sequence of rocks and waved goodbye to Will and the hiker, whom I seem to recall was named Lance. I hoped that the river ahead would provide better water than Hat Creek. A reservoir was not far in the distance, and would provide an ample, if perhaps polluted, supply. Passing the generating house of the dam shortly thereafter, I crossed the outlet flow on a bridge, underneath which a few youths were fishing, now that the heat was gone from the land. Continuing along the banks of the reservoir, I reached the inflow for the generators and a small spillway pipe, which conveniently had a large tree with shade and a patch of grass. Yes, I thought, this will do nicely.

I had spent ninety minutes at the tree before Sharon arrived. Will had come, rested, and pushed on. I had cooked and eaten a huge meal of Broccoli and Cheddar Rice and washed out three pairs of socks. Rest, nearly sleep, and relaxation, really laziness, rounded out my long break. I had packed and was ready to leave when Sharon arrived, hot and tired and dusty from the long walk. She had talked to Pat for quite a while before leaving the campground in the morning and had been hustling ever since. Not being able to pull myself away, I talked with her for another 30 minutes before starting along the trail, circling the reservoir.

The cool of the early evening revitalized me, adding to the store of energy I had built up during my two hours of rest. I was strolling now, as through a quiet city park. Only instead of benches and paved walk ways, I had tree stumps and a pine needle path. The harshness of the Rim and the lavalands that dominated most of my day were replaced by comfort via contrast. Perhaps, I thought, if I had driven here and then started my hike from the reservoir, this dry pine forest would have seemed inhospitable. Instead, it was serene. I crossed Highway 299 and did not think for an instant about hitching into the town of Burney for a cold drink and a soft bed. Instead, I kept to the woods, kept to the place where life was so marvelous and wonderful.

Finding a campsite in the open woods was as easy as finding my bed at home. Every place seemed comfortably laden with pine needles, one as good as another. And so I stopped in a small grove and spread out my meager belongings, more than thirty five miles from where I had camped the night before. I didn't even feel tired after all of this. My body had recovered at the reservoir, and I was fairly confident I could walk the remaining five miles to the state park with little effort. It would serve no purpose, however, and I was quite comfortable here. I wished for more of a view of the horizon, and thought about how glorious it must be on the Rim right now. The only mistake I had made in the past few days was not pushing far enough to get out onto the Rim to watch the sunset. I had gotten the sunrise this morning, but it was not the same: The Rim ran south to north, and I was hiking on the east side of it. The sunrise was mostly obscured by the hills further east. It was perfect, though, for a sunset. Sharon arrived, looking fresh and rested and camped a few feet from me. It was warm enough for me to lounge around without a shirt, one of the first times that I had been able to do this. It was either too cold at night, or the mosquitoes had been too bad. Now, laying in only my underwear with my sleeping bag unzipped, it was perfect weather. If only I had the sunset, I pined away. If only I had spent an hour or two less in Chester. If only I had walked another few miles each of the previous three days. If only...what?

As I sat on the toilet in the Burney Falls State Park bathroom, reading the park newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee that I had procured from the campstore a few minutes earlier, my thoughts naturally drifted to the incongruity of the bathroom experience on the trail. When in the wilds, going to the bathroom is, of necessity, a rapid experience. It is the one thing done rapidly when on a hike. Pants are dropped, the position take, the business done. It is the only thing done quickly during an experience which is, by its very nature, a slow and deliberate thing. Here, now, in civilization, the toilet again becomes a place of quiet repose, a bit of slowness in an otherwise speedy world.

Sharon had beaten me out of camp this morning and I slowly walked the remaining five, flat miles into the state park without a rush. The park is centered around the falls of Burney creek. Before reaching the falls themselves, the creek is reached and expectations for a glorious waterfall are dashed. The flow where the creek is crossed is such that, as I speculated, one could urinate into the creek and triple its output. However, geologic features are crafty animals, and by the time the falls are reached, Burney Creek is a raging beast, plunging through space to crash into a pool, far below. I picked up my food drop for $3 and surveyed the store for treats. Prices were very high, as a Snickers bar cost an entire dollar. Resupply here would have been easy, though costly. The grill attached to the campstore had various cooked and uncooked items for sale, all at extremely high prices. The largest frozen yogurt cone that they had ran me $3 and was enough for two minutes of eating. Nothing in the store was the jumbo size that hikers like to see. Instead, everything was regular or small, with a high price attached. It made gorging both frustrating (where is my quart of chocolate milk?) and expensive.

I sat with Will and Sharon on the picnic bench in front of the store looking over the trail register and repackaging my food drop. There were only four thruhikers ahead of us, Rye Dog, Beast, Tutu, and Wall. A mysterious entry from one Zebediah was also found, although he appeared to have gotten on the trail recently. We had not seen any entries of his before and were fairly certain that no hiker, no matter how strong, could have passed us without our being aware of it. When you are hiking over thirty miles a day, it is hard for others to pass you quickly. Today was a Thursday, and it was more than 80 miles to Castella, where both Will and I had sent our bounceboxes. There was no way that we could make the PO before it closed at noon, and so Will got on the payphone with the Postoffice to arrange to pick up his box later in the day. The workers were agreeable to the idea, and told him they would put his box in Amarati's, the gas station next door. Seeing his success, I repeated the process. There was no great need to rush now. Sharon, however, had her box going to Dunsmuir, a town about three highway miles from Castella. Upon phoning them, she learned that there would be employees sorting mail until 3:30 on Saturday. If she could make Dunsmuir by then, she could pick it up. The race was one, at least for her. I had no such desire to race and was happy not to have a reason to. Sharon was planning to take a day off in Dunsmuir and could mail my box out for me on Monday. With Ashland a week away, I was planning on spending an afternoon and evening in Dunsmuir and then hiking out the next day.

The race to Dunsmuir began almost immediately, as the state park offered few charms that we had not already taken advantage of. Will and Sharon quickly sped ahead into the increasing hot day, leaving me to myself and my thoughts. The first trail mileage sign since crossing the half way point appeared just as we were leaving the park. I was now hiking to Canada, as opposed to hiking away from Mexico. It was also one of the few accurate mileage signs that I had encountered this summer: Most were off my several hundred miles.

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I would see my friends a few times over the remaining hours of the morning and the first part of the afternoon. A chance meeting under a bridge to get water. A passing glance here or there. Sharon had a goal to reach and was hiking to a zero day. Will was caught up in her enthusiasm to reach Dunsmuir, and they hiked on together, constantly ahead. I found them at a crossing of several dirt roads, where a torpid stream cum mosquito pond sat, eating lunch. Together again for the half hour it took to finish off lunch, they left me sitting in the dust, alone once again. I found them once more talking with a south bound section hiker, then lost them again briefly on a climb. We were entering logging lands, and I did not like what I was finding. The lands in the national forest had been cut severely, leaving barren hillsides that looked as out of place as I would have at the opera.

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The logging was ongoing, with trees, their branches shorn, stacked up in piles here and there, usually sitting next to logging roads and equipment. Late in the day I even encountered a group of friendly loggers, who directed me to the trail when I became disoriented at a meeting of several logging roads. More over, some of the hillsides had been naked enough for a long enough stretch of time for bushes to spring up around the trail. With a forest canopy, bushes were usually restricted in their growth by the lack of sunlight from the canopy and the competition of the healthy trees. With their competitor removed, the bushes grew with a seemingly unnatural profundity. The bushes would completely obscure the trail and the overgrowth made hiking difficult: The trail could not be seen, only felt. Losing one's way was easy and wading through the shoulder high vegetation was painful at times, and frustrating always. I passed Sharon while she was putting on her pants to protect her lower legs from the brush. My shins were red with scrapes, but I was optimistic that the scarred land would end soon. It did not.

The overgrowth eventually receded as the sun began to dip down, but the land became more and more desolate. This was not the desolation of a place like Kelso Valley or Hat Creek Rim. This was the deliberate desolation caused by logging, rather than the natural desolation of a place without water. One was entirely without charm and sad to pass through, while the other surprised one at every instant with its sterile beauty and stunning features. One was empty of almost all life, without even a bird song or squirrel bark to break the silence. The other abounded with life if one took the time to look for it. More and more logging roads were crossed, their dust and loose dirt flying up at every step. These roads were obscene and built up only to the point where the massive logging vehicles could get up and down them, great running scars upon an already battered land. I would rather have seen the forest burnt to a crisp in a forest fire than have it brutalized like this. At least the fire would have some restorative properties: The ash and dead hulks would provide the soup from which the forest could renew itself. A burned out land would at least appear natural, would at least mean something. The broken land I was walking through meant nothing. It provided a few well paying jobs for a while, something certainly nothing to sneer at. It also provide some material from which houses and bookshelves could be built, paper to be scrawled upon. The benefits seemed poor in comparison to the cost, however. I wondered what the loggers thought of their work, if they thought of it at all in a context larger than a paycheck and something to do. At that moment, I would have liked to be sitting in a bar in Burney sipping on a beer and listening to what they had to say. Not questioning, mind you, only listening. With questioning came accusation in such cases, and I did not want to do that. I just wanted to know what they really thought about all this.

The destruction just would not end. The three of us were within sight of each other, strung out with our own thoughts. I wondered what Will and Sharon thought of all this. Of this place and this practice and the society that allows, no, commands it to happen. For each wooded hill we would come upon, we would have to cross a slope without trees. Or a dry, dusty road, logs stacked upon logs on one side. The sad land had only its glorious view of Mount Shasta to redeem it, the massive, hulking mountain springing forth in the distance. It was now prominent, whereas yesterday morning it was distant. The orange and pink glow upon it from the setting sun could not chase away the ugliness of the majority of the terrain I was passing through. The natural world was being beaten, and I was not happy about it.

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When I came upon a small turn in a logging road, I found a patch of dust large enough for a camp. The patch of dust was off the road and afforded incredible views down into the (fully forested) valley below and surrounding mountains. Off in the distance was Shasta, a beacon of hope in an otherwise depressing land. I suspect Will and Sharon wanted to press on for another thirty or forty minutes, but I was done for the day. I could have a view of Shasta and a better place, something which could not be guaranteed further up. Indeed, looking north from where the trail should lead, all I could see was logging road. I at the start of Section O now, one of the least popular and maintained sections of trail. It was a section that was always remarked upon for its concentrations of poison oak and overgrown trail and I did not want to push my luck on this first night in. Will and Sharon eventually joined me for the view of Shasta and some communal dirt. It was still warm and a pleasant breeze kept most of the mosquitoes away. Using a Snickers Bar as a spoon, I ate some peanut butter while trying to keep my eyes fixed on the view in front of me, with all of its majesty, rather than the view up the trail, with all of its poverty. With my desert finished, sleep was what I most wanted. Not because of its restorative properties after another 30 mile day, but because I hoped the world might look better in the morning. Even if it did not, I could still hope to outrun the destruction caused by the logging. After all, it was not possible for the logging companies to have destroyed a tract of land large enough to require a full day of hiking to traverse. At least, I hoped not. Sleep would not come to my unsettled heart.

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I sat on the bridge, the raging river beneath me, and watched my pot of noodles bubble and spit. I had two packages of Lipton's Noodles and Sauce going in my pot, one Parmesan flavored and the other Alfredo flavored. I'm not sure if there is much of a difference when it comes out of a package marked Lipton's. One package had white noddles and the other green. Even though I knew that the flavor of my dinner would be mostly salt and fake butter, I carefully stirred the pot every few seconds, salivating at the gloppy mass inside. No longer being able to stand the waiting, I declared the noodles done, poured 1/4 cup of olive oil on top, and dug into my fabulous 2000 calorie dinner. The heat of the day had passed completely, leaving my dinning room at a pleasant 80 degrees. I still had another hour or two of light but I was in a canyon and the coloration of the world, combined with the river below me, turned the bridge I was sitting on into first class cafe. This was true to a much larger extent than thinking my meal was fabulous. It was a table for one as Will and Sharon had left a few minutes earlier. They had been in front of me nearly all day long and I would not catch them tonight. I did not have to, I smirked. I was going to have my own campsite and be able to sleep well. Dunsmuir was thirty miles off, a distance I could easily cover by five tomorrow. I was tired and sleepy and was in no rush to finish my gourmet meal. To make the meal even better, I had stacks of double stuffed oreos left over from my maildrop to the state park. I had counted on having to spend an extra night in the woods and my forethought now rewarded my body: Dessert now, and dessert later. Even though I had closed my eyes by 9:30 last night, I got perhaps three hours of sleep, with no stretch longer than 30 minutes. A few words in the morning revealed that none of us were able to sleep much that night. There were no strange sounds or other easy explanation for the lack of sleep. Despite the beauty of the overlook, it was a place that was not meant for sleeping. It was as if the land wanted our minds awake to think on what had happened there. I was moving down the dirt road by 6 am, with Sharon well in front on her race for the Dunsmuir PO. The destruction from the previous day, thankfully, ended after only a few miles of hiking. For whatever reason, the trees and the land had been spared from the saw and the bulldozer and I hoped that I had seen the last of the clearcuts for a while. I knew that there were some truly horrendous ones in Washington, but that was a long way in the future. Will passed me early in the morning, and I saw neither of them until an hour before the bridge. No other hikers were out here: Section O's reputation was such that no one but thruhikers would come out here for a vacation. What I did find was some beautifully maintained trail, as well as those responsible for it.

The California Conservation Corps, as near as I can tell, sends out large work parties during the summer to do various good works, and this summer some of them were taming the wilds of Section O. With an experienced leader, the work parties consisted of youths, mostly teens really, and perhaps one or two other supervisors who floated in between the various groups. The work crews would move along a section of trail clearing out the brush and blown downs as they went. It was tough labor, particularly since they had to wear coveralls in the powerful heat of a Northern California summer. The work crews stayed out in the woods, camping, for seven days at a time, before returning to civilization for some rest and in-town work. It was work perfectly suited for teens, as I knew from personal experience. Working out of doors is good for the body and infinitely more interesting than sitting in an air conditioned store selling things people don't need for prices people should never pay. I stopped to talk to several of the work parties, chatting with the leaders and the other members, thanking them profusely and assuring the that the trail to come was in fairly good shape, at least up to the clear cut near where I spent the night. The heat of the day was moderated by the mostly cool, dark forest that the trail passed through, although my lack of sleep the night before was weakening me significantly as the day went on. Will and Sharon were spotted briefly during a rest break, but it was not until the bridge that I saw them for more than 5 minutes.

My long rest at the bridge had to end, and I had to begin the multi-thousand foot climb out of the canyon. But the land was cool and my belly was full and I was in no rush. Hiking uphill is quite enjoyable when there is nothing to rush off to: If the grade gets too much, just slow it down a little more. I hiked for two hours before I crossed the second of two roads on Bald Mountain. A road was listed in the data book and so a road it must be. What sort of vehicle could drive on its grassy surface or over the dead trees crossing it was beyond me. The grass had my name on it and I through out my sleeping bag with a relish that, perhaps, I would not have had I not spent last night in a dust-patch in the middle of a clear cut. I had hiked close to 35 miles today and was lounging in camp by 8:15, eating my second dessert of the day. Days on which the mileage comes so easy are very rare. Days with two desserts are virtually non-existent. Today had both, plus a soft and quiet place to sleep. I had a mere 23 miles to hike tomorrow to reach the road to Castella and then another mile of road or a hitch in. I'd have to get my bounce box and then hitch into Dunsmuir, where I was sure to find Will and Sharon. They would leave a note for me somewhere. It didn't really matter as it was impossible that the three of us would be in a small town together, lusting after the same things, and not be able to link up. The sweet smell of the pines around me and the soft, warm air made this a most glorious bedroom. And glorious in a way completely different from the gourmet meal I had eaten only a few hours earlier.

With a town ahead, the body and the mind do marvelous things. Castella was twenty three miles in front of me and only a short, mile long road walk from the trail to the town would then be between me and Amaratti's. Cold sodas and a microbrew selection that tops many liquor stores in large cities. A hitch from their would get me to Dunsmuir, where I remembered, from my trip to Shasta in 2001, that there was a burger joint that sold a 1 lb burger. A shower and a soft bed and a chance to read a newspaper (despite knowing that it would be disappointing) were more lures that drove me forward. The mind saw all hills as flat, and what the mind commands the body obeys. The town kept drawing onward and prevented me from taking a lazy break. Why take a break if not to be lazy or to rest? I was not tired, and needed no rest. I could be lazy all day in town, and so I pushed forward, descending and climbing, dodging around one mountain only to encounter another, with the long tracks of pine forest occasionally broken up by a view of Mount Shasta.

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At the time I first saw it from I-5, Mount Shasta was the most impressive mountain I had ever seen: Solitary in its immensity, the ancient volcano rises up from the lowland around it to give the interstate traveler (by car or foot) a beacon. It took me hours by car to reach Shasta, and many more hours to put it out of my rearview mirror. I had been staring at Shasta for several days now and knew it would be my constant companion for another week. Or two. Or three. Shasta attracted many climbers lured by its ease of ascent and its beauty. The mountain also attracted many new-age followers, who claimed the peak as the second most important spiritual site next to Sedona. Everyone liked Shasta, including myself. While no longer the most impressive peak I've ever gazed upon, it is still very high on my list. Near its base was my goal for the day.

By 2:30 I had sauntered to the road that cut the trail and was my fastlane to Castella. Forcing myself to be a little lazy before town, I sat by the road hoping that perhaps a car might come by and offer me a lift, saving my body from another mile of walking. Now that I was here, the body had given out. An odd thing, this long distance walking is. I had walked 1500 miles to get to this point, only 23 of them today. I was a strong walker even in the steepest of terrain. Yet, the flat, one mile walk seemed immense and unendurable. It was as if the body and the mind reserved walking for the trail. A road was not a trail and so therefore should not be walked: It should be driven. Thirty minutes passed and only two cars drove by: A ranger and a delivery van. I would have to walk for my pleasures. The little forest road seemed to provide little traffic, so I dodged over to I-5 and walked "Frontage Road". A mile later and not a single car seen, I crossed under I-5 and reached Amaratti's to find Will putting his pack into a woman's car. Rushing up, I was able to secure a ride from the same woman. After retrieving my bounce box from Amarattis, I hopped in the car with Will, the woman, her granddaughter, and the dog.

As Santana blared from the tapedeck, I could barely make out that the woman and her granddaughter were heading to a swimming hole in the opposite direction, but she could drop us off in Dunsmuir before turning around. Unfortunately, she dropped us off at the first Dunsmuir exit, leaving us with a two mile walk into the main part of town. Enough with the walking, I thought. This is my time off. As if the walk from the trail to Castella wasn't tough enough, I was now burdened with my bounce box and a liter of soda. And it was hot. And I was tired. And it was hot. My bounce box was heavy. It was also hot.

Will and Sharon had apparently camped only a mile or so from where I did, but had been pushing hard to get to Dunsmuir before 3:30 so that she could retrieve her bounce box from the PO there. She had even left Will behind and he could only assume that she had made it. We walked along the partially shaded sidewalks of Dunsmuir, hoping that our friend Jim might be driving by. I had not seen Jim since around Agua Dulce and he was now off the trail. A resident of Dunsmuir, I figured the chances were good he might see us and rescue us from the heat. Dunsmuir was a dying town and there were not too many permanent residents left. Many homes were no longer lived in, and many shops were closing down. Will had inquired with the clerk in Castella for cheap places to stay in town but didn't come away with good news. The cheapest place to stay in town was described as the local crackhouse. The second cheapest place to stay was full. The third was way out on the far north edge of town. But the Dunsmuir Bed and Breakfast was supposed to be super-nice, she told him. I winced at the thought of the price that a B&B would fetch.

Will left me in a heap in the shade in front of a closed down movie theater, trying my best to hide from the heat of lowland northern California. A few fat, waddling tourists walked by, cautiously examining the dirty, bearded slob sitting on the concrete side walk, surrounded with packs and boxes. A couple crossed the street, walked past me on the other side, then recrossed to get in their car. Obvious tourists, given their clothing and shoes and pink skin. A few sports cars drove by, part of some touring club. The police drove by, looked at me, and smiled. A few minutes later they drove by again, but in the opposite direction. The officer was eating an ice cream cone. He knew who I was, just from the sight. All the signs were there and there was no need for a confrontation. Will returned with news of Sharon, whom who met only a few hundred yards up the road, sitting in the shade of a tree on the post office lawn. Good news, she said. The motel up the street has a double for only $54 a night. Split three ways, that is pretty cheap. Gathering our stuff together, we went to look for the place, passing the rather quaint Dunsmuir B&B right across the street. The motel was perfect: Cheap and central. The motel was not perfect: An icy manager and a new price of $96, with one of us sleeping on the floor. Will jogged over to the B&B: $150 would get us two rooms, one with a King size bed, the other with a queen and breakfast was included. Figuring that we would each spend at least $10 on breakfast in town, it turned out to be something of a bargin.

The owner of the B&B spilled over with kindness, leading us through the old, cool house, asking of our adventures and welcoming us with actual compassion. The rooms were outstanding, perhaps too much so. Done in a style meant to impress higher class tourists, the rooms were intimidating in their fanciness. Ordinarily, it would not be so. But, the fine bedding and gracefully attired walls seemed so out of place with our filthy bodies and ragged clothing. I really felt bad about laying on the bed and hurried quickly to take a shower before I further soiled the linen.

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Clean and fresh, I walked the long 100 yards to the grocery store for some chocolate milk and cottage cheese. There was something about the heat of the summer that had been driving me to dairy products, and I indulged with an extra large tub. Sharon thought this highly amusing, at least until she tried some and found it satisfying as well. The B&B was cool and comfortable, and there was no reason to go anywhere: I was clean and, for the moment, had a full belly. A soft bed was under me and the TV was on, droning out the mind and its constant need for attention. I could see the sun moving across the sky; not directly, mind you, for that would have required me to get up to look outside. No, I could easily watch its progression from the shadows of the outside trees it was casting in the room. Sharon was statuesque next to me. A veritable rock. Or a bump on a log. Will was in his room, presumably doing the same thing. The single snorer among us got the single room. Time passed, as it always does, and my belly began to rumble. As if on cue, Will appeared, looking drowsy. He had found a pizza menu for a local joint in the hall way. We wouldn't even have to leave the bed.

Some terrible movie was on the television as the last of the pizza crusts were consumed. Boxes lay scattered about, with greasy napkins dotting the floor. An effort was made to clear a path for me before I headed out for beer and ice cream. Sharon was going to do laundry in a fit of energy that I was sure would not last. My ice cream went in the refrigerator, the beer in my stomach. Another nameless movie appeared, prompting a switch to CNN. It didn't really matter what was on the Idiot Box, although I would have really appreciated a Simpsons episode. And then the house gave a shudder, as if wincing in anticipation of something terrible. Something frustrating was this way coming.

The shudder of the house was the front door opening and closing. Sharon opened the bedroom door quickly, jumped in, and shut the door just as fast. Her face had taken on a second look, one different than the normal cheerful smile that it usually wore. As if on cue, a dog started barking outside, knowing that something was a miss. She slowly got the words out, "You'll" and then "never", followed by "guess", at which point I knew who she had come into the B&B with. Glory was downstairs, having hiked more than 80 miles in the past two days to get to Dunsmuir. Glory who had cried and cried in Chester when we were not there (despite our being in town). I had almost forgotten her. We had all been wrapped up in our own hikes, in peace and solitude and without another person to look after or have on our heals. Without another person to consider when finding a campsite. It had been a wonderful walk from Belden and I was truly feeling that my hike was my own. A confrontation would have to happen tomorrow or the next day, but not tonight. I would not return to the style of hiking before Belden and Glory had raced here for exactly that reason. No, there was nothing to be done tonight. Sharon was somewhat distraught for the same reasons as I, but had told Glory she would chat with her tonight. I tried to convince her to stay in the room and let it go until tomorrow, but she would not agree. Sharon put on her best face and left the room quietly. To return slightly more agitated, but having listened to what Glory had to say. Glory, apparently, had not hiked the massive miles, including 43 today, to catch up with us. No, she was just hiking her own hike. She decided to hitch into town even though it was quite dark, late, and she had few funds at her disposal. She was staying in the only room left in the B&B not because we were here, though. The room was $140. Glory assured Sharon that she never cried at Chester; that Pat was mistaken. Besides, she wanted to hike on her own for now and her catching us in town was really just a coincidence.

There was a knock on the door. "Go away," I told whomever it was. Will opened the door anyway, with a spoonful of Chocolate Moosetracks stuck in his mouth. He was working over a half gallon of ice cream, as happy as could be. We told him about Glory, which he thought quaint. Will left, and came back via the same procedure he came in. I didn't want to see Glory tonight, for tonight I was resting. Tomorrow I would be back on the trail and I would have to deal with Glory then. I liked having her around in towns. It was only on the trail that life became more difficult with her around.