As it usually goes, hiking out of Mount Shasta meant a decent climb to get back onto the trail. With it being 100 miles till the traditional hopping off point for the next town our food bags were big. Not knowing if the “hiker hunger” would kick in or how our daily mileage would increase meant we were very prepared- and very heavy!
The first day was a somewhat late start between hitting the post office to bounce a box of supplies ahead, then trying to snag a hitch. We figured the visitors to town would not be inclined to pick us up but eventually a local might. Thanks to Thomas we got a ride back to the trail head! Then it was time to climb.
The views remain beautiful, it seems like every time we curve around a peak there is either a new vista or a different view of snow capped Mount Shasta. There are still lots of wildflowers and the variety of trees and terrain keeps it interesting. We have also been hiking past gorgeous and tempting lakes. Our mileage picked up a little each day as we would wake up to get some miles in before the heat of the day settled. The big hats and sunshirts were a solid investment, and being able to wet and wrap our bandanas around our heads at stream crossings feels amazing.
Our mileage was increasing day by day, our legs seem willing but the feet certainly do protest. My heels end up smarting and are sore each morning, plus blisters from the first week seem to be stubbornly persisting despite my best efforts to drain them and hope for a callous conversion. Colby seems to recuperate well over night and starts the day fresh, but the aches and pains start settling in during the afternoon for him . It’s part of the challenge. We remembered from the AT that our feet hurt everyday- but distinguishing the line of acceptable daily pain can be tricky. You want to bump up your mileage so you can get to town sooner and it cuts down on food and water carries- but push too hard or too fast and the acceptable pain could become a proper injury.
This particular section has a lot of lakes and side trails, so while some of the Northbound thru-hikers are still flying past we also bumped into more locals out for a couple days or a day hike. Being able to stop at Porcupine Lake for a quick swim and clothes rinse felt amazing! The water was brisk but the cold water was probably just what our feet and legs needed!
With a refreshing swim to start our day we hit about 16 miles, passing various lakes and nice folks out enjoying the scenery. We worked out our water to mileage ratios- trying to figure out the amount that would keep us happy and hydrated but not have us carrying more water weight than necessary. It was a solid day which made it sad when I realized at camp that evening that at some point when we filled our water bladders during the day I left behind the bag with my journal, first aid kit, and expensive dental guard. My phone number is in the journal- but whether the person who would stumble across it would call me to get it or just toss it was and is the question.
Emotionally I was sad to lose the journal- it seems like a lot of weight but I enjoyed unwinding at night recounting who we met, what we saw, and my thoughts on the day. It’s a way to gripe about the pain without needing to verbalize the aches that all the hikers around us are feeling. The first aid kit was annoying, as I had just stocked it with lots of little odds and ends that I hoped would handle the blisters and other chafes and scratches we regularly get. The dental guard was oddly the most expensive piece of gear on the hike- since I grind my teeth in my sleep the dentist had made me a custom one. In a rare fit of maturity I had spent the $$$ , only to leave it along a trail in California it seems. (Short lived maturity- or a sign that it is not my forte?) Plus I was enjoying the personal shame and general feeling of being that dumbass who left gear along the trail.
The next morning was one of my toughest hiking. I awoke realizing my air pad must have a slow leak. Every step for the first few miles generally felt like my left heel was hitting a pinecone (or Lego if you prefer). Wondering what might become of my bag was an unhelpful but constant thought. We could spend a day backtracking in hopes of finding it, but we would lose 2 days going back and then repeating the section- and with the number of hikers in the area it might have already been picked up. We pushed on and gradually my heel pain lessened to the more tolerable ache and we hit around 17 miles. We finished at the least buggy campsite we had been at yet and decided to spend a night and assess pain/blisters in the morning.
When my heel was tender and achey the next morning with a few fresh blisters from the day before we decided to hitch into Etna early. Colby was kind enough to let me use what first aid supplies he had, but they would be used up shortly and while the old duct tape option was still available- 40 more miles seemed like a good way to guarantee I would not be a happy camper.
Many thanks to Laura who turned her car around to pick us up. (We were properly hiker smelly according to her 😂) A short ride later and we are in the tiny but cute and hiker friendly town of Etna. The town park allows hikers to camp out for $5 a night and has a charging station for phones, bathrooms, and with purchase of tokens at the local market you can get a towel and 10 minute coins for the shower.
Current status is waiting. We have some gear awaiting pick up when the post office opens tomorrow (which is good timing to pack up to avoid an impromptu shower with the parks sprinkler schedule). I am letting blisters dry and heal but the achey heel has turned into a swollen ankle, without having to shoulder a pack around. While it is tempting to just go for it and try to push through to get back to the trail- that seems like a good way to guarantee what might be a minor injury becomes a solid one.
On the bright side- because we used an alternate road to hitch into town there are familiar faces! The speedier hikers who passed us that we figured we would never see again have been passing through Etna. Being able to compare blister treatment strategies and talk about the upcoming sections of trail has been nice. Plus other hikers sometime have the best scoop on the town (can anybody say public pool?!?) Plus hearing trail names and origins is always a fun experience.
So tomorrow we will hit the post office, swap some gear, and I guess keep assessing my oddly puffy ankle. Hopefully by lightening our packs some that will help diminish the end of day foot pains and make hiking a little smoother during the day. The wait and see game is difficult, but Colby is awesomely patient as we both have had trail induced injuries in the past. We will enjoy our 10 minute showers when the heat of the day wears off, and we have found a tasty local restaurant to satisfy our town food cravings. (But if you ever want to make Colby sad- ask him about his least favorite tacos of all time courtesy of Etna.)
Thanks for reading along- while hiking with pain is usually just part of the game it seemed fair to write about the tough stuff and not just the beauty. Plus if you found my dry bag and journal and haven’t called me yet, I kinda hope you step barefoot on a pinecone.