Hello from Seattle! Quite the surprise, I know- given that the last significant update we made about our whereabouts on the trail, we had just hit the midpoint in the general area of Nowheresville, Northern California.
While we are still hiking the trail to the finish, the finish line for us has moved. Just like we started at the Mexican border and hiked north for 1,325 miles, we’re heading up to the Canadian border to hike south for the second half.
But I bet you’re wondering how we came to this decision. Let’s back up about a few days ago to Chester, California, where we stopped in for resupply after our triumphant 28 mile day and halfway experience.
Feelin’ Hot, Hot, Hot
Each time we come into town now, I can feel the pull to stay, stronger than before. We’re all packed up and ready to go, and suddenly my body is so tired and fatigued it seems like an insurmountable obstacle to bend down and put on my shoes and socks and stand back up and hoist my pack onto my shoulders. This has to be the NorCal Blues.
This was how I felt in Chester, a tiny town that I had grown to like pretty well in the day we were there, despite the fact that there was nothing there. Maybe I was just that happy to get off the trail and hang out with other hikers.
By 10 AM the next day in town, we caught a ride to the trailhead and were suiting up. We set out at our new, experienced-hiker pace of around 3 miles an hour and started the slow, flattish climb that would take us to the day’s end 18 miles away.
The trail itself was soft and rockless, but exposed. We were in a forest of tall pines whose shading potentials had waned after years of drought. There were patches of thin shade along the trail, but long stretches of intense sun. I could already feel myself beginning to melt. And it wasn’t even that hot yet, as Indiana kept reminding me.
By 2.5 miles in I needed a break and was back to a familiar place of discouragement at my own lack of toughness and our soon-to-be slow day. Heat fatigue was already setting in and I waited anxiously for the nausea to dissipate.
This was coming off the heels of another bout with heat exhaustion just a few days prior, when I’d left town, gotten overheated 2 miles in and had to wait in the shade on the trail for 3 hours, taking our mileage that day down to 8.
I wanted to be mad at myself, futile as it was, for having such limitations. I thought we were done with the intense heat, and that after overcoming everything else that debilitated us- blisters, being out of shape and inexperienced- we were finally in a place to do the high miles that would get us to the finish line in time.
But not if I had to slow down and stop during the hottest part of the day again. My name was Chunks for a reason. Getting better at hiking unfortunately didn’t make me any more heat tolerant since that first day in the desert.
Letting Go is Hard to Do
Maybe it was the fact that we were less than 3 miles from the road, or that we had just hit the halfway mark and realized how far we had to go, or that it was about to be really, really hot for the next hundreds of miles, but this time Indiana brought up the flip-flopping scenario and I didn’t protest. If we headed up to Washington now, we could avoid the snow (something Indiana has been worried about probably since the first week on the trail) and the kryptonite-like temperatures.
The heat, the sheer amount of time we’d spent on trail and the monotony of NorCal were successfully whittling away at my resolve. I had been holding on to my idea of this thru hike for so long. Even if I was slow and the last person to make it to the monument as snowflakes floated down to the ground, I would make it there. But at only 2.5 miles into the trail that day, I agreed to surrender to my hold on finishing the trail in order, because in the end, maybe that wasn’t the best thing for us. We got up, turned back and headed for the road.
Immediately, I was surprised at how a weight was lifted from my shoulders and my sense of adventure was rekindled. Hitting the midpoint was exciting, but also somewhat… despairing? It showed that we really hadn’t gone that far. Everything that had just happened- starting the trail, toiling through the 700 miles of desert, coming to know your own body’s futility after weeks in the Sierras- had to happen again in order to finish.
Flipping means we get a bit of a road trip, shiny new locales and environments and some vacation time along the way. It’s a much needed jumpstart to our trail weary spirits. I’m surprised at how good I feel about the plan.
Plans Change, Dreams DIE
On the short walk back to the road, I thought about all the hikers who have had to drop out before this point. I’d never really considered changing plans until now, and suddenly I was in their shoes: they couldn’t have had an easy decision either. Thruhiking is a big commitment and sometimes hikers let an injury become undeniable before they stop, so unwilling are they to let go of the dream. Knowing this, it’s a bit easier for me to let go of my desire to finish the trail linearly.
I think this is coming at a good time also. Even though I’m sad to have to change plans and leave a good group of hiker friends behind, I’m latching on to the fact that as we’ve just passed the midpoint, our thruhike will be equal parts northbound and southbound. Not many thru hikers get to do the trail in both directions! Maybe we’ll even do the 7 miles back to the midpoint to finish at the monument! …though it’s really 14 additional miles because we’ll need to hike back out. So probably not but you never know.
Back on the Road
After turning around that day, our next stop was Burney, where our bounce box and a care package were waiting at the local post office to be collected, and from there we would figure out how to get to Seattle and the northern terminus.
I’m writing this from Amtrak now, just 30 minutes away from Seattle, but getting to this point hasn’t been a piece of cake. It took us about 2 days of roundabout travel to get from the trail that day, to our mail in Burney, to the Amtrak station in Redding, including 4 hours of failed hitchhiking attempts, one layover in the shittiest motel ever in Susanville, over 5 hours of public bus rides, and $100 spent getting a Burney local to drive us to Redding ASAP so we could make this train.
While I am extremely travel weary at this point, I am eager to be in a big city like Seattle and I haven’t been since a vacation trip with my mom when I was 14. We both have a thing for the Pacific Northwest, but I’m curious to see the city with adult eyes.
Oh- and I can’t wait to gorge myself on great Asian food.
I can’t tell you how I’ve been craving the fast and fresh Vietnamese dishes I used to get to Atlanta, especially since these tiny trail towns seem to have nothing but burgers and fries. I’d give anything for shitty Asian food, but it looks like the travel gods are smiling down on us, and we’ll get to eat some of the best Asian food in the country.
After that, it’s eastward towards the Cascades, where we’ll turn direction and hike south!
Just now, I can see Mt. Rainer from the window. I have a good feeling about this.