Day 91 7/13
Mile mark 1575.0-1606.5
Above Upper Boulder Lake to Etna

I’m stirred awake at 1:30am by the wind as it gusts into my bivy. I open my eyes and see clouds backlit by a full moon swirling overhead. At first, I think I’m in a twilight zone dream. I come to my senses and roll over and attempt sleep again.

The alarm clock(Salty unzipping her food bag) goes off at 5:30am and I roll to my side to add some water to my granola and carnation instant breakfast. I roll to my other side and see a sky dotted with clouds on fire from the rising sun. The view is enough to stir me from my bed for a better look.

We roll out of camp around 6:20pm and start the march to Etna. As we descend, we start to see the bell choir(herd of cows) we heard down in the valley yesterday. When we get close, one gets spooked and sets all of the cows off stampeding down the hill. A symphony of bells and mooing starts, but like an elementary school band, there’s one cow that doesn’t follow the beat of the others.

After herding cattle and eating lunch, I find myself on one of the longer climbs of the day. It’s hot, exposed, and I’m not feeling great. A dark mood comes over me and I want to give up hiking. All I can think about is sitting and not moving. Somedays, it’s hard to fight these thoughts. I finally reach the top and there’s a stream where I sit and gulp down cold water. The water washes away my blues and I’m ready to charge on.

Salty and I sit down on a concrete barrier at the end of our 31.5 mile day and start to look for a hitch down into the town of Etna. This is supposedly a hard hitch because there’s not much traffic on the road. A few moments pass and a fit, good looking, family from Alabama comes up the hill. They get out of their car and we briefly chat with them. They’re just going up the ridge a bit, but will happily give us a ride when they’re back.

They spend a few moments checking out the view and then I find myself in the back of a car being whisked down the mountain. They fire off questions about our hike. I find myself in the “I just hiked thirty miles” haze and find it difficult to respond, but luckily Salty is responding. We get down into Etna and are dropped off at the brewery.

The hostess asks us “inside or out?” I look around the inside and the usual stir of thoughts go through my head in town “are people looking at me weird…do I smell…did I leave sunscreen all over my face again.” I say “out” and Salty is fine with that.

At the table, I attempt to activate the part of my brain that remembers how to read so I can get some food. Everything looks good, which is most likely because none of the choices are the gut rotting instant mashed potatoes I’ve been consuming lately. I look up and Salty is still looking at the menu, which is odd because in most little towns a pathetic side salad is the only vegetarian option. Here there’s actually a vegetarian section on the menu.

Well fed, we start thinking about where we’re going to stay. I head into to pay and when I’m out Salty is talking to the guy and his son next to us. He tells us “I’ve been known to host hikers.” Minutes later we’re in his mini van, with his 17 year old son driving us out into the country near Etna.

We arrive at a nice ranch house and an old black lab comes slinking up to greet us. The trail angel shows us where to sleep, how run the laundry machine, where the shower is, and even gets me a beer. We chat for awhile in his living room before Salty and I are yawning. Before we head out to sleep, he tells us that his wife will make us breakfast and his son will drive us to the store and the trailhead in the morning. These are some of the best trail angels yet. Drifting off to sleep I think to myself “maybe I should have taken candy and got rides from strangers when I was younger.”

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