The storm last night has made everything lush and green today. There is always a sense of busyness and purpose in nature after the rain. Every creature and insect of the wild is out and about, including mama bears and their cubs, as evidenced by the fresh tracks I follow along the trail this morning. The vegetation on each side of the trail is dense and wet, so my clothes are drenched. I don’t mind. The air is crisp and smells great. Like soil and pine and growing things. Like life.
I feel good, except my mind keeps returning to the events last night. I’ve never experienced something that has shaken me like this on any of my other backpacking trips. I’m rattled, and every time I hear the sound of an airplane above, my heart jumps in my chest because it sounds like distant thunder. What if this had been the high Sierra? I play the what if game and clack my trekking poles around every bend. “Hey bear, I’m coming, run away.”
I get a mile up the last major climb of Section O when I see them: clouds building in the same area I saw them build up yesterday. No, no, no. My plan has been to make it to the top of the climb to set myself up for tomorrow. But would be the highest elevation, probably exposed. There is no way I am going up there and risk the potential of a repeat of last night. But if I stay down here I will have a long day tomorrow, and I will still have to experience the thunderstorm. I look around. All of the places I can set my tent up look rife with danger. As I assess pros and cons, figuring out what to do, a woman in a white truck drives past on what I thought was an abandoned road. She doesn’t see me, and I am too surprised to flag her down and get some weather intel.
I decide to sit in the middle of the road. Maybe someone else will come by and be able to tell me about the weather in the area. I get an idea. I text Aaron via In reach. “No rain in Dunsmuir or Burney,” he texts me back.
“I can see clouds building, but I don’t have a clear view,” I respond, “I don’t need a forecast, I need to know the ACTUAL WEATHER.” Thinking of being surrounded by another lightning cloud is agitating me. “Sorry,” I feel like I should text, but I don’t.
Aaron contacts the Park Ranger’s office. “It’s a repeat of last night,” he informs me.”The Ranger says to get as low as you can. And there will probably be snow tomorrow.”
Not good. As I used to say as a kid, “I not happy”. I think about that truck I just saw. “This is the mile I am at,” I tell Aaron. “Can you find me and pick me up?” I wait and wait. A half hour later, he texts me back. “I know exactly where you are. See you in 4 hours.”
So many things can go wrong (as I’ve learned this trip) so I don’t want to get too excited. I set up camp in what looks like the safest spot. I do my chores. I listen to music until the iPod battery dies. I doze. And then a Ford Focus pulls up. It takes me second to recognize it is Aaron. And Nisa!
We all hug and quickly gather up my gear and shove it in the trunk. I am giddy and find the sound of my voice to be strange as I haphazardly try to recount everything that has happened in the last 6 days.
“I got sick. It was like split pea soup coming out of my butt.” I say, like a drunken person.
“Vivid,” he says.
“You are all scraped up,” he remarks. I am. A lot. And I’ve been in and out of scrapes all week. Is Scrapes my trail name, I wonder? It’s not exactly a pat on the back for the ol’ ego. Perhaps it’s my Solo name. If I ever hike with people, I’m sure my trail name will be something more bad-ass, like…ah, who am I kidding!? (Grin.)
The trail is already acquiring the hazy veil of the past, where hardships grow softer and euphoric moments become enhanced. What a trip! What an amazing trip! I’m a little scared of storms now, but even as I am telling Aaron that I don’t know if I want to go back out there, I am planning the next section. What will it be? How will it play out? Where will we go, this trail and I? I’m just too curious to stay home.