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M Hiking Through Hyperbole: Blisters and Fire

by Ryan Linn

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Article Summary:

By the middle of July I had come through the desert of southern California and the snowy heights of the Sierra, finally arriving at the gateway to the north: Lake Tahoe. The transition was not smooth. My feet were almost as badly blistered and bruised as they had been in the desert at the beginning of the trip, and the friends I had hiked with since Mexico were days ahead of me. I was forced to take a few more days off to heal my blisters, which dashed my hopes for catching up to my companions. I would have to discover the mysteries of the trail alone.

For months before starting the trail there had been constant talk of the desert and the Sierra, but all the hype disappeared after the Sierra. "What's northern California like?" I asked so many times, and the only answers I got were "It's really dull," or "It's really nice." It seemed that everyone's descriptive skills vanished once the grandeur of the Sierra were past. I had no idea what to expect.

To make matters more difficult, I was now in a real hurry. Two of my friends from my Appalachian Trail hike three years ago would arrive in Oregon in early August to hike with me for a few weeks, and I wanted to catch up with them quickly. I dropped several pounds from my pack weight and figured that I could increase my hiking speed drastically from what I had done in the Sierra.

My mind had been readied for the difficult push through the next six hundred miles. My body had been trained for eleven hundred miles already and seemed ready for the punishment. The only problem, for now, was the new set of blisters that appeared almost daily. This was especially frustrating, since back home on the east coast I almost never have problems with my feet. I was too eager to see what lay ahead, so I stubbornly pushed on without taking enough time to fully heal.

The trail along the Tahoe Rim defied what few expectations I had. I found little difference in the terrain from what I'd seen in the northern end of the Sierra, which means it was fantastic. Big meadows, passes patched with snow, entire mountainsides covered in blooming wildflowers, and rocky ridgetop trails became the routine for the next several days, taking my mind off the pain in my feet. Gradually, the terrain changed ever so slightly, turning into something familiar yet alien. Pine trees towered overhead, but the ground felt like that of the desert. Dusty gravel crunched underfoot, and a thick layer of dead branches littered the ground where they had fallen during the previous winter. Off in the distance, or occasionally by the trail, large lakes or rivers showed evidence that I was no longer in a completely dry environment, but too often it seemed as if I were back in the desert I had started in.

The Tahoe Rim passed by all too quickly, and with it went the handful of day- and section-hikers. I continued on, eventually catching a few through-hikers near Sierra City. I would soon lose this group as well, some moving faster, some slower than me, but this was fine as far as I was concerned. Though there were few through-hikers around me, the trail community was stronger in northern California than anywhere else on the trail.

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