Monday, July 28, 2008

Drawing Blood

BEND, Oregon

As psyched as I was to be in Oregon for the first couple of days, that energy has waned a bit in the last few days. That's not to say that this section of southern Oregon is fantastic, it's to say that I'm not here at the ideal time. This year was a record snow year, and there is still snow around, even approaching August! This means that when it melts, there are puddles abound. These puddles are breeding grounds of mosquitos. Mosquitos love human blood. I"m a human, and I hate mosquitos. Recipe for torture. The past 3 days have probably shown me the worst swarms of these creatures that I've seen in my life. They don't just come out at night, it's an all day onslaught. It sucks stopping to take a break and they find a way to bite you on that 1/2" of exposed skin between pants and sock. They sneak under your headnet when you swear that there was nowhere they could get in. Then you are forced to take off the headnet to get the bastard out of there, when more mosquitos start buzzing around your face, which would get trapped inside when you replace the headnet. My solution?: just squash the little guys against my face, trapping them between skin and netting. I have daydreams of getting a good picture of myself with mosquitos and blood splattered on my face due to this practice, but the guys I'm hiking with have yet to tell me that I've got tons of mosquitos everywhere on my face. Hopefully sometime to show these 'war wounds'.

I hiked about 3 consective days of 40+ miles, leaving Sweetfish and Truant behind in pursuit of burning off this excessive energy I've had built up for a while. I'm not sure how much longer I could have kept pushing myself on those big days, and on the 4th day, a planned 50 miler, I was happy to meet back up with good good friends Disco and Princess of Darkness as they were packing up in their tent. The previous night I had camped under the north side of Mt Thielsen, by far the coolest mtn I've seen on the trip, after a bit of nighthiking of course. Those guys were so excited to see me, and I to see them. We hadn't seen each other in over 2 months, not since a week or so before entering the High Sierra. We've been hiking the past 3 days together since that day.

These guys are absolutely hilarious, and it has been fantastic hiking with them again. They got me to slow down, down to 25-30 mile days. We take breaks, despite the heinous bug situation, cracking jokes the whole time.

Even though the mosquitos have been trying to ruin this section of trail, it has been strikingly beautiful. The woods here are pretty lush and green, the greenest I've seen since hiking the AT. Lots of trees are covered with moss, at least down to where the snow line occurs. They get this weird, old, Dr Seuss appearance to them that I really enjoy. There are lakes and ponds EVERYWHERE. This is also making the mosquitos, but i"m sure in August this would be an amazing place to camp, in constantly wonderful weather. Speaking of weather, it has been flawless, every day is 70, but just not quite enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Now I'm in Bend, at Jess and Traeja's house...friends of POD and Disco from the C.D.T. Great great guys, in a really cool city, with a car to drive around the city. We are taking 2 zero days here, going to a shooting range later to shoot a gun for the first time in my life, and then to the Deschutes Brewery for some brew and good dining. This is going to be a good town stop for sure. I'm in BEND! and these guys have a hammock that has a view of the Three Sisters Wilderness, capped in glaciers...right in the backyard. Life doesn't get much better. Can't wait to get back on the trail, to hike around these huge snow-capped mtns and the sinister lava flows that exist in the area. Next stop is Cascade Locks and the Columbia River at the WA border for sure.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pushing Boundaries

A New State

The short 37 mile stretch between the Seiad Valley and the Oregon border turned out to be much more enjoyable than I even could have expected. After waiting for the post office to open, and downing a single 1 lb pancake (not 5 like the infamous 'Pancake Challenge' dictates), I took off, alone, up a long 4500 ft vertical climb out of the valley just before the intense heat set in. The hiking felt absolutely fantastic after having spent the equivalent of 2 days off, one in Etna, and the other hitching around the fire, and more importantly, having a new pair of shoes. Finally I have some cushion under my feet and every rock stepped on doesn't cause me to wince in agony. Once at the top of that 4500 ft climb, the trail meandered along a ridge, giving really nice views of smoky ridges that stretched as far as the eye could see, reminding me of views I've gotten back east of the fantastic 'smoky' Blue Ridge Mountains.

I was pushing pretty hard to try to catch Truant and Sweetfish, who had left the night previous, to cross into Oregon in good company. I would later find out that I managed to pass them at lunch time when they were hiding in some shade barely off the trail. Apparently I'm a stealthy hiker, not a loud one. I'd say that's a good trait.

What Limit?

37 miles after I had started hiking that day, I found myself at the Oregon border, with no more than 10 minutes of daylight to spare. Earlier in the day I had told myself that if I didn't catch my friends before the border, then I'd just keep hiking by myself until I finally reached a goal I'd been dreaming of for months: the elusive 50 mile day. Thing is, I had always been planning the 50 mile day under more ideal circumstances. A bit further north in Oregon where the trail is supposedly dead flat, after starting at dawn for optimal daylight amts, and not after a 4500 ft climb to start the morning. No matter, I was feeling inspired and had to get that goal out of the way.

The moon was full, allowing me to use my headlamp only half of the time I was hiking, which was essential given the fact that the batteries would wind up dying on me JUST before getting to my chosen camp. The valleys below were spectacular when bathed in moonlight, and each saddle that I'd come upon bridging the gap between mountains would prove to be more and more fun to walk through than the previous one. I was taking nearly constant breaks after the 40 mile mark to help satisfy my nonstop hunger, but didn't mind since the moonlight gave the night such a cool character. Somewhere in there I decided to push even further than 50 miles, and instead to do 55 so that I could finish at one of the few shelters on the trail, and take at least a majority of the following day off to let my body recover.

2 miles before the shelter I was completely shocked to find my first bit of trail magic in the longest time. There were two coolers hidden under a tree, one with caffeinated beverages, the other with Miller High Life. I desperately needed the Mountain Dew since I was starting to continually yawn and feel exausted, and packed out a beer for celebration the following day. Not only had Oregon supplied me with superb nighthiking and a great mood since stepping foot into her, but she also provided this. Then it became easy to hike those remaining 2-3 miles, finishing my 55 mile day at 4:45 am.


I never really got a chance to sleep that morning since other hikers left and chatted with me, and other day hikers showed up to picnic, hike, or bird-watch in the area. Who needs sleep after a 55 mile day anyway? Nearly every local who came up to me had an interest in my hike, and nearly everyone offered some form of generosity. Again: I LOVE OREGON!. Cliff bars, oranges, soda, and even a place to stay were all offered to me. The shelter was a massive open air structure in a beautiful valley overlooking a sweet view of Mt Ashland. There was water downhill a tiny bit from the shelter, and there was no need to take a northbound step that day.

Toward the end of the day Sweetfish and Truant showed up seperately: Sweetfish pushing on to get into town that night, and Truant to wind up staying and treat me with great conversation deep into the night over a fire, and then lying in sleeping bags realizing we had all the time in the world to chat, and no need to rush to sleep.


Since we only had 11 miles to hike into town, we took our sweet sweet time rolling out of the sleeping bags and into a chilly Oregon morning. An awesome Australian couple gave us a lift into town, and even offered us money to buy a beer at one of the local brewpubs. We have been craving Indian food for weeks, and Ashland like nearly every college town, had 2 Indian restaurants, both even had lunch buffets. It was lunchtime, and we needed a buffet to satisfy our appetites, but both joints were oddly closed on the weekend. Instead we followed the advice of Aussie Malcolm and went to a cool little Mexican joint downtown, Agave.

Following Sweetfish's lead, we picked up packages at the PO and then went back to a free spot to stay in town that he had secured days and days ago back at Burney Falls Park in NorCal. It was a huge studio that belonged to a woman who does scene design and other fun stuff in this funky, arty town of Ashland. She showed up hours later and gave us a lift to Safeway to get supplies for a BBQ that we were invited to that night. At this BBQ, I had tons of great conversation about the Oregon and city of Ashland that all of these people loved, and naturally fielded questions about what life on the trail was like. One guy told me about Mt Thielson, which I need to research to find out if the trail goes near it. Apparently it is an old volcano, and consists entirely of the sweetness that is Obsidian. If you climb to the top, you can see where it is constatnly being struck by lightening and shaped into these odd jagged columns inside. I must see this mtn if we go near it.

Getting Cultured

While at this party, we found out that Connie, the woman we are staying with, could get us free tickets into Ashland's legendary Shakespeare festival. Normally tickets cost over $100/pop, but she scored us 3 seats, second row on the balcony. I hadn't been to a play since the end-days of college, and it wound up being a great experience. After it was all over, we all chatted with Connie until she took off in her SUV for the California coast and a 4 day kayak adventure/vacation. Now we have the day to ourselves, her space becoming our space. A space that will be abused for planning and organizing all food and gear needed for the rest of Oregon. The rest of Oregon will be 2 weeks of resupplying at resorts just off the trail, but no trips into real towns that sell food. All supplies must be shipped to the resorts to be picked up, so there isn't much margin for error in estimating the amt of necessary grub. I'm starting to think that if I'm making good time (everyone says Oregon is easy, but no one can comment on the rumored snow that could slow us down), I may take a long hitch down into the city of Bend, which I've been interested in visiting for a couple of years now. Quite a long hitch, but would a nice reward if I can afford the time.

I probably won't be able to update this blog for nearly a month since there probably aren't computers for us to use at all of these resorts. Crater Lake and Timberline Lodge near Mt Hood should be spectacular, with gourmet buffets I hear, but no online connection till perhaps Cascade Locks, a TOWN! just at the WA Border. Till. then....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rome still burns

Recently my mindset has shifted a bit: I want nothing more than to get the hell out of California. Sure we keep hearing stories of snow around Crater Lake, and the 'impassable' passes in Washington, but at least I would be out of fire country. I'm here in the sleepy, quaint town of Etna, CA, just south of a new trail closure through the Marble Mountain Wilderness. The name of this wilderness area alone should be enough to make you realize how spectacular the are would be.

I digress....the days preceeding my current frustration have been fascinating. I went to 3towns (the tri-city challenge) within 24 hours for a pizza buffet and outfitter in Mt Shasta City, the bus to Shasta in Dunsmuir, and then a replacement trekking pole waiting for me at the PO in Castella. About 8 miles out of Castella, I enterened the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The past week had been a torturous fight against nature, through poison-oak overgrown trail, opressive heat, and thick thick humidity (remember I'm from the south..I know humidity) it was nice to get high in elevation, over 7,000 ft, into breezes, thinner air, and wide wide views. The Trinity Alps have a very unique appearance, and are different than the 2 mtn ranges that follow it. The rocks are Ultramafic rocks according to the guidebook, and they all tend to change to a rust color over time. Not red rocks like in Sedona, AZ, but still fun to look at. There were long ridges where you could walk for miles without a tree obscuring your view of the lakes and valleys below.

Next up was the Russian Wilderness. These mtns were all granite, much like the High Sierra country. No snow though. Around this time, the smoke really started to roll in and I could even see across the narrow canyon to the mountains on the other side. The cliffs to the east were spectacular, but it was dissappointing to not be able to perceive the great views that surely existed if it weren't for the thick smoke. About 7 miles later I was to a road.

This road marks as far north as I can hike on the PCT, since there is fire across the trail and firemen in the area trying to put it out. I waited with Roadrunner for over 45 minutes for a hitch on a road that saw only 4 cars driving by in that amt of time. Luckily a really nice guy picked us up on his way to Yreka from work, he swore he would be the last person driving on that road before dark, and it was still over an hour until darkness would descend. We got left off at the CCTG (Cali Campus Training Group), who house hikers for free. They let us take showers (it's been over a week I think, if you don't count my "bath" in a creek 5 days ago), laundry, and use their kitchen for a luxurious meal of mac-n-cheese. Keep in mind that I ditched my stove and pot back before the high-sierra, now all of my meals are soaked and cold. Try to imagine how much I enjoy hot meals now. And hot showers. But can't say the same for 'cold water'. The water is ice-cold when straight from a spring, and definitely lacks that nasty city chlorine flavor.

Now I'm taking the day off to rest my ailing feet that got really eaten alive over the past 3 30+ mile days, being housed in shoes that have walked over 1,000 miles. Luckily my shoes were waiting for me at the post office here. Hopefully I will be able to hitch to Yreka (native american word for Mt Shasta)then to Seiad Valley tomorrow once Sweetfish and Truant show up in town. This will make me skip nearly 60 miles of trail, putting me less than 30 miles from the CA/OR border. Finally, out of California and the wildfires (pretend you can't hear that Mt Adams is burning in WA for the moment.) Until Ashland....

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Missed Miles

It's official, I've cheated. These 1,200+ fires have finally gotten to the PCT, and a 100 mile section of trail was closed from around Quincy to Belden to Chester. We got to a road, there was a sign telling us that the trail was closed (which we already knew), and we had to find a way around it all. The road that this left us stranded at was a really quiet road, making us feel desperate about our chances for getting a hitch out. No hitch, then it would be a 30 mile road walk to get to Quincy. Luckily, a woman was going camping down the road, and gave us a lift to town. After doing some research in town, I discovered that there was a bus, that for $3, would drive us all the way to Chester. While we were waiting at the bus stop, temptation came toward us in the form of free tickets to the High Sierra Music Festival that was happening this weekend at Quincy. For only 8 hrs of work helping wave traffic into a parking lot, we could have had 4 days of hippie, jam-band music bliss. I was tempted by the option of relaxing for the weekend listening to tons of music, but turned off even moreso by knowing that this would mean my ears would have to tolerate hours and hours and hours and hours of endless musical noodling.

The bus ride itself was a fun adventure. A couple of locals took an interest in those of us filthy from days on the dusty Norcal trail (10 hikers on the bus), and gave us all sorts of info on the towns we were passing, the lakes with views obscured by smoke, and places to legally (sort of) camp once we got to Quincy. In Quincy, the first object on the agenda was to find dinner. Quickly. Dinner was found at the Kopper Kettle, a mediocre restaurant that served me with the first turkey that I've had on the trail. Darkness had settled in by the time we finished, so we wandered around down to the park that the toothless woman on the bus had told us about. Sure enough, there was camping to be had behind a fence to a baseball field. First I needed more food, and bought 2 pints of ice cream from the gas station. Once that Mint Brownie and Chocolate Maltball dessert was inside of me, I crashed for the night.

3 hours later at 1:00 am, I heard someone shouting 'No! No!'. This was Justin. Then I heard Sheik Olivier yelping. These guys had unknowingly camped next to a set of sprinklers that decided to turn on in the middle of the night. The past 3 days have found us chuckling endlessly over the mental image of guys scrambling around in their boxers, trying to gather their clothing, then prancing across the field in sleepy slumber to avoid the blasts of the sprinkler. Somehow I had chosen a spot that stayed dry throughout the night.

After trying over an hour to get a hitch out of that one-horse town, Sweetfish, Truant, and I decided we needed a break in the form of breakfast number two. The owner of a hardware store directed us to a diner down the street, and his advice was good indeed. I had an absolutely killer Chile Verde omellette that gave me the spiciness I so desperately needed to get going that morning. Once we stepped out the door and were across the street, we were picked up within minutes by the owner of a different diner. We didn't mention that we had just eaten a fantastic breakfast with the competition.

The mix of a full stomach and bloodstream full of caffeine had me flying across the flat trail. It was a strange feeling to be transported to trail 100 miles further north of where we were just hiking less than 24 hrs before. The landscape was different. Flatter. More trees. Less views. But oh so nice to be hiking with soft pine needles and soil underfoot. Our goal was an easy 18 miles that day to Drakesbad Ranch. By 5 we were at Drakesbad, where they treat thru-hikers like kings. As soon as we walked up, we were handed towels, a change of clothes, and asked to hand over our dirty clothing (that would be ALL of our clothing) to a woman who would wash our clothing for us. Then we hopped into the pool heated by the local hot springs. Then we were fed an amazing dinner centered around Duck, and topped off by all we could eat ice cream, raspberry sorbet, and some sort of fancy pastry thingy. Naturally we hopped in the hot springs one last time until it closed before going to bad. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time in the day to hit the horseshoe pit.

Next morning we were treated as royalty again and were allowed to abuse the breakfast buffet for the price that children pay ($5!!!). The hike out was a bit more this time. I needed to do 24 miles to get to a trail angel's place in Old Station. I decided to see more of the park that we were in that the PCT fails to show us. We were hiking through Lassen Volcanic National Park, but the trail kept us stuck in trees the whole time, rarely showing us the volcanoes, and geothermal action that the park is known for. I found a map, then made my own route up taking advantage of side trails to see these things. I split for 4 friends who stuck to the PCT, and was treated to odd land, covered with gray and black sand/gravel. 3 miles west on the PCT it was all soil and pine straw, but over here, everything was different. It was like a desert nearly, punctuated with the occasional tree poking out of the dark gravel. The further I hiked, the weirder things got. Soon there were orange and pink cliffs to my right. Soon Cinder Cone came into view, a nice rounded old volcano. Once I started to climb this Cone, I could see the legendary Painted Dunes. This was the highlight of the past 2 weeks or so. The climb up was brutal, every step sand a few inches into the sand, and it was a slow, steep climb up to the top of this cone. Up top, there was a huge bowl, and even some yellow flowers managing to grow in what seemed to be nothing but gravel. When I turned around to return, I really noticed how amazing those colored dunes were below me. The top of each of these little foothills was dotted with a splash of red, then around that splash was a dab of pink, then a bit of orange, and that faded into a soft brown. It really didn't look real somehow, and especially when in contrast to the 'Fantastic LavaBeds' beside them, which was just lots of huge black rock strewn about, nothing more.

The 10 miles into town were incredibly easy, so easy that I was inspired to do some trail running to pass the time. By 7 I found myself at the General store calling the local trail angels to come pick me up. At their house, dinner was waiting, surrounded by 6 of my friends. There was chili, there was spaghetti, there was salad, and then there were homemade brownies and rootbeer ice cream, made the way I used to make it at Grandma's house, cranked by hand. I was fed well the next morning as well, tons of french toast and eggs. Then I spent an hour lying in a hammock, and not hiking today. What a great experience and a great place to spend time. And it's all run on donations at someone's home. Tomorrow I hike out onto the Hat Creek Rim. An infamous HOT HOT spot and a 30 mile dry stretch.