I wake up in a bed, and that is glorious. I mean, eventually, I get up and out of it, but in the moment it’s the best thing. I’m pretty sure the only parts of civilization I miss are bed and internet. And inside, I guess. And warm. But that’s it.
We’re slow getting up and out, but I don’t hate it – it’s probably better for our attempt at hitching back to the trail. That jeep road is a bit vicious, and I’m a little concerned about our chances of getting back. I decide to try to hitch for an hour – 10 to 11 – and if it doesn’t work, we’ll be walking Collegiate East the rest of the way to Salida. So I dance as many dances as I can remember with my thumb out for an hour1, all to no avail. I go to throw away my tea cup, come back, and we take about four steps before an older lady in a Subaru says she’ll take us all the way up. The trail works in mysterious ways.
Her trail name escapes me, probably because I’m so impressed with her story: she hiked most of the PCT in 1998, and hiked all of it in 2001. I want to be her when I grow up. She and Spesh talk PCT shop until we hit the 4×4 road outside of St. Elmo where she lets us out; on seeing the state of the road, she’s not quite comfortable enough to take us up in the Subaru, but we thank her for the ride as she goes on her way. Truth be told, we were afraid of that getting in – now we’ve got five bonus miles to walk back to the trailhead, all on rocky road, all uphill. We’re saved not more than ten minutes in, though, by mushroom hunters who intend to take us as far as they’re going; Speshul’s gourmand and academic interests in mushrooms get them to talking, though, and they decide to take us all the way back. We give them our hearty thanks – we’re back to the trail by noon.
We discover that the 2014 route and 2013 route actually converge at our dropoff point, a lot sooner than expected, which makes me feel a fair bit better about kickin’ it old school. Between that, the hot springs happiness hangover, and knowing that there’s just one main climb today, I’m feeling great about the day. The climb up to Wildcat Gulch is invigorating – we can see all the way back to Tincup Pass – but the short down into the gulch and the subsequent up to the pass above Tunnel Lake seems illogical; there seems plenty of space to eliminate the down-up completely by routing the trail around the bowl, but there was a conscious choice not to do so. We wonder at it as we climb up, and descend towards Tunnel Lake.
We do some wiggling – updownupdown – as we cross the feeder stream, head towards the down for the day, and the sunlight and the dappling of clouds on the blue-blue sky and just breathing makes me thankful to be out here.
On the way down to the railroad grade – our illustrious, flat, wide, well-maintained trail for the rest of the evening – I feel something in the middle of my left foot shift, and things down there get progressively less and less comfortable. Said discomfort runs from the ball of my foot through my arch and stops at my heel, and by the time I catch up to where Speshul’s stopped to wait, I’m visibly favoring my right leg. He asks what’s wrong; I describe my pain; I watch him go back and forth in his head about whether or not to tell his hypochondriac girlfriend what he thinks is up. Uh-oh.
I’ve heard the words plantar fasciitis before, but not in the context of thruhiking; an overuse injury, Spesh tells me that while it might be okay now, the progression goes from “weird” to “uncomfortable” to “on fire” to “electric, shooting pain with every step.” It’s admittedly concerning, but as it’s an overuse injury, there’s nothing to be done for it except… not… use… it? I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do that, but I slow my pace and start paying attention to every step, relying heavily on my trekking poles for support; while it’s probably psychosomatic, I start to feel the bad steps, the ones where I mess up and put a pokey rock right underneath my arch. There are a lot of pokey rocks on the railroad grade, more than initially meet the eye, and even though it’s flat and wide and down, I’m going slower and slower, getting more and more growly. I try to treat it as a meditation exercise, use the focus on my steps to turn inward, but the pain keeps pulling me back into my body – I’m no good at this.
We pass some informational signs about the old railroads – did they take the track up here? They must have. Was it the CTF? Was it the old-timey people in the photos? Why would anyone go through such an effort?
We make it to the Hancock Trailhead, where we see a giant tent with a CTF banner on it – the campsite is empty, though; they’re probably still working, as it’s barely past 5pm. I feel alright – not great, but alright – and I kind of want to keep going. Prudence2, however, says it’s wise to chill out, for my foot’s sake, so we stop. While it’s a nice camp spot, I’m antsy, chafing at the bit – we’ve only done 8 miles today, and there are two hours to sunset. But we’re going to get into Salida a day early anyway, so I sit, poke grouchily at my left foot, massage my right foot in hopes that it won’t get any ideas from lefty.
We find the CTF folks – or rather, they “find” us – some folks who look like they’re in charge come by a couple times in an ATV, and while I try to wave no one notices me, not even the CAT driver who eventually brings a large piece of machinery down the hill in quite a display of skill2. Slightly pouty, appetite lost, I eat anyway before retreating into my tent to hide from the chill and sprinkling rain.
Start: 234.4 • End: 242.5 • Day: 8.1
Notable Accomplishments: Still flying • Not much to report today • At least my right foot’s behaving?
 Okay, not the entire Hustle – I’m not that awesome – but I do the parts I remember from Futurama.
 Read: Speshul
 Probably because he was, in fact, driving a CAT down a crazy jeep road in a skillful manner.