A different Mountian View. A warm one with computers and self driving cars.
Just after Sonora Pass, on schedule to exit the High Sierra on October 2, I walked into a big storm.
Rain, sleet, snow, and punishing wind. It’ll stop, I told myself, and kept on keeping on.
But it showed no signs of stopping. I got wet. Then soaked. Somewhere along the way I got COLD. I could not feel my hands. My feet and legs were stiff and cold. My lips were numb. I wore all of my clothing. I walked briskly or ran. I shivered despite my fast pace.
I knew it wouldn’t be so cold at lower elevation. Keep going, and the trail descends. I was at nearly 11,000 feet on a long, rocky, exposed ridge. The wind was so bad that at times I had to crouch and keep myself up with my poles. But I kept going. It would stop. Just get down, and there will be sunshine and flowers.
I managed a novel thought. What if it doesn’t stop. What if it lasts all day? All night? There’s no way I can keep pace through snow if it sticks, even if I could stay warm.
But it will stop?
I got to the point where I was at pretty low elevation, and it was still awful. Grey in all directions, as it had been since I got up to the ridge. Snow was starting to layer on the rocky trail. I considered everything, a big factor being proximity to safety. There was nobody around and no cell service, so I was on my own. Continuing into more remote territory was risky. I didn’t have the proper clothes for such weather, or extra food.
I’m pretty excited about being alive. I’d rather be one of the majority of potential thru-hikers who fails than one of the very few that manages to die. Exaggerated? Maybe. But I was COLD, and scared shitless. I turned around to return to the road (about 9 miles). Then I turned around and kept hiking south. I did this a few times. I cried, I cursed. I was not confident in my ability to stay warm, but had no interest in going back to the road. That was a final decision, because there was no way I would risk enduring another storm like this at the even higher elevations that would come in the next few hundred miles. It’s not worth it. I’m out to have fun, and that is decidedly not fun to me. I’d rather push my body in a mostly safe environment than make it through intense, risky situations.
Ultimately, after tripping and falling to my numb hands, I decided it would be easier to live the life of a failed thru-hiker than of a dead person. Dead people don’t get to think about interesting things, like the statistics they become. I’m not ready for that quite yet. Soon enough.
I hurried back up the ridge, through the terrible, piercing wind. The pockets of rain, pockets of thick snow, and pockets of sleet. I was in clouds and could see very little. I alternated putting one hand and then the other in my pants to try to keep them useful. Even now, a day later, the tips of all of my fingers are sightly numb. I feel them, but diluted. It’s probably a wee bit of frostnip.
Anyways, back up and along the ridge and then back down. To the road, where I stood for two hours of shivering in the intermittent rain. Finally, after dozens of California plates went by, a couple from Tennessee picked me up. That’s right, even way out here you may find some southern hospitality. They were fantastic, and took me most of the way to the Bay. The clouds dragged on and on, making me feel a bit better about bailing. The weather was gonna be around a little.
Toast’s sister, a hero among us, picked me up at a Taco Bell (vegan options!) about 1.25 hours away, and just like that I’m as far from the trail as ever. Warm, dry, about to de-beard.
I feel disappointed about all of it. Mostly about myself. I think of myself as strong willed and a finisher of what I start. Now I have a glaring data point that disagrees. But I’m firm in my logic. I want to see and enjoy the mountains, not endure them. I’ll let braver folks take them on for the winter. There are SO many things I’m interested in, and now I can get to some of them a bit sooner.
I miss the trail already, though. Strings, Running Red, Grim, Puff Puff, Spice Rack, Crusher, and Arno, is a pretty complete list of people I got to spend a bit more time with, or at least a few special moments. They’ll always have a little chunk of my heart, just like the Blazers and Dukes before them.
And the magnificent places! My oh my, a wonder to behold. The PCT is a footpath that winds beyond the farthest reaches of your imagination.
I still have a photo or two I may get around to posting, and a revised gear list.
It’s all over now though. Ol’ Stringbean, the last active member of the PCDC, has quit. He’ll return for the missing sections some other time.
Until then, there are happier places to dance.
Thing are moving, fast.
One of those things, sometimes, is me. I did a 45 mile day. It went well, so I did a 50. It also went pretty well, but ultimately was not worth the following fatigue. I enjoyed the challenge though, and am itching to run an ultra. A guy I met was telling me about all kinds of winter desert ultras that sound awesome if not for their difficult to access locations. He’s training for one because he’s not getting any younger. Well, neither am I.
Incidentally, immediately after I met him I met some horse riders (don’t know what else to call them). They didn’t believe that I was thru hiking because I was going the wrong way. They also parked their trucks and left their horses completely blocking the trail (they were at a road) so I had to bushwhack around the obstacle. One horse kicked in my direction as I looked for the trail. I didn’t much like them.
One unfortunate inevitability of big days is night hiking. One inevitability of night hiking is that it’s super scary. Yea, there’s all sorts of creepy crawlers. I saw scorpions and a translucent bug. Lots of spiders. So many spiders.
Oh, and FOUR MOUNTAIN LIONS! The first three were together and just chilling about 200 feet from the trail. No big deal, I told myself, and kept walking.
A few days later, on the 50, at around midnight, just before I reached camp, while singing aloud to make me not quite so scared of the night, I look up into a set of dark green, forward facing eyes. The cat snapped to alertness, and then crouched low. I I backed up. It moved just off trail, behind a tree. Closer to me. I kept retreating, and began clicking my poles. I had no idea what to do. None. I went back about 150 feet, which was also up hill. With the high ground I could see its eyes staring at me. I made more noise, and considered my options, mumbling profanities. I took a half step forward, and it stiffened to alertness. I took a few more steps back. I waited while thinking, reaching no conclusions due to my utter exhaustion. After about five minutes it slunk off. I proceeded slowly making lots of noise. It was nowhere in sight, and when I passed where it was I jetted away. Still, I was scared it may track me. They do attack from behind. Talk about paranoia. Every time the wind rustled leaves or I stepped on a stick, I jumped. I have no idea what I would have done if it hadn’t moved.
Eventually I made it to 50, found a flat spot, and set up my tent. I got in, but it took along time to calm down enough to sleep. Eventually, a bootleg recording of the Beat Holes soothed me to sleep at around 1:30 AM. I slept in.
Oh. I’m alone again. That bubble popped almost immediately, and a delayed box put me behind the front contingent of the people around before. So it’s back to the lonely hike, where I pee when and where I want (while walking, often). It’s nice being alone in many ways, but I’m kinda tired of myself.
NorCal is, in many ways, easier than Oregon. It’s been kinda boring, and I’ve been stressed with time pressure, resupply logistics, and real life. But on I go. I should be just in time.
The pleasures of the late SOBO.
I will get out of my sleeping bag. I want to get out of my sleeping bag! Okay, just get it over with.
The days are just starting to show signs of brevity and cold.
Finding peak efficiency in the morning to get packed as fast and warm as possible isn’t yet needed. But it will be. Soon.
Then get moving! There’s heat in them feet.
Night hiking will become a fact of life. Fewer, shorter breaks.
Rather than getting stronger as the days get longer and really opening up, SOBOs get strong and then GRIND. Daytime is still nice, but every step of the routine is about to get harder.
Even having all your water be ice cold all the time is a challenge.
Bring on the layers…
Oh do they not breathe. Bring on the weird wintery sweat.
40/60 dread/excitement. I’ve faced and bested these challenges once before. I’m ready to do it again. The sierras will be SO cold. But the stars! Gonna be great.
A quick note.
It’s not hard to be vegan ON trail. Not at all.
It’s not that hard in town, as long as you’re okay without the influx of hot, real, food.
It’s so hard when in situations of generosity. The perfect example is our Ashland hosts. They already went SO far out of their way to to take me, an additional hiker and complete stranger, in. The other two mentioned pizza, and pizza it was. Vegetarian of course, but 100% non vegan.
Rather than being a huge pain in the ass, I ate it. I’ll even admit to enjoying it. I felt bad about it, but it was objectively tasty and full of calories.
I won’t get into the fact that real pizza can only be found in the greater NYC area (kick rocks, Chicago).
Back to the point. Where does that leave me? I still feel vegan. Technically freegan.
I will continue making every effort to be vegan, but in those rare cases when it becomes the path of most reaistance and potential rudeness, I’ll slide to vegetarian. I’m not touching meat though. I know too much.
That’s it. Tapping while I make those slow groggy morning miles.
We set our sights south once more after our fantastic hosts drove us the bit more than an hour way to the trail, up the road from Etna, CA.
Crusher, Spice Rack, Grim, Puff Puff, and I all left Ashand the same day, with three different rides. Crazy how all of our paths got mixed up and aligned. Delta, who just made it through the fire in time, is also in the mix. A veritable bubble!
Oh, and meanwhile the NENOBOBu ceased rapidly. It’s over. Some stragglers but that’s all.
So, you wonder, who is hiking south at about this time? I’ll shoot off ages: 22, 23, 24, 27, 34, 36. Three men, three women. We’re all out for this reason or that. Fun, a challenge, to be with yourself, to prove yourself, etc. To get some distance from the world. But by Northern California, we’re all still here because we kinda like to walk all day.
What exactly we like about hiking also varies widely. The mental challenge, the physical challenge, the scenery, the daily satisfaction of a long walk and miles underfoot.
We listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music. We check for cell service on ridges, and usually sit down and use it when we find it. Spice Rack referred to this as “Millenialing out”. Apt.
Attitudes can be anywhere from endlessly positive, to pragmatic, to even an occasional touch of gloom.
We’re people. We think. We eat. We defecate with a sense of urgency. We care about a lot, but feel largely untethered to the concerns of most. Money and politics are very rarely topics of conversation.
Stories and musings and laughter rule the sound waves. And planning of course. And FOOD!
It seems like the modern equivalent of the hippie generation. Generally: young, white, middle class, educated, thoughtful, over it.
If you want to know why hiking tends to be so white, I recommend checking out the podcast Code Switch. If you’re white, I’d be shocked if this podcast didn’t open your eyes to the vastly different experiences of others. It really sheds light.
Any which way… NorCal is quite cool. Harder than Oregon, but manageable still. Full of glorious ridge walks. Wide open space atop older, wiser mountain chains. Not the younger, sharper geography of WA or the volcanos of OR.
Honestly it feels a bit like the mountains of home, only bigger. They’re still mostly rounded and mostly with some tree coverage. You’re still navigating along vast ridges and popping through gaps and passes.
It’s quite nice! I’m on a good timeline to exit the Sierra (the fire helped) and I’m hoping to pop back up and finish the missed bit as soon as is manageable. If the fire ever stops growing.
I’ve barely done any on trail resupplying, but now I’m transitioning more towards that. Cali is a lot more populated, so stores will become better. I’m also ditching the stove in favor of cold rehydration. Ounces, dude. Ounces make lbs.
It’s kinda fun planning ahead, and making the most of less than ideal stores. Part of the thru hiking experience, certainly.
Brain dump! Phew. Thanks for following along the thought train. Goodnight. (Night of Castella resupply).
Okay, it’s actually in the basin, but I couldn’t resist. I’m semi stranded in Ashland, and it’s mostly great. I’m seeing Hamlet tonight. I went to yoga this morning. I’m with Spice Rack and Crusher, and they’re a blast to hang out with. It’s all a nice change of pace, as I haven’t been in a town since Portland, and have never spent more than a few hours at the small places I’ve picked up boxes. It’s been all business for a long time and I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy the rest.
We’ve been staying with a friend of a friend of Crusher. They’re an older couple who are blowing us away with their generosity. They used to run a B&B, so they host like literal pros. They’re treating us so well, and it’s fantastic to chat with them about their life experiences. Truly wonderful, kind, people, who I aspire to age similarly to.
The Gap Fire is spreading fast and right next to the trail so we have to go around to Etna and keep going from there. The west coast is one big danger zone as far as fire goes, so it’s almost inevitable to encounter one on a thru hike. It’s 120 trail miles that will be skipped and have to be pieced together later on, but that’s how it goes I suppose.
I’ll be honest though, I’m sad I won’t get to walk into California. That’s gonna suck. In some ways this compromises the sanctity of the thru hike for me (everyone has different thoughts on what is and is not okay in the context of their hike). If I get on and walking and it’s not feeling USDA certified organic, I’m open to jumping off, and turning this adventure into a section hike. I’ll still walk the whole trail, but over a few years instead. No wrong way to do it! If you’re out and walking, you’re doing it right.
I’ll have to wait and see how it feels. Maybe it won’t be an issue at all. But Ol’ String can be pretty particular sometimes and if it feels wrong I’m not about to force it. Just gotta keep going and see what my gut/heart/brain tells me.
Here’s a picture from outside the Ashland Post Office. I’m spoiling you! I need to spend actual time sorting the other ones, but for now that smoke is cool, right! And look how red the sun is.
More soon from sunny California!