Yesterday all the PCT hikers I chatted with agree that the past couple weeks have been hectic and just.. strange. For me, each day for the past week has been so unpredictable and adventurous that I haven’t bothered to make plans, because I never knew where I’d be. Part of it was that I am feeling tired (fancy that, tired after walking 1600 miles) and not walking as many miles (the last few days: 11 on a town day, 21, 25) and the other part is that the order of things is jumbled. On the trail the hundreds of us amble north, taking occasional small breaks then hopping back on. I’ve bumped into the same people for hundreds of miles.
Well, this week, wildfire smoke spooked quite a few of them and they skipped a section, some from Etna to Seiad Valley (56 miles) and some as far as Ashland (121) and Crater Lake (223). It’s distracting and upsetting in a way. What do I do?! Like my Appalachian Trail hiker friend Isaac suggested when I asked advice on Twitter: “hike your hike.” Meaning: “hike your own hike,” the seemingly super trite mantra of the hiker world. Though after the first few hundred miles of hiking the PCT, this mantra actually became very valuable to me. Make your own decisions, listen to your heart, follow your own path. HYOH is applicable everywhere, all the time.
So yesterday when I woke up alone at Paradise Lake (as I do like to always camp alone), I had no firm plan for the day. I thought maybe I’d walk 20 miles to the Grider Campground, then a little further on Grider Road to stealth camp along the Caroline Creek I’d spotted on my topo map. After walking a few miles I was informed the road is lined with private property, pot grows, and guard dogs. OK then, I would just walk the 20 miles and camp with other hikers at the Grider campground.
But then little Cherub hobbled up on her crippled ankle and in my heart I knew the plan would change. I had seen how swollen it was the afternoon before and felt she must go into town to rest, or possibly risk an injury so severe it would end her hike. She’s 23 and all the way from South Africa – very brave, and obviously determined. She’s a cool chick. Two moments of brainstorming and some extremely random middle-of-the-woods 3G Internet surfing brewed up a harebrained scheme: I would get us both to Ashland for a couple days. She could get shoes that fit, and we could both get rest. Somehow I made a middle-of-the-woods Talkatone phone call to my Twitter friend @ricktillery, and for some reason he agreed to drive an hour and a half to come pick us up at 9pm. Yes it was only 2pm, but we needed time to get Cherub down the mountain.
Halfway down to the campsite another idea occurred to me: Cherub could only make it to the camp, but I could keep walking until 9pm and cover the dreaded “boring” road walk. That way, when I returned to my hike I would have that portion covered and could start at the dreaded 5,000 foot climb instead. (Isn’t hiking fun?) So, at 7:30pm I struck off in a camo tee and short shorts with my puffy, a headlamp, half a bag of Sour Patch Kids, and my hiking poles. Why I brought my poles on a road walk I don’t know. I used to think of them as the most embarrassing, dorky things but now they are pretty much my “go-go gadget” arm extensions. Slack-packing (hiking without a pack or with a near-empty pack) allowed me to almost run. That was a glorious feeling. Sort of. The Sour Patch Kids were in fact much more glorious.
There were indeed marked private properties along the roads, and barking guard golden retrievers and spaniels, and bats, and when the sun went down I’m not sure what else. At five miles it was dark, and I didn’t feel like turning on my light for some reason. Maybe I didn’t want to alert the vintage truck-collecting folk partying in double-wides to my fancy puffy-clad hiker trash presence. But I got to the end of Grider Road and waited for Rick in the dark. A couple talking loudly and a punky kid on a squeaky bike went by in the dark without noticing me. I ate the last Sour Patch Kid, feeling very sad about it. I felt sad about decisions I now had to make.
How many days would I take off? Where would I return when I started hiking again – to Grider Road or to the north end of the 5000 foot climb in order to “cheat” and hike down it? (Some hikers are very strict – called “purists” when it comes to hiking every mile in a south-to-north direction. I’m half-purist.) But more importantly, would Cherub’s ankle be okay? Who are these people living on Grider Road? Would Rick arrive in time before a cougar or local bit me?
Rick arrived, and shortly thereafter I was made aware that I had unknowingly walked 5 miles alone in the dark through the heart of the State of Jefferson. I thought I was feeling super tough for some reason! Yeah. I had survived near-mutiny and all sorts of other clandestine illegal stuff that happens at night. Never mind bears and cougars. There are bigger things to worry about in the dark.
We fetched Cherub at the campground, and headed into Oregon. But not before Cherub requested a very special favor: that she be allowed to get out of the car at the border and walk over it. She loathed the idea of being driven over the border, even though she (and I as well) have plans to walk over it on the Pacific Crest Trail within the week. In solidarity I got out on the freeway as well, even though I knew technically we were still in the State of Jefferson and would be for a long time. She hobbled and I hopped over the “Oregon border.”
I never would have anticipated it yesterday morning, but I’m home in Oregon for a brief moment. In a matter of days I’ll be back to that dreaded hill in California, one of the many strange twists and turns of the trail. And hopefully Cherub will also cross the border again – on trail.