Day Seventy Six

Today's miles: 14
Total miles: 1606

We woke this morning to an amazing sunrise over the mountains. I adore cowboy camping for just this reason, and cowboy camping on top of a mountain makes the view even more impressive. We ate hot oatmeal and drank warm tea before packing up and heading out. We had a goal for today: town! We were only 14 miles from the town of Etna, CA and we were determined to make it there by early afternoon.

We left camp at 7:00 and had big hills to climb all morning. I cruised behind Sneaks, who was rocking out to Phil Collins and we sang Sussudio! as we tackled the climbs. We met our very first Southbounder today. His name was Bobcat and he stopped to talk to me for a bit. He started in Canada in late June and had already made it to Northern California in just over a month and a half! We swapped stories about upcoming milestones: I raved about the Sierras and he told me how amazing Washington's Northern Cascades were. It was exciting to know that we would be running into more Southbounders as the days went on. How strange knowing that they were just beginning their journey as we were growing closer to finishing.

We took a short break after six miles, and then with a group cheer crush it! we plowed through. We fell into our usual lineup: Sneaks, then Giddyup, then Katie, Wocka Wocka, Sunshine, Treekiller, then me. I could have gone faster, but I enjoyed being last. Treekiller was a slower hiker too, but unlike me, he had a very steady pace. He walked at 2.5 mph no matter what the terrain, whereas I fluctuated anywhere between 2 mph and 3 mph depending on the elevation. I hiked steadily behind him for most of the morning, and as we grew closer to our exit for town, we were forced to climb a series of steep switchbacks up a mountain. At each turn, Treekiller would look back down at me and say,
"Not there yet..."
Or, "apparently the trail wants to go higher..."
Or, "still climbing!"
It made me laugh.

The final few miles were all downhill to the highway, and when we reached the road at 1:00, it was just in time to see a truck full of our hiker friends pull away for Etna. Disappointed that we missed out on a hitch, I sat next to the road with Treekiller and realized that Katie had skipped out on the hitch to wait for us. I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, though I don't think it took her long to regret her decision. The road to Etna was a mountain road that was very rarely travelled, and because of the wildfires, even less traffic crossed it than usual. It was also extremely hot and shadeless, so we sat quietly sweating in the sun, waiting for a ride for an hour... two hours... three hours... the only people we saw go by were forest rangers and firemen. We were beginning to get desperate. Katie lamented that she had missed her only ride into town; I knew she blamed me for being stuck there, but I could do or say nothing to make the situation better, so I sat in mellow silence, feeling horrible. It was a ten mile walk to town, but we weren't ready to make that commitment yet. No one had cell phone service and we were running out of options, since none of the firemen were allowed to pick us up.

After three hours, a forest ranger drove through and closed the highway we were sitting beside. Now our slim chance of catching a hitch was even slimmer. Apparently the fires were raging quite close to the highway and the PCT, and no one was coming through.

At 3:00 we were resigned to walking to town. Despondent, Treekiller, Katie and I slowly made our way down the winding, switchbacking mountain road. We had gone only a half mile when a black truck with a father and son drove past us, stopped, and offered us a ride. We were euphoric. We hopped in the bed of his pickup and rode, top speed, down the mountain. It was a long, roller-coaster-like drive and we were glad we didn't have to walk the whole way. He dropped us off in the middle of the tiny Etna and we met our friends at the local library, glad to finally be there.

We all went to eat dinner at a local burger place called Dottie's, and indulged ourselves in giant hamburgers, fries, and the best milkshakes we'd had on trail yet. As we ate we learned that the firemen in the area were warning hikers about hiking the PCT between Etna and the next town, Seiad Valley, 60 miles further north. The trail wasn't officially closed, but the smoke and the number of firemen in the area were warning enough. We decided we didn't want to end up on the news by hiking through the wildfires, so we opted to take the bus tomorrow from Etna to Seiad Valley and skip that portion of the trail.

That evening we stayed at a local bed and breakfast. The owners allowed hikers to camp in their backyard, and it had the most luxurious soft green grass we had seen all trail. Delighted, we took showers, did laundry, and set up our tents in the beautiful backyard for the night. We borrowed the B&B bikes to take into town and buy food at the local grocery store. Etna was a tiny town but adorable, and we all wished we could stay here longer. I fell asleep on a soft bed of grass with the cool night air blowing across my face.