May 21 (~06:45 – ~13:45) & May 22 (Zero day)
Cabin Creek trailhead – Interstate 5 (16.2 mi / Total: 1501.2 mi)
Total PCT miles: 838.2
Weather: Very cold and rainy. It’s foggy and pretty miserable.
It’s such a relief to wake up at lower elevation. There’s no snow, or freezing cold air, or frozen clothes. The thunderstorm Speedy mentioned never arrived – it just rained.
I made it quite far yesterday and I only have 16 miles left to the Interstate 5, where I hope to hitch into the town of Mount Shasta. I get going early – I can’t wait to be in town, to be somewhere warm, eat lasagna. I only have one climb and one descend today, one hill to get over – about 6 miles up and 10 down, and I’ll spend some time over 4500 feet again.
I already know there won’t be any snow today, which Atlantis told me yesterday as he passed me. But as I ascend, the temperatures grow increasingly frigid. The forest is icy and wet and it continues to rain. I haven’t had gloves for days now and my hands are so cold I keep having to stop and try to warm them up by squeezing them in between my thighs. I can hardly believe they’re more cold today than they were when I was ploughing through the snow.
When I get close to the top I try to write a text message. There’s a trail angel called Tony who used to pick up hikers and take them into town, as the hitch from the Interstate is known to be difficult. My fingers are too cold and stiff to type properly, and the screen is so wet that it keeps pressing the wrong symbols. I only barely manage to hit send and put away my phone quickly. There’s no time to stand still today, to break or to rest. I need to keep going. I need to move.
I decide to run. I feel much colder than I was these last few days, and I need to kickstart my body heat. I sprint, half-run, fast-walk, but it makes no difference. I’m still freezing. I’m so thoroughly cold. My body has nothing left in it, and it refuses to warm itself up. Then I receive a response from Tony – he’s hiking the trail this year, he can’t pick me up. I guess I’ll be hitching.
I surprise myself by reaching the top fast, and then it’s mostly an easy downhill path. The rain eases a little, but the air is still so cold, and it takes a long time for the lower elevations to show a difference in temperature. When I turn around a corner I’m suddenly hit with a change – it’s just a little milder, and just a little easier to bear. As I get lower I try to collapse my hiking poles – I don’t need them anymore, but my fingers are too cold and I have no strength left to push the little button. I’ll have to keep them extended, and hurry down the path that just goes on and on, until I hit the road.
It’s a short walk to the Interstate. I pass a bus stop – it goes three days a week but I’m here on the wrong day, and the bus hasn’t even started its summer run yet. Instead I go up the on-ramp to the Interstate, which feels very illegal, but there are no signs saying it’s not allowed. I position myself next to the busy road, three lanes wide, with lorries and cars blasting by at high speed. How is anyone going to stop for a hitchhiker on this Interstate?
With the little reception I have I download Uber, at the off chance that I’ll be able to pay for a ride, but there are no cars available. I awkwardly stick out my thumb, and wait. I’m afraid I’ll be here forever but within ten minutes a woman stops. She’d seen me hitch and turned around for me. I’m so happy to crawl into her warm car, and she takes me into town and drops me off at a coffee shop, where I’m barely able to read the menu and order a hot wrap and a coffee. It’s absolute bliss to sit at a table, as wet as I still am, but to be inside and taste those flavours and drink that hot liquid.
I text Speedy and Prince. They’re not in town. They’ve been off trail for three days since bailing out, so they hitched up to Medford to visit REI and haven’t returned yet. I tell Speedy I’m thinking of getting my own room and she says, Treat yourself girl, and so I do. I feel shattered. Everything I own is wet and dirty and I need some space, mentally and physically, to recuperate. When I’ve booked a room I head outside to walk over – and I’m instantly so cold again that I almost burst out in tears. When I enter my room, I turn the heat on 85. It’s amazing.
When Speedy and Prince get back to town they get a room at the same hotel and I see them for the first time in days. It seems they were even more undercooled than me from the storm, and they had no choice but to get out. We share stories on the way to the supermarket and I buy the microwave lasagna I’ve been craving. I spend all night eating food and cleaning every piece of gear I own. When I take a shower to can see how much body fat I’ve lost in my upper body. It’s no surprise I wasn’t able to get warm anymore. I have a feeling I’ll need to stay another day.
We meet again for coffee the next morning. There’s more snow in the stretch coming up, and there’s no way I’m going in there. The trail is almost entirely covered up until just before Seiad Valley, 150 miles ahead, and we agree to flip up once again. But I also know I can’t continue today. I still feel somewhat distraught from those cold days, and although I’ve taken way too many zeros already, I simply need to warm up.
So this is where we part: Speedy and Prince want to get back to the trail today, and this is goodbye. They pack up their things and head off. I’d never expected to spend so much time with other people, so I’m kind of excited to continue alone. But first I have a day of rest, and then a long hitch up to Seiad Valley.