Despite the stunning scenery today, I struggled. The day off had not reset my legs as I had hoped. Instead, I was plagued by a slight discomfort in my foot, which progressed into a continual pain in my right knee. By the evening it was all consuming, and I just wanted the day to be over.
It was difficult to get back on the trail today. I had adjusted to the comforts of hot food, no timelines, and abundant company. In addition, a heat wave was still hovering over the area, and it was supposed to be in the high 90s in Etna today. That said, I knew it would be cooler on the trail and I'd enjoy being back outside, so I was set on at least getting a few miles under my feet.
Today I understood what I had been missing in the desert by being behind the bulk of the hikers. I didn't regret my decision to start late – I enjoyed the solitude and it made logistical sense because it allowed me to not have a gap in my health insurance coverage. But now I comprehended why the social aspect of the trail, for some people, was as enriching as the physical challenge and the unbelievable natural beauty.
I got up early despite the morning chill, eager to spend my afternoon without shoes on my feet and eating a hot meal. I had been dreaming about having a burger and a beer all of yesterday after I learned there was a brewpub in Etna, and as much as I wanted to see more of Mt. Shasta, I hoped the miles ahead would be fast and painless.
Today ratcheted up everything I experienced yesterday. There were more views of Mt. Shasta and silhouetted hills. I met more hikers headed my way toward the small town of Etna. There were even longer lengths of monotonous time in the trees. As many people hiking southbound had promised, this was a great section of the PCT.
I got back into my hiking groove today, thanks in part to some magnificent scenery, though I still struggled at times to readjust to outdoor life. The transition was made a bit easier by the fact that I had caught up with many of the northbound through-hikers who had skipped the Sierras, so I had no shortage of social interaction and conversation. I felt as though I had found a comfortable balance between abundant solitude and available companionship.
When I hopped off the train in Dunsmuir this morning at 6:30 a.m., I was eager to get back on the trail and surround myself with high mountain peaks and tall trees. It quickly became apparent, though, that while I might be mentally ready, my body had not kept pace with my mind. After two weeks with little exercise and living a city life, my muscle memory had faded, and I had begun to forget the routines I established.
I wasn't eager to leave San Francisco today after the enjoyable, lazy sunny day Alissa and I spent walking the streets and fantasizing about the future, but I was eager to get back on the trail. I longed for the quiet of a night out on a mountain ridges, the splendor of silhouetted hills fading into the fog, the majesty of snowy peaks piercing the sky. I just wish I could take my friends and Alissa with me so we could experience these sights together.
After nearly two weeks being back in the Bay Area, I no longer felt jarred by the social pressures I confronted every day. I had learned again how to tune out the advertising telling me that my complexion was subpar, to block out the people next to me at coffee shops talking about their next big get-rich-quick startup idea. However, as my own sense of anxiety was fading, I picked up more on the low-level anxiety that seemed to haunt many Bay Area denizens.
Mountain View is reliably sunny and hot in the summer, and today was no exception. And while the weather is idyllic for me, the city lacks pristine beauty. The California coast is stunning, but it's more than an hour away – usually longer on the weekend when traffic builds up. The Diablo Mountains have a few great spots tucked into the folds of the hills, but they are also about an hour's drive. The closer parks in Los Altos and San Jose also have their corners of magnificence, but it's hard to evade the sounds of traffic and guns popping at nearby shooting ranges. And in Mountain View proper, the only real options are the wetlands at the south end of the bay and the concrete canal – misleading labeled Stevens Creek – that cuts through the suburbs and empties into the bay.