Julian to the Mexican Border

Highlights:  We hiked on from Julian through Mount Laguna after which we started seeing border patrol more and more.  We saw a tarantula on Halloween, and on Halloween night it rained on us for the first time since the Sierra Mountains.  We arrived at the Mexican Border around midday on November 1st and were greeted by White Jeep, who took us back to San Diego to stay there for a few days.

Day 120: Julian to Mile 60, 17 miles

October 29th:  We packed up and at the breakfast at the hotel we were staying at and headed to the library to write my last blog post.  The library in Julian was probably the best library of the whole trail.  Lots of computers, that actually worked, and didn’t remind you of the 90’s with essentially no time limit.  Wow!

We got a ride with an arborist back to the trail and hiked uphill in the heat… drenching us in sweat.
IMG_0435

Day 121: Mile 60 to Mile 36, 24 miles

October 30th:  In my last blog post I commented a lot about cacti, which were the dominant vegetation.  Now we seem to have hiked out of the land of cacti and back into the land of chaperral.  Chaperral covers the hillsides very well, making the look green, and leaving very few spots for camping or doing one’s business.  We hiked into Mount Laguna and were immediately given 10 apples by a school teacher who’s kids hadn’t managed to eat them all.  We wondered over to the Post Office with our fruit, and picked up a package that we had bounced from Warner Springs, and also inquired about a package from KEEN, hopefully containing some socks.  We were lucky enough to have been chosen by KEEN to receive socks every few hundred miles, but we probably completely messed up their system by going southbound.  In any case, we had been trying to get socks delivered to us at various addresses with very little luck, and this time we found out that they had managed to send a FedEX package to General Delivery at the Post Office.  Usually, the US Postal Service will not touch a FedEX package, but the post master there recognized my name and decided to accept it and attempt to forward it to Mount Laguna along with our other package.  Although this wound up not working out, I was very impressed with the Warner Springs post office for doing this!

We wandered around town checking out the mostly closed businesses.  The outfitter looked awesome, but was closed, and the cafe was mostly closed for food, but we were able to order a frittata at the drinks counter before heading out of town.  The folks at the cafe told us the forecast called for snow on Saturday, the day that we would be arriving at the border.  Mount Laguna is at 6000ft, and the border is several thousand feet lower, so there would be only rain for us.  But we couldn’t remember the last time we saw rain, and the prospect was very exciting!

The sunset was beautiful.  Clouds were building in the sky, but were light and fluffy, which makes for a spectacular sunset.  Since there is not much vegetation to speak of, we are always rewarded with beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

Pink sunset

Pink sunset

Sunset

Sunset

For the first time we started noticing border patrol aircraft namely helicopters.  From here on, border patrol will be appearing more and more.

Day 122: Mile 36 to Mile 11.5, 24.5 miles

October 31st:  Border Patrol became more and more abundant.  At every road crossing we saw them in their vehicles passing by.  We stopped at a campground with picnic tables to have lunch and one vehicle came into the campground and stopped right where the trail exited the park. Several other vehicles pulled in and out.  We sat there eating our lunch and watching them nervously.  As we exited the campground, passing right by the parked vehicle with the officer inside, the officer turned on the engine and exited the park.  From then on Dirt Stew was convinced our every move was being followed.  We passed a day hiker (undercover border patrol) who stopped and asked us:

“Since when did people decide it was a good idea to go Southbound on the PCT?”

He seemed annoyed.  Dirt Stew imagined this was because normally they have to have extra forces during northbound hiker season.

At some point in the day we realized it was Halloween and joked about dressing up as each other– the only “costumes” we were carrying.  I was excited that in the middle of the trail on Halloween, we saw our first tarantula.  I respectfully stopped and took a step back, pointing him out to Dirt Stew so that he could get his camera out.  Dirt Stew then proceeded to stick his camera about 1 inch away from the tarantula, scaring it into its hole, and all we got was a picture of a tarantula butt.

Tarantula's butt

Tarantula’s butt

Not only were there border patrol helicopters in the area, there were also many military airplanes and helicopters as well, probably carrying all sorts of deadly weapons.  All in all, this didn’t exactly make us feel more safe…  Eventually, we came across this sign:
Ummmm...

Ummmm…

As it got dark Dirt Stew was still convinced we were being followed by border patrol.

“They have infrared cameras, and they can see us even in the dark”  he said, half jokingly.

“Don’t they have something better to do than to follow a couple of PCT hikers who are hiking TOWARDS the border?”  I said.

Sometime in the night, the rain started.  It rained and rained and rained.

Day 123: Mile 11.5 to the Mexican Border, 11.5

November 1st:  In the morning, it was still raining.  We slept in.  As we had only 11.5 miles to do to reach the border, we weren’t exactly in a rush.  The rain persisted, so we decided to get up and get going.  Soon after we were packed up, the rain abated, and then stopped all together.  The sand we were walking on was now hard from being wet, and the footsteps we had been following for hundreds of miles had disappeared over night.  I suddenly realized that the people those footsteps we had been following were all no longer on the trail.  Sadie must have finished at least a day or two ago, and she was the next one in front of us.  Mother nature was reminding us that our journey too was almost over, and soon the land will forget us as well.

Why wasn't there one of these at the Canadian border?  We got the memo WAY too late...  :)

Why wasn’t there one of these signs at the Canadian border? We got the memo WAY too late… 🙂

We didn’t have far to walk, and as we headed towards a road that we were obviously meant to cross, we saw a truck parked where the PCT crossed.

“Border Patrol is waiting for us” Dirt Stew said, pointing at the truck.  I rolled my eyes.

As we got closer, we saw someone get out and wave at us, and Dirt Stew and I realized at the same time: “White Jeep!”  He had intersected us just 2 or 3 miles before the border to say hi, and offer us a honey bun.  From there there is a confusion of roads leading to the border with the trail winding through them.

So close!

So close!

As we continued on towards the border, we saw White Jeep’s truck again at another intersection, and behind it a Border Patrol vehicle.  “Just keep on going” White Jeep commented, as we passed him.  He drove on to the border, and I looked around for where the trail continued.  The Border Patrol officer, still stopped next to us, stuck his head out of his window and pointed down the trail “you’re on the right path” he said.  As we went on, he drove off, also toward the border.

“Ok, that one was definitely there because of us”  I said to Dirt Stew.

Finally we saw White Jeep’s truck by the gigantic fence of the Mexican Border, and we could just make out the monument marking the end of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Dirt Stew walked up next to me and took my hand so that we could walk the last stretch together, just as we had on the Appalachian Trail.  We walked up grinning, and walked straight up to the monument, looking at it for a moment before looking at each other for confirmation that we would touch it together to mark the end of our journey.

White Jeep was there to take many pictures, and I found the register on the back of one of the wooden pillars.  It was surprisingly cold and windy, so we didn’t linger for too long.

We made it!

We made it!

Whee!

Whee!

Yehaww!

Yehaww!

Signing the register

Signing the register

The border was amazing to me.  I couldn’t have touched Mexico if I wanted to.  There was a huge barbed wire fence with a dirt road behind it that border patrol were driving back and forth on, and a larger impenetrable fence behind it, and then Mexico was somewhere behind that.  We could see Mexico where a hill would stick up over the fence, and that was good enough for me.

The border-- with Border Patrol driving up and down constantly

The border– with Border Patrol driving up and down constantly

And just like that, it was over.

But we aren’t thru-hikers yet.  The miles that we had to skip around the fire closure in Northern California are still nagging us, reminding us that we did not hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail in one year.

Since we’ve gotten off the trail, we’ve showered and stayed with White Jeep and Seminole in San Diego for a few days.

Showering was a bit strange.  It felt like I was washing the trail off my body for the last time.   I was happy to see that even after washing my hands several times, there was still some stubborn dirt stuck in the grooves of my hands. The first shower, however wasn’t nearly as hard as the second.  You never take a second shower while you’re on the trail until you’re totally dirty again, and so it’s hard to convince yourself to get in the shower again once back in civilization while you’re still basically clean.

We decided that we’d better at least try to go back to Ashland.  The weather has turned quite a bit towards winter conditions, so we’re preparing ourselves with warmer clothing and some extra gear, but we would like to at least finish the last few miles of Oregon to have completed two states fully.  If the conditions are miserable, we’ll finish in Seiad Valley, but we’re open to hiking further if weather permits.  Chances are we won’t complete the Pacific Crest Trail this year, but we did give it our all.  There are probably many “thru-hikers” that didn’t complete the whole trail this year.  We have less than 10% left, and maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to get through there before conditions get too bad….  Stay tuned!
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Cajon Pass to Idyllwild

Highlights: As we continue to hike the desert section of the PCT, we are enjoying the sections that are less desert-like, and melting in the sections that are at lower elevation.  We were surprised by personal trail magic; hiked up the Deep Creek area where weekenders trashed the area around the hot springs. We stopped in Big Bear, and lost most of a day waiting for our packages, then stopped at Ziggy and the Bear before hiking up into the San Jacinto Mountains.  We are now spending the night in Idllywild!

Day 107: Mile 363.5 to mile 342, 21.5 miles

October 16th-  We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and started hiking downhill towards Cajon Pass.  We are in the habit of picking up trash we find on the trail, and when I saw a beer can out of the corner of my eye, I pointed to Dirt Stew to pick it up.  He sighed, and picked it up as I hiked on.  “IT’S FULL!”  He shouted.  “Wow, who would have thought ‘trail magic’ would look so much like trash” I joked.  As the day grew warm and the trail was meandering a bit much, we decided to split the beer.  As we got close to Cajon Pass, I was surprised by how beautiful the rocks were.  They looked like the rocks at Vasquez Rocks- probably formed by the same tectonic plate movement of the San Andreas Fault.  Ironically, however, these rocks had power-lines running over them instead of being set aside as a State Park.  I’m sure if the Vasquez Rocks had not been preserved, they would have things built on them as well.

Rocks and powerlines

Rocks and powerlines

Dirt Stew and I made a beeline for the McDonald’s, and had some greasy food before deciding to stay in the Best Western across the street.  The Best Western had a hot tub, and I happily jumped in.

Did someone mention McDonnalds..?

Did someone mention McDonalds..?

Day 108: Mile 342 to mile 318, 24 miles

October 17th- We slept in and went next door to the Del Taco to order a few burritos for the trail.  The lady taking our order asked us where we were hiking, and when we told her we had hiked from Canada she said astutely “Wow, I’m definitely not envious… but I think what you’re doing is pretty cool”

We hiked out and were thankful for some fog for the first half of the day, and soon got to a lake.  What a concept!  A lake with water?  We hadn’t seen one of those in a while.
A lake with water in it? In the desert? Wow!

A lake with water in it? In the desert? Wow!

We took water from the lake, but were very sad to see that around the lake was mostly trashed. People had gone so far as to dump whole trash bags full of trash by the lake.  Disgusting.  We hiked past dark, which is now our usual routine, and I was very thankful that my hips were not too sore.

Day 109: Mile 318 to mile 290, 28 miles

October 18th- After a few hours of hiking we came across brown bag by the trail which had “Happy Anniversary Dirt Stew + Dormouse, SOBO thru’s” written on it.  I was so touched my voice started getting squeaky.  “Awwww! That’s so sweeeeeeeet!”  I squeaked.  We opened it up and there was a note inside from “Just Bruce” with a big bag of fun sized Snickers.  Bruce had read our blog and wanted to leave something for us.  There was also a gallon of water.  The thought that went into this gift was amazing.  It is tremendous to find something seemingly in the middle of nowhere with your name on it.  Thru-hiking, especially southbound is a very lonely experience, and sometimes you feel like there’s nobody but you for hundreds of miles. This reminded me that we weren’t alone.  People care about hikers, and care that we are successful, and are there to cheer us on!

Amazing trail magic

Amazing trail magic

We scratched “Thank you” in the sand next to where we picked up the magic, and took everything with us, so as not to leave any trash behind.  Soon we entered the Deep Creek area where many people hike up to the hot springs.  The area had more trash on the trail than we could pick up.  We were feeling down on weekenders and day hikers, seeing all the plastic bottles chucked next to the trail, and the graffiti on rocks.

And nature without graffiti..?

And nature without graffiti..?

It seemed ironic to me that the people most likely to carry that trash out were the people who would have to carry it the furthest.  Something that Adrian, another southbounder from France said to us several days ago came to mind.  “I just take two things that aren’t mine off the trail every day”.  He said.  That was probably the best way to deal with the problem.  We couldn’t pick up all the trash if we wanted to, but if every hiker just took two pieces of trash that wasn’t theirs, the place would eventually get picked up.  Now if only we could convince everyone to do this…  When we got to the hot springs, there were so many people that I wasn’t even interested in going down to the springs themselves.  A vicious dog came running up to us barking and growling.  Immediately Dirt Stew and I put our umbrellas in front of us like shields.  The dog looked confused.  “Don’t worry, he’s nice, he just is afraid of your umbrellas”  Said a guy sitting on a picnic blanket with a sunburn.  Well, I wasn’t going to put my umbrella away to find out, so we move on quickly.  The whole area smelled like human waste, and there was toilet paper everywhere to support the smell.  There had been a warning in our water report about the water there being contaminated with human waste, and that it could potentially contain a deadly virus.  I have no clue why people go there.  It’s not like in the hot desert you’re ever really craving a hot spring…?  I don’t get it.

Day 110: Mile 290 to mile 266, 24 miles
October 19th- Today we hiked up into a nice forested area.  My hips were sore, but I hiked fast to get to Big Bear in time to do our chores and get to bed at a reasonable hour.  After waiting at the road for a while, a nice couple finally picked us up.  They stopped at a store for us to buy a few things, and we were grateful because we could now cook ourselves a pasta dinner at the hostel.  Once we got settled in the hostel and introduced ourselves to the myriad of strange characters there, we cooked 2 pounds of pasta and gobbled them up with a jar of pasta sauce and some apple turnovers for desert.  I fell asleep very early, probably before 8pm, and didn’t wake up again until 11 hours later.

Day 111: Mile 266 to mile 254, 12 miles

October 20th- After sleeping a ton, I was ready to get going again.  The only problem was that our packages had not yet been brought to the hostel by the owner.  Nobody was up, and we hadn’t done our laundry the night before, so we decided to do that while we waited.  We waited and waited.  Once other people started go get up, we asked about our packages.  We were assured the owner would arrive by 10AM.  We reluctantly waited.  10AM passed, 11AM passed.  Apparently this guy didn’t value our time.  Eventually around noon, our packages showed up.  We got a great care package from our friend Mike who sent us cookies, removable tattoos and pages of facts, song lyrics, poems, etc.  Finally we would keep our minds more active while we hiked!
Care package from Mike!

Care package from Mike!

We started eating the cookies and then we realized we were actually hungry again.  We decided we may as well find a place to get a decent meal before we left town.  We found a burger place and Dirt Stew ordered a chicken pot pie while I ordered a burger.  The waitress was impressed that Dirt Stew finished his dish.  Apparently most don’t, but of course for him it wasn’t a problem.  He was soon munching on Mike’s cookies again.  We got a ride from a very nice lady who happened to be originally from Virginia back to the trail, and soon ran into a couple sitting eating snacks, looking a lot like long distance hikers.  We asked them what their story was, and they had flip-flopped from Big Bear and were finishing up their hike.  We were pretty surprised to see new hikers.  We finally found a nice spot under a cedar and set up camp.

Day 112: Mile 254 to mile 230, 24 miles
October 21st- The temperature at night was perfect, since we were at higher elevation.  In the desert the tree-line is reversed from the rest of the planet.  Instead of there being no trees above a certain elevation, there are no trees below a certain elevation.  Below a certain elevation (maybe around 6000ft), it just feels like desert.  Above that elevation, there are trees, and it feels more like forest.  At some point we went around a corner and the trail looked like it was covered in diamonds.  There were white crystals everywhere.  I’m not an expert on rocks, but I’m guessing they were probably quartz.  The whole trail was covered in a layer of them, and they all sparkled.  I felt like a princess walking on them.  We continued on, and were singing Moby (badly) at the top of our lungs when a heard a gigantic ROAR. I stopped in my tracks terrified.  Then I saw cages not far ahead and remembered that we were supposed to pass an area with animals in cages that are being kept as stunt animals for the movies.  The roaring stopped soon after we stopped singing.  As we approached, we saw a lion, grizzly bears, a cougar, and even a raccoon in the cages.  They looked unhappy, pacing about in their tiny cages.  I felt bad for them.

Cages with animals

Cages with animals

We continued on down a valley where the trail had quite a bit of poodle dog bush, and was washed away in many spots where it crossed a stream.  Normally this wouldn’t be so frustrating, but we were losing the trail frequently, and we were supposed to be mapping it for Halfmile’s project.  Every time I tried to go ahead to find where the trail went and then summon Dirt Stew with the GPS unit to follow me.  It took much longer than had we not cared and just followed the stream bush-waking wherever we wanted.  We kept ourselves entertained by learning the state capitals, one of the pages of facts that Mike had printed out and put in our care package.  I liked spending some of our hiking time learning, and wished I had thought of this earlier.  We continued by learning the lyrics to “Let It Be”.  We decided to camp before dark so as not to try to find the fairly missing trail in the darkness.

Day 113: Mile 230 to Ziggy and the Bear (mile 211), 19 miles

October 22nd- As we walked down the creek further, it became hot as hell.  We were descending into the hot, hot desert, and it felt like the hot, hot desert.  I constantly felt like I was just over heating and covered in sweat.  We came across a wind farm that let hikers fill up water.  We went to get water and they invited us into their air-conditioned office building and offered us cold bottled water.  This was the best kind of trail magic I could have asked for.  We sat there long enough to cool off and rehydrate and then carried on a few more miles in the heat to Ziggy and The Bear, a couple of trail angels who let hikers camp in their back yard.  We chatted with Ziggy for a while and she gave us cold sodas, and then The Bear arrived with Chinese food and we were so thankful to eat some real food and chat about The Bear’s career collecting marine animals in Seattle for aquariums and Universities across the USA.  I was exhausted and we needed to get up early to put some of these low elevation miles behind us in the coolness of the early morning.  We slept under the stars in their backyard.

Dormouse, The Bear, Ziggy

Dormouse, The Bear, Ziggy

Day 114: Ziggy and the Bear to Mile 188.5, 22.5 miles

October 23rd– Our alarm was set for 5AM, and I reluctantly got up and started packing up.  I was surprised to see The Bear was up to bid us farewell.  We headed out in the darkness and hiked across the valley to the next mountain range.

Desert Valley

Desert valley at sunrise

The trail was washed out in many sections in this valley, and we eventually gave up on trying to follow it, and just walked on dirt roads that appeared on our map.  Just as it was getting light I was about to step on what I thought was quite a unique looking rock, when I decided to step to one side and take a closer look at it.  Thank goodness I did, because what I thought was a rock was actually a rattlesnake curled up in the sand almost flush with the ground.  Had it been any darker, and I would have stepped right on top of him.

Rattle snake disguised as a rock.

Rattle snake disguised as a rock.

We took some pictures, and continued on, studying our steps more closely.  As it got light and we started climbing, it soon became hotter than hell.  Maybe you haven’t checked your elevation profile map of the PCT recently, but if you look at the elevation difference between Mile 211 and Mile 188.5, you’ll notice that there is almost a 8000 ft gain to get up San Jacinto Mnt.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you, let me tell you– that’s A LOT.  I don’t think I’ve ever climbed that much in one go before in my life, to be honest.  For the first 3000 ft or so, it was hot as hell, and there was no shade.  The next 1000-2000 ft climb there were short oak trees.  These are the kind of oak trees that will leave you covered in scratches without providing an inch of shade.  At about 6000 ft, real trees started to appear, pine trees and cedars, and the temperature dropped significantly.  The trail was poorly maintained until we got close to the top where they had obviously had started doing something about the poor conditions.  A few miles before we were ready to camp, we saw another hiker named Mark who was out for a section hike.  He told us there was a very small water source up ahead, which was news to us, since we had carried enough water to make it to Idyllwild.  He had thought that since he had found water there, some of the other sources would have water too.  No such luck.  His mistake meant that he only had around 2 liters of water to make it to the next source, which was only a few miles before Ziggy and the Bear.  He was also intending on taking 2 days to do the trek.  It was obvious to me that this guy was in trouble.  I had just taken one day to do that section, and as a small woman, I had drank probably close to 4 liters.  Since there was now water before Idyllwild, I turned to Dirt Stew and said “Do you think we can spare a liter?”  He agreed, and we transferred a liter into one of his water bottles before walking on.  A minute later I stopped and looked at Dirt Stew again.  “I still don’t think he’ll make it, can you go back and give him more water?  He needs it more than we do”.  Dirt Stew agreed, and we gave him more water to hopefully make it to the next source.  We also gave him our contact details so that he could let us know that he made it safely.  We have had so much help from strangers- from people leaving us trail magic to hikers offering us food when we were low in the Sierra to being offered someone’s condo to stay in!  It was certainly time for us to give back.  “You guys are angels.”  He said.  It really was the least we could do.  Us hikers have to look out for each other.

Wonderful trees at high elevation!

Wonderful trees at high elevation!

Day 115: Mile 188.5 to Idyllwild, 14 miles

October 24th– We got going with some energy since we knew we’d be getting to town today.  The San Jacinto mountains were absolutely beautiful, and we really enjoyed hiking through the trees and the cooler temperatures.

Beautiful trees!

Beautiful trees!

We found the water source that Mark had told us about, and spent a good half hour or more collecting a few liters.  It wasn’t the easiest water source to collect from.  We had to take a side trail to get down to Idyllwild called the Devils Slide Trail, followed by a road walk into town.  We got to town quite early and stopped by a Mexican restaurant in hopes of getting an inexpensive big meal, but in this touristy town even the Mexican restaurant had small portions and the prices were kind of high.  Idyllwild is really cute.  It’s a mountain town at about 6000ft with tons of little log cabin vacation rental homes and cute touristy shops.  We found ourselves a hotel room and did our usual chores before watching a movie and falling asleep.

Quincy to South Lake Tahoe

Highlights: We are definitely now in the Sierra Nevada! The mountains have been growing higher and higher, and we have been seeing more and more granite. The views are amazing. Also: we got a wonderful care package from my mother in Sierra City, we saw Sadie again after nearly two months, and were invited to stay in someone’s condo in Truckee after only having met them for a few minutes! We walked through Desolation Wilderness which was absolutely stunning, and made the mistake of camping on top of a windy pass. We hiked out at South Lake Tahoe (which has a library!), where I’m writing this blog post from.  Unfortunately the computer here only let me upload 4 pictures.  Next time I will try to update this post with more pictures.

Day 58: Quincy, 0 miles

August 28th: The night before in our hotel in Quincy, the hot water didn’t work, and the air conditioning failed right before we wanted to go to sleep. We complained to the front desk, and they came to try to fix our air conditioning, but it broke again half an hour later. We were just falling asleep when the manager called us and asked us if we wanted to upgrade to a jacuzzi suite. I was half awake, and told them, that was very kind, but I just wanted to sleep. In the morning, we decided the jacuzzi suite sounded too good to pass up, so we’d take a “zero”. We went to the Post Office, and got the package that White Jeep sent us with all the backpacks to try on, and I picked the most comfortable one. Then I went to the library, subway sandwiches, and the convenience store before picking out a movie from the pile of DVDs that the hotel had, and retiring to the room to soak my sore hips and watch a movie. We felt lucky to be able to relax, but a bit guilty, as the “zero” felt undeserved. Our two rest days in Ashland were not that long ago. No more rest days until we are out of the Sierra Mountains!

Day 59: Mile 1270 to mile 1248, 22 miles

August 29th: We packed up and went to the Post Office to ship the rest of the packs forward, just in case, and got some more food before getting a ride back to the trail. We hiked a few miles before I decided that although the pack that I had felt great- it was probably a size too small. I have quite a long torso. There happened to be cell phone service in the woods, and I called the manufacturer of the pack to order myself a size larger. They would be able to get it to me in Truckee! We kept hiking and were completely surprised to see the last person we knew hiking the trail this year: Lubko. We had stayed with him for a night in Tahoe when we practiced our ice axe skills, “and so I basically saved your life,” Lubko concluded. He had taken a month off to sort out real life stuff, and so lost the herd of northbound thru-hikers.

Us and Lubko (Bam Bam) our friend from the Bay Area who hiked from Mexico

Us and Lubko (Bam Bam) our friend from the Bay Area who hiked from Mexico

Cliffs of Bucks Lake Wilderness

Cliffs of Bucks Lake Wilderness

Bucks Lake area

Bucks Lake area

Day 60: Mile 1248 to mile 1217.5, 30.5 miles

August 30th: We decided to hike as many miles as possible today to optimize our chances of getting to the store at Sierra City the next day before they closed so we could pick up the package my mother had sent to us. We pondered what could be in the package. The terrain was tough though, and it was not an easy thirty miles. A few miles into the morning I got a massive nose bleed. This is probably the 3rd or 4th nose bleed I’ve gotten on the trail, and in normal life, I never get nose bleeds. I imagine it has to do with how dry it is out here, and maybe also the elevation, although I’m not sure. Dirt Stew saw a bear, but by the time I caught up it had run away, and later in the day a huge snowy owl flew in front of my face, and somehow Dirt Stew didn’t see it. Maybe we should try to stop doing 30 mile days now that we’re not in “easy” Oregon anymore. For the record we did 8,044ft of elevation gain and 4975 of elevation loss.

Day 61: Mile 1217.5 to mile 1193, 24.5 miles

August 31st: Today there were lots of people on the trail- this is because it’s Labor Day weekend, of course (not that we’re good at keeping track of these things). The PCT went around the Sierra Buttes which were beautiful, but we were stuck on a very sunny, shadeless steep slope around them with tons of lose rock. I wondered how on earth horses could do this.

Sierra Buttes

Sierra Buttes

We hiked down to the road and managed to get a ride quite quickly into Sierra City where our package waited for us. We got to the store and got our package and opened it up to find lots of tuna fish, chicken salad, hummus, dense bread, and other snacks. I went back to the store and bought a cucumber and a lemon and some soda and we sat and ate and ate and ate. I called my mother to thank her for the food. We were able to eat most of what was in the box, except for some bread and the snacks, which we packed out. As we were trying to leave town, a lady named Lauren came up to us asking us if we were PCT hikers. She was very excited to meet thru-hikers, and told us the PCT was a dream of hers. This was our first real fan! As she was giving us a ride back to the trail, I was looking out the car window and saw Sadie! We hiked with Sadie in Glacier Peak Wilderness almost two months ago, and had struggled through the snow together, but we hadn’t caught her since. Lauren pulled over, and Sadie got in the car. We traded stories for a few minutes before Sadie had to get going to pick up her package before the store closed, and we had to get back to the trail. Who knows when we’ll see her again… We hiked 4 or 5 miles to a campsite near a stream, and there was a couple already there. We introduced ourselves, and chatted about gear and where we were headed. They spent part of their time in this area, and part of their time in New York, and so I asked them if they knew of an inexpensive place to stay in Truckee. They looked at each other and said “yes, we know a place!” Before we knew it, they were inviting us to stay in their condo at Sugar Bowl just a couple miles off the trail. Dirt Stew and I were both shocked that we would be staying in someone’s place while they were out backpacking! They were going to make all the arrangements to have it ready for us when we got there. And there was a hot tub to look forward to.  I have to say that hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has really restored our faith in humanity. That night we joked about how we were just hiking from hot tub to hot tub.

Day 62: Mile 1193 to mile 1162.5, 30.5 miles

September 1st: Fueled by all the protein in my mother’s care package, and driven by the promise of a hot tub, we pulled another 30 mile day, even though we had just told ourselves we wouldn’t push such big miles. I stopped for a break and opened a German “energy bar” that my mother had put in the care package. I took a bite. I’m used to energy bars tasting like chalk with all the protein they tend to pack in them, but this one melted in my mouth. It wasn’t so much an “energy bar”, it was more like chocolate covered marzipan with a hint of honey. Definitely the best ‘bar” I’ve had on the trail. I made Dirt Stew take a picture. The scenery was beautiful. In the morning we saw “drunk trees”, trees that are completely deformed by being pushed down by the snow. We also walked through some logging areas where there had obviously been logging within the last day or two right on the trail. We went above 8000ft for the first time on the trail, and found ourselves on very exposed ridges. We were thankful for no thunderstorms.

Day 63: Mile 1162.5 to Truckee (mile 1155.5), 7 miles

September 2nd: We were so excited to get going in the morning that both Dirt Stew and I left our umbrellas at our campsite. I realized this about a mile or two into our day, and Dirt Stew took off his pack and ran back to go get them. I kept walking, and as I climbed down the mountain towards I-80, I got completely lost. Luckily I was carrying the map, and bushwhacked to where the trail had to be. I found it, and Dirt Stew caught up to me very soon after. “Did you get lost?” Dirt Stew asked me? “Your footsteps disappeared for about 100 ft”. I was glad we didn’t lose each other at least, remembering what had happened to the Eskimo Brothers back up in Washington. We made it to the condo at Sugar Bowl and took a long shower while our laundry was running, and then jumped in the hot tub. I called the Post Office to see if my packages were there yet, and since they were, we decided to go into Truckee. At the Post Office, a lady named Andrea offered to give us a ride to Safeway. She happened to be from Charlottesville, the same town I grew up in. She was only a couple of years older than I, and we found that we knew some of the same people. She gave us a ride back to Sugar Bowl, and we cooked ourselves a nice pasta dinner with broccoli. We then also made some eggs and bacon before going to bed. We were so great full that we were given this opportunity to have a kitchen.

Day 64: Truckee to mile 1135.5, 20 miles

September 3rd: We got up and made ourselves more eggs and bacon for breakfast. We cleaned up after ourselves and got back on the trail by 10am. The trail was very rocky and there was no shade for many many miles. I was so glad, again, to have my umbrella. Good thing Dirt Stew had ran back to get them when we both forgot them. We hiked over 9000ft for the first time, and as I looked at the map, I started to worry about where we were going to camp. There was a long stretch where there was no flat ground according to the map. Finally we got to the top of a pass that was probably part of Squaw Valley Resort, and saw a sign for Wolverine Bowl (black diamond) ski slope. There was a flat spot right there at the top, and so we decided that even though it was exposed, we were unlikely to find something better. We pitched our tent and went to sleep. Several hours later, the wind picked up. The tent was flapping around like crazy, and both Dirt Stew and I tried to adjust our sides of the tent so it would hold up better. I got very little sleep, as the tent kept hitting me very hard in the head.

Day 65: Mile 1135.5 to mile 1105.5, 30 miles

September 4th: When I woke up in the morning, I realized that the tent stake on my side had come undone. No wonder it was hitting me in the head all night. We decided that we were never going to sleep on top of a pass again. I had looked at the maps the night before just before falling asleep, and found that we could do 27 or 28 miles to a lake. Perfect. At some point during the day I realized that my math was wrong. The 27 or 28 miles was actually 22 or 23. Not enough miles. Then I checked where 27 or 28 miles would land us, and it was the ONE place we definitely did not want to camp: on top of Dick’s Pass (9400ft). We could do 30 miles and wind up near a lake on the other side. Damn, another 30 mile day. Oops. That teaches me to do arithmetic right before falling asleep. As we climbed over Dick’s Pass, the sun was setting and we got amazing views of the lakes and the granite rocks of Desolation Wilderness. We decided Desolation Wilderness is definitely not overrated. Tomorrow we hike towards Echo Lake, and we must exit at Rt 50 to get to South Lake Tahoe to resupply (and write the blog!)

Dunsmuir to Quincy, CA

Highlights:  From Ashland we skipped ahead about 220 miles so as to avoid the numerous fires around northern California.  We hitchhiked on Rt 5 from Ashland to Dunsmuir and continued our journey from there.  We have been a bit upset to have missed 220 miles of the trail, so we are making lose plans to try to go back to that section after making it through the Sierra.  From Dunsmuir we immediately felt like we were in California with much more wildlife than Oregon or Washington: deer, bears, etc.  We also saw familiar lizards and dry scrub from living in the Bay Area the last three years.  We passed through many many small bits of “civilization”.  There have been many opportunities to get a meal here and there.  We also screwed up our resupply strategy by jumping ahead by several hundred miles, and wound up with a logistical nightmare which we worked out with our angelic friends Don and Jenny who are mailing us our packages.  By skipping forward, we also made it past any remaining northbound thru-hikers, and we found ourselves pleasantly alone in the woods at last.

Day 47: Ashland, 0 miles
August 17th:
We decided to take another “zero” but moving hotels to the Callihans, which offered a special hiker discount.  They also had a computer for me to blog on, so I could finally do the last blog post (finding computers is turning out to be a bit tricky).  During our second day off, Dirt Stew went to Super Cuts and got a hair cut.  We then finally had a relaxing evening.
Day 48: Dunsmuir (mile 1506.5) to mile 1494, 12.5 miles
August 18th:
We slept in, packed up and tried to hitchhike on the exit from the Callihans on Rt 5.  There was almost no traffic, and everyone seemed to be going back into Ashland rather than south on Rt 5.  Finally someone stopped and asked us where we were trying to go.  We told them Dunsmuir, but we weren’t having much luck.  He took us back into Ashland on the premise that it would be easier to hitchhike from a busier exit. This turned out to be true, and very soon a young man named Tim stopped and picked us up.  He was going as far as Yreka, probably half way to Dunsmuir.  We decided to take the ride.  Once in Yreka, after getting ice cream at the nearby McDonalds, we stood by the Rt 5 intersection trying to hitchhike.  Yreka is nowhere near the trail, and there is a sizable homeless/transient population there, which was not doing us any favors.  One young homeless guy walked up to us and tried to give us advice on hitchhiking.  “You should stand closer to the on-ramp” he said.  “People are going to fast there,” Dirt Stew answered “Nobody will be able to read our little sign.”  Our sign read “PCT hikers to trail: Dunsmuir, Rt 5 South”.  I was just hoping the guy would leave us alone, he was certainly not helping us out by talking to us.  Finally he wandered off after staying “I’m headed south too, but it’s way too hot to hitchhike now”.  Sweat was dripping down our backs, and we stood there for nearly 45 minutes before I said to Dirt Stew: “we really need to not look homeless.  Nobody wants to pick up homeless people”.  Across the street there was a Starbucks.  “I’m going to get a coffee.”  I said.  “homeless people don’t drink Starbucks.”  I went across the street and ordered the cheapest coffee, and filled it with cream to cool it off, and headed back outside.  I stood next to Dirt Stew and took a long deliberate sip of warm coffee.  The sweat accumulated on the small of my back.  Not 30 seconds later a Prius with 3 young ladies stopped and the girl in the driver’s seat leaded out and said “You guys trying to go south?”  “YES!” we answered.  We jumped in the car.  “Thanks for picking us up!” we said.  “No problem.  We knew you guys weren’t homeless because of the Starbucks cup.”  I gave Dirt Stew a very smug grin.  Half an hour later we were back on the trail, hiking again.
Day 49: Mile 1494 to 1469, 25 miles
August 19th:
In the middle of the night, we were both woken up by a thermocline which had somehow made its way up the ridge.  I woke up sweating.  The heat subsided after half an hour or an hour, but it made me nervous because the heat was accompanied by the faint smell of smoke.  I finally fell back asleep once it cooled off and the smoke smell dissipated.  In the morning, there was no sign of smoke or fire, so we continued on.  It was very warm, probably in the 90’s and it was hard to consume enough water to keep hydrated.  We made it to a campground that had a privy.  I went in and sat down, and immediately saw that one wall was basically covered in bats.  Dirt Stew told me he didn’t feel comfortable using the privy with so many bats making little squeaking noises.  I thought they were kinda cute.  There was lots of poison oak throughout the day, and I was very grateful that we were good at identifying it.  We also passed a section hiker, and asked him if he had any maps that he wasn’t using anymore, and he gave us a few, which was very helpful, since we were hiking with no maps because we had skipped ahead, and hadn’t gotten the maps for this section yet (they were in our resupply box for a town we skipped).  In the middle of the night, I was awoken by a very large black ant crawling on my face.  I squished it, and wondered how it got in the bug netting of the tent.  I found several others inside our tent, and they each died a similar death.
Day 50: Mile 1469 to 1439, 30 miles
August 20th:
Today was less hot, and we went though a lot of logging areas with many roads, and not much shade.  Manzanita bushes line the mountains making them look deceptively green.  The trail was very dusty, and we could see tracks of may animals, which seem to use the trail more than people.  Deer tracks, bear tracks, etc.  The bear tracks were everywhere, and eventually, we saw several bears which ran away from us.  We got to our first dry spring, but thankfully found water just half a mile later.  Again in the middle of the night an ant wakes me up by crawling on my face.  I don’t know what these ants are thinking, but they have a death wish.
Day 51: Mile 139 to mile 1417, 22 miles
August 21st:
The trail continues to be dusty, and we saw many more bear prints.  We also saw a cougar print.  I thought in the past I had seen cougar prints, but now that I definitely have seen a cougar print, I know the prints I saw in the past were not cougar prints.  Cougar prints are ENORMOUS and cannot be mistaken for any dog, smaller cat, etc.  If anything, they could be confused with a bear print if the bear was sort of walking more on its toes than on the heel of its paw.  But the size print is about the same.
Cougar Print

Cougar Print

 It continues to be very hot out, and we used our umbrellas for shade basically all day.  We made it to Burney Falls, and took coin operated showers, and washed some clothes in the sink.  We bought the only “real” food in the campground store, which were hot dogs, and had two each, even though they were outrageously expensive.  No cell phone service, but I found a pay phone, which was inconveniently located directly in the sun.  I called my mother, and she told us she would send us a box to Sierra City!  She tried to help us find the next town, “Cassel” where we had a box sent, and as the sweat dripped down my newly washed back, I realized this was probably another town that basically didn’t really exist.  We still had no maps or data, having screwed up our resupply boxes.  The falls at Burney Falls were pretty neat.  The water comes directly out of some rocks, because the water cannot go through the rock, but the creek above is dry.  We kept walking out of Burney Falls on very flat terrain, which was some sort of volcano plain with some burn areas.
Day 52: Mile 1417 to mile 1391, 26 miles
August 22nd:
Quite early in the morning, we hit an unbelievable “cache” that some trail angels left for hikers.  There were lawn chairs, a picnic table, and a pantry built into something that looked like a kiosk.  There were also sodas, and a table with pots and pans and a camp stove for cooking yourself food.  We were completely in awe, and spent some time munching on crackers, sipping cool sodas, and sitting in comfortable chairs before leaving a note of thanks and moving on.  We got to a lake which had so many ospreys flying around, they were like pigeons.  People were fishing on the lake, and they pointed us in the direction of Cassel.  We only had to walk about a mile and a half up a dirt road to get to the Post Office where we picked up our package which had a new backpack for me.  My Golite backpack was becoming more and more uncomfortable, and I could barely carry any weight in it, and I was so excited for getting my new osprey pack.  I thought it was ironic that we got it in a place full of ospreys.  Good timing too, because we had to fill up with 12 liters of water to prepare for the 30 mile water-less stretch of the Hat Creek Rim area.  The pack felt amazing for the first hour, and then it started pushing and rubbing on several bones on my back.  It hurt more and more until I realized it was even more uncomfortable than my old back.  I was very upset, and finally Dirt Stew and I traded packs, and he wore my purple size small pack, and I wore his gigantic pack.  Surprisingly, this worked.  We walked through the Hat Creek Rim area, which felt a bit like death.  Everything was so dry, and there were basically no trees.  We passed many cows, and didn’t make it out of cow territory before camping for the night.  We hoped no cows would disturb us in the night.
Death in Hat Creek Rim

Death in Hat Creek Rim

Sunset from Hat Creek Rim

Sunset from Hat Creek Rim

Hat Creek Rim

Hat Creek Rim

Day 53: Mile 1391 to 1369, 22 miles
August 23rd:
Woke up to cows mooing at sunrise.  We got going and walked the rest of the Hat Creek Rim to the side trail to lava tubes.  This was an amazing side trip, which was only 0.4 miles off the trail.  The lava tubes are gigantic and you can walk through them.  They are basically like caves.
Lava Tube

Lava Tube

We kept on to Old Station, where there is an RV resort with a post office where we had sent another box.  We took a shower there, which came with a towel (very exciting).  They also had laundry (also very exciting).  We made a bunch of phone calls while waiting for our laundry to finish, and luckily my mother had realized that next weekend will be Labor Day weekend, and we would miss the post office where she was planning on sending us our package.  Thank god she thought of this, because it never occurred to me.  She also did all the research to find out that there was another store in town, open all days, that accepts packages. Stupidly, we still didn’t have the right data to be able to look up all this information ourselves.  We left Old Station feeling very clean, and as we walked out, heard many gun shots.  We sang loudly so as to identify ourselves as people, not deer, and finally got out of that area.  We made it to the boundary of Lassen Volcanic National Park, and pitched our tent in a flat area inside the park.  After falling asleep, Dirt Stew woke me up suddenly at 10pm: “What’s that noise?”  He asked.  I took my ear pugs out.  There was an animal outside growling, and scampering around.  I turned on my headlamp as the animal scurried up a tree.  I saw its eyes glowing, and felt some relief to see it wasn’t an extremely large animal (our fear had been that it was a cougar).  It made ungodly noises and ran up and down the tree at an amazing speed before jumping off and running into the woods.  We only saw its outline, and it was about the size of a dog, only it moved like nothing I had ever seen before- very quickly and low to the ground.  My heart was racing, and I left my earplugs out for an hour or so before sleep overcame me again.
Walking to Lassen

Walking to Lassen

Day 54: Mile 1369 to mile 1345, 24 miles
August 24th:
We spent the day hiking through Lassen Volcanic.  The Pacific Crest trail does not see many of the highlights of the park, so we were glad to have visited the park last year, and seen the sights that were far from the trail.  We took a side trail to see Terminal Gyser, which was definitely worth going to– with steam rising higher than the trees.
Terminal Geyser

Terminal Geyser

Terminal Geyser

Terminal Geyser

In the middle of the park there is a resort that existed long before the park was a National Park, called Drakesbad Ranch, and it is only a quarter mile off the trail.  We decided to go see if they had meals available there.  Going there was a great decision.  As I walked up, the owner asked “are you a PCT thru-hiker!?”  “Yes!” I replied, and he gave me a huge hug!  Weird, I thought, remembering how dirty and smelly I was.  But I felt right at home.  They had a buffet style lunch with tons of vegetables and fruit, which we had been craving.  We ate and ate, and talked with the owner, who told us he believed the devil-like animal that woke us up last night was a raccoon.  He said they become very aggressive, especially since so many people feed the animals.  He also welcomed us to go take a shower near the pool, and take a dip.  The pool was fed by hot springs, and was normally over 100 degrees, Fahrenheit, but since the drought they have reduced the flow, and the temperature was in the 90’s.  We jumped at the opportunity, and spent a half hour showering, and jumping in the pool, lounging on the toy noodles, trying to relax (something we don’t do often!).
Relaxing in the hot spring fed pool

Relaxing in the hot spring fed pool

We kept on, and hiked past the boundary of the park before camping.  Maybe the racoons here are less aggressive!
Day 55: Mile 1345 to mile 1321, 24 miles
August 25th:
We had camped between two dirt roads, and we were woken up at 5am (an hour before sunrise) by logging vehicles and machinary.  We got going by 6am, and the air was completely dusty.  The trail went up from the valley, and as we rose, I could see the haze of smoke left behind by the logging vehicles.  These people were logging basically directly on the trail.  There were signs warning us of falling timber.  We tried not to be annoyed, since this land probably belonged to them, and they were kind enough to let us walk though.
Logging on Trail

Logging on Trail

We got to the road going to Chester, and met a runner who offered to take us in.  For the first time we didn’t actually NEED to go into town since we didn’t have a package waiting there, but we decided we could spare an hour or so just to have a quick meal.  “All the hikers go to The Dentist”, the runner told us.  He dropped us off there, and there was a huge banner outside the dentist office saying “Welcome PCT Hikers!”  We went in and were surprised to be given toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and a coupon for a free meal at a local restaurant.  We were so glad we came to Chester!  We thanked the dentist, and the receptionist (the tooth-fairy), and made our way to The Locker Room, the local restaurant for which we got the coupon.
Dormouse and the Toothfairy

Dormouse and the Toothfairy

We had bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and ice cream.  Once we were stuffed, we went back to the road to try to get a ride back to the trail.  A couple picked us up, and the gentleman turned out to be an ALDA West newsletter editor (American Long Distance Association), and before we headed back to the trail, he took a picture of us.  Who knows, maybe we’ll be in the newsletter (!?)  The trail went up and up and up, and soon we found ourselves back above 7000ft for the first time in may days/weeks.  We made it to the midpoint monument, and after taking a few pictures, we realized a storm was approaching.
Midway Point

Midway Point

Why are we always at high elevation for storms?  We walked as quickly as we could past the exposed areas, and used our umbrellas when the rain finally came.  The storm was not bad, and the thunder didn’t continue for too long, so we were thankful.  We camped at lower elevation.
Day 56: Mile 1321 to mile 1291, 30 miles
August 26th:
The trail was very up and down.  I guess we’re no longer in Oregon!  We also saw so may deer, more than maybe the whole rest of the trail combined.  We also saw a small bear, which galloped away from us at an impressive speed.  We started the decent into Belden, and we had originally only planned on going 26 miles to where we knew there was a campsite, but we ran into a section hiker, who told us there were some very small spots a few miles further.  In order to make the next day easier on ourselves, we decided to keep going.  The sun began to set, and there were no spots.  Poison oak started to appear as well, and we got nervous about hiking in the dark with poison oak.  We decided to camp directly on the trail, but after examining our spot, we saw that we would be camping on a giant ant hill.  “This won’t do” I said.  I was not willing to spend my entire night killing ants.  We packed up and kept going in the dark.  Finally the trail widened a bit more, and there was space for our tent.  No ants!  My hips were very sore, and it was hard to fall asleep.  Since we went down about 4000 ft, the air was much warmer, and we basically did not need our sleeping bags.
Day 57: Mile 1291 to mile 1270, 21 miles
August 27th:
We had to go to Caribou Crossings, a small store in Belden to pick up our resupply package, and after that we wanted to hike the 20 miles to Quincy, a town that White Jeep had sent us another package with several backpacks for me to try on.  We got to Rt 70, and tried to hitchhike the 1.7 miles to Caribou Crossings.  The road was windy, with no shoulder, and cars going 55+mph.  Actually, that’s not true, there were basically no cars, only big trucks.  Nobody stopped for 45 minutes, and we were losing our patience.  We had miles to hike, and we were wasting time.  We decided we had no option but to walk.  The road-walk was horrible.  There was no room to safely walk, and it was curvy with a cliff going up on one side, and a cliff going down on the other, with huge trucks going 55mph.  One truck honked at us loudly.  We finally got to the store/cafe, and walked in.  A lady greeted us by saying “oh, I saw you guys on the road, I almost stopped to pick you up.”  A wave of anger went through me.  I looked at Dirt Stew, and I knew we were thinking the same thing.  It would take a lot of self control, but we would not buy a single thing there.  We took our package and walked out the door.  “Can you believe that?” Dirt Stew asked me.  We were both more angry than hungry, and just stuffed the contents of our resupply box into our packs and walked the 1.7 miles back on the horrible road, knowing nobody there would stop for us.  Yogi’s guide says “Belden is creepy.”  I’d like to second that.  There is nothing nice about Belden.  Heck, there’s almost nothing there, but what is there is creepy, and full of bad vibes.  We left as quickly as possible, heading up up up the other side of the valley.  The climb out of Belden was another 4500ft, and we soon found ourselves back up above 7000ft.  The climb was much nicer than the decent, and the scenery was finally beautiful.  We hadn’t seen such beauty in a long time, and it felt like we were getting close to the Sierra.  There were views of huge granite cliffs and lakes.  We made our way to the road crossing to get to Quincy, and managed to get a ride in.  We didn’t make it before the Post Office closed, so we got a hotel room, some food, and took a brief shower before falling asleep.
Cliffs

Cliffs

Santiam Pass to Ashland, OR

Highlights: This long section in Oregon has been quite flat, and so we have been trying to hike many miles to make up for lost time up in northern Washington due to snow.  This section has been less scenic than previous sections, except for Crater Lake, which was an unbelievable sight.  From right before we arrived at Crater Lake until several days afterwards, we have experienced many electrical storms resulting in wild fires throughout the area.  At Crater Lake, we just managed to pick up our mail at the store before an electrical storm caused the entire area to lose power.  We left without showering, doing laundry or getting any “real” food.  We pushed to make it to Ashland by Friday, August 15th, before the Post Office closed for the weekend, and in doing so, averaged 30 miles per day for 5 days straight.  I honestly never thought I’d be able to say that.  After we arrived in Ashland, we were confronted with grim information on what lay ahead: many more fires in Northern California, with several sections of trail closed.  Piecing together the open sections seems almost impossible, and there are almost no alternative trails to choose from.  We will consider our options, but most likely we will have to skip a large chunk of Northern California, giving up our hard-earned continuous footpath from Canada.

Day 35: Santiam Pass to McKenzie Pass, 18 miles

August 5th:

After finishing up some chores and eating breakfast with White Jeep and Seminole, we headed back to the trail.  Right at the road, we met a couple of hikers, and stopped to say hi.  We said we were southbounders, and they looked at us with wide eyes, almost in disbelief.  “We’re southbounders too!” said Metric.  Metric and Sticks started their hike on July 9th from the Canadian border, and had been right behind us for quite a while and didn’t think they would catch up with us so quickly.  With a couple of slower days due to our stop in Bend, they had managed to catch us.  “We were told there was a couple named Dirt Mouse and Door Stew somewhere ahead…” Metric said.

They were sitting next to a cooler someone had placed by the side of the road, and we asked them “was there any trail magic in there?”.  They told us it was just full of trash, but that there was a message inside the cooler that read something like this:  “These sodas are for Pacific Crest Trail Northbound Thru-hikers.  If you are not a Northbound Thru-hiker, we won’t stop you from taking one, but please consider the northbound thru-hikers, who have hiked nearly 2000 miles to make it this far.”  We were all deeply offended, but slightly amused at the same time.  Southbounders almost never get trail magic, and if we do, it’s because we’re passing the Northbound “herd”.  People don’t even consider that people hike the trail in the opposite direction.  Metric and Sticks hiked off to Big Lake Youth Camp to resupply, and we hiked on.  We crossed the Lava Rocks, which everyone told us were arduous, hot, and hard on the feet, but we found them quite interesting, and not too bad.

Trail through lava rocks, with one of the Sisters in the background.

Trail through lava rocks, with one of the Sisters in the background.

White Jeep met us at McKenzie Pass to test the GPS rig, and we decided to spend another night in town so as to make a few resupply boxes to send to ourselves in the Sierras.  We wound up getting to bed late, but having done quite a lot.
Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

Day 36: McKenzie Pass to mile 1973, 16.5 miles

August 6th:

After eating another large breakfast with White Jeep and Seminole, we made it back to the trail and thanked them profusely for driving us back and forth so many times.  We continued to hike on the lava rocks and cinder fields, and we were very happy we had our umbrellas for shade.  The day was clear unlike previous days, and we had beautiful views of the Sisters.  Dirt Stew had been talking since before we started our hike about the Obsidian Trail, where there were very interesting volcanic rocks.  This trail passed the PCT, and we could make a little loop to regain the trail further along.  I went along with the idea, but the trail was not worth it.  We wound up doing several more miles, a lot more elevation change, and it turns out that the rocks were also along the Pacific Crest Trail, and we actually wound up going back on ourselves on the PCT to get to the Obsidian Water Fall.  Oh well.  We camped next to a lake buzzing with mosquitoes.

Day 37: Mile 1973 to mile 1944, 29 miles

August 7th:

Another sunny day, but there were more trees, providing us with some shade.  The terrain was very flat, and we passed more lakes than we could count.  With all these lakes, come mosquitoes.  We’ve started passing more and more northbounders, and once in a while we stop to chat with them to exchange information.  An elderly couple stopped to chat with us, and we introduced ourselves.  “You’re Door Mat and Dirt Soup?” the half-deaf elderly man replied, turning his ear towards us. “no, no, Dormouse and Dirt Stew…” We grew tired of introducing ourselves to so many people we would never see again.  For them, passing a southbounder was rare, but as we go south, more and more northbounders cross our paths every day.  They’re quite a bit nicer than the early-birds, but spending 5 or more minutes talking with each one and making any forward progress is almost impossible.
The trail has been so dusty, and we are covered in a layer of black dust.  Our feet are completely black, and our legs are starting to look the same.  We are happy that we are currently carrying way too much food, and so we are constantly gorging ourselves.  Having bought probiotics in Bend, my stomach is doing much better.  We camped by a spot called Cougar Flat.  We didn’t get eaten by cougars, so we must have gotten lucky.

Day 38: Mile 1944 to mile 1917, 27 miles

August 8th:

Today was an easy day, as the trail continued to be quite flat.  As we came to a road crossing, we found a note left behind by a northbounder saying that a ranger had told him not to hike north of that road due to a fire.  We must have managed to hike past this fire without knowing it, and we were glad to be headed south.  We took a long break at a surprisingly bug-free lake, and continued to eat tons of food since we were still carrying much too much.  We found another surprisingly bug-free lake to camp beside, and fell asleep very fast.

Day 39: Mile 1917 to mile 6 on alternate trail, 21 miles

August 9th:

We got up late since there were only a couple of miles to Willamette Ski Lodge, which apparently had a restaurant only open on weekends, and it was a Saturday.  We slowly made our way there, only to find that in fact it was closed all summer due to low business.  Irritated with having slowed down to hit this spot, we continued on to Shelter Cove.  Shelter Cove was basically an RV camp with a small store, coin operated showers, and coin operated laundry.  It was crawling with Northbounders.  We barely had a spot to set our stuff down, and stuff our resupply food into our packs.  The showers were $1.50 for 3 minutes.  It was impossible to get clean in 3 minutes, so when the water ran out, we spent some time just scrubbing ourselves before adding more money.  We decided to hike out, taking an alternate trail called the Oregon Skyline Trail which had more water available than the PCT in that area.  As we were on this alternate, we ran into Sideways D and Moonshine, two hikers we knew from the Appalachian Trail in 2010.  We knew they were also on the PCT this year, but had no idea when we would run into them.  It was just chance that we both decided to take the alternate.  We traded stories and talked about our various aches and pains.  It turns out Sideways D was hiking on a stress fracture in her foot, and she had similar muscle spasms in her neck as I do.  I am hoping that getting a more sturdy backpack will help with the muscles in my neck.
Appalachian Trail 2010 reunion!  Sideways D, Dormouse, Moonshine and Dirt Stew (from L to R)

Appalachian Trail 2010 reunion! Sideways D, Dormouse, Moonshine and Dirt Stew (from L to R)

Later that day, Metric and Sticks caught up with us, and we camped with them.  They told us they wanted to make it to Ashland by Friday before the post office closed for the weekend.  We had asked Don and Jenny, our wonderful resupply people to send my new backpack to Ashland, and I realized that if we wanted to send my current backpack back home, we probably should also make it to Ashland before the Post Office closed.

Day 40: Mile 6 on alternate trail to mile 1856.5, 33.5 miles

August 10th:

We hiked to the junction of the alternate and the PCT, and crossed paths with Halfmile, who is also carrying a custom GPS rig to log the trail, going northbound.  We sat with Halfmile and discussed logging campsites and water sources, and other details before continuing on.
Dirt Stew and Halfmile with their custom GPS rigs.

Dirt Stew and Halfmile with their custom GPS rigs.

Later on in the day, a very fierce thunder storm hit the area just as we were approaching the Oregon highpoint for the trail.  We wondered why it was that we were always in sketchy places when storms hit.  We decided that it had more to do with the areas we were in, more than timing.  We basically ran over the exposed highpoint and down the other side of the ridge to the safety of trees, and coverage.  With a view of the valley, Dirt Stew and I both saw a huge lighting bolt hit a spot in the trees below.  Almost instantly, smoke began to rise.  We caught up to Metric and Sticks at a water source, and told them about the wild fire we saw get started, and further down the trail, we saw it again, and realized that there were in fact now several fires in that valley.  We kept hiking to get away from the area, doing a few too many miles for our poor feet, and camped in a safe spot.
Day 41: Mile 1856.5 to mile 1828, 28.5 miles

August 11th:

We got up early to make it to Crater Lake in time to do chores and eat restaurant food there.  We also wanted to spend some time looking at Crater Lake itself.  We took the Rim Trail, walking half way around the lake to the other side.  The lake was incredible.  Much bigger than I was expecting, and absolutely stunning.  It was hard to imagine the huge mountain that must have been there before it blew.  We gazed down into the lake from the Rim Trail, and admired the geology.
Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Tons of tourists to take pictures of us in Crater Lake  National Park.

Tons of tourists to take pictures of us in Crater Lake National Park.

So happy to see Crater Lake!

So happy to see Crater Lake!

As we looked up towards the sky, however, we noticed more ominous clouds moving in.  We couldn’t waste too much time at the rim, and get caught there in a storm.  We found the trail down to the Mazama Store, and followed it down.  We got to the store before 5pm, and grabbed our mail and resupply boxes, and found a corner to pack our stuff in our bags before heading to the restaurant.  We found Sticks and Metric also hanging out by the store.  They had sent their box to the wrong place, and were trying to figure out how they were going to get enough food for the next section.  Luckily, we had too much food, and there was some other leftover food in the hiker-box (place were PCT hikers can leave items they no longer need, or extra food), so they were able to piece together enough to make it to the next town.  Suddenly, the electrical storm was on top of us, and before we were able to pack up, the electricity in the entire area was out.  We rushed over to the restaurant to see if we could get in and get food, but they were closing down already.  We rushed back to the bathrooms to see about getting a shower or doing laundry, and they were being closed as well.  I checked my cell phone in order to call home, as I had promised from Shelter Cove, and there was no cell phone signal.  It started to rain, and we huddled under an awning trying to figure out what to do.

Sticks showed up with a big bag full of food, and we asked her where she got it from.  “A ranger brought it over to the hiker-box. Apparently someone left it in one of the bear boxes next to the campground, and they have to clean them out once in a while.”  We sat there and ate peanut butter on bread, apples and cookies, and discussed our options.  Metric and I decided maybe it was smart to try to get a ride out of there and find a hotel.  We stopped some people in vehicles to ask about leaving Crater Lake, but it seemed that everyone was spending the night in the campground, and the nearest town was quite far.  It would be difficult for us to get back to the trail in the morning.  A man came over and said that he was missing his food that he had put in the bear box, and what we were eating looked very familiar to him.  We all felt instantly horrible, and guilty, and gave him everything we could that we hadn’t already devoured, and offered him money for what we had eaten.  We couldn’t believe that the ranger had somehow taken food from someone who was still at the campground and given it to us.  The man didn’t seem too upset, turned down our money, but he did want his peanut butter back.  I felt really bad, but the damage was already done.  At least we got some food.  As the man said, we probably did need it more than he did…  Once the rain subsided, we all decided there was nothing left for us to do but hike out.  Only slightly fed, still totally dirty, and not having contacted anyone at home… we walked back out into the forest.

Day 42: Mile 1828 to mile 1798, 30 miles
August 12th:

We woke up to the sound of thunder.  The thunder storms kept following us all day, and we soon found ourselves in some sketchy areas on open ridges.  Half way through the day, we passed a northbounder who turned around and said to us “oh, by the way, there’s a tree on fire about 3 miles back”.  This guy looked like he was on drugs.  He had a wild look in his eye, and we wondered whether we should believe him.  Having felt like we had just met Moses, and not sure of what to do, we just kept pushing forward.
Soon enough we passed some more northbounders, and asked them if the story was true.  Yes, it was true.  At roughly mile 1804, there was a small forest fire about 20 ft from the trail.  They had made it past, but that was over an hour ago, and who knows if it had grown in the meantime.  “Hike your own hike, die your own death” one of the hikers said to us as we kept on towards the fire.  As we kept moving, I started wondering if we were making the right decision to keep going forward.  At this point we were on an exposed ridge, and the electrical storms that had been in our vicinity all day were almost on top of us again, and the immediate concern was getting to a safer spot, even if it meant heading towards a wildfire.  We kept on.  As we went, we kept making sure we had a plan of escape in case the fire expanded towards us.  We finally saw it from afar, with a small plume of smoke blowing with the wind.  It didn’t look too big.  When we got to the fire, it was much less scary than I had imagined.  It was about 20 ft from the trail, and it just looked like a bunch of undergrowth and dead trees on fire with much more smoke than flames.  We took some pictures, and kept going.
New wildfire, 20ft from the trail.

New wildfire, 20ft from the trail.

Soon enough, another storm passed through, and pea-sized hail started falling from the sky by the bucket full.  Finally, we got to a flat area, and camped.  A few lingering mosquitoes were there to welcome us, and chase us into our tents for the night.

Day 43: Mile 1798 to mile 1766, 32 miles

August 13th:

We woke up to the sound of soft rain.  The thunderstorms subsided, and the rain also eventually stopped, and we were thankful to be off of exposed ridges, and out of wild fires.  We got to an area of lava rocks, and the trail through the rocks was absolutely amazing.  I could not believe the amount of work that must have gone into making the trail as flat and easy as it was.  It was covered in some small red rocks, and I wondered where those rocks came from because all of the other surrounding rocks were grey.
We got to a side trail to a shelter which is where we planned on stopping to get water since they had a well, and inside the shelter there was a hiker register.  As I signed the register, I noticed that Sadie had been there earlier in the day.  We had almost caught up to her!  We pumped some reddish water out of the well, and Metric and Sticks walked up to the shelter and chatted with us for a couple minutes.  We made plans to stay with them in Ashland to split the cost of a hotel room.  We were tired, and the miles were going slowly, and when we passed some northbounders playing 20 questions, we decided that was probably a good way to pass the time.  “I’ve got something” I told Dirt Stew.
“Ok, is it eatable?”
“Yes”
“Is it like a main dish?”
“Yeah”
“Is it a hamburger?”
“Yeah….”
We cracked up laughing.

Day 44: Mile 1766 to mile 1736, 30 miles

August 14th:

Today the trail was quite boring compared to previous days.  Without thunderstorms, or wild fires to run to or from, we lost motivation to hike quickly.  Our energy levels were very low, having not had a proper meal in town for over a week.  As we dragged our feet, we decided we needed to try to eat every hour.  We took out most of our snacks and stuffed them in our side pockets for easy access.  After many hours of eating 200-300 calories every half hour to hour, we finally regained some energy and started walking at a reasonable pace until the end of the day.  We heard from northbounders that the trail up ahead, south of Ashland would be closed for us.  We knew we would need to research alternatives once we got to town.  At the end of the day, while trying to set up our tent as the sun set, I noticed that one of my trekking poles was missing.  I had hiked all day using only one of my poles so as to be able to hold my umbrella in the other hand, and we decided we must have left it at our last campsite, 30 miles back.  I was very sad.  There was no way we were hiking back to get it, and that pole had been through so many things with me.  I fell asleep thinking of all the hikes I had done with that pole.  It probably had well over 3,000 miles of use.

Day 45: Mile 1736 to Ashland, OR, 10 miles
August 15th:

We got up early with the intent on making it to Ashland early in the day.  The sunrise through the haze was quite stunning, and the hills were quite beautiful.

Nice sunrise over some beautiful rocks during our walk into Ashland.

Nice sunrise over some beautiful rocks during our walk into Ashland.

We had a lot of chores and errands to do and most importantly we had to figure out a way around all the upcoming fires.  After getting into Ashland and taking a look at the PCTA website, we realized working out a way around these fires was going to be really tricky.  As we made our way to a store that carried maps, we ran in to Cheeseburger, another old friend from the Appalachian Trail.  After buying a map of the area, we sat down at an ice cream shop and chatted with Cheeseburger, trying to relax for a moment.  We then tried to find a computer to do research on, but the Library was closed on Fridays.  So we tried to piece together information that was given to us while making phone calls to various agencies.  We caught up with Metric and Sticks, checked into our hotel and attempted to do laundry and take showers.  The laundry at the hotel failed to wash our clothing, so we dragged our dirty clothes half way across town in search of a laundromat and dinner.  We found dinner, but no laundromat.  As we ate our Thai dinners with our pile of stinky clothes next to us, we decided to simply complain at our hotel and have them try to fix the laundry machine there.  That proved successful, but we went to sleep much later than we had anticipated.

Day 46: Ashland, OR, 0 miles
August 16th:
After much research and particularly with some help from White Jeep and my dear mother, who were able to do some research on a computer, we decided we were going to need to skip ahead by at least 200 miles.  We were very bummed that we would need to give up our continuous footpath from Canada to Mexico, but the only way we could avoid that would be to walk on interstate I-5 for nearly 90 miles.  I was not going to do a 90 mile road walk on an interstate.  I’m not that much of a masochist.  So, assuming we could find a ride down I-5 for 80 or 90 miles, we could pick up the PCT again south of most of the fires.  The last fire, the “Hat Creek Rim” fire, we were told was no longer keeping the PCT closed.  So the plan is to skip ahead to Dunsmuir, and rejoin the PCT there.  This may be a blessing in disguise, as we are in a rush to make it to the Sierras before the snow starts, probably by early October.  We decided to spend another night in town to rest.  Today and tomorrow will be our first non-hiking days since we started a month and a half ago.  We had managed to average over 20 miles a day for 45 days up until this point.  Time for a day of rest.