Miles: 18.5 + 1 toward town
I wake early without my alarm, even after a week of late-ish starts, town days are exciting enough to start with the light. I really have no need to rush, Stephen isn’t flying down for two more days. But still, town!
I root through my food bag for breakfast. I have massively over packed. Extra breakfasts, lunches, dinners. Even snacks. The hunger days of the high Sierra are not so far behind, and I am reluctant to push boundaries in the food department again.
So it’s not food, not a shower (thank you again Tom!), but friends I am hoping to catch. Since I will be off trail for rest of the week, I probably won’t see Soccer Mom, Crunchberry and Rooster again this summer. I have this feeling all the time, when I strike out alone or stay behind, that I will lose the gang. And each time, we are magically reunited. But I know this will be different. With half the season gone and more than half the trail to go, zeros are becoming rare luxuries.
I follow the trail along the ridgelines covered in mule’s ear. Yellow flowers past their prime, velvety leaves we so treasure as toilet paper increasingly crisped by summer’s progress. Then down again, an exposed series of switchbacks, too sunny on this hot day. The creek at the bottom of the narrow valley burbles and gurgles its way excitedly toward Sierra City. The forest is lush here, and increasingly looks like my BC home, with cedars and fir and even thimbleberry.I pass a dirt road, see powerlines, hear cars in the distance. I know there’s a town hidden in here, but where? Another set of switchbacks, leaves crunching beneath my feet, and I am at a bridge. An emerald pool, deepened by a wall of stacked rocks, sits enticing just below. Come swim! It says. And the hot sun agrees. But town! I think, I have a house to stay in and friends to catch. I stare at the pool some more, all calm and green and cool, knowing I will regret not stopping. I can come here again tomorrow, I lie to myself, as I press on without swimming. Backtracking is just not something we do.
Alone at the road, I start walking toward town, having already decided against hitchhiking solo. It’s only a mile to John’s house, hardly worth the risk. But a car stops without me asking, a kind an instructor at San Francisco State who runs a local field station. He takes me to the store, already knowing as locals do, where I need to go.
I instantly love Sierra City, all tucked up against the steep hills. The paint peeling from gold-rush era buildings feels honest and the people too; this is no theme park town. There are two restaurants, a church where hikers can camp on a tiny square of lawn, a post office, a library with books for a dollar honor-system out front. And of course the store where hikers congregate, filling welcoming benches on the porch. And there, among the crowd waiting patiently for the famous gut-buster burgers from the deli, are Soccer Mom, Rooster and Crunchberry who I’ve caught just as they are headed out. Soccer Mom suggests that I skip ahead, starting back in Belden, something my continuous-line following self had not considered. “The trail will always be here, but the people won’t,” justifies Soccer Mom, always wise beyond her years. Stay here! I counter, I have a house to stay at! I plead. But to no avail. Canada is calling.
Cheese, however, takes the house offer. We grab our gear and walk back down the road, following John’s instructions with little trouble. We retrieve the key to this surreal parallel universe of kindness, and walk inside.
This is no summer cabin. But an actual house. A Very Nice House. The kind I would love to live in. With wide wood floors, bright windows, all white and light with a few nice things. Books I know on the shelves, even a season of Mad Men by the TV. John texts saying there are towels upstairs, and I am welcome to take a soak. I go investigate, and find a deep, deep tub. Japanese up-to-your-shoulders deep. So white and clean that I cannot bring myself to use it. So I settle for a shower downstairs (with endless hot water!). Maybe tomorrow tub, maybe tomorrow.