This stretch got off to a rough start. We laid over in Sierra City waiting for the post office to open at 10 AM and when it did it was quickly evident that I’d goofed. Where there should have been two large resupply boxes containing all the food we’d need for the next 7+ day section, there was just one from home (along with an awesome package from my oldest sister – surprise care package for the win!). Somehow, I’d mistakenly logged on my master spreadsheet that we needed to send ourselves just 4 days of food for the section beginning in Sierra City – for a total of more than 150 miles. Oops. I had previously had us resupplying sooner but when we got word that the post office in Belden had closed, I moved our resupply down the road to Chester and, though I updated the master with the new address, failed to update the supplies needed as well.
Oh, I was a mess. I felt awful. It’s the kind of mistake I had nightmares about making before we left and I just couldn’t believe I’d done something so dumb. Lately I’ve been a bit of an emotional wreck in towns anyway because it’s when I find myself feeling the most homesick, so between missing family and feeling terrible about my mix-up, Edwin had a weepy mess on his hands. Luckily, Sierra City has a fairly well-stocked general store so aside from our wallets feeling a pinch from trying to feed two hungry, hungry hikers for 3 extra days at the premium prices charged by all small town general stores, it all worked out fine. Plus, we got to try out some typical hiker staples that we hadn’t yet touched out here – Pop Tarts, Knorr Sides, Top Ramen … I’m happy to report that our food is better, though the Top Ramen was embarrassingly well-received.
The hike out from Sierra City was a 3000 foot climb right off the bat, so we decided to wait until late afternoon to escape the heat. In town at the Red Moose, I’d traded my new-ish but problematic shoes (they were crushing my toes and causing me so much pain it was waking me up at night) for a too-large pair of men’s hiking shoes which immediately felt better than mine when I tried them on at the inn aside the hiker box. So roomy! So cushiony! Surely too big is better than too small, right? Sadly, not necessarily. Three miles into the climb, I was channeling my inner Gob Bluth – “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I could feel hot spots all over my feet, blisters threatening to form, and sharp pains at the pad of my right foot and inner heel. Still, I thought, at least my feet aren’t being crushed. We ended that night 7.5 miles from where we started, less than a mile from the top, along an old abandoned road along with a few other hikers. By the end of the next day, I literally limped into camp in tears and things didn’t improve over the next few days. Edwin was incredibly understanding as he went through similarly blistered and excruciating foot pain back in the desert. I found myself thinking I should have been have a better nurse back then – I don’t think I at all understood what he was putting up with.
Still, there was nothing to be done – the miles weren’t going to walk themselves. We had several days of slow progress but still pulled out roughly 25 miles days each day. We were gunning to make it to Burney by the following Saturday and knew we had to pull big days to keep on schedule. The terrain had seemed to mellow out somewhat, but one day in this section still found us climbing a total of 7500 feet up, so it wasn’t as if we were slouching.
Highlights of this section include the beautiful Middle Fork of the Feather River, which we hit at about 6 PM a few nights in. We had done 20 miles by the time we got there and had planned to have a quick swim and head on for a few more miles, but once at the river our will to hike on crumbled. It was just far too pretty. We spent the rest of the evening swimming, doing some camp laundry, and just enjoying the awesome campsite.
Two days later, we found ourselves walking surreally through the tiny trail town of Belden, CA. The descent down into Belden was a bit rough – a 5000 foot drop, 4000 occurring over a quick 6 miles. But we were hungry and determined – we’d read that there was a small restaurant at which we could grab lunch, which we planned to do on our afternoon break to escape the heat. We were getting back down to lower elevations just in time for a heat wave (Belden sits at 2000 feet, by far the lowest we’d been in ages). So we made our way straight down the steep switchbacks, powered on by dreams of burgers and fries. As we descended into Belden, we began to hear music. Loud, thumping, repetitive music. When we emerged onto the main street that runs through town, we encountered swarms of people – some sweaty, some oddly dressed, some clearly over-served. Nope, these weren’t hikers. We’d stumbled into Belden in the middle of a big rave, a weekend festival that Burney is apparently quite famous for – this one celebrating electronic music. It was madness. There were people everywhere, sleeping at the bar, noisily arguing in the streets – combined with the loud thumping music, it was total sensory overload for a couple of hikers who’d spent the majority of the last two months in quiet solitude in nature. We got our burgers, but we weren’t sad to settle up the check and hit the trail again.
That is, of course, until we realized that it was still more than 100 degrees at 5 PM. That lovely little 5000 drop into Belden had an equal and only slightly less grueling climb back out, and we were headed up the burned-out slope (read: mostly shadeless) in excruciating heat. There were a few other hikers headed out at the same time as us, and we all sort of inched forward, making small steps before scurrying for some semblance of shade and protection from heat exhaustion. Eventually, we made camp 5 miles up, some 2500 vertical feet from the top, and decided to do the rest in the morning. We were headed towards the halfway point, which we reached just over a day later, the morning before our next resupply and the end of this section. Some fun facts as of the midway point:
- 73 days of hiking
- 7 zero days
- 10 nights spent in a bed (including a night on a bunk bed with a plastic mattress and a night in a ski hut on a makeshift bunk bed – but we had to share that room with a rat)
- 13 showers (to be fair, this is 13 locations at which we showered … some locations brought multiple showers, but we didn’t count multiples as they were back-to-back or on zero days)
- 50 pounds plus down for “Kudu”
- 30 pounds plus down for “Alphabet Soup”
Can’t wait to see what the next half brings!