May 14 (Zero Day) & May 15 (~12:50 – ~19:00)
Old Station / State Highway 44 (mi 1377.3) – before Cache 22 Water Tank / FS 22 (15.7 mi / Total: 1393.0 mi)
Total PCT miles: 730.1
Weather: Windy, rainy and cold. I warm up as I walk and the rain disappears, so it’s nice and fresh but I’m stuck between feeling cold and warm. It rains again when I’m in my tent.
The Coachman Hotel in South Lake Tahoe is my dream come true and I wish I could zero here, but I can’t. We’ve had so many days off flipping around already, and our premature withdrawal from the Desolation Wilderness due to my snow blindness has thrown us yet another curveball – more days without making any progress.
We’ve silently agreed to flip up again, this time to somewhere without actually any snow, which puts us over 250 miles ahead, at Old Station. But first I try and enjoy the hotel before we checkout. My eyes have already improved, a little less red and swollen, and a little less gritty. I’m surprised it’s starting to feel better already. The breakfast is amazing: they have a waffle machine with batter made of actual quality ingredients (unlike the tasteless concoction of what I presume is water and powdered eggs you find in all the other hotels), and I add homemade jam and whipped cream to it. It’s delicious.
Then Speedy notices that the cooler-than-cool hotel reception sells sunglasses from a brand called SunSki, and I immediately like them. I’ve never owned sunglasses before because I don’t enjoy having things on my head, but I can’t get around them now. I decide to buy them as we checkout, and although it’s odd to walk around a much darker world, it also feels nice to shield my sore eyes from the brightness around.
We hire a car once again, and drive up to Redding where we camp for the night. The following morning we attempt to hitch the final stretch to Old Station, but we’re not in a good spot – we’re hitching from an on-ramp to a huge Interstate, a depressing spot in the rain and we’re not quite sure anyone would be able to stop and pick us up even if they wanted to. We quickly opt for a $70 Uber instead, just wanting to simplify things and get back to the trail. We’re picked up and taken along a long road, the weather slowly worsening as we draw closer. The road leads through gorgeous, solid forests and we’re excited about the prospect of walking underneath the cover of trees. Well, Prince and I are – Speedy prefers open spaces.
There’s a steady, dreary grey rain once we reach Old Station and we decide to sit in the cafe for a little first, to unwind, and the people there are so excited to see us that we end up eating lunch. By the time we leave it’s early afternoon, the rain has lessened, and we walk the short road walk to the trail.
For a second time now, we’re back on the PCT. It feels weird to be in an entirely different landscape, and to not have slowly walked into it, to not have earned being there. My thruhike is disrupted. But I hope by tomorrow, when I wake up in the comfort of my tent on the trail, I’ll feel like I belong again.
We enter the Hat Creek Rim section, which I now realise is actually a burnt and exposed stretch that was destroyed by fires from lightning in 2009. It’s nice and easy walking but I secretly can’t wait to get into the trees. I wonder if I’ll get them at all on this stretch to Burney. I’m walking on the rim, the burnt forest section just to the right, and on the other side I’m overlooking the bare valley. I can’t really complain – snowy mountains line the far end of the valley, their very peaks veiled by grey clouds, and I’m just happy to pass by them.
It isn’t very sunny but I’d rather keep my eyes from too much exposure, so I view today’s world in relative darkness. Having sunglasses for the first time makes me feel more separated from my surroundings, but I know I’ll just have to get used to it. After some time it stops raining, and it’s nice to be walking in dry, cool weather – this section is notorious for being burning hot and exposed, so from that point of view I should be happy to be here so early, when it’s still cold.
I wonder how many people have hiked this section already this year. Most of the hikers flipflopping are southbounding from somewhere further up, mostly from Ashland, which sits around the Oregon / Washington border, and we’re probably some of the first heading north. Then I spot a trail register – the book in it is brand new, but it shows a few people passing since earlier this week. Several even came through earlier today. It makes me wonder where all the hikers we know are. Everyone must be so scattered this year. It’s such a shame.
For the rest of the day, the landscape doesn’t change much. The trail leads into the trees a few mere moments and then I’m out again. The path is blissfully level though, and towards the end of the day I’m walking along the rim again, now with flowers and small bushes everywhere. I find Speedy and Prince camped in the wind, and I continue on a little, passing prescribed burn areas, until I get close enough to the first water tank on this stretch and I set up too, listening to the wind howl in the distance, blowing through the trees nearby.