Well, we almost did 30 miles today. We hiked from the Warner Valley Campground in to Old Station, which is a super tiny town that has an RV park, JJ’s cafe and a couple minit marts.
Everyone is pretty friendly there…the food isn’t that great at the cafe, but the people that work there are awesome, and the minit mart offers free camping behind the building and water fill ups at the soda fountain. What else do we really need? We thought about going a few more miles out of town, but after a meal we all just wanted to stop walking. It had been a long day, especially for Roi, who had to get up early so he could get to the post office by 3 pm. It wasn’t the most exciting hike as the majority of the day was spent walking on flat, occasionally soggy ground through burned trees with hardly any wildlife to speak of, save one deer, a toad, some chipmunks and a lot of crows.
There were a couple water crossings early in the day that gave some variety to the morning. I lost my footing on one slippery log and ended up in a creek so I had to hike with wet feet for a while. Matthew got a new trail name – Fluffy – because of his love of ultralight gear and low base weight. We decided that Fluffy was too short so we kept coming up with names to add to it, like Fluffy the Wise, Fluffy Hasselhoff, Fluffy Von Beaverhausen, and Fluffy Von Beaverhausen Hasselhoff. I predict that the future possibilities will be endless.
We entered Lassen Volcanic National Park today, which I’ve been looking forward to mainly because it is a dark sky area and I love seeing an abundance of stars in the sky when I go to bed.
This year the park service is requiring backcountry campers to carry bear cans in the park because a certain ‘problem bear’ has been stealing packs and learned to climb trees and bite through hanging rope. We all sent our bear cans home in Sierra City so we planned to hike the 30 miles necessary to get all the way through the park so that we could avoid the requirement.
However, 15 miles in we reached Drakesbad Guest Ranch, which offers showers, laundry and use of the hot springs pool with the purchase of a meal. The catch with the deal, though, is that hikers have to wait until the ranch’s regular guests have finished eating before they get their turn, presumably to avoid offending the guests with our appearance and also to make sure they don’t run out of food. So we grumbled a bit about it and then loitered outside the dining room, staring at everyone while they ate. Finally, they let us in to have at the leftovers, and halfway through our lunch, our plan to hike another 15 miles had morphed into laying by the pool trying to even out our weird tan lines. A bunch of other hikers apparently came up with the same plan.
Around 5 pm, we finally decided to leave, and one of the workers sent us off with a plate of cookies. We headed up the road a bit to camp at the Warner Valley Campground. We were joined by Aloha, who was hiking southbound from Ashland, and we had a fun dinner with lots of laughs. We went to bed early, with the promise to actually do 30 miles tomorrow. I didn’t notice any more stars than usual as I was falling asleep, but the sky was as expansive as always, and just as beautiful.
Date: June 26, 2017
Miles: 1320.6 – 1332.3 with nearo in Chester.
I practically ran eight miles this morning so I could make it to the highway early and hitch a ride in to Chester to meet Matthew for pancakes.
When I got to the highway, Roi and Monster were trying to get a ride but it was difficult since the trailhead was right in the middle of a construction zone. After waiting a few minutes for a pilot car to go by in the right direction, I stuck my thumb out and a truck pulled over. I think those boys’ hitches just needed a woman’s touch.
The rest of the day was spent on resupply chores and mailing some things home (I’ve apologized to the boyfriend a hundred times for mailing home unwashed socks. He wasn’t fazed. That’s a keeper.)
I had a temporary crisis of identity in the Dollar General as I was standing in one of the aisles looking emaciated, covered in dirt, stinking to high heaven and scratching the mosquito bites on my legs with the grocery basket I was holding. I noticed a lady looking at me out of the corner of her eye, likely trying to figure out whether I was homeless or just choosing to be offensive, and my first impulse was to turn toward her and yell, ‘I’m a lawyer, ok?!?’ but my next thought was that yelling at a stranger in my condition would probably just make everyone there think I’m homeless and also crazy so I kept my mouth shut, grabbed some tuna packets and left. As minor as that incident was, however, it left me thinking that I sure don’t feel like a lawyer anymore. I’m not sure what or who I feel like sometimes, other than tired, dirty and hungry. Although for now, that’s enough.
“Don’t be scared to walk alone. Don’t be scared to like it. There’s no time that you must be home, so sleep where darkness falls.” ~ John Mayer, The Age of Worry.
I had the entire day to myself, since Monster hikes like a train and Roi is also faster than I am, so I spent most of it hiking at a comfortable speed and humming tunes to myself. While I was singing out loud and hoping no one could hear me, I came around a corner and practically smacked right into a young buck with fuzzy antlers. Once he figured out I wasn’t a threat, he grazed about 50 feet from me while I took a break.
It felt like a ‘take lots of breaks’ kind of day, so I stopped again at Cold Springs to wash up and replace my warm water. The Spring was true to its name…I poured some water over my head and instantly got a headache from the freezing temperature, but it was so refreshing. Finding cold water to clean up in is one of the little luxuries on trail.
The rest of the day had peeks of Mt. Lassen and big clouds rising into the sky like fists.
At one point in the afternoon, a hummingbird flew right into my face and then hovered in front of me, looking me right in the eyeballs as if to question my presence in its territory. I thought to myself, ‘I question that too sometimes, little guy.’ Eventually I reached the midway point of the PCT, which was both an exciting and an anti-climactic moment. It wasn’t my personal midway point because I skipped 300 miles of the Sierra, but it still reminded me that I’ve walked a long way. It also reminded me that I have a long way to go.
Roi and Monster had gone ahead to find a place to camp with water, but I had enough water with me and I didn’t feel like walking any more, so I camped at the midway point by myself. As I sat in the dark, eating ramen alone by the light of my headlamp and feeling bored, I realized that I like being around people more than I thought I did, especially the people I’ve met out here.
Of the times to meet a trail angel, I would not have guessed that it would be outside of the Haskins Valley Campground at 6:30 in the morning, but there we were, having coffee in the backyard of a house across the street at the invitation of ‘Uncle Bill’, a man whose family has lived in the area for generations and who regularly hosts hikers because he genuinely enjoys doing so.
After coffee, Uncle Bill gave us a ride to the trailhead and we walked some snowy, boggy trail until we hit the thigh-burning downhill trek into Belden, a town that consists solely of a privately owned, slightly creepy motel that hosts hikers, bikers and some pretty crazy concerts from what we heard. Sock Changin’ John had caught up to us on the way in and we all had burgers before he and Roi headed off to stay with a local trail angel.
I didn’t feel like going anywhere so I stayed behind. Matthew was afraid I might get murdered if he left, so he stayed behind as well. So both of us could get murdered, I guess. After we showered in the spider-infested stalls and while we were doing laundry, we sat on the porch in the late-night, sticky heat and became acquainted with a 6’6″ German man with an imposing confidence, the hair of John Mayer on the Battle Studies album, a 60 pound pack and the trail name of Monster. I learned later that Monster is a bit of a trail celeb, since he and Breeze were two of the first thru-hikers to make it all the way through the Sierra and the news of this traveled fast throughout the hiker and trail angel communities, but that night Matthew and I just enjoyed hearing his stories and looking through his photos. At the end of the evening, we all walked down the road a ways and found some spots along the river to camp.
Matthew woke up the next morning to infected blisters in his heels, poor guy. He made a last minute decision to try to hitch a ride north to Chester to see if he could find an urgent care clinic or just spend a few days healing while waiting for the rest of us to hike there. John had to wait for his brother in law to arrive in Belden, so just Roi, Monster and I hiked out around 10:30 am and headed up the first stretch of a 13 mile climb up 5700 feet.
The high temp for the day was predicted to be 100 degrees and about a million percent humidity, so we probably should have started about 6 hours earlier, but when your team motto is ‘Pack Heavy. Hike When It’s Hot’, you don’t aim for comfort. It got really hot fast, even for Roi. I realized about two miles up that I had only filled one liter bottle with water before we left and I had just about drained it, so I started to panic a little. Thankfully there were streams everywhere and I was soon able to fill up fast and drench my whole body in freezing spring water. We met two section hikers, Sunshine and another gal from Spokane, Washington who were hiking back down to Belden after running into some snow they didn’t feel comfortable crossing. We figured it couldn’t be any worse than what we had already been through, especially Monster, so we kept going.
After five miles of exposed, EZ Bake Oven temp ridge walking, we entered Lassen National Forest, at which point, as its name promised, the landscape turned abruptly to forest and we had shade for the rest of the hike. We had plenty of streams to cross throughout, which helped mitigate the whole body sweats from the steep climbs and humid air.
We ran into a few other hikers along the way, like Cactus from Centralia, Washington and some others who had skipped the Sierra like us, and a couple German lads whom I hadn’t seen since Hiker Heaven, who had ended up skipping to Ashland and were in the process of hiking south. We ended up camping a couple miles short of where we intended in order to avoid camping on snow (here we go again) and crashed at 7:30, exhausted.
I washed my shorts in the river yesterday and hung them in a tree to dry overnight. Because of the intense humidity, this morning they were every bit as wet as they were last night. I reluctantly changed into my incredibly smelly shirt, my soggy shorts and socks-that-will-never-be-clean-again and packed up my things, vowing to set fire to my clothes and buy new ones as soon as possible. The morning humidity and the immediate 8.5 mile climb to a point called Lookout Rock added another layer of sweat. (Side note: Matthew renamed Lookout Rock to Look out! Rock! because sometimes things like that are our only trail boredom relief options. You probably had to be there…)
We met a trail maintenance crew along the way and let them know of all the blowdowns on trail and chatted with them for a bit. Those guys drag heavy tools up the trail and work hard in the heat, so we make sure to thank them when we see them. For the rest of the short day, we walked past faroff views of trees for miles, and wildflowers and carpets of greenery at our feet.
We reached the first highway that led into the town of Quincy, and though we had heard it was a tough hitch, it only took us a few minutes to get a ride into town. We ate food and resupplied, then got two quick hitches back out of town and up to Haskins Valley Campground on Bucks Lake, which had one of the cleanest campground bathrooms I’ve come across. People in Quincy were really friendly…we had no problem getting rides and even had multiple cars pull over at the same time. I have yet to wait more than twenty minutes for a ride and I didn’t break that streak here!
We had our nightly hot chocolate in camp and talked a bit about the future, then we took refuge in our tents from the gathering mosquitos and went to bed.
Happy Hike Naked Day! Or Happy Solstice! Whichever you prefer! We were a bunch of big talkers before today, saying that we were going to participate in Hike Naked Day. All of us chickened out this morning. It turned out to be a good thing as the trail is really overgrown in this section and bushwhacking and climbing over one giant fallen tree after another could have had dire consequences.
In addition, we could have made the one other hiker that we saw all day very uncomfortable. So instead we hiked through this really hot and sultry day fully clothed, creating the worst smells that I have yet to encounter from my body and my clothes (a pungent mix of wet dog and homelessness), and causing the Israeli among us to actually break a real sweat. I swore when I left the Sierras that I would never say that I missed the freezing temperatures, but I ALMOST did just that today. Luckily for me, we were all agreed that we should do the miles necessary to reach the Middle Fork of the Feather River so we could bathe ourselves before we try to get a hitch in to Quincy tomorrow. The cool water made a dent in our filth, but I still feel sorry for whomever picks us up.
We started the day on snow again, and over the miles we tried to keep to the trail but it was almost completely buried.
Patches of forest meant going up and down mounds of snow or just going straight up hills. Coming down was more challenging, especially since we no longer had ice axes and crampons. There were several steeply angled hills that we had to traverse, where a fall would mean sliding fast into rocks or big tree wells. Cutting steps across the slopes took forever, especially for me. Matthew and Roi have longer legs than I do, and I had to cut two steps for every one of theirs. I fell many times, twice having to self arrest with my hands and feet. In one downhill stretch where we’d ordinarily follow switchbacks down a steep grade, we had to back down a steep snowfield on our hands, knees and feet until we reached rocks, scramble over a small waterfall, and cut steps into a snowbank in order to make any forward progress.
I am terribly slow and awkward on snow, so I make the group’s progress that much more tedious. They’re good guys, though, and they check often to make sure I’m doing ok. The rest of the day consisted of more snow, blowdowns, stream crossings and route finding.
A couple miles before we completely gave up for the day, we were passed by Breeze, the fastest hiker I’ve ever seen go past me. We talked to him for a bit and learned that he did the 700 miles from Campo to Kennedy Meadows in one month and has already finished the entire Sierra section. He remarked that it was the third hardest thing he’s ever done in his life, and that he almost died in a river crossing. Then he took off and was out of sight in a matter of seconds. After that, we decided to camp about a mile up the trail at the West branch of Nelson creek, and I washed my dirty, bruised and scratched up legs in the coldest water ever.
A deer walked right past my tent and looked in as I was getting ready for bed. I’m not much for omens, but I will take it as a sign that the hiking tomorrow will be a little smoother. Because I can make up whatever signs I want.
It’s not too often that I sleep past 6 am out here, so when I do – like this morning – it is glorious. The only place open for breakfast was a Resort down the road, so we ate there while we waited for the post office to open.
I got my Gossamer Gear pack back in the mail today, and it felt like I got an old friend back. I also sent my bear can, crampons and ice axe home. My pack feels like a daypack now! Around noon, Roi, Matthew and I hitched a ride to the trailhead and started the 8 mile climb into the Sierra Buttes. It was steep and the weather was hot and humid. After a few minutes, my cold shower felt like a very distant memory.
Just after the climb, however, the landscape changed and we ran in to more snow. Roi is really ready to be out of it…he slid into a tree well and broke a hiking pole.
We caught up with Cougar Bait and another hiker who told us that they were so tired of running in to snow again that they were going to skip up to Chester. They also warned us of a bear in the area…good thing we sent our bear cans home. With the possibility of losing our food bags to a hungry bear in the back of our minds, we ate dinner far away from our camp, and then fell asleep overlooking Deer Lake and listening for animal footsteps in the woods.
Pollen coated my tent and everything in it this morning with a fine, staticky yellow dust. While I was cleaning it off of my pack, I discovered that a spider had made a good sized home inside of the brain pocket, who knows how long ago. He pooped on me when I made him relocate. Oh nature…I totally get why we invented houses.
I had the breakfast of champions after I got everything packed up – a giant honey bun and coffee flavored with brownie mix. Champions with diabetes and high cholesterol, perhaps, but champions nonetheless. I walk so fast after I have this combo. About as fast as my heart beats.
The walking today made my feet so happy. The trail was relatively flat and cushioned with scented pine needles, shade trees were plentiful and the rivers had bridges for crossing.
We took a side trail in to Sierra City and the closer we got to town, the higher the temperature went. Sierra City is a cute little town just a few blocks long. We stopped at the Red Moose Cafe for lunch and chatted with the owner for a while. He was really friendly, offering us little bottles of shampoo and soap for the public shower, which was freezing cold…but free!
We resupplied at the super expensive store and hung out on the porch there with other hikers like Orca and a guy named Cougar Bait so that we could use the wifi and pass the time.
Katie and Connor caught up with us there later in the day and we all camped behind the local Lutheran church, which offered a free place to tent. Small towns like these along the trail have been so amazingly accommodating…I have been grateful for their generosity.