Pacific Crest Trail: Into the Smoke

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I stumbled out of the train and onto the platform; eyes extremely tired, and hardly awake. It was 1:00 AM and I had just taken a four hour ride from Chemult to Dunsmuir on the Amtrak. I was planning on going to sleep right there at the station, but as soon as I stepped off the train a kind woman asked if I was a PCT Hiker. I of course said yes, and she proceeded to offer me a free bed at her hostel, Crossroads, right outside of town. I happily accepted the offer and within 10 minutes I was out cold on one of the beds that was outside. I had to be up early to get to the bus in time to catch my ride to Etna. I was planning on meeting up with the boys again; I hadn’t seen them really much in the last two weeks so I was pretty stoked. 

I woke up early, walked the 3 miles back into town, and hopped on the public transport towards Etna. I had one transfer in Yreka, and before I knew it, I was back with the boys. I was waiting for the heat to die out before I got back on Trail, so I had no intention of immediately hiking out. We all caught up, and enjoyed some breakfast in the late morning on the porch. Smoked a few smokes. Shot the shit. The usual. 

Evening began to arrive and with Etna being such a small town, I knew I needed to get out before darkness came. I went to hitch and the minutes kept ticking. An hour and a half later I was back on Trail. I was looking forward to this moment for a few reasons, but mainly to just walk again. I was excited to hike alone, but I just wanted to hike. I missed the ground. The dirt. The water, most importantly. I missed the sunsets. 

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So I walked a few miles and found the first flat spot in the trees and went to bed under my tarp for the first time in nearly a week. I laid my pad down on the ground, blew my pillow up, and passed out immediately. 

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I awoke at 5:30 and packed up. It was nice having a relaxing morning. I even made coffee. I got going by 6:00 or so and walked with the sun. The first few miles included a beautiful hike down the ridge and along some beautiful rock formations into Marble Mountain Wilderness. I planned to get a big day in, and with that came a quick pace and frequent breaks. I generally try and average about 3.25mph when I hike alone. The miles came and went as the ridge went up and down through the mountains. About halfway through the day I finally realized that all of the ‘haze’ I was seeing was actually smoke from a recently sparked fire. The Hendrix fire picked up on Sunday after a lightning strike nearby.

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 The day wore on and by evening, I had over 30 miles done for the day and had plenty of daylight left. I took a long break beneath a tree, only to be swarmed by flies minutes later. I sat through it and got comfortable. I wanted to lay down and appreciate the day; so I did. I sat there for an hour. I made a ramen, smoked a few cigarettes, and kicked my shoes off. I had another 6 miles left so I got up and kept cruising into the sunset. 

Trail Crew Working

Trail Crew Working

I eventually found a flat spot on another ridge line, tucked into some trees, surrounded by a red glow in the sky. I hopped out of the trees and onto the trail to eat dinner and watch the sunset. The smoke lay between the layers of mountains, rapidly filling each of them to the brim. The trees began to disappear and the sun clipped the horizon yet again. 

I chose to cowboy camp again and as usual, the mosquitos were out. I’ve come to ignore them quite easily now, but they’re still rather annoying; especially when it’s roasting hot outside and you only have a 10deg quilt. Within minutes of laying my head down as the darkness came upon the silhouetted woods, I started to hear branches breaking far less than 20 yards away. I snapped up immediately and shined my light bright into the forest, yelling for a short stint. I knew that it was a bear and not a deer. Eventually the snapping subsided and I laid my head back down. Again, it started. 

Eventually, an hour later I fell asleep, exhausted from the 35 mile day. I knew I had a 20 mile day awaiting into town, and I wanted to get in early for the day. 

I ignored my alarm as it beeped away at 5:30. I slept heavily until I finally was woken up by the glow of the sun eclipsing the trees to my east. It was time to get up, it was already 6:45 and I wanted to get to town to get some more miles in on the climb up and out of Seiad Valley. 

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I got packed up and when I put my shoes on I noticed a soreness in my foot, right on the tendon leading to the big toe. The pain was centered on the connection between the joint and tendon. It was sore to the touch, but not incredibly painful. I slipped the shoes on and wrote it off. I hadn’t felt that pain before.

Immediately, I noticed the smoke had gotten worse. The thick cloud had moved in and consumed most of the forest. The rest of the day was downhill so I slowed my pace and took it easy for the day, just trying to make it before 2 or so. I stopped every so often and tried to enjoy the breeze when it came.

By noon I only had 3 and a half Miles to go so I put it into high gear and got through the road walk as quick as possible. The sun was melting the pavement, making every step agonizing on my feet. I could feel the heat sinking into the foam of my shoes and softening them. I got to town just after 1 and rolled in, and as expected saw Taco and Miraj sitting at the table. I ordered a burger and immediately was informed of a situation. Something we were expecting but not hoping for.

UNRELATED / Here’s some portraits of Slug and Taco:

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A new forest fire was affecting the PCT and an official statement issued a few hours earlier.  Everyone kind of expected this but to be honest, we all didn’t know what to do at first. As soon as other hikers got wind of it, people started hitching to Ashland. A few groups got out within the first hour of me being there. I was keen on hiking into the fire area and beating the closure, but the more I thought about it, the less and less that sounded like a good idea. Taco wanted to cross the border officially and decided to go for it. He hiked out with a group of 4 other people or so, and they were off. The rest of the group; Beehive, Slug, Miraj, Craynip, Feather, his girl, and Myself all decided to hitch up to Ashland and avoid the fire reroute and the smoke. 

My main concern was hiking through miles and miles of thick smoke generated from the extremely close fire near the border. 

Miraj and Slug got a ride that night and the rest of us stealth camped outside of town. We got up early, received the official statement that the PCT was closed for the 15 miles or whatever, and made our decision to start hitching.  

After two hours in the scorching, relentless sun, we finally got a ride. A rad girl by the name of Mckayla picked us up and offered us a ride to Yreka, a direct shot straight up to Ashland. We took the ride and made our way towards the small town. An hour or so later we got dropped off at the I-5 on ramp and another long hitch commenced. 45 minutes to the North was Ashland, and then Medford, where Scooter and Smokebreak were.

We eventually all met up in Ashland, where I still am now.  

Some of the group crossed into Oregon as planned; by foot. Some of us didn’t. The PCT has thrown so many curve balls my way, but somehow I’ve dealt with them. The fact that everyone has walked nearly 1700 miles to get here is insane. The fact that some were and still will be forced into Oregon earlier than expected is just how the PCT works. Fire closures are common and it’s just ironic that this one prevents someone from crossing the border easily or safely. 

Myself? I’m not too worried about it. I’ve known that my PCT Hike was going to be a little less ordinary once I got to Bishop and quit. I haven’t been quite as concerned with the miles, the trail, or what the ‘plan’ is since I skipped the section from Bishop to Mammoth. In fact, if I had, I probably would have been off of the PCT much sooner. 

As we all know, sometimes people get so wrapped up in the idea of something, that they lose focus on what is truly important. There have been times where I have questioned every bit of my decision making out here, but I’ve always come back to the realization that I’m out here because I enjoy the simplicity, and truthfully, nothing more or less. Everything that comes along with it is magnetic. To me, it’s truly just the idea of actually living.  

So I didn’t even walk into Oregon. Another piece of this PCT hike going not even remotely close to as I had envisioned. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but my god, things couldn’t have been more different than what I expected. I’ve been embracing every turn and every bend out here. I’ve been looking forward to the next steps, and as life would have it, there are some big ones coming up.  

Things have changed. The next blog post won’t be so typical. 

Heres one last portrait of Miraj from earlier today: 

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