August 2, 2018: Low and Slow

At a stream and tentsite, Mile 1703.9

I woke up this morning to blue sky! There has been so much smoke that this was a welcome surprise.

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My campsite mates had left before dawn. Fairweather’s parents were down from Canada, and were meeting the three of them in Ashland. I hope they have a wonderful time.

I got everything packed up, and saw a man from the next campsite. He asked how I was doing (opportunity knocks), and I said my water was low, but otherwise everything was great. Ta-da! I yogi-ed a full liter of ice water!

I headed back down the road and hung a right, heading up the hill. Two miles later, I hit the junction with Forest Service Road 20. This was the southbound end of the detour for the Hendrix Fire closure. The first detour involved more convoluted intersections than a rat maze in a lab. I think there were 21, and most of the roads were difficult to follow. FR 20 was closed to foot traffic, as it was the primary road for fire equipment. But after some discussion, FR 20 became the detour. While I couldn’t have successfully followed the original route, FR 20 is easy. Fortunately, the closure was lifted a few days before I hit the trail in Section R.

The trail closure had been lifted, but there was still a set of laminated maps for the detour. I recognized them, because they were on the floor next to me as Devilfish picked me up from the airport.

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The other thing at the junction was the sign for the Grouse Gap Shelter. It was pretty tall, because the shelter is used for skiers after the snow hits.

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The shelter is three sided, and made predominately of stone. There’s a fireplace in the center, plus benches and a large table. It looked as if Scouts had been there recently, because the firewood area had a large pile of plywood creations, just waiting to be turned into kindling.

I dropped my pack and made brunch. Basically, this meant I had my granola a little later than normal. I’m a real brunch junkie, but not even I will carry omelette fixings and mimosas.

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Today was another slow-day-on-purpose. The smoke was returning, and it’s been having a cumulative effect on me. It was a day of coughing and nausea. I just couldn’t turn on the afterburners. So I resigned myself to low and slow. At least I’m moving, right?

I climbed the rest of the ridge, topping out at just over 7000 feet, near another dirt road. It was time for a quick break, and all of a sudden there was an angel! The Inquisitor, a longtime trail angel for this area, stopped me, said hi, introduced himself, and pointed me around the corner. “There’s some magic over there. Enjoy, and don’t forget to sign the register!” He disappeared back the way he came.

Imagine my delight when I found two coolers, filled with ice cold soda! OMG Magic! I signed the register, and there were names going back three summers. I’d heard of The Inquisitor once or twice, and I was very grateful to see him. I rummaged around for a Cherry Pepsi, pulled up a spare piece of dirt, and sat down to enjoy.

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After slurping every last drop, and taking a couple of minutes for a journal entry, I flattened my can and dropped it in the trash bag next to the coolers. Ahh, that was much better!

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The descent was lovely. In essence, the trail traversed three different bowls, gradually losing altitude. There were only a few clusters of wildflowers, but it was pretty nonetheless.

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Between bowls, the trail wove in and out of the trees. I could always count on the ubiquitous PCT signs to mark the way, but occasionally the trees grew hungry.

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Finally, I reached the tentsite I was targeting for the day, at the headwaters of the West Branch Long John. It was late afternoon, earlier than I’d like to call it a day, but it made the most sense. The headwaters were seasonal, and it was just little stream right at the site, but that always makes things easier.

The tentsite had room for 3-4 tents, but with one exception they were all on a slope. The one in the middle had been dug out, so it was mostly flat. However, when I got there I discovered a guy snoozing, right in the middle of the spot. He was probably college age, and obviously wasn’t staying the night. And he had his solar charger out soaking up the sun. If you’ve got to recharge, you may as well nap, right?

I went ahead and set up my tent, without the stakes, so that I could easily move it at the appropriate time. I tried to be quiet at first, but gradually got noisier. Eventually, the guy woke up, and just then his friends arrived. We all chatted for awhile, and then they headed north.

While I was getting organized, a SOBO stopped by. It was Waffle! What with me flipping past Section B, and his taking a zero in Ashland, we crossed paths again. We talked for awhile, and he apologized for not returning to the campsite at the second stream, several days ago. I told him it was absolutely fine, and that I figured he’d found better water ahead.

Turns out he’s good friends with Sriracha Springs! I explained how we knew each other, and he said that she was on the trail behind him somewhere. I told him I’d keep an eye out for her. We wished each other happy trails, fist bumped, and he headed off to Lake Tahoe.

A side note: When long distance hikers greet each other, or depart, they use a fist bump rather than a handshake. Let’s just say that hiker hands may harbor more bacteria than, well, those of a surgical nurse. And as you can imagine, gastrointestinal bugs are a real pain on the trail. Hence, fist bumps.

Just as I finished getting my stuff together, a guy of retirement age showed up. His name was Lucky, and he had sectioned the AT. Now he was doing a PCT thru, but, as he said, if he didn’t finish this year he would just come back next year. His attitude was mellow, and refreshing.

Lucky was really nice, and very chatty. That made it hard for me to stay focused, but he was a great campsite-mate.

One thing he told me about was the road walk option heading down to Seiad Valley. The trail dips down steeply to a road junction, and that turns into a paved road, which ends up in town. It will save me only a couple of miles, but will also save about 1000 feet of elevation gain. The trail goes steeply up at the junction point, and then it has a notoriously steep slope downward. Given my energy level, and the smoke, the road walk is looking pretty good.

I loaded up all my water, preparing for the filter-and-go in the morning, and crawled into bed. Tomorrow is an early day, and, God willing, I’ll cross the border.

 

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