Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Hiking The Pacific Trail Part IV

The honour of Post #999 goes to my cousin, Dawn!

"Hi family and friends!

Well, it's been 14 days since Bridgeport, CA. And I've hiked another 138 miles. Leaving Bridgeport, I passed a Marine Mountain Training camp on the drive up to Sonora Pass, and wondered how Kev was doing. I bet he spent some time training at this facility, actually. On my way down into Bridgeport, the guy who's in charge of the facility's training ops actually stopped and gave us a ride partway into town, and I got an interesting earful about what goes on at the camp. It made me want to join the Marines just so I could get a job as an instructor there!

At the Bridgeport post office, I got rid of my 2.5 lb bear canister plus 5 more lbs miscellaneous stuff by sending it ahead to Echo Lake in the bear canister. My pack now felt super light at 27 lbs (and that's with 4 days of food for the next leg of my journey). I'm making small steps toward this whole minimalist mentality, but I'm still worlds away from acheiving an under 20 lb pack like some of my fellow hikers have done. I'll have to start buying lighter gear in order to shave more weight out of my pack. And I'm considering it.

7/16- I got a late start the first day back on the trail, because I couldn't get a hitch until 11:30am -- so I actually ran the first five miles off and on, just for fun, and because I could. My pack was so light, I felt like skipping, really. After 24 miles, I camped by a sweet little lake, without a soul around. Just how I like it. There wasn't a hint of wind, so I could hear every little woods noise.
The moon was super-full, and shining on my campsite like a Hollywood premiere spotlight until 4am. Which was good, because I was finally sleeping with my food bag by my head, having given up the bear canister (I've finally gone over to the dark side, folks. What was it I said I'd never do? Yeah. Exactly.) With the full moon, I figured that at least I could SEE the bear coming. And why was THAT comforting? I don't know.

Anyway, I woke up at least 20 times in the first 3 hours to check on whatever tiny little noise I'd most likely just imagined. Sleeping with food by one's head is definitely NOT a recipe for a good night's sleep. After 3am, I finally just stopped caring and slept for the rest of the night.

7/17 -- The next day I paid for my previous day's sprint with a pulled muscle in my left leg, but I still did 23 miles. By the end of the day the pain was mostly gone. One of the things I love about this kind of hiking is that I've learned that I can overcome the idea of pain pretty easily by now. It's really liberating.

The hiking today was really unique. I walked through two gorgeous steep-walled canyons, full of lush wildflowers - some of which I'd never seen before. I also walked over a rocky, sandy stretch that had sand in all the colors of the rainbow, it seemed. Blue, green, purple, red, yellow...it was fantastic. The trail looked striped. This kind of scenery is ample reward for the strenuousness of backcountry hiking.

It was still hard to get to sleep that night, worrying about food/bear situation, but I wasn't as nervous as last night. If the bears are out here, they seem to be ignoring me for now.

7/18 - At 5:50am, I set out to do another 30 mile day. That's a record for me. I'm not a morning person, and am certainly NOT into early morning excercising... but I needed to make it to Echo Lake (and a payphone) so I could call my mom and tell her to join me tomorrow instead of on Sunday. I managed to get 15 miles done by 1pm.

I pulled up to a major road crossing at Carson Pass to find a Visitor's information center with a shaded porch and a VERY amenable ranger/docent manning the desk. He was passing out chilled oranges to all the thruhikers who came by. I rolled it around on my sunburned face before I ate it, and it felt like heaven.

The docent wouldn't even let me fill up my own water bladder -- he insisted that he do it for me. This guy was full-service. There happened to be a payphone at the visitor's center, so I was able to call my mom and get our rendezvous all set up ahead of time.

With the pressure to do 30 miles by nightfall taken off, I hung out on the porch for another 20 minutes, chatting with some fellow thruhikers... just long enough for a trail angel named Chris Strohm to arrive. He's a PCT trail docent and enjoys hosting thruhikers. He overheard me talking on the payphone to the Echo Lake post office and offered to drive me into South Lake Tahoe and have me stay in his house for the night. Could you resist such a delicious offer? I couldn't. I mean, I'm not made of stone.

So the 30 mile day turned into a 15, which was fine for now. Skipping ahead was SO worth it, by the way. Chris' house was amazing -- he'd designed it himself, and it was made out of beautiful wood and natural stone, cathedral ceilings, all in a gorgeous mountain setting. Palatial, by the standards I'd gotten used to since the beginning of this trip! By the end of the evening, 3 fellow thruhikers had also been taken in by Chris for the evening, so we prepared a huge feast of fresh salad, fruit and tri-tip and ate until it was all gone --not hard to acheive when you've got 4 thruhikers sitting down to chow. Those boys can EAT.

I can't keep up with them, not that I would even want to try. Your average 25 year old male thruhiker probably burns 7,000 calories a day. They actually have trouble consuming enough calories to keep from losing too much weight, if you can believe it. Female hikers don't have that problem. Our metabolisms are just too efficient. Sigh. Hey, I mean it'd be kind of cool to be able to pack away 7 plates worth of food and not bat an eye (my 20 year hiking partner did just that when we were hiking the Appalachian Trail)... but then, I look at that kind of egregious display of gluttony from an outsider's perspective, and realize that it's kind of revolting to those uninitiated in the thruhiker lifestyle. And suddenly I don't really feel like I'm missing out, you know?

Besides, what may be disgusting to the rest of the world is simply a matter of necessity to these guys. Hard to believe, but true.

7/19- Mom and her entourage (our friends, the Herbert family, who kindly drove my mom the 4 hours up here from Oakland) arrived the next morning and we set out all our gear on Chris' lawn and weeded through what we needed to bring. Mom carried a 30 lb pack, and I carried 37 lbs out to Echo Lake. Ten extra pounds of gear felt really harsh after hiking with a 27 lb pack, so I welcomed the 8 mile a day pace we'd agreed upon. The Herberts dropped us off at Carson Pass, and we hiked 5 miles up the trail before the sun went down. Mom was taking pictures of every passing wildflower, and had her first official pee in the woods. She was tickled to have gotten away with brazenly mooning the countryside without having gotten caught.

So far, so good, I thought. Sleeping on the ground proved to be more or a challenge. I could hear her thrashing around and cursing at the ground for most of the night, and I was empathetic. She'd never slept on the ground before. Even with a foam air mattress, it's an adjustment. It took me a handful of days during my first long hike to learn to shift position without fully waking up, and I kept telling Mom that she'd get used to it eventually... but I could tell that she wasn't buying my story.

7/20 - The second day of hiking was more challenging. We had our first day of rain since I started this trip in June, and it didn't get above 60 degrees all day. Mom was about to pass out by the 7th mile, but we were only two miles from a major road and its tantilizing promise of civilization, motels and mattresses. I bribed her with a motel room in South Lake Tahoe -- a mattress to sleep on and a shower -- and guess what! She wasn't made of stone, either. She rallied and we managed to catch a ride into town and find a cute little motel to stay in, right by the Lake.

Everthing about that place was sweet. A breakfast place to the left, an Applebee's to the right, an upscale supermarket, a Starbucks and an outfitter in the strip mall across the street. An internet cafe only a block away. We were in hiker heaven, folks. Like many a seasoned hiker, mom zoned out to the motel widescreen TV after a dinner of ribs and salad. She was getting into the groove, it seemed.

What is it about the motel TV that's so magnetic? It's like you're compelled to watch it. It doesn't even have to be interesting. During one of my more desperate moments (the teeny little redneck trail town I found myself in didn't have digital cable), I've even settled for Spongebob Squarepants reruns... but it was still completely satisfying after 10 days of being out in the woods, cut off from this particular symbol of civilization.

7/21 - We spent this day resting Mom's feet and resupplying for our 8 day hike. We retired to Chris Strohm's house for one more night on a mattress before hitting the trail again.

7/22 and 7/23 - Mom and I spent a day and one night camping by Echo Lake, then headed back into the wilderness the next morning. The hiking was tough, but Mom did a great job.

We had our first swim of the trip at Aloha Lake which was warm, shoulder deep and startlingly green-blue. I think Mom finally caught a glimpse of why I love this hiking stuff. The only way to experience places like these is to walk to them. Toward the end of the day, we met Greyhound and Crispy Critter, two hikers who were doing a section hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Within 15 minutes of meeting Mom, they her the trail name "Baby Steps". What is it about me and trail names? I've never been given a trail name, and I've hiked over 3000 miles of trail. Mom's out here 3 days, and she's already got one. Where's the justice in that?!

So I'm officially taking suggestions. Let's hear 'em, folks. The most creative monniker wins.

7/24-26th -- Over the next 3 days, we hiked 27 miles. I could see that Mom was getting a little stronger each day, but sleeping on the ground was beginning to take its toll on her. By the fourth day, she'd had enough and bailed off the trail at Barker Pass where there was a trailhead with cars and a particularly friendly local sheriff who offered to drive her to the Truckee Greyhound station. I was sad to see her go, but I figured that it was probably for the best, since she wasn't truly enjoying herself at this point.

It turned out to be a good decision, because the next 10 miles were all steep switchbacks. I practically ran up the switchbacks, excited to be hiking at a fast pace again. I finished 19 miles, and camped on top of a beautiful windy ridge, alone in this huge hotel of a tent that my mom and I had been sharing.

7/27 - I woke up to the smell of fire. I nervously zipped open my tent flap and could barely see the outline of the mountain range that was only a mile away. Praying that the fire wasn't nearbly, I packed up and booked it for Soda Springs, my next trail town 15 miles away. I made it in by 4pm, and found out that Yosemite Valley had a wildfire raging over 1600 acres and that was where all the smoke was coming from. It was pretty thick around the whole Tahoe area and would only get worse if I chose to keep hiking north toward all the wildfires that were burning up by Burney Falls State Park, only 80 miles north of Soda Springs. There's a 100 mile section of trail up ahead that's been officially closed because it's still burning with wildfires. The state's not even fighting the fires in this section because the fires aren't threatening any residential area.

So much of the state is currently burning that California is choosing to focus its firefighting efforts in areas that are more populated. So the PCT is alight, and the hikers are being forced to take a bus around this section. Which makes sense to me. I hiked through an old burn section up in Oregon last year, and it was ugly, boring and filthy. I checked the weather forecast for the Quincy area (where the trail is closed due to the fires), and the forecast was "Smoky". I didn't even know that "Smoky" was a forecast option! Not rain, not sun, not 20% chance of showers... just "Smoky". I figured that didn't bode well for the next 80 miles of trail between me and Quincy since the Soda Springs area was pretty thick with smoke itself and it had at least rated a recognizable forecast of sun, sun and more sun all week long.

After some hemming and hawing and a little twinge of guilt, I decided today skip the dingy, smoky trail for the next 200 miles and skip north to the PCT trail town of Ashland, OR, where the annual Shakespeare Festival awaits. I've been looking forward to Ashland since I got on the trail. It's totally artsy-fartsy and granola-crunchy. My kind of people.

I just ordered a new shelter from this online website that makes 7 oz tarps out of Cuben fiber (a revolutionary ultra-light fiber that's apparently all the rage amongst the trail gear heads at the moment). I'm having it delivered to Ashland, so once it arrives, I'll be back on the PCT for good. I'm taking a bus up to Ashland tomorrow (Wednesday, 7/29) and I'll be there until my tarp arrives on Thursday.

So if anyone wants to call or email, I'll have access to both forms of communication until Friday morning. Not that I'll be bored with all there is to do in Ashland, but I'd love to chat with anyone who feels like checking in!

Love to you all,
Dawn"

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