Northern California: Dunsmuir to Seiad Valley
July 13, 2003.
And so there I sat, with Will and Sharon and Glory, eating a frittata three inches thick.
Filled with tomatoes and spinach and peppers and cheese and all sorts of the things that
I don't eat when I am hiking in the woods. Orange juice and coffee and toast
rounded out the table, but it was the perfectly cooked egg concoction that
stole my heart. I've been cooking for a while, but there is no way that I could cook
an egg dish of this size so perfectly: Fluffy and moist inside, yet structurally
sound. I would have burned the outside and left the inside a mess. Glory had
repeated her story from the night before to use at the dinner table, which
mostly received grunts and nods from Will and I as we plowed through the
morning meal. We were both leaving today, as was Glory. She couldn't afford
the $140 she paid last night, much less a second night at that rate. Sharon
was taking the day off, which meant that we would not see her again until
Ashland, the site of my next day off. I wanted to get to Oregon before
being a lazy sack again, if only for a day.
Resupplying out of small gas station is an exercise in patience and creativity:
You must be patient enough until your creativity shows you how to make several
meals out of the meager rations at the gas station. Dunsmuir had a medium
sized grocery store, which required neither patience nor creativity. Instead,
I had to exercise restraint. I really didn't need 20 King Size Snickers bars.
15 would do nicely. 150 miles to Seiad Valley would take 5 days to cover. That is
3 bars a day. I really didn't need two backs of double stuffed Oreos. One
would be enough. Perhaps the most difficult decision came at the end: What to
have as an after breakfast snack? A quart of chocolate milk and a muffin perhaps.
Maybe a fried pie. A block of cheese struck my eye.
Sharon was doing everyone's laundry, as the place was closed last night when she
tried originally. Not finding her in the B&B, I repackaged my food and went in
search of her and Will. I picked up a bottle of gas line antifreeze (works
well as a stove fuel) and found Will asleep on a bench, in the shade of a
small tree, near the laundromat. People frequently don't realize how nice it is
to have seating in a pleasant place in town. Places where a visitor or a local
can simply sit out of the sun for a bit and rest. I'll never walk by a park
bench without feeling a sense of gratitude to the city planners. I sat on a
bench next to Will and quietly did nothing. Although it was cool in the still
early morning, it was going to be a hot day. Dunsmuir is just out of the
central valley, although still fairly low in elevation. The heat can be
immense, and I did not relish the idea of standing out on the road trying
to hitch out of town. Will kept on sleeping while I kept on doing nothing. Although
it looked like a calm enough affair, we were engaged in a battle of laziness.
Could I sit and do nothing longer than he could sleep? I thought so, and so I
sat and sat and sat some more. I declared the battle a draw when Sharon came
back from the hardware store with a new 5 gallon plastic bucket to use as a
bounce box and woke Will up.
Back in the hotel with my clean smelling clothes, I packed up my pack, loaded up
with water, and was ready to go. Northern California and Southern Oregon can
be quite dry and springs were getting further and further apart. Not only
would I have 5 days of food on my back, but also more than a gallon of water.
The 5000 feet of elevation gain required to get out of the valley the Dunsmuir
was not appreciated, although there was nothing to be done about it. The
PCT was in the middle of a long western swing, the second of the trip. From
Burney Falls, it had dodged west to avoid the very dry southern Cascades just north of
Shasta. Instead, it took us to Dunsmuir and I-5, then further west into the
Trinity Alps, before running north and finally north east to Ashland. In between
it would traverse the Klammath Range, one of the most underlooked wild places
in the US. In the land of California, the Sierra Nevada is king. In Oregon,
the Cascades dominate. The Klammath Range is left alone, its powerful granite
spires and eruptions left for the few who come out here on a lark. I had hiked
in the Trinity Alps in the summer of 2001 and came away in love: On a July
4th weekend, there were perhaps 4 other hikers in the massive area my friends
and I traversed. We spent several days at the most picture perfect, mountain
ringed lake with no one else. In the Sierra, I was sure that no less than 200 people
would be ringing Thousand Island Lake at the base of Banner Peak. The Klammath
Range, besides being spectacular, is also home to some very rare species of plant
life, such as pitcher plants, an insect-eating plant. While dry compared with the
land to the south, the Klammath Range was wet compared the brown lands north of
I could not leave town without lunch, and as it was approaching noon, lunch was
in order. I put my full pack into the room that Sharon was taking for the
night, along with Will's stuff, and we set out for some food.
Will, Sharon, and I met Pat outside of the B&B. She had rolled into
town to scout the place out before Walt and Floater arrived in a day or two.
She drove us over to the burger joint, where I pondered whether or not I
really wanted to consume a burger with 1 lb of meat on it, plus all the fixings.
No, I'll be sensible and have the 1/2 lb version. And a sack of fries. And
an extra large soda. Perhaps a malt at the end. After all, I had to hike out of
town today and the climb would be tough with a busting gut. We chatted
about the hike so far and how Walt and Floater were doing, how Glory had
managed during our separation, and all the mundane things we could think of.
Fancy, old British sports cars drove up and down the street. Another auto-club out
for a tour. Old, wealthy drivers, with fancily done-up wives in the seat
next to them. Why wasn't there an old, wealthy driver with a nattily dressed
husband in the passenger seat? Why was it that the women were relegated
to passenger status while the men seemed to have all the fun of driving. Perhaps
they didn't want to; or perhaps it was the men's hobby to restore the car.
Slurping down my malt, I decided it was best not to think of all this, and instead
Pat drove us back to the B&B. It was time to leave town, and I wasn't even rested
We ran into Glory outside and Pat offered to give us all a ride back to the trailhead.
Glory grabbed her pack and hopped in. Will and I stood for a moment, and declared
that we would be along shortly, but still had a few things to do. We really didn't
have anything to do, but both of us wanted to lay about just a little more. The
trail could wait for another hour. Pat sped Glory out to the trail, while the
three of us returned to the small room and began to lounge. The remake of
Ocean's 11 was on the idiot box, and that seemed as good of a way to wait out
some of the heat of the afternoon. It would mean we wouldn't be out hitching until
3:30 or 4, but at least it would be a little cooler. The time passed, and my waiting
pack sat in the corner, waiting for me to pick it up again.
The end of Ocean's 11 brought home the realization that it was time to go.
However, before that was possible, a bolt of relief came from fate. I had had
the theme song from the movie Colors stuck in my head for the past
800 miles of trail, and needed it to be excised. With luck, Colors came
on next. I told Will we'd go and hitch after I'd heard the theme song. Well,
the young kid in the movie was murdered, Sean Penn made a joke, and the LAPD
arrested a large collection of gang members. Ice-T began his menacing chant over
an austere (by today's rap standards) musical accompaniment, boasting of
all the terrible things his fictitious character had done, and ended with an
admonition not to join a gang. The song was over. It was time.
As the credits for Colors rolled down the screen and the clock read
6 pm, it occurred to me that the heat of the day really was gone now. I
could hitch out anytime and just camp near the trailhead, reserving the
climb for tomorrow morning when it would still be cool. I had better leave
town tonight so that I can get an early start on the climb tomorrow,
my head warned. Sharon and Will were not moving either, and a Robert
Redford movie, called The Last Castle, came on. I was ready to leave and
glanced at my pack, sitting in the corner, where I had left it several hours ago
when I laid down on the bed. I really was leaving now, but somehow my body just
kept where it was. This was bad, I thought. If I don't leave right now, I
am going to start rationalize staying the night. There were only good
reasons for leaving town tonight, and none for staying. But, the longer I
laid in bed, the better the chances were that I would be able to talk myself
into staying. There isn't any point, as you are not going to hike anywhere tonight
anyhow. Just get up early to hit the trail while it is still cool. You deserve
a break. After all, you haven't had a full day off since Tuolumne Meadows, 550
miles ago. What about dinner? You can't leave without dinner and if you stay
for dinner, you may as well stay the night. Wouldn't a Sierra Nevada taste
good right now? They don't have those in Oregon so you had better drink your
It was 8 pm and I had lost two hours of my life to a truly atrocious movie.
A prison flick where every prisoner has a heart of gold and the only bad
guys are the guards and the warden. They even built cannons. Add a silly
salute, and you have a full blown silly movie. It was now clear than in town I
would stay. The three of us walked over to the pizza joint for some dinner.
Calzones and a pitcher or two of beer was just about right, and it was quite
dark and starry when we finally returned to the B&B. Will got the floor and
Sharon and I split the bed. Ocean's 11 came on again as we began to
fall asleep. I watched three bad movies today and ate a lot of food that
a doctor would scowl at. I had done nothing today but procrastinate. It
was a beautiful day.
Standing still on concrete with your thumb out and an absurdly large grin on
your face is nowhere near as pleasant as it sounds. But yet there I was,
continuing in my mock battle with the cars. I had snuck out of the room
around 6:30 to try to get as early a jump on the heat as I could. Sharon had
woken up and said our goodbyes, as it was unlikely she would be able to run
me down for a few days. Will was still quite asleep when I left. I was
standing at the I-5 exit on the north end of town, hoping that someone would give
me a lift southward for a few miles to the trail. It would cost them all of
two minutes and would earn them my undying gratitude. And still I stood.
A few cars came by, but no looks. All the local traffic seemed to be going
somewhere else, and I thought it unlikely that a tourist would pick me
up. And so I stood and thumbed and grinned for thirty minutes, before
Will's lanky figure appeared on the horizon. Judging by the success I had
had so far, he did not seem to think I would be getting a ride anytime soon and
so set off for a gas station about a half mile distant for some breakfast.
Even though I had given him a couple of dollars for a coffee and a pastry,
I was hoping I would succeed in my hitch.
I sat in the shade of the tree drinking my coffee while Will took a turn
thumbing. His cleanly shaven face might work better than my heavily bearded
one. The day was already getting hot at the early hour of 8 am; not a good sign
for the long climb up into the Klammath. My coffee gave out and so Will and I
switched positions. My bandanna had two phrases printed on it: Hiker to Town and
Hiker to Trail. I held it out, hoping that it would inspire someone to take
a chance on us.
A white pick up drove by heading to the gas station, its driver looking
keenly at us. I smiled and made eye-contact (the secret to hitching, I
had been told), but the driver kept going. Fifteen minutes later, he was
back, smiling and asking us if we were PCT hikers. The bandanna had convinced
him that we were just hikers trying to get back to the trail and not
runaways or true vagabonds. We were doing something, so we were safe.
Will and I tossed our packs into the bed of the pickup and jammed into
the cab. Before we were down the on-ramp, we already had a friend in
common: Jim was his next door neighbor. As much as he helped us with the
ride, I think that he was the larger beneficiary of the encounter. He
had been able to help someone selflessly. Even if it was of no effort on his
part, he didn't have to give us a ride, but it was nice that he did. Moreover,
our encounter gave him something to chat with the neighbors and the wife about.
Everyone profited because he had decided to help.
Finally, Will and I were headed uphill a little after 9 in the steadily
increasing heat. It was over 80, and showed little signs of abating. At least
we were headed to higher, and cooler, environs. Not for long, however.
Walking down the trail toward us was Jim. Even though we had only known Jim
for a few days many miles ago, there is a bond that forms between hikers
even if they only meet for a short while. We talked over the old times and
about how Jim had to leave the trail just beyond Agua Dulce. We talked
of how the Sierras were and where Jim was headed (to Chico, in a few hours).
With earnest grins and handshakes, we finally parted company and Will and I
resumed our climb. It was past 10, and now it was really hot.
While never steep, the trail was open for long stretches, which meant the
sun was able to strike me flush. In shorts and a T-shirt, its fury was slowly
draining the strength out of my body. If I was more clever, I would have put
on my long sleeve shirt that had seen me through southern California so well.
But, I liked the way the sun was bleaching out the hairs on my arm, and so
let it be. We were climbing toward the Castle Crags, very prominent rock
formations that are clearly visible from I-5. Solid granite, they are
the gateway into the Klammath range, a respite from the volcanic of the
Cascades and a return to the granite of the Sierra. The Crags draw rock
climbers to their spires and fishermen to the river that flows near their
base. Hikers are few, which is a real shame. Perhaps it is the several
thousand feet of elevation that has to be gained to top out and gain the
neverending vista. Isn't seeing the curvature of the earth worth a little
On top, I was tired and sweaty, but I was indeed up. The rest of the day would
be rolling up and down, but no long, multi-thousand foot climbs. I found
Will in the shade next to a pencil sized stream eating lunch. Perfect.
He started out with something like "Guess..." and I knew that Glory was
near. He confirmed that she had just left after laying around most of
the day. Apparently she had be dropped off by Pat at the trailhead yesterday
and then proceeded to sit there, for some reason unknown, all day. It was
not because she was waiting for us, she assured Will. She just wasn't
feeling well or something of that sort. She had camped close to the highway,
and then fussed around some more. He had found her here, 14 miles from the
road. She wasn't feeling well, you see. She wasn't waiting for us, she
just had a little stomach ache or something of that sort. That was why
she had managed to hike 14 miles in about 24 hours. But, she was feeling
much better now and had started hiking again after talking with Will for ten
I set my Ramen noodles to boiling and bade Will a goodbye, as he was pushing
on. As he was leaving, Graham and Falcor came loping up the trail. Mildly
shocked, today was the day for renewing old contacts. They had gotten into
Castella yesterday afternoon and had camped in the state park rather than
hitch into Dunsmuir. They had been right on my tail for quite a while, but
had never been able to make up the 15 mile head start I had when I left
Chester and they stayed. They, too, hiked on as I cleaned up from
cooking and had a little more water. The next water source was 14 miles
away, a distance that I was unsure I could make tonight. It was past 2 and
the heat and the climb had taken alot out of me. I only had a capacity for 2.4
liters, not enough for the day and a night. Or, rather, for a comfortable
Stepping across a dirt road, 12 miles from my lunch spot and caked in sweat and
dust, the day didn't seem so long, really. I was thirsty and tired,
but water was not far and now the land was cool. It was nearing 8, but I
was nearing the water and feeling good. There was no reason to stop and
spend a thirsty night. The first water for many miles was obviously a
popular one with the local inhabitants of the forest. I could see several
sets of human tracks, presumably Will and Glory, and also countless
animal prints in the mud by the spring. The water was pure and cold and
sweet. I had never known what people meant when they referred to water as
being sweet. This summer, I had found out. I glanced around to get an
idea of the topography of the land and to set my eyes on the setting
sun, its light that perfect shade that I had come to love so much out here
and that I was now taking for granted. Of course, I thought, every night
I should be treated to one of the grandest displays of beauty in the world.
Every night around 8 or 8:30 I should be able to gaze upon something
infinitely more subtle, complex, and stunning than any work of art.
It was just how things were out here: Beauty was always appreciated, but it
was taken as the rule, rather than as an exception. Here, the world was not
ugly or dirty or foul. There were no trash pits or junkyards or slums. There
were no factories or trucks belching smoke or cars with squeaky breaks and loud
exhaust pipe. There were no panhandlers or crippled or poor. There
were no fights, no lies, no mistrust. Here, the world was perfect, beautiful.
For the first time on the hike, I was frightened.
I wasn't going to hike much further, but I had to get far enough from the
spring so that I would not keep animals from it. The trail continued along
its ridge for another few hundred yards, before beginning a jog to a saddle.
The ridge would do nicely, complete with a view of the tangerine sky and
the stars in an hour. I scampered up the ridge away from the trail, and
found Will settling in for the night. He had decided to call it an early
day. Glory had been here not too long ago, but had hiked on. Perhaps
she was going to start hiking-her-own-hike from now on. No, she had
trailed Will here and, when he stopped for a break, asked him if it was
home for the night. Will had planned on pushing on, but when Glory left
in front of him, he decided to stay the night instead. I understood.
The orange sky was gone and replaced with the purple one that heralds the
onset of the star show, the evening hour's daily display of beauty and
wonder. I found a flat, clear place to camp about 50 yards from Will,
on a knoll with a view to the dark lands of the east. My fear from the
spring had not left me, and now that the day was done and I was in my
bed for the night, it would not leave me alone. I was not afraid of
a bear or a snake or running out of water. I was not afraid of a human
predator or tree falling on me or anything of that sort. I was afraid for
what was going to happen when the summer ended and I would have to leave
this world. Knowing that it was out there would not be enough, I
assured myself. I was afraid because I would have to go back to it. I
would have to find a way to recapture the beauty of this world. Rather than
having it handed to me, I would have to find it one my own, in the gutters and
storm drains and trash cans of Bloomington. And, what was worse, there
was no reason to suspect that I might be able to find it again.
Will hadn't even gotten his bug netting off when I walked by at 6 am.
I knew he would soon be awake and would pass me sometime in the middle
of the morning. I passed Glory's tent not much further on, though it
was hard to notice specific things when the world was so pretty.
Early morning is second only to early evening for the best time of the
day to hike. People who sleep until 8 or 9 and camp at 4 miss most of
what makes hiking so special. Not only is the land at its best, but
wildlife is out and mosquitoes are asleep. I rumbled ahead, enjoying the
quiet walk for several hours, not even having to exert myself: The trail
had no extended climbs and the up and downs were gentle enough. Glory
showed up soon and opted for a break as well. I left shortly thereafter,
but I was only rarely out of her sight.
The Trinity Alps were my goal for
the day, a mere 30 miles (!) from my previous campsite. Getting back into the
wilderness was a symbolic act, mostly, although it also meant that I would not
have to cross paved parking lots with gaggles of tourists smelling clean
and looking mistrustful of bearded strangers with little packs. I think that
if I was carrying a massive external frame pack with a frying pan on the
side, tourists would understand who I was. When they saw a dirty, bearded
man with a pack smaller than some of their purses, they assumed I wasn't
Leaving the parking lot, the trail ran through a grassy land with small, ancient
pines sitting here and there, dotting the landscape like in an oak savanna.
Wanting to be alone, I stepped behind one to let Glory go by and then took
by break at its base. Hiking is truly a recreation for lazy people, which is
why I probably like it so much. When finding a nice tree to sit under is
considered a major accomplishment, the activity must be lazy at its core.
Will came by, passing me earlier than I thought he would. We set off together
to cross the savanna, but his faster pace quickly regained my solitude for
me. Not for long, however. Glory seemed to catch on that I occasionally
gave her the slip and she was waiting near a lake. She had hiked so hard to
get to Dunsmuir, although not to catch us, as she said, that I almost
felt bad about not hiking with her. But, I think she realized that our time
together was over. We had spent what was allotted to us and things just
couldn't be as they were when we plowed forth together in the Anza-Borrego.
She left at a rapid pace, hiking with a speed that I had seen her keep up
for long, extended periods of time. I would not see her for a while, I thought.
Just as miles have a way of rolling by while a person drives on an interstate,
so do hours roll by when one is hiking on easy terrain with lots of views.
Easy terrain with no views becomes boredom very quickly as the mind is
forced harshly upon itself. Hard terrain with no views is equally bad,
but with the added trauma of heavy physical exertion. The ease of walking and
the long distance views of the surrounding land were narcotic: I would take
breaks, even if I didn't need them. I'd sit on a rock just because I liked
the way the tree next to it cast a shadow. I sat in the dirt after surprising
a bear, oddly enough active during the middle of the day, feeding just below it.
I wanted to see how long I could here its rampage through the woods. How
lazy is that?
I was nearing the Trinity Alps and my lazy day was over. I had to climb and
then find camp. I had to climb, and so climb I did, casually strolling uphill
just as I had casually strolled all day. Only now I was sweating, even with the
cool evening air. The sun was beginning to go down and aesthetic campsites
kept appearing. I should really stop, I thought, even if I am not at the
Trinity Alps yet. Why pass up such great spots just to get another
1/4 mile down the trail? It was a stupid debate, but I kept
jumping back and forth as my feet led me further from the nice spots
until eventually I was in a dark wood, though the clear way was not
lost. I'd have to keep hiking now: Passing up the great sites meant that
I would have to find a really pleasant place to spend the night, or I
would feel like a chump. Only a chump would pass up ten beautiful
bedroom views for a camp in a thick pine forest. But, a clever,
experienced thruhiker would pass up the great spots for an equally
good one just a bit further. I wanted to be clever.
Five miles later I emerged from the thick wood onto an old dirt road,
the first viable, let alone scenic, camp site since I passed up the
good ones. I was well into the Trinity Alps at this point and
getting tired. All light would be gone in less than an hour and I was tired, as
well as feeling chumplike. Two tents on one side. Glory on the other.
Me walking down the trail. They probably had the same experience that I
had had and got here first. It wasn't all that pretty, so I didn't feel
too bad about walking by, waving at Glory as I strode past. Around and around
the trail went, set firmly on the flank of a mountain, where camping is
least possible. Gorgeous views of the Alps, but no where flat enough to camp.
I scrambled up the flank every few minutes, hoping there might be something
reasonable. Nothing. Twenty minutes till the end of the light found me inspecting
the base of a tree, just up the flank from the trail. The uphill base of
the tree held a small nook just large enough for my groundcloth, if I moved
a few rocks about. Tossing the rocks down the flank, I cursed those who
would curse me for moving the rocks. Leave No Trace, they would scream.
My arse, I would reply, you can't tell where those rocks were before I moved
them, so I haven't left a trace. I challenge you to find my campsite after I've
left it! Besides, I would reply, take a look
off the mountain side and see what view my room has.
Even with a few mosquitoes buzzing around me, I could not put my netting
over me. The netting obscured the views of the mountains in the distance,
the alpenglow providing coloring for their whitish-grey faces. Swatting
mosquitoes in between bites of my Snicker bar spoon-for-peanut butter,
I felt not the fear that I had yesterday. Rather, I felt only pity.
For somewhere there was some poor slob sitting at home after
a day of working a job he hates, eating a meal only because
his doctor says he must eat healthy, watching a television show about
some place he'll never be, and having to look forward to more of
the same tomorrow, when he'll do it over again. I felt pity for
the throngs of people whose lives were spent killing time, rather than
living. I know these people because I was an expert at killing time rather
than actually living. The only difference between me and them was that
I had escaped, at least for a few months, the prison and shackles of
comfort and security. I had given up predictability for uncertainty, and
gained freedom in the process. And then the fear returned. When my time
here was done, would I have to become that poor slob again? Would I
again trade freedom for personal security? What would Jefferson think of
me if I did?
My fear and pity for myself continued into the morning, and I barely noticed
Will's slumbering body in the woods, less than a quarter of a mile from where
I had camped last night. Yesterday I hiked 36 miles, but this morning I
felt no ill effects. My body was strong, particularly after the rest day in
Dunsmuir. I would be in Seiad Valley in two days and there was no
reason to rush things. There was a 5000 foot climb coming out of Seiad
waiting for me. Moreover, Seiad was even lower than Dunsmuir and it promised to be
hot. Additionally, the last six miles were on a road unless I could ford the
Klammath river. Because of private property issues, the trail had to
come out on a road far from the closest bridge across the Klammath. If
the level was low, I would be okay. If it was high, I was going to suffer
on the road.
The sun was shining and the birds were singing and it was not yet hot. I can't
imagine a more pleasant place to go for a stroll, weaving along the sides of
mountains, taking interconnecting ridges with blue alpine lakes far below to
get between systems, and occasionally running over saddles dotted with snow.
When the heat arrived, I would weaken and slow, but for now there was no
physical effort involved in walking: The beauty of the place forbade
physical discomfort, despite the uphill stretches of trail. Despite the
snow that chilled my feet and the rocks that I kicked. I crossed a small
trickle of snow melt and sat down for my morning break and replenished
my water supply. When I got north of Seiad, I would have to start treating
my water again, pouring iodine into my water back in an effort to keep from
getting sick from the cows and other sources of pollution in southern
Oregon. For now, though, I could simply scoop up some water with my
hands and drink down liquid. Water, the most basic, elemental thing
on our planet (okay, maybe nitrogen is more basic here), gave a pleasure
that cannot be understood by those sitting at computer screens watching
words go by. It is something that is taken for granted by us, and is
something that we rarely encounter in a pure state. The water out of
our taps is heavily treated. The water that comes from the store has
nothing in it, and is so called "pure". The water here was from the earth and
it carried with it the flavorings of the earth. Nothing to make you sick,
but rather the subtle taste of something original. Something you cannot
buy from a store or turn a tap on for. It is free. All you have to
do is go for a walk to get it.
Will arrived during my musings, bringing Sharon along with him. She had
been on our collective tail for a long time now and would have caught me
last night if I had stopped at the great campsites before the Trinity
Alps. She had spoken with Glory this morning, and Will and I were
rapt with attention to see what had happened. When Glory was 16,
as we all knew, she took some of her younger siblings (12 and 14!) on a
thruhike of the Appalachian Trail. The trust that her parents placed
in her was simply amazing and it sounded like the three of them had
an excellent trip while it lasted. In Virginia, her father came and
brought them back home, deciding that the hike was simply too much.
The next year Glory went back on the Appalachian trail, this time
by herself and reached Katahdin, the northern terminus, four months
after starting out in Georgia. She had hiked mostly alone, although
there were some longer parts that she was with others. In short,
her two Appalachian trips had been highly independent ventures, where
she was focused on her hike. This summer, she didn't even know that
there was an Oregon-Washington guidebook. She didn't bring sunglasses
into the Sierra. She was focused on following others and didn't seem
to have much of a reason to be out here: She was hiking the PCT,
apparently, because she needed something to do. She knew how to
hike, so she came out here. Or, at least, this was the perception
that the three of us held. Sharon and Glory had spoken about all this,
and more, this morning. Glory had to honestly answer the question that
we had all been asked, and answered for ourselves: Why are you out
here? Why are you doing this? Inside, Glory had a strength that is
rare to find in people. But, she was also young and had been raised
in a certain manner that led her to defer to older men. To put off
deciding for herself what to do if there was an older male to decide
for her, or at least to make a decision. When she was by herself or
with others of her own age, she was completely capable: The two
Appalachian hikes and her sojourn teaching English in South Korea
proved that. I hoped one day she would realize how capable she
truly was and exploit that capability to the fullest. For now,
though, she had some work to do.
Later in the day I sat in a large valley, next to a quiet brook
in the shade of a cool tree eating a pot full of instant stuffing
with olive oil, watching Will and Glory's figures slowly disappearing
into the woods on the other side. The sharp, long grass was beginning to
brown as the summer advanced upon this dry land. I had not witnessed any
precipitation since the snow storm on June 23rd just south of Benson
Pass in Yosemite. The longer the land went without rain, the greater
the chances of a large fire. Last summer massive fires broke out
across southern Oregon, choking the air with ash and obscuring the
views of the land. If the land burned again, I might have to take to
the roads to walk around the fire and would certainly lose much of
the pleasantness of the stroll. The pale green grass with its
tan edges waved in the wind circling on the valley floor, prompting me
to begin to move. The heat of the day was here, although in a few hours it
would abate. I'd have to move slowly for a while, but the cool hours would
come, and they would bring with them the early evening light that
was so looked forward to.
It was nearing 7 pm, and I was all alone, when I came upon the stream.
A stream that would not be around much longer. The shape of the bed around
it indicated that sometime in the not-so-distant past it was much
larger, and its meager flow seemed destined for a short future. But,
it was cold and wet and washed the dust from my face and arms,
cooling and soothing my sun and heat addled body. Cold, fresh water
gave me the strength to carry on, although I added a King Sized Snickers
bar to help it. Glory and Sharon were somewhere behind me and Will somewhere
in front. I hadn't seen anyone for quite some time and was perfectly happy
having it that way. All I wanted was some pleasant walking and an appealing
campsite at the end of the day. Climbing out of the stream bottom, the
trail ran high, forcing a bit more exertion out of me, until it crested
out on a saddle, where the constant beacon of Mount Shasta could be seen
to the west-south-west, along with the arid lands to its north. The
lands that would be a more direct, though less scenic, and considerably
Dropping down off the saddle, the trail picked its way along the flanks of
the mountain I was traversing, providing open and extensive views of the
valley below, the beacon, and the arid lands. A few small settlements, not
large enough to be honestly called hamlets, could be seen dotting the
land scape. Far off, a road, probably I-5 could be seen. With nothing worse
than a few hundred feet of climbing every now and then, the trail stuck to the
flanks of mountains, bobbing onto ridgelines and saddles every now and then,
but keeping the ever present views. As with the morning, this was the best
kind of walking, although the middle part of the day had sapped my strength
with harder terrain and the heat. I was tired and lacked only a good,
scenic bedroom. I could have camped on the trail, knowing that only Sharon
and Glory would find me, or in a clump of trees, but my body had enough
left to find something nice. With a limited amount of time left this
summer, I wanted every campsite to count. The long walk on the flanks
finally ceased, as it climbed up high to a saddle, and then began down the
other side, making the precipitous drop to a dirt road that marks the beginning
of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.
The saddle was broad and there were scattered sage bushes dotting
it. Though exposed, the wind was warm and I could see in every direction.
Rain was such a non-issue here that one could camp in places that would
be a nightmare if a storm came. But, I knew that no such storm would come
tonight and so bedded down, throwing out my groundcloth and sleeping
bag. My shirt and socks soon hung on a sage bush next to my bed, and I lounged,
eating cookies and watching the land change with the loss of the sun.
The thirty two miles today seemed much further than the thirty six yesterday,
and my body was spent. Still, though, I was happy. My body would rest and I
would be fine in the morning. Being physically tired isn't so bad: The body
heals quickly if given just a few hours of sleep. When the mind tires,
it is much more difficult to heal. My mind wasn't tired. No, indeed,
it was excited. Oregon was probably in sight from my perch high above
the land, though political boundaries are not so easy to spot in
actuality. Oregon was calling for me. I just needed a little time to
Sharon stood in the light and the sage, looking rather pleased with herself and
ready to do some hiking. She had come across me as I was packing up, and this
marked one of the very few times that I was beaten out of camp. She had spent
the night on a saddle about a half mile back; a very scenic location and I had
almost stopped there myself. We walked down the hill together toward the
forest service road that marked the entrance into the next wilderness
area: The Marble Mountains. She had seen Glory late in the day yesterday after
she was rescued by some Llama packers. Apparently, Glory had taken a wrong
turn up a steep trail that headed toward a lake. The junction wasn't marked
and their was a cairn at it that made Glory suspect that it was the right
way. I remembered the place well because I was confused there as well.
However, I had a data book (Glory apparently had misplaced hers) that
showed that the trail had to descend (as it was doing), rather than
ascend (as the spur trail was doing). A further consultation with the
map in the guidebook showed the lake that the trail went to. Glory
had neither guidebook nor map and so got lost. When the spur trail
finally reached the lake, she realized that she was lost and found some
people using llamas as pack animals, who walked with her out to the
road to Etna, a quaint town a short hitch from the trail. Glory
took up their offer of a ride and went into town to take the rest of
the day, and the next one, off while she thought over why she was out
here, and what she wanted her hike to be. It was unlikely that
I would see her again. Unlike the parting at Belden, I did not have a
chance to say goodbye.
As quickly as one thruhiker was left behind for good, another was met. It
had been quite a while since I had met a new thruhiker. There was a good
reason for this, as there were only four ahead, one of which was trying to
set the PCT speed record. Pacific Beast, Tutu, and Rye Dog were the first
three hikers through the Sierras. I had been slowly gaining ground on them
since leaving South Lake Tahoe and this morning I finally caught Tutu.
Sharon and I walked through the pleasant, flat beginnings of the Marble
Mountain wilderness and came upon a strongly flowing creek, with a shirtless,
heavily bearded, well tanned hiker with a rucksack smaller than mine.
No more signs were needed. It was clear that he was a thruhiker. It
was odd, in a way, introducing myself to him: I had been reading his various
register entries, enjoying them thoroughly. I knew part of him, but I
was a complete surprise and mystery to him. Tutu, Beast, and Rye Dog had
hiked a lot together, but had recently gotten separated as Beast and Tutu went
to climb Shasta. Beast then had to speed up to get to Seiad in time to meet
his father for a few days off. Tutu worked for UPS in Santa Cruz and had one
of the most marvelous re-entry schemes I had yet heard. Re-entry means
coming back into normal society, one of the hardest parts of a long trip in
the wilds. He was picking up his bike in Vancouver and was planning to
ride the coast all the way to Santa Cruz. The luxury of time really is the
greatest of all. If I finished, I'd have about 2 days between returning home
and the start of classes. Two days of unpacking my stuff in my new rental,
getting my class for the semester set up, and generally taking care of
all the things that had been neglected over the summer. Tutu would be
riding down the ocean while I prattled on about calculus.
Tutu had an interesting trail name and one whose story I had to know. He had
hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years ago and was attending Trail Days
in Damascus, VA. Sort of an extended fraternity party, spread out over an
entire town and attended by hundreds of thruhikers, Trail Days is something
of an AT institution. Some drunk couldn't quite make him out, but thought
he was a friend named Obtuse. So, the drunk staggered up to Tutu and
said, "Hey! You're Obtuse!" Now, Tutu is a pretty mellow guy and so
was more interested than annoyed that someone was calling him obtuse.
When the drunk realized what had happened, he explained things and
so Tutu became known as Obtuse 2, which was promptly morphed into
Too obtuse. So, the next day of the festivities Too Obtuse was
talking with some people near a mostly deaf old woman. A friend walked
up and called out, "Too obtuse", to get his attention for something or
other. The old woman started cackling with laughter, saying, "Heehee,
you're Tutu," mistaking Too obtuse for Tutu. Of course, his friends
thought this was just perfect, and so he became Tutu.
Tutu had spent the night in Etna at a hiker hostel where he met Glory. They had
chatted a bit, and so he expected to meet some new thruhikers today. Sharon
was, by now, well up the trail and Tutu set out after her, while I stayed behind
to rinse out some of my socks. Every day I put on a clean pair, which meant that
every day I had to scrub a dirty pair against a rock for a while. My chores
behind me, the day's heat was now upon me. The routine of the past few weeks
was repeated: Walk slowly, sweat alot, find some shade for lunch. The
shade I found was in an immense bowl of a valley, ringed with high mountains
complete with winter snow in some of the shadier gullies. I found Sharon
sitting in the shade next to a stream and, even though I had just taken a
30 minute break not 40 minutes ago, I plopped down to eat and rest some more.
Sharon wasn't feeling to well. Not ill, but she felt like she had driven
Glory from the trail. I tried to explain to her how things sounded to me and
tried to assure her that she had driven nobody anywhere. But, it was
clear that Sharon felt bad about it, even if there was nothing to feel bad about.
Time would clear things up for her, I was sure.
After eating down two
packets of cheesy potatoes, I left Sharon in the shade and started the climb out of
the bowl. Steep and exposed, the trail was also complete with snow. As if
to remind me of the Sierras even further, as if the granite spires were not
enough, I got lost on the snow, wandering about looking for where the
trail went. Spotting a switchback high on the snow slope, I realized the
error of my ways and began to climb straight up the snow, where I encountered
Tutu's tracks. The trail continued to climb and then began the short, 100 foot
ups and downs that characterized intermountain walking in this region. Lakes and
trees and white rocks, with vast rolling hills lower down and large mountains
in the distance, this land was immense and special, like almost all the
land of the PCT. When I had hiked part of the AT last summer, the spectacular
places were usually several days apart, separated by a lot of forest walking.
The spectacular places, except for the Roan Highlands, were generally one view.
You had to stop and sit and look, for if you walked on, you would miss it.
On the PCT, I was passing through a land that, even at its worst, was as scenic,
or even more, than the best the AT had to offer between Springer and Damascus.
I was becoming a snob, but it was hard not to be. The AT had its own charms,
however. There is a subtle beauty to the southern Appalachian mountains
that the PCT just didn't have. There is soul that the land and the people
possess that isn't present here in the drier, younger, less populated
West. My AT section hike was the best thing I had ever done, until this
It was late in the afternoon when Sharon was attacked, yet again, by an
angry grouse. I had walked by the grouse without anything happening, but
it had apparently not liked something about Sharon and had charged and circled
her. Most unusual behavior for a grouse, as they usually fly away with a
thunderous whoosh when you come upon them. This was at least the second
time this summer that a grouse had done this to her. Then there was
the turkey further south and the goshawk in between Sierra City and Belden.
A pattern was forming here. Immediately after the grouse encounter, we
found a clutch of three beat hikers on their way to one of the scenic lakes
in the area. For a place of such natural beauty, the Klammath Range was
mostly untouched by backpackers. Indeed, this was the first group that
we had come across during the prime backpacking season. With packs
far too large to be carrying anything other than forty pounds of luxuries, they
were struggling with the hills and the heat. We wished them the best and knew
that, if nothing else, they would sleep very well next to the lake. The heat
and the hills were hurting me and I counted myself as among the fortunate on
the earth tonight who would sleep well. Rolling through thick, lush
vegetation, we found a small spring, the first in a long time, and stopped
to slake our thirsts. Our water session turned into a full break, trying our
best to cool down after so much vertical climbing. There is an impression that
the AT is, mile for mile, a steeper trail than the PCT. There is an impression
that the grade on the PCT is so easy that a wheelchair could make it from
Mexico to Canada. AT hikers point and say, "Isn't it graded for stock? That
makes it easy!" These AT hikers are just wrong. Unless for some reason the
AT gets incredibly more difficult between Damascus and the White Mountains
of New Hampshire, the PCT certainly entails more climbing than the AT. The
difference is that the AT has more, but shorter, steep ups and downs, whereas
the PCT has longer, higher climbs. Today, the PCT gave us long, extended
uphill climbs, and many short, steep sections to boot. I was tired and ready
to camp, even though it was only 7.
Fortunately, shortly after leaving the water and passing by a backcountry
ranger station (empty, of course), Sharon and I descended to Paradise Lake,
where we spotted a tarp-tent rigged up. My body and my mind were done and
had been wandering through the northern wilds of British Columbia for some
time. As we approached the lake, I was firmly convinced that I was somewhere
in Canada and was surprised that a Canadian would be using something as American
as a tarp-tent. I knew that the Canadians didn't allow camping so close to the
shores, but I was sure that the Mounties would understand. Besides, it was
just one tarp-tent. Canadians couldn't get upset over that, could they?
When Tutu stuck his head out of the tarp-tent, the spell was broken and I was
left in confusion. I spoke with him, although my words made seemed to make
little sense. Sharon arrived and I looked at my watch. It was 7:45, and I
declared that I was going to hike on for another 20 minutes. Ten yards down the
trail, I realized how foolish this sounded, and how inane of an idea it was. Here
was good camping next to a mountain rimmed lake. It was scenic and flat and
spacious. I would not be able to climb out of the valley that held
Paradise Lake and would be camping on the trail or in some trees, as I did not
have the strength left for the hour it would take to get out. I stopped and did
nothing more than scan for a clear area a hundred feet from the lake, my
confusion slowly passing. Sharon arrived and I told her the funny story of
my complete confusion, my mistaking California for Canada and hoping the
Mounties would be kind to whomever was camped next to the lake. With my
groundcloth our and my clothes hanging on a bush, I began to feel better
again, although even my evening cookies couldn't completely dispel my
exhaustion. Not even the sunset could break through the physical and
mental wear that had so struck me today. I was going to put my theory
of the body's ability to heal to the test tonight. Tomorrow I could make
Seiad Valley in the late afternoon, earlier if I could ford the Klammath.
And I would need all my strength if I was to safely ford that major river.
I did not dream, I did not wake, all night long.
When my feet go thud, they are not happy. It means they are striking something
hard and uniform, like concrete. It means blisters start to form on the
bottom of my feet. It means my heals start to hurt from the hard surface.
Walking on concrete for short distances
when it is nice and cool out isn't such a bad thing. Pounding pavement in
the furnace of a northern California summer at 1000 feet above sea level
is not. The heat of the day is bad, but the humidity makes it worse.
The humidity is bad, but the heat radiating off the road is terrible.
The radiating heat is bad, but the lack of shade on the road makes it
intolerable. And still my feet went thud, the sweat poured off me even though
the road was flat, and my eyes continued to scan the Klammath River, hoping
to spot a viable ford. The river was wide, and I couldn't even get to
it safely: The road was built upon a bench well above the river, with a
very steep embankment. Getting down it without a fall was unlikely.
Then I would have to ford a river that looked like it might be chest deep,
was wide, and had nothing attractive on the other side. And still my feed
went thud, as my hopes for a short cut into Seiad Valley diminished which
Sharon and I left Paradise Lake well before Tutu was up and even found
where Will had camped the night before, perhaps 2 miles north of us:
We had been running into cobwebs in the morning, saw an obviously camped
in spot, and then stopped running into the spiders' handiwork. Sharon
moved on as I took a break on the approach to Grider creek, and I was
also passed by Tutu during my fit of laziness. I wanted to reach Seiad
Valley, but I also knew it wasn't much of a town: An RV park, a grill,
and store with a PO inside was about all there was to Seiad Valley.
California wanted to send me off right, and I faced another long,
multi-thousand foot climb on the otherside to get out of the state.
It all added up to a slow, unrushed walk. The day heated up exponentially,
as I was losing elevation and the sun was rising. The humidity was reaching
midwestern levels when I finally reached the valley of Grider creek, a long,
meandering river whose banks the trail follows. Or, more accurately, around
whose banks the trail winds. Rather than build a trail next to the creek,
which would be washed out every winter, the PCT builders routed it through the
hills and crags alongside, forcing an up and down nature upon the trail.
Up and down when it is in the 60s isn't so bad. Up and down in the 90s with
high humidity is less pleasant.
I finally emerged from Grider Creek around 2 pm, completely wet with my
own sweat, though happy to make it out of the valley. At least the road was
open enough that it might support a breeze and it might be a little less
humid. Plus, I might be able to ford the Klammath, right? Two miles down
the dirt road I came to the paved road, and the sight of the Klammath that
kept me on it. I would have another 4 miles of road walking to do to get to
town. It doesn't seem possible for road builders to keep large trees on the
sides of the road in tact, so there was little shade to be had on the walk into
town. It was hot and sunny, and it was also just plain hot. To make matters
worse, the thousands of blackberry bushes along side the road were still
two to three weeks away from having edible fruit. Of course, the berries
looked nice and plump and ripe, but after my tenth or twelfth, I declared them
terrible and had to cease eating them. And so it was hot, and I was hot, and the
road was hot, and I was hot. So it came to pass that I was condemned to the
heat of the road without a relief of wind, watching the Klammath slink along,
and hoping that I might actually be getting closer to the bridge. For a while,
I wasn't actually sure that the laws of physics were working correctly here in
this last town approach in California: I knew that I had covered at least a
mile, but my watch said only five minutes had passed. There was nothing to
do but to spend the time, to walk the distance.
By 3 I finally crossed the bridge into town and could see the fire station and
RV park just ahead. In the shade of a massive oak tree, I saw Will, Sharon,
and Tutu lounging next to a sign that welcomed PCT hikers to the town.
Hot, sweaty, and coated in a layer of fine dust, I tossed my pack onto the
ground, said my hellos, and went to the store for something cold and
wet. The store turned out to be fairly well stocked, except for a
flavor of ice cream that I might eat, and I came away with a
liter of Squirt, an apple fritter approximately twice the size of my
fist, and a donut that seemed to have about half a pound of glaze on it.
As I bit into the apple fritter, fry grease was released and ran down my
bearded chin, not even stopping to congeal in the heat of the day. Only a
thruhiker could appreciate the beauty of something like this.
The woman behind the desk seemed to indicate that
temperatures were topping out just above 100 degrees. The humidity made
things all the worse, and I was glad to join my friends under the
oak canopy where it was relatively cool.
Will had been here since noon and had tried the pancake challenge: Rick,
the grill owner, makes up 5 pancakes and you have a few hours to finish them.
If you do so without vomiting, they are free. Each pancake uses 24 oz.
of batter. That works out to nearly 8 lbs of batter, together with
butter and syrup. Will, the big eater, got through 2 of the cakes. I
scolded him for his strategy. His belly was small after hiking. He
needed to prime it: Stretch it out with some food tonight, then come back
in the morning when the engine was warm. It was a good strategy for
one who had the time, but Will (and Sharon and I) were leaving tonight.
Realizing he would not finish the challenge, Will pulled up after the
second cake so as not to spoil his appetite for dinner or put the
rest of the day's hiking in danger. Rick had closed down, but knew that
hikers were coming in today and was going to open up for us at 5.
I made a swing through the store to buy supplies for the day and a half to
Ashland and tried to hang the trailname of Birdie upon Sharon. She instantly
disliked it and insisted that I never call her that again. Of course,
this made me want to use it all the more, so I informed will of the name
and her reaction. He had the same idea that I had. So, Sharon was
became Birdie much to her dismay, even if she might be secretly pleased
to have a new name.
A look through the trail register brought up the subject of Zebediah.
I had first seen his entry in Burney Falls and assumed him to be a section
hiker. Apparently, he was claiming to be a thruhiker. But, he hadn't
passed Will, Sharon, Glory, or myself, and we were cruising alot at 30+
miles a day. He had not passed Tutu either. He seemed to be claiming that
he had started a few weeks after I had, and was going to break the PCT speed
record by 2 weeks. To make our incredulity even more powerful, he was
an 18 year old kid from Rhode Island. For those who don't know much about
ultramarathons, there are no young ultramarathoners. It takes time and
discipline to be able to run 50 or more miles in a day. It takes even
more to hike the 45+ miles a day, day in and day out, that he was claiming
to be doing. In short, I found every reason to believe that Zebediah was a
fraud, although Sharon and Will were not quite so sure.
Rick arrived around 5 on an ATV and quickly opened up the grill for
us. I wanted to be sensible, so I ordered a bacon double cheeseburger
with fries. Will had the same, but added a milk shake to his order. The
sandwich was coated in grease, but tasted good nonetheless. Rick knew how to
cook for thruhikers. There were 4 long strips of bacon on the burger, not
the two that are normally found. Thick cut red onion and tomato, along
with pickles and lettuce, rounded out the veg, and 4 slices of cheese were
added. A large slathering of mayonnaise was added to the toasted bun,
along with the standard mustard and ketchup. All this added up to a sandwich
that was too tall to fit normally into the Styrofoam box that it was placed in:
The lid had to be forced down to get it to fit. By the way, Rick had won
honorable mention in the Travel Channel's competition for the "Best Place
to Pig Out in America." How in the world did they find out about Rick's?
It was 50 miles to Weed, CA! Weed is a nothing town on I-5 and certainly
does not qualify as cosmopolitan. Redding is the closest town of any
real size, and that is a good, long haul. I sat in the shade and at down the
work of hero-of-the-day.
We had only just met, yet we were leaving Tutu on his own. He was planning on
laying over for a day in Seiad to wait for the Pacific Beast to return from
his visit with his father. They were not going into Ashland, where I
was planning on a zero day, so we might be able to meet up again.
He described Rye Dog for us and told us to keep an eye out for him. The
only part of the description that I could remember was that he didn't
seem able to grow facial hair on his chin or jawline and so had an
Amish look to him, despite his powerful build and blond hair. Tutu
was going to spend tomorrow by the side of a local river swimming, and
perhaps taking the pancake challenge, which sounded like a nice way to
spend a day. The fact that t was about all you could do in Seiad Valley did
not lessen its appeal. Will, Birdie (formerly Sharon),
and I set out down the road out of town,
now that the land had cooled to a mere 90 degrees and the sun was partially
blocked by the mountains. We had to walk the road for about a mile before the
trail began again. Even though the trail went up hill for a long, long way,
it was better to climb now than tomorrow morning. For, tomorrow it would be
really hot again, and I wanted to be as high as possible before that happened.
Will and Birdie quickly left me behind, as I took a generous amount of
time moving up the mountain side. It was hard to go fast when the light was
so perfect on the river valley below: The dark, wide Klammath snaking and twisting
through the valley, lined with large stands of pine, the tops of the mountains
glowing orange and yellow. Mostly, though, I was just tired. As there was
nowhere reasonable to camp, I had to continue uphill. By 9:15, after
30 minutes of swearing that I was going to camp on the trail if a
good place wasn't around the next corner, I finally topped out on the mountain
I had been working on for 2 hours.
The trail ran along a ridge connecting my mountain to the larger one
ahead, and on it I could hear Will and Birdie talking. I found their campsite
a bit crowded, and so walked the twenty yards to the saddle where it was
flat and clear and had a view of the few, scattered lights of the valley
far below. I did have to push some dried horse dung out of the way, but this
bothered me as much as pushing rocks out of the way. Even with the 4 hours
of rest in Seiad, I was tired. The heat of the day just took a lot out of
me, and the end of my day, when I usually recovered my strength, was spent
walking uphill longer than I had wanted to. The extended evening hike
meant that I cleared 30 miles again today, but I was more tired than I had been
for a while, though not as bad as yesterday when I was hallucinating.
This would be my last night in California, as the Oregon border was around 32
miles from here. I tried to think back to all the places that I had slept in
California and all the wonders I had see. To all the people I had met and
laughed with and cursed at. To all the bears and deer and marmots, all the pines
and manzanita and sage. I was too tired to think, and nothing would come to
my mind, on this seventy first night in California.