Taking a zero day is always tempting and we really have taken far to many of them on this trip, because honestly, the nero day is where it is at. Taking a whole day off really throws you off your game, takes your mind off the trail, and when you start hiking again your body hurts from a whole day of the sedentary nature. I’m not saying we haven’t wanted to take zero days in this last stretch, we have, but we haven’t been able to because of our extremely strict hiking schedule. We solidified this plan during our nero day in Etna by buying train tickets and booking a hotel in Dunsmuir for the night prior to our departure. Despite being a short nero (we hiked some big miles before getting to Etna Summit and then getting a hitch from there took us a good two hours) it was refreshing. We stayed at the Hiker Hut, took a lovely shower, ate burgers and curly fries, drank a whole milkshake without didn’t get sick afterwards, and lounged around. And then, instead of staying another day like we wanted to, we got up early in the morning, ate some cereal, and headed out to the road to try and hitch back. To our surprise we actually got a hitch right away and with that small act of grace our big day ahead of seemed doable.
The elevation profile that day looked something like a heart monitor, up and down and up and down, but the weather had been crisp and cool lately, sunny but with a stiff breeze that forced you to put your jacket on for breaks. All day we walked along exposed ridges and slopes, providing us with lovely views of lakes and an endless sea of peaks as far as the eye could see. Our bodies felt good after a smaller day the day before and our spirits were high. The number of miles we had left to do in California was starting to seem more and more manageable and the big days we were putting in really felt like they were paying off. As always we worried about the amount of snacks we had but we rejoiced when we pulled the lid off of our pot at dinner to find it overflowing with cous cous and madras chickpeas. After dinner we put on a podcast, which led to an amazing coincidence when we passed a northbound hiker who took our his earbuds and stopped for us to pass him. When we were about a hundred feet away he shouted, “Hey, I’m listening to the same podcast!” Turns out it wasn’t just the same podcast but he was at the exact same part, he explained that when he had taken out his earbuds he was confused as to how the podcast had continued to play, until he realized it was ours! We all chuckled and kept walking. We ended up on top of a ridge for the night, camped with a couple of other people which always makes us feel safer. It was cold and there was a steady wind blowing, so we set our tent up accordingly. We snuggled down in our sleeping bag and sighed, but it was a sigh of contentment.
The next morning we woke up in the dark, a rule we now had to live by if we wanted to accomplish our miles every day, but neither of us was upset. There was a new pep in our step that I hadn’t felt in a long time. We weren’t bitching during climbs or rushing past views, we were smiling a lot. The Continetal Divide Trail actually came up in conversation and neither of us balked at the idea of it. I felt genuinely happy and excited to be exactly where we were at that point in time, happy to be hiking and moving and seeing. This feeling is still with me as I write this and it was with me every day in between. That day we ran back into our Canadian friend, Hot Water and hiked around him all day. We camped that night in a little gully with wide open skies filled with stars. We hiked fast and efficiently and actually made it into camp earlier than we had planned. We would have gone further if there had been campsites within a couple of miles. Another early morning, another long day, another great hike. We leapfrogged this French hiker named Hardcore and his dog, Luna, all day. Luna took a liking to us (me) and whenever she say us she would pull at her leash frantically until she was within petting distance. By the end of the day we were within view of Castle Crags State Park, and we stopped for dinner on some ledges with a dramatic view of the granite spires. Hardcore and Luna showed up and Luna, who was attached to Hardcore’s pack while he set up camp, casually wandered around the pack in our direction until she was within sprinting distance of us and then lunged, pulling the pack along behind her. She is the cutest pup.
We kept hiking that night until we made it to a wooded saddle where there was camping. This spot put us within striking distance of Mount Shasta the next day for another nero.
What is it that causes there to be a change in your attitude, is it something in the wind, a subtle unpercievable shift? Seemingly overnight both Kyle and I were smiling more, taking deep breaths of the slightly smoky air, stopping to stare around at the mountains on every side. There have been so many moments on this hike where I have wished for it to be over, so of course, now that we are so close to the end, I am beginning to have heartache. I am missing the trail before it is even gone. I was convinced I wasn’t going to feel this way, that I was going to be ready to return to real life, but just like that everything is good and I don’t want to leave.