Day 106 Etna, CA Mile 1606
Worried about the current economic woes? Think the US government might actually default? Planning for the end of civilization as we know it!? Well, look no further than a move to the idyllic State of Jefferson, soon to be the 51st state in the Union–if only its residents had their way. The last few miles of trail have taken me into the far reaches of Northern California, deep into Sisikiyou county where the Hollywood hills, palm beaches, and strangled traffic of SoCal feel a world away. In my opinion, this is the real California, or at least some of the best parts if you’re a vagabond thru hiker working towards Canada.
Etna might just be the number 1 trail town out there. Each town has it’s own character, and depending on the people you meet and help you receive, towns could easily go from #1 to sour. But this place has everything you need, all in the quaintest of settings. First stop was the classic Scott Valley Drug store, not for the pharmacy, but to the classic lunch counter for a frosty root beer float. It’s funny how the mile seem to melt away sipping away on a swivel stool. Next stop (and for the rest of the evening) was the Etna Brewery, a little pub to rival the best of them. We easily had a dozen hikers packing the place, and soon packing the bellies. I put down a full beer sampler, from their Huckleberry Blonde to the darkest of Stouts, a bbq sandwich and a florentine sandwich, plus a peanut butter cookie ice cream sundae. Need I say more? Several of the buildings are old red brick, the Hiker Hut caters specifically to my fellow dirty travelers, and the whole valley reminds me of small town midwest. The secessionist movement may have faded since WWII, but this place has a California character unique from the rest of the state.
Since departing Sierra City, the snow has melted (mostly), the crowds have thinned out, and the trail seems to have taken on an even more rural feel (if that is possible while hiking through the wilderness). The magic of late has been otherworldly and the rest stops friendly and beyond bucolic. First there was a great summer cabin stop with tremendous food at Honker Pass courtesy of the Williams family, then a string of small towns and rest stops that kept the good meals coming and and the belly full: Belden-the site of weekend raves that I missed, Chester-where Garfunkel and I pushed a PR 36 miles via trail running intervals to meet friends for a halfway celebration (1325 baby!), Drakesbad-the Lassen park guest ranch complete with hot springs that has a soft spot for hikers, Old Station-the milkshake oasis before a return to the desert along 30miles of the bone dry Hat Creek Rim, Burney-where I managed my first 30miler including resupply, and Mt Shasta-where a package of goodies from Annie awaited and where I finally took another zero to hang out with good friends and fellow travelers Dirk and Balto. They extended their Montana trip to meet up and provide some magic and much needed support from back home. In turn, I got to show them 50 miles of the PCT, which they admirably hiked without complaint, even putting in a marathon day. (I was not doing that my first day on the trail). I can’t describe how much fun it was to swap summer stories with them, and plot for the future. I think the three of us could agree, this is living the dream.
The miles have also gotten easier since I last wrote, and I am now covering more ground than I could have ever imagined when I was slogging through snow at 12,000 ft. Thirty mile days have become routine, and while my feet still call out to end the madness come dusk, somehow they recover enough to do it all over again the next day. That is a good thing, because the pace is only going to grind on as I head north and for the finish. Most other hikers seem to find themselves in a similar position; everyone is tallying miles, crunching the numbers, and figuring out just how much they have to do. It’s a strange feeling, but the end now seems in sight. For a journey that seemed so long at the start, so full of the unknown, so epic in every way, I now feel, at least for the schedule, what it will take to complete the last 1000 miles and finish this hike. I told myself at the beginning that this trip was about experiences, meeting people, hearing stories and making stories-that it wouldn’t be just about miles. And while the miles and numbers have come more into consciousness, I’m finding this journey is still all about those experiences I was seeking: only now I know I want to finish. I badly want to be counted among the class of 2011, to say-not to anyone but myself-that I started in Mexico and made it to Canada. There are still many unknowns ahead, people to meet, rides to catch, campsites to find, miles to make, meals to savor, and on and on. Those unknowns still intrigue me, they are what have made and continue to make this trail the wildest adventure I’ve ever chased down. I’m still headed to Canada, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll find along the way.