Mile 1402 to mile 1415.7
We wake late on the warm grassy bluff overlooking everything and sit in our sleeping bags, eating breakfast and rubbing the dust from our eyes. This morning I’m having bacon jerky and some caffeinated fruit snacks, which sometimes make me feel like I’m flying and sometimes give me awful stomach pain. Today it’s the stomach pain and I clutch my guts and complain to Egg and Instigate as we hike the last thirteen miles to Burney, the town where we’ll rest and resupply. Undoing the hipbelt on my pack helps a little with the pain although then the weight is all on my shoulders, which is annoying. At least I’m almost out of food, so my pack in super light.
It’s a hundred degrees again today and I’m hot and caked in layers of dirt, my clothes stiff with dried salt, my pack wet with sweat. There isn’t any shade just the bright sandy trail with the volcanic trip-rocks protruding from it and we’re plodding, plodding, plodding, trying to make it. I’m out of water and I’m thirsty.
A few miles before the highway there’s a fish hatchery and a big mucky lake ringed in thistles. A log sticks out into the lake and Instigate, Drop Bizkit and I walk out onto the log, strip off our clothes and dip our legs into the water. We just met Drop Bizkit today- she’s booking it to Burney to catch a flight to Denver.
I ease off the log until I’m standing in the water. My feet are buried in muck, and muck from the floor of the lake rises up around me. The water smells like salt and fish and there’s bits of trash in it. I reach into the lake and pull a small brown bottle, like an old-timey medicine bottle, from the muck.
“Look at this cool thing I found,” I say. I turn the bottle over. The underside is coated in flat black worms.
“Leeches,” I say. “Leeches you guys!”
“Ugh!” says Instigate. I pull myself back onto the log and rub the muck from my skin. We look into the water and now we can see all the leeches there, swimming around happily, flexing and contracting like they do.
“Gross,” I say. “Gross gross gross.”
We join Spark in a patch of thistley shade next to the trail and put our shoes back on our wet, dusty feet. Then it’s the last hot, thirsty miles to the highway, where, according to Yogi, “one of the most difficult hitches of the trail” waits for us. But of course everything is always the opposite of the way you think it’s going to be and the first car that goes by stops for all three of us- it’s a red-eyed smoke jumper in a busted civic and he speeds us to Burney, windows down radio blasting static, shouting a conversation with Spark in the front seat.
Burney is a perfect town. There is one street and everything is there, all clustered together. We get a room at the Charm Motel, where they give us a hiker discount and let us cram five people into one room. We sign the register and then they bring the hiker box out from the back and we rifle through it, pulling out tea, travel toothpaste, dregs of toilet paper rolls and bars that look as though they’ve been sat on. In our room we draw back the curtains on the big windows to let in the light. Egg arrives and joins the party. Our packs explode across the floor. The room smells awful and then Drop Bizkit finds two empty tuna packets in the bottom of her pack, rotten from the long days in the sun. We laugh- we’d wondered, for a moment, if it was us. We shower, wrap ourselves in hotel towels and haul our dirty things to the coin-op laundry downstairs. We lay on the beds in the sunbeams and drift in and out of sleep while our clothes wash and then we put on our wet clothes, slightly cleaner than they were before and walk to the all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet, no sidewalk but the hot car-wind blasting us dry in minutes. Mudd and Dingo and other hikers are there, crowded into a booth with their packs all around them, playing card games and drinking gallons of soda. I pile a small plate high with iceberg lettuce, ranch dressing, potato salad and hardboiled eggs. My body wants vegetables and for now, this will have to do. Spark and Instigate eat pizza and then rest, waiting for their small hiker stomachs to allow them to eat more pizza. I walk across the street to the safeway, where I am overwhelmed. The bluish fluorescents, the sounds echoing in the aisles, the mountains of bright, cheap food. I feel as though I am being buried in the harsh, empty plentitude. I buy blueberries, chocolate haagen-daz and a roast chicken. Back at the room I eat my icecream and then set up at the little table to blog. Mudd and Dingo and the other hikers get the room next to ours, buy a bunch of beer and turn the TV on loud. I write and write, eat roast chicken, fidget restlessly and then I look up and it’s dark, the soft light of the streetlamps coming in the windows, Spark and Instigate passed out on the beds. I brush my teeth, staring at my reflection in the mirror- sunburnt, overly tan, wild hair- and then crawl into one of the palatial beds, pulling the scratchy hotel comforter up to my chin. I lay there on the weird soft mattress, looking at where the light from the street leaks around the curtains. In the distance I can hear a train. I am restless and my whole central nervous system is buzzing, as if on fire. I know I won’t sleep much tonight- I never do, in hotel rooms- but I also know it doesn’t matter. Town stops are for taking care of business. I can rest when I’m back on the trail, sleeping on the ground. I can rest when I’m hiking twelve hours a day.