After the night-hike of Hat Creek Rim I found that I’d appreciated both the relief from the heatwave of 100+ temperatures we’d been having, but also I enjoyed the excitement of the night and the variety of wildlife encountered. As my thoughts turned to the next town I realised I had to think about the mundane logistics side of such a hike once again. I’d mailed a supply box to the post office in Mt Shasta and also had to visit a small store in Castella where a parcel from home had been sent. This meant I had to be out at the trailhead early enough on the coming Friday to hitch to Castella, then hitch to Mt Shasta, find accommodation, sort my box out and mail it on, all before the post office closed at 5pm. Over the next three or four days I would have to ensure I covered a good mileage. Shasta was still eighty five miles away and my feet had been really sore since I changed footwear in Truckee. However hiking in the relative cool of the night, or at least through the dusk and dawn, could really help.
Despite my foot pain I made an early start that morning. I was usually hiking soon after 6am anyway. I’d removed the insoles from my shoes to help relieve the swelling and this seemed to help, at least for a while.
I crossed a dam and started up a hill on the far side. I’d been made aware from others that a couple of hikers had been attacked by aggressive honey-bees on this hill. I took all the precautions I could (a mosquito head-net and moving slowly) but fortunately none showed. I may have benefitted from the early hour in which the temperature was still cool.
Despite my feet I was feeling good. I walked with a couple of others throughout the morning before deciding I needed to ‘turn on the gas’ a bit and achieve a really good mileage day. I hiked through dry, crackly woodland all afternoon. Pine needles and giant pine cones littered the track. Sun streamed through the leaves and I crossed fire breaks and long abandoned dirt roads. I missed a spur trail to a water source but I’d become much more relaxed about small errors such as this, confidently knowing I could cover the four or five miles to the next creek with only the little water I had left. In the early days of the hike this would have worried me, but I’d grown accustomed to living outdoors and being dependent on such unpredictable natural resources. On many occasions I’d got to supposedly reliable water sources and found them dry. I was hiking well and enjoying the sense of aloneness that afternoon. However even that deep into the woods and hills it was hard to fully escape the intrusions of the modern world:
I passed a good camp on a saddle at 5:30pm having already covered 24 miles, I was excited to hike on into the late evening and see how far I could get. The vegetation became dense and leafy and in places it was claustrophobic and humid, the impending dusk adding to the anticipation of darkness arriving. At 7:20pm I reached Moosehead Creek side trail which I knew led to a good water source, the last one for fourteen miles. I stopped to rest and eat. The temptation to stop there and camp was strong. The darkness was by now seeping in, around the trees and shrubs that always appear to huddle closer as light fades. My surroundings seemed to be changing to a more uncertain and foreboding presence and I suddenly become acutely aware of how alone I was.
Quickly I filled water, anxious to move and dispell the tension settling over me. After a few paces I had to stop and remove my shirt again, it was still too warm for it, and I took the opportunity to put some music on my ipod. I’d decided I could achieve thirty miles in the one day and I wasn’t far off at that point. I commenced a big climb however and I knew that flat campsites would be limited. I passed several unsuitable spots over the next couple of miles and I even started to flirt with the idea of completing a forty mile day. However, I knew deep down that I would pay for it later and my yawns confirmed what I was thinking. There was no moon and as I hiked my headlamp offered a narrow shaft of light through the darkness, illuminating just a spot on the ground ahead. All else was plunged into darkness outside of my vision and unknown.
In the spot my light picked out spiders and millipedes hunting in the darkness, momentarily frozen in the beam as I stepped quickly over their heads. As quickly as I came, I was gone, and they continued their work, unrecognised by the world of the light. As I descended a narrow rocky track my light picked out several medium sized birds, well camouflaged and almost owl-like in plumage. I wondered what these were and they blinked sleepily in my light before reluctantly launching into the silent darkness.
Eventually I came upon a clearing. The wide corner of a dirt road. My legs were pleading to stop and they won. A quick look around revealed another hiker cowboy camping behind some bushes. As quietly as I could I put up my tent, a gusty wind which seemed to come from nowhere tugging at anything loose on the exposed saddle, so I threw my pack into the tent and quickly followed it. No washing or reading that night. It was 1:30am. I had hiked my biggest day yet at 34.1 miles. I threw the sleeping bag across me and was gone.