June 30th- 12.5 miles, camping above Deer Lake
It was probably crazy, but I started my hike out of Sierra City at noon when it was supposedly over 100°F. I would have left much earlier in the morning if I hadn’t been seduced by a breakfast in town, updating my iPod, and napping in a comfortable bed.
It was hard to say goodbye to Art again. We had such a great two nights and the lure of returning home with him was strong. I’m so tired, even after taking a couple zero days, my body still hurts and it’s hotter than So. Cal. had been. I wasn’t exactly excited to get back on the trail. At least this time I didn’t cry!
The trail started with an eight-mile climb around the Sierra Buttes. It was so hot that I took breaks to sit in any patch of shade I could find. The first water source I came to was bone dry and the second was a slow seep from a spring. The puddles from the spring were so small, I had to use my syringe to pull out water.
I’m camping near a dirt road above a beautiful lake. My dinner tonight was a prepackaged Apple Waldorf Salad made by Packit Gourmet. It was pretty good for a trail salad, but it was just too much food. I washed down my feet and legs with some wet wipes I found in the hiker box before climbing into my tent. As I approached the tent, I could hear what sounded like tiny raindrops all over the fabric. I looked inside and saw dozens and dozens of little flies bouncing off the walls. It took forever to swish them all out or smash them against the walls.
I’ve been lying on my sleeping pad working on a crazy knot I just found in my hair. I don’t understand how I got it because I just washed it this morning. I hope I’m not getting dreads.
As I worked on the knot, I think I heard a buck- at least, that’s what I’m hoping I just heard! There was first what sounded like wood being broken or beaten. I thought there must be another hiker nearby preparing for a campfire, but the direction from which the sounds came didn’t make sense for there to be a hiker because it was coming from down the hill, away from the available camp spots. Then I heard what sounded like high pitched snorts. I’m guessing that it was a buck doing some territorial thing against a tree. All the same, I’ve brought my other trekking pole inside the tent in case I need to fight anything and my ears are perked up to the max trying to pick out sounds other than the overwhelming buzz of bugs trying to get in my tent.
July 1st- 23 miles
It was so warm last night that I barely used my sleeping bag. I kept waking up in a sweat. I guess this is the Nor. Cal. heat that I’ve heard about.
For the first time, I had a Carnations Instant Breakfast drink. Oh, delicious! Now I know what all the other hikers are going on about. I know it’s just that tasty because sugar is the number one ingredient. Oh, Sugar, why must you be such a great fuel for hikers and also be so bad for me? I’m starting to get sick of some of the food I’m eating. Some of it’s too healthy tasting, some of it’s too junky. I can’t even stand the amount of sugar on my dried pineapple anymore. I think I need more fats and protein, rather than carbs.
I had to ask myself today what it is I look forward to each day out here. I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated today and am not really inspired by my surroundings. The forest is lovely, but there isn’t was much diversity in shapes, colors, or textures out here. So, what is it I look forward to? I love the adventure and being outside. I really love coming across things of beauty like little wildflowers, bodies of water, or grand vistas. I like the exertion, until it hurts too much. I don’t mind being alone, until I get lonely or scared. Something is missing from today. I know learning how to deal with boredom and discomfort are part of the journey, but one never thinks it’ll be as mentally difficult as it really is.
[Update, Nov. 2014: Rereading this paragraph several months after being home is really frustrating. It’s hard for me to remember how challenged I was hiking through Northern California because I’m now sitting at home YEARNing to be back there! I will never again take my journeys for granted. In fact, I’d really like to re-hike this entire stretch, next time with an improved perspective!]
A beautiful young buck walked right through my camp while I was making dinner. His antlers weren’t yet developed and walked by only 20 feet from me. He stopped to look me in the eye, then kept moving. Beautiful.
I’ve made a fire to keep me company tonight. I haven’t seen a single person all day and that feels strange after seeing so many familiar faces recently.
July 2nd- 27.5 miles
Last night a visitor came to check me out and it scared the *mmm* out of me. Around 10:45, I was woken up by the sound of footsteps crunching across dead branches. I didn’t think it was a person because I hadn’t seen anyone all day and it wasn’t coming from the trail. I quickly sat up, grabbed my flashlight and shined it out from my tent. Two glowing eyes stared back at me from about 20 feet away and it wasn’t a small animal.
I yelled out, “NO! GO AWAY!” as fiercely as I could. It stared at me and slowly turned around. It walked across my line of sight behind the trees and stopped at the trail about 35 feet away. I couldn’t tell what it was, but my mind immediately went to either a bear or lion. I didn’t think a deer would be that loud and it didn’t seem very bothered by my yelling. I kept yelling, trying to sound like an aggressive dog. The animal stood in the trail staring at me; it bobbed it’s head down and up a couple of times, probably trying to get a good look at me.
After what felt like forever, it finally moved away into the trees. I could hear it scratching against a tree, and the wood sounded like it was splintering. I imagined large, sharp claws being sharpened against that tree trunk. I laid back down, still clutching my little light, listening hard. I thought about making a video for the blog at that moment, but I was so frightened and didn’t dare stop listening in case it came back to investigate me. It must’ve been a couple hours until I fell asleep.
This morning, I looked around for any prints on the ground or marks in the tree it had been scratching on. I didn’t see anything that would’ve indicated what kind of animal it had been. There were too many dead branches on the ground for prints and the tree must’ve been further away than I had thought.
I hiked on through the morning, leaving behind the creepy feelings of last night’s campsite. Reaching a road midmorning, I spied a couple coolers stashed by the side of the trail near a road crossing. “Yay! Trail magic! Maybe there’s a Gatorade or cookies!” Alas, I found only trash in the coolers.
I had a long, slow decent for most of the day toward the Middle Fork Feather River. It was hot and muggy, and the lower I got, the more jungle-like became my surroundings. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a great big river with a massive bridge. It was such a great surprise and it was the perfect temperature for a swim.
I spent two hours by the river, filtering water, making lunch and then going for a dip. I found a small area among the rocks where the water pooled like in a bathtub, but was flushed through by the rapids. I dunked myself in and it was HEAVEN. I must’ve lounged for 20 minutes before I noticed that I’d knocked what I thought was lichen off the rocks and that it was then attaching itself to me all over my body: leeches. Tiny, squirmy leeches were everywhere and I was frantically trying to find them and pull them all off. UCK! Not so heavenly.
The ten-mile climb out of the canyon was hot and steep. I had intended to only go a couple miles and camp at the next site, but it was dark and rampant with mosquitoes. So, I kept marching on another couple miles to the next site: same story. I ended up hiking all ten miles that evening to reach decent camping. Of course, my feet were hurting by the top of the ridge, but that two hour break really made it possible. If only there could be a beautiful river at 3:00pm every day I hiked, where I could wash and relax for two hours- I’d probably hike 27-28 mikes every day!
July 3rd- 23.5 miles, camping above Belden Town
It was exceptionally hot today. At every water source I came across, I stopped to soak my shirt before continuing on the hike. I carried extra water just so I could pour it over myself when the heat became unbearable.
There seems to be two groups of hikers: those that are putting in 20 to 27 miles each day and those that put in 27 to 32. I must be in the first group and not because I’m lazy. My feet just don’t want to walk more than 23 miles a day. Usually, the first few steps of the day are excruciating and, after about a tenth of a mile, they warmup and give in to the monotony of walking again. They often do great until after I hit mile twelve for the day, then they start asking me, “Are we there yet?” Then they just ache all afternoon until I get into camp. This is our normal routine. Whenever I put in more than 23 miles, however, my feet will hurt ALL THE NEXT DAY, from the very first step to the very last, and that makes it hard to put in the miles.
I’m cowboy camping tonight. The land here on this side of the mountian range is more desert-like, with low shrubs and large boulders. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic, but I definitely like being able to see my surroundings. On peaks and in the desert, I can look around and say, “That’s where I’ve been and that’s where I’m going.” In the forests of Northern California, I can’t see past the trees. I’m just surrounded by walls and walls of trees.
I just got sprayed by a skunk. JUST NOW. Holy, $h!#!! I am NOT having good luck with the wildlife. It’s smells, I smell. Great. [Update: That little skunk came charging towards me and was probably surprised by the big human burrito he found in his path. He skidded to a stop just in time for me to shine the light from my cell phone on him. He was adorable: less than a foot long, back arched and tail straight up in the air like a Halloween cat. I’d already heard the little “pppth” sound, but I was secretly hoping he hadn’t actually sprayed me yet. “No…, nooooo. Don’t do it,” I gently tried to coerce him. But it was pointless because just after he sped around and took off, I smelled the stench and could see the yellow stains all along the side of my bag and down jacket. Despite the heat, I stuffed my head entirely in my sleeping bag to block out the smell and dreamed of town food only six miles below.]
July 4th- 6.5 miles, staying with The Braatans in Belden Town
I got into Belden Town early enough to catch breakfast at the Belden Town Resort. The resort is hosting an electronic music festival and there are TONS of tents all along the river bank. Several hundred people came from all over to attend the concerts, which go on all day long for the weekend.
I called the Braatans of Hiker Haven and Brenda Braatan immediately came out to pick me up. They built an addition to their house specifically for PCT hikers, complete with two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. By the time I’d showered and napped, three other hikers showed up: Joker, Cracker Keeper, and Glitter. You can check out Glitter’s blog at UltraLightRob.Blogspot.com.
The three of us walked a quarter mile down the road to an RV park for laundry and some pretty famous milkshakes. The Caribou Crossroads milkshakes are famous among the PCT community for being “The Best Milkshakes on the PCT.” The kids at the park wanted to put on a little parade for 4th of July, which was super cute. They decked themselves and their little bicycles out with red, white, and blue streamers, beads, and flags. Someone played some all American country music while they rode in circles around the RV parking lot. It was pretty fun to be a part of their little celebration.
Back at the Braatens, we went through our resupply boxes. Glitter, Joker & Cracker keeper all had WAAAY too much because their parents were sending them extra stuff. All that extra food goes into the hiker boxes where people like me can swap out things their sick of for new goodies. Sometimes people put fun things in the resupply boxes. Another hiker got this tear out from Backpacker Magazine:
There are some pretty cute and, might I add, accurate depictions of hikers here. Doodles is a PCT hiker from 2013 who’s compiled and published her art in a book called Doodles Does the Pct.
I even got a few doodles of my own from my own resupply honey…