Day 53 -57 (Ashland to Etna)
Miles hiked this section: 118
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 1607
We wake in Ashland in our soft king size bed feeling like real humans: rested, clean, calm, pain free, with fresh clothes and full bellies. We debate and decide to take another zero here. It feels like vacation for real.
A lazy morning blogging, ordering new shoes, and window shopping at the co op. Finally a moment when we’re full enough to not to go berserk in a grocery store. We have an early happy hour before amazing Mexican food with Lynn and George. Lynn is especially hyped on the margaritas, and I have two with her. We close our day at the classy wine bar called Liquid Assets.
The fundamental truth of hiking: what goes up must come down. So it is with the euphoria of town.
I wake at 4am sleeping on the floor near the restroom in our hotel room. Apparently my tolerance for booze is null. The Dionysian ritual of celebration and reward has reduced me to a feral, booze swilling carpet sleeping animal. The Kingsize bed with 8 pillows is only 5 feet away. Our hero has fallen. Today I will pay.
After ‘stealing’ jam packets at the continental breakfast we shuttle back to Callahans Lodge. Lynn and George begin their journey north, and we’re left so grateful for their company and generosity.
I sit at the hotel restaurant staring at a half drunk mimosa fighting, and sometimes winning, a battle with nausea. You can’t win all the time…I eat bread and butter and coke and vow to never again mix and match liquor.
We hike out around 1pm, and get in 14 miles before cowboy camping on a beautiful ridge.
Smoke fills the horizon as we make our way toward California. The light is diffuse, dense and mysterious. I listen to a lot of music today. Around lunch we run into our friend Chewie who we met on the AT. He is hiking northbound this year And we take an extra break with him to catch up.
A few hours later it’s HELLO CALIFORNIA as we reach the border. Despite the victory of finishing two states, we know we still have 2/3 of the miles to go – fact many disgruntled NOBOs will remind us of in coming days. By the numbers NOBOs we pass now will need 20 miles every day to finish before snow hits the North Cascades. They are tired of California, tired of walking, and are fully in the midway psychological battle common with thru hikers. Can they finish? Should they? Why bother? What is the meaning of my life? Is this really remarkable or am I just fulfilling a sysiphian task each day of walking up another hill? Who am I anyway? This sucks…
We have our own existential crises but the yoga training and previous hike of the Appalachian Trail provides us with more coping tools. We sing. We enjoy silence. We relish town and fun but always get back on track hiking pretty quickly. We make rituals. We set aggressive physical goals. We breathe. We find time to create.
Town day! We have 25 miles until the trail passes right thru the town of Seiad Valley. We hope to make it by 5pm.
The first 10 pass quickly. Listening to music I am visited by my mother in a reverie and really really feel homesick. I haven’t lived at home for almost 2 decades and yet I long for that type of extended connection and time with both my parents. Likely this will not be possible until October. Only 2 months away… But here time stretches and days seem endless. I have a lot of days to wait and many miles to go.
At the pass I run into Groucho for an early lunch. His eye is almost swollen shut because of a bee sting. We have 15 miles left to town on the PCT, but he has a hot tip from a NOBO that the forest road here goes straight to town cutting off 3 miles and a 1000 foot elevation gain. It also runs alongside a creek with a killer swimming spot. We are sold and enjoy the easy grade, swimming spot with cliff jumping into a cool river, and run ins with locals. Les, on old timer who’s live in the valley since the sixties, hears the neighbors’ dog barking and rides his bike out to talk to us. He wears a NRA hat, a nineties slogan tshirt, and ripped jeans with suspenders. We learn a lot about the history of the valley and he offers us a spot on his lawn.
The last 4 miles we sweat on the paved road and then we are in town with Pepsi and Pringles. We see a section hiker Jessie headed south who we met at Shelter Cove, and another SOBO Soaked that we met near Crater Lake. We hike out with Soaked 6 miles to a burned out campground full of burned out NOBOs. It’s smokey but not currently dangerous.
We camp low and sticky at 1000 feet, waking early to climb14 miles. The 6000 feet gain takes us till 2pm where we are rewarded with a cool spring and the friendly company of Soaked and Jessie. Soaked, a forest ranger, is fun to hike with knowing a lot about wildlife, safety, fires, plants and regulations. As a bonus he is a wildlife EMT with good stories. Jessie, a “reluctant pediatrician” is also a delight. She shares my midlife crisis world view, meditates in her spare time and savors the solitude of backpacking. We talk frankly about gear and girl issues and I am happy to have a new friend. We all camp together at the best site in a long time – a high rock outcropping nestled in a pine grove with great views of sunset. The smoke dissipates above 7000 feet and we see impressionistic clouds turn from white to pink to ashen muave and midnight blue as the stars start to emerge. Later, we see the Milky Way hovering like the Holy Ghost amongst the scattered stars.
Groucho and I wake by 5:00 to get an early start. Sunrise is made gorgeous by the smoke. At our morning break we are visited by a deer and her fawn. They are not habituated to humans, but she also seems disarmed by our singing so they come quite close.
We pass about 40 NOBOs today over gorgeous rolling mountain crests. It’s hard to go quickly passing so many but we keep conversations brief. We finish 26 miles by 4:45pm – probably our fastest marathon. We get a hitch 10 miles down a rite road to the friendly town of Etna. We are out of food and the have a grocery and town food! Out hitch is a lovely young woman who lives on a commune started in 1968 up in the mountains.
We eat at the local brew pub and camp for free at the city park under a giant oak.