I wake, quickly pack, and head off. It’s 5:45am. I want to continue my new trend of doing between 25 and 30 miles a day.
California is burning and the air is filled with forest fire smoke. After 3 hours of hiking, it still looks like dawn. I can taste the smoke and feel it as I inhale. The fire must be close. It takes another 6 hours to hike away from it (I later learn the blaze was about 30 miles away, as the crow flies).
The terrain is nice soft duff and I spend most of the day walking in and out of pine forests. The landscape has a much more low-key vibe than the non-stop action of the Sierras. Sometimes its subtlety is lost on me. I leapfrog with Waterbug and Pac Man, finding them at the cold delicious springs that dot this section. It’s like hanging out at the office water cooler. We shoot the shit for a bit then get back to work.
At 8pm, Pac Man and I camp by Duck Soup Lake, which is stagnant and gross. I filter some water, he uses drops. We make a little “Indian” fire and eat our dinners.
I get up early. It’s already hot at 6am. Pac Man tells me that he shined his headlamp into the pond water-filled bottle and saw a bunch of creepy crawlies. Now he can only imagine them in his stomach. I begin to think my new water filter is a solid investment.
It’s hot like the desert again. I take every chance I get to sit in the shade, dip my bandana in creek water, and wipe myself down. At 4pm, I cross the middle fork of the Feather River, designated by the US government as a “national wild and scenic river”. I can see a “social trail” leading to a tributary. I take it and find a sweet camp spot and the most idyllic swimming hole.
The sun filters through broad leaved trees and shines on the wet rocks. I take everything off and dive in. It’s perfect! It’s beautiful. It’s reviving. I swim around and wash off the sweat and dirt. It is so hard to tear myself away. I don’t want to leave, but my goal is 30 miles. I dress and hike on.
On the other side of the river there are remnants of a gold mining operation. This whole area was the site of all that gold boom and bust. Even today, some people eek out a tiny sum from panning gold dust.
I want to stay by the river longer. At moments like this, I’m torn by both the desire to deeply enjoy and the equal desire to make it to Canada. I choose to push on. The next 8 miles are all up hill on a trail made by some sadist. It’s 7:30pm and my legs and feet are screaming for a break. I find Pac Man in one of the few flat spots on the climb. He tells me about the bears he just saw. I lie on my back with my legs on the trunk of a tree… just two more miles… we can do it!
We head out and in about a mile and a half there’s a camp spot, but it’s not so special. I ask Pac Man if he has another mile in him and I’m surprised when he says “no”. He crashes to the ground and looks like crap. He says he has heat exhaustion. His body temp keeps bouncing between boiling and freezing. He wants to vomit. His hands and feet are cramping. He lies down while I start making my dinner. 10 minutes later he jumps up and vomits about 7 feet from me.
Oddly, this in no way affects my desire to continue eating three dinners.