Mile 1187 to mile 1198
I sleep amazing. When I wake, I meditate on the way a creepy clearing becomes a peaceful clearing when others are around. It’s all the same, I think. The same forest. The same the same. I resolve to talk myself out of it next time I think that a campsite is creepy. Not creepy, I’ll tell myself. Peaceful.
Then we’re up and it’s a race down, down down to Sierra City, or rather the narrow paved road that leads to it. We’re rushing thousands of miles down in elevation, on long narrow switchbacks, down the trail that is sandy, then covered in pine needles, then finally slippery with last year’s oak leaves. And at the bottom, at the bridge, when I’m aching and starving and thirsty, there is, fantastically, a swimming hole, a reward for all my hard work. Spark and Instigate are already there; Spark sitting on a rock, Instigate splashing around in the frigid water. I join her in my underwear and jump off a slick boulder into deep aquamarine water that is almost, but not quite, the temperature of ice.
Homeostasis reset we cross the bridge and stick our thumbs out to hitch the 1.5 miles to town, because any amount of road walking, to a thru-hiker, is too much road walking. We get a ride right away and cram inside, our packs on our laps. The man drops us off moments later in a one-street mountain town that looks like it’s straight out of Little House on the Prairie.
Ah, Sierra City!
There is a big, white painted general store, and I rush inside to order a burger. I stand at the counter, but the woman behind it just sort of stares at me. She’s doing something else. Why is time moving so slow?!
Finally I order my burger. It’s a Sierra City “Gut Buster” burger- an entire pound of ground beef! They say they’ll wrap it in lettuce for me, instead of a bun since I don’t eat gluten, and I rush next door to the post office.
“I have packages,” I say to the woman behind the counter. There is a tall stack of boxes behind her.
“Huh,” she says. She turns and pokes at the boxes, but does not lift them. She moves to another stack of boxes, and finds one of my packages there.
“That’s it,” she says.
“No,” I say. “I have one more. With stickers all over it.”
“That’s it,” she says again.
I run back to the general store, but my burger is not yet ready. The woman who makes the burgers is standing on a stool, calmly pouring more eggs into the big glass jar of pickled eggs.
I move to get her attention but then I see that she’s having a conversation with a man in a trucker’s hat. He’s wearing suspenders. They’re not currently speaking, but one or the other of them seems about to, and I don’t want to interrupt. I go out to the porch and sit for awhile. A young man is breaking down boxes. Then he stops breaking down boxes and crosses the street to the bar, which is painted red and looks like it belongs in an old western. The young man sits down on a bench on the front porch of the bar and lights a cigarette. A Jack Russel Terrier appears and the young man picks up a bit of trash, and throws it into the street. The Jack Russel Terrier fetches it. There is no traffic.
“That dog fetches dimes,” says the man in the suspenders. He’s standing right next to me, eating an icecream cone.
I run back to the post office.
“I really do have a package,” I say to the woman. She frowns at me and bends over, groaning in pain as she lifts the boxes.
“Usually I have a boy who does this,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
She finds my package and heaves it onto the counter. I thank her and run back to the general store.
My burger is not yet ready. I sit on the porch and stare at the street, eating one of the snickers from my resupply box. I ate the last of my food hours ago, and I’m starving.
About an hour after I originally ordered my burger it appears before me, sitting in its juices in a little paper boat. It’s the biggest patty I’ve ever seen, there are vegetables piled on top of it, and I eat it very quickly. Afterwards an inexplicable sleepiness descends on me like fog and I wander sort of lazily down the street (the town is two blocks long) to the Red Moose Inn, which is, apparently, just for hikers.
I kind of feel like the whole town is just for hikers. There are no cars, half the businesses are shut, and locals sit out in front of the storefronts on straight-back wooden chairs, watching the day pass by
The Red Moose Inn is an old, two-story building with a big wooden deck on the side and a long, sloping yard out back. It’s run by trail angels, and you can camp for free in the yard. I arrive to a cacaphony of hikers and packs on the deck, stuff spilled everywhere, bottles of beer on all the tables. I split open my boxes at a little corner table, and attempt to organize my resupply.
Inside is an old bar and restaurant. The front door is locked- the place is only open, in the afternoons and evenings, for hikers. There are one dollar PBRs, someone tells me, all afternoon. In the back is a long table with a laptop, a PCT register, and outlets for charging things. I plug in my steripen and phone and am directed to the shower, which is in one of the guest rooms and features loaner clothes and a big, fluffy stack of towels.
I have to tell you about the american flag shorts.
Once, NoDay and I were browsing the internet on my phone, looking at crazy running shorts that we could wear. I pointed at a pair of american flag running shorts (stripes one leg, stars the other, natch) and said,
“Those are amazing!”
“I have those shorts,” said NoDay. “At home. Do you want them?”
“Yes,” I said.
“They’re real, real short,” said NoDay.
“I still want them,” I said.
The shorts were one of my packages in Sierra City and now, after my shower, I put them on, along with an amazingly soft cotton t-shirt from the stack of loaner clothes. The shorts are almost, but not quite, too small, and yet they make me feel amazing.
In the evening I go back to the general store for my second gut-buster burger. Instigate orders a blackberry shake and gives me half of it, and I give her half of my burger, which I cannot finish. Two pounds of ground beef in six hours, it turns out, is just a little too much for me. While I’m sitting there eating, MeHap and NoDay finally roll into town.
“The shorts!” Says Noday. “You got the shorts!”
Around dusk we claim a corner of the backyard and roll out our sleeping bags for cowboy camping cuddlepuddle storytime. It isn’t really a cuddlepuddle, more like sardines, but it’s nice and warm this way. Instigate reads aloud to us, using all the funny voices we’ve grown to love. All around us other hikers are tucked away in their tents sleeping, and from the canyon comes the rushing sound of the river.
I’ll be hiking out in the morning- I don’t want to zero. My plan is to not zero until Ashland, which is over five hundred miles away. I wonder how that’s gonna go, I think, as I drift off to sleep.