The stars are bright and the moon rises orange, but I pay in sleep for the beauty of my cowboy campsite. The breeze that was holding bugs at bay petered to nothing with the last light, and I had my own little constellation of mosquitoes droning and whining on my head net at most an inch from my face. At some point in the night I roll too far over without adjusting my meager bit of netting and wake to a mosquito sucking blood from my lip. At another point, I wake with the conviction that a mouse has just run straight over my head, a scamper of feet on face felt through dreams. The bites of foam missing from my trekking pole grip in the morning suggests the mouse on face incident did indeed happen. But still, the view! And sunrise facing too, for ease of early rising and a better chance of making the most of the day.
What a glorious day it turns out to be. We get to keep most of the hard-earned elevation, walking ridges and skirting hills on the most gently graded, well maintained trail. Almost all of it is easy walking with just enough sights and adventures thrown in.
Feeling a bit drowsy after lunch? Here, climb across this bit of exposed snowfield. Thirsty? How about this icy snowmelt gushing out of a hole in the hillside two feet above the trail. Feeling a bit sticky from so much walking in the sun? Have a beautiful lake and a light breeze to dry your laundry. Bored of lupine and paintbrush, check out this flowering bear grass.
I leapfrog with Silver and Saver, from epic camp last night, before joining them for a few miles here and there, and then for some lake time. Slowly, I am becoming part of a new little pack of interesting and kind humans, heading in the same direction at similar paces. Though no one has seen sign of Speed.
Late in the day, the trail plays some tricks. Hey, look what I can do! says the trail, making a wide 270 degree arc around a bowl until I find myself walking dead east looking straight at Shasta, which I have worked so hard to have behind me. But no, that’s not enough directional shenanigans. How about heading south for a while too? When I find myself looking into the sunset again, I have a rare moment of relief to be heading west – normally a bit irksome, these sections that are less than north, but anything over circles and south.
The trail was so well graded I have done 18 miles before swim time, and end at a foot crushing 27 miles – a tie for my longest ever hiking day. And when I get to camp there is Speed! He’s been just a mile ahead of me all this time.
I will sleep so well, safe again in my little tent, surrounded by friends with gentle stream noises and so many miles.
June 26 2016