Halfway and Livin ‘on a Prayer

I turned 27 at the PCT! We spent my birthday in South Lake Tahoe, riding scooters, lying on the beach, and eating in town. It was a welcome break from the trail and the chores that normally fill my time in town. After the celebration was over, we asked a trail angel to take us back to the trailhead and begin the next leg of our journey.

The first days back on the track were extremely hot. Like over 100 degrees kind of hot. I’m a girl from the south who promised herself not to complain about the heat because I would rather be hot than cold, but let’s say it was hot. Luckily we passed several lakes so naturally we went for a swim to cool off in (almost) all of them.

During this section the trail begins to climb mountains with ski lifts on the horizon. So weird to stand on top of this rocky mountain with sweat running down my face and imagine people rolling down the snow covered slopes. I need to come back in the winter, I tell myself. The trail then opened up to an epic ridge with drop offs on either side. That’s why they call it the Pacific Ridge Trail. We spent this evening enjoying free beer for hikers at Donner Ski Ranch and hanging out with other hikers.

The next two days passed in and out of the forests with every shade of green you could imagine. Dark green of pine needles, lime green of wolf lichen lining tree trunks, light green of ferns lining the forest floor. The girls all hiked together these few days as our time with our friend Caterpillar was coming to an end as she is about to start her graduate studies soon.

We made the 5,000 foot descent to Sierra City just in time for July 4th. Boy was it a blast. There was live music in the local cafe with a band which included a banjo and a violin. We had a California Hoedown ourselves. The Alabama summer camp counselor in me couldn’t help but run the whole room full of people in line and couple dancing. We all had so much fun that the band ended up playing an hour longer. God bless America, folks.

How does the saying go? What goes down must go up? Because the trail went down 5,000 feet to town, then we had to go up 5,000 feet to the mountain. Nothing helps me climb a mountain like my friend Merideth’s reading list. I put on my headphones and jammed in the air. It wasn’t that bad, I’m getting stronger. It’s a good feeling.

The next two days we walked through a burnt section of endless blackened and branchless trees with the trail covered in ash. At first there was something strangely beautiful about the lifeless trees. After several kilometers, however, it became mundane and repetitive. Can we bring back the ever-changing views of lakes and mountains? It has been a hard day for me. My foot started hurting again, I kept tripping over the fallen logs and my mental game was weak. Every day can’t be a good day.

Fortunately, the next day was a big day. We walked through layered and layered views of mountains painted in shades of blue. I felt like I was back on the east coast, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up hiking these mountains with my grandfather. It reminded me of how and why I love hiking. Later that day, we were even able to jump into a lake and wash away the layers of ash that had collected on our legs.

The next day the trail headed back down to Beldon Town, if you can call it a town. More just a restaurant next to a river. Perfect, that’s all we needed. After putting food in our mouths, we spent the day waiting for the heat (it was 105 degrees) wading through the swimming holes. Once the sun started to set, we headed back up the mountain. As I said above, what goes down must also go up. We listened to EDM music and had a dance party on our night hike to scare the wildlife. It’s a good thing we did. We later found out that someone had seen a puma an hour before and within a mile and a half of where we were camping. There you go, mountain lions are afraid of EDM.

We then entered our fourth national park on a trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park. The trail terrain begins to change from granite rock to volcanic rock as we end the Sierra mountain range and begin the Cascade mountain range. Lassen Peak looms in the distance. it’s hot. Long water door. The trail offers. We didn’t have one, but two magical trails in one day! Beer, sodas, lasagna, fruit, vegetables, more fruit, cookies. What more could a tired and sweaty hiker ask for? The angels of the paths are truly a blessing.

The following days were bizarre. In the Sierras you are in the wilderness of the hinterland for days and miles of any sort of town or resupply store. Northern California is full of small towns, random gas stations on the trails, campgrounds and RV parks, and more. I started to feel spoiled. I bought an ice cream sandwich and a beer everyday for 4 days in a row just because I could. We also packed a beer to celebrate a milestone… .. halfway there !!!! We can’t wait for 1,325 miles to go and 1,325 miles to go! It was such a special time to celebrate with other hikers. Halfway to Canada. Wow.

This last section slowly meandered closer and closer to the great mountain. Shasta. Standing at 14,179 feet, it towers over everything around it. With a fire north of us and a fire south of us, sometimes the mist will cover the mountain so much that I can barely make out its peak. Sometimes the wind turns and I can see the mountain in its entirety. One night we camped with the best view of Mt. Shasta and Castle Crags with the sun setting on the horizon. The clouds changed from white to yellow to orange to pink as the sun set behind the mountain range. We sat down and ate our delicious dehydrated dinners just in awe of this beautiful creation. Yes, some days are tough. But damn, I’m lucky that I can live this life and do the tough things.

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About Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson

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