Tonight we got to see people we weren’t expecting to see for a really long time, and I was incredibly happy. Treeman and Hedgehog, our German friends who we met on Day 0 (i.e., the night before we started hiking at the border), were four or five days ahead of us just a couple of weeks ago. We’d pass trail registers, look for them, and be dismayed to see their names with a date that was so long ago. I mean, we were happy for them, but we really missed them…and four or five days is practically an eternity out here on the trail. Catching up with someone like that by hiking faster is basically impossible: even if you do 25% more miles every day — which is painfully huge — it’ll take you three weeks. And it was really sad, because they’re among our favorite people out here on the trail.
Mid-afternoon today, we came into Etna. Well…except that’s not exactly right: mid-afternoon today, we came to the road that leads into Etna. In many towns so far, that’s meant a five-minute wait with our thumbs out until someone comes along and picks us up. Sawyers Bar Road, however, is just a little bit different: in the first forty-five minutes we spent waiting, a grand total of five cars passed us — four of them going the wrong direction. A major thoroughfare this sure ain’t, and it was also incredibly hot with full sun and no shade at all the entire time.
We slowly got more and more frustrated the entire time. We were, at least, the first hikers to arrive there, so we knew we’d get the first ride, but we were two of five or six after a half-hour or so. At one point a truck towing a flat trailer pulled over, although it was going the wrong direction; we thought maybe we had a ride! It wasn’t quite that, but the mostly-toothless old ex-Marine who got out did have a bag of fresh peaches sitting on the seat, and started handing them out. I know I’ve said things like this many times before, but that kind of thing tastes so good when you’ve been away from civilization for many days.
We ended up waiting nearly an hour and a half for a ride there, getting more and more bummed. (It’s a fourteen-mile walk into town from there, so the last thing we wanted to do was walk the road, especially since it has no shoulders to speak of at all.) But, finally, out of the blue, a giant Lexus suddenly pulled into the parking area where we were waiting. I remember looking in the front and thinking, “wait a second, that’s a hiker driving that Lexus”. (One of the really bizarre things about hiking this trail is that you get almost a sixth sense for who’s a fellow hiker — the guy in front wasn’t filthy or carrying a backpack or anything, yet I somehow just knew.)
It turned out to be someone who we’d never met before, but who was truly wonderful: a young guy named Barista, with an older woman named Gigi in front, who had driven all the way out there from town just to ferry hikers back in. As we learned once we were in Etna, his mother had come to meet him at many trail-town stops…and at this one, his grandfather — whose Lexus it was — joined him as well. And so that’s how we ended up the leather-swaddled back seat of a Lexus, being driven into town…and hugely grateful to Barista for doing this just out of the goodness of his heart. Hooray!
It was as we were getting into the car that we heard one of them mention Treeman and Hedgehog. We excitedly stopped them — “wait a second, do you know them? Where are they?” When the answer was “at the Motel Etna, room two”, we got really excited. That’s where we were staying (and it’s one of only two options in the entire town). That’s how, after the drive into town, we ended up standing outside their door and knocking…and greeting them with giant hugs. Reunion at last!
How had we caught up? It turns out they’d had to take extra zeroes in Mt. Shasta (back when we were in Castella) because they’d been going so hard that everything hurt too much, and then a further zero in Etna for much the same reason. We didn’t really care why (as long as they were OK); we were just glad to see them.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening showering, doing laundry (free at the hotel!), collecting our resupply package, getting a few things at the grocery store, and then heading to the Etna brewery and restaurant for a giant dinner. We had easily a dozen people at the table for dinner — a collection of all kinds of hikers in town, plus Barista’s awesome mother and grandfather — and great beer and good food. It was an incredibly satisfying time we spent there, and we left utterly exhausted and sated.
It’s too bad that we can’t spend an actual zero here; alas, the mileage pulls at us, as does the Oregon border. But, after dinner, I called ahead to Callahan’s Lodge just outside Ashland and made reservations for us to stay there for a real zero. It’s still nearly a week away and something close to a hundred and fifty miles, but just having that to look forward to makes all the difference in the world. It’s supposed to be a great place to stay, fairly legendary on the trail, so it’ll give our minds something to look forward to on these long, hot stretches ahead.
Right now, I’m just very glad to be sleeping in a real bed, with clean clothes and a clean body…and that we get to hike out with Treeman and Hedgehog tomorrow!