Enough Already

Start: W. Branch Nelson Creek (1225)
Camp: Deer Lake (1210)
All night and into the morning the rain continued. I slept over twelve hours. By 9:30 a.m. I was awake but dreaded having to hike any further from my lost headlamp. I didn’t even know where I’d lost it. But go back 28 miles? I wouldn’t do it. I pored over the logistics. I’d run out of food. I’d run out of fuel. And if the rain kept up my sleeping bag would only get soggier. I ate a snickers and a pot of oatmeal. I still didn’t want to get up. I ate another snickers and my last two squares of dark chocolate. It scared me that this stuff didn’t even taste like a sweet treat – I’d eaten so much sugar in this section that candy bars had become food in my mind. My nose ran constantly and my throat ached. I soundlessly cursed the person at Caribou Crossing who had lost my package.
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I packed in the rain and stepped down onto the trail. I looked down the trail. The continuation of my journey looked dark, soggy and bleak. I looked back the way I came and saw a lightness. Comfort. Familiarity. Right. I started down the trail.
I stepped with an uncommon lightness in my feet. My pack was airy and rode naturally upon my back. I covered three miles in a  surprisingly short time, even though I stopped often to consider whether I was making the right decision.
The rain continued and soon it leaked into the rips in my jacket and pooled in the forearms. I put on my vinyl gloves, a size too small so that my hands grew tired from the fight and curled inwards. They went numb. Still, I moved quickly.
A blue and orange figure walked toward me. Obviously another hiker. I stared intently but did not slow my stride. Cold and on a mission, I did not want to talk. Then, as she drew near, I recognized her face – it was Girly Girl! We hugged and talked briefly about something – I can’t recall what – and then I asked if she’d seen my headlamp.
“Oh yeah, I have it,” she said. Like it was nothing.
“Oh my god no way! I was about to hike back eighteen miles!” I thought I had left it out of my pack when I was making my morning snack.
“It was in the trail about six miles after the middle fork.” So I’d dropped it even before my snack. I turned around and we hiked and I talked ecstatically, I out of breath, about how relieved I was, and by noon we’d covered six miles and I was right back where I’d woken up.
We wondered soggily through the woods and ate lunch together, freezing. I quietly wished I had better gear. And finally, shortly after, it stopped. It was unbelievably beautiful but still numbingly cold. Feet, hands, face – I’ve been numb in at least one of those since I made camp 24 hours ago.
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You Guys Must be Raindancing Your Butts Off

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The day began with a crossing of the highest bridge over yet seen

Start: Middle Fork Feather River (1252)
Camp: W. Branch Nelson Creek (1225)
You guys must be raindancing your butts off because I’m getting drenched. It sprinkled yesterday, rained last night, and now it’s raining again. Take THAT King fire!
I woke before my alarm and noticed nothing as I stood to pee other than a loose tent stake. The usual pain in my feet was not there. But the tent stake was mine. Then I struggled with the presence of a new tent. I didn’t get it at first.
I left camp shortly before 8:00a.m., after saying goodbye to Girly Girl, and was perplexed as to why my feet did not hurt. At all. There was only explanation: I’d slept 10 hours with then elevated, just slightly, on top of my JetBoil pot (on its side.)
It rained last night and I got wet as I climbed through drooping and overgrown late summer branches and bushes, but the steep climb out was spectacular. Among granitic rocks of a soft gray, white quartz bands traveled and among lush green mosses that adorned both rock and tree I ascended into clouds. Yellow oak leaves dotted the pine needle floor between young incense cedars and a new plant that I’ve not seen before but which I suspect to be a cousin of the Hawaiian antheriums with which I grew up. image

Noticing new plants as you pass through is one of the beauties of hiking a long distance trail for the first time; even if you’re not a botanist (and I most certainly am not) you notice them because to you they are foreign. I clamber under snag of sugar pine that has fallen across the trail and Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ begins to play. In warmed up. It’s time to really hike. In a couple of miles I’m up and put of the lush overgrowth. It gets cooler and the plants become more yellow. I love starting the day this way, going slowly, thoughtfully, uphill.
The afternoon alternated between conditions too hot for a rain jacket and wind blown rain that numbed me through. It was astonishingly beautiful throughout. The saturated forest floor hostsa wealth of color. Newly fallen pine needles turn a bright yellow and the damp earth goes almost black. The fall plants go more fall and those still green grow greener and lusher.
I ate six Snickers today and a half dozen mini Butterfingers. I am decidedly ill in my upper respiratory.
The evening sucked. The first spot I tried to pitch my tent wouldn’t work because the ground was just too soft. This was doubly insulting because a mile back if bypassed a big flat campsite because it was a full hundred feet off the trail. I’d cover that just looking for a new spot now. I’m sleeping with my feet above my heart as I did last night, although tonight I’ve not the option.
I can’t find my headlamp. It might be back around 1231 where I had lunch, or was that 1236? Or it might be where I ate my morning snack, on a rock behind some bushes on a saddle with a great view. It was a fairly expensive lamp, costing close to $100, and so I am considering going back to look for it, but I am discouraged from this by the fact that water has not been plentiful except from the sky, and this I’ve no way of drinking.

32

Start: Canyon View Spring (1284)
Camp: Middle Fork Feather River (1252)
I started hiking early, before 7:30 and before the sun found my frigid campsite, and every corner I came around I had to take my camera back out. This section is, it seems, incredibly beautiful.
I want to drive the forest road that winds south of this place, Three Lakes, coming from somewhere near Bald Eagle Mountain. It is called 24N24 and it is due south of Belden.
For the cold I did not wish to stop, and so depleted my water supply. The last spring was dry and I had to complete eleven miles dry. Luckily it was cold.
I seem to have made myself ill with too much unhealthy food. I sniffle and my throat is always tickled.
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Crossing the north fork I have crossed onto a wintery granite wilderness. The sandy dirt here is saturated from yesterday’s rain so as to be soft and make for gentle walking. It is also great to draw pictures in, and I have left several.
12:15-1:00 was lunch at Buck’s Summit. Mac n cheese with quinoa and black beans. As usual, I didn’t eat it; it’s on the side of my pack. I ate candy, chips and crackers instead.
Walking beneath gnarly trees. Sticks and leaves. Hemlock. It’s spitting.
Today’s theme song is Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter because it talks about snow and having to get through – and that’s exactly what I’m thinking about today.
Fuel’s getting very low. Uncooked Mac n cheese is not going to be very good. Dinner was a crunchy block of ramen and a warm chocolate protein shake.
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I hiked 32 miles today, I think that is my biggest day yet. These kinds of days ignite my soul. I got to camp just after 7:00 p.m. and I was tired but I bathed, stretched, made a protein shake and set up camp with the utmost efficiency. I soaked my feet and legs in the Feather river to expedite their healing. I’m done, ready for bed, and is not even 8:00 p.m. That’s perfect, I can sleep ten hours and then get up and do it all again :O
I seem to have camped in the middle of a daddy long legs spider war. It is positively one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen and they’re everywhere, crawling up my pot as I drink from it, onto my sleeping pad, even onto my hands as I write this. Attacking the bigger ones, hanging up, holding them down. Bizarre.
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Resigned to Wait

Start: Belden Town (1289)
Camp: ?
If you’d have asked me last night I’d have told you there’s no way. “I’m packing up at 7:00 a.m., the hell with the rain!” I’d have said. I’d eaten a double cheeseburger, washed my laundry and taken a shower, all within in a few hours of arriving, so what’s the point in hanging around, right? I do, after all, have the other half of a country-traversing trail to conquer.
But that’s easy to say when the sky is still clear, when the ground is not saturated and muddy and when the stiffness of a 28 mile day over loose rock has not yet set in. I won’t mention the looming four-thousand-over-six-miles climb out of this state-cleaving canyon that I’m at the bottom of, because I’m looking forward to that part ;-)
I felt the first loogie of rain around 3:00 a.m. I had left one of the tent doors rolled up and, carried on a powerful gust of dusty wind, it seemed divinely guided right to my face. I got up and battened everything down. As usual, I swapped in another phone battery to charge but this time I sealed my phone inside the heavy duty ziplock that I usually use as my wallet. I’d had seen the radar map on the news during dinner and it was thoroughly green. Now, apparently, it was going to be windy too.
By morning I was in the mist of a full on downpour. Yes, the mist. Most of the storm’s raindrops were momentous enough to penetrate the low-denier fly fabric and sprinkled into the tent in droplets so small as to be invisible but not imperceivable. They came right through the screen ceiling, in fact I searched it for confirmation that I wasn’t coming down with another fever, but I could not find a single droplet stuck on it.

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I took solace in the fact that there is a drier here at the Belden resort and peacefully stared up at the quaking rainfly and the papery autumn leaves which have accumulated there. There veins show through, silhouetted against their saturated skins.
The tent designers got one thing right: the fly’s two-tone color scheme. These things are important when you’re trapped in a tent for whole days. Try camping anywhere in the tropics during the rainy season to see what I mean. Instead of feeling sullen and saturated in the overly cool light of a blue or gray rainfly, or sickened by the overtly rosy outlook painted by an all-orange rainfly, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 gets it just right and leaves life in a light that is neither analytical nor cartoonish. Inside I am illuminated with warm and calming light transmitted by the earthy orange canopy fabric, while the white walls temper a glow that might otherwise make you think that the sun is jammed in the sunrise position all day. The combined effect is a perfectly balanced light that makes me feel comfortable but not contemptuous. Anyway, it’s 10:00 a.m., I’m stuck in a tent in Belden, and this is what I’ve been hoping for all week – that a storm big enough to put out the King Fire will roll across California so I can pass through Tahoe unimpeded. Do your rain dance.

6:00 p.m. – The rain passed around noon as the weatherman had predicted. The king fire grew but, strangely, the firefighters also made progress – we’re up to 43% containment as of 4:00 p.m. today. I spent my cooped up time pouring over the officially whimsical closure map issued two days ago by unified command and comparing it to my PCT maps – to see how much of the PCT is REALLY closed – because if this giant fire is anything like the last giant fire (around Seiad Valley, the Happy Camp and July Complex fires) – and it most certainly is – the information available to hikers is vague.
Back here in Belden, the sun came out and foreign smells filled the air. I thought about how I’ve not smelled such a lush place in a long time, and it excited me. It deepened the feeling that I was exploring a new place.
I ate ravenously as soon as I left the tent, clearing no less than nine plates of an amalgamated breakfast and lunch with another hiker.
Then I discovered my resupply box had been lost in the mail. It was bound to happen at least once, right? USPS is “investigating” it. I’m not somewhere terribly desolate so resupplying from the Belden store would have been possible (although it may have left me destitute) but instead an angel came to my rescue. Mac n cheese, buttery potatoes, cream flavored oatmeals and Snickers – maybe it’s not as healthy as my standard fare but it should keep things interesting.
I finally began to tackle the switchbacking climb back to the trail’s perch on the Crest around 4:00 p.m. Temperatures had peaked in the 60’s and leveled off. The smell returned and the trail was bathed in the wonderful freshness of newly fallen leaves, wet moss and ferns. I felt wholely rejuvenated and used my body delicately, in no particular hurry, as I sought the first campsite out of town on the usherings of a friend.

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.