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.

 

August 1, 2018: South Towards the Border

At Mt. Ashland Campground, Mile 1710

Callahan’s has an a la carte menu for hiker services. Last night, I only paid for a campsite, but I woke up early and got a shower as well. And it was worth every penny.

I got to breakfast around 8:00, per my plan, and lingered over my coffee and crepes. Rough life, indeed. I then packed up, and headed for the hills.

The trail quite literally runs in front of Callahan’s. It hits Old Highway 99, and goes under I-5. I had a bit of a walk, but eventually made it to Section R.

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The PCT has been divided into sections, for organizational purposes. California has sections A-R, and Oregon/Washington have sections B-L. Because Section R goes over the border, it is also considered Oregon Section A. But everyone says Section R, and thus Oregon functionally starts with B. Are you confused yet?

At any rate, I had now technically completed all of the Oregon/Washington sections, but I still had 26 more miles to go before the California Border. And I wouldn’t be satisfied until I crossed.

The order of the day was up. Not incredibly steep, like, say, in northern Washington (Section K, I’m talking to you), but still up. The smoke was fairly thick, due to the Hendrix Fire.

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And speaking of the Hendrix Fire, it was still burning, but more contained. There was virtually no risk in doing what I was doing, in terms of fire. But the smoke was still very heavy in the Rogue Valley, where Ashland and Medford lie. And I had to be mentally prepared for heavier smoke up in the Sisikyous.

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Entering the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

The trail was mostly up. Callahan’s is at 4000 ft, and this part of the trail tops out at 7000 ft. I did better this time, and kept plugging away.

Four miles on, I came across the former Mt. Ashland Inn. It’s now private property, but the owner has put a spigot and a picnic table next to the trail. I gratefully filled up, and pounded a liter. As I enjoyed the cold water, a couple joined me at the table. Their names were Simon and Petra, and they were from Bern. As part of a three month sojourn through the United States, they bought some backpacking gear and were hiking from Callahan’s to Seiad Valley…in other words, Section R. We had a great chat, which included mentioning that family members had spent time living in Bern.

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Simon and Petra took off, and they were clearly faster than I was. I wish them well!

I kept plodding along, up, up, up. There were a few wildflowers here and there, but mostly the trail was devoid of any flora. Some of the slopes were washes, but I’d seen far worse in northern Washington.

My goal for today was Grouse Gap Shelter, but it became apparent that I’d need to stop earlier. I reached the Mt. Ashland road, which had nowhere to pitch a tent…except maybe on the road itself, which would have its own problems. So I decided to explore up the road a bit.

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I knew there was a campground further up, although it was hard to figure out where. I gave myself a reasonable amount of time, but found nothing. With a sigh, I turned around…and then I met a group of hikers coming up the hill.

They were a trail family (a group of hikers who have stayed together for most of the trail), and they, too, were looking for the campground, but for some reason they knew it was further up than I had looked. After a brief conversation, they headed on. I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, and followed them. Naturally they zoomed ahead (it’s the 1700-miles-of-conditioning rule), and shortly thereafter the Mt. Ashland Campground appeared.

Wonder of wonders, there was an Actual Privy, and after availing ourselves of this miracle, we availed ourselves of a large campsite nearby.

The wind had picked up quite a bit, so I staked down my tent in all directions, and utilized nearby rocks to add emphasis. I figured I’d have to set up my umbrella inside my vestibule, to damp down the wind.

I had just pitched my tent, when I heard “Hey, Rest Step, come join us for dinner!” Yay!

The Actual Picnic Table was around a huge boulder, and I grabbed my stove, my pot, my long handled spoon, my pot-shaped cozy, and a pack of Idahoans (instant mashed potatoes, this time with cheese). I fired off the stove, and got to know my campsite-mates.

Poke, Spicy, and Fairweather’s FB post from Mt Ashland

Poke and Spicy are a 40-something couple from Johannesburg, who have set aside their software careers, and sold their house, to be here on the PCT. And Fairweather is a meteorologist, who hails from the Maritime Provinces in Canada. They’ve been so nice, taking me into their trail family for the night. That’s the thing about hikers…the vast majority are these incredible people, with unexpected backstories, and who love this trail as much as I do.

 

July 31, 2018: Callahan’s Redux

At Callahan’s, Mile 1717.7

No alarm this morning! I got up around 8:00, and promptly broke camp. It was easy, as my pack was super light. That will change in a few short hours.

I heard back from Devilfish, and he was planning on being there at 1:00. So I got time to just hang out on the porch. And that was a wonderful thing.

I spent the morning chatting with some great hikers. Some of them had shared the campsite with me, and we met down on the café porch for enormous breakfasts.

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I met Patrick yesterday as I was hiking in on the two mile trail. I asked him for directions, and he confirmed that yes, I was on the right track. The signs had changed, so it was a little confusing. Anyway, he spent time living in the Seattle area.

Moose was a guy about Brendan’s age, who was getting off of the trail. Tea Bags was the guy I met yesterday, who was meeting his wife. He had tea bags on his toe, because of a nasty blister. I’d never heard of this, but he said it was working. And he was hiking with Bronco, who had also joined us for breakfast.

It was really good to be back at Fish Lake, and it reminded me of Ginger and Bill, who so graciously gave me a ride around the 2017 fires, so that I could hike Section B to Callahan’s. But now it was time to drive to Callahan’s, and prepare for the final section in Oregon.

Devilfish showed up with an additional passenger, Sriracha Springs, a 20-something woman from the UK. She needed to pick up her resupply at Hyatt Lake Resort, on her way to either Ashland or Callahan’s. I asked her why Sriracha Springs, and she said it was because she put Sriracha on everything. And she is one of the only SOBOs I’ve met so far, and has hiked with Waffle, whom I met at the second stream a few days ago. Small world!

I had sort of been to Hyatt Lake, when I was doing Section B last year. They’re the ones who maintain the drinking fountain on the trail. Yes, an actual drinking fountain, dispensing potable water. Unfortunately, it’s been shut off this year; maybe because of the Klamathon fire closure, which had only been opened a week or so before.

We ended up on a winding road, on the way to Hyatt Lake. I think it was the smoke, but I ended up feeling rather nauseated. Fortunately, I was able to buy a Sprite at the resort, which calmed things right down. And then, Sriracha bought ice cream for all of use! I turned mine into an ice cream soda, with the help of the Sprite. Only one of my favorite treats 😊

Hyatt Lake Resort

 

I really enjoyed getting to talk with Devilfish as well. He angels up and down the trail, following the rough location of the herd. (The herd is the bubble of hikers, who generally started in Campo in April, and who end up at the Canadian border in August or September). He fills water caches, gives rides, posts regularly about trail conditions and closures, you name it. The hiking community is very blessed to have him!

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Devilfish dropped us off at 5:30, and I went in to get my resupply. I spent an hour playing Resupply Tetris, while Sriracha figured out a ride to the hostel in downtown Ashland. Callahan’s is outside of town, but it’s fairly easy to get a ride. She finally found somebody, and I gave her a hug before she headed on her way.

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Once I was done organizing, I headed to the restaurant. I sat at the same table as last year, and the server recognized me! That was pretty cool. I had an amazing salad, plus probably the best mushroom burger I’d ever had. That sounds like hiker hunger, which it might have been, but I’ve never had one with wild mushrooms before.

I headed out to the front lawn, which is the place for hikers to camp. It’s near the hiker laundry/shower/restroom, and is a great, flat place to toss your tent. There was actually a tent identical to mine, in the exact same place as I pitched mine last year.

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I’m setting an 8:00 alarm, to break camp and have breakfast. Tomorrow, I head south!

 

July 30, 2018: Section C

At Fish Lake, Mile 1773.2

I got up early this morning, with visions of milkshakes dancing in my head. Don was also up early; he is heading to Highway 138, the northern border of Crater Lake National Park, and the northern end of Section C.

It’s pretty awesome that I’m finishing this section. I would say that it’s been bugging me for months, but…oh, okay, it *has* been bugging me for months. Completing this, plus the border, plus my first 1000 miles, have never been far from my thoughts. Maybe I just need to get a life! 😉

The hiking was easier for me today. I think my body has settled into a rhythm. I had a gentle downhill, then a gentle uphill, and then 4.5 miles of downhill slog. Oftentimes that’s the way it is, when coming in for a resupply. Resorts and such will often be at or near a pass, so the cars go up, and the hikers go down. Devil’s Peak was at about 7300 feet, and the trail south of there was mostly in the 6000-6500 ft range. By contrast, Fish Lake Resort is at 4650.

I reached Highway 140 at about 2:30, which was much sooner than I had anticipated. That’s always a great feeling! My plan was to hitch a few miles down the road, to Fish Lake.

I pulled out my groundcloth, which is a sheet of Tyvek, and on which I had written “PCT Hiker”. I positioned myself in a very visible location, and attempted to hitch for about half an hour. Alas, the 15 second hitch from a few days ago was not to be this time. Half an hour was the rough break-even time for hitch vs trail, and so I crossed the highway and found the back trail into Fish Lake.

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The interesting thing about this trail is the lava outflows. Even the PCT campsite is built around one, although there are enough flat spots to make it work.

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Fish Lake PCT Camp

I set up my tent in the exact same section as last year, and got ready to go to the main part of the resort, about 0.2 mile around the lake shore. I put all of my camp gear inside my tent, emptied my pack, and then reloaded it with 1. every stitch of clothing I wasn’t wearing, 2. every last bit of trash I’d been carrying, 3. everything I needed to wash (think dishes), 4. my hiker wallet (ziploc bag), and 5. all of my electronics, especially my battery.

Before I left, I called Steve to let him know where I was. Oh, and to tell him that I was DONE with Section C! Just a minor detail!

I also shared my phone with Tea Bags, who was coordinating a pickup with his wife. Apparently she was a 2017 thru, but, like me, had been shut out of part of the trail. So she was sectioning to finish.

Anyway, I headed down to the café, and had a Burger!, Shake!, Salad!, and a Powerade.  I plugged my electronics in, and sat down to catch up on life off of the trail. The amusing thing was that, not two hours after my enormous dinner, I was ready for another. Good thing they serve breakfast too.

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I checked around, but it seemed nobody was driving down to Ashland tomorrow. So I texted Devilfish, and he said he could be up there sometime in the early afternoon. What a guy!

I got some quarters and laundry detergent from the café, and then headed out to the washroom. I’ve developed a system, whereby I throw almost all of my filthy clothes in the washer, go to the shower, take a shower and wash the rest of my clothes with shampoo, and then wear them until they dry. It works pretty well, as the places I hike are mostly hot and dry in late July.

But the very best news of the day was that the Hendrix Fire closure is open! I can hike to the border! So from Callahan’s, I’ll be able to head south on Section R, just like I’d hoped to do last year. I am really stoked!

Tomorrow, I’m not setting my alarm, and I am getting breakfast. Win-win!

 

July 29, 2017: Prayers

At Christi’s Springs, Mile 1784.9

My morning started off in delightful fashion. Last night, Sisyphus and I had that great conversation about enjoying every minute. And this morning, instead of his usual 6:00 departure, he took an hour just to write in his journal. He said he really took my words to heart. I was gratified, and humbled.

I got everything together, filtered my water, and headed back up the spur trail. Today’s goal was Christi’s Springs, eleven miles down the trail. It also functionally splits the difference between Snow Lakes and Fish Lake.

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One of the countless PCT signs marking the trail

Today was another day of meeting great people. First up was Bible, who injured his leg while postholing in the late-season Sierra snow. SAR was called, and the search was detailed on the PCT Class of 2018 page. He made it out on his own.

And I met Old Timer. We chatted for awhile, and then when he said “God bless you” before he walked on, I replied with “God bless you.” He looked up, and I said, “I’m a Christian.” And then he asked if there was anything I needed prayer for.

Of course I told him (briefly) about my CFS. He held my hand, and prayed for me. How wonderful was that? I gave him a hug, and he said, “Thank you! I almost never get hugs on the trail!”

In a little while, I reached Christi’s Springs. There were tentsites everywhere, and near the spur trail there were maybe a dozen thrus, having a snack and filling up.

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I set up my tent in an adjacent site, which I shared with a guy of about my age. I emptied my pack, to use it for water schlepping. I grabbed all of my carriers, plus my filter setup and my trekking poles, and headed down the trail.

Christi’s Springs are seep springs, so it’s a little difficult to get water. There were several places that could work, but a scoop was helpful. Naturally, I sat down the wrong way and got my hiking skirt a little damp! But between chatting with other hikers, and exercising a lot of patience, I finally got the job done.

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Don, my campsite mate, is doing a short section. His wife is doing a cross country bike trip…very cool! So he’s using the time to add more miles.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading another 11 miles, to Fish Lake, home of burgers, shakes, showers, and laundry. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been missing real food, but such is hiking life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

July 28, 2018: A Hidden Gem

At Snow Lakes, Mile 1796.0

Today was low and slow. With my physical stressors, I realized I just needed to take an easy day. I’m not very humble, at the best of times, so this was hard to admit. But it was the right thing to do. Plus, I’ve developed a breathing cadence which seems to work, not too deep, and not too fast. Add that to keeping my music going, and I can plug along.

I kept going up the hill this late this morning, and in a little over a mile, I hit the fourth stream. This was nicer than the second, and so I joined some more hikers for a water break.

There were four of us, including a guy from Houston, and a father/daughter pair from Melbourne. I mentioned that my friend Wendy lived in Box Hill, and of course they knew exactly where that was. Yet another connection!

Second breakfast and water gathering done, it was time to head up Devil’s Peak. I had heard ominous things about how steep it was.

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But for the last quarter mile or so, the trail turned into a talus slope. It looked an awful lot like the trails at home, and I absolutely know how to deal with these. With a smug grin, I pounded the rest of the way, up to the ridge.

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View from the top. The smoke is over the greater Medford area.
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My pack takes a break at the top of the ridge.

Once I started the long, slow downhill, I started asking the NOBOs if they’d seen Snow Lakes. And none of them had. I knew the spur trail was difficult to find, so I prepared myself for some routefinding.

As I got closer, I resorted to my app, which plays with my GPS. I was hiking through yet another burn, so trail descriptions might or might not be accurate. Finally, I came across a laminated sign, which was dated 2017, and indicated that hikers needed to exit the PCT here, at the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail sign itself was difficult to see if you were NOBO, which explained why none of the hikers had seen it. And all the next day, I passed on the trail info to every NOBO who came my way.

Anyway. Once I’d figured it out, it was an easy spur, less than a quarter mile, downhill. And suddenly, boom! There was a lovely little lake, with a few tentsites. Water! Comfort! Yay!

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I set up my tent in the first site, threw everything inside, put on my conveniently waterproof camp shoes, and scooted out onto the lake, on one of several logs.

The water was clear on top, and so with a little careful finagling, I filled up all my water. It was a pretty little spot, and the water was quite warm.

Shortly afterwards, another hiker appeared. His name was Sisyphus, and he was from the Netherlands. We had the same general hiking philosophy, which is to take time and smell the roses. So even though he’s a thru, he’s not going to miss out just to make miles. It was wonderful to chat with a kindred spirit.

As usual, the smoke started rolling in around dinnertime. Today was pretty heavy, and when I woke up around midnight, the moon was deep red. I’m pretty sure it’s from the Hendrix Fire; I’ll confirm once I get to Fish Lake in a couple of days.

July 27, 2018: The Joys of Water

At Second Stream, Mile 1800.5

Today was a long slog. I really wasn’t feeling well; a lot of that was nausea from the smoke. But I got an early start, so that I could do more miles before it got too hot.

In many ways, today was a repeat of yesterday…hot, dry, smoky, lots of burns. I put on some music, and gutted it out. Like Billy Goat told me a couple of years ago, just keep walking.

The first water opportunity came at the bottom of Devil’s Peak. Honeymoon Creek is notorious for being a mudhole.

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It was indeed a mudhole, but with a little care I was able to pull the better part of a liter, and then filter it. I still had half a liter from yesterday, so I tucked the Honeymoon Creek water away.

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And then I met a youth group from a local church, on a weekend backpacking trip. They stopped to chat, and they asked me how I was doing. I said, “Great, but I’m dry. I have almost no water left, because the last water source was Mazama Village.” The adult in charge offered me half a liter, and I gratefully accepted!

With a half liter, plus the reserve water, I headed uphill. The northern flank of Devil’s Peak has four streams, the first and fourth of which have very decent water, and the other two of which are passable.

I finally reached the first stream! It had good flow, and was very clear. There were two European guys, about my age, who were staging there for an early run toward Mazama Village tomorrow.

One guy was fairly quiet; I don’t think his English was all that great. The other guy made up for it, rather obnoxiously. He asked me how far I’d come today, and I replied with, “Oh, I don’t know. Far enough, I guess.”

Then he replied with, “Well, if you tell me how long you’ve been hiking, I can tell you how far you’ve come.”

I retorted, “No you can’t,” and he proceeded to tell me, “If you’re going three miles an hour, you’re going fast. If you’re going two miles an hour, well, that’s umm, medium. If you go one, you’re going very slow.”

In my best @#$%-you voice, I told him that I hike very very slow, and with my best stinkeye, I headed over to the stream.

I rinsed off my hands and face (no soap allowed), soaked my bandannas and my hat, swished out my water carriers, filtered a few liters, drank one of them, and headed uphill to the second stream. I didn’t want to deal with his crap.

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There was a decent sized tentsite, just before the second stream, so I dropped my pack and went to load up. I’ve become fond of maxing out my water in the evening, which saves time in the morning. I just need to filter my dirty water (in Evernew 1.5L bladders) into my clean water carriers (SmartWater bottles), and I’m good to go.

While I was making dinner, I saw my first SOBO! His name is Waffle, and he’s a LASHER, going from Cascade Locks to South Lake Tahoe. He was really nice. I invited him to join me in the tentsite, but he was going to go check on the water, and possibly continue on up the hill. He didn’t return, so I assume he went on his merry way. But yay…another SOBO!

There were maybe a dozen NOBOs who passed my tentsite after dinner. I figured they were all planning on staging at the first stream. It made me doubly glad I’d continued on uphill.

What with all the stressors of the last two days, I really wasn’t doing well. I texted Steve, in a bit of a mess, and finally just sat in my tent and cried for a few minutes. That seemed to help. I’m sleeping in tomorrow, and then I’ll head up Devil’s Peak.