From lookout rock to Belden
A cloudy, cool morning – without the sun beating on our faces, we once again don’t get up early. I think getting up is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do… and I have to do it every single day. We want to make it to Belden tonight, and we want to make it in time for burgers – and that means 28 miles.
The best part of doing big miles once, is that afterwards, everything seems a little easier. Now that we’ve done a 29, I guess 28 won’t be so bad.
We take it easy and do nine miles to Buck’s Lake Road and snacky-cakes time. Packs down, feet up, we’re minding our business when a big, white truck drives past, flips a U-ie, then pulls up next to us. “You guys PCT hikers?”
“Yeah.” You never know what’s going to come after that question –
“You want a watermelon?”
The guy pulls out a watermelon, must’ve been ten pounds! What the heck are we going to do with a ten pound watermelon?
“Where are you two planning on heading tonight?” inquires the guy.
“We’re headed for Belden.”
“Belden? Ha!” he scoffs. “What is that, seventeen miles? You’ll never make it.”
“It’s actually nineteen from here,” I correct. The guy pays no attention.
“That’ll take ten hours! Nah, you won’t make it. You’ll stop at Three Lakes and get to Belden tomorrow.” And with those words of encouragement, he gets in his truck and drives away.
“Well, nothing like being told you can’t do something,” observes J.
“No kidding. What weird trail magic.”
We slice up the watermelon, stuff ourselves, slice up some more and pack it for later, and we still have half the blasted thing. “What do we do with this now?” I ask J.
The watermelon ends up left on top of a sign with a big metal post, with a note telling what time we cut it. Bad form, leaving food out like this, but we’re not sure how else to deal with it. It’s too much to eat and too much to carry. I hope all the trash I’ve picked up on the trail so far will atone for my leave no trace sins.
Noon, and nineteen miles left. We start up the hill. Up Buck’s Peak, the view opens up to the north, a sweeping vista of green mountains after green mountains after green mountains. A big peak, far on the horizon, might be Lassen? Cumulus clouds look like they’re trying to build into thunderheads, but don’t quite make it.
The climb is over, but we rollercoaster along for a while, finally running into a southbound pair of hikers. They give us the beta on Belden – the trail angels in town, the Braatens, are going to close up in a few days, but they’re still open. If we want to get picked up, we have to call before six. Six… It’s three o’clock, and we’ve got eleven miles left. We’ve never made that kind of time. Ever. Not even close. Maybe today’s the day? We take off faster than we’ve ever gone before.
Our feet are killing us, our muscles are cramping, and we go! The last seven miles are all downhill, and we stand on top of the crest, looking down a dizzy slope that spins our heads. I’m not so sure this a good idea anymore. “J, I don’t know if I’m still up for this.”
“Me either.” But going downhill fast doesn’t hurt any worse than going downhill slow, so we keep hitting it.
We’re making time, but this might be the worst I’ve ever felt. I think I might have torn something, but what am I going to do? The only way out is through.
I get reception while still up on the ridge, so I call the Braatens. “I stop pickups at 7:30, will you be down by then?”
“Call me back when you get in!”
We’ll get in before 7:30 for sure, but what about burgers first? Down the switchbacks, on the double.
Limping hard, we drag into Belden. It’s 6:09. We made it. Burgers and steak sandwiches and root beer. The locals laugh at my hobble. Brenda Braaten comes and takes us home. Hot shower. Phone service. A bed. I hope I can walk tomorrow.