Day 93: a change in plans

Day 93
Miles: 3
From soldier creek to Chester

A good night’s sleep – we may be back in business. Maybe I’ll do this second half after all. That’s no reason to rush out of camp though – we continue our trend of leisurely mornings, and are still getting ready when Far-out walks up.

We’re planning on heading to the Warner campground for the night. We would have gone into Chester last night, if we could’ve gotten to hwy 36 in time to hitch, but since we didn’t we’ll skip the stop entirely.

No burgers for us, but there is trail magic. Sodas! On ice! While I’m drinking my root beer, I check for cell service, and end up on facebook. The PCT facebook groups are blowing up with posts about fires. Here. Fires here, in California section N.

“J, that fire we saw yesterday – it looks like it’s across the trail.”
  “Up ahead? Is it closed?”
  “I’m trying to figure out.” The information on the web uses real landmarks and forest service roads to describe the burn area – things that mean nothing to me. In fact, for the entire length of the trail I’ve been in the curious situation of knowing  precisely where I am, while having no real ideas of where that location itself is. I’ll know I’m at mile 1145.87 on Halfmile’s maps, two miles from water, eight miles from town (for example), but not be able to tell you what the major roads are, what towns are in the area, exactly which national forest I’m in…

It looks like this fire might definitely be in our way though. I’m puzzling over it on a slow internet connection when other hikers start arriving at the hwy 36 junction as well – Far-out, Pippin, Tarzan & Jane. Two Feathers and Pacman, who are coming out of Chester, arrive as well.

In addition to California section N, trail section P is also now closed, and it looks like section R (last section before Oregon) is going to possibly be closed soon. That’s going to make it a bit tough to hike through…

We don’t just have one reroute in front of us, we have a couple hundred miles of detours staring us in the face. Everything I find out only raises more questions. For now, however, it looks like I’m going into Chester after all. The Bald Fire up ahead is 5000 acres and growing.

Chester has a reputation as a hard hitch (only seven miles too), which it lives up to. A trail angel in town (thanks again, Tooth Fairy!) saves us the long walk and comes and picks up all of us except for Two Feathers, who decided to walk to the next town north, Old Station.

I feel so derailed by this. Getting up and keeping walking is hard enough without decisions. I think back to J on Muir Pass, saying how the PCT is something he decided to do once, and he simply hasn’t reevaluated. I’m afraid that if I have to reevaluate, I’ll just go home. Back to where I’m not tired all the time, to where my feet don’t hurt all the time. The PCT isn’t a trip, it’s a pilgrimage. If I’m going to skip hundreds of miles, what’s the point?

There’s an art fair going on in town,  and there is no room at the inn. Any inn. They’re all full. The local Lutheran pastor takes us in, and lets us camp in the backyard of the church (appropriate). The local dentist gives us gift certificates to eat at the restaurant across the street, where we munch fish tacos and digest the turn of events. J wants to hang out – I want to know what we’re doing with our lives.

I’ve gone back to the church to mull things over, when J comes back with 3D in tow. “Bicycles!” she announces. “Pacman and I are going to ride bikes to Ashland.” They’ve hooked up with a local guy who fixes up old bikes, and they’re going to try to bike around the detours. They’ll check out the bicycles tomorrow.

Bicycles! The idea is crazy – I’ve never ridden a bicycle more than 20 miles in a row in my life – but it’s the first idea that has made me want to continue this journey. We’d ride out to the coast, ride on California 101, see the redwoods… it’s exciting, unscripted, but has that thread, that continuity I need to carry me through. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if this is even feasible.

Meanwhile, the Bald Fire is growing. 18,000 acres now.

We heat up cans of soup on the church’s back porch, tell stories and laugh, get ready for bed. 26,000 acres. “What do you think about this?” I whisper to J, lying next to me in his sleeping bag.
  “If the bikes look good, let’s do it.”
  “Sounds good.”

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.


Day 92: halfway at last

Day 92
Miles: 20
From four miles past cold springs to soldier creek

Cowboy camping seemed like such a good idea last night. It’d be a little bit cooler, we’d be able to see the stars, we’d get up earlier, and there were no bugs to bother us.

The bugs were just waiting for us to relax our guard.

The ants came one at a time. The mosquitoes descended as a horde with the descent of the sun. They were waiting for it to cool off too. Sleeping bags pulled over the head kept the mosquitoes at bay, but the ants always found a way.

I don’t know that the mosquitoes even bit me – but that unbearable whine! The ants definitely bit me. On top of all that, I’ve had a muscle knot in my back that bothers me when I lay down, so I tossed, turned, pulled ants out of my pants and my hair, flailed at invisible mosquitoes, and did it all again. If I feel asleep, J was flailing around instead.

Too tired to fix the situation, not quite tired enough to sleep through it – it was a horrible night. Dawn came, and my alarms as well, and the mosquitoes finally left. We meant to get up in time to get to the town of Chester tonight – maybe get a motel room, eat out – we sleep instead.

“Tonight, we use the net-tent,” declares J, when we do get up. Too bad tonight is such a long ways away.

The first part of the day takes us out of the dense forest onto an open ridgeline with crunchy, volcanic rock outcroppings. We can see Mt Lassen to the north, some reservoir to the east, green mountains everywhere else. J and I are both exhausted.


We stop to water up at Little Cub Spring. I don’t know if it’s meat stick from yesterday sitting wrong, or perhaps one of the springs we drank from and didn’t filter, but my stomach feels awful. J is having problems too. We eat plain tortillas for lunch, then lay dejectedly on the ground for a while. But these miles don’t walk themselves…

We’ve come up onto a ridge again, looking north at Mt Lassen again, bit this time it seems to be exploding?? There are big cumulus clouds building too, but there’s definitely a plume – and growing fast. “Couldn’t be,” says J in disbelief. “We would’ve heard it.”
  “That thing is definitely not a cloud.”
  “No, it looks like a freaking plinian eruption. Do you have internet service?”
  “Nope,” I reply, after checking. “Looks like we’ll just keep walking towards it.”


It’s still a long ways off. We’re not worried, merely baffled. Besides, if there was a volcanic eruption, and we ended up having to skip a section… I can’t say that I’d mind.

When we can see the mountain again, we’ve moved a fair bit to the east, so we can tell that their plume isn’t coming directly out of Mt Lassen, but to the side of it. It still doesn’t look like a cloud though. “Maybe forest fire?” suggests J.
  “Most likely…” I reply.

Back down in the trees. My severe foot pain is back – not the tired foot aches, the shooting pain up my heels. I put my audiobook on and spend some more time in the French Revolution. I’m so caught up in it I almost walk past it – the halfway marker on the PCT.


(The best happy we can fake for the camera.)

Halfway! Three months to do it, to the day. I’m not sure I want to do this for another three months, or even for two (which we’re aiming for). Not if my feet are going to hurt like this every day. The trail register is full of hikers talking about lighting up in celebration, but we settle for just eating twice our day’s ration of fun-size candy bars. The other topic, especially for hikers right in front of us, is about needing to speed up, or deciding to skip ahead, then come back and do Oregon later. I guess I’m not the only one getting worked up about finishing.

We keep going. Less miles to go than we’ve already done… my feet hurt, and I cry. (Luckily, we’re going downhill. When I cry on the uphills I always end up hyperventilating, which is embarrassing, and makes it hard to walk.) Maybe I’m just exhausted and not feeling well, but I want to go home. At least, 49% of me does. The other 51% is morally opposed to quitting. All the percents of me that were having an awesome time appear to be on vacation somewhere else.

The water at soldier creek, when we get there, is cold and flowing well. There are campsites. I sit down next to my pack in order to feel sorry for myself more effectively. “You want to just camp here?” asks J.
  “I wasn’t planning on going anywhere,” I tell him.
  “Good,” he says. His feet hurt too. He’s exhausted too.