Pacific Crest Trail: Decision Time

One by one, everyone left the room. First Beehive, then Craynip. Not long after, Smokebreak followed. All of a sudden Scooter and I found ourselves alone in a hotel room that was now nothing more than the remnants of a night in a hotel room with six dudes. Scattered pillows and blankets. Random drink cups and paper bags littered throughout. Relatively similar to what one would come to expect from a group of people that have been hiking for three months. 

I said my goodbyes to Smokebreak with a little more earnest than the others besides Beehive; although I knew I’d see him before I saw Smokebreak next. 

We left the hotel room not long after and headed towards town once again. We were going to meet up with Taco, Miraj, and Slug somewhere downtown. The Safeway appeared on the corner so we stopped in to get some snacks and use the restroom and coincidently ran into the three. We piled our gear in the corner of the Starbucks and decided to chill for a bit before going to the park to hang for even longer before they hiked out. 

The time came for them to hike out so I said my final goodbyes to them as well. Taco and I had a moment, I’d say. He had become one of my favorite people I’ve ever met and we’ve shared some incredible conversations over the last few months.  

Noticed I said ‘they’?  

Once I got into Ashland, I knew it was time to take a look at my resources and to undoubtedly make a decision for what the rest of my summer would hold. To fill some of you in, I worked in corporate sales for about 7 months before I left for the CDT last year and have been traveling using the funds from that endeavor for the last 17 months. Prior to jumping onto the PCT, I calculated roughly 100 days of travel without having to sell my car or tack on too much credit to the card. I told myself that once I hit the 100 day mark I would make a decision. As life would have it, roughly 100 days after I left Ohio, the time came. I had a few options on what I could do. 

If you would have asked me before I left about what I would choose to do once my funds ran out, I would have immediately responded with an irrational “Oh, I’m selling my car. I wouldn’t consider anything else.”. 

A lot can change in three months, though. I hadn’t had the foresight to predict getting Giardia going into Bishop, initially taking my momentum away from the miles. I didn’t have the ability to foresee, or even fathom the possibility of meeting Pauline and falling in love. I couldn’t have ever imagined anything that actually occurred on the PCT, leading me to believe that I actually had no idea of my plans once the funds ran out. 

I considered everything, analyzed my choices, and made a decision. Now, I make it sound easy, well, because it was. I realistically only had three options, so narrowing it down and choosing was fairly simple. I’m fairly certain I had my mind made up long before this moment, but I just wasn’t sure. 

To let you in on something; Ducky was in Portland and we were legitimately going slightly stir crazy at the thought of trying to see each other again. We had been talking about trying to find a way to be with each other once more before she left for Amsterdam. Well, this was my chance to not only see her again, but to also make my final decision on whether or not I would continue hiking north, go home and begin work, or find work out west.

It just so happened to be that Scooter was also going to Portland the following day. His lungs took a brutal beating from the smoke that was emitted from the Hendrix Fire. His lungs were already quite beat up from an infection in the winter, so after much deliberation on his part, he made the decision to get off the PCT to prevent further damage.

So the decision was made. I would go to Portland to meet up with Pauline and make my final decision from there; whether I would sell my car or not, or find work, etc. 

I booked my greyhound ticket for Monday with Scooter and all that was left was the waiting game. We had one more night in Ashland then off to Portland.

Scooter and I have spent a lot of time on Trail together over the last few years, so we decided to find a nice stealth spot out of town to camp at before we got the bus the next morning. We didn’t want to get another hotel room so we meandered into the woods just outside of town and found a nice spot to camp for the night. We talked about how much of a whirlwind this year has been; reminiscing quite a bit about our road trip earlier in the year, our Long Trail Thru Hike last October, and the miles we hiked together  this year on the PCT. We’ve shared some incredible experiences together over these three years and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m thankful to have a friend who I’ve seen so much of the country with. 

 I slipped into sleep as darkness came and my last night in Ashland was over. 

Scooter and I woke up early and slowly got back into town to get ready for a long day of travel. We had a bus to catch to Medford, then a Greyhound to Eugene with a transfer eventually taking us to Portland. 

It was a long bus ride with little to no sleep. The constant hum of the engine kept me awake while the consistent and overwhelming screams of a child a few seats ahead of me began to drive me insane. We eventually stumbled out of the bus into downtown Portland without a clue where to go or what we were going to do for the next few hours. Ducky had already booked an AirBnB so we slowly meandered that way after stopping into the Montbell shop. 

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Shortly after we ended up getting an uber to the AirBnB. The last few hours with Scooter were quickly coming to a close, so we decided to grab some grub before he headed out back to Philly. The local pizza by the slice joint sounded appealing. 

After we finished our pizza, it was time. Scooter got up from the table, as did I. We embraced each other with a long hug and a few words of encouragement for each other. I know I’ll see Scooter sooner than later, but it was still tough to see him leave. 

I admire him far more than he knows. He’s one of the most driven and motivated people I’ve ever known. He’s eccentric, positive, indescribably genuine and truly just a good dude. I’m thankful we had the oppprtunity to hike another 1000 miles together this year. I watched him walk towards the bus stop as I attempted to process the fact that I had watched all of my friends either hike out, or go home. It’s an odd feeling seeing people continue on and pursue other passions when your amidst a thru hike. 

It was just Ducky and I at that point; something I had been looking forward to once again.

We didn’t have any real plans for what we would do in Portland, but most of the time, that’s exactly how I want to explore a city. 

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We began each of our slow, bright mornings in Portland with an americano for myself and a dry cappuccino for her. We tried a few different coffee shops off of Division St. over the course of time in the city, something both Pauline and I enjoy every bit of. Coffee is such a big part of both of our morning routines so it’s always nice trying new spots with her. She generally prefers her coffee with a croissant of some sort, so the search for the best bakery was on.  

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Our slow mornings were quickly followed by slower afternoons. The majority of our afternoons were spent napping and planning where we would get dinner that night. We found a few places that really peaked our interests. Each night we enjoyed each other’s company in a beautiful city, eating beautiful food, and having beautiful, riveting conversations. Pauline and I are very like minded in many different ways, but we hold very different lifestyles in our respective cities. This makes for an incredible amount of perspectives held within each conversation, creating long, engaging and truly eye opening conversations that would last for hours. That’s something I’ve really come to love about our relationship. 

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 So the days went on, and on, and on; or at least that’s how it felt. I’ve come to realize that time spent with Pauline is unlike any other. Minutes feel like hours. Hours like days. Everything is in full slow motion with her. I find myself absolutely astonished at how both quick and at how so slow each day moves with her. I felt like I had all the time in the world while I simultaneously watched the last few grains of sand drop into the bottom of the hour glass. We dared not talk about our final goodbye, well, until it finally came time. 

So if you haven’t figured it out by now, I made my final decision to get off of the PCT when I went to Portland. This post has both nothing to do with the PCT and everything to do with it. I’ll write a more dedicated blog post with my final thoughts on the PCT later, but yes, I made the decision to get off trail and see what was around the next bend, wherever that may be. 

Pauline had a flight booked back to Amsterdam on the 28th, and I chose to fly out a day before her, and all of a sudden the day had arrived. 

It was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say to someone.

I’ll keep it to that for now as far as our time in Portland together goes. The more I write and talk about it, the more I find myself wishing that I didn’t have to make any of these decisions.

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I got on the plane; my mind clouded with emotion. I had a layover in Chicago, then onto Cleveland where my good friend Danny would pick me up. 

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I’m home now, but only for a short amount of time before I embark on the next chapter of this wild adventure we call life. 

I’ve got one more blog post coming from the PCT. A culmination of thoughts I wrote down while on Trail, and post trail thoughts. My conclusion on the PCT will be in that post.  

Stay tuned.  

 

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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