Start: Belden Town (1289)
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.
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.