PCT 11 | Commencing victory lap

Day 49: Don’t Make It Bad

Warning: gross skin-related content.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a human being in want of a motel room with her friends can start hiking at 5:30am. Of course, I had just fallen back asleep after the leg incident — but some sleep is better none, right?

It was already hot as I hiked out in the dark. I could hear faint growls in the distance; were they wild animals or the logging truck I had seen yesterday?

The large band-aid rubbed uncomfortably against the strange bee sting-blister on my ankle. I was worried about infection, but when I checked it I found something far stranger and worse: a GIANT swollen ball of fluid that had conformed perfectly to the shape of the bandage.

What the FUCK?

I couldn’t drain it here, I decided. I would wait for a sterile environment in Ashland, just 23 miles away. I washed it and coated it in Neosporin, which collected dust as I walked. It continued to swell to the size of two golf balls, now necrotically black from the dirt.

What the FUCK.

As best I could tell, my new gaiters had agitated the bee sting, which swelled up like a good old-fashioned blister. It was not necessarily infected, I told myself.

And then, as I hopped along the trail to avoid one of the ubiquitous lizards, it burst.

I felt it before I saw it. The liquid streamed into my socks.

I had bandages, but none of them were big or secure enough to prevent more chafing. I started asking Nobos for gauze, which none of them had. Of course. One kind woman with a European accent stopped to brainstorm with me.

“Why didn’t you just hitch to Ashland from the last road?” she asked.

I hung my head. “I don’t know.” But I did know, and she seemed to know too. Then I had to explain that American health insurance wouldn’t make this easy.

I kept just enough good humor to give the infestation a name: Bob II (From Outer Space). It made Bob I (from the CDT) look a little pathetic.

I could make a clear pocket out of a ziplock, I though. I could leukotape my Tupperware to my ankle to keep the dirt out. But I settled for washing it sadly beside the last water source, a small spring.

Another hiker noticed. I was embarrassed, but he called over his wife and her non-ultralight first-aid kit. It turned out they were a family from Portland about to finish their section-bike of Oregon, and she was a nurse. I wiped Bob down and applied a large gauze pad, then wrapped my leg in “horse tape” that they promised would hold until Ashland.

And it did. The question was, would I? The last five miles seemed more daunting than thirty. By 2pm my water was gone and it was too hot to eat.

With 2.5 miles to go, I hit a dirt road and walked to the highway.

By 4pm, I had a hitch to the Timbers Motel. Which room? I texted John Mayo.

The one with beers and door open 😉, he replied.

And sure enough, there they were sitting on the pavement like the very best Hikertrash I had ever seen.

I had almost done right by my exhausted, dehydrated body… until I saw the sign outside the bar that said Karaoke, tonight!

“I don’t understand,” Oily Boy said. Apparently they didn’t do karaoke much in Czech. “It seems like torture.”

“It is,” I admitted. And I thought hard about what had possessed me to sign up. I watched forty-something wild-eyed Richard, who had arrived alone, perform a wrenching rendition of This Must Be The Place.

“People have emotions they want to talk about, but can’t,” I said finally. “But they can sing.”

Oily Boy looked doubtful. But a few pitchers later, he was belting Hey Jude along with everyone else.

Day 50: Blearo

Zero in Ashland

It’s like I always say: the best zero days are spent recovering from the previous night.

Day 51: Happy Birthday

Ashland to shelter, mile 945

It was Six Thirty’s twenty-second birthday, so we waited for a table at the nice brunch place in town.

But the hike out of town felt off. Six and I stopped often, struggling physically, and at one point she checked her phone and saw a message from Slippy.

“Oh my god,” she said. “Oily Boy went to the hospital.”

He had been dealing with shin splints for a while, which had developed into so much leg pain that he could barely walk. Apparently he and Slippy had turned back almost immediately after arriving on trail.

We didn’t hike much that afternoon, just ten miles to a shelter where we camped in the shadow of Mt. Shasta with a few other hikers.

Snots and OhWell were a trail couple. He had hiked the PCT before and was planning to skip Oregon, he told us, “until we met.” Right now they were sharing Snots’ Lunar Solo, but there was a Zpacks Duplex waiting in Etna.

OhWell hadn’t been using his tent, and when he found out it was Six’s birthday, he asked if she wanted it. For free, he insisted. It had 4,000 miles on it and besides, he was in love.

The trail provides. So it goes.

The flowers caught the light of the evening as the mountains swam on the horizon, Shasta rising like pinnacle of a wave. It was beautiful and bittersweet. One by one, the PCT was taking us down.

Day 52: Welcome to California

Shelter to camp, mile 974

My legs were stiff and slow as frozen molasses, clunking on the uphills and wobbling dangerously on the way down. I had taken to saying, Zeros make us soft.

There was a soda cache at the top of the hill, all Shasta brand. I selected black cherry. It recalled family trips to the beach when I was a little kid, and got to choose a soda from the vending machine outside the Food Lion. I used to stare across the sea with only my imagination to tell me about the lands beyond.

Nobos kept telling us that we were almost to California, as though that may not have been on our radar or we didn’t have Guthook to count us down to the tenth of a mile. When I arrived the scene was wholly underwhelming, and we ate lunch in tired silence, listening to John Mayo’s playlist of all the ‘California’ songs in his phone. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

There were a few Nobos eating at the border too. Six asked how NorCal was. Awkward silence.

“After the Sierras, it’s hard to get excited about a bunch of brown hills,” one of them said finally. “But you still have the climbs.”

Nobos, though. Nobos lie.

“State three out of three,” I said. “Basically a victory lap.”

The afternoon brought a lovely ridgewalk with more views of Shasta. With the exception of our missing and injured friends, California was off to a good start.

We found a camp with a sunset view — oceanside property on the PCT. John Mayo asked Carjack, who was a physical therapist, to look at his foot. “I have big pain,” he said.

In my tent, I rolled a golf ball on my feet and watched the sunset deepen into more vivid shades of orange. This is all a person needs, I thought dreamily. A tent with two doors. One facing east and one facing west.

Day 53: Welcome to the State of Jefferson

Camp to Seiad Valley, mile 997

The trail in NorCal was harder and less maintained than Oregon, plus Guthook seemed to have some trouble working here. Those were the facts.

But NorCal also brought rows upon rows of gentle mountains, fields overflowing with wildflowers in many palettes, and the airy ridgewalks I had missed without knowing it. NorCal also brought the knowledge that we were nearly 1,000 miles in, and not fucking around. We were closing in on the almighty Sierra. We were here to hike the PCT.

NorCal also had a long roadwalk into Seiad Valley, deep down in the creases of the mountains. It was 12 miles, significantly longer than the usual pre-town shortcuts and therefore requiring some debate. John Mayo said someone had told him a continuous footpath was the only thing that mattered. “That doesn’t matter to me,” I replied. “I didn’t come here to wander down a line like a zombie.”

Six got stung by a bee on her ankle. “Bob is looking for a new host,” said Mary Poppins.

Bob was still tormenting me. The wound was healing quite nicely, but I couldn’t swim in the creek with everyone else. I could, however, pick blackberries. We made it through the final few miles singing and snacking.

Seiad Valley was strange. We had been warned about the State of Jefferson, a conservative secessionist movement that began in 1941. The people of Jefferson seem to view their independence as fact rather than prospect, and the seal of the state — two black X’s, apparently meant to symbolize Oregon and California — was everywhere. At least in trail towns they’re quiet about their political views, but Trump won Jefferson in a landslide. That tells you what you need to know.

We overpaid for camping in a dingy yard. Six was upset to find mouse poop in the shower. But when I emerged from my turn, there was Slippy in the yard! He told us Oily Boy was still in Ashland. Resting at a spa, where he was sure to be enjoying the sauna. He would catch up.

Day 54: Another Czech Bites The Dust

Seiad Valley to camp, mile 1014

John Mayo’s foot felt worse in the morning. He feared a stress fracture and said he would stay put in Seiad for now.

Again we were four. We roadwalked out of Seiad Valley (the official trail this time) with mounting excitement for 1,000 miles on the PCT.

We were already exhausted when we reached the trailhead. Naturally, the solution was not to hike, but swim.

We were looking at a seventeen-mile, 5,100-foot climb. Moose declared that he was going to the top tonight; he could make it if he was properly motivated.

Moose, properly motivated

Slippy and I lingered. The thing about a thru-hike, I thought, is that there aren’t too many daytime moments of peace.

The climb began in a burn area, slow and steady ramps past tree-giants with bark blackened like cooled lava. It followed Grider Creek nearly the whole way, into a wonderland of green that we hadn’t seen in a while. The foliage almost reminded me of my limited hiking experience back east — a kid, tromping through neighborhood streams and willing each green gateway to be a portal to another world.

What were the Nobos thinking? The best way to experience Nor Cal is to experience southern Oregon first, we decided. #SoboFoSho.

Up Next: Is NorCal as boring and ugly and hard as all the the Nobos say? Will Cloud ever resupply correctly? And a surprising twist in Dunsmuir…