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Begins: Jul 6, 2009
Date: Thu, Jul 9th, 2009
Start: Parks Creek Road
End: Scott Mountain Summit
Daily Distance: 20.7
Trip Distance: 59.1
Min Elevation: 5790
Max Elevation: 7100
Entry Lat: 41.27571
Entry Lng: -122.697973
People Met: 1
Entry Visits: 536
Journal Visits: 14,387
Guestbook Views: 1,868
Guestbook Entrys: 31
Going solo, at least for a day
I woke up at 5:30 extremely tired, but happy with my latest pillow system. I had been struggling with various balls of rolled up clothes, which had compacted into hard mats. I tried using my silicon pack wrap and silicon rain skirt, each in self contained stuff sacks, but even with their drawstrings looped around each other, they split apart. Finally, I hit on something that may prove sustainable - both silicon items each stuffed into their own warm glove. The gloves stayed together under my head for the most part, and I slept well enough to dream about the Penguins. Kris Letang (the last of the Pens 6 defensemen this year) had been promoted to captain in the dressing room after the Pens won the cup, meaning that Sidney Crosby was becoming an alternate captain, forcing me to relinquish my role as alternate captain. No worries, though - just being a major contributor and former alternate captain on the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins is good enough to me.
I've realized that my moods are very dependent on the time of day. Mornings are great - I feel optimistic and confident. Lunch is usually a lull, but I get a second wind afterwards. Evening through dusk is the worst - I feel very vulnerable and lonely. By the time it's completely dark, I've usually gained some confidence back.
Being morning, I felt pretty good about myself and decided to go for it - start hiking and see if I could catch Laurie. I was extremely tired (repeated on purpose for emphasis) but was on the trail at 6:20AM and covered the 6 miles to Chilcoot creek, where she had told us she was planning to camp, in about 2 hours. I turned a corner and saw a person standing by tent, so I shouted "Laurie" and started jogging down to the creek. It was not Laurie. A man in his late 20s told me he had passed Laurie on the trail, and that she had decided to camp at Robbers Meadow, 5 miles past the creek.
At this point, I probably should have turned around. I knew that I did not want to do the rest of the section by myself, and there was no way I was going to catch a woman with an 11 mile head start when she was putting in 18 mile days. I also needed to call Kim to let her know I was ok, and I knew I could get reception back at the road if I could stomach hiking the rim a 4th time.
I decided to continue on - a view of Shasta was only 2 miles up the trail, and I harbored a misguided illusion that Laurie had taken the morning off and I could be at her camp in an hour and a half. Of course, Shasta produced no bars in this place, 3 miles later there was no Laurie, and I was halfway through the 20 mile stretch.
My hike now became a mission with 2 objectives: get to the Scott Mountain Summit safely, and contact Kim. On the former point, I made sure to use my poles and to keep my feet stable, while employing a bear strategy I picked up from the guy camping at the creek. He told me he encountered a bear a few miles up the trail and had scared it away. "Bears hate dogs," he said as left the creek. "If you see one, bark like a dog."
I wanted nothing to do with a bear or a cougar, so I took a preventative approach. Whenever I rounded a blind corner, or came across a big meadow, I clanked my hiking poles together and barked like a dog. I must have barked 100 times. Twice, I heard what I thought was a bear growling in the bushes. The third time, I saw the culprit - a particular bird, vigorously flapping its wings. I started talking outloud to myself more as the day wore on; at one point I said "I have come too far to get mauled now, I want to talk to Kim."
I became more concerned about contacting Kim, as it became obvious that I was not going to get cell reception. I had heard that Scott Mountain Summit was not particularly well traveled, and I hadn't encountered any day hikers that could give me a ride down to a town. I started to brace myself for the possibility of walking down the highway after my 20 mile hike, but I realized I didn't even know how for I would have to go.
When I arrived at the parking lot, I saw a white car pull up and started running. I explained my situation to Tom and his wife (her name escapes me, unfortunately), and they offered to drive me to Callahan, 5 miles or so down the highway. Another wonderfully generous couple, and I'm only 4 days into my trip! The store/restaurant (a town of 50 peopls isn't very big) only had a phone for local calls, so I walked back down the road to the ranger station. They let me use their phone for my long distance calls and all was well again. I was exhausted, but relieved.
Chris told me that he was unable to see a doctor, since his insurance wasn't active until the middle of the month, but that his knee was feeling better after icing it. He was on a bus to Etna and the Alderbrook Manor, our first resupply point, where we were due to arrive on Sunday. His plan was to rest up and lighten his enormous pack, with the hope of starting the next section, 55 miles to Seiad Valley, on Monday as planned.
I was now faced with another dilema. I could try to catch a ride back up to Scott Mountain summit and hike the last 40 miles of the section myself. Or I could take up the ranger's generous offer of a ride to Etna, where I would meet Chris and determine our next move.
I asked the rangers about the trail. They said it was fine, but when I asked about doing 20 miles from Scott Mountain to the next major road, the older ranger looked at me and said "Really? That's a fuckin poke." In contrast to almost every PCT hiker I've met so far, they advised me against doing it alone. They have to pull injured people off the trail every year, and probably didn't want me to suffer the same fate.
In the end, the ranger pulled his truck around front and said "Last Chance." I accepted, and off we drove to Etna. He held an empty water bottle in his hand for spitting chewing tobacco and drove me around the small (but much larger than Callahan) town, pointing out where to eat. I later went to Dotties, which he suggested, and had a double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake. Having only hiked four days, I am not nearly to the point where I'm craving real food or hating dehydrated meals/anything in bar form. Still, as I opened my bag and pulled out my food, I found myself singing "At Last" out loud. The biggest change I've noticed so far is my propensity to talk to myself. Maybe all those Berkeley "crazies" are just old hikers.
So, over these last 24 hours, I have accepted one challenge (camping by myself and then hiking 20 miles very quickly) while declining another (going back up the mountain and hiking the last 40 miles over the next few days). Perhaps that means I have a bit more courage than I thought but not as much as I should? In hindsight, I'm sure I would have been fine camping by myself at Scott Mountain, and maybe I would have found another person hiking the last 40 miles. Maybe if I hadn't found anyone, I would have woken up with enough confidence to do it myself.
What I do know is that I developed serious tunnel vision on the trail, first in not turning around when I learned just how far ahead of me Laurie was, and then at the parking lot when I literally ran to the first car I saw. I had built up the fact that no one was going to come up the road so much in my mind that I didn't stop and consider the possibility that I was wrong and had no idea what to expect. While talking with Tom and his wife in the parking lot, at least 1 and probably more cars drove by. I probably should have stopped, looked around for other campers, asked if anyone had seen Laurie or if anyone was planning to do the next sections, and then found someone to give me a ride to a phone.
It's also possible that it doesn't matter. I was so relieved to speak with Kim, and so exhausted from the lack of sleep and 20 mile hike, that I was unable to muster the energy to make another big decision. Talking to Kim almost rendered everything else irrelevent, and it was important to get in touch with Chris as well: when I checked my voicemail in Etna (I have reception, call me!), I had 2 messages from Chris. The first said that he would call for help if he didn't hear from me by 6 or 7. The second clarified that he meant PM, and to make it official, it would be 7PM. Why he would simply select a seemingly arbitrary time (especially one as early as 7, since we have hiked past 7 every day thus far), I'm not sure, but I'm glad the guard would have come looking for me if I had not checked in. I'm also glad they didn't need to.
I made a number of mistakes and a number of other decisions that I'm yet unsure of. I'd like to get back on the trail as soon as possible for a number of reasons, the least of which is the spare pair of women's shorts I'm wearing while my clothes are drying (I'm a size 12). But I'm also in this cute little town with plenty of places to eat. I just did 60 miles in 4 days after not having backpacked in 10+ years. My muscles are sore and I'm exhausted. Would it be the worst thing in the world to take 3 days off, to have this 4 day, 60 mile stretch be a nice warmup or prelude to the rest of the trip? Probably not. Kim would call this "positive thinking." I would usually call it bullshit, but maybe it's more complicated than that.
Lucretia Walks Into The Woods
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