I finally met my goal to hike only 20 miles by hiking only 22 miles today, July 26.
I took a lot of breaks, including taking a nap. This really seemed to help but my feet would hurt shortly after each break. Something was terribly wrong with them, I feared.
I saw a bear in the morning. It turned and ran crashing down the hill as soon as I made eye contact. I'm sure my bug net frightened him. I also saw some deer and lots of fresh bear tracks in the afternoon.
It was very hot again but at least the trail was shady most of the time. The smoke was thick again with a reddish sun. I looked as hard as I could and still could not see Shasta. I could barely even see the next ridge over.
The smoky lack of views got me to thinking again how the fires are taking away some of the highlights I'd really looked forward to. I missed walking through Belden, walking to Chester and my mom's house, seeing Shasta. The next fire closure would have me missing Marble Mountain. That final 3 days I'd have to do to get to Ashland after the next trail closure started to seem really pointless.
The excruciating pains in my feet were getting worse. Shooting pain would appear at random and I would cry out loud and hobble until it dissipated. I began to worry that maybe I was doing permanent damage. What would life be like if I got home and could never hike again?
I started thinking about life at home again. I thought about my parrot, Fergie. I said her name out loud. I felt she heard me.
The trail continued to be a dry ledge on a steep, forested slope all day. Eerily I kept finding bird feathers everywhere of every kind and color. I had hiked nearly 1500 miles searching for bird feathers for my hat, rarely finding any and now I was picking one up every few miles.
I reached a junction with a shortcut trail to the end of Section O. I briefly considered camping there, but it was not really flat and I was swarmed by mosquitos. Where were they coming from? I had seen no water for miles and had been hauling around my gallon of water so I could camp at any available, scarce spot that would fit me. I decided that for sure there had to be a camp site at the first switchback on the non-shortcut trail before the big descent down to the end of the section. I don't know why I was so certain. I just knew it would be there.
And there it was. My campsite. I set up my tent and cooked my dinner. I got into my tent in the stifling heat and ate my noodles one hot bite at a time, resting and sweating in between. Below me I could hear Interstate 5 and the railroad. Suddenly I was aware that at least sometimes those trains had to be Amtrak trains. The past few days I'd been considering how to get home once I completed my hike and Amtrak seemed like the best way. I could imagine myself on the train telling people of my adventure, watching the countryside roll by slowly, taking one of the first invented forms of transportation people used after animals and walking.
As I went to sleep admiring the beauty of the forest and feeling so lucky that I had seen so many beautiful places, that the world was still so full of clean, pristine nature and I had been privileged to live within it for 3 months, I suddenly knew this was my last night on the trail. I cried tears of pride and relief. I'd accomplished 1500 miles of the PCT. I'd accomplished a life-long dream. Now it was time to go home.