The climb onto the rim wasn’t that bad. It was hot but our long break at JJ’s had done us good and there was more shade up on the rim than we had been expecting. Plus, the views of the Hat Creek valley were gorgeous. Everything was going great, until Chocolate Apocolypse 2016 hit. We had sat down for a snack break under a scrubby oak tree when we discovered that a chocolate bar we had been saving for dessert had melted into a puddle of molten sugar which was drowning the rest of our snacks in the bottom of our snack bag. FUCK. Pretty soon, in an effor to clean it up, I was also covered in chocolate, which displeased Kyle very very much, and he resorted to swearing and yelling.
After that we were walking a tenuous line between positivity and spiraling into an oblivion of despair. It was beautiful and the sun finally went down and things started to cool off, so that was good. But there were rattlesnakes again, we heard two of them, so that was not good. The stars started to come out and we were making great time, so that was great. These terrifying birds started dive bombing us and we didn’t get into camp until 9pm, so that was rough. Kyle made the trip down to get water while I set everything up. When he got back he announced he had found two more rattlesnakes. We set the alarm for 3am.
At 3am, when the alarm went off, we were both experiencing the best night sleep we had gotten in a long time. The air was the perfect temperature, there was a gently light breeze blowing through the tent, and everything was quiet. Kyle wanted to keep sleeping but I wouldn’t let us, knowing that it was going to be hotter than the day before and we needed to put as many miles behind us under the cover of darkness as we possibly could. It took me forever to get ready, thanks to the dimness of my red light on my head lamp, but finally we were moving. We had done five miles before the sun crested the hills to the East and the moment it’s rays touched us we were warm. Too warm. The day got hot at an alarming rate. And the trees got more and more sparse. I actually pride myself at being very adept to the heat, but even I agreed, by twelve o’clock it was pretty unbearable. Kyle was looking terrible, complaining of feeling lightheaded and dizzy, even though he was drinking plenty of water and we were stopping every hour for shade breaks and snacks. I was gunning for Lake Baum, because I knew that if he was experiencing heat exhaustion the only thing that was going to help was cooling him down. But the balance between trying to get somewhere cooler quickly and hike slowly to keep someone’s body temperature down, well it’s an impossible balance. Finally we made it to Baumn Lake where I forced Kyle to get into the water and lay there until I was satisfied. Our next destination was Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, where we were meeting Marla, a blog reader who had reached out to us and offered to put us up for the night.
We began the climb up to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, breathing heavily in the searing heat. You want to know what it felt like? Go turn your oven up to 103 degrees and climb inside it, then shine a flashlight into your face, work up some blisters on your feet, and hike twenty six miles. The heat makes everything seem so much longer than it is. Two miles seems like ten miles. Even with the cooling dip in the lake Kyle had a little throw up moment on the way up the hill. I already knew, at that point, in my heart of hearts, that we should head North. I wanted it and I knew Kyle really wanted it. As a couple, as partners, as two halves of a hiking team, sometimes we made decisions together and sometimes we make them for eachother. At that moment I made the decision, we were going home to hike South and we were doing it as soon as we could. I didn’t want to only enjoy our off days for the foreseeable future, I wanted to enjoy all of it.
Finally, after the longest .25 mile side trail I have ever walked we made it to the guest ranch and were greeted by a little girl holding homemade strawberry sherbet. I actually geared up as I ate it, sitting in an airconditioned lodge next to a fan on the cold stone of the fire place. And then Marla came and everything got even better. Marla was fantastic, kind, understanding, interesting, and a wonderful host. She took us home, introduced us to her husband Tim and her cat Meowtian (like martian but Meowtian). They fed us Tim’s amazing homemade chili, we talked politics, and the opened up their beautiful, cool, reviving home to us. We slept soundly in a comfortable bed. In the morning Marla made eggs and sausage and Kyle and I worked out how to get to Dunsmuir. The forecasted high in Dunsmuir for the day was 106. We felt good about our decisions.
Mainly, we felt good that we had taken Marla and Tim up on their offer. We felt really lucky that they had found us and asked us to stay. Some people feel scared or nervous to say yes to other people’s kindness, but one of the things you learn as a thru hiker is that often saying yes leads to the most special experiences, results in the most wonderful stories, and builds new friendships and relationships. That is what this trail is all about. We said yes to Marla, and we also said yes to our wants and needs. We said yes to enjoying the trail and taking risks and making changes. Other people are still in California, suffering through the heat, and they are going to be fine, they are doing the right thing for them. Sometimes, the hardest thing is doing what is right for you, and even though it isn’t the kind of growth I expected, it is a new type of growth to be found.