Let's be clear about one thing: this is not a hike. It is a thru-hike. The nature of this beast is entirely different than that of a jaunty walk in the woods. It is a pure chore of an adventure.
Thru-hikes are not leisurely. They are not relaxing. There is a clear goal and a regimented schedule. We set an alarm in the morning. Our snack breaks are short. We can't loiter and enjoy nice scenic spots or views or swimming holes for too long because we're on a time crunch. There are miles and hours and weather to take into account. We pass up great campsites because it's too early to stop hiking for the day. People hike late into the night, traipsing by us with their headlamps glaring through our wax paper shelter (our Cuban fiber tent) as we huddle together on our inflatable sleeping pads and marvel at their determination. But the days have been so damn hot lately, nearly 100 degrees, that maybe they've got the right idea.
Twelve hours of hiking each day becomes your job. Getting to a town and staying in a hotel, your vacation.
I'd like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to the Hat Creek Rim section of trail we just passed through. Not only was the Hat Creek Rim completely devoid of any natural water sources for nearly thirty miles, but it was so exposed and hot that it gave me a super cute heat rash all over my thighs and the backs of my knees. Thanks Hat Creek Rim!
This section also pulled a fascinating presto-change-o in which my shoes that I had been hiking in since South Lake Tahoe magically became too small. In other words, my feet swelled up from the heat, a phenomenon I had heard other hikers complain about but had yet to experience. It suddenly became unbearable to wear my sneakers, with my toes squished together and accumulating the first painful blisters that I've had in about 1500 miles.
My solution: hike in the Crocs. For 50 miles to Mt. Shasta. Okay, so I put up a bit of a bashful fight about even buying the Crocs to begin with. They're hideously dorky and I had a major identity crisis when I was stuck wearing them out in public while visiting friends in LA and San Diego prior to hiking the trail. I was embarrassed of their duck footed appearance and their rubbery sheen. But I'm admittedly singing a different tune after they saved my ass and were actually extremely comfortable to hike in. The Crocs are also a glaring red flag (or chartreuse, in my case) of a thru-hiker when plodding around town in them. So there. I said it. Viva la Crocs! (But I'm still not gonna wear them when I'm done hiking.)
This section of trail also happened to have been trampled by horses during some event last weekend and was unbelievably dusty. Literal clouds of dirt erupted with each labored step through the thick, sandy trail. Plumes of dust loosened by heavy hooves settled into your clothes and nostrils, blackening your feet through your shoes and socks. Needless to say, we were filthier than usual. Don't forget: there was no place to swim or wash for nearly two days.
In other news, NorCal is becoming increasingly greener. Each sweeping ridge top view is similar, rolling emerald pine covered hills for as far as you can see, fading away into layered blue shadows of distant peaks. Mt. Shasta's volcanic snow-capped summit simmers in the late July heat outside our balcony, muted slightly by smoke from nearby wildfires. And from what I understand, the landscape will only get greener as we head north into Oregon in the coming weeks. Which is fantastic news, because Lassen was a total bore, with burned trees and a boiling lake or two. But the trail approaching Shasta was fantastic for about sixty miles, winding smoothly through shady and overgrown gulches (chock full of poison oak!) and across mossy bubbling springs before gently climbing up over ridges, providing impressive panoramic views and glimpses and the mighty Shasta, standing 10,000 feet above its surrounding landscape.
Hiking 25 miles every day in this heat is literally kicking our ass so we will spend tomorrow eating our way through the town of Mt. Shasta and laying low on our air conditioned hotel room watching Naked and Afraid and daydreaming of reaching the Oregon border.