Miles: 24.72
Camping: PCT mile 1548.9

I woke up this morning as the sun broke the sky, and everything around me was covered in a thin layer of ash. The sky was much clearer than when I’d gone to bed, but smoke lingered thick on the eastern horizon. I took my time in camp enjoying the fact that I was alone. With other people someone is typically packing out, making me feel less relaxed. Alone, I’m on my own schedule, and I love it. I will reunite with friends in Etna, where there is much to be decided on. The fires have become a real game changer for the trail. People are skipping trail all over the place, and even getting evacuated in some cases. The purists are doing lengthy road walks, others are going ahead to Ashland, some just skipping around the affected areas. I’ve already skipped more than I care to, and I just can’t fathom the idea of not walking into Oregon. It’s my plan until someone convinces me it is unsafe. I won’t road walk though, it hurts my feet and just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m here to walk in the woods.

That said I nearly threw in the towel today. It all started out great and there was even trail magic! I ate a huge plate of fresh fruit and homemade banana bread, and drank an entire liter of Gatorade. It’s probably the 4th time I’ve had Gatorade this summer, but it hit the spot today. The added heat from the smoke can really add to the difficulty of the day. The air is heavier to breathe, and it stings the eyes and throat. A few times I struggled with minor uphills, realizing it was the smoke making it hard to breath. It’s not healthy, and I realize it is justified to skip around it. This though, is not why I wanted to quit.

My feet started out strong and without pain. There was a good stretch early on where I dared to notice that my feet felt normal. It was amazing but fleeting. By 10 miles in, the pain in the balls of my feet began to intensify slowly. I popped some ibuprofen at noon and it seemed to have no effect. I had a “Wild,” moment and wanted to throw my shoes off the cliff. I wanted to scream and yell, and throw a fit over the frustration. Instead, I stared at the smoke and cried. Someone far away was shooting a gun. A dog was barking. I gave up. I decided I’d have to quit, that there was no other option. I can’t keep walking if my feet are going to feel like this, it hurts too much. The fact that the pain has me even considering this tells you how bad it is. I can’t think of a more depressing thought than quitting this hike. It instantly invokes tears and feelings of failure. I’m not done, I don’t want to be done. It’s not time yet. I have to finish California, I have so much more to do. But my feet are in the kind of pain that can’t possibly be good for anyone. Ibuprofen doesn’t touch the pain anymore, and I shouldn’t need it to every day. I should be able to sleep without waking up to sharp pains. Yet, I don’t want to stop walking.

A few times today, after breaks, my feet would be okay again. I’d make a conscious effort to soften my gait, treading a bit more lightly. This would work for a little while, but the pain would always resurface worse than before. I took a break with a guy named Vocal, and he kind of helped. He said his feet were bugging him today too because the terrain was rocky and hot. He said he almost quit too, but he was so glad he didn’t. Somehow, this gave me a little hope. Maybe it was just a bad foot day and tomorrow would be better. Maybe. Hopefully. For whatever it’s worth, he made me feel better.

I’m only about 16 miles from the highway, and then I can hitch to Etna. I will take another zero and wait for friends to get to town. I will find a foot massage and I will stay off my feet as much as possible and then attempt the 54 miles to Seiad Valley. Then I will only be about 60 miles from Ashland, and it is my goal to at least make it that far. If it takes the rest of the summer, I will walk to Oregon. In a better scenario, my feet get better as they adjust to my new shoes. In the best scenario, I make it to Canada.

I will keep hoping for the best.