Aftermath

Start: Mooshead Creek (1453)
Camp: Rock Creek (1431)
10:00 a.m. start. Camped in a deep north facing valley. My lower leg is swollen throughout as a result of yesterday’s wasp attack. Each sting site itches and to scratch them is so satisfying that I should think only poison oak more cathartic. So far the itch does not seem to spread like poison oak, but I am wary.
The hike is much like yesterday – dry, hot and grueling – only with filthy brown dust and debris accumulated in the trail that has turned this hike into a trudge through a desert cistern. Add to that the retched furnaces that I must cross, wide forests that used to be healthy and green, stripped to the floor by logging, while the ground has been decimated by unchecked erosion which carries anything rock or wood into the trail to act as a marble, and you have my version of hell. I pat myself on the back for having hiked so fast to be having lunch at just 12:45 p.m. Then I realize I have not even gone ten miles and that puts me in a very cynical mood. The state park, my next resupply, is 30. If my legs were bricks yesterday then today they are bags of lead shot. I’m one step away from nodding off as I hike, my eyes half open, my mind reeling in protest. Strangely, to take one protested step after the other is easy, but thoughts of walking any faster are incomprehensible. I drag on, forever climbing, at around two miles per hour.
I took an early lunch and heard a friend passing by in the brush above. Passing clouds built into overcast and the spring water was uncomfortably cold to bath in. I stood there in the mud to cool my burning feet and washed my body with my hands although they seemed to permanently ooze mud. It was still blisteringly hot when I continued and the overcast hadn’t helped. It had grown calm, like the door had been shut on an oven in which I was the pièce de résistance . I crossed beneath a wide swath cut for two rows of high voltage power lines. On one pole there hung at an unreadable angle a purposely-riveted sign:
WARNING
This tower supports wires carrying high current at high voltage
Pacific Gas and Electric Co
Now there’s a sign written by an engineer. Anyway, just as I entered the woods on the far side, I found another sign. It was simple and had actually been left recently by a man I’d met, though just as indelibly as PG&E’s. Take a look:
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This is the first word, correctly penned in caps, of Dr. Seuss’s oft-quoted Lorax:
“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
So it goes. Was it intended as a statement about the rising cost of electricity, or as some simple derision of PG&E? Or was it just, simply, a happenstance placement? My memory of Lorax (the hiker, not the Dr. Seuss character) pushes me toward the latter, though I hope I’ve still occasion to meet the kind of wit who can hike at 25 miles a day while making meaningful commentary on our society.
A little later I catch my friend at her lunch, she’s bested me by miles. I ask her for some chocolate and she obliges with a whit of Heath. Funny, these are the same way I started my day. I catch myself staring blankly into her foam pad as she talks, though I catch her point: we’ll not make the park before the store closes at 8:00 p.m. No store means no quarters, and no quarters means no shower. No laundry. No reason to hurry. When I see her again at Screwdriver Creek I’m feeling half dead and looking the part. Her eyes grow wide when I point out that my ankle is now thoroughly, obviously, grotesquely enlarged. I call Allan for ideas as I walk on.
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Just watch out for discolored veins, he tells me, and he’ll look up more info in the morning. It would be helpful to have actually seen the perpetrator, he points out. Thanks Allan. But he keeps my mind off it and I make another three miles before falling down, proverbially dead. I prepare my camp quickly, with the simplicity of an ascetic and a ruthless off-hand efficiency that I couldn’t help but develop over these passed three months, but it’s warm and I’m in no hurry to get into my sleeping bag. I’m filthy anyway. I lay down but I can’t wash up like usual; the next water source could be dry and I only have one liter now. A chill comes over me and I begrudgingly slide my sticky body into my somewhat clean sleeping bag. This is the dirtiest body it’s seen since I washed it ten days ago in Seiad Valley. Inside, I am blazing hot and fighting back chills. I hope that this is just the fatigue but my mouth develops an insatiable dryness which I don’t have the luxury to fulfill, and my mind develops that untraceable lucidity of fever.

The Amazing 540

If you’ve been on the PCT for any length of time in the past ten years then you know that by and large trail runners are the most popular type of shoe, and if you’ve hiked recently you’ve undoubtedly noticed that of the trail runners Brooks Cascadias are the most prevalent trail runner out here. Well, I’d like to take a minute to honor the lowly New Balance 540. Available for a mere $55 or less at any department store, these are not a shoe to draw much attention or garner much support as a valid through hiking shoe. In fact, when my friend Jesse came back from Fred Meyer and reported that they came in a wide I secretly scoffed at the idea of wearing a department store shoe. “Far to chintzy to do any serious hiking in,” I thought, especially for someone as rough on gear as me. I went and tried them on as a token of appreciation for Jesse’s concern about my feet. These are wide! Was my first thought. They’re comfy too! And it would be hard to go wrong for this price, my frugal side rejoined. I put my Superfeet in and checked out with them on my feet, my old new balance in the box. 250 miles later I was relieved when I made it halfway across Oregon in them, and I was pleasantly surprised when, 498 miles later, I had crossed the whole state in them. Around mile 475 I went into Fred Meyer in Medford and bought two more pairs, size 11 4e, and mailed them ahead. I still don’t need a new pair yet. I’m in northern California and with 540 miles on them these are the best shoes I’ve ever hiked in, at a cost of less than 10¢/mile! You’d need to get 1200 miles out of a pair of Cascadias to beat that, and I promise they’d have a hole in the pinky toe by then.
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Somebody’s Gotten into the Acid…. Actually everyone has

Start: Green Springs Mountain (1745)
Camp: Jackson Wellspring (1724)
Today, 18 miles from here, a chapter in this journey will close. I will be at I-5. My rides have not called me back, but it will be time to find a ride to Burning Man regardless.
I hadn’t brushed my teeth since I left Mazama Village some days ago. I thought I’d lost my toothbrush. I’d had it in my water bottle pocket and assumed it had fallen out. Turns out it was packed away deep, somewhere clean, and I found it just minutes after I’d been given a new one.
I am down to brass tacks. Dinner last night was a tuna packet and uncooked minute rice. Breakfast was 5 oatmeal packets eaten cold. Lunch, just now, was the caffeinated Cliff bar I’d sworn not to eat, topped with 10 honey packets. My water is lake water from yesterday afternoon, tinged green and with the strange taste of acidic sweetness.
Speaking of acid, tonight I felt like I was part of the reenactment of a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: She slipped into the hot pool at Jackson Wellspring, a hot spring resort of sorts in Ashland, Oregon,  nonchalantly but I noticed her from afar. She’d come in with a guitar and a guy. Naked, she had a perfect body. Picture perfect breasts. Before a couple of analytical looks I thought they might be fake. Her bottom, lightly, evenly creased, her skin smooth and perfect. She reminded me of Morgan, Allan’s girl, in the way she looks.
She proceeded to wrap around the handrail down pole and mumble at a gentleman who soon left. I thought it was nonsense but when she climbed into the angled section of the pole I got it: “Monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey” she was saying. Tyler, a bmx’er I’d been talking to and can remember nothing about at the moment other than he coaches for Woodward was talking, looking at me, missing the whole seen, and I was having trouble paying attention. He wouldn’t know about the hilarity that unfolded 5 feet off his port side until I told him later on in the steam room.
When I came out of the steam room the scene was yet more ridiculous: monkey girl was now in the big pool with a gentleman, together making bizarre noises as they spun and splashed their hands and just obliviously frolicked as if they were not in a resort where everyone was silent and the average age was somewhere north of 40. As if they were six. I smiled, shook my head, and excused myself.
Back in the steam room a singer, from Whales I would later learn, came in and began to sing in her own quiet, deep intonations that sounded much like traditional native American vocalizations that would likely have flute accompaniment. As it was she had us. The beat boxer came in first, “That’s tacky,” I thought, followed by others singing, followed by me, oming. We carried on singing, oming, and laughing for a bit and the steam room became the most crowded I’d ever seen a steam room: standing room only. All the bench’s filled and four of us stood in the middle trying not to get burned by the boiler. It was cacophonous and magical.
When I finally left for some fresh air monkey girl had gotten a grip, literally: her arms where wrapped around a cheap acoustic guitar and she was strumming away. She was singing too, and she was naked. She’d makeup the words as she went, strumming the same few chords but the amazing part was the energy in the pool before her: we wanted her to blow our minds and every member of that audience was willing her to succeed. Eventually she stood up, just standing there naked on the pool deck, dancing a little, playing her guitar and singing to us with her eyes closed. If that doesn’t cure you of stage fright nothing will. We sat silently in awe. People began to join in, mimicking her words. They were all positive. Amazing, absolutely amazing.

Second Guessing

Start: Big Spring (1762)
Camp: Green Springs Mountain (1745)
I’m going through a lot of internal strife. Nothing I write seems accurate, like my feelings there is always some valid contradiction, but I’d better write something before I fall asleep and have no account at all. So: I think I hiked my favorite part of the trail so far this evening. Smooth, winding tread through steep prairies of oak savannas in golden wheat. Like home but steeper and without the sandstone. I talked to my sister, she’s at the family reunion. I feel like I really messed up by missing it. I tanned a little, and spun poi in my underwear, and met another northbounder I despise. Such is life. I gave it time but I’ve accepted that I will probably hate every person I pass from now on. I should just stop talking to them. I am. Headphones, trekking poles and a headlamp will be my m.o. soon. I need to burn rubber.
I’ll be at I-5 tomorrow. I realized this morning that that is as far as I can go before Burning Man or I’ll have trouble getting back to civilization to get a ride in time. Sucks, too, though because it means the rest of this week is shot – I’ll be off trail for 11+ days. I’d not go, but I think it might be the one thing I’m still doing right. Maybe.

Worldview

Start: Honeymoon Creek (1810)
Camp: Squaw Lake (1789)
Setting up a tent makes it dark and cozy, and way too easy to sleep in. I really need to stop. It’s a habit I got into about a week ago when it started raining every night and I haven’t gotten up before 8:00 since.
As it was I got on the trail about 9:00 and began a long switchbacking climb up a bowl layered with almost-white pumice and dark gray basalt. There wasn’t any pumice in the North Cascades of Washington, but the grade reminded me of them and I felt a tinge of nostalgia – they were still my biggest challenge of the trip, so I was excited to be back on terrain so stark, jagged and exposed. From the top I climbed onto a rocky prominence and called my old friend Yvan from Santa Cruz. The reception was crystal clear; I had a clear if hazy view of Klamath Falls in its wide tan valley far to the east. It looks dry down there, very dry.
Back down at my pack I chatted with passing hikers, all of them northbound, even the section hikers (who are “just” hiking across Oregon. With its reputation I started the state thinking these people were uninformed because, like most everybody knows, Oregon is just a boring green tunnel that you use to get between the interesting parts of the PCT so to hike it by itself must mean you have a penchant for boredom. It turns out Oregon has been just as breathtaking as Washington, California will need to resemble a combination of hiking across the american west around the year 1800 (Indians and buffalo strictly required) and circumnavigating Saturn on one of its rings in order to be more interesting, and I was the one who was uninformed.) At this point I need to point something out: as of today I have been on the PCT for two months and three days, and I have crossed paths with about three hundred other through hikers, of both the section and full-trail varieties (give or take a couple hundred of course, I’m not counting) and every single one has approached me from the south. They pass with a puzzled look or they squint and then forget about me like they thought I was an apparition but it was just the sun in their eyes. If I stop them – and that duty always falls on me because if you’re going south you must be old, extremely wise, and the dictionary definition of hard ass – they sort of come to, they say “Oh I haven’t seen many of you,” and then they either ask a string of questions about whatever northerly obstacle is concerning their unoccupied skull at the moment or they simply say “How was the snow?” and then turn a pale shade of regretful mixed with sorry before they even finish the question, or, these days, most just launch straight into why they were justified, why they just absolutely, unequivocally needed to skip 400 miles of open trail at the Oregon-California border.
Are you getting this? Not a single hiker in over two months has approached me from behind. I pointed out the prominent features of the Crater Lake crater 30 miles to our north to a nice lady that was from Oregon but had never been there. Then another guy and I ragged on the younger hikers destroying the trail and the towns and, in general, people’s love for us, the true through hikers. He blamed it on Sheryl Strayed, I on their poor upbringing that would lead them to give up so easily during the fires (“It’s not a through hike for me anymore,” a girl about 21 that goes by Blocks told me) which, naturally, leads to immense frustration which, apparently, leads most of the “Class of 2014″ to heavy drug and alcohol use.
Anyway, that’s what happened before 11:00 a.m. Then I walked through a tribe of Kevlar clad wildland firefighters chillaxing as a fire burned voraciously in a valley below and they monitored, watched their helicopter land, got rained and hailed on, walked half a mile to a nasty evaporated pond to get water then walked half a mile the other way to a beautiful lake that should have been the suggested water source in Guthook’s app but wasn’t, and finally, with a little bottle of dish soap I’d found in the hiker box, washed the copious dirt and DEET from my body. It had been my second full day without taping my feet; “tape it till you make it” is my policy.

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Crater Lake: More Fog

Start: North Junction (1841)
Camp: Mazama Village (1830)
One great thing about being a SOBO: you can stop looking back – nobody ever walks up behind you.
When I woke to my tent aglow in the morning sun I was hopeful that the weather had cleared. I packed gingerly in my treed retreat and then I sat reading and worrying that the 7:00 a.m. sun reflected off the placid lake below might give me a sunburn. Today is an easy day: 13 miles around the Crater Lake rim and down to Mazama Village, resupply, then stay in the campground there. That said, I still have to get moving – it’s six miles via the Rim Trail to the nearest water, and all I have is a liter left over from the gallon I gleaned off some Seattle RV’ers yesterday. Around that time, as I basked in the temporary ownership of my own flat expanse of concrete, a gentleman pulled up in a sporty new car and asked if I was a PCT hiker. When I answered yes he went to his trunk and withdrew a carbon fiber bear canister, carefully unlocked it with a nickel, and withdrew a handful of “bars” for me. Something called “Epic” and made from bison meat, which I ate with my oatmeal, and another one which I’m eating now that resembles an overgrown cream wafer but with more protein than a bar made from ground bison. It is delicious if only because it is different, delectable because I had forgotten what it was like to eat something that is not smashed or melted.

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The hike was easy and led to several beautiful viewpoints. The fog burned off early in the afternoon and I relaxed on the patio at the rim village making lunch and watching day hikers continue south along the rim and up a gnarly knife edge to a nearby peak.
I found Mazama Village smoldering, the inhabitants wide eyed and horrified at the carnage wreaked upon them by the northbound herd that was still there pillaging the villages meager stores.

Gazing Out Upon the Lake

Start: Thielson Creek (1861)
Camp: North Junction Crater Lake (1841)
What an amazing day to hike in Crater Lake National Park. After four and a half days of rain the sun finally came out as I began the climb to The Rim, and though the clouds returned the overcast offered welcome protection from an otherwise searing traverse of the volcano.

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I devoured snacks on my hike to the rim because I was waiting to make lunch. I thought how beautiful it would be to sit on the rim and just relax and cook. When I finally got there the view was astounding but what I was really excited for was simple: to sit on the flat, clean cement sidewalk in the parking lot, where you couldn’t see the rim at all.
After eating I began to wander up the trail but quickly decided I was done. I retired to a clump of trees overlooking the lake at North Junction and lay down on warm rocks to read. There’s an abiding satisfaction to be had by getting through a few pages of a book and then tearing them right off, the remainder of the book in your hands, something that otherwise would have easily fetched 50¢ at a garage sale. I got halfway through Me Talk Pretty One Day and tore off my thickest stack of pages yet, and then I couldn’t help laughing when I finally reached beneath me and removed something that made me infinitely more comfortable: that wasn’t a rock I had been laying on all this time, it was not done natural and unalterable protrusion, it was my phone. Laying on just the rock did, in fact, feel wonderful and I started to fall asleep as fog filled the crater and hid the lake from view.
A couple of northbounders came along and decided to camp with me. I’m not in the habit of hanging out in places where I’m forbidden except in national parks, and even then it’s relieving to have people to share the guilt with so I was happy they’d also chosen to end there day here, on the rim, where camping is never allowed.

unparalleled beauty, relentless monotony

Start: Windigo Pass (1884)
Camp: Thielson Creek (1861)
The day began with a food assessment, wherein I dump all my food on the ground, pick some for today and the days remaining, and dump out anything extra. Today I didn’t dump anything. After that I taped my right foot in four different areas to combat four different problems. Today I’m trying out duck tape.
By the time I crawled out of my tent, 9:00 a.m., the tent city from the night before had vanished. The trees glowed an eery yellow-green and dripped with dew. White fog laced with woodsmoke walled us in and I could see my breath. I didn’t bother to hide behind anything when I peed.
I filled enough water for 3 hours from the water cache and crossed the road to head south. As I did I let out a “Whoop!” And the two guys that were there laughed. As I hiked I sneezed and coughed and spit and dripped mucous from every opening. Such is life when you are allergic to smoke.
In sitting here and I’m afraid it might start raining again and I need to get to water but no, there can be no hurry. Armin van Buren is playing and I sit on these wet rocks with my pack still on and the fog gently glides across all my view and there, glowing an unmistakable warmth at some imperceivable distance I see Crater Lake for the first time. It is cool, my shoes are off and this is magical.
Today I carried 17 miles of water. It was easy, I had extra. No problem. Tomorrow it’s 27. I’ll be at water soon and I’ll have to stop but this is one of those days that I don’t want to end.
I spoke way too soon. The day’s last 4.5 miles from the Oregon-Washington highpoint to Thielson Creek dragged on well after dark in a cold fog that was so thick it that it somehow made seeing in the dark even more difficult. I had to make it to Thielson so that I’d be positioned to push through the 27 mile dry stretch tomorrow so I did, using my phone for light and finally setting up camp on a steep hillside. I’m too tired to care.

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Weather

Start: Windigo Creek (1909)
Camp: Windigo Pass (1884)
It was a really nice, calm, overcast morning and I slept until 8:00, which is very late. I started by burning the first few pages I’ve read from my new book. I started hiking up the Oregon Skyline alternate and it rained. I actually had to wear my FroggToggs jacket. I talked to a lot of people and one couple, Alice and Terry offered to buy my lunch in Ashland, but more importantly they are section hiking Oregon with their chihuahua!!! Her name is Pip and she is… So cute! I held her and kissed her and wiped her eye. She is a lot like Sophie, who I miss sooo much.
I came to a confusing intersection where I had to sit and wait for someone to come to find out which way to go, which took less time than it took me to take off my coat. The herd is here. Since my box didn’t make it to Shelter Cove Resort, other hikers helped me out with snacks, which don’t make it to the hiker box, but I never thought about maps. For the moment I’m hiking blind because in the trees and weather my phone’s GPS won’t work. I’m sprouting mung beans as I hike with a little kit that northbounders Peter and Tim, from Ohio, gave me.
Today I met Happy Man. Yesterday it was Smiley. A few days before that Ass Waggin’ was a standout. My point: there are a lot of names out here concerning happiness, and that concerns me. It’s as if happiness is not something standard, it is something so uncommon that you can name somebody after it and that name won’t apply to anyone else. Is my peers logic flawed, or has happiness become that uncommon?
Yesterday I left my headphones behind when I broke camp. Today I asked a guy of he had any extras. He was the only person I asked. He said yes and gave me a nice pair of sporty ear buds. His name was Special Sauce.
Magical rain. I had to fight for every mile today. Blisters spread across my right foot. The left is performing flawlessly. My right pinky toe is living inside a bubble. I’m slowly opening it up to let the new skin adapt to living on the surface. My right shoe is wearing out. It’s as if in the last two days something about my gate, particularly on the right, has changed. Anyway, there are angels here on the pass cooking up hot dogs and there is a water cache. I set up my tent just as it started to rain again. Smartly, I put it under good tree cover, so that hard rain shouldn’t mist through, although I’m hoping it only rains like that in Washington. I’ve only done 20 miles today because the alternate route is eight miles shorter, but in this weather it’s easy to feel dejected.
Last night it was two pine saplings, tonight it’s a tiny Vaccinium with edible red berries; camping in a floorless tent is like sleeping in a different garden every night.
Hope is a beggar. Faith is putting one foot in front of the other as the bridge decking appears out of a fog.