August 5, 2018: One Thousand

At Cook and Green Pass, Mile 1670.7

Today was my last full day on the trail. I had decided a couple of days ago that I would be getting off trail at Seiad Valley.

The decision was multifaceted. I started this hike with three goals. First, I wanted to complete Section C, which I missed last year. Second, I wanted to complete Oregon, which I did a couple of days ago. And third, I wanted to complete my first thousand miles. Finishing Washington, Oregon, and the first 31 miles of California led me to just over 1000. The road was almost exactly the same length as the last portion of the trail.

My plans were also tempered by my fatigue and the smoke. If there was a way to meet my final goal without the last climb, and allow me to reach Seiad Valley around noon, I’d take it. The road allowed me to do that. It headed almost due south, instead of climbing west and curving back to reach Seiad. And I needed to be there in time to do my camp chores, have lunch at the café, and prepare for the twice-a-week bus into Yreka, first thing on the morning of the seventh.

I left Alex Hole Spring fairly early. Today would be a lot of up, followed by a lot of bumps, followed by a whole bunch of downhill.

The trail started up, with a bit of a vengeance…400 ft up in half a mile. But I plowed through through it…music on, breathing focused, not stopping for much of anything. From there, it was almost all bumps, flat with just a bit of up. And before I knew it, I was approaching Bear Dog Spring.

I asked a NOBO how far it was to the spring, and she chuckled, saying “Just ahead. Look for the sleeping hikers.”

Sure enough, just down the trail was a spur to the left and downhill, and a nicely shaded clearing to the right. And in that clearing was at least a dozen hikers. Some were snacking, some were relaxing, and several of them had pulled out their pads and were snoozing. Yes, hikers can sleep anywhere, at any time.

I said hi, and got my water stuff ready. I only had six more miles to go, so I didn’t need to fill up everything. I grabbed my water carriers and my filter, and headed down the spur.

Once again, the spring would have been puddles, no more, except for the ingenious placement of a couple of leaves. I waited my turn and filled up. Then I scooted back, filtered, pounded a liter, and got some more. With two clean liters, I headed back up to the clearing.

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Almost all of the hikers had departed, but I did get to chat briefly with a NOBO, as he was packing up. He had been reading, but now he loaded things into his pack, finishing with his mascot, Frankie Fox. I don’t see mascots that often, so when they show up it’s always worth a smile.

The trail traversed a ridge for the next mile, and I finally started to see some wildflowers.

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And then the trail headed downward. Cook and Green Pass is a full 2000 ft below the campsites at Alex Hole Spring, and most of that loss was in front of me. I tightened my laces, adjusted my pack, and began hiking toward my destination.

As if to say goodbye, the trail wound its way through the Abney Fire burn. This was part of the Miller Complex Fire, from 2017, which was one of the reasons I didn’t reach California last year.

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Past the burn was the rocky trail around Copper Butte. The red rocks were lovely in the late afternoon sun.

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And then, I reached the pass. Cook and Green Pass is essentially the Siskiyou Gap. The southern portion of the gap was where I’d be heading in the morning.

I hiked up a short spur, loaded all of my water at a piped spring, and then picked a campsite. Several other hikers were coming in; we had probably a dozen when all was said and done.

I pitched my tent, had some dinner, and then attended to the most important part of the day.

When a hiker hits a significant milestone, it’s tradition for them to use stones, sticks, pine cones, or whatever is available, to mark that milestone on the trail. Now, it was my turn.

I gazed at the stones, almost overcome, while the rest of the hikers cheered.

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August 6, 2018: Downhill to the Finish Line

At Seiad Valley, Mile 1655.9

The plan today was to reach Seiad before the café closed at 2:00. Sometimes, it’s all about the food, and this was one of those days.

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I got up before dawn, and before the rest of the hiker trash, and was out the door in record time. I stopped for a minute, before heading down the road, because I was well and truly leaving the trail, at least for this year. The tears flowed, the accomplishments overwhelmed me, and I said goodbye to my beloved trail. For now.

To my complete surprise, Steve messaged me on my inReach. Not that he doesn’t do that, because I hear from him every day or so, but the topic of this message blew me away. He’s driving to Yreka to pick me up! For those of you playing along at home, that’s at least 9 hours of driving! He decided to do this because the bus and train systems would have taken me up to 48 hours to get home. So he will be meeting me in Yreka on Tuesday afternoon, and we’ll head north on Wednesday morning!

I turned on my music, and went downhill, in a much better mood. The first part of today’s journey, maybe half, is a hard pan forest road. Eventually, it turns into a very rural paved road, and gradually gets more and more busy. I didn’t have a precise map, but I did have GPS, which gave me a rough idea of how long the road was. I also talked with other hikers, and that helped me figure things out.

At the top, I felt like a poser, taking the road, even though it absolutely made sense. But there were a couple of dozen hikers going uphill, so I didn’t feel so alone.

My feet were hurting more and more. I had tweaked my heel a few days prior, and it tended to swell (nights were especially bad), but I kept plugging along.  Once I hit the paved road, I met several non-hikers along the way, and they cheered me on.

Shortly after noon, I reached Seiad Valley.

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The “town”, if you will, is just a few buildings. I went to the main building, which houses the café, store, and post office, and I added my pack to the line outside. Then, it was time for that food!

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Chocolate banana milkshake, a giant mushroom and Swiss burger, a huge soda, and I was in hog heaven. They even had a small charging station, and I added some juice to my battery.

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The one thing I didn’t see was the Pancake Challenge. There was a debris field left over from a guy who had tried, unsuccessfully. His compatriots were making short work of the leftovers.

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The Pancake Challenge is one of a handful of food challenges along the PCT. The rules are all the same: eat some ungodly amount of food in a set time, and your food is free. I’d rather just pay, but a lot of 20-something guys can’t resist the siren song.

In Seiad Valley, the challenge is to eat five pancakes in two hours. However, those aren’t just ordinary pancakes. They are bigger than dinner plates, and an inch thick. Total weight is five pounds. According to the café owner, of all the hundreds of hopefuls, only four have actually succeeded. Like I said, I’ll just pay.

When I finished my non-challenge-burger, I went next door (the other side of the building), and claimed my resupply. Obviously, I didn’t need it, so I just had it returned home. I bought my “I Walked to Seiad Valley on the PCT” shirt, and then headed next store to the Mid River RV park, to settle into my in-town routine.

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First stop was the office. Bruce, the owner of the park, wasn’t back from his errands in Yreka, but I kicked back and caught up on Facebook and email until he returned.

Bruce is originally from Lynnwood, so it was old home week. He explained the rules. $15 got me a camping spot, a shower, soap, shampoo, the use of a towel, laundry detergent, and places to relax both inside and out. Because he had to water the grass during the day, we couldn’t set up our tents until after six. That was a little inconvenient, but it was a small price to pay.

I changed into my wash-in-the-shower clothes, threw everything else into the laundry, and spent a long time under the hot water. Then it was time to relax in the office/hiker lounge. It was smoky and hot outside, but the lounge area was dark and cool, with a couple of huge fans going.

The wifi password was “NOMONUMENT!” And Bruce was eager to explain why. The far northern reaches of California are the home to the proposed Siskiyou Crest National Monument. Locals fear that this “government intrusion” will damage or destroy their way of life. But apparently many in the far southern reaches of Oregon feel that the “government intrusion” will protect the wild places.

This ties in nicely with the State of Jefferson movement, which would mean secession from California. It’s about as libertarian as you can get, and Seiad Valley’s attitude towards life reflects this. I’m not a libertarian, for the most part, and so when Bruce (or anybody else) started telling us about all this, I just had to smile and nod. No need to stir the pot, in a little town that welcomes hikers.

When the laundry was done, I headed back to the store. Because the café was closed, I needed to grab some snacks for dinner. This involved an entire carton of milk, and some very low quality donuts. Such is life, but the milk was wonderful, and the company was great.

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And speaking of company, who should show up but Simon and Petra, the couple from Switzerland! We hugged, and caught up on each others’ hikes. I had met them just south of Ashland, and again near the California border, but because they were hiking faster, I hadn’t seen them since. They took the trail downhill, which is why we met up again. They were off the trail as well, and, like me, were taking the bus into Yreka the next day.

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Six o’clock came, and we all pitched our tents. I was pretty tired, so I climbed in bed around eight. Tomorrow I had an early morning bus, so after recording my journal, my last trail day drew to a close.

 

 

August 8, 2018: The Last Chapter

Home

I got up at six, to make sure and catch the bus. The café didn’t open until after we left, so after I’d packed up I ran over to the store and grabbed a bite.

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Looking down the highway while waiting for the bus

Simon and Petra were waiting at the bus stop. We debriefed a bit, both about our hike and about Seiad Valley. And we sat together on the bus, so that we could talk some more. I really hope we can connect on FB.

The ride was about 90 minutes long, and included a quick break halfway through. The route runs 70 miles from Happy Camp to Yreka, along the Klamath River. And the bus only runs on Tuesdays and Fridays, which was why I needed to get down the road on Monday.

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There was no signal along the river, so I didn’t have an address for the motel where I would be meeting Steve. I asked the driver, and he talked it over with two local women, and then he ended up just driving down the road until we found the place. I gave Simon and Petra a hug, and wished them well. Then I grabbed my pack, and headed to the motel.

The room was bare bones, but comfy. I was still slightly clean from the shower at Seiad Valley, so I crashed on the bed, almost instantly. Steve had messaged me with an ETA, and I had a couple of hours to snooze before I grabbed a shower.

Then there was a knock on the door, and my favorite person in the world walked in. Tears ensued. I was so grateful that he drove down to pick me up!

We headed out for lunch, at a place that has 24-hour breakfast. I had a platter of French toast, a 3-egg veggie omelette, a giant biscuit, a fruit bowl, two enormous glasses of OJ, and endless mugs of coffee. Such is hiker hunger. And then, three hours later, I had a steak dinner.

In the morning, we grabbed coffee, and then started north. I debriefed for awhile, watched as we passed Callahan’s, and then fell asleep until we got lunch in central Oregon. Steve kept driving, solo, and we reached home in the early evening.

It was SO good to see my guys. I was still grubby…three or four showers later I would be clean…and it was a little strange to be in the land of creature comforts, but I was mighty happy to be home, where I belong.

 

Epilogue

I did it. I had three goals for this summer, and thank God, I was able to meet every one.

I met some awesome people, and got to experience some beautiful places.

I fought through smoke, asthma, and fatigue.

I had very little injury.

I learned a lot about myself.

By the numbers, I hiked 138 miles. I completed both Oregon Section C and California Section R.

I’ve completed the entire state of Oregon, and there is a new tat in my future.

I’ve completed my first thousand miles on the PCT. I’m pretty proud of that as well.

Most of all, I’m grateful to Steve, and to the boys, for their support and their belief in me, as I’ve pursued this crazy dream.

I don’t know what the future will hold, but I do know that, as I’ve hiked down the trail, Steve’s love has been the single most important thing to me. It doesn’t get any better than that.