Northern CA M

Sept. 15, Thurs.–17.6 miles–No. CA M Belden

Thurs. Sept. 15        Miles today: 17.6                   Total so far: 2,203.3 miles      No. CA Section M   Belden

Bill had a rough night last night.  He felt awful, with some sort of stomach cramps, which finally went away, but I don’t think he (or I) got much sleep.  Since Bill felt so sick last night, we basically had just crawled into our sleeping bags, with no tarp–the result was this morning our sleeping bags were covered with dew.  Bill looked very pale and said he felt extremely weak and tired.  He only ate a few mouthfuls for breakfast and said he felt too nauseous to have any more.   Our hiking pace was reduced to “very slow”, since Bill felt too weak to walk at anything like our normal pace.  But we did succeed in following the old road all the way to the top of Spanish Peak, and we got a great view of Mt. Lassen up ahead, which made us both cheer!  We love Mt. Lassen–that’s where we first tried this amazing activity called “backpacking.”

After Spanish Peak, the PCT was mostly running through a very messy, trashy forest–hope they don’t get a lightning strike in there!  What a forest fire that would set up!  Groan!  But there was one interesting thing about it–almost all the trees look like a demented giant reached down and painted them a bright chartreuse green down to about 10 feet above the ground.  Very weird–but apparently that shows the depth of the snow around here.

Eventually we hiked by (high above) more pretty lakes.  Silver Lake had a perfect forested little island.  If we were camped there, a swim out to the island would be a MUST.  I tried to cheer myself with thinking about how fun that would be to do, but I was more and more worried about Bill.  Usually we stop for a rest break once in the morning and once in the afternoon, but he is so wiped out that he had to stop frequently, not to “rest” but to just plain collapse.  In spite of the frequent stops, we managed to reach the crest, where the PCT is a sandy trail through chaparral, and then at last we came to the big downhill to Belden.  It began with long switchbacks through the chaparral, among wonderful rock formations, some of which plunged right over the edge of the river canyon. 

Partway down we stopped for lunch.  I was starving, but Bill could not face eating anything.  All he could do was drink one cup of lemonade and another cup of Emer-gen-C.  He looked very pale.  Another backpacker came by and welcomed the chance to rest and chat with us.  He was from the Midwest, and wished he could live here in California, but couldn’t afford it.  We enjoyed talking to him, and I think it cheered up Bill a bit.  After lunch, we headed down to Belden, Bill first, because he said “Downhills are easier for me–I just let the gravity take me down.  If I go first, I can go fast and not worry about crashing into you.”  Well, the gravity pull must have been working well, because soon he was way out ahead.  I was moving right along, too, but I did slow down occasionally to look at views, till the shady woods took over the trail and the views ended.  Shade was a good thing–it was a very warm afternoon!

Near the bottom of the canyon, I heard th sound of an approaching train, louder and louder, but I could not SEE any railroad tracks.  Then suddenly, there was the train, right BELOW me!  That’s one of the few times i’ve had a bird’s eye view of a train!   Bill was waiting where the trail crossed the tracks, sitting in the shade and watching the train go by.  I joined him, and then…the train STOPPED.  We dared not try to climb between the rail cars to reach the trail on the other side, since we had no idea when the train might start again.  So we just sat and rested and waited till the train got going again and the tracks were clear.  From there it was a short walk into Belden Resort. 

The first thing we did was see if we could get a room for the night, but the staff guy said, “Sorry, we’re full up…unless you’d be OK with the tepee.”  Hey, a tepee is just a big tent–we could handle that.  So we put our packs inside the tepee and went to get something to eat.  But poor Bill could only manage a few bites of his juicy hamburger before he had to put it down.  “I just can’t eat,” he said.  So I finished my hamburger AND his, too.  As we ate, we were having a great converstation with another newly-retired couple who were touring California on a MOTORCYCLE!  They thought what we were doing was incredibly brave, and I felt the same about them!  No way would I dare try riding those mountain roads on a motorcycle!

After that, we went down to the Feather River to “sloosh off”, since no showers were available.   Then Bill took one of the foam pads that serve as “beds” in the tepee, and lay down outside in the shade of a tree, while I went off to do laundry and writing.  Then I was hungry again, so I went alone to eat, since Bill said he could no way face eating anything.  Needless to say, at this point I was praying for him like crazy.  I could not figure out what was wrong.  He had no fever, no sore throat, no “runny tummy”, no flu symptoms of any kind.  He just had no strength and couldn’t face food, only drink a little bit. 

When it finally got dark, I went to bed in the tepee on a very comfortable foam pad, serenaded by the river and the train going by.  Bill was sound asleep, and he seemed to be sleeping well, thank God.  There was no repeat of last night’s cramps and misery.

Sept. 14, Wed.–28.1 miles–No. CA M

Wed. Sept. 14          Miles today: 28.1        Total so far: 2,185.7      No. CA Section M

Camping at 5,500 feet was much WARMER–not so freezing cold this morning, but still quite dark. ( We may have to change our getup time to 5:45, I think.)  This morning, we spent a long time in the process of getting down to the Middle Fork of the Feather River, which is in a deep canyon.  This meant a total descent of 1,600 feet, and it was classic PCT style–which means long, gentle switchbacks.  As we went down, the plant communities changed, till for the first time in ages, we were seeing poison oak, which was just turning red–good!  Makes it easier to spot!  Some hiker journals joked about this stretch of trail with the poison oak borders, because sometimes it does almost look like you’re doing dance steps on your way down, trying to avoid bumping into the nasty stuff!!

Poison oak borders aside, the trail down to the Feather River was smooth, soft, and well-maintained, which made for easy hiking.  I enjoyed seeing all the pretty lower-altitude plants, especially the dogwood, and because the trail was so easy, I could sort of go on “automatic pilot” hiking-wise, and just think about things.  In the midst of so much of the beauty of God’s creation, what flashed into my mind was a scene from one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, where Laura is out for a walk on the beautiful wild prairie with her blind sister Mary.  Laura has been quietly troubled by the fact that her always-so-good big sister had lost her sight.  But as they were walking on the prairie that day, Mary told Laura, “I was NOT good.  I was selfishly showing off by being a “good” little PRIG.  Inside I was proud and horrid.  But now I know that doesn’t matter to God.  He loves me anyway.  Now I am VERY sure of God’s goodness, that He truly does love me.”  Laura was astounded at what Mary said.  She stopped and stood and stared at the beauty all around her, which SHOULD assure her of God’s love and care, yet her blind sister, who could not see any of it, was more sure of God’s love than Laura, who had not lost her sight.  I mulled that over as I hiked along.  And after awhile, I started doing mental “run-throughs” of some of my other favorite scenes from Laura’s books.

Meanwhile, Bill was thinking of some PCT jokes.  One was, “If they ever do a remake of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, they don’t need to CGI Gollum.  All they have to do is go to the border monument in Canada at the end of the PCT and they’ll have plenty of skinny, haggard “Gollums” to pick from!”  Another joke he thought of was, “Here’s how to draw a map of the PCT.  Draw a line across the top of a piece of paper.  Label it ‘Canada.’  Draw another line across the bottom of the paper.  Label it ‘Mexico.’  Then connect the two with one continuous line that loops and squiggles in every direction.  There you have it–the PCT!” 

Well, we finally did get down to the lovely river with its fine arched bridge, and a great swimming hole just west of the bridge if we had time for a swim.  (We didn’t–the clock is REALLY ticking! We need to make miles before the snow flies!)  Then we tackled the 3,700 feet of climbing up out of the canyon.  (Why are the ups always more than the downs on this trail???)  Things were VERY different trail-wise on this side of the canyon.  There were a LOT more oak trees, which meant the trail was often deep in oak leaves–like walking on a pillow, niiiice!  There were also lots of little tiny flies that like to fly into your face.  Naaaasty!  I ended up having to spit out several of them that flew into my mouth as I huffed and puffed up the trail.  But the biggest problem was that the tail itself needed help.  It was falling down the hill in a number of places.

We stopped at a wonderful little side creek that had cold, delicious water, and took on enough for the next 10 miles. Then it was just walk up, up, up, for hours, sometimes pretty steep, sometimes a gentle hill.  And since it was a warm afternoon, I was glad that most of it was shaded!  Finally we got to Lookout Rock, with great views back toward the river canyon, and forward to the mountains in front of us.  We reached our next water source–another nice spring–and collected water for 14 miles ahead.  Then came a very long contour around an unnamed mountain to Bucks Summit, which had several “history plaques.”  Apparently in 1850-55, this was part of an emigrant route.  We’ve crossed  so many of these that I wonder, “How did those emigrants ever decide WHICH route to use?  There are so many of them!”

But during the afternoon, I became worried about Bill.  He wasn’t very enthusiastic about supper and said he couldn’t face eating another candy bar.  What??  He normally scarfs up candy bars!  He was hiking more and more slowly, too, and at the unheard  of hour of 6:30 pm, he wanted to stop and camp.  But the map showed nice flat ground up ahead, so I voted to keep going, and we did.  I’m not sure if that was a good idea after all, though.   The part of the PCT we were on is actually an old, overgrown road up to Spanish Peak, and it kept wandering and wandering slowly up, going through the chaparral.  By 7:00, we had not reached the flat place and Bill could hardly walk, so it was obvious that we HAD to stop, like it or not, so I found a spot by the trail that with a bit of rock-moving would provide JUST enough flat space to camp. 

Bill simply collapsed and crawled into his sleeping bag.  He said he felt awful.  I had a hard time falling asleep partly because there was an almost-full moon that made everything very bright, partly because we were sleeping on rocky ground, and partly because I was very worried about Bill.  I figured, “Oh well, if I can’t sleep, I can pray. ”  So I did.