Day 85: ending on a high note

Day 85
Miles: 8
From Milton Creek to top of the switchbacks, north of Sierra city

The little campsite, surrounded by ferns, next to the creek, is just as lovely in the morning. I turn off my alarm and fall back asleep, my dreams picking up right where they left off. We have no real goals for the day, other than getting to Sierra City. That’s only five miles away – chump change. Certainly not enough to rouse us from our soft air mattresses and cozy sleeping bags. I was worried that I’d sleep badly on this trip – instead, I’ve worked out a sleeping system so comfortable I can’t get myself out of it.

Only five miles, but some of the best views we’ve had in a couple days – we can see across the valley of Sierra City to where the PCT switchbacks up 4000 feet of elevation. We’ll do that later today. Milton Creek joins up with the Yuba River, a robust little concourse. We’ve had to start watching our water again, after the endless streams of the High Sierra, and it’s a pleasure to see so much water. “It smells wonderful here. Glade should really work on their ‘forest grove’ scent – this is what it’s supposed to smell like!” I observe.
  “It’s a nice forest too, not that boring western pine forest we keep running into,” replies J. “There are pines and cedars and firs and undergrowth here. With that other pine forest I swear it’s like looking at a blank piece of paper.” That criticism seems a little harsh to me, but this is undeniably lovely forest here.

Sierra City is surprisingly charming as well, although there is almost nothing going on. The only things open appear to be the general store/deli, and the bar. The Red Moose Cafe has already stopped serving breakfast, but they let hikers stash packs, camp out in their backyard, and hang out on their porch. That’s about all we do all afternoon, along with a bunch of other hikers. I’m twenty blog posts behind (!) so I sit on the porch and write. J gets to go swimming in the local swimming hole.

We’re both back on the porch when Rock Ocean pulls up in his blue Vanagan and our friend Kimchi hops out. “Kimchi!” It’s a reunion! We haven’t hiked with Kimchi since Agua Dulce. (Kimchi is a professional photographer when she’s not thru-hiking, and she’s selling prints of her hike to help fund her trip. Check out her blog and photos HERE.)

“Are we actually going to get out of this town today?” I ask J. It’s already 6:30 and we’ve been putting it off for hours.
  “We probably should, huh?” he answers.
  “Probably.” Time to rally. Rock Ocean saves us a mile and a half of road walking with a ride back to the trail head, and we start the switchbacks.

The switchbacks feel easy and go fast. Uphill has always been our strong point. A last turn of the trail brings us suddenly out of the trees and onto a small shoulder of the mountain,  with sweeping views in three directions, and spots flat enough to sleep. Happy Feet and Pillsbury are already camped. (They freed themselves from the town vortex a little earlier than us.) We join them, watch the sunset, eat our cheddar and broccoli pasta. I can’t wait to wake up here tomorrow.


Mountain streams


Looking north


We’re not there yet…


J, eating a sour patch kid. (We take our candy pretty seriously these days.)


Day 84: heads rolling through the forest

Day 84
Miles: 20
From Lacey Creek to Milton Creek

Not a particularly motivated morning, but here we are, doing it again. That seems to be the trick to thru-hiking – doing it again. The amount of miles you need to hike a day is within the reach of almost anyone who decides to start walking, it’s the repetition that gets you. “Stackin’ twenties,” as thru-hikers like to say. “I’m doing alright, it’s just when you start stackin’ the twenties, you know?”

Blue lakes in the distance, but out of reach. Good. J would want to fish, don’t have time for that. We’re not here to have fun, you know.

My feet are making me straight-up miserable, so I get out the ipod and put on an audiobook. I don’t use the ipod much, but it’s a good crutch to have on hand. I decide to listen to some Dickens and spend most the day deep in the French Revolution, it’s guillotine and untrammeled vengeance a strange companion to the trees. (What’re sore feet to losing your head?) The trees here aren’t much to look at anyhow, as we alternate between sections of grossly unhealthy forest, the trees crowded, the understory dank and filled with dead timber, and forest that’s been partially harvested. We cross dirt roads all day. There’s no real illusion of being deep in the wilderness – this is a managed forest, with years of mis-management behind it.

We end up stopping at Milton creek, the prettiest place we’ve been in what feels like a long time. The creek is robust and freezing cold, the understory lush with ferns. We meet two other PCT hikers there, kids fresh out of their freshman year of college. You can actually see the stars coming out of their eyes.
“I think I’m getting old,” says J. “I had to restrain myself from wanting to parent them.” Nothing makes you feel way older than 18 than hanging out with 18 year olds. Man.

Short day to Sierra City tomorrow – for now, it’s time to let myself relax into the soft blue light of our Sil-nylon palace. Home sweet home.