Start: 1597.3, 5980 feet – off trail in Etna
Finish: 1597.3, 5980 feet – off trail in Etna
Total mileage: 1.6
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.
The day started like any good off day, waking up late at 8 a.m. when the sun heated up my tent so much that it became too hot to even laze around inside. I cleaned and straightened up my gear, then went to the coffee shop downtown for a latte and egg sandwich, which I savored while the sun warmed me up through the large windows. I mostly kept to myself and my phone – updating the water report, writing on my blog, and reading articles on the Internet – while locals drifted into the cafe and talked with the owner and her daughters, who were helping to run the cafe.
When I wandered back to the Hiker Hut, there was a group of hikers heading back to the trail and I had a chance to join them. In weeks past, I would have jumped on the chance to get in more mileage, but instead I decided I wanted a zero day (hiker lingo for a day without any trail mileage) to relax and rest my feet.
This decision gave me a chance to get to know a bit more about Pedia, who had arrived at the Hiker Hut last night. Prior to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, she had spent three years at a consulting agency near Boston. She had gotten burnt out and felt like she wasn’t learning anything new. Worse yet, she was putting in long hours for the sake of long hours – it was part of the culture, which ran on the anxieties of “insecure type A’s,” as one of her colleagues put it.
I went to lunch by myself back at the Etna Brewery so I could get my plans in order. I set up a boat tour of Crater Lake, a national park that I was supposed to hit next week. I gave myself plenty of time to get there to make sure I didn’t add unnecessary pressure to do big-mile days. I also took some time over lunch to chat with friends and family.
With nothing to do in the afternoon, I ambled through the downtown to Paystreak Brewing, a rival brewery started by the former head brewer of Etna Brewery after he was fired by the new owners a couple years ago. The chef at Paystreak – married to the head brewer – had also cooked at Etna Brewery and been let go. The couple had been planning this new brewery for two years now, and this weekend was just their third soft opening. Last week, they had such a large crowd that they emptied all their kegs by the end of the night. This brewpub rivalry was the talk of the town; I had heard about it before I even arrived in Etna.
I had planned to spend some time updating my blog, which was woefully outdated. However, within 20 minutes I was joined by the familiar but healthier-looking face of the guy with the stomach flu I had passed 10 miles north of Dunsmuir. Going by the name Coffee Break (aka Steve), he was feeling much better after having gotten a ride to the town of Shasta and spending four days recovering. He insisted on buying me a beer as repayment, and I joined him at his table.
Soon we were joined by his hiking companions, Noodle (Maggie) and Pit Stop (Sarah), who had been hiking as a trio since they met up in the Sierras. Noodle was the eldest of five children, followed up by two sets of twins, and had a home base in suburban Pennsylvania. Pit Stop was a childhood friend of hers who was now an environmental education teacher that had spent a year in Sitka, Alaska, among other areas. They both had short, spiky hair as they had shaved and donated their hair the day before they started the trail; they showed me pictures of them with long hair beforehand, and I could barely recognize that it was them.
After a couple hours of joking and trading trail stories, we were joined by an older man named Half Squat, a British guy named Thor, and a British woman named Rebecca. Rebecca talked about the struggle of being a larger person on the trail – the physical strain as well as the emotional challenges. She said the weight gain started about 3.5 years ago after her mother’s sudden death, but that the trail had helped her both get back into shape as well as start to come to terms with her mother’s passing.
Rebecca had also taken time off the trail to travel up the California coast. This detour included a stop in San Francisco over July 4th. There, she had an odd experience: Her older brother told her he had bought her a boat trip to watch the fireworks from the San Francisco Bay and that she should head to a San Francisco pier to meet a guy to pick up the tickets. When Rebecca got to the pier, however, no one was there. After about 10 minutes, just as she was getting ready to leave, a person in a pink gorilla suit moseyed over. Rebecca was confused and tried to keep her distance until a moment later, when the person took off the gorilla mask and revealed herself to be Rebecca’s younger sister; the brother had been filming the entire time and came running over to let her know that he had gotten tickets for all three of them to see the fireworks together. In the pub, we all watched the video the brother had taken, impressed by the thoughtfulness and intricacy of the prank.
As the evening wore on, we were joined by Blawesome, Fluffy Soup (aka Jenny, who was one of the German folks I passed yesterday and who got her name from a watery batch of mashed potatoes she once made), Flip Flop, Lionheart, and several others from the Hiker Hut. And it wasn’t just hikers here – pretty soon it seemed like the whole town was here. Among the patrons, I recognized the owner of the coffee shop, a few locals from around town, and the owners of the Hiker Hut. I had never seen more than 10 people in Etna’s downtown at one point, but there were at least 40 people in Paystreak by 8 p.m.
I was chatting with Fluffy Soup when all of a sudden, Pit Stop and Coffee Break turned to me and announced, “You’re Electro.” They had come up with my trail name, they said, as a nod to the electrolytes I had given Coffee Break five days earlier and because of my “electric blue” eyes. The custom with trail names is that you can refuse up to two names, but then you’re stuck with the third name. I liked that this name alluded to a meaningful interaction on the trail. Also, I worried what other trail names might get proposed as the other notable things about me at this point were my stature, my bear bell, and the fact that I clogged a toilet in Agua Dulce. Plus, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say I liked the fact that Electro had a bit of a superhero ring to it. I paused for a moment and then said, “I’ll take it.” In a moment of serendipitous, dramatic theater, the setting sun passed behind the building across the street and the taproom became suddenly darker. It was sealed: I had become Electro.