South Lake Zero

Laid over in South Lake running errands and eating.
You don’t notice the sun at first. It wears on you by degrees. When you’re green you feel it as premature fatigue, but once you’re hardened you don’t feel it for a long time. It starts as an uneasiness late in the day. A restlessness or a sort of hurried feeling. Then you feel frazzled or scatterbrained. If all of this hits you at once you feel like you’re being physically shaken. Your vision vibrates and it is almost funny until your stomach feels queasy. But there’s nothing to implicate the sun. Your skin feels fine, and you can’t see yourself. Then you wake in the night. Confusion. First you dream of long hours, searing skin in hot sun, then wake to find yourself in the cold darkness. Contradiction. You touch your neck and feel that the burn is real. Then the crown of your head. Through thick hair your scalp itches but then recoils from the touch in an acute ache. All the while guilt for having not been more careful with such a wonderful body slowly settles in and, humbled, you pass slowly back into slumber with the quiet resolution not to do it again.

Oh my god, I just picked up my mail from the South Lake post office and I am so touched. The muffins were moldy, so was the jerky, the banana bread too. Another box was filled with Japanese junk food, and then there was a letter and a patch, and for all of it, every lightly scrawled character, every molded sugar morsel I am unbelievably thankful. I say can’t explain how great it feels to be thought of. I want to call each person and I know I’d probably just ramble on about the million ways that their gift will affect my hike but I want to thank them personally.
“Thank you, Phoenix, for the otherworldly snacks! I promise to spread them out over the course of the next three days and not to eat them all at once.”
“Thank you, mom, for the massive wad of beef jerky! It is sure to last a LONG time.”
“Thank you, sister, for the delicious and fresh muffins! The figs are amazing too! In fact, they’re my favorite ;-)”
“Wilson! I saved you for last because your gift most touched my heart. The gift you sent, you see, is something I’ve desired since I departed Burning Man. I’d received one, once before, 2012 I think it was, a little different – it had a spaceship on it. But, because I hike a lot, of all the trinkets that are given away at Burning Man, a patch that I can put on my pack is my favorite way to remember each burn, but nobody gave me one this year. Thank you.”

The PCT’s Best Burger: Sierra Country Store

image

You’d pay $7.99 for the pound of freshly ground beef that this mammoth burger is built around if you went to any of the usual $2-per-extra-patty places along the trail, but at the Sierra Country Store meat for your money is their motto. Here, the burgers come in two flavors: big and HUGE. $6.99 gets you half a pound of beef freshly ground by the owner and includes all of the usual fixins’. $7.99 buys you a full pound of that fresh ground deliciousness, and we’re not just talking a stack of quarter pounders here: that’s one pound in one giant, inch thick, juicy, steak-like slab.
image

You even get your choice of gourmet cheese from the deli, including swiss, provolone, pepper jack and smoked Gouda. Onion rings, bacon, chili, avocado, grilled onions – all the standard American accoutrements are available too – just get there early because this mom and pop shop is only open 11-5 and when I was there a certain somebody missed out when the deli clerk decided to duck out an hour early.
The Sierra Country Store is located in Sierra City, California, at PCT mile 1198, just down the main drag from Bill and Margaret’s Red Mouse Inn.
image

Prime Rib Day

Start: Aloha Lake (1102)
Camp: South Lake Tahoe 1093
My feet ached in the night from the miles upon miles of rock I’d walked on the day before. I woke at 10:30 p.m. bored and ready to go hiking again. I woke again at 3:00 and lay watching meteors soundlessly stream by for a long time. Eventually I dosed off, and despite these intermissions I rested quite deeply.
I was jerked abruptly from my slumber for this third time by nearby laughter and though I lay prone and out of sight in a shallow depression in the granite so that I was not observable from the trail and, therefore, could not readily blame my aggressors for their accost, I nonetheless and by degrees grew perturbed with their ridiculous howling. “How? Here in this deep Wilderness, and despite my best efforts to avoid the main thoroughfare!” I thought. However, all of this left my mind the very moment I opened my eyes. What lie before me was the very phenomenon for which I’d chosen this rocky outcrop, one which narrowly exposed a clambering sleep walker to a precipitous plunge to lake below and anyone and everyone else to the action of falling rock from above, but which also afforded an unparalleled point from which to view the easterly reflection of the sunrise upon what I hope would be serene waters below. It glowed nakedly in a thin orange and yellow that fades into cloudless blue without ever going through green, and all of that reflected in the calm stillness of what remains of Lake Aloha, only sinuous strings of a flawless liquid mirror poured into the labyrinthine passageways of the reservoir’s bowls. This play of color and illusion fused to a sound of complete happiness wherein my mind was swept clean to reveal nothing more than a reflection of a reflection, a rainbow of color and laughter as borrowed from an acid trip that’d splashed over from a bygone era and into this one. Therein I found myself standing naked and in awe upon the very spot I’d lane, annoyed, eons before, and I saw how much had changed, how happiness was a mere decision and how for many weeks now I’d eschewed it for feigned seriousness, though I knew not why. I thought of a time not long ago, a few weeks in fact, when I’d tried quite grumpily, and outwardly so, to ward off would be friends in order to sleep through a Burning Man sunrise. I drew a morose satisfaction from knowing that I’d found the best possible spot from which to watch the sunrise and then sought to occupy it during its prime, to the exclusion of any other would be watchers. This then was the same grumpiness which sought to overtake me upon my first waking breath today and to direct my day and perhaps the rest of my days and so, as I lay back down, I acknowledged how narrowly I’d escaped this poltergeist and said a silent “Thank you” to the three laughers perched on the rock next to mine. I smiled and resolved to ride this trip as long as it would last.
image
I half encircled the Lake and found myself lost in social trails. As I descended toward Tamarack Lake a hawk circled endlessly, and cried loudly every 20 second or so in very un-hawk-like fashion. I thought that maybe it had lost its baby.
At length I began to smell a foreign sweetness and I looked around for blooming fruit trees. My mind screamed of scintillating things but none more so than, “Woman!” My attention was temporarily purloined by a small party of boy scouts but my hunt soon resumed. I found her and in fact quickly passed her and was delighted, though the smell had vanished, by my own acuity.
As I continued down I passed a regular stream of the loud and overloaded, but clean, first time backpackers that you always find on destroyed trails. Not saying they’re causing the destruction, just that they’re always found together.
Hitchhiking was a pain and I ended up with two drunk people from Sacramento. We served back and forth, never used a turn signal in fifteen miles, and almost stalled to the beater in which we rode many times. In the end they asked me to buy them beer and I had to say no.
I headed to the hostel and showered. Finally it was time to eat prime rib.
image

The Day Before Prime Rib Day

image

Start: North Desolation Wilderness (1117)
Camp: Aloha Lake (1102)
It’s good to be back in the Desolation Wilderness. I considered skipping it to make better time, but then I’d not have a contiguous Canada-Mexico path. No reason to give that up over 50 miles of amazing trail that I’d gladly hike a thousand times.
I took a different route this time to explore a little deeper into this wilderness and found it very pleasant. The trail over Mosquito Pass, passed Clyde Lake, then through China Flat, Rockbound Valley and Camper Flat is a nice alternate to the PCT over Dick’s Pass. The tread obviously sees way less traffic and is in way better condition because of it – none of those ankle breaker mini boulders laying in the trail. It’s also about a thousand feet less elevation gain, and there’s tree cover and water most of the way. It’s just a couple miles longer too.
Along the way I ate about a pound of candy but eventually got hungry anyway and resolved to prepare my remaining ingredients into something wildly delicious. I boiled water while I crunched up the remainder of a bag of Triscuits. I cut cheddar cheese and added powdered milk to the water. Then fish oil. Tuna. And finally 2/3 of a package of instant garlic flavored potatoes. These I then spread into a multi grain tortilla. I sprinkled on everything else, plus a healthy dose of chipotle pepper. Then I folded it in half and – Voila! – the mashed potato fish taco! They’re delicious, they’re nutritious, and – most of all – they’re what I’ve got!
image

I’m easy to please after 100 miles in this section, and, besides, tomorrow is Prime Rib Day.
I ate big meals to stretch out my stomach for the buffet tomorrow, and I started a letter to my grandpa. I’ve started this letter no less than six times now in the months I’ve been out here, and each version is wildly different, though I imagine they’ll all end about the same for their is one subject that trumps all and must be addressed.
image

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.
image

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.
image

You Guys Must be Raindancing Your Butts Off

image

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.
image

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.
image

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.
image

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.

image

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.

Tilting at Windmills

image

Start: Marian Creek (1337)
Camp: ?
Traffic, howling through the woods though miles away. It’s eerie. It’s again cold. I’m in a good, no a great, mood, but please, fall, hold off just a little bit longer – today I am only, exactly, half way. Happy first day of fall everyone :-)

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:
image

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.
image

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.