Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 92 : Oregon!

31 miles today
940 miles to go

Awake early, before the sun. I eat in the dark. Coffee laced granola! Cool and delicious. I am packed and moving early today. I am low on water, it's cool, I should be at the spring in a few miles. The trail’s character is changing. Or maybe it's me. I'm in an Oregon state of mind. Cold water at the spring rejuvenates me. I pass on, with rest and food and water I can keep this pace up all day, at least I hope to. On and on I hike. The trail is mostly in the shade of the trees. When it's not is cool with the breeze. 

I reach the Oregon border mid-morning. I have finally made it through the entire PCT trail in the state of California. I meet Batdance and Rockbiter at the border. We sit and joke and eat snacks. I take a few pictures. Five Hundred shows up. He shares a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum to celebrate the moment. Time for me to move on. Only a few short miles into Oregon I experience my first Oregon trail magic. Pinnacle is serving fresh fruit, cold drinks, and hot dogs. It's not long till there is quite a band of us sitting there. I say my goodbyes. Thanks Pinnacle! I am imbued with energy. Was it the Cherry Coke? I don't know. I am climbing and setting a strong pace. Hour after hour I go. Mile after mile. The trail, at least what I've experienced so far, is up to my expectations. Smooth and foresty. A small creek is crossing the trail, it's mid-afternoon. Time to stop and drink more water. I include a peanut butter tortilla and some turkey jerky. For dessert I have a hunk of cheddar cheese. Oregon is good, I'm glad I'm here. Shady and cool, I anticipate being able to keep up my twenty five miles per day pace. 

I move on, I'll be hiking till five thirty in order to camp where I want tonight. Six miles from Callahan's Lodge. Two hour hike to breakfast is my plan. That means, keep hiking for now. I climb to the top of the last climb of the day. A young trail angel named Scout asks me if I want a cold Coke. “Do I? Absolutely I do.” He leads me up to the coolers that say. “PCT Hikers Only”, finds a Coke floating in the ice water, and hands it to me. His brother Bob is his older brother. Up in the trees I see others. I go up there and meet Karen, mom to the trail angel brothers. She has sliced watermelon, peaches, oranges. Bags of grapes, Snickers bars and more. I help myself to a handful of grapes and a Snickers bar. I sit and chat. Blazer and John are here too. Karen and her trail angel posse are looking to provide trail magic as well as meet some specific PCT hikers they'd met earlier. Oregon is a wonderful place to sit in the shade and enjoy an afternoon. I would love to sit for an hour but I can't. The snow is coming to Canada and I have to get there first. Time to get moving again. Thanks Karen and company. I say goodbye and head off. They were at the very top. It's all downhill to camp. I keep a brisk pace and arrive as the sun is setting. Dinner and chores are complete and I'm in my tent dreaming of unlimited pancakes. Life is good.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Day 91 : Escaping The Heat

26 miles today
971 miles to go

Three thirty am. I am awakened by one of the trucks in the RV park staring up and driving away. For the next hour the pickup trucks of the RV campers startup and drive off. Headlights glare on my tent as it's right next to the road out of here. Doors bang, pickup gates slam shut. Off the fishermen go. It's noisy, hard to sleep through the racket. Still dark, too early to get up. The last one leaves, it's quiet, I drift off.

Seiad Valley is the home of the Infamous Pancake Challenge. I don't want to take the challenge, but eating pancakes? I want to do that, but I don't. I miss breakfast because the way out of here is a four thousand foot climb. It's a long climb and I don't want to wait for the cafe to open. It's cool right now. The sun hasn't come up yet. When it does it'll be instant hot. I have to get up to at least four thousand feet of I hope to be in cooler air. I must start now! Well after I finish my granola. 

I pack and walk quickly down the road. It's another half mile at least to the trailhead. Some thru-hikers left last night. Some are waiting for pancakes. I hurry down the highway. I turn up the trail and climb as fast as I can. I'm sweating, my shirt is soaked. Still no breeze. Up I climb, higher and higher. It's not cooler yet. Higher is my only hope. Climb, baby, climb! I keep up the pace, dodging left and right around the overhanging poison oak branches. Up, up, up. One switchback to the next. As I climb the valley becomes more and more visible. The views stretch across to the mountains on the other side. A helicopter flies from the valley up to the top of the ridge. There is some work being done. It's all very intriguing and would be fun to look at. I ignore it all, climb on. Higher and higher. The sun is up now, I am in it for a moment then I am back in the shade. It's hot in the sun. Don't stop! Up, it's cooler up above. Hours go by, still higher I climb. The ridge is in the sun. The trail drops into the shadowy side of the ridge. Up to a spring. I stop and get water. Ice cold water from a pipe sticking out of the side of the mountain. It takes five minutes to get a liter. I get two. I drink one now and put the other in my pack. Climb on! Four thousand feet, still hot, five thousand feet, still hot. Six thousand feet, the top of the ridge. A cool breeze hits me from the north, from Oregon. “I'm coming Oregon, I'm coming to hide in your dark shady forests from this blazing blistering sun.”

I am up on the ridge tops following the trail. The breeze is consistent. It's cooler, the immediate crisis is averted. On and on I hike. The ridges will lead me north. The trail is rocky and my feet hurt. My shoes are tired. They need replacing. I wonder about the trails in Oregon will they be rocky? I want them to be smooth and forest soft. The day drags on. I am tired. The day has been long, I've met other thru-hikers at the springs, the only source of water. They are few and far between. I am exhausted with the lack of sleep. The day is long the sun is setting. I'd like to go further. I can't I am too tired. I find a place to camp on a ridge. A cool breeze blows softly over the ridge from the north. I am alone, it's quiet. I'm hidden from the trail. This is my own private resort. I cook dinner and climb into my tent. I am asleep before the sun sets.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Day 90 : Melting In Seiad Valley

32 miles today
997 miles to go

The day dawns without a breeze, or maybe a slight one from the east. A warm one. I am hiking down from the Marble Mountain. Down, down, down. Down to fifteen hundred feet of elevation. Down from five thousand feet. Down to where it's hot. I know it's hot there because it's hot here. It'll be even hotter there. 

I cross the ridges from where I camped to where the PCT begins its descent. Walking the ridge gives me great views in every direction. The mountains on the horizon are blue in the smoky haze. Nothing I see is extraordinary. Just mountain after mountain. The ridge ends at Buckhorn Spring, I filter and drink a liter of water. It's been educational for me. There are many springs near the top of ridges. These springs are the source of most of the water I drink I the PCT. I had assumed that there would be a lot more creeks and streams, I was wrong. It's kind of obvious now but there just aren't that many creeks and streams on the ‘crest’ of a hill or mountain. Anyway, I drink my fill, then start down the hill. The trail goes on and on, lower and lower. I travel from the cool breezy alpine ecosystem down through the fir forest. Down through the pines. Steep mountainsides with burned trees. Down into the canyon. No breeze reaches here. It's still and stifling. The sun blazes down like the lightbulb in an easy bake oven. It's so hot my shirt is soaked with sweat. It doesn't cool me down because there isn't a hint of a breeze. I follow the trail along the side of Grider Creek. Steep sides, lots of poison oak. I dodge under and around the branches. The trail crosses the creek. The bridge burned so it's a ford. I get my feet wet figuring they'll dry soon. I drink water a liter at a time. Hot and tired, exhausted, this is hard hiking. My feet are sore. They don't want to walk anymore. It gets hotter if that is even possible. A breeze, a puff, anything, would make it cooler, but no, there is nothing. I reach the Grider Creek campground late in the day. From here the PCT is the road. A six and a half mile road walk to Seiad Valley.

I hike from the Grider Creek campground down the road toward highway ninety six. I can do road walks. No rocks or roots to worry about. I walk as fast as I can. It's hot. The road stays in the shade for a bit, then it blasts into to sun. Yikes! It's hot! I keep moving. I'm out of snacks. The gravel road continues on and on. Then it changes to a paved road. A small paved country road. Still the PCT, only paved and wider. It's following the contours of the river. Grider Creek poured into the river some time back, now I'm following it. A big river, no easy way across. I follow the road up and around, finally reach highway ninety six. There's a big sign pointing left Pacific Crest Trailhead. I guess I'll go left. 

I cross a bridge that looks the same as a bridge I used to have for my train set when I was a kid only bigger. Lots of metal spans above holding the bridge from falling into the Klamath River. The highway goes up and over a rise and there's the town of Seiad Valley. Baking in the hot summer sun. Giant sprinkler in the field going k-think, k-think, k-think as it slowly rotates it's giant stream around the field. I so want to go stand under that stream. The highway is hot, baking the bottom of my feet. I walk directly into the face of the setting sun. Still blazing as hot as it was at noon. The smoky, hazy air is still and languid. I am so tired and hot. I have kept my pace on this road walk for over two hours. Crunch, crunch, crunch, goes the sound of my feet in the gravel in the side of the road. I slowly pass the green sign that says Seiad Valley announcing the population and altitude. I pay no attention to the size or elevation. I am focused on the store. A white building on the left past the trees. Cars stop in front, people walk in, walk out. I bet it's cooler in there. I walk past the trees. Mid River RV Park, there’s Thru-hikers hiding from the sun under those trees. Lots of them, thirty or so. I lean my pack against the wall and enter the store. Slightly cooler, like swamp cooler cooler. And humid too. I walk back to the freezer. I want to climb inside. Instead I grab a pint of ice cream. I get a bottle of Gatorade from the cooler. After paying for them I leave the store and go under the trees. Thru-hikers can camp here for a few bucks. Includes a shower and laundry. It's so hot. The sun is setting behind the mountains and there is not a stitch of a breeze. I am tempted to stand by the road in hopes that a passing car will blow by, but there aren't many cars. I sit still under the trees and eat my ice cream and drink my Gatorade. Tents go up, including mine. Instant tent city, more like a tent town. Small alley ways between the tents to navigate. I cook dinner. I cook! I cook while I cook. The heat from the stove causes me to break out anew with sweat. The heat doesn't leave, it lingers. There's no breeze to blow it away. I am so hot! I am soaked with sweat. I pick up my dinner and walk around trying to generate a breeze while I walk. I am getting hot just walking. I walk over to the PCT hiker room. There's a tv playing a DVD. I think it's Caddyshack. The hiker room has no one else in it. There is a fan. A box fan on the floor facing the door. Maybe to blow the hot air out? Doesn't matter all the air is hot. I turn it towards the futon sofa. I sit in its path. Moving air! Hallelujah! It feels so good with my sweat soaked clothes immediately doing their evaporative cooling thing. I sit and eat, watching part of the movie. Bill Murray is so young. I finish my dinner and consider a shower. The camp host is going to provide towels but he's currently out of them and washing more. I decide to use my pack towel. There's no line because there's no towels. I find some shampoo in the hiker box and head to the shower. 

The shower is in the restroom. It has seen its share of use. One of the handles is broken. If you hold it just right you can get the hot water to come out. I adjust it for cool water. I climb in to the cool flow, like soft rain. So pleasant. So refreshing. I shampoo myself until I'm white with foam. I rinse it off in the cool stream. I no longer feel sticky and sweaty. My feet look sort of clean. I turn off the water. It's hot again. I semi-dry myself letting the hot air do the rest. I climb back into my filthy clothes except I forego the socks and gaiters and have unzipped the legs from my pants to make them shorts. I rinse the legs to remove the dirt. It's slightly cooler outside than in the restroom. I'm not sure it cooled any, I think the rest room got warmer with me showering in it.

I return to my tent and climb inside. No breeze, so hot. Don't move, don't sweat. I lay on the bare tent floor with my small piece of zrest pad under my back. I have my pack towel over my eyes and forehead. It feels cool against my eyes. I have my feet propped up by my stuffed sleeping bag. It's too hot to even think about pulling it out. Don't move, it'll cool down. It's dark, it's still hot. It'll cool down at some point, till then don't move. I flip the pack towel over its cooler on the top. I drift off to sleep. 

I wake at one thirty in the morning. I get up and go to the restroom. It's a little cooler now. I blow up my mattress and unstuff my sleeping bag. I lay on my mattress with my bag laying on me. I sleep.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Day 89 : Melancholy And Alone

24 miles today
1029 miles to go

We stop at Bob’s for breakfast on the way to the trailhead. I have eggs, bacon, and pancakes then I also eat half of Kelli's breakfast sandwich. I have eaten so much I feel like I'll never be hungry again. Back in the car we head up to the trailhead, slowing down by the Hiker Hut to see if there are any thru-hikers looking for a ride. I don't see any so we move on. The road is curvy and we take our time. I'm feeling melancholy thinking about being away from Kelli for another two months. The trailhead is empty and quiet. No other thru-hikers looking for a ride down. No other people at all. We get out of the car and I grab my pack from the backseat. I slowly and methodically put on my Buff, hat, and sunglasses. We hug and say goodbye. A part of me wants to climb back into the car and go with her back home. The rest of me stays put. Waiting for her to drive away. She turns back down towards Etna, smiles and waves, and I'm alone. I turn to the trail sad and lonely. I am looking forward to completing this hike and being home again. The sun blazes down indifferent to my feelings. The breeze blows warm from the east. The air is laced with smoke from a distant fire somewhere. The smoke turns the views of the mountains on the horizon into two dimensional blue tinted posters. They don't even look real. I don't spend much time looking, I must focus on the trail. It's rocky and cobbly. I walk slower than I have been. I'll need to work up to the pace I was doing before. I'll also need to wait for better trail conditions. The trail climbs a little then basically levels out for a long stretch. I flow the tops of the ridges and they wind their way north. The trail is lined with wildflowers and the trees are many shades of green. I find it hard to take pictures. I am homesick and morose. On and on the trail goes closer and closer to Canada I get. The sooner I get there to sooner I can go home. 

I hear cowbells. Perhaps they are attached to cows? I keep moving along the trail and the ringing gets closer. I notice that the trail is churned to dust. There are intermittent swarms of flies buzzing over cow patties on the trail. What is going on? Am I in the wrong place? No, this is the PCT. I'm walking through a forest on a steep slope. Really steep. The cowbells are down below. I finally see a small herd, maybe six or seven frightened looking cows all bunched up under some trees. What they are doing there I don't know. I pass them on the churned trail and follow it over the ridge where the trail becomes even more exposed with cliffs above and below. The cows don't seem to have come from this way. The trail is rocky and steep, climbing up on exposed, open ledges. No more cows, just hot sun and minimal breezes. I'm currently and around six thousand feet of elevation it's got to be really hot down lowers, like at Seiad Valley, where I'm heading. Maybe it'll cool off by tomorrow. I'm glad I'm not there today. Up and over more ridges. I pass beautiful blue-green lakes that are clear enough to see the bottom. I pass through a burned area. It's not as bad as some of the others I've walked through but any time I'm in the sun it's just crazy hot. I keep going and going. Not really fast, but consistently moving. I don't have much of an appetite. It looks like some of these snacks in my pockets will be held over until tomorrow. The heat melts the melancholy out of me. I'm still not my cheery self, but it's too hot to think about anything else but water. I need to get more water. I am slowly sipping away the liter in my pack and I need to get more before I run out. I reach Cold Springs Trail which I was going to pass by but now I'd  rather have water, especially cold water. I turn down the trail for a half mile extension to my day. Down at the spring cold water trickles out of the ground. I collect three liters of water drinking one right on the spot. Ahhh, cool refreshing water! I hike on a few more miles ending my day at another spring. I cook dinner and complete my chores before climbing into my tent twenty four miles closer to going home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day 88 : Anniversary Zero Two

0 miles today
1053 miles to go

Zero day celebrating my wedding anniversary. No journal entry today.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Day 87 : Anniversary Zero One

0 miles today
1053 miles to go

Zero day celebrating my wedding anniversary. No journal entry today.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 86 : Anniversary Intermission

0 miles today
1053 miles to go

Ah zero days are here again. I arrived here in Etna early. July 27 is my thirty-first wedding anniversary. Thirty one years married to the mother of all my children. She's coming to see me. I'll be off the trail for a few days as we spend some well-earned time together. 

I wake up early which for me isn't early. Instead of eating breakfast in the dark I order some new shoes. I'll meet them in Ashland. I wonder how many pairs of shoes get shipped to Ashland for PCT hikers each year. Every Thru-hiker I spoke with said they were getting new shoes in Ashland. My old ones certainly are reaching end of life. The midsoles are starting to feel thin and I'm feeling the rocks in the trail a lot more. I probably should have replaced my Cascadias sooner than eight hundred eleven miles. Trying to learn from my mistakes my Wildcats will be replaced by new Wildcats in Ashland.

After ordering shoes I hop on a loaner bike and go to get coffee and breakfast. The locally run donut shop was behind on their donuts so I had to settle for a Mocha. Then over to Bob’s for a breakfast you can believe in. The Country Breakfast includes three eggs, two bacon, two sausages, hash browns, and two pancakes. Fabulous pancakes, memorable pancakes, pancakes I'll dream about when I'm back on the trail.

Back to the Alderbrook Manor where I get my resupply box off the porch and settle into my tent for a game of food match. Dinner stuff with dinner stuff, snacks with snacks, etc. With my food sorted, I pack my pack and head to town to catch the bus to my undisclosed anniversary reunion location. Kelli's headed there too. 

Waiting for the bus I buy an iced vanilla latte. I sit on the curb where I was told the bus stops and wait. I watch life in this cool town go by. Locals stopping in at Ray's Food Place. Etna’s a friendly place. Even to Thru-hikers. More than half the people driving by smile and wave at me. The bus comes and a climb aboard and out of my PCT thru-hiker role and blog. I'll be back in a few days.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 85 : Etna

31 miles today
1053 miles to go

Sometime in the middle of the night the breeze stopped. It wakes me up it's so quiet. Not a whisper, no sounds at all reach my ears. I lay still and comfortable in my bag thinking about what it might mean. Probably that the day is going to be hot. I drift off to sleep again.

I wake as the pale light on the eastern horizon signals the coming of a new day. After two thirty plus mile days I feel surprisingly healthily and pain free. I heat a few ounces of water and pour them into my almost empty pouch of Trail Butter and shake it up. The hot water melts the coconut oil and makes a trail butter slurry that I pour onto my shredded cardboard, instant breakfast, and Starbucks via caffe mocha powder. Super chocolatey! I add more water to make it easier to eat. I am out of granola till resupply at Etna thirty one miles from here.

I pack and start hiking about a half hour later than normal, whatever normal is. There is still no breeze, it's hot already. Everything painted with golden highlights in the glow of the rising sun. Trees, rocks, plants, all are glowing, the world seems to be showing off its golden jewelry. I walk on paths of gold, winding between trunks of trees with golden sashes. 

The trail goes over a rise. I walk down into a darkened theater. The forest canopy above hides most of the sky, the branches are a deep forest green, like dark curtains. The sun gleams from somewhere far behind. Like a spotlight it highlights a singular young fir tree, perfect in its dimensions and branch structure. It's like a beautiful young performer standing on stage just before the music starts. I wait for the music to start. It only plays inside my head. For whatever reason it's Billy Joel singing Piano Man. Over and over again. Wasn't quite the song I expected but now that it's in my head I get to listen to it over and over for hours.

I've been heading south for miles and miles. The PCT reaches a junction with the Bloody Run, a trail with a bizarre name. Sounds steep and dangerous. That's the end of the southing. If I wanted to go further south I'd have to take the Bloody Run. I don't, I follow the PCT north. It's a sudden sharp right hand turn. Bam, I swing around the ridge to the cool blue light of the west side of the ridge and I'm finally head north again. North to Etna, north to Oregon, north to Washington, Monument 78, and finally Canada. Yay! I feel like a milestone has been reached. Yes there is still more California to hike, but it's like eleven thirty on New Year's Eve. Everything is filled with the anticipation of something new. Thoughts of the north fill my mind. People to see, places to visit. Will I be able to maintain my new thirty miles plus pace? Will I reach Canada sooner than planned? 

The day progresses and the miles tick off one at a time. I try to avoid noticing or tracking the miles as that is a sure way for them to get longer and longer. It's much more productive and mile shortening to live in the moment. Capture the wonder of the place I am right now. The trail has been wonderfully graded and smooth. Like a decision has been made and now the trail is serious, like it realizes, “the snow is coming and we've got to beat it to Canada.” It descends down to a seemingly random spot on the trail then, boom, now we are going up. The grade shifts from down to up. I don't know the angle but it doesn't change, doesn't waver. There's clarity in its grade. I know that we are going up for a reason. This isn't a whim, this is a well thought out decision by a trail engineer. Maybe working backward from some spot in the north, the trail need to start going up here so that we reach there at the right elevation for whatever pass or saddle that we are shooting for. It's comforting and reassuring to know the trail engineer was thinking of me when this trail was planned. On and on I climb, it's fairly steep but the grade doesn't waver, the trail is smooth no rocks to avoid. Through the forest, across a couple of dirt roads, higher into the alpine zone. Trees are further apart, the views open up. There is a saddle I walk over and a sign that says Russian Wilderness.

I walk into the Russian Wilderness and the reassurance goes away. The trail is no longer an even grade. I seem to be traversing a slope, a rather steep slope, down. At times the trail turns and starts climbing again. Then it goes back down but steeper than before. There are rocks to trip over and trees to climb over and around. The trail is soft powdery dust an inch thick, it's sliding down the hill. Oh wait we are climbing again. The forest is dark, the trees are thick. On this west slope the only thing that's consistent is that we are going north. I enter a burned zone, everything is burned, recently. Many places there is nothing green at all, it could be the moon except for the dead wood and snags in every direction. The day goes on and on. The sun swings around to the west side. Now it's hot and the shade is minimal under these burned snags. The trail is rocky and exhausting to walk on. When will something change? Has it always been this way? Finally the trail rounds a little ridge and there before me is the trail. Climbing clearly across a burned out slope. Up, Up, impossibly up. Really? That look like thousands of feet up, I can see the top most point where the trail disappears over a ridge top. That looks so far away, that looks so high up. The sun shines down mercilessly on this exposed slope. Hot, way hot! The burned trees and sterilized ground offer no visual enticements to move on. The slopes opposite are also burned. This is awful. Or this is a challenge. I choose the think the second. I take it on. Let's do this thing. The trail surprises me by an unseen fold in the ridge that hides a clear, clean, cold running stream, a vertical oasis flowing down this otherwise barren inhospitable steep slope I'm crossing and climbing. I dip my buff in the cold water and wrap it around my head under my hat. Now I'm ready! Up we go! I climb without stopping, without pity, hard and eyes set like flint on that rock, onward and upward. No pause, no deviation. Everything in my past prepared me for this climb. Every mile every kicked stone. My muscles are taut responsive. I feel powerful and in control. Every fiber in me is focused. To the top! What will I see? What’s next, more hill?

I climb to the vest and over the top. I look down on a valley of desolation. The fire has consumed everything green and living. Everything is in black and gray. Dull lifeless trees with branches drooping down. Bark burned to crispy black flakes are falling from the trunks with the slow decay of time. Where the bark has fallen away the wood is unburned and white, it's like looking at the exposed bones of the dead trees. The ground is bare, rocks, sand, and charred cinders. The trail stands out a different color of gray from the pounding of so many thru-hiker feet. I think back to the fire closure I walked around is Southern California and can't imagine anything worse than this. Why was that closed and this left open? I don't know the answer. But all in all I'm glad to get the chance to walk through this. Wildfire does destroy so much more than trees, it completely eliminates the ecosystem until plants and animals from the surrounding forests can repopulate it, seems like it will be decades. I stop. There in the middle of all this devastation, a small sprig of life. No more than three inches tall, a few green branches reassertion themselves. Death has no power over life. Life always wins in the end, that's what I believe.

Past the destruction, I pass over another saddle, the sterile ground gives way to grasses, then shrubs, then full untouched trees. The green is vibrant and robust. A startling contrast to the gray emptiness a few yards back. This far and no further. Whether an act of God or man, the power and fury of the fire was stopped right there. You can draw a line. A foot on one side of it is sterile ground. A foot on the other side, wildflowers and grasses, life starts here! I follow the path around and up again and finally down, all the way down to the road. Down into the heat. I feel surprisingly good after completing my third thirty plus mile day in a row. A little before sixish. I find Blazer here. He is a strong hiker about my age. I first met him way back in Independence when we shared a hostel room together. He is also blogging for his grandkids. Here we are, no shade, hot dry breeze blowing. The asphalt of the road seems to magnify the heat somehow. Cars? No cars. No traffic at all. How long will we stand in this heat? Maybe until the sunsets, then at least we're out of the sun. It doesn't occur to us that it's Sunday. So regardless of the fact that it's quitting time, it's not a work day. Nobody may come till tomorrow. But somebody does come. Lionheart, the trail angel I met at the market in Castella comes. She's dropping off hikers back on to the trail on the turn out up the road. She's waves us over and we have a ride to Etna. Just like that providence intervenes into our tiny thru-hiker world and saves us from a lonely dry night on an empty road.

I lay in my tent in the camping area at Alderbrook Manor reflecting on This place. They take in Thru-hikers here. For twenty bucks you can camp in the camping area, get wifi internet, loaner clothes, loaners bikes, showers, etc. For three bucks more you can do a load of laundry. Unlike the madhouse chaotic feel of the places south, the vibe is calm and subdued. A total of less than fifteen hikers makes that possible. Everything is easy. Blazer and I hop on loaner bikes and ride to Bob’s for dinner. Cheeseburgers, sodas, salads, milkshakes with the can. We feel good, I feel full. At least until the bike ride back to the Alderbrook Manor. Then I realize that a stop at Ray's Food might have been worthwhile. I could have got ice cream. I settle for some water. It's late I'm worn out. It's warm tonight. Laying in my tent with just my loaner shorts on. Waiting for a breeze. My coach towel covering my forehead and eyes, the only coolness I feel coming from the water slowly evaporating from it. Every now and again a bullfrog croaks in the pond nearby. The pond, though man-made has a thriving scenic aquaculture. A small wooden bridge separates us thru-hiker campers from the lawn and garden around the Manor proper. Reserved for use by the boarders at the Bed & Breakfast. Two of which have decided that tonight is a good night to sit out in the garden and have a heart to heart conversation. I can't hear the couple’s actual words, perhaps romance, perhaps disagreement, their discussion is louder than it needs to be especially this far past hiker midnight. Ear plugs all but mute them completely, now if only a breeze. I drift off, waking later, much later. The moon is casting shadows on my tent. The breeze came, it's cooler now. I quietly inflate my mattress and put my sleeping bag into quilt mode. Agh, so comfortable. Sleep, blessed sleep.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Day 84 : The Trinity Alps

32 miles today
1084 miles to go

Up at my normal early hour and packed and moving before six. I want to do another thirty plus day today to see if I can make it a regular thing. The sky above me through the trees is a grayish white this early, it's only as I break into the open that I can see it's another blue sky day. The grasses lining the trail are dry and dusty, as is the trail. It's been along time since this forest has seen rain.

The trail through this section is designed the opposite of the trail through the High Sierra. In the Sierras you climb up to a pass, go over the saddle, descend down to the stream or river below, repeat, repeat, repeat. Here it is an unusual thing to go over a pass, or to climb switchbacks. The trail follows the ridge line where ever it may go. The trail is very circuitous, even going south for miles. In fact the northbound trailhead at highway three is on the south side of the highway. The trail from Mexico actually descends to the north side of the highway. 

Today was payback day for all of the climbing I did yesterday. The trail goes down for miles and miles at a gradual descent that makes it possible to keep a pretty good pace. Traveling for the most part in shady forests of pine and fir. That is until I come to a rocky section where I have to slow down. The rocks are red and volcanic looking. The trail cuts through or across these rocky slopes, just rocks, no plants. I suppose someday they'll decompose to dirt, right now it's just rocks. Littler rocks define the trail. These are the baseball and golf ball sized rocks I call cobbles. They are a little flatter than the cobbles in the rocky parts of the trail in the Sierras so they don't feel quite as treacherous. They still wobble unexpectedly if you don't expect it. So I try to always expect it, which is why I slow down.

Down, down, down, just crusin’ without expending much energy. Down and around the entire ridge line ending up across from where I originally started but putting in a ton of miles to get all the way around.

Today was Slobber’s twenty eighth birthday. Slobber's family drove down to Scott Mountain Summit and met him there. They did trail magic for any Thru-hikers that showed up. I showed up and had some hotdogs, chips, cookies, and soda. I also signed Slobber's birthday card. Happy birthday Slobber, thank you Slobber's family for the awesome trail magic.

After Slobber's birthday bash I started up the south side of the pass, which is what you have to do to go north on the PCT. Up and up, up is easier now for me than it once was. Especially now that my knee isn't acting squirrelly on every step. It's so hot. I must get higher up. Up to the cooler air. There isn't a breeze and its stifling. The tree cover is sparse and walk out into the sunshine is like walking into an oven. I am drinking the water I've been carrying for just a moment as this. I am so glad I have it. I check the map to see where the next water is. It says three miles. Ok, that means roughly an hour. I can do that.

Even after all the miles I've walked I still struggle with believing how far a mile really is. It is soooo long when I stare at the app on my phone and watch the mileage slowly wind down. Miles seem to change in length. It's always longer in the afternoon than first thing in the morning. Always longer if it's hotter. The elasticity of a mile depends on many factors. The shortest ones are first thing in the morning. These late afternoon miles have the ability to discourage and dissuade me from hiking them. I'd be tempted to stop if there was a place to camp but the trail is narrow and on a steep slope as it climbs. As I get higher the snowy peak of Mt Shasta dominates the eastern horizon. So at least there's that, an awesome view.

I set up camp on a ridge overlooking more mountains. The Trinity Alps are rugged and sharp. Jagged rocks point to the sky. Deep rock ringed bowls hide small round emerald colored lakes. The mountains go on seemingly forever, layer upon layer stacked to the horizon. Each layer bluer than the one beneath. The sun slants light down from over my right shoulder. The air is cool. I cook dinner looking out at my awesome view. The breeze is so comfortable. I climb into my tent and sleeping stuff and lay listening to the breeze blow in the tree tops. It's such a pleasant soothing sound it lulls me to sleep.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 83 : Hot Day Walking Ridges

32 miles today
1116 miles to go

I eat breakfast in the pre-dawn twilight again. I got some off-brand granola in my last resupply, it tastes like shredded cardboard. I assume it still has some nutritional value and to save time and to save fuel, I add my Starbucks via Caffe Mocha powder to my granola and instant breakfast. I enjoy coffee chocolate vanilla granola. I also have some stuff called Trail Butter. Its base ingredient is coconut oil. The first time I tried it in the afternoon on a tortilla. It was not a good mix of flavors and the coconut oil was in its liquid state. For the last few days I've been eating four spoonfuls of the stuff for breakfast. It's chunky, the chunks are coffee and vanilla beans. It's better in the morning while the coconut oil is still in its solid state rather than when it gets warm and turns into a liquid with chunks, bleeeh.

I leave camp and head to the stream I camped near. I wash my socks and rinse my pack towel. I am carrying a liter of water. My plan is to drink it only when I don't have a water stop close by. I will use the microfilter to drink a liter every couple of hours. I'm off. The trail climbs up the back side of Castle Crags. I think the total elevation gain is about four thousand vertical feet. I work on this most of the morning. Switchbacks, lots of switchbacks. At first switchbacks are boring, they are in the forest, not much of a view. I stop a few times for water. Drinking a liter on the spot and not carrying any more water. Higher and higher, as I get higher up the trees become less thick I can see the crags, I can see the ridges around me. I keep climbing until the crags are below me. The trees are much less crowded here. I reach the top of the ridge. The trail now starts traversing across the ridge top. No up and down through passes like in the Sierras. This is a ridge walk. I stay at elevations above six thousand feet. It's cooler, but today was a warm day. I hike on and on in the sun. I'm lathered up with sunscreen and I'm wearing my buff, hat, and sunglasses. My shirt is soaked with sweat, which is keeping me cool. 

My plan was to end the day at Porcupine Lake. Halfway through the day I decide I don't want to camp there. It is two tenths of a mile off trail and I don't  want to have to hike to it. I also enjoy hiking this weather. Setting up a tent and trying to get into it in this sun would be blazing hot, I feel like I have a rhythm going and would like to see how far I can get. 

Once on the ridge the trail is not content to simply head north. I'm on a ridge I have to follow where the ridge goes. First I head west, then south, then northwest, finally north again. The sky is a brilliant blue. Mt Shasta sits like a giant to the east calmly watching the scurrying little ant cross the ridges. I scurry. Walking as quickly as my little legs will take me. Hour after hour in the hot sun. As long as I have food and water I just keep walking. I stop briefly to consume my peanut butter tortilla then I'm off again. I pass the exit for Porcupine Lake and keep heading north on the trail. Which currently really is north. Then the trail turns east. And I skirt around and above the unattractively named Toad lake. Climbing some more. I wonder how far I might have walked if there hadn't been so much climbing today. My legs and feet are feeling strong and capable. They keep up a pace that is surprising to me. How come they don't get tired? I'm tired, my legs, they'll keep going and going. I feel like people in front of me are hundreds of miles ahead, when I see someone in front of me I'm surprised.

Deadfall lake is the spot on the water report with reliable water. It's also the spot with decent campsites. I get a decent campsite and set up my tent. I am amazed that I am not sore or exhausted after crushing out thirty two miles. I didn't hike any faster. I just hiked longer. Pushing myself past my anxiety zone of four pm. Which is really kind of silly that I get anxious. I had no problem finding a campsite and getting everything done before dark. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 82 : Castle Crags State Park

28 miles today
1148 miles to go

I tie my shoes loose again today. My right foot has been sore around the ball of my pinkie toe. The widest part of my foot. For the last few days I've left my shoes super loose. This causes my heels to develop hot spots but no blisters so far. With loose shoes that sore spot on my right foot seems to be less sore. 

I'm up and hiking by my usual time. Oolong was gone before me. My morning routine seems to be longer than most others. I start it earlier so I'm hiking sooner. But it doesn't really matter. This isn't a race. I enjoy my routine and it helps me exist in these squalid conditions. I'll be happy to return to normal life with daily showers and tasty meals. It's hard for me to put on my filthy clothes every morning. I do it because that's what it takes, I don't enjoy it.  

Today's hike takes me down to Squaw Valley Creek, no not that Squaw Valley. This creek is fairly large and a lot more remote. I get to cross it on a wooden bridge. Then the climb begins. Up and up and up some more. I think it's about two thousand vertical feet. It feels like more. It's the morning so I seem to have a good attitude and high energy . I meet Lady Bug on the way up. He and Paisley past me last night when I stopped and camped. We are all headed for Castella. When climbing a trail I keep looking at the trail ahead and above to see how close the blue is to the trail. If I look and there is no blue that means I'm no where near the top. As the top gets closer blue sky starts appearing through the trees. The closer it gets to touching the trail the closer to the top I am. There is no blue to be seen for miles and miles. Then the trail fakes me out with a couple of false summits. The blue is right there just about to touch. Then the trail turns abruptly and I start all over with a wall of green. 

Once at the top the trail seems to be in no hurry to go down. It traverses across the ridge for miles. Views of Mt Shasta and Black Butte with Interstate five a tiny white ribbon snaking across the green carpet below. 

On the way down I hear chainsaws. Someone is doing forestry. A lumbering operation is going on. Someone on the team has the job to blow a high pitched horn. Like one of those hand held air horns you can get at Walmart. They blow it once, twice in succession, or three times. Apparently these are signals that mean something to someone. I have no idea what they mean. I can still hear the horn even when the chainsaws are too far away to hear. The trail eventually switches back to the other direction on the descent and I get closer and closer to the tree cutting. I hear a big crack and crash above me on the hill. I hope it's way above me. I pick up my pace to get out from under whatever it is that is cracking and crashing. I reach a place where the forest has been pretty much cleared. An open wound. A bunch of sappy stumps glistening and dripping in the harsh sunlight. The ground is churned and stirred by the heavy equipment that has been moved across it. It is a horrible sight in the forest. It's sad after seeing so much healthy green forest to see this devastation. I continue on a little further and come to a place that has been cleared maybe a couple of years ago. There are many Christmas tree sized healthy young trees. Firs, pines, cedars. It'll be years before these grow into the forests they once were. I reflect on the burned sections I've passed through. Nothing but blackened snags and scrubby bushes. No young trees. The fire sterilizes the ground so nothing grows for years. Given the choice I would much rather walk through a clear cut a few years later than a burned section a few years later. It's so much healthier looking. I'm not an expert it's only my opinion based on my observations.

Down passed the logging and down some more and I am at Castle Crags State Park. I didn't know it spans the freeway with park land on the east side of interstate five as well as the more obvious crags themselves to the west. There are a couple of shortcuts to Ammirrati’s market but I want to get my fifteen hundred mile pictures which only happen if I stay on the PCT. I continue and get my pictures. Hiking past and around the backside of Kettlebelly hills. There is a junction ahead with a trail called Bob’s Hat Trail. I spend a large portion of my day thinking about that name. Where’d it come from? Is it a Hat trail that belongs to Bob or is it a trail named for Bob Hat. It's a bizarre name that I can't seem to stop thinking about. Did Bob tip his Hat to everyone who took the trail? Bob’s Hat Trail is a short set of switchbacks that connect the PCT to a dirt road that switchbacks down the mountain to the Park Headquarters. It's roughly two miles from the junction with the PCT to HQ. Then from there I walk to Ammirrati's market. I find my box in the large pile of hiker’s boxes. There's a whole aisle of the store dedicated to hiker’s boxes. While there I get a ham sandwich from the deli, a pint of strawberry ice cream, and a Butterfinger candy bar. I sit out at the picnic table in front of the store with Bill, Oolong, and John. Bill and John are section hikers currently without trail names. They both hope to complete a hike all the way to Canada so I may see them again. 

After I eat, I sort my food. Wow my pack is full again. So sad, yet so glad. It's bittersweet, more food means I can keep going, full pack means that it's heavy again. Resupply days are days of mixed emotions. I hoist my heavy pack onto my back and hike to the PCT hiker camp in the Park. I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet. I bring my phone and charger to the bathroom. Yay! An outlet! I plug in my phone and battery so they can charge. I fill my water bottle and start drinking water. I sit at the picnic table in the PCT campsite and try to figure out what to do, for some reason I am having trouble thinking and making decisions. I'm guessing it's probably exhaustion. It's late in the day maybe if I cook dinner then I'll be able to decide. The question I'm trying to decide is, do I camp here, pay three dollars, get clean running water, a bathroom, a potential shower; or do I hike back to the PCT, save three dollars, get water from a stream, poop in the woods, pack-towel myself ‘clean’? I prepare to cook dinner and seeing the quantity of fuel I have left, I remember that I was supposed to buy fuel at the market. Now I have a half mile walk there and back I have to factor into my decisions . I try cooking with less fuel. I'm waiting for my phone and battery to finish charging. I don't want to leave them in the bathroom while I go back to the market. I try letting my dinner steep longer rather than boiling it a few minutes with additional fuel. It would probably work if I waited long enough. I don't want to wait that long. I will need to buy fuel. My dinner is a disaster. I dump it and decide to buy dinner at the store when I buy fuel. My phone is finally charged, the battery is not, but more charged than it was. I put my charger and battery away and bring my phone with me. I put my entire pack into the bear box at the campsite and walk back to the store. They have one bottle of Heet (fuel for my stove) left. I get it and a burrito made at the deli, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and an extra large root beer at the soda fountain. I sit out with the other hikers to eat my dinner. Thirteen, Bill, Ladybug, and Paisley. Lady Bug and Paisley plan on staying at the hiker campsite, Thirteen wants to get a few more miles in. I walk back to the campsite still not having decided. I pull out my pack and store my fuel. I think I'll stay here. I pull out my poles and try to find a spot to pitch my tent. The ground is so hard I can't even jab my poles in a quarter inch. I decide to pay my three dollar fee. I only have two dollars and a couple of fives. Forget it, the freeway is too loud and it's so stinkin’ hot down here. I want to go back to my PCT where the air is cool, the sound is falling water, and the camping is free.

I only have to leave the park, once I'm on national forest land I can camp anywhere on the PCT corridor. So says my permit. The problem is I have to climb back up Bob’s Hat Trail to get to the PCT. To get to Bob’s Hat Trail I have to take the Mike Kinney trail. It's already sixish. I better get moving. The weeks on the trail begin to show themselves in how well my body performs climbing back up the steep trail late in the day. I am able to zip back up almost as fast as I came down and I'm not even breathing hard. Amazing! I am generating a lot of heat and sweat and I can only imagine what the mosquitos will be like. Only seven tenths of a mile and I'm out of the park and there's water here too! I'm home. I find a great spot to pitch my tent. Under the pines it's already darker. The soft pine needles will make a great floor to my home. It's already cooler, I can hear water falling in the stream. My tent pitched and stuff loaded inside I get some water, some to drink now and some for breakfast. 

Mosquitoes lurk outside my tent waiting for me. I can out-wait them, as it cools down they'll go wherever mosquitos go when it gets cold. I think I crossed over some sort of threshold. To choose to come back here rather than a shower? Rather than a flush toilet? I feel safer and more comfortable here than I would have felt down in the Park. That means something…maybe. Darkness descends, the cool air banishes the mosquitos till morning, by then I'll be gone. I'll get an early start and already have a few miles down by the time they wake up. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 81 : Glacier Blue and Poison Oak Too

27 miles today
1171 miles to go

My day starts before dawn. I love being out on the trail early in the morning as the sun rises. It's a special time, I enjoy hiking the most first thing in the morning. So that means breakfast in the semi-dark pre-dawn light. Granola, instant breakfast and a mocha. I don't ever seem to tire of that breakfast. 

The trail moves across ridges for the first few miles. Up high, well high for here, about five thousand feet. Views off in directions depending on which turn I'm on. I can see the trail for miles and it seems like forever before I arrive there. It's a steep looking exposed spot. Like the trail goes across the face of a cliff. When I get there I find it does. It's a whole lot less dangerous than it looked from far off. It's still cool with great views off to the southeast. 

After that the trail goes through Bartle Gap and heads down. Down all the way to the McCloud River. Ten miles of easy forest walking downhill. Shady cool, smooth trail, not a lot of rocks to trip on. There's water every few miles. It is a beautiful part of the PCT. Some of the trees are just massive. Giant old growth Douglas fir trees. I had no idea that this forest was this beautiful and this untainted. It's remote and doesn't get a lot of visitors. The creeks are flowing with clear clean water. The forest reminds me a lot of the Santa Cruz mountains where I've done a fair bit of day hiking. Very similar plants and climate. Except these trails go on and on without running into a road or any sign of civilization. It's wonderful. Down, down, down, eventually making it to the McCloud River. Flowing with water the same color as McCloud Reservoir. A glacier blue color. I'm not sure why it's that color but it's sure beautiful. 

I sit by the river and eat a peanut butter tortilla. I also drink a bottle of water. So far today I have only carried a liter of water. I stop when thirsty at the next water source and drink a cold bottle of water. I save the water I'm carrying for when there isn't any convienent water source. That might be soon. The afternoon is all uphill away from the McCloud River. I hope to hike eight miles or so and find a camp. This puts me about twenty miles to Castella tomorrow.

I climb but without enthusiasm. I climb slowly, slow enough to take in the scenery around me. Slow enough to not trip on the occasional rock or root embedded in the trail. Slow enough to enjoy myself. At least as much as I can hiking uphill, in the heat. The highest point is just a little over three thousand feet. Meaning it'll probably be pretty warm tonight. This section is the poison oak gauntlet. I find that I have to not only look for rocks and roots on the trail I also have to pay attention to anything green. There is poison oak everywhere. On both sides of the trail hanging down from above. There are other plants too. So it's constantly having to decide if I can push a branch out of the way or duck around it. There are so many different types of plants too. Poison oak has a way of morphing slightly to its surroundings. Shiny leaves, dull leaves, small leaves, big leaves. Tall thin wispy stalks with a few leaves. Short bushes with light colored leaves. The variations seem infinite. My slow walking gets even slower as I stop to identify plant from plant. I can only imagine Thru-hikers who don't recognize poison oak speeding through here and getting a pretty severe case. I guess I'll see on the other side.

I make it to camp. It's close to water so I get enough for dinner and breakfast. I make dinner sitting on a log. I notice that mosquitos are paying me too much attention so I lather on my insect repellent. Problem solved. I'm wearing a cloaking device. I enjoy my Split Pea Soup in peace. Oolong shows up about the time I finish. He's camping here too. He's just swarmed with mosquitos. He, like most Thru-hikers I've met, doesn't use DEET. I sure don't understand it. The bugs give him misery until he is able to retreat into his bivy. The water is close enough that I get to listen to water tonight as I go to sleep. One of my favorite sounds in the whole world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Day 80 : Washing Socks and Woodpeckers

23 miles today
1197 miles to go

I awake with the slight change from dark to less dark. I lay in my warm cozy bag, already? I don't want to get up, to walk again for another twenty something miles. I just want to lay here where it's warm. Pfffssssssss, overruled, thank you left hand. As my mattress deflates I think of positive things. Breakfast is soon, granola for breakfast, the good kind. The flaky strawberry stuff is all gone, yay! Maple Pecan flavor, yay! With those positive thoughts and a few like it. Such as, Starbucks Caffe Mocha for breakfast dessert, including a handful of banana chips, yay! Woo hoo, this is going to be a great day. It's always a good day when Bigfoot doesn't show up to ruin your evening. I eat and pack quick, I just do because I've done it a lot, no special reason. I head out and down the trail. The trail goes down briefly, then proceeds to go up. Up, up, up, up is the way I go when I'm not going down. Up until I climb above the forest and can see. There’s Mt Shasta to the north, way off to the west I can see Castle Crags. They are right above Interstate five. That's where I'm headed, way, way, over there. Wow, I have a lot of walking to do. Looking the other way I can still see Mt Lassen. Not as interesting or dramatic from this side. Especially compared to Mt Shasta. Which just looks majestic with lots of snow on the sides.

The trail traverses across ridges today. I don't have to climb up or down many switchbacks. I play leapfrog with a few other Thru-hikers. one of them asks me, “Have you seen the professor?” “No, I don't believe I have.” I haven't seen Gilligan, Mary Ann, Ginger, the Skipper, or the Howells either I think to myself. I hike about ten more minutes down the trail. A Thru-hiker is sitting on the side of the trail. It appears he's boiling Ramen noodles. “I'm the Professor,” he says as if that was the question I was about ask. “I'm washing my socks.” I knew exactly what he meant and it caused me to question when the last time I washed my socks. We Thru-hikers are like that, we lose the filters of civilized society. “I'm No Skip, I need to poop.” Is an acceptable greeting out here. I ‘washed’ my socks a few days ago. Actually all in did was rinse them in a gallon ziplock bag a few times, but that is what ‘washing your socks’ is. I asked the Professor, “What do you profess?” He told me something about not putting paper on a toilet seat before you sit on it. I didn't really follow to well what he was professing. “Ok then, see ya down the trail,” I said and quickly moved on.

There's not a lot of water so I watch for springs and plan water breaks carefully. I make a water stop at Kosk Spring where there is ice cold water. Delicious, thank you microfilter. I also add two liters to hike the next ten miles. Two liters is four point four pounds. I need to be more careful with decisions like this. I hoof those four point four pounds seven miles without drinking a drop. The liter I drank at the spring was sufficient. So I keep hauling the four point four pounds only now I've added another three quarters of a liter in my water bottle. Again I drank a bottle of water at the source. I hike another eight miles drinking only a few swigs. This was on purpose. I need the water for dinner and breakfast as I'm dry camping here. Tomorrow I should not have any water problems as there appear to be numerous water sources every few miles.

I'm sitting on rock up on a ridge. I can see Mt Shasta. The sun is shining. Birds are singing woodpeckers are sending secret messages by pounding their heads on dead trees. Sounds a lot like Morse code to me, but the messages are obviously encrypted. They're all gibberish and I don't have the secret code they are using. They are probably saying something like, “Are there any bugs in that tree? There aren't any in this one.” Anyway, as I sit and enjoy a few minutes rest a Thru-hiker comes down the trail towards me. If I was a snake I could bite him. I say, “Howdy, how are you doing?” I might as well been talking to the rock. He stares straight ahead looking at the trail, (I get that part), and doesn't stop or say anything. I notice that he has earbuds in his ears. Perhaps he's nodding his head to the beat, or he's agreeing with whatever whomever is speaking is saying. Sometimes you just need to escape the tedium of the trail, he obviously has.

My camp is nestled in a small flat spot just off the trail. There is a trail to a water source a half mile away. I don't intend to use that water. I carried enough with me for dinner and breakfast. I'll have a little left to get me through the first couple of hours of hiking. By then I'll be at a place where I can get more. the woodpeckers have all gone home for the day. The birds are silent, not a breeze in the trees. Another quiet evening in the wild. I'm full, I'm warm. Life is good. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day 79 : Burney Falls and Bigfoot

24 miles today
1220 miles to go

I awake as it begins to get light. Perfect morning, perfect temperature, it's silent except for an occasional squawk from some kind of water bird in the lake below. I don't want this moment to end. I could lay here in my cozy sleeping bag forever if everything stayed just like this. Snap my fingers and stop time, staying in this single moment. The moment ends, the day begins, I deflate my mattress. Pffssssssss, the moment is gone. 

Last night I was going to charge my phone. For some reason my external battery wouldn't start charging. Maybe it's dead? Maybe it's broken? I don't know. My phone is down to less than ten percent remaining. I worry that if my phone dies I can't take pictures, I can't blog, I can't post anything. It'd be a disaster. I choose not to worry about it. I'll have to figure out how to charge the phone and the battery. Perhaps at Burney Falls State Park. My plan has me staying there tonight and it's only about ten miles from here. I just need to find an outlet to plug in to. 

Walking to Burney Falls takes me through a beautiful pine forest. Widely spaced trees, red dirt, small bushes, and grass. It's warm, my favorite hiking weather. 

Gadzooks! What is this? A blue umbrella! American flags! A picnic table covered in multi-colored graffiti. A sign that says Wild Bird Cache. Woo hoo! A cooler. I always check the cooler first to see if it's worth stopping. The cooler is loaded with ice cold cans of soda underneath frozen half gallon jugs of ice. I select root beer, my current sugar water of choice and sit at the table. There is a box labeled ‘table pens’. I look inside and find a host of colored sharpies. Ah, now I understand. I start reading the table. Big Hunk 7/17; Heaps 7/17. And lots of others. I spend a few minutes putting my No Skip logo on the bench, red and black, and the date 7/18. There’s a log book, only Young Blood in there so far today. I add my logo there too. There is a little ice chest on the table with a camera. The ice chest has ‘take a picture of yourself for us’ written in black sharpie. I take a selfie of me and my logo on the bench. After drinking the eat of my root beer I crush the can with a rock and put it in the black trash can labeled ‘crushed cans only.’ Thank you Wild Bird Cache Trail Angels.

I walk most of the morning and suddenly find myself back where people are. I pass a group of fisherman heading to some undisclosed place where fish live. I certainly haven't seen any place in the last ten miles. At the junction to Burney Falls I turn right, passing scores of other people, touristy people with cameras around their necks, clean clothes, and shoes not conducive to a positive hiking experience. They smell like soap, like cleanliness personified. I have sort of forgotten how filthy I really am. I take my filthy self across to the bridge of swiftly flowing deep blue tinged water racing towards the end of the falls. Up into the park. I ask the attendant at the entrance kiosk if they have a place where I could charge my phone. She says she doesn't know but I could ask at the visitor center, which doesn't open till eleven, forty five minutes from now. I ask about the store and she points me in the right direction. I pass the Visitor Center on they way and see Young Blood, the only other through hiker it seems walking this section right now. He's in the shade under a large pergola or small pavilion. He's just getting ready to head out. The shade is held up by sturdy wooden posts. Each post is wired with outlets. Yay! I can charge my phone and battery. I plug them both in and leave my pack there. I walk the hundred yards to the store. I ask about my box. “Purple tape and happy fruit stickers,” I say. She disappears into the back. While she's gone I shop. I find a Gatorade and a pint of double strawberry ice cream. She returns with my box. Yay! Food and ice cream! I pay for them both and head back to my pack. There are picnic tables under the shade which is right next to where the tour buses stop. There is one there now. Some of the riders are sitting in the shade. I sit at an empty picnic table and eat my ice cream. My box in front of me and my pack sitting next to me. I check my phone and battery, they are charging! Yay! While I eat I talk with the tourists. They are on a three day tour from the Bay Area. Their itinerary includes Crater Lake, Burney Falls, and a casino somewhere. They are fascinated that there is a trail from Mexico to Canada and that people walk on it. We have a fun conversation about calories, ice cream, and hiking so much that you have to eat ice cream. The bus starts it engine which I guess is the signal. They all get up and file back on to the bus. “Good Luck,” that say as they climb aboard.

I spread my food across the picnic table and sort it. Breakfast stuff, dinner stuff, snacks, other. I dig through my pack and pull out my food bags. I combine the stuff that goes together, empty my trash into the trash can, and repack my pack. Done! That was fast. I check my phone, still not charged. I head back to the store and buy the bag of Fritos that was calling my name. I open it on the way back to my pack. “These are really good!” I think. It's been a while since I've had them.

I sit by my pack and study my maps. Another five to ten miles would be great. Putting me ahead of my plan slightly. Peavine Creek, fifteen miles. “Wasn't that the place the southbounder I met a few days back was talking about?” I wonder. He said that he was terrified by Bigfoot. He heard Bigfoot sounds all night. He wished he had recorded them, but he was too scared to remember at the time. Yada yada yada, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard this story… “Well, I certainly don't want to camp there,” I think. It’s funny how rationally I don't believe in Bigfoot, but there is a part of me that still gets nervous thinking about camping where some stranger claims to have had an encounter with something I don't believe in. “Ha, funny,” I chuckle to myself. 

Phone and battery charged! Time to go. I had out of the park. The trail follows a lake and then crosses the dam, the water gushing out of a pipe into the Pit River was loud and exciting. From there on the trail starts to climb. Leaving the low lands of oaks and pines and climbing. Up and up across switchbacks and exposed grassy ridges to Rock Creek, aptly named as its contained within rock cliffs. A wooden bridge spans across the cliffs. The water rushes by below. There are trails down there and inviting pools to soak in. I see Young Blood, lying in the shade of the bridge reading a book. I continue on. Up and up into the fir forest. For trees, second growth, old stumps here and there. A lot of limbs and logs littering the floor. It's open beneath the trees nothing green. Too dry I guess. I start thinking about the legends of Bigfoot. What would I do if I saw something out here? I reflect on how remote this place feels. I don't here any sounds of civilization. Here I am wandering through a remote forest. Would I be thinking clearly enough to record anything? “Good thing I'm not camping at Peavine Creek,” I think. Jake Spring, this is where I planned to stop. But I don't like the campsites. It's still early. I'll go another mile to Screwdriver Creek. I do, two tenths of a mile down a side trail is the creek with cold water. I drink a liter and pack a liter. It's too early to camp, and no campsites here anyway. I don't believe in Bigfoot, I'll camp at Peavine Creek. This is where the movie version music goes, “dunt dunt dunn!” I continue towards Peavine, the terrain changes. The forest grows closer in. It's somehow wetter. The undergrowth is green and vibrant but I can't see more than fifty feet in any direction. Something could easily be stalking me and I'd never see it, a bear, a mountain lion, Bigfoot… Except I don't believe in Bigfoot. 

Peavine Creek camp has multiple sites. Maybe others will be there and I won't have to camp alone. I'm not afraid of Bigfoot since I don't believe in him, I'm just saying. I arrive at the camp. No ones here. Why isn't anyone here? Did they all run terrified down the trail? No, I noticed a number of trees across the trail that would making running in the dark quite difficult and painful. There are no signs of struggle, in fact there is a campfire ring. People may have actually enjoyed staying here. I feel exposed, like somebody or something is watching me. I set up camp and cook dinner in the slowly dimming light of dusk. It's quiet, too quiet. Whatever ‘too quiet’ means. It's silent. Not flowing water. No breeze in the trees. Dead still, except for the pounding of my heart echoing in both ears. It's a good thing I don't believe in Bigfoot. I climb into my tent and begin settling in as darkness falls. I here something out side. A faint clicking, something moving through the bushes. I stop rustling around with my stuff and listen. It's coming closer. I wait. A woman's voice tentatively calls out, “hello?” “Hello,” I say. It's Esa, she asks if she can camp here. She sounds relieved. “You can camp anywhere you want,” I say. I am so happy another human being is here. Perhaps she is too. Bigfoot only bothers people who are by themselves. I fall asleep comfortable and warm and sleep soundly.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 78 : Grace Enough For Today

23 miles today
1244 miles to go

Woke up to a breeze blowing down my sleeping bag, brrrr! Sometime in the night the breeze shifted from a westerly to an easterly. Now the breeze is almost blowing into my front door. It's still dark but light enough to eat. I get up, get dressed, and put my sleeping stuff away. I eat in my tent. No mocha this morning due to wanting to get moving and the significant dust that would be blown around and into my tent be cooking. I'm out and moving before six. The trail continues to follow the Hat Creek Rim. In fact it will most of the day. There is currently a cool breeze blowing. I don't think it'll get too hot. I hope not I only have two liters of water. 

The trail requires my full attention. I would love to look at the view but every time I look up I kick a rock embedded in the trail that is sticking up just enough for me the trip over it. This is so painful and causes me to have to lunge forward to catch myself. It is exhausting! I hate bumping into rocks. So I stare at the trail. Mile after mile. 

I hear something like a cow bell off to my right. Not a cow bell, a doorbell? No, what is that? I look up and over there to my right, stopping first to save my toes. A guy camping? In his beautiful blue BMW convertible? On this dusty road? Who does that? He’s looking at me, “Do you want some trail magic?” Huh? I dumbly stare. Uh, a trail angel out here? In the middle of nowhere? Asking me if I want trail magic. I am stunned, overwhelmed, wow, just for me? “Yeah, sure,” I say. I walk up the road. He's not camping he's setup for dispensing breakfast. I am moved, grace has found me. Not that I deserve it or have done anything to earn it. Sunday morning and I am being served by a ‘ministering spirit’ which is what the word ‘angel’ means. So cool, so very very cool. The trail angel’s name is Fancy Pants. He makes me a cup of amazing coffee using his aeropress. Then he makes me bacon and eggs. All the while I'm sitting in his camp chair enjoying the morning, the amazing view of Mt Lassen, the breeze, the sunshine. Here he is demonstrating the love of God to me in a real flesh and blood way. This is better than any sermon. This is real life, in your face, grace. I don't know if he is a believer, and frankly it's irrelevant. Somewhere in his past, specifically last year hiking the PCT he experienced grace. Trail Magic is the term that Thru-hikers use because it seems safer than the Christian term Grace. But there is nothing magic about it. It is an act of will based on inspiration. A willful spirit within. Fancy Pants takes time away from his everyday city life, drives hundreds of miles in his beautiful car, on to a dirt road, and makes breakfast for complete strangers. Grace begets Grace. When your life is affected by grace it creates something within, inspiration. He was truly inspired, passionate with excitement about what he was doing. Christian or not, there are many Christians who could benefit from experiencing the grace of Fancy Pants. Thank you my friend, you have provided me one of the best church services I've ever been to on this Sunday morning. The cool thing is that he is a trail friend of puff-puff who’s blog I followed as she walked the PCT. He told me she's walking the PCT again this year, only southbound. So perhaps we’ll meet in passing somewhere. 

After church I head back to the trail and begin walking north again. Wow! What a cool time. I walk on and on thinking happy inspirational thoughts some of which I've tried to capture here. The day moves on and I pass through different parts of this hot dry section. I pass the Cache 22 water cache, leaving a small donation, 'grace begets grace' was my thought. Thank you trail angel who brings water and stuff to Cache 22. The day gets hotter and the trail moves off the ridge. Or better said, the ridge melts into the ground and I pass through an ancient lava field. The black broken rocks still seem to cover cracks that go who knows how deep. I always feel like these volcanic places look like places where orcs could suddenly appear from some dark hidden recess and drag you into their underworld. It's virtually impossible to cross the lava without a trail. It would be so slow and tiring.  Once across the lava I begin heading more west than north, at least it feels that way. The terrain takes on a character very similar to the terrain around the town I live in. A grassy, rocky trail through oak trees. The smells are the same, the air temperature is the same. I find it easy walking only because it seems so familiar. The stones in the trail are still my biggest problem. Even as I stare at the trail I somehow still miss seeing some of the rocks. Every once in a while I trip. I turn and look, sure enough there's a rock I somehow didn't see. I find this extremely vexing. Maybe I'm daydreaming and not paying attention to to the rocks, every time a kick and a trip is my reminder to PAY ATTENTION!

I reach the small creek that ends the dry section. I use my microfilter to produce a bottle of clean cold water which I drink in its entirety right on the spot. I love carrying my microfilter, it's been a game changer for me. I continue on to the fish hatchery and power plant at Lake Baum. A delightfully green place of water and sounds of water. The contrast from the previous thirty miles is stark and refreshing. Water everywhere. People fishing, people kayaking. The lake is filled with all kinds of water fowl. It seems so clean and inviting in spite of the floating mats of water plants. I collect enough water for dinner, breakfast, and a liter to get me to Burney Falls State Park in the morning. It's only about ten miles from here. I continue hiking to a spot on the map called CS1406. Some campsites on the side of the lake far from the rest of the people places. The only access to them is from the PCT. Special campsites for PCT hikers! For me! No one else is here. Just me, my own personal campsite with my own personal access to Lake Baum. I set up my tent on a flat spot and then head down to the lake with my pack towel and dirty socks. No ones around just me. My arm of the lake. I strip down to my under shorts and jump into the lake. Wow! It's cool and refreshing! So refreshing. Invigorating. I dunk my head under and scrub my head. Then I rinse my pack towel, my socks, and my unzipped pant legs. Removing the dust and grime from each. This is so amazing. I dress and head back to camp feeling clean and refreshed. I make dinner. Mama Mia’s Italian Soup, with added ramen noodles and sausage. For dessert I have a peanut butter tortilla. I eat dessert first, because I can. After dinner and my chores I climb into my tent and escape the flies and mosquitos that are doing their best to ruin this most delightful and grace filled day. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day 77 : Lost Creek Trail Junction

28 miles today
1267 miles to go

I retrieve my food unmolested by bear, deer, or any other creature for that matter. I sit in my tent before the dawn and eat my breakfast. I finish and am packed by the time the sun peeks through the trees. I'm off! Right after the lake is a burned section. No shade from trees, but I'm early enough that it's still shaded by an entire mountain. On and on it goes. The only redeeming feature is that I can see Mt Lassen rather than just trees. Camped in the burn is BFG. I chat for a few minutes and then move on. There are no dramatic climbs or descents. Eventually I get through the burn and find myself back in the trees. BFG catches up and passes me. We both have a plan to eat at JJ’s cafe in Old Station. I arrive at JJ’s around lunch time after traveling twenty miles in a little under six hours. That's a little over three miles per hour. My goal is to maintain that pace for the rest of the hike. BFG invites me to come back to the table he's sitting at. I meet a few Thru-hikers I have not met before. I already forgot their names. I order a bacon cheeseburger and a root beer. I've taken up drinking soda because it has calories. Free refills equals free calories. The service is slow but friendly and helpful. I'm not in a hurry so I didn't mind the wait. I was able to charge my phone and my external battery and use their free wifi. I sat in there long after my food was eaten and they didn't kick me out. There is a twenty nine mile waterless stretch from here going north. Well it's not really waterless. About eight miles in there is a new trail cut down to Lost Creek. It's about a third of a mile and supposed to be really steep. This section can be really hot and there isn't much shade. People are loading up on water, six or seven liters. I don't want to carry that much. Eventually I'm the only Thru-hiker left, still charging my battery and phone. I decide ninety-eight percent on my phone is close enough. I don't know how much charge my external battery got, but it's more than it had. I pay my bill and head over to the Fill Up gas station / convienence store. I'm looking for ice cream. A pint would be nice. The friendly cashier directs back to the ice cream cooler but alas, no pints. Too bad. I settle for a coffee crunch ice cream bar. Taste good but not enough. I sit outside in front in the shade with BFG. He's planning on night hiking all the way through the dry section. I look at the thermometer, eighty degrees. That's not very hot. I go into the store and ask if I can fill my water container. “Sure,” the friendly cashier says. I fill up about two and a half liters plus another three quarter liters in my water bottle. That should be plenty to get me eight miles in to the Lost Creek trail no matter how hot it is. I decide I will hike to there and camp. Then I only have to walk a twenty one mile dry section tomorrow. If I do that in the morning I can do it on two liters of water like I did today. 

Hiking the Hat Creek Rim, the dry section, is really fun in spite of the potential heat. It's not really that hot today and there is a pleasant breeze keeping it pretty comfortable. The views are amazing, but dangerous. The trail is really rocky and if I want to look at the view I have to stop walking or risk stubbing my toes on rocks. I do this a couple of times before I learn to ignore the view and look at the trail. After my three hour rest at JJ’s I feel great and the miles fly by. I get to the trail junction to Lost Creek and find XT, Lid, and Next Time sitting and eating in the shade. They plan on night hiking too. Before they leave XT and Lid want to go down to Lost Creek and get more water. I setup my tent and grab my water container, water bottle, and microfilter. I drink the entire three quarter liters in my water bottle on the way down. The trail is super steep and dusty. At the bottom is Lost Creek pouring out from under the rocks in the lava flow. Ice cold clear clean water. This is why I brought my microfilter. A fresh cold bottle of water. I drink some and then fill my water container with two liters. I have a liter and a half left in my tent, plus this two leaves my three and a half after I finish my ice cold bottle of water. I need about one and a half liters for dinner and breakfast. That should leave me with two liters for hiking which should be enough if I leave at my normal early hour and tomorrow isn't significantly hotter than today. Sounds complicated but really I'm calculating that I don't have to carry more than two liters of water through the dry section. I cook dinner and visit with the others while they eat their dinner. XT and Lid are studdly trail Angels. They both carried an empty gallon jug with them down to the water, filled it in addition to their own water and carried the extra water back up to the junction for use by whomever might be in need of it. I think that's really cool. Exercising there power to dispense grace on someone they don't even know. Trail Magic!

Everybody moves on leaving me alone on the Hat Creek Rim. It's pretty up here and I'm betting the breeze dies down tonight making it a great place to sleep. I take some pictures in the sunset light then climb into my tent after completing my evening chores. The air cools down and I climb into my bag and nestle under the cozy goose down. A great day of hiking and I am finally feeling healthy and strong. My legs and feet are not giving me any kind of unusual or abnormal pains beyond the normal pain of walking for twenty plus miles. Yay! This is really starting to be more fun than work.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Day 76 : Bears Like People Food

17 miles today
1295 miles to go

How gloriously comfortable. The air is cool and dark, though not as dark as before. In fact it's light enough to see, but it's so comfortable. I'm sleeping in today. I get up a half hour later than normal and have the traditional in-tent breakfast. I am going to Drakesbad today. It's only about ten miles. I hope my box is there. Not sure about anything else they have or don't have. I need the food from my box to continue to travel north without delay.

I start hiking and immediately the trail starts climbing. It's funny how I don't feel as frustrated with climbing now as I did yesterday. I even called the hill stupid. The hill can't be stupid as it is an inanimate object. I think it was the combination of tiredness and heat and lack of snacks that led to my feeling they way I did. The trail climbs through the forest. Forest, forest, and then where there is no forest there are trees. I can't see the forest for the trees. Nothing to take a picture of, so I don't.

Drakesbad, it's about ten thirty, too late for breakfast to early for lunch. Just as well, I need to eat my own food. They have my box! Yay, I commandeer a picnic table and spread my food across the top, sort breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and group them into the same bags. I'm so much faster at this than I used to be. The squirrels seem to be very curious about my food. The moment I turn my back they jump up on the table. Apparently they seen this done before and been rewarded for their persistence. I don't reward, I teach them fear. Not very well, them don't seem to be very afraid. They refill my water container and tell me about the free showers down at the bath house. I take a shower then put on my dirty clothes, seems kind of pointless especially since it's so hot that five minutes on the trail it'll be like I haven't showered at all. Free is free, the water is hot, it feels great to be clean. Ok, now it's time to go get dirty again. It's noon by the time I leave. I have to pay attention to the water sources here they aren't as frequent as south from here. My pack feels heavy. It is heavy, I've got enough water, I've got food to get me to Burney Falls State Park. It's hot. The trees provide shade, but it's still hot. Not much breeze so the still hot air is stifling. Old Station up ahead has the last water for a long stretch. I hike to Lower Twin Lake. On the way I pass two day hikers. Father and son, hiking together and doing a little fishing. They had to go into the ranger station and get a permit. I forgot about that. My permit is good for my entire hike on the PCT corridor. They ask where I'm camping. “I think the lake up ahead,” I say. They said the ranger warned them about a mother bear and her cub are paying too much attention to campers in that area. Apparently they have successfully stolen food from someone. Too bad, that means the bear and the cub have a bullseye on them. They used to relocate recalcitrant bears. Now they kill them when they become too habituated to humans and dangerous. They thought the ranger might be just trying to scare them but then they met a group at the trailhead who said the bears bothered them all night. I've hiked in my places with nosey bears, no big deal. Just store your food properly, no problem. 

Lower Twin Lake is a beautiful clear lake. It looks so inviting as I come over hill and see it. It's hot out, all I can think of is jumping into the water it looks so cool. I meet a troop of Boy Scouts camping by the lake. The Scoutmaster asks about my trip and PCT hiking in general. I ask if he minded if I camped close by. “Sure, no problem, just know, there are bears. We had two trying to get our food bags all night.” 

I look around for a good site . The primary thing needed for a good site here is an large old dead tree with long branches. I look around and can't find what I'm looking for. I move on following the trail around the lake. I see a promising spot ahead a spot with a sandy beach. I go and check it out. I find just the right kind of old tree. I set up my tent. Then I unload all my food wrappers and trash into a trash bag that I put into one of my food bags. Then I also put my stove and cooking pot in one of the food bags. I don't think they have any food smells but these bears sound super curious. 

All I need to do know is get my fifty foot spectra bear hang line over that branch thirty feet over my head. It needs to be at least eight feet away from the trunk. It sounds so easy. All I need to do is put a couple of rocks in the throw bag and toss it over the branch. my first attempt is an overhanded baseball style throw. Oops, not enough arc, the bag flies upflies past the branch about five feet beneath it keeps going until it hits a tree about forty feet away. I collect the bag, untangle the line, lay it out, I wrap a couple of turns around the bag. I lean back in an attempt to create my arc and let the bag fly. Perfect angle the bag zooms towards the branch, it looks really good, the arc looks like it should pass about a foot over the branch. Then something goes wrong, perhaps not enough oomph, it runs out of energy and turns to head back for the ground about five feet too soon. Smack, it hits a rock at the foot of the tree. Dad-gum, I didn't think it would be this hard. I collect the bag and untangle the  again. This time underhanded, perhaps I can throw it further underhanded. I let the bag fly slow-pitch softball style. Oh Yeah! Plenty of pizazz on that one. The problem is an early release sends the bag shooting out at a forty-five degree angle into the forest. I attach the carabiner on the other end of the rope to my belt so that when the bag does go over the branch the entire line doesn't follow it. In this case the bag flies until it runs out of line, there is a brief tug on my belt and the bag falls harmlessly to the ground. Now, I'm not the swearing type. Cuss words around not part of my vocabulary, but someone said some words that sounded an awful lot like four letter ones. Perhaps it was my mouth, although I think it was involuntary. I go get the bag and untangle the line. Not untangling the line is a recipe for another failure so I always include this important step. I throw the bag, perfect, right over the branch, except it's only a foot from the trunk. The branch is so high that my belt is tugged while the bag is still about the height of my head. That's okay, at least it's over the branch. I can just whip it down to the end. Like a fly fisher man, I am waving my arms over my head sending a loop traveling down, or in this case up the line. It works once. The line moved three inches down the branch. Now when I send the loop it bumps into a different bench and dies before moving the line. Sadly this isn't going to work. I pull the line down. That's when I notice a different branch on the other side of the tree. This one doesn't having the other branches to interfere. I try tossing the bag, over it, early release again! Arrgh! Again and again. I throw the bag through the trees, over the wrong branches, useless, utterly useless. How lame can you get? I cannot seem to throw the bag to safe my life, ur food. Then suddenly magically, the bag sails true, up and up and over beautiful shot. I'd say, “That was easy!” But it wasn't. I hang my food, finally. 

I go for a swim! That's right. For the first time in over thirteen hundred miles I go swimming. The warm water a perfect temperature , I wade out till it is deep enough then I dive under the water. It feels so good, so freeing, I'm weightless, this is so good. I scrub my head and dive again, nothing but the sound of bubbles floating past my head. I swim around a bit. Then I go back to shore and rinse my shirt and pant legs of the trail dust. I rinse my socks and gaiters. I hang my wet stuff from some dry old stumps and I collect some water. I head back to camp after collecting my stuff. I feel so clean. Not sweaty and sticky like I normally feel. I pull down my food and make dinner. Being careful to leave my line in place of a quick and easy rehang.

There are a lot of people camped at this lake but there is plenty of room. I am camped by myself far from the other camps. I'm hoping that the bears will ignore my boring, non food-smelly camp and bother the others. I'm sure the Boy Scouts camp around a quarter mile away will smell way more interesting than mine. After dinner I rehang my food the get into my tent before the sun sets. I take a nap then review my maps for tomorrow's hike. It cools down quickly when the sun sets. I pull out my sleeping clothes and bag and climb inside. The cozy down surrounds me and I drift off to sleep.

I awake around midnight. I think I drank too much water. I need to pee. I climb out of my tent, um, what about the bears. I look around. I can't see anything except forest. Just in case I won't go far from my tent. Ten feet, that's far enough. Agh! That's better. Back in my tent I quickly fall asleep again.

Snap! “What was that?” A heavy foot falls in the forest, and I'm here to hear it. It makes a a sound. Branches break. Something heavy jumps over the log by my tent. My imagination has night vision. I can see the role-poly cub bouncing around the forest. His actions match the sounds I hear. Further away but moving closer by the second is the heavier more sure footed steps of mama. Sounds on both sides of my tent send my imagination into overdrive. Do I yell? Do I turn on my light? I learn that there is a big difference between theoretical bears and real ones. Real ones are terrifying. My tent which seemed to be my protection from the forest suddenly seems flimsy and illusionary. The moon is out and I am waiting to a see the bear’s shadow across my tent, but the angle is wrong. I peer into the gloom on the dark side of the tent. Something bear shaped is sniffing the air as it moves over the log. Foot falls crunching branches as it moves through the dark. I imagine Jr. bumping awkwardly into my tent and squealing and mom coming to help. My muscles ache from the tension. I try not to move. When I move my mattress rustles like Christmas wrapping paper. They appear to be moving away. The sounds grow fainter. I lay still, barely breathing, I slowly relax. I drift off.

Crunch! Footfall again. They are back! What's so fascinating about my camp? Snap! Crunch! Steps all around my tent. They seem to be circling! A dark form is visible in the gloom in front of my tent. “Hey,” I say in the deepest scary voice I can muster. Not very deep or scary. The form stops moving briefly then resumes its motion. It stops about ten feet away. Crunch, crunch. It sound like someone eating granola. Only chewing at double speed. I grap my head light. The rustling noise makes the figure stop crunching. I turn on my light. A large doe stares wide-eyed at me. She's eating the pine needles where I pee’d. I've heard about the mountain goats in Washington doing this, which is why you're suppose to pee on the rocks and not green plants. I turn off my light. I suppose a deer in the neighborhood means there are no other threats. Then imagine a mountain lion jumping on the deer’s back and slaughtering it in front of me because the deer was distracted by my light. No mountain lion appears. The deer eats down to the dirt and scratches a bit to get the last little bit before moving off. I drift off to sleep to blessed silence.