PCT SOBO DAYS 50-51; September 3rd-4th, 2017
SOBO Miles 1,116-1,151
Deadfall Lakes to Mount Shasta
DAY 50: September 3, 2017 (this day is a re-post of “This…is…Thru-hiking)
PCT SOBO Mile 1141.5; Disappearing Creek; 26 miles
Elevation; +1717 ft/-5506 ft
Journal Entry: 9:47pm. Today I hiked from Deadfall Lakes to Disappearing Creek. Today was a tough day. Today, I feel like a thru-hiker. I am writing in my tent with my keyboard because my pen ran out of ink. This isn’t so bad, actually. Maybe I need to blog this way, save paper, save weight. Today was hot, 85 in the shade. I took my lunch break early, at 12:15, and sat in the shade for an hour after retrieving water from a nearby spring where I had to go down a narrow 800 ft trail to collect. It was amazing water though, and I gulped down as much as I could at the source, but I should have gotten my clothes wet, too. All through this section there are wonderful pure, icy cold springs, and you can just fill your bottle and drink it straight up.
We had a lot of smoke today, too. Heat, smoke, lack of water for miles. Oh, and the rocks. Rocks everywhere. Then there was the afternoon descent, over 4,000 ft of it in one swoop. It’s funny to think how I climbed this last year, I don’t really recall that much. I think it’s because I tucked it into that category of “miserable” and left it there. Last year when I did this climb it was even hotter. Today was not miserable, but there were moments of it. I came to realize that those moments, making it through them, and keeping an upbeat attitude, still seeing the beauty, still appreciating being out here, are what make me a thru-hiker. I am here because I want to be. That, makes me a thru-hiker.
Overheated, rationing water, breathing in smoke, dealing with pain and more pain, wondering why there is so much smoke here and why it seems to be getting worse….and then as if just on que, if I were Katness in The Hunger Games, just when I feel I can barely tolerate the next 4 miles down to camp, they throw those gnats in my face. I detest those gnats. There were so many of them, buzzing in my ears, flying right into my eyes, up my nose, and they would not go away. That is the test of tests. I would rather take mosquitoes any old day over those gnats, just sayin’. I fanned my face with my paper maps, but needed both hands to use my trekking poles to make it down the rocky slopes, the dilemma. This is thru-hiking.
My mind slips and slides all over the place, but keeps landing back on the idea of skipping ahead to the Sierras, and coming back here when the smoke is gone. I don’t like this smoke at all, I think, I am over it. I go over all the logistics in my head and imagine having the conversation with Tripsy, the logistics with my Dad, explaining to others who are not thru-hiking what I am doing and why, and I think about the reality of coming back up here to finish this section in October. Just thinking about all this makes my head hurt, and would I come back? Would I really? Is all that hassle worth it?
I don’t want to compromise the trail, the thru-hike. I AM doing a thru-hike, right? Yes, I am. So then, why not just stay on track and deal with whatever comes your way? Why try to control the thing that cannot be controlled? Isn’t that what thru-hiking is all about? I thought about the Sobo direction, about what new thru-hikers have endured so far. We are only 1/3 of the way, we have collectively only hiked 900 miles, that’s Tuolomne Meadows equivalent on a Nobo hike. We still have so very far to go.
Washington was tough, it cut our teeth, it whet our appetite, it weeded out the weak or scared some away, but it left some of us chomping at the bit for more beauty, more adventure, more grit. Then came Oregon, which built our confidence with high miles on flat terrain. It suddenly was “easy” to thru-hike. We were dirty, seasoned, went swimming and drank beers. Oregon made us feel great, and it went by fast with the fire closures we had to navigate around. Then comes NorCal. What a punch in the face. It is hot, so damn hot. There is no regular water near the trail, and we have to climb so much, again. The promise of no more smoke was broken. It’s still so smoky. There are rocks, so many rocks. It is exposed, and the trail is SO not flat anymore, SO not Oregon. We are humble now, or becoming so. We begin to question why we are out here and whether we are still having a good time. It is days like these that the words “a lil’ crazy” are the appropriate description for what we thru-hikers are. We do this, self-inflicted torture with moments of ecstacy, and we get up the next day and we do it all over again. This is thru-hiking. And I love it.
It’s getting dark by the time I reach camp, I need water, my hiking mate, Tripsy, is nowhere to be found. I go further, I backtrack. Finally, it’s getting dark in these woods and I drop my pack in a tent site, and go to look for water. After 10 minutes of walking back where I’d just come from I reach the dry drainage and follow it upstream over boulders, loose scree, roots and branches, only to find a lovely waterfall sliding down a smooth piece of granite into a pool that is just large enough for…. me. I waste no time and strip down to nothing, and immerse my entire body into the chilly water. Oh-my-God, nothing ever felt so good. I lean back on the rock and position myself so I can soak for a few minutes. It’s getting darker and I don’t have a headlamp with me. So, I get out, dry off with my sour smelling shirt and collect water into my platypus. I walk back to the trail in the dark, squinting my eyes and eventually find the campsite where I left my pack. Home for the night. It’s dark, it’s a little bit creepy here, but the bugs are gone, thank God! The wind is howling through the trees above, and I sit in the dark eating my dinner of instant beans and chips trying to collect my thoughts and entertaining what may have happened to Tripsy? She’s okay, I tell myself, and so am I. I can’t seem to get enough water to quench my thirst. It is still so damn hot.
DAY 51: September 4th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile 1,151 Disappearing Creek to Castella/Shasta
10 Miles hiked, then hitched from Amiratti’s to the town of Mount Shasta
I never did catch up with Tripsy. I knew she was on a mission to make it to Burney Falls by a certain date to meet up with her boyfriend, so I am not surprised if she went on ahead. I know she had a package to pick up at the Amiratti’s Market and she probably pushed on from there. Still, it made me nervous to be without her last night and not know if she was okay. I know how done I was when I finally made it to camp, with all the heat, smoke, insane bugs and lack of water on the long ass downhill full of rocks and did I mention the bugs? I made a video of myself in a cloud of bugs yesterday afternoon, in the height of the bugging-ness, but I can’t add it on my blog because I would have to pay for an upgrade for videos, so I will leave it to your wildest imaginations if your are reading this and you are not a thru-hiker.
In the morning, it was already so hot and sticky. I got out of my tent and had to go dig a hole which was a little bit of a difficult task to scramble up into the trees over loose soil and a foot deep layer of dried Oak leaves. Already, the bugs were swarming. What a way to start the day. Maple was laying naked in his tent, just laying there and not moving, probably contemplating if he really wanted to get out. Coffee and Breakfast were not enjoyable with all the little gnats trying to go up my nose and into my mouth, so I made it short and sweet, and got on the trail as soon as I could with visions of the icy cold beverages I was going to consume at the Market. Oh, I could hardly wait!
It was, once again, unbelievably smoky that day. I had just 10 miles to get down to the road where I could walk to the Market to pick up my re-supply package. The landscape was dramatic and full of awe, with the Castle Crags looming large, making themselves visible at times when I would pop around the corner of a ridge or emerge from some thick trees. They were truly magical and made me feel like I was a traveler in another time, another dimension of history. The Crags have a presence about them.
I would wind in and out of Oak forests across ridges that zig-zagged downhill. The Oak trees were lovely, and I rather enjoyed walking through the serene Oak forests. The Oaks have a different feel to them than conifers. They exude a certain calm, like a whisper, and the light that filters through their foliage is dappled. The leaves land on the ground, creating slippery piles and the acorns can make you slip like crazy if you are not careful when swiftly skimming over them. Most of all, I like the structure of the Oaks, the way they are so solid, massive even, and gnarled yet they have an elegance to them. They are majestic in their own way, they seem old and wise, and they are utterly silent. For some reason, however, the Oak tree elevation, say around 4,000-6,000 ft above sea level, is where those damn little gnats thrive. It is a little mysterious to me exactly why this is, but it is scientifically predictable. They seem to thrive in this environment, so I have also learned that when it’s hot out and there are Oak trees, I can pretty much guarantee gnats.
I think that morning, the smoke started to have an affect on me. But it wasn’t in a physical way, not like I was having a hard time breathing, although my eyes were certainly red and dry and my throat dry too. Rather, it made me feel funky, emotionally. It was just starting to get me down. The heat was no help. The bugs were the worst. But honestly, the smoke just had this depressed look and energy to it all. I started feeling guilty for being on the trail when so many people were dealing with disasters at home. I started to feel like I wanted to just get out of there and go down to the Sierras. I started really thinking a lot about the Sierras. Too much. I thought about Carrot, who was currently hiking the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, and I was like “I could be there right now with her, having a grand old time in my favorite place, with clear Sapphire skies and turquoise tarns at 12,000 ft and giant peaks with melting snow like frosting dripping down their gray granite faces” but I am here. In the heat, smoke, and dust and bugs. I am walking endlessly downhill, heading to a hotter, smokier, and God forbid, possibly even buggier place. Rad.
But, I have chosen to be here, to stick this thing out. I chose to do a Southbound thru-hike and that is what I am doing. I don’t need to prove to myself that I can do this, complete a thru-hike. I already thru-hiked this trail once. The point is that I complete this journey, this thru-hike. The point is that I will always strive to complete any thru-hike I attempt to do in the future, too. That is why I am not skipping to a “prettier” or “nicer” or “more epic” place just because the conditions are bad where I happen to be. I recently heard the term “cherry picker” and I thought about what that meant. It is used a bit judgementally towards hikers who skip around and hike all the prettiest sections, and I understand why, because the thru-hikers who suck it all up, the good, bad and the ugly, have distinguished themselves and earned a position of respect in the hiking community. At least, some people think that way. I was trying to decide where I stood on those grounds. Did I not come out here to thru-hike? Then why am I constantly thinking of how I can get out of this shit? Sticking to it, that is what makes you a thru-hiker. Not giving up when it gets tough, boring, uncomfortable, lonely, sticky, itchy, crampy, painful, dirty, wet, cold, sketchy, mind-numbing, buggy, smoky, or any other reason you can think of to want to quit or skip to a better place. These are all part of it. I resolved to be the thru-hiker I set out to be and stick it out, to be true to the trail. All of it. I decided then, I was not going to think about skipping to the Sierras any more. It’s decided.
I was hiking just a bit ahead of Maple, and when I made it to a trail junction which allowed me to take a side trail that led to a campground, saving the road walk, I decided to take that instead. So, I waited for Maple there, hoping we could hike to the Market together. As I sat there waiting, I suddenly noticed something miraculous. The gnats, where did they go? I was not swiping and fanning myself anymore, like I’d done for miles and miles yesterday. I had used my paper maps as a fan to keep the bugs at bay. Don’t laugh, I do still carry paper maps, and you know what? They came in really handy! Well, it was a brief reprieve, hallelujah! Maple soon showed up and decided to join me on the side trail , which eventually led us down a dirt road. Somehow, I don’t remember how, we got separated, and he was ahead of me. Eventually I made it down to the campground area and was a little turned around. I was trying to read on my paper maps which direction to go, and I must have looked pathetic standing there, reading my maps and looking around because a woman in a little golf cart pulled up and offered me a ride to the bottom of the hill where I was supposed to be. Yes, I will take that ride! She was super nice and on the way down we caught up to Maple, who then jumped on the golf cart with us. She was one of the campground hosts, and obviously knew the deal with PCT hikers, so she was super helpful. She dropped us off right at the PCT hiker group camp site, where we could camp for free if we wanted to. Thank you kind stranger!
I was undecided as to where I was going to stay that night. I could camp or I could go into a town. I really wanted to go into a town. Shasta to be specific. I had longings for town and a shower and real food and a bed for the night. I fought it in my head though, knowing I would spend more money, and going back to that same question of what it means to be a “thru-hiker”. I mean, does it count if you are staying in buildings and beds every week? I wasn’t sure, but I will tell you what helped me decide. The damn gnats. At the campsite where we were to stay, they were horrid. I could not take it any longer. I would still have to get to the Market and get my re-supply. and all I could really think about at that time was getting a cold beverage and the air-conditioning they were going to have inside the Market. So, I plowed down the hill towards the road and booked it.
Upon my arrival to the Market I went straight to the soda fountain and grabbed the biggest cup I could get my hands on, filled it with ice to the brim and then went and found a large iced tea to pour over the ice. Heaven! Next, I sat down next to the magazine rack and stared off into space sipping on my iced tea like there was no tomorrow. Finally, after several minutes, I started to feel better, and I went looking around the store to take a mental inventory of what they had. I found my re-supply box and investigated the deli-counter, bought some chips and a couple pieces of fresh fruit and walked back out to the road.
Maple was there under a big shady tree and I stood at the corner by the entrance to the Market with my thumb out for about 30 minutes. I had no luck with the hitch and Maple and I made small talk. We were both so hot and exhausted. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and I offered to team up into Shasta, but I actually just wanted to do my own thing. He probably sense that and said he was just going to stay in the campground. I would have loved his company, but I was still in that funk and couldn’t seem to shake it. I felt like it was maybe my hormones, and I just wanted to take a shower, eat real food, and get a good night’s rest and be alone. So, we parted ways and I walked on over to the Interstate on-ramp for the I-5 and again stuck out my thumb.
It was yet another 20 minutes before a very sweet elder couple picked me up and drove me all the way to the town of Mount Shasta, about 15 miles up the road. I was relieved and very Grateful. I’d managed to make an online booking for a room in town and they were kind enough to drop me off right in front of the motel. The motel owners seemed a little leary of me, and I felt like I had to prove to them that I was really an upstanding citizen of the world. But I looked like hiker trash in all my glory. Oh well, I don’t care. I was so happy to have the room and I immediately took a shower and got refreshed.
Back in town already, what had it been 4 days? It was 100 miles though, and it was time to re-supply anyway. I earned this right? I had to get laundry done and I wanted to go to the Natural Foods Store to shop for my dinner, and I wanted to get a new hiking shirt at the outfitter as mine was super crusty and smelled sour no matter how many times I washed it. I shoved my stinky clothes into a stuff sack and clothed myself in my kelly green rain skirt and my tank top that I sleep in, knotted my hair up in a bun and slipped on my shoes without socks. I was ready for town!