On July 24 I failed at my goal to keep my mileage down so my feet might recover. The failure was due to music.
The hike out of Burney Falls was all up hill and waterless. It continued to be hot, but there were lots of trees to provide shade. I hiked out of the oaky, piney woods into less oaky and more piney, fir-studded forest, some of it amazingly lush.
At lunch time I reached the first water source that you could get to without having to climb any steep and slippery cliffs, which was Peavine Creek. There was a group of hikers just leaving Peavine Creek, including SlickB, Paradox, Chief (who is from Israel) and Jarrow. SlickB carries a ukulele and every time I've seen him he's on his way out. I really wanted to hear him play.
I filled up my gallon of water and hoped maybe I would see them again and get to hear the ukulele. I finally did catch up to them again at dinner time. They had all discovered a small spring not mentioned in the Book of Lies (the guide book) and decided to make dinner by it before continuing on. I stopped and did the same and asked if I was going to get to hear the uke.
The answer was a little after dinner music. SlickB was so good. I had never heard such a beautiful sound as that ukulele. He played and sang Whiskey in the Jar, Friend of the Devil, Me & Bobby McGee and Cripple Creek. When he was finished I told him what I had been feeling, which was that hearing his music made the whole hike and all the pain feel worthwhile. Sometimes the trail feels like a little slice of the leftovers of the Summer of Love, too, and his music really enhanced that feeling. I felt so lucky to be part of this trail community.
Then everyone packed up and continued down the trail in search of a place to camp. As I loaded up my gallon of water again, I discovered Emily's Dad at the spring as well. He was also quite happy to find this surprise little spring. As I headed out for the last hour of hiking before bed, I bumped into him a few more times and we talked a little. He said he was really struggling physically, mentally and emotionally. At a high spot he had cell reception and phoned his wife. After talking with her a while he told me he had decided to go home once he reached Dunsmuir, probably for good. I told him we should both feel proud of what we'd accomplished, that not going all the way to Canada wasn't any kind of failure in light of what we'd done. He agreed. We should be damn proud.
I had been thinking about this all day myself. Why should I be worrying about whether I should walk further than Ashland? The only reason I was considering it was because I skipped some of the High Sierras and the fire closures forced me to skip another 100 miles or so and I didn't want anybody to think if I said I hiked to Ashland that I was claiming to have hiked more miles than I actually did. And I was thinking that maybe people wouldn't be very impressed if I hiked only to Ashland. They might ask why I didn't go all the way.
How silly. This is my hike not somebody else's. Ashland was my goal all along and if I achieved it, it would be no less worthy an accomplishment to be proud of than anything else. It's a very long way. I am constantly amazed as I replay the pictures in my head of all those miles, all those days, all that landscape passing beneath my feet. I became overwhelmed with the pride of what I'd done and the 27 or 28 miles I ended up putting on my painful feet today seemed worth it.
The trail had seemed to go up hill all day without reaching any summit, without gaining any altitude, simply changing from oaks and manzanita to thick forest and clear cuts, with active logging in process. It had been a difficult day and when I finally found a flat spot big enough for my tent next to a logging road I didn't care I was going to sleep in a clear cut. I was just happy to rest my feet, try to massage away the shooting pains, and watch birds make their beds in an elderberry bush as I fell asleep to murky stars barely visible through the smoke.