The PCT and corresponding maps are divided into lettered chunks, and this section, “K,” is particularly dense with kindness. For every bad seed I’ve encountered as part of this journey, there have been hundreds of amazing people. Today alone I meet two incredibly generous souls.
The clouds are grey and dark, despite promises of fairer weather. Just before Squaw Valley, I ask a weekend hiker, one of a pair heading south, if he’s from around here, eager for an experienced evaluation of the misbehaving sky. I have also been asking people if they are locals lately in hopes of figuring out if there’s a way to leave the trail a day or two after Sierra City, since I have some extra time until Stephen arrives and would like to fill it with more miles. One topic leads to another: weather, the town of Quincy, my new postdoc as reason for taking leave, water politics. And then, in an offer I still cannot quite believe, the man, whose name is John, says he has a house in Sierra City. I can stay at his place if I would like and gives me the details for finding both house and key. He does not even know my name, trail or otherwise. This act of trust overwhelms lingering grumpiness from yesterday’s unpleasant encounter. And to put a high-fructose corn-syrupy square of cherry goodness on top, Cheese walks up with a big grin “I have trail magic for you,” he explains, pulling a full size pack of Starburst from his pocket. A woman was handing out candy to thru-hikers a ways back and he asked if he could take one for me too. “I thought I’d catch you sooner,” says Cheese.
Sugar rush or no, the hills are steep today, as I weave through a series of ski-resorts, unquestionably of the downhill variety. All the ups and downs, emotional and geographical, make for a pack that feels heavy with yesterday’s combination of late night and long miles.I stop for lunch, halfway up a steep climb. Sitting against a sturdy tree trunk, I dig through my food bag for forgotten treats, grinning as I pull a spicy primal strip from the mess of baggies full of crushed remains of snacks past. Maestro and Slumbercat and dog Scout show up. And Scout eats my vegan jerky, grabbing it right from my food bag. I say not too worry, and point out that it did look and smell exactly like a dog treat. Scout lays down next to me in a show of best behavior, hoping for more treats.
Water is becoming scarce. Again today, I find myself hiked way up a ridge with less than a half-liter and many miles to go. It’s a generally cool day, but the sun pops out of the clouds and I see just how exposed I am way up here without shade or liquids. Hmmm…I think, keep walking.
Briefly see Angler, then no other PCT hikers. This happens sometimes, ending up between bubbles, feeling completely alone despite being in the heart of the herd. It’s getting toward evening and there are two big road crossings ahead, one an interstate. Basically the last place I want to camp alone, still feeling rattled from yesterday. I get to the first road, and call a local lodge but no answer. I yogi water from some day hikers and keep walking.
Three more miles and I am almost at the interstate. I could push on further, away from the road into the safety of the wild. But light is fading, my headlamp batteries are dead and it is all uphill. I pause, and search my Yogi guidebook pages for an answer. And there it is, the number for trail angel Tom “Freeloader.” Who answers straight away. My voice betrays me, demonstrating I am more frazzled than I am willing or able to admit, at least to myself alone out here in the not-wild-enough wild. Tom deems this an “emergency,” and promises to pick me up in half an hour when I reach the road. Another win for humanity-is-kind.
Showered and cozy in a borrowed fleece top, with laundry done, and phone charging. I type away, barely conscious. Zzzzz………..