Sunday, June 23, 2013

Part 115 - The Burger Barn

I had to cross the bridge that spanned the Sacramento River in order to get to the frontage road that would lead me south to the post office at Castella.  Jumping from the bridge were several young men who were obviously enjoying a day off from work.  I approached them to inquire about directions to Castella, just to verify that the frontage road I was seeking would indeed lead me to Castella and the post office.  I was halfway across the bridge when a small vehicle approached from the other end.  I stepped aside to make room for it, but instead of passing by, it stopped beside me. 

The passenger side window rolled down, and a middle-aged woman spoke from inside the car offering me a ride.  She said she could take me to a trailhead on this side of the river that was more pleasant to walk than walking the frontage road to Castella.  I hesitated, because being somewhat of a purist, I didn’t want to accept a ride and bypass even a small section of the PCT. 

She noted my hesitation and assured me that driving or walking to Castella was not on the PCT, and accepting a ride would not affect my official standing with the trail.  She persuaded me and I got in the car with her.

Her name was Martha and she lived in Castella, but worked in Dunsmuir as a veterinary’s assistant.  I apologized for my hiker smell, but she said not to worry as she worked with animals all day, and actually, she said, I didn’t smell all that bad.  Nice compliment.

We passed by her house, which I could just barely see through the trees, then she stopped at a turnout and pointed to the trail that ran alongside the river.  I thanked her for her kindness and set out for the trail; I knew I was not the first one she had given a ride to.

The path Martha set me on proved to be a delightful stroll along the banks of the slow-moving and relatively shallow river.  There were numerous places where I could have taken a dip, but the post office was calling.  After a mile of walking beside the bucolic waters, a swinging bridge took me back across the Sacramento River to the frontage road, after which I entered a tunnel that ushered me under the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and Highway 5.  

After wandering through the Castle Crag State Park Campground, trying to find an exit, I found a path at the far end of the camp that lead me out of the campground and to the post office located at the highway exit just off Highway 5.  The time was 3:45 p.m. and the post office had closed at 3:00 p.m.; however, a sign on the door said that packages could be picked up at the Chevron Station next door.

With high hopes, I approached the cashier in the Chevron Station and inquired about hiker packages; the clerk pointed me to a far end of the building and said that any packages they had received would be found on the shelves.  I just had to search through them until I found my own.  I searched and searched, but mine was not there.  It could still be in the post office, or possibly it hadn’t arrived yet.  To ease my disappointment, I drown myself in a pint of chocolate milk and a sleeve of Chips Ahoy! cookies, and sat outside of the building on the retaining wall to plot my strategy.  I was going to have to overnight somewhere, and decided to take the overnight in Shasta City, which previous hikers had praised as one of the best trail towns on the PCT.

Yogi’s guidebook indicated that the next town north of Castella was Dunsmuir, followed by Shasta City.  Oh, and by the way, the town of Castella consisted of no more than the post office and the Chevron Station and a few homes tucked away in the woods beside the Sacramento River – and that was it.

I could hitch a ride into Shasta City, but I had been carrying this extra pair of boots with me all the way from Burney Falls State Park, and wanted to send them back home to Salt Lake. The post office in Dunsmuir wouldn’t close until 5:00 p.m., and if I were lucky, I could get there before closing.  I made a cardboard sign listing Dunsmuir as the destination, and then stood on the on-ramp to Highway 5 to solicit a ride.

Traffic was sparse, as the only traffic entering the freeway was coming from the direction of Castle Crag State Park.  Finally a small car stopped, and I mean a small car; it was a tiny, two-seater Fiat, with a couple occupying the front two seats, and a wet dog hogging the trunk space.  The couple offered me a ride, and I gladly accepted.  The husband opened up the trunk lid, told the dog to scoot over, and I crawled in, pulling my pack in on top of me.  I hugged the dog for the eight-mile ride into Dunsmuir, where the couple let me out next to the post office.  I had just enough time to mail my shoes.

I assembled a USPS priority box, stuffed the shoes inside, taped the box shut, and gave the package to the postal clerk.  I was in and out in fifteen minutes.  But before leaving the post office, I announced in a loud voice to the five patrons standing in line to be waited on, that I was a PCT hiker and visitor to their town and wanted to know, if they were I, where in town they would go to get the best chocolate malt and hamburger.  After some discussion among themselves, they concurred that the Burger Barn just up the street would be the best place.  I thanked them for their suggestion, left the building, and headed for the Burger Barn.

The Burger Barn lived up to the locals' expectations; I enjoyed my meal and returned to the street outside the building.

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