Miles: 17.43
Camping: The town of Etna. Off trail at mile1566.33

Due to the smoke I found that it was hard to breathe through my nose last night. I propped myself up on my backpack and it helped me get to sleep after some time. The air was thick and smoky when I woke up, smelling as if I was in the middle of a busy campground full of campfires. It was just myself in the middle of the forest, no one in sight, nary an animal bustling about. The forest was eerily quiet, smoke making the light seem like early evening as opposed to early morning. The sun glowed red behind the veil of smoke that now covers the sky more permanently. I’m getting close to the closure, which will be where I get off trail and reconsider my plans.

My feet weren’t so bad in the morning so I walked along in the quiet forest, deep in thought. I made my way to the first water source, and found it was no longer flowing. There were large stagnant pools rife with pond life where the stream should be. I was reminded of elementary school, where we would look at pond water under a microscope. There were tadpoles, polliwogs, tiny toads, and other strangely propelled water creatures. What a busy cup of coffee this would make! My filter did a wonderful job of eliminating any random floaters, and I sipped on my morning VIA trying not to think about the science experiment in my cup. That’s what filters are for.

As I moved forward I watched the smoke getting thicker ahead. I was walking into the thick of it, and my lungs were quite aware of the increasing smoke density. I was on a fairly exposed ridge so I turned on my phone to see if I had a signal. I was instantly inundated with messages from friends all over the trail. Everyone is in pandemonium over the fires, and no one wants to skip ahead, though that is what a lot of people are opting to do. One message was from Danger Spoon and he is coming back to the trail! Ninja was right behind me with Blisster, Landfill and Apache were going to meet me in Etna and the ladies were ahead in Ashland. It seemed as if we would all be together again by the weekend, and this warmed my heart tremendously. It added new pep to my step, though my feet were not much improved. I liked the idea of everyone being in the same place so much that any notion I had of quitting went quickly out the window. I may like being alone, but when I’m with my closest trail friends everything seems right in the world.

I hiked on into the thick smoke feeling it hit the back of my throat and my lungs. It was heavy air but the walking was easy enough, and I was happy to think of being with old friends again. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to do a little more skipping ahead to avoid smoke, but at this point, everyone is skipping around. I am actually doing a section many others have skipped, so it all comes out even in the end…whatever that means (and it’s different for everyone). The smoke made me feel tired and nauseous, so I found a spring and laid out in the middle of the trail drinking water directly from my filter. I felt like a small child and my feet were throbbing.

It was only 3 more miles at that point, 1 hour of hiking, and I’d be on the highway to town. I put on some Chopin and did piano pirouettes in my mind as I hiked. It made up for the eerie feel in the forest, and it kept my mind off of smoke and feet. As I descended on the road I saw two women getting into cars. I made my way over and casually asked which direction I would need to hitchhike to get to Etna. One woman offered up a ride then and there, so I went straight from trail to car with no need to stand by the side of the quiet road waiting. I feel as if there has been a lot of serendipity for me lately, and that is always a good indication to me. It tells me I’m doing the right thing…at least that’s how I’ve always looked at it.

In town, I was dropped at the hostel where I found other hikers relaxing. Everyone is talking about fires all of the time. It is the big buzz on trail: who is skipping? Who is hiking? There is information coming from every direction and no one really knows what will happen until it does. These things aren’t predictable at the moment, and some fires are lower priority right now, as there are so many. It’s a mess, and everyone has an opinion. At this point all one can do is hike their own hike.

A bunch of us borrowed bikes from the hostel and went out for burgers. They were some of the best burgers on trail to date, and I even had a chocolate dipped ice cream cone. I saw old pal Snake Farm and met some more new hikers. There has been a big shuffling of hikers making run ins unpredictable and fun! I love meeting random people again, it reminds me of the desert. We are all in this newer experience together and hiker solidarity is pretty special. We are a unique set of individuals in a unique situation, and it’s really quite the social experiment how it all turns out.

There is a lot of lightning happening tonight. The sky is lighting up every 5 minutes, and we have friends still on trail. We don’t know if new fires will start, which way the wind will do blow, or if there is life on Mars…but we sure will keep talking about it. I hope to see things more clearly tomorrow because I still haven’t made up my mind on what I will do. Maybe the smoke will clear, and I’ll see the light. Until then…