This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
North California is not what I expect. We’ve been told it is most people’s least favorite section of trail, it’s not as pretty as the rest, and that most people drop out here. Mentally, I have been preparing for a tough section since the desert.
But the PCT throws us high on rocky ridges, where lakes glitter in the trees below and blue mountains recede to the crag of Mount Lassen. Then we are walking through forest, where wolf lichen coats the firs like a jacket.
Nor Cal is not without its hardships. I get stung on the foot by a wasp at lunch and limp in agony for two hours before the burning fades. Every time the trail throws us into a valley, we have to climb the five thousand feet to the ridge above. Sometimes the miles are easy, and sometimes we have to claw them from the trail, scrambling over scree and up slopes that leave my legs burning. But from snowy Aloha lake, to the wildflowers by the streams, Nor Cal is beautiful.
Sitting in Tahoe, we did the math on how many miles a day we need to do to finish. We do 22-24 a day leaving Tahoe, then shoot for over 25 after Sierra City. We manage two marathons before we are derailed by an electronic dance music festival in Belden. We drink beer and people watch, then go swim in the river, before finally heading out to camp a half mile from town. The music thumps all night and I sleep maybe an hour. The next day, we climb five thousand feet and I pause every few miles to curl up by streams, head pillowed on my backpack as I nap fitfully.
This can’t continue or we’ll never get to Canada. We check the maps- we are 30 miles from Chester, where we need to zero. Our biggest day so far has been 26. Can we do it? There’s only one way to find out. I plug in my headphones, put my head down and go, go, go. My speed creeps up and I am cruising at 3mph. We break for lunch with several trail angels and then we are running for the midpoint. We cross, and for the first time are closer to Canada than Mexico. We keep trucking and reach the highway and 30 miles just as the sun is setting. A kind tow truck driver stops, and we are in Chester.