Pacific Crest Trail: Relearning to Live On Trail

On the way into Quincy I had some motivation; I wanted to hike with Ducky and she was going to hitch up from Sierra City to meet me there. I had been wanting to hike with her for quite some time, really since Kennedy Meadows, but the timing never worked out. To say that it weighed on my mind would be an understatement. I had the chance to hike with her out of Bishop; I got off Trail. I had the chance in Tuolomne Meadows; I didn’t wait for her because I had caught up to the guys, among other things. I wasn’t sure of my intentions or hers for that matter. I had the chance in Tahoe; I wasn’t sure if I could handle the outcome of the situations. I hiked out alone. The time finally came where the double edged sword became a reality and I went with it.

I’ve been hiking with a group out here on the PCT essentially since day one. I hiked the AT, CDT, and LT with a group; somewhat reluctantly at points. It’s not that I don’t love hiking with a really great, inspiring group of people; I think it’s just that I was ready for a bit of a change of pace. I felt like my hike was beginning to be something it wasn’t supposed to, and Ducky made me feel otherwise.

The night before we got into Quincy everyone kind of said their ‘final’ goodbyes to each other. Scooter was planning on busting out some huge mile days to meet his deadline in mid August, I was planning on hiking with Ducky, and everyone else had their own agenda.

Quincy led us to some interesting bars, thrift stores, and the likes. We stayed for a couple of days, resupplying and resting up for the next stretch. The boys ended up hitching out a few hours before we did, and when we arrived at the trailhead, we decided to take a nice nap before heading up the hill.

We finally made the decision to start walking around 5 or so, and after a couple hours of walking we found an incredible spot overlooking the valley with a clear view of Lassen in the distance. The sun was just on its way towards the horizon, and by the minute, the colors changed and illuminated the sky. Blues turned to bright orange as the final traces of light touched the surface of all in its path. One of the more serene sunsets I’ve seen on this trail was seemingly over.

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The following day was going to be split into two sections; getting to Belden, then starting the 5,000’ climb up and out back to the ridge. This was arguably the biggest climb we’ve had in awhile, if ever on this trail. We got a good start on the day and found ourselves just under 15 miles in before lunch. We rushed into the restaurant for lunch. I destroyed a burger, fries, and some soda while Ducky got a salad; she’s way healthier than I am.

We did the usual brief town chores of charging up, doing a little sock laundry, and then we took a nap. Quite a long nap. We had no plans to hike out in the heat of the day, so we decided to wait until the evening to start the brutal climb that seemed to be completely exposed. Our time of departure got stretched to 5:30, and it was still close to 100 degrees F. Far too hot.

The climb began slowly up and out of town with a bit of shade to keep us cool. That eventually changed drastically as we rounded a switchback and felt the heat from the blistering sun. We ended up taking a solid break at a water source to let the sun get below the horizon yet again. The temperature dropped as we packed up and hiked until 9 or so to get to camp. We set up, ate dinner and crawled into bed by 10, attempting to get a decent nights sleep.

Before I delve too deep into the miles from Quincy to Chester, I want to talk more about the change in dynamics that occur when one completely uproots something they know very well to pursue something they know (almost) nothing about.

I’ve strictly only hiked with either a group of friends, or by myself. I’ve never hiked with someone who I was involved, or in a relationship with. I’ve hiked roughly 6,000 miles in the last 2 and a half years, and never once have I had to, or even wanted to, alter my plans to compromise with others. Usually, the group I’m hiking with has similar hiking styles and we can simply agree on what the ‘plan of action’ is. Hiking alone is as easy as one can imagine. You stop when you are tired. You eat when you are hungry. You hike when you want to hike. Quite simple.

Hiking with a group adds another dynamic, especially if it’s a group that clicks. Sometimes the motivation and determination is contagious and within minutes the moral of the entire group can change. Hiking with friends and close friends especially seems to be a way that everyone can keep their energy high, even if the day Ian going as planned. 

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that hiking with a S/O is difficult by any means, especially with Ducky, but I’ll be damned if I said that it hasn’t taken some adjusting. She’s a quick hiker, much faster than she gives herself credit for, but, we have different hiking styles, especially in the morning. I like to take my time getting up in the morning. I like to lay there with my eyes open for roughly a half hour to let myself adjust and prepare. As soon as she wakes up, it seems that she’s as awake as she’s going to be for the rest of the day. I admire that, to be honest; however, I can’t do that. She usually starts hiking about 15-30 minutes ahead of me every morning.

It’s taken some adjustment sharing space with someone again. Sharing thoughts, ideas, and what’s happening in my own head. It’s taken some time to get used to the fact that I now choose to think about someone else’s opinion on what the ‘plan’ is. Overall, it’s just taken some time to figure out how she hikes, lives, and looks at the trail. I’ll say; it isn’t much different than how I experience the trail, she just adds another dynamic to my hike. She’s such an inquisitive, curious, and driven individual. It rebounds off of me and drives me as well.

Really, hiking together with Ducky has been as simple as hiking with the boys or by myself is, it’s just different. I like it. I like having someone else to think about out here. I like being involved in a joint decision making process. I like this dynamic. It makes me more conscious of my own feelings, which then translates to being better at communicating.

Oh, and just to let ya in on the plan, she’s only hiking for another week or so before she moves along with her plan to hang out in Portland and some other areas, then eventually fly back home to Amsterdam.

So sure, everything is great; I figured out how to hike with her, her own way of thinking, and who she is. We’ve had a wonderful time together, and still have some miles to hike with each other, but it’s going to end sooner than later, and much sooner than I’d like. Seems to be how it goes sometimes.

Alright, back to the trail:

The climb out of Belden left us tired the next morning, but we kept pushing. We wanted to get to Chester as soon as possible, but the fun continued and we ended up taking our sweet time. A couple of 20+ mile days led us first to the HalfWay Point of the PCT, then down into Chester the same day.

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Hitting the halfway mark on this trail wasn’t as iconic as it has been in the past. Although it felt good, it’s been such a whirlwind of a hike that it’s hard to process. We took some photos, enjoyed a nice break, and ended our day in Chester a few hours later after dreaming of the legendary 32oz milkshake all day.

Ducky’s HalfWay Mark Photo

Ducky’s HalfWay Mark Photo

It was the 4th of July, so when we got to the road, we immediately got picked up and taken down to town. The parade was still going on, so we headed towards the milkshake shack, then to the church that offers their backyard and community room to hikers. We putted around town to finish chores; laundry, shower, food, and charging. As usual, we found a way to do all of them in a reasonable amount of time while enjoying the town of Chester. A fellow Hiker, Chatter, mentioned that his parents had an Air B&B and were planning on doing a huge cookout for hikers. We meandered on over and were blown away with how kind and genuine they were. There were well over 10 hikers in the yard enjoying burgers, hot dogs and beers. The 4th was a hit, after all.

A slew of towns were on the agenda to hit over the next few days after Chester. We left town a bit late in the day and only decided to do roughly 12 miles out of town or so.

This was an interesting day for Ducky and I. Prior to leaving town, Taco, Ducky, myself and a few others had a fairly in depth talk about the concept of ‘time’ on trail. This is something I’ve spent literal days thinking about. What time truly is out here, how we measure it as thru hikers, and what we can do to maximize each moment. Sometimes, I’m not sure how to think about time when on Trail. Minutes feel like hours sometimes, while hours can feel like days. With the right conditions, time can completely and utterly freeze.

The pure essence of time is based around how we measure it, right? So, what if we don’t measure it? If I choose to not put a number on it or to not find a way to measure the amount of seconds that tick away on a watch hand, what’s really happening?

Moments have the ability to fade away at the snap of a finger.

The reason I bring this up is because of something that Taco mentioned during our discussion. He brought up a way that he has found to judge and to measure time and experiences, especially on Trail. Based on the amount of time you spend with someone per day, the amount of experiences shared together, and the pure lack of small talk out here, he came to the conclusion that one day on Trail is equivalent to roughly 12 days in ‘society’. This means that one month is equal to roughly one year.

For Ducky and I, it had been one month since we began seeing each other, and as one would call it; dating, or something of the likes.

Now, let’s be a little more transparent. Ducky and I hadn’t been hiking together for too long, but we had spent significant time together over the course of the last few towns.

I won’t go into much more detail other than the fact that I was beginning to put the pieces together of the puzzle that is Ducky. I was swirling in nothing more than the colors of a watercolor daydream with her. I became, and still am, infatuated with who she is.

It’s funny how this trail thing works and makes us think. How it gives people the ability to disregard so many things that would otherwise influence decisions. How it gives people the inept, unadulterated ability to be truthful with themselves and others. How it draws people and places together that not in a million years would one think possible.

How it makes us, well, honest.

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The following days after one of my favorite nights to remember, we got a move on and hiked through Lassen National Park the following day; doing 34 miles to get to what was SUPPOSED to be Old Station; a stop where hikers can camp and eat at JJ’s as well as the Fill Up. When we arrived, we were disappointed to see that the location was actually 3 miles away down trail of the road. We pitched our tent in the meadow that night tucked away in the RV Park.

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The following morning we got to JJs for breakfast and proceeded to get ourselves up and out of there to get started on the Hat Creek Rim.

It was one of the hottest days of the year thus far, and my body wasn’t reacting well. I felt as if I wasn’t retaining any water, so every hour I stopped to take a break. Ducky was a bit ahead of me for the majority of the day, and I eventually caught her around 7 miles before we got to the water cache. We enjoyed a nice break in the shade, and as the cloud cover moved in, I felt a bit of life surge back into me. She got moving before me again and when I got back to the rim, I had a smile on my face as the clouds circled above. The temperature had dropped and I was feeling great again. A couple of notes left on trail by Ducky for me got my spirits high once again. I eventually arrived to Cache 22 where we made dinner and enjoyed some down time before we got up and decided to get a few more miles in as the sun set.

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We began our descent to the valley, and as we rounded a bend, the light of the sun lit up the trail. Bright yellow and orange hues were cast on every tree. The shadows were long and as we hiked a bit further up the trail, it got better and better. The yellows and oranges quickly turned to reds and purples as the smoke from a fire not too far away allowed the colors to pop and burst in the sky. Minutes turned over and over and eventually we stopped to just admire the sunset and light. One of the most beautiful things about the trail in my opinion is the way that each day ends and begins. How every sunrise and sunset is different.

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The following morning after we awoke under the gorgeous tree that you see above, we packed up and pushed another 14 or so into Burney. Burney has a church called the Word of God Assembly that allows hikers to stay in their Gym, shower, and have an incredible place to cook and enjoy all of the amenities of town. At first, we were planning on getting in, staying the night, getting ducky’s shoes from the PO, and then heading out that day. It didn’t out that way however. Her shoes didn’t end up coming, leaving us with another day in Burney hanging out at the church. Taco chose to zero another day, so a relaxing day in town it was. 

Ducky and I had been planning to go to Bend to visit Elise and Drew; friends of mine that I met via the Appalachian Trail. I hiked with Elise for around 600 miles in ‘16, and anytime  I have the chance to visit them, I do. Our original plan had fallen through to get there for the weekend, but we ended up making do. We hitched out of Burney in hopes to get to Redding to rent a car; the nearest big town with any option for rentals. We ended up catching a quick ride out of Burney and got to Redding fairly quickly. Turns out, there are six rental car agencies in Redding, and every single one was sold out of cars. 

Great.  

We weighed out our options and eventually made the decision to get to Dunsmuir where we could catch a train to Chemult, then be picked up by Drew later that morning. We got a ride to Dunsmuir after quite the wait for a hitch, and eventually ended up at the local brewery for a few beers before deciding where to sleep that night. We meandered behind a house that was being remodeled and stealth camped in the woods behind; something I’ve been accustomed to. It’s quite the adventure sleeping in places that one wouldn’t normally think to sleep. After all, it’s just a place to lay our head, right?

The train took us to Chemult where Drew picked us up and took us into Bend, where we are currently. 

As im writing this, it’s Saturday the 14th and I’m at a nice little coffee shop with Ducky. We’ve been enjoying our time here, but unfortunately, time is almost up.  

It seems that time is the one thing I can never have enough of. As of lately it feels that if it’s been out of my control, which is no different from any other time, but with Ducky especially. I’m trying my damnest to hold onto every last moment; hoping to keep swirling in those watercolors with her. 

I’ll be back on trail sometime soon, but for now, I think I’ll just enjoy the moment and be as present as possible.