When we surrender ourselves to the mercy of the trail, we often find this beast has a kind heart. Sometimes it needs to beat you down just enough to make the happy moments that much brighter. Although I had excruciating pain through the last 60 odd miles, I also had incredible fortune. It began with Fuller and his son Daniel arriving in Seiad Valley at 10:30pm on August 5, bringing me new shoes AND a new iPhone charge cord (having broken two in the previous section!)
After the late night reunion it was a tough morning getting up early to beat the heat on the 4,500 foot climb out of Seiad. My pack felt a lot lighter having shed some gear and food, but a ways up the mountain the shooting pains in the top of my thigh returned. I was able to stop and massage my leg and continue walking in spurts, but the period between the pain became less and less, and I ended up trying to walk through it, only to be reduced to a balling mess less than half a mile down the trail.
No more than 5 minutes later Fuller and Daniel came around the bend and Fuller sat down on the trail next to me to discuss options. He came up with a solution he figured would be absolutely full proof, preventing any weight from my pack aggravating the nerve causing the pain. He would carry my pack! Of course I told him this was the most absurd idea I’d ever heard but I entertained his insistence because I really had no other choice. Once he’d strapped my pack to his I helped him heave it onto his back, and although he insisted it wasn’t heavy I made him take it straight off (after fits of laughter and a photo naturally!)
Instead of trying to wear the hip belt higher, when the shooting pain came on I simply loosened the hip belt, putting most of the weight on my shoulders. This managed to prevent the pain from worsening, and once it had subsided I could tighten it again and continue. I also discovered the lighter my pack became as I ate more and more food, the less the pain returned. I spent the next full day thinking of all the things I could possibly send ahead to Cascade Locks, to give my body the best chance to make it comfortably through Oregon.
There was so much smoke through the valley I couldn’t see any views through this whole section. It didn’t affect my breathing though, and I was thankful that the fires weren’t any closer to the trail. I’ve been lucky so far during such a dry year not to have been rerouted along the trail. The water through this section is getting very low though in some of the springs, I was lucky if there was still water flowing as others were nothing more than a muddy puddle.
I camped with Fuller and Daniel for our last night in California and Fuller played me an episode of a radio program called ‘This American Life’ about a 23 year old boy who walked from Virginia to California by road. It was a fascinating story as the boy asked people he met along the way what advice they would give to their 23 year old self. There were elements of the story I could definitely relate to, including the origin of the term ‘float walking’, ‘weep walking’ and ‘fear walking’. I went to sleep inspired by this boy’s achievement, and with a passion to get on my feet the next day and walk.
The border crossing itself had highs and lows. There were some hikers there when I arrived but I was hoping that Fuller would make it in time to celebrate the occasion too. While I sat eating lunch on the Oregon side, one of the male hikers who was just about to set off again came back to share an insight with me. He said to me ‘well you can now call yourself a man.’ I paused for a minute before asking what he meant. He then proceeded to tell me walking this far was a very ‘manly’ thing to do, therefore I could call myself a man. I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even respond. But those words kept repeating in my head until 13:58 when I was just about to leave. I decided to wait until 14:00 and a second later Fuller appeared around the bend, so I was able to cheer him in as he weep walked with joy across the border into his home state hugging his son. It was a beautiful scene to be a part of.
After many hugs and a celebratory libation, I left them at the border and carried on, determined to make enough miles for a short day into Ashland the following day. When I woke up at 4:30am the next morning I knew my head was in a negative space. I was extremely tired, hormonal, and just wanted to be in Ashland then and there. When I started walking the words ‘you can now call yourself a man’ started repeating in my head again. My blood started boiling and I became unreasonably angry, imagining scenes of myself pushing this hiker off the ridge into the valley below. I thought my head would explode until I caught up to him 15 minutes later. As I passed him I told him his comment yesterday didn’t sit well with me and I didn’t appreciate it at all. He apologised but I didn’t stick around to discuss it. I simply powered on with a sense of empowerment and a smile!
I reached the interstate before noon, and once again as the trail provides in many forms, a day hiker I had passed 8 miles earlier happened to drive past a few moments after I reached the road. He swung around and picked me up as I was scratching my head trying to figure out which direction to hitch in. Dale and his two Shiba Inus waited for me at the post office to collect my 8 packages and then drove me to the hostel. Thank you Dale, what a perfect introduction to one of the most friendly trail towns, Ashland!