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PCT Days 101-118: Finishing California

After our break in Chester, we’re back on the trail and headed through our fourth national park of the trail: Lassen Volcanic, which does not disappoint. Raging steam vents, boiling lakes, dire warnings to stay on the trail—woohoo! Drakesbad Guest Ranch is a nice trail stop—resupply, a hot-spring-heated pool, and a multi-course dinner. As hikers, we’re not allowed in the dining room with the “real” guests, but after dinner the staff brings us a baggie of corndogs and chicken tenders, leftovers from the kids’ menu. 

The notorious Hat Creek Rim is bad—hot, dry, shadeless—but the section after it is even worse, all lava beds and red dirt, like walking into an open oven. 1400 miles, 1500 miles—at this pace, we cover 100 miles in under five days. Progress is measured by Mount Shasta: how close and where on the horizon it is as we make a long slow swing around its west side. On July 26th we meet our first confirmed southbound thru-hiker.

My foot pain is back (did it ever leave?), and the miles can feel endless. Why is there so much California?! I spend a lot of time thinking about food. Correction: fantasizing about food. The Hardcore History podcast I’m listening to one afternoon mentions bread riots during World War I, and my immediate thought is “Mmmm… bread!

The good news is, trail magic has returned in abundance—rides offered before we have a chance to ask, elaborate meals served at road crossings, coolers full of cold soda waiting between trees. Set up a wildlife camera at those ice chests, and you would capture pure hikertrash joy.

Then the smoke moves in. At Mile 1600, climbing out from the turnoff to Etna, a forest fire haze descends, and it doesn’t really leave. We walk through previous years’ burn zones—recent ones. They are filled with blackened trees, burned trail markers. On July 31st we watch helicopters dropping water on a spot fire burning on a hillside below the trail.

In Seiad Valley, deep in the State of Jefferson, it is 102 degrees in the shade. We stop for cafe lunch (sandwiches! milk shakes!) and showers. I eat enough ice cream to give myself a serious stomach ache, which makes the road walk and smoke-filled climb out of town that much worse. We stop early because of my bad ice-cream-related choices, but sucking all that smoke in on an uphill trudge really couldn’t have been a better choice. The smoke is so thick at night that the moon looks like a red light in the sky.

And then… Oregon! We can hear the cheering at the border from half a mile away—there’s a crowd of hikers signing the log book and taking pictures under the border sign and sprawled out in the middle of the trail eating their lunches, smoking their joints, all the things that hikers do.

We’re finally done with California—all 1700 miles of it. “Only” 950 miles left, through two “quick” states.

Day 101 / July 17 through Day 118 / August 3:
371.3 miles, Mile 1328.8 to 1700.1

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