Stehekin to Canada (2569 -2659)

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Waiting to get on the ferry from Chelan to Stehekin. Photo credit to Courage.

Immediately after arriving at Stehekin, which is seeing hardly any tourists because of all the fires, a ranger came out and asked if we had any questions. I took advantage of this opportunity to go through a sampler of the stupid questions I was asked while working in Yellowstone. “So at what elevation do deer turn into elk? Why do you guys sell animal crackers if there are signs everywhere saying not to feed the animals? When do you release the bears in the morning?” He had no sense of humor and tried to explain to me that deer and elk can coexist at the same elevation.

The first stop was the ranger station, where we got the necessary permits to spend the night in the national park. I’m glad he didn’t ask me for our real names, because I would’ve had no idea what they were and just made stuff up. As I should’ve known, they were familiar with thru hikers coming in during the six weeks we trickle through. I became the group leader in the national park records, and the others ended up calling me Dear Leader all the way to Canada. We were all listed as being from Ohio because that’s easier than listing Tennessee, Japan, Missouri, and Ohio all on one small space.

The next stop was, of course, the bakery. The Stehekin bakery is the stuff of legends, and we’d been hearing about it all the way since the SoCal desert. Martha Stewart visited there, and when I tried to confirm this with a clerk she told me, “I don’t know, but I go everywhere Martha goes so I hope so!” I replied, “Me too! I’ve been doing the same ever since prison.” There was an awkward silence and she found an excuse to help some other customers.

We spent over three hours at the bakery eating and telling stories about Paiute Mama, the “Wicked Witch of Walker Pass” and everyone’s favorite sorceress trail angel. Quick refresher: she killed her boyfriend with a knife, spent 12 years in prison, and now claims to be a practitioner of white and blue magic in the desert. She lives in a shack with her boyfriend, Scary Larry, and recently posted on the PCT Facebook page about the police helicopters over her house after her neighbor mysteriously died. “Everyone knows he was a tweaker [meth addict] who couldn’t handle his shit. I had nothing to do with it,” she let us know. She opens her shack to hikers in the final desert section, and the PCT Association has politely asked her to stop being a trail angel because she’s insane.

The rain started right when we got to the trail, though wasn’t terribly heavy. We only went an hour and 40 minutes to our campsite, where there was a family that seemed concerned to have five homeless looking guys with crazy names walk in and join them. Cardboard and I slept inside a random three-walled shack we found nearby in the woods, and it was incredibly luxurious compared to setting up camp in the rain. By the next morning the rain had died down and left us in peace until the very last day, except for some strong storms during the nights.

It was cold, especially as we ascended to 7000 feet (2130m) and stayed at that elevation until Canada. We managed to do 30 miles (48km) a day in 12 hours each day because it was too cold to stop and take long breaks. We had to sleep with our water and keep it close to our bodies during the day so it wouldn’t freeze, and there was snow at the higher elevations. It was a bit brutal going through there in a freakishly early winter storm, but incredibly beautiful.

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Me walking along the ridge. Photo credit to Courage.

Four of us, all except the German guy we never saw nor heard from again, stayed together all the way to the end. It was nice to do something like that together, especially since we’d all met way back in California.

The scenery in the last part of Washington was among the best on the entire PCT, comparable only with the Sierra Nevada and the John Muir Trail back in central California. Cardboard left his spoon by accident at Cutthroat Pass, my favorite view since Mexico, and ended up using a stick to eat his peanut butter and ramen noodles. We are hiker trash.

At the advice of a former thru hiker, at the very end we went around and decided to share our trashiest moments on the trail. Mine involved wearing a trash bag during laundry, sleeping in an outhouse to escape a storm, and getting kicked out of the Redding post office because the postmistress thought I was a hobo. Cardboard got desperate with water in the desert and used his pee bottle as a water bottle.

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Courage took this awesome photo of him and Cardboard fist bumping at the northern terminus.

I wish I could have some great story about how wonderful it felt to finally get to the Canadian border. To the contrary, I just wanted to get out of there. We were soaked and cold, and still had another three hours from the northern terminus until Canada’s Highway 3. Rather than make all the thru hikers hike another 30 miles south to the closest dirt road, the Canadian government constructed a 14km footpath from the US border to the lodge in Manning Provincial Park. The British Columbia section took us a little less than three hours. Definitely the shortest out of the four states and provinces we visited on this trek.

After a quick victory photo shoot we were anxious to get warm and dry. We booked it to the lodge, where we devoured large enough pizzas that the Aussies who worked there thought we were insane.

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Victory photo at the Canadian border! L to R: Cliffhanger, Courage, me, Cardboard, and Snipe.

The PCT was definitely worth all the heat, cold, snowstorms, rain, blisters, sore feet, hunger, and thirst. On the grand series of buses and trains between Manning Park in British Columbia and my hometown of Columbus, Ohio I already found myself looking up details of the 3000 mile Continental Divide Trail, which I’ve been seriously thinking of tackling in a few years. Thru hiking seems kind of addictive. Or maybe I’ll hit up the Appalachian Trail. I have a lot of time to decide.



In Chicago on my way back home I stopped by the Spanish Consulate to pick up my Spanish visa. Next week I’m moving to Madrid to teach English for the Ministry of Education, and I’m looking forward to living in one place for a spell.


White Pass to Stehekin

At White Pass Ace and I decided to go outside to try to hitch into Packwood because, after that horrible experience on the Knife Edge, we wanted to take a shower and eat pizza.

Honey, don’t hitch! We’ll give you a ride when our shift ends in 35 minutes,” one of the Kracker Barrel (the roadside convenience store) workers called out to us while we stood by the road with our thumbs out.

We were told not to go to the Packwood Inn, which was supposedly owned and run by meth addicts, so of course we went there. Beer Goddess, the guy who hugged me outside of Trout Lake, Ace, and I all split a room.

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Puff Puff hitching. I believe Courage took this photo.

The next morning I stood out by the side of the road after breakfast, holding a sign to try to get back to White Pass by a hitch. After about 15 or 20 minutes a woman pulled over and offered me a ride. Score!

About five minutes down the road she said, “So I’m supposed to meet my husband back in Packwood in 20 minutes. Do you think we can make it?” It’s a 35 minute drive to White Pass, and then another 35 minutes back…”

Of course! You have plenty of time,” I told her. She wasn’t convinced and asked if she could let me off by the side of the road. I told her no, and asked to be brought back to Packwood. Four minutes later I got a ride from some hikers who borrowed the car of one of the cashiers at the Kracker Barrel at White Pass. The hikers, two women doing a long section of trail, found out their car had been towed a few hundred miles back. They needed to get a notarized form authorizing another person to go pick up the vehicle, but the closest notary was over an hour away. One of the Kracker Barrel workers just gave them the keys to her car to go get the notarized form!

Back at the Kracker Barrel the mood was pretty grim. Trail and road closures had blocked off all access to Canada via the PCT once again, and there was now no way to walk into the Great White North via trail even with skipping around the fires.

The Dinsmores (trail angels near Stevens Pass who let hikers stay at their place in Baring) are telling people not to go north, that the trail is closed and access to Canada is closed. The fires are growing, the smoke is bad, and people are going home from Stevens Pass,” Ace said after calling a hiker farther north. This was like a punch in the gut, having walked for months and months to be faced with the prospect of not getting to Canada on a Mexico to Canada hike.

Conditions and closures were changing by the hour with all the fires, though usually trending towards the worse. This was the largest set of fires in state history, with over 400 square miles (~1000 square km) of Washington burning. Three firefighters had just died, which made the dangers seem a lot more real. Then, we found out the section of trail we had just crossed was now closed due to advancing fires. The US Forest Service was sending riders on horseback to evacuate the Mt. Adams section, and the Department of Natural Resources was temporarily ending its ban on volunteers as the blazes were getting out of control. It didn’t look good, but we just headed north and hoped for things to be better by the time we got to Stevens Pass.

The next section, to Snoqualmie Pass, involved spectacular mountain scenery and a crossing of Mt. Rainier National Park. Because of the smoke we couldn’t see Rainier for the first day, but the second day the wind changed course and gave us breathtaking views of Washington’s highest peak. I can’t imagine what the previous day would’ve been like without the smoke. One day I’ll have to go back and do the Wonderland Trail, which goes around the base of Rainier.

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Mt. Rainier is somewhere out there behind the smoke.

I came across a cabin in the middle of the woods, which was a bit strange. We were really in the middle of nowhere out there. What was even weirder was that there was a small crowd around the ski cabin. Trail magic! A guy was giving out carrots and whiskey. I heard stories later about some ridiculous hiker trash party that went on there with all the whiskey.

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The goat pizza party at the random cabin in the woods.

Cabin in the woods. I’m not really sure how the goats and pizza got there, especially considering the nearest road is far away. That all happened after I left. They claimed the goats brought the pizza in the little cart.

I spent the night a couple hours’ walk from Snoqualmie Pass, deciding to meet my friends there in the morning. They let me take a shower in their room at the ski resort, and I spent the rest of the day feasting on ice cream and pizza in my never-ending quest for calories. The trail to Canada was partially opened! Hopefully we’d get more information at Stevens Pass in two days.

On the way to Stevens Pass we decided to take an alternate route which bypassed 11 miles of PCT but was much steeper. Trying desperately to get to Stevens Pass before the forecast five day storm, it seemed like a logical choice. Except that it turned out to be not well maintained in parts, ridiculously steep, overgrown, and all around a difficult experience. However, I got to fulfill my dream of sleeping under a bridge (too bad my trail name isn’t Troll). I woke up halfway through the night with the feeling that something large was near me, so I screamed at the darkness and went back to sleep.

I got to Stevens Pass just as the rain was starting, and after hanging out in the ski lodge bar with Super Classy I decided to go out and try my luck highway hitching to the Dinsmores in Baring.

It seemed like it took forever to get a hitch, but finally some hippie van picked me up and let me chill on their bed on their way to Seattle. Checking my watch, I realized it took me just 13 minutes to get a ride on the side of the highway in the near-dark. Not bad. I don’t look very threatening, so I tend to have an easier time than most getting rides.

It was 25 miles to the Dinsmores’ place, which is on a large plot of land in the middle of nowhere. They’re both about 75 and retired, and built a bunkhouse with shower/laundry facilities on their property for hikers. I sent a food package there and decided to wait out the storm in their bunkhouse, which had just four others by that point. Three were section hikers, either finishing up a hike of the entire PCT or just going south as far as they could this season, and the fourth was a thru hiker I’d never met before. Two of them had already been there for a few days. The hikers told me to “go talk to that pothead living in the tent under the tree. She’s here to help the Dinsmores, and will check you in and shit like that. Jerry (Mr. Dinsmore) calls her a ding-a-ling, but she’s friendly.”

After checking in and finding the closest store and restaurant was 13 miles away, the other hikers let me know that somebody had dropped off a cubic meter of old bagels from a local bakery. I didn’t have any food left, having eaten my last bar coming down to Stevens Pass, so this was a lifesaver along with the food package I’d sent myself. 12 stale bagels later, I was pretty content.

The Dinsmores, who are some of the most famous trail angels on the PCT, let hikers wear random clothes they got from God knows where while we do laundry. For some unknown reason they had onesies that fit people my size and larger, so I spent two and a half days wearing a glow in the dark dinosaur onesie.

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My awesome glow in the dark dinosaur onesie!

More hikers showed up the next day and our number eventually increased to 16. I was surprised to know almost nobody in the group. A lot of them were section hikers or a good deal slower than me with earlier start dates, so I had just caught up to them.

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Hanging out in the Dinsmores’ hiker bunkhouse.

There was a lot of drama at the Dinsmores regarding what to do in relation to the fire closure. Some were planning to hike through the closure, while others were going to take the ferry to Stehekin and from there tackle the last three days to Canada. I thought it was dangerous and irresponsible to hike through the fire closure, not to mention the $2,000 to $10,000 for which I would be liable if caught. When people were talking about walking through the closed section a hiker commandeered the stereo and yelled, “This is for all you idiots planning on walking through the closure!” A few seconds later Johnny Cash’s “Burning Ring of Fire” filled the bunkhouse.

When we get access to stereos, often at trail angel houses or at businesses naïve enough to let us take control, there’s always a strange mix of 80s pop music, trashy country songs, and Taylor Swift’s latest album. The latter is surprisingly popular on trail. Lots of people told me she’s great to listen to when kicking out some extra miles at the end of the day, and I have to agree with them after trying it out.

While we were stranded there Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore were kind enough to take us along with them to their favorite diner in nearby (kind of) Skykomish for breakfast and dinner, and to the grocery store closer to Seattle. Of course, we paid for their meals at these outings. Because food was an issue, Hummingbird (she’s wearing the purple shirt in the above photo) organized a spaghetti dinner. Mrs. Dinsmore had a lot of dry pasta she wanted to get rid of, so we capitalized on that and made an enormous amount of spaghetti in their kitchen. I convinced some hikers that my food plan for the last section was to just fill up my food sack with the leftover spaghetti. They were aghast (I was kidding).

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Dinner at the Dinsmores’.

Eventually, storm or not, I was getting antsy to finish and get away from the confines and all the craziness. While some guys watched the entirety of the Godfather series, Hummingbird defended herself from accusations of being a serial killer. She was the only woman thru hiker during our stay, which is strange because women have a higher completion rate and thus the gender imbalance is less extreme at this point in the trail. We concluded it was because she killed every other woman she met along the way, and she refused to confirm or deny this.

The topic of conversation changed to grizzlies and wolves in the North Cascades, and somebody joked about them greeting us when we crossed the border to Canada. “Dude, how did you know?!” screamed this grizzled old crazy dude with a massive beard who had originally hiked the PCT years ago and was back for a victory lap. He’d chided me for not wanting to hike through the fire closure, and wasn’t terribly popular for being kind of a jerk. I’d just been in the background reading my kindle and eating spaghetti in my onesie, but my ears perked up when my sense for the bizarre started going off at the equivalent of DEFCON 1.

When I finished the PCT in ’72 and reached the border there was a wolf, half in the US and half in Canada. It congratulated me,” he told us with the wide eyes of a true believer. “Man, how did you know about that?!”

Mrs. Dinsmore hooked another hiker and me up with a friend of hers, a retired National Park Service ranger, who was in town and helping shuttle hikers to the port town of Chelan. Chelan lies on Lake Chelan, and there’s a daily four hour ferry to the 75 person town of Stehekin inside the boundaries of North Cascades National Park. North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks in the contiguous United States, and Stehekin is the last resupply point on the PCT. In normal years, it’s possible to hike up to a ranger station in the park on the PCT from which there are multiple shuttles each day to the town on the only road.

Stehekin is a pretty unique place in that it’s inaccessible by road from the outside. You can take the ferry to get there from the town of Chelan across Lake Chelan (which is a massive lake), fly in, or take the shuttle from the Pacific Crest Trail.

Big Bear, Mrs. Dinsmore’s retired ranger friend, was talking to a few of us about leaving the next day for Chelan when the crazy wolf guy decided to include himself. Big Bear wasn’t too happy about this (apparently they had a slight altercation a few days prior when Big Bear told people not to risk walking through the fire closure and wolf guy said to go for it), and neither were we, but c’est la vie. On the ride I convinced a section hiker that I’d lost 200 pounds (90kg) since the beginning of the trail and had to replace all my clothes and gear because of that. I thought he knew I was joking, but apparently not everyone can understand my deadpan humor.

I’ve got a bit of a reputation for saying crazy stuff with a straight face on the PCT. After I got tired of being asked 4000 times a week by day hikers where I heard about the trail I started just saying, “In prison.” It ended the conversation very quickly. Word of that traveled fast for some reason. Word also got around that I was telling non-hikers a plethora of stories with a straight face. I.e. I came over to what is today the United States from the Black Forest of Germany over 2000 years ago, I was raised by wolves, am an urban pharmaceutical salesman, started being able to see in the dark after drinking some uranium-contaminated water in the desert, and that I wanted to go to medical school but my parents forced me to do the PCT first. It also became known much more quickly than I thought possible when I told this annoying hiker, “I want to be like you one day, except successful and happy.”

I hung out in Chelan at the library for a bit, entranced by the woman across the room talking about her witchcraft. She went on and on about how stupid her husband was for worrying her spells could work on someone as stubborn as him. Everyone knows that. He sounds like an idiot.

Word on the street was that you could camp in the abandoned parking lot next to the ferry dock, so that’s what we did. When there’s a large plot of land available for camping it’s customary to give everyone his or her personal space. Wolf guy obviously never got this memo, and decided to set up his cowboy camp right next to mine. It got a bit strange when he would shine his flashlight on my face every so often until I decided to just move everything towards the tents of Cliffhanger, Cardboard, and Courage. The latter three and I decided to tackle the last 90 miles (145km) to the border together, since the weather forecast was for lots of snow, rain, and cold. Those conditions can be dangerous, especially with all the road closures limiting bailout options on trail. We thought it’d be safer and more fun to do it all together.


Cascade Locks to White Pass (2144 – 2292)

Cascade Locks seemed like a nice, quaint, and tranquil little town in which to take a rest day before tackling the notoriously difficult Washington section. However, as all things do on the PCT, it started to get weirder and more bizarre the longer we stayed.

My first order of business after establishing myself at Shrek’s Swamp was, of course, pizza. The ale shop, which doubles as a pizza joint, was a hiker favorite. This doesn’t necessarily mean quality, though. Hikers tend to like the kinds of places that provide huge portions at low prices, and reminds me of what a former Peace Corps travel companion in Ethiopia told me after I mentioned a local volunteer recommended a place. “Peace Corps volunteers are terrible sources for food recommendations. Our standards have degraded so much that you really shouldn’t rely on us for that kind of thing.” It applies to hikers, too.

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Me, Hawaii, and Beer Goddess hanging out in the hammock at Shrek’s Swamp.

I ordered a 15 inch (38cm) pizza for myself and ravenously ate it in about four minutes using my hands. I hadn’t showered or done laundry in a week or so, and my beard and hair were getting pretty wild from not having been trimmed since South Lake Tahoe. Two people came in claiming to be thru hikers shortly after I sat down. The hostess, who was used to our kind, asked if they wanted to join me. We often congregate and travel in packs, so restaurants are used to us clustering together. They looked at me and the father’s glance made it obvious he had no desire to be anywhere in my vicinity. I was puzzled that they claimed to be PCT hikers fresh off the trail, since they were ridiculously clean with shaven faces. I’d never seen them before, which is usually a good case for arguing they’re not thru hikers. They also shared a pizza of the same size as mine, couldn’t finish it between the two of them, and ate using forks and knives. Definitely not hiker trash.

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Thru hikers at Shrek’s Swamp.

Speaking of hiking charlatans, on our rest day at the Swamp we met Mahollow. He claimed to have gotten to Cascade Locks six weeks before, having lost all of his gear when it fell off a ridge in Oregon. He definitely didn’t have a hiker’s build, and it seemed extremely suspect that he started with us and got here six weeks previously without skipping sections as he claimed. The group I’ve been with since Mexico and I were on track to do a 4.5 month thru hike, which is by no means record-breaking but still places us in one of the faster tiers of hikers.

However, things started getting weird when I overheard Mahollow talking to Shrek’s dog about how he hadn’t been with a woman in the seven years since his wife left him. Shortly afterwards he asked me, “So, have you seen the three ghosts that live at Shrek’s Swamp?” I stared at him for a few moments, unsure of how to approach this situation.

Um, no. Have you?”

Of course. But Beer Goddess told me you do seances on the trail and can communicate with spirits.”

Goddamn you, Beer Goddess. But I guess I deserve it after telling people her trail name is Fear Goddess and that she’s a practitioner of dark magic. I played along with it for a while, thinking he was most likely joking. It quickly became evident that he was serious.

Hey, I wasn’t trying to upset you,” Mahollow said as he started feeding Shrek’s dog some spam. By this point I’d started packing up all my things, wanting to get out of that place ASAP. “But do you really do seances?”

At this point I was starting to lose it. “No, that was all a joke. I don’t do seances on trail because I spend most of my time hiking from dawn to dusk, as I’m sure you’re familiar with from walking here from Mexico in such a short time.” He just stared at me, mumbled some apologies, and walked into the bunkhouse. I followed shortly after, getting my clothes out of the laundry and changing into my hiking outfit.

I overheard snippets of conversation while putting on my pink short shorts, and Ace and Hawaii filled me in on the rest after we fled that place. Mahollow was telling them the same things he told the dog about not being with a woman in seven years. He then started saying some totally inappropriate things. When I stepped out Ace said, “Oh, it’s One Of Us! Hey, sorry, but we gotta go.” She shot me a look that said we need to get out of here right now and you’re coming with us. I didn’t need to be told twice.

We reconvened outside the post office, where Hawaii and I sat on the bench and people watched with a guy named Baby Killer (I didn’t ask how he got that name).

This is like one of those Stephen King novels where it seems like a pleasant town, but then the longer you stay the more bizarre and dark it becomes,” I mentioned. As if on cue, some guy walked down the street while stopping every ten steps to kick his dog.

Yeah…” Hawaii trailed off as the dog kicker passed us. “Let’s go get a ridiculous amount of ice cream and leave.” So we did.

The border between Oregon and Washington, unlike that between California and Oregon, is not just a line drawn arbitrarily on a map. The Columbia River is by far the largest body of running water we encounter between Mexico and Canada. Standing at 200 feet elevation (61 meters; the lowest point on the trail), it marks the dividing line between the last two states and is crossed on the Bridge of the Gods.

The Bridge is a perfect harbinger of what’s to come in the next section in that it’s both beautiful and terrifying. There’s no pedestrian walkway across it, so when the massive semi-trucks come barreling at you it’s necessary to press up against the safety rail and hope nothing bad happens. The bridge is also grated, which means you can see all the way down the long drop to the Columbia.

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Bridge of the Gods!

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Courage’s photo of himself looking down on the bridge.

Rather than spend another night in Cascade Locks, I just walked 80 minutes to the first campsite. It’s hard getting restful sleep in towns at this point on the trail, so I just laid my sleeping bag in the dirt by the trail and went to bed early.

The first few days of the Washington section has a reputation for being a “green tunnel,” in which you just pass through endless pine forests. It was hot but at least not raining, and I made good time. Even with later starts and earlier finishes it’s still quite easy to get 27-30 miles (45-48km) a day.

The day was pretty uneventful, and I just zoned out listening to Korean pop music as per usual. That evening I wanted to camp by a bridge spanning a decently sized river, but was a bit off put by a screaming elderly couple running along the beach who stopped and stared at me as I passed. I just kept on going until past dark and laid out my sleeping bag right on the trail. Not exactly ideal, but I’ve done trashier things on the hike thus far. At least I’m not sleeping in an outhouse (which is actually quite nice).

Later on Ace and I, who have been leapfrogging since Cascade Locks, stumbled upon a cooler with ice and beer. I put my water bottle inside to cool it down…AND THEN TEN MINUTES LATER FOUND SOME SOUTHBOUNDERS DRINKING IT.

Hey, that’s my water!” I yelled as I ran over.

Thanks for the trail magic, man,” the guy drinking it said.

I’m a thru hiker, not a trail angel! I don’t give shit out to people, I carried that for 10 miles!” Those guys were obviously not thru hikers by their dress, especially considering they thought my disheveled hobo-like self was a trail angel. Luckily there was water a two minute walk away so I could just filter some more after I wrote a diatribe against day hikers in the trail log. Ace said it was a pretty entertaining scene to observe, so at least somebody got amusement out of that.

We busted out the next few hours to the highway to Trout Lake, the first trail town in Washington. It’s a notoriously difficult 13 mile (21km) hitch into town from trail, but we managed to get a ride very quickly. A local trail angel was there to pick up a guy who was straggling behind and wasn’t going to make it to the road that evening, but he was kind enough to give me a ride instead. Ace was just ten minutes ahead of me but gone by the time I got there, so I assumed she must’ve gotten a quick hitch.

I was reunited with my fellow hiker trash at Trout Lake’s best and only restaurant along the town’s only street. The grocery store there was surprisingly well stocked, and the three of us sat out front watching YouTube videos of people jumping into hay bale machines. Some guy came up and offered to let us stay at his place. We talked among ourselves and agreed he seemed insane and that we’d only do it if he had a hot tub, which he didn’t. Another guy sat in his car staring at us for a couple minutes before offering to give a ride in the morning if we paid some money to cover gas. I got a bad feeling about it, but we decided to go for it.

After spending the night at the local campground, we met the driver at the restaurant where we also met his Native Alaskan girlfriend (not his wife, who lives in California). Apparently they live in the woods near here during the summer months. I left most of the conversation to Ace, who of course talked with them about astrology for the whole ride up. They introduced themselves by Cheyenne and Bill, which they afterwards told us were fake names they decided to give us. Bill and Ace bonded over both being Capricorns, though.

Bill took Ace aside at the trailhead and asked, “Are you a powerful mind and a strong leader like most Capricorns? Because I am.” She then told him about something called “druid signs,” and I left while he was discovering what that week’s druid horoscope prophesied for him.

While crossing the road some woman randomly drove up and gave us what must’ve been $60 worth of high quality dehydrated meals. Kind of random, but I’ll take it.

The Mt. Adams wilderness was smoky from local forest fires and we couldn’t see anything of the mountain. This wasn’t that disappointing compared to the issue of water, which was getting serious as we kept passing dried up lakes and ponds. Usually the only place on the trail with a daily updated water report is the SoCal desert, but during the West’s worst drought on record it’s been expanded to NorCal and Oregon. They really needed one for Washington, which is kind of ridiculous but shows how bad the drought was getting.

I eventually got to a running stream, thankfully, and sat and drank a couple liters to get over my dehydration. It was getting scary with the lack of water, though a water report for Washington was eventually made.

When we got to the western side of Mt. Adams we could finally see amazing views of the massive peak, as well as new clouds of smoke springing up fairly close to us in the distance. That last part was not a good sign.

I found Ace sprawled out in the dirt by a spring, and we both decided to spend the night there. We talked about moving to better, more secluded campsites 10 yards further up the hill, but our laziness and exhaustion won out that day and we stayed right where we were. In the midst of our hour-long conversation about synthetic versus down sleeping bags, this hiker I’d been seeing off and on since the desert came out of nowhere and gave me a hug.

Are you high or something?” I instinctively blurted out.

No, I just decided my negative energies have been affecting people too much lately and that I need to be a force for good in the world.”

He’d spent the night before at the Buddhist/Druid Abbey, which doubled as a bed and breakfast, outside of Trout Lake. Rumor had it the Abbey was started by a Buddhist guy and his boyfriend decades ago, and neither had really left since then. Their relationship ended when the Buddhist decided to take a vow of celibacy and become a monk, and the other went on to devote more of his time to witchcraft. I heard you’re allowed to observe his spell sessions if you take it seriously and don’t laugh.

The next morning I awoke to find mouse poop in my cooking pot. The others complained of mice running through their hair during the night. The rodents in Washington are vicious. I’ve heard numerous reports of them chewing through tents to get at crumbs of food.

We had one more day before camping right before the Knife Edge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, an iconic spot on the PCT. I cowboy camped under the stars because the strong winds were not conducive to setting up a tent, and even awoke at 2am to watch the stars through the cloudless sky.

At 5:30am I woke up confused, freezing, and soaking wet. I broke my record of breaking camp, which now stands at 8 minutes, and headed out to the Knife Edge. It was freezing cold, visibility was just about 40 feet (12m), and my glasses kept getting fogged up with water all over them in the inclement weather. It took me almost an hour to go what usually takes me ten minutes, all because the snowfields had frozen overnight and the trail was impossible to follow on the rocks.

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Cardboard crossing the Knife Edge (photo from Courage).

Crossing the Knife Edge during what I later found out was 50mph (80kph) winds in very wet and cold conditions, with crazy drop offs on either side of me, was among the top three most terrifying moments of my entire hike.

After five hours the clouds parted and I was able to dry out all my soaking wet clothes by the side of the trail. Ace found me while I was in my sleeping bag at 11am on a log, my clothes scattered about on various trees to soak up the sunlight. She was smart and waited until the weather got better and sun higher to set off on that section of trail.

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Cardboard looking towards White Pass (Courage’s photo).

It was just a few more hours to the White Pass Kracker Barrel, which is a gas station on the highway about 25 miles from Packwood, WA. It’s a popular spot to send food drops and other packages, and is where I picked up my passport card and documentation required to enter Canada via the PCT.

It’s also where I realized I left my raincoat back at Shrek’s Swamp. Usually I wear my raincoat and long underwear while I do laundry, but decided to try my new trash bag raincoat instead.

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Putting the trash in hiker trash.

I overheard a woman telling another, “Yeah, all those kids over there walked here from Mexico! There’s a hiking path from Mexico to Canada that crosses near here. They’ve been on trail four or five months already.” Right at the end of that conversation I walked by in my trash bag.

Sisters to Cascade Locks (1981 -2144)

Right now the path to Canada is closed due to fires and related issues. As the fire conditions keep changing, new reroutes and workaround solutions are thankfully popping up with the help of incredibly generous trail angels and the hard work of the Forest Service. Locals are going incredible distances out of their way to ferry hikers between the increasingly crazy and complex series of hitches, boat rides, and alternate trail walks necessary to walk the last 12 miles/20 km to Canada.

I don’t care if I have to wait in a small Washington town or remote campground for a week and a half for some path to open allowing me to walk to Canada. I haven’t walked thousands of miles over four months just to get stopped within sight of Canada. Ravensong, the first woman to solo hike the PCT back in 1976, has reportedly opened her Mazama home to thru hikers. That seems to be the focus point for hikers right now for hikers trying to get to Canada.

Speaking of town stops, my zero day in Sisters, OR wasn’t terribly restful. I had to roam all over town at grocery stores, the post office, and the FedEx mailing post to get my food drops for Washington sent out. At the beginning of the trail town was this great place to rest and relax before heading back on trail, but now it just seems overwhelming and exhausting. All the locals seem impossibly clean, and as I’ve gotten closer to Canada it gets harder and harder to interact with non-hikers. I also can’t sleep in beds anymore without difficulty. I’m going feral. I miss the gentle breeze, the night’s cool air, and getting up at 2am to look at the stars while the deer crash haphazardly through the forest.


A bunch of PCT hikers hanging out in Sisters.

Luckily, Sisters has a campground with $5 camping for hikers and bikers. There’s apparently a popular route near or through Sisters on cross-America bike trips. The woman who ran the check-in process was friendly and helpful, but her obese husband basically called us lazy and said that our generation was worthless. I didn’t say anything, and just let it sink in that we had walked or biked months to get there while he had trouble getting out of his chair.

The campground kicked out Courage because he extended his two night limit while nursing some foot issues. Being the rule-abiding and upstanding citizens we are, we just snuck him back in after dark. It’s not like the campground hosts would ever do anything as arduous as walking the 30 seconds to the grassy camping area, so we weren’t terribly concerned. 

It seems that various hikers out here attract different sets of people. Hawaii constantly has people giving her free stuff. Beer Goddess is always getting elderly men telling her how being single, always traveling or long distance hiking, and working seasonal jobs in cool places to support herself is inappropriate for a woman in her 30s. I’m known for attracting the weirdos like moths to a flame (“Because you mock them with a deadpan voice to their face and they think you’re serious and not insulting,” someone told me). Courage gets trail angels. No matter where we are, and we’ve been hiking together off and on since a few weeks before Oregon, trail angels flock to him. 

He’d been walking around Sisters the previous day when a woman whose son is currently hiking the trail offered to give him and any other hikers who needed it a ride back to the trail, about a half hour drive from Sisters. We jumped on the opportunity, especially because she wanted to take us early in the morning. Not hiker early, but rather normal people early (~7:45am). It’s always nice not to have to hitch!

The trail on out was in the broad class often referred to as a “hike ender.” It traversed lava fields with apple-sized pieces of volcanic rocks that tear up both the shoes and feet. Courage and I made good time through it and ran into Billy Goat, a guy in his late 70s who has done the PCT multiple times and now spends his retirement hiking for long periods of time on the trail. He’s a legend on the trail.


Me, Billy Goat, and Courage.

On this section of trail lies the Seventh Day Adventist Big Lake Youth Camp, also known by trail signage as “big lake god camp.” They’re incredibly friendly to hikers, offering hot showers and meals with the campers. We arrived on Saturday, their Sabbath, and were very kindly given sack lunches. 

They had an entire room devoted to thru hikers with free wifi, electricity, sofas, and a hiker box. It truly was a vortex. I planned on spending no more than an hour there…and four hours later still hadn’t left. Ace and I got sidetracked by this section hiker who was having an incredibly loud conversation with his wife on the phone outside the hiker area. It was strangely entrancing listening to him whine to her. 


Logan and I hanging out in the hiker room at the youth camp.

Eventually I realized if I didn’t leave immediately I would get sucked further into the vortex and spend the night, which I didn’t want to do if I was to get to the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood for the breakfast buffet in a few days. It’s called the best meal on trail (I’ll get into it later, but I made it and have to agree).

That evening we crossed the 2000 mile mark, which was cool but not as exciting as crossing into Oregon. Courage, Logan, and I hiked on just half an hour more before setting up camp out of the ridiculous windstorm. Courage and I ran up to a hammock because we thought it was our friend Fifty, but it turned out to be some random guy out backpacking. Awkward. Apparently we used so many trail acronyms he had no idea what we were asking him when we tried to find out where he was coming from and what direction he was headed. 


2000 miles!!!

Our next resupply was the Olallie Lake Resort, which has no electricity but a tiny store with enough snacks to make it to Mt. Hood. That, too, was a vortex. The owner let us hang out on the store’s front porch overlooking the lake. It was idyllic, and I spent hours there talking with other hikers and reading. Eventually, I knew I’d have to leave if I was going to make my 28 mile/45 km goal for the day to be able to make it to the breakfast buffet at Mt. Hood two days later.

Hiking that afternoon involved going through one of the top two worst on-trail storms I’d experienced since Mexico. The hail was relentless, larger than peas, and stung my bare legs. I put on all my layers, including my trash bag rain skirt, and managed to stay warm and dry. My shoes were not so lucky while traversing the Pacific Creek Trail. There are few things I despise more than wet shoes, but luckily trail runners dry out fast.

I made it to my 28 mile/45 km goal, and set up camp near a trail junction to a spring I couldn’t find (not that I tried hard, since another water source was just 40 minutes away and I was good on water). My clothes all dried out at night, but not my socks or shoes. I had a dry pair of socks I’d saved for such a situation as this, and with the help of putting my feet in plastic bags between the socks and shoes was able to avoid too much discomfort. The wet, accompanied by the cold, made me wait until after 8am to start my day. That’s about two hours later than I usually begin, which wasn’t good if I wanted to make another 28 mile/45 km day. 

Just as I was concerned about having enough food to last me to the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, I ran into a to-be-left-nameless hiker chatting with a trail angel…with snacks! It was the best assortment of snacks I’ve seen on trail, and I rushed to get some before the trail angel realized the guy was totally insane and probably make an excuse to leave. I ended up staying almost two hours, drying out my stuff by the side of the highway in the noon sun. He went on his rants about the PCT Association being part of a conspiracy to destroy the “trail experience.” Backpacker magazine recently published an article about some trail angels who closed up shop, and they were talking about that. I’ve since read the article and don’t know what planet this guy lives on, but I don’t want to go there.

People who have read that article always tell me the PCT must be so crowded, which is ridiculous considering I go days at a time at some points without seeing a northbound thru hiker. Kelly, the trail angel, saw 10 hikers in 7.5 hours standing in one spot. That includes southbounders and people out for the weekend. My experience has been that the PCT is typically anything but crowded, especially a couple of thousand miles north of Mexico.

The trail around Timothy Lake was fairly crowded from day hikers, and I ran back into Beer Goddess and Hawaii washing their feet and looking homeless in a lakeside stream. The southbounders we meet have only been on trail for a month or so, compared to our almost four months, and look incredibly clean and well kept. A southbounder told me us northbounders come across as jaded, mentally unhinged, and really strong. “Wait ’til they realize long distance hikes are held together by caffeine and Aleve,” Beer Goddess muttered. 

This section of trail was largely not terribly exciting, and had a lot of what have been dubbed “Blair Witch moments.” It’s a term in reference to the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, where three hikers keep on going in circles no matter how far they go in a straight line. The forest was so uniform that I got out my phone’s GPS function a few times to make sure I hadn’t backtracked. No backtracking happened, nor did stick dolls appear outside my tent along with human teeth during the night. The Blair Witch must be watching out for me.

Beer Goddess and Hawaii hitched a ride into town somewhere in NorCal in an RV piloted by some elderly shrooms-growing hippies on their way to a UFO convention. It ranks as the best hitch I’ve heard of on trail. The UFO hippies told them about “pronoia,” which is the belief that there’s a conspiracy out to help you. “The trail provides” is a phrase I’ve found to be pretty true. Just when you reach a low point and need help, something will usually happen to make everything better. Pronoia has been gaining popularity, too. Hiking the trail will definitely restore your faith in humanity and make you realize there are lots of good people out there, like the woman who drove an hour and a half from Portland to give us all those snacks by the side of the road. Or all the countless other trail angels who’ve done so much above and beyond the plainly phenomenal to help us out.

Beer Goddess and Hawaii pulled a 40 mile/64 km day to get into Mt. Hood for breakfast, arriving at 1:45am. I thought that was insane, so I camped about 7 miles/11 km from Mt. Hood and got up early to meet them at the dining room in time for an 8am breakfast.


Beer Goddess at the buffet.

IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT AND THE BEST MEAL I’VE HAD ON TRAIL. I drank something like six fruit smoothies, had two plates of scrambled eggs, sausage, and lots of waffles. A grandfather scolded his grandson and told him not to put that many chocolate chips onto his waffle. Hawaii came up and loaded massive scoops of chocolate onto her waffle and told the kid, “Sorry, little dude. Being an adult is awesome.” Our waiter had a seizure, but it was a good breakfast.

We ended up lounging around there all day, all of us exhausted and full. Courage and I went half an hour from Mt. Hood before setting up camp at 7 and going to bed ridiculously early. We made it the farthest out of anyone. One friend of mine stayed until 2pm the next day, having found a way into the hot tub and pool area.


Courage at the Timberline Lodge.

If you’ve ever seen The Shining then you know what the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood looks like. The Timberline was used to film the outside of the Overlook Hotel. The staff there were surprisingly friendly, and the people staying at the lodge seemed to think we were rock stars for having hiked so far. Nowadays when we explain what we’re doing people say, “Congratulations!” instead of “Why the hell would you want to do that?”

The descent to the Columbia River passed through the Eagle Creek PCT Alternate, the most popular day hike in Oregon at just 45 minutes from Portland. It was spectacular, and involved hiking alongside numerous waterfalls. We even went behind a waterfall at Tunnel Falls.



A number of people have tried to do the Oregon Challenge, which is hiking from the southern to northern borders of the state in no more than two weeks. I know someone who’s done it successfully and it’s looking like he may have to end his hike, or at least extend his finish date, because he can hardly walk after his final 66 miles/106 km in 24 hours. There seems to be a common trend of people who do ridiculously long distance days, pass me, and then I end up passing them because they take a week off in town.

There’s a trail angel in Cascade Locks on the Oregon side of the Columbia who lets hikers stay in his yard. He’s even built a shack and dorm for hikers, which have electricity, a bathroom, shower, and laundry. The retired US Marine’s trail name is Shrek, and his place is called Shrek’s Swamp.

It’s not a terribly easy place to find, so when I got lunch at a local burger joint I went up to the window to ask if the owner knew where it was. I looked ridiculously homeless and filthy while asking, “Hey, do you know where Shrek’s Swamp is?” The guy gave me a weird look and said he had no idea. I’m sure he thought I was some crazy drifter. Such is trail life.

I’ll try to send updates through Washington. Things will be hectic over the next two to three plus weeks, and if I have to book it to get to Canada before the fires close everything down then I’ll do it. Wish me luck.

Ashland to Sisters (1716 -1981)

Sidney and her partner Annie, the owners of the Ashland hostel, let me keep my pack in their house on checkout day while I ran all over town getting things done. I was tired of hearing rants about how the CDC is part of a conspiracy covering up the effectiveness of antibiotics on viruses and other stuff about Lyme disease, so it was nice getting a break from the other hikers as I prepared and mailed food resupplies.

As I mentioned previously the trail through Oregon, although not nearly as remote as that in Washington, has few good prospects for resupply compared to California. Thus, it’s necessary (or at least way more convenient and incredibly cheaper) to send a few packages of food from Ashland to various points in the rest of the state.

All of this was occurring during a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, with temperatures often exceeding 100F/38C. Oregon is often dubbed the “green tunnel” for its almost total traversal underneath the canopy of pine forests, and I decided to try out what has become a male PCT thru hiker trend: women’s running shorts from the thrift shop.


Me and Stummy at the start of the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Two weeks later I’m loving the shorts, even if my legs get even filthier than before. I like to think of it as a protective layer of dirt that I wash off every week or so. I was not the first, nor even the second, bearded man to walk into the Ashland Goodwill asking for the women’s running shorts. The men’s running shorts don’t come in obnoxious neon colors and don’t have built in underwear liner, so most of the male thru hikers wear the women’s version so we can toss the underwear and shed some weight off our packs. I got bright pink, and the guys before me got construction cone orange.

I was concerned about hitching out of Ashland, but it turned out to be pretty easy. I rifled through the trash at the post office to get some cardboard for a sign. It’s necessary to write “PCT Hiker to Trail” on the sign so the locals, who aren’t too familiar on the (admittedly few) distinctions between thru hikers and Shastafarians/hobos, know we’re hiker trash. 

Within ten minutes two guys in a pickup pull over, and the passenger introduces himself to me as “Squid.”

“Yo dude, if you don’t mind getting in the back with the dogs we can take you to the PCT,” Squid told me. I thought about this for a moment but, not having my stranger danger sense go on full alert, I decided to go with it. It’s almost hard to believe I was so terrified of hitching back in SoCal but now don’t really hesitate to get in the back of a pickup truck in a cage-like contraption with a bunch of dogs at the invitation of a guy who identifies himself only as Squid. I knew immediately this was one of those things that I wouldn’t tell my parents about until well after the fact.


In the back of the truck with the dogs.

There were three dogs, and they quickly got used to me. They were more bark than bite, and I ended up enjoying their company. At least until I realized we weren’t going on Interstate 5 back to the trail. I was pretty convinced things were going to be okay, because they probably wouldn’t have offered me pot if they were going to take me into the woods and kill me. They ended up dropping me off at highway 66, not exit 6. I was 16 miles further north on trail from where I wanted to be.

Not wanting to skip 16 miles, I sat down on the dirt as I am wont to do when I’m trying to figure things out or calm down.

Legend, who happened to be right there, pulled out a map and suggested I go on a 16 mile roundtrip run to make up the miles. This seemed like a great idea to me at the time, despite having just eaten a 3/4 pound burger and lots of ice cream before getting on trail. I’m not sure how many miles I covered considering the amount of time I spent standing in the bushes trying not to vomit, but it seems to have been determined to be a sufficient purgatory by the other thrus. 

The next section in Oregon took us through some stretches of forest that were infested with a strange amount of bees. Sometimes while taking breaks I would have a swarm buzzing around me, but I was never stung. I’m okay with that. At least there weren’t a bunch of hummingbirds dive bombing me, as happened to my friend Alive when she wore her neon yellow shirt in the desert (it didn’t help when I mistook them for bats at first and jokingly wished her luck in not getting rabies).

I got to stay at a super cool cabin in the middle of the woods, which would’ve been really creepy if there weren’t a smattering of other hikers there. I ran back into my retired physical therapist buddy, Steady.


Me and Steady.

She and I busted 10 miles to the highway in just a few hours the next morning, traversing some really neat lava fields. Seeing the old obese nudists on their hike at the end was less visually appealing, though Steady talked them into taking our trash so we didn’t have to carry it to Crater Lake. The lighter load was probably worth half a minute of visual agony. They’re not the crazy guy who pops up on the trail from time to time giving hikers root beer floats while not wearing any clothes, but I’ll do with what I can get. 

I somehow lost Steady and gained a section hiker named Jukebox, which was definitely not a good trade. Lately I’ve been having the not-so-pleasant kind of section hikers try to tell me I’m doing everything wrong with my hike. It took every ounce of willpower at one point not to tell a woman to shut up and mind her own business when she said my sleeping bag at two pounds (~1kg) was way too heavy. I’ve been on trail over three months and carried it almost 2000 miles, while you’ve been on trail two and a half hours. Hike your own hike. 

Jukebox doesn’t get up until noon each day, so I luckily only had to deal with him briefly. He’s also prone to calamities, like when his water filter failed so he bushwhacked for hours to a highway to hitch back to town and buy a new one…even though he had a backup chemical filter. He followed me around for a bit like a stalker, and then I was able to shake him off so I didn’t have to deal with his constant chatter and informing me about how I was doing basically everything wrong on my hike. 

At Crater Lake the hiker trash converged on Mazama Village, where I ran into one of my old coworkers from Yellowstone! Maria has been rotating through a bunch of national parks lately, including Death Valley and Glacier.

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Me and Maria at Crater Lake.

Right after this I found out the post office lost my passport and visa documents for Spain (which have since been found!). My USB to lightning cord then broke, and I wanted to scream. It was not my day. It would be a while before I’d be able to get a new cord, but luckily another hiker let me borrow his to charge up my music player. I unloaded about all this to Hot Mess, who told me, “Dude, I understand. Shit happens. That’s how I got my name in the desert, when I was always a hot mess.”

I decided to fix my mood by getting a pizza, but they only had two sizes: super small and extra large. I got extra large and ate almost the entire 16″/40cm pizza. That ended up being a terrible mistake, especially when I tried to do 12 miles after it. Vomiting by the side of the trail for two hours while southbounders (we’re starting to finally meet the first of the sobos!) walked past me was not the ideal way to end my day, but after lying down for an hour or so I felt a lot better. 

The hiker route of the PCT goes along the rim of Crater Lake, which is easily one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen. One day I need to go back and spend more time soaking it all in, rather than sprawling in the dirt trying to deal with the 24 mile/40km water carry while wondering what I’m going to do now that Spain fell through. Working holiday visa to New Zealand? Try to get an Indian tourist visa, do the Appalachian Trail next summer, and reapply for Spain the following year? Go to China, find a job teaching English, and work on my Mandarin? The more I thought about it, the more options I realized I had. Right when I got excited about doing the AT next summer was when the post office (thankfully) found my passport and such.

Out of Crater Lake we descended into the most craptacular and boring forest imaginable. Some locals recommended to me and my two 60+ year old hiking buddies that we take the Oregon Skyline Trail, a popular alternate to the PCT that would lead us right to where we mailed our resupply packages to at Shelter Cove Resort. The only caveat, they said, was that navigation was an issue. 

My partners and I decided to stick together for the alternate, which went by much more water than did the official PCT and was supposed to have better views of Mt. Thielsen. We couldn’t find the water spigot we were told about in some phantom campground that probably never existed, but luckily some random guy we met on a road gave us each a liter of water. Facing approaching dark and an imminent storm, we quickly set up camp and went to bed just as the rain started.

The next day somehow everyone got lost but me, which is really astounding considering how directionally challenged I am. I made it to Shelter Cove Resort, where I picked up my package…and ran back into Grawk. Readers may remember Grawk as the guy on shrooms in Lone Pine, California who unsuccessfully tried to wrestle with a police officer in the hostel parking lot. I heard he was later kicked out of Kennedy Meadows and Independence, all around the Sierra Nevada. I tried to hide my face from him, but he recognized me and I got out of there fast. One hiker, Stummy, had friends visiting and they gave me a ride back to the official PCT and away from Grawk. 

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Stummy and her Portland friends.

Lately when I meet hikers they go, “Oh, I’ve heard of you!” We all gossip about each other so much it’s ridiculous, so we know everything about everyone around us. I’ve received my 15 minutes of fame lately in conjunction with some drama about Aqua Dump on the PCT Class of 2015 Facebook page. There was this bizarre trail rumor going around that a hiker named Aqua Dump defecates in every water source he can find, which is obviously a fabrication since anybody stupid enough to take a name like that and brag about such feats would be drawn and quartered in the woods. I wrote the following in a trail register and posted it on the Facebook page.

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I thought it would be obvious that it was bogus, but it’s generated a ridiculous maelstrom of controversy in PCT world. It also became known that when I got tired of non-hikers asking me “Where did you learn about the PCT? How did you learn to ______?” I started responding with just saying “in prison” in a deadpan tone. It ends the conversation quickly, so why not?

Oftentimes interactions with non-hikers are pretty positive, especially if on trail. People tend to be interested in our hike, especially now that we’ve made it so far (75% of the way done!). I camped with a bunch of volunteers doing trail work with the PCTA a few days ago, and they were really interested in hearing the stories two other hikers and I had about our hike (especially about our weird hitches and some of the more colorful trail angels). No trail angel can compare to Paiute Mama, whom the PCT Association has asked to stop associating with hikers because she’s insane. Then again, it’s hard to measure up to a self-proclaimed witch of white and blue magic who supposedly spent 12 years in prison for killing her boyfriend.


Etna to Ashland (1597 -1716)

The walk to Seiad Valley took us through some more spectacular scenery, including the Marble Mountains. Toast had hiked with the famous hiker Rebo for a while and told me stories about him, like how he feeds chipmunks when he thinks nobody’s watching. Or how he is really into mountain lions, and attributes the presence of every deer to a nearby cougar. 

After the ridiculous descent to Seiad Valley, just 1000 feet/300m above sea level, we ran into some trail angels giving out beer and tomato juice. The tomato juice was disgusting, and Fun Jumper was getting fairly messed up after just two beers. He started going on about how there are billboards all over the PCT, and the trail angels were talking about how crowded the trail is now. All of which are ridiculous and totally inaccurate. I’ve recently been going days without seeing a single other thru hiker, or at most two others over the course of four days. And I’ve never seen any of these billboards on the mountains.

Seiad Valley is HOT, and right after it is the steepest and longest climb on the trail. There’s a 30 minute highway walk to get to town, and even at 7am there were lots of trucks barreling past at high speeds. There really wasn’t anywhere to safely walk by the side of the road, and right when I was realizing it was too dangerous an RV pulled over. Light Feather (a woman I’ve met before) opened the door and yelled for me to jump in and, since I do whatever people in nice cars tell me to do, I complied. 


Me and Halfslow in Seiad Valley.

Halfslow is a hiker originally from Vietnam who pays this “interesting” guy to drive his RV from highway to highway with supplies and such. He and Light Feather judged the road walk as too dangerous and gave me a lift to the Seiad Valley Cafe. It’s the only restaurant in town in the same building as the post office and the only store, and as such the central hub for the area’s 160 residents. The three of us got breakfast at the cafe, which is famous for the five pound pancake challenge. Nobody’s completed it since 2008, and I was disappointed not to see a hiker try it and then spend the rest of the day in misery. 


The cook at work at the restaurant.

The locals kept telling us not to attempt the 5000 foot (1500m) climb in the heat of the day, so I lounged around for about nine hours. Fun Jumper passed out in the dirt for at least five of those hours, along with some southbound retiree whose son just seems to throw him out onto the trail each summer to get him out of the house. Apparently he believes cameras can steal souls. 

I left town at 5pm to do the ascent, and was fine until I heard something following me in the forest around 9:30pm. It would stop when I stopped, and I eventually just set up camp while convinced a cougar was stalking me. I woke up in the middle of the night to what sounded like a cat licking itself right outside my tent, so I just put in earplugs and went back to bed. I didn’t have the patience or energy to deal with it, so I just banged together my pot and metal cover, yelled a bit, and dozed off. Toast and I had seen fresh mountain lion tracks in the dirt the previous evening, and my trail notes mentioned how a hiker did the entire section of 64 miles (103km) in 24 hours while being stalked by a mountain lion. Not fun. I would rather see Bigfoot, especially since this section of the trail goes through the nation’s highest concentration of reported sightings. We’re on the Sasquatch watch. 

AND THEN I CROSSED THE BORDER INTO OREGON! It was a great moment after 95 days and 1689 miles (2724km) in California. I celebrated by standing in Oregon and urinating into California. Judging by the trail register at the border, it looks like 10 to 15 thru hikers a day are crossing into the Beaver State. 



An hour or so after the border I ran into two guys who were camping out in preparation for the next day’s on-trail ultramarathon. They gave me food and had a portable toilet, so of course I joined them for the night. One of the guys said his wife grew up in Columbus in what she described as “snobbington”. “Oh, that sounds like where I grew up! Upper Arlington?” He said yes. 

All day the next day I had to dodge and weave through trail runners, but the aid stations all gave me cold pop and food so it balanced out. I could see and hear the interstate for a while, and tried to rush to get there at a reasonable time so I could hitch into Ashland. While I was walking to the on ramp a truck full of hikers pulled over and I climbed in. I didn’t even have to stick out my thumb! It was the guy who drives around Halfslow’s RV and his own truck somehow all at the same time. He told me he has a degree from every department in some Texas university and also began UT Austin physics department. I’m not going to say anything about that as he gave me a ride into town and is a really nice guy.


Heading into Ashland.

They dropped me off near the hostel, which is run by an older woman and her partner. They’re really sweet ladies and have turned their house into a hostel, which is very popular with hikers since they keep spots in reserve for us and are much cheaper than the town’s ridiculously overpriced motels. Two of the non hikers asked the PCTers what our names were and one of the owners said, “Oh, this is my favorite part of when our guests meet the hikers!” The guy and his sister seemed a bit weirded out that we insisted our real names were One Of Us, Wild Pony, and Puff Puff. 

The other hostel residents made a healthy, light meal while we were guzzling down vast amounts of ice cream, pizza, and high calorie snack foods at the same table. It seemed to weird them out seeing us eat half a liter of ice cream as a “pre-breakfast snack,” as well as two dinners an hour or so apart. Getting my resupply ready for the next leg to Crater Lake looked absolutely insane to them with the type and quantity of food I was packing.

My main group of friends I’ve been hiking with from the desert texted me to let me know they’d hijacked a car and wanted to pick me up and take me around town. Turns out some guy just gave Fifty the keys to his car in return for driving him to Etna and leaving the vehicle at the interstate. Although I took a few days off in Shasta for my foot, they took a double zero in Ashland so we got caught up. Ace and her boyfriend broke up on trail and Legs was MIA for a week due to giardia.

While hanging out downtown some random guy followed us around waving a burning stick of sage claiming to bless us and cleanse us of evil government spirits. At the grocery store I saw another colorful local who had two sheep on a leash. Ashland is weird. It’s also the spot to mail out all our food drops for the rest of Oregon. 


Cleansing us of evil government spirits.

The trail from here to Canada (only 933 miles/1504 km left!!!!) is more remote than before, with few grocery stores in Washington. In Oregon we pass through national park camper stores and remote resorts, with the opportunity to hitch into the small town of Sisters halfway through. From what I’ve heard none of those places, other than Sisters, has a reliable resupply option. Thus, I’m currently at the post office mailing out packages to Crater Lake National Park, Shelter Cove Resort, and Timberline Lodge, the latter of which is just a couple days from Washington. 

Shasta to Etna (1499 – 1597)

My two zero days in Mt. Shasta were nice, although I quickly got bored and wished my blister would heal and callus quicker so I could get back on trail. There are worse places to get stuck, and overall I enjoyed my stay at the Shasta KOA campground. The only negative experience I had there was when I was sitting on a couch elevating my uncovered foot. A woman with hyperactive toddlers came over and, in a very passive aggressive manner, asked me to move so her kids could watch TV. I covered my blister back up and hobbled over to a bench on the other side of the room, and after no more than three minutes her kids were bored with the television and demanding she entertain them in some other way. It was almost as annoying as when the Christian missionaries in Burney cut in front of the line at the McDonald’s and then tried to convert me, but this situation made me so thankful I can’t accidentally have children. There’s a silver lining to every storm cloud…though I wouldn’t be upset if they all got struck by lightning. 

The main hiker hangout in Shasta City was the Black Bear Diner, which pretty much all us hiker trash went to for breakfast. As a result filthy backpacks and trekking poles were strewn about the lobby, giving it a very “hippie hiker open shelter” vibe that seems to manifest whenever we amass. The only thing differentiating that place from the other hiker hangouts was the absence of an overpowering aroma of marijuana and unwashed bodies. Usually, when you get to a town you just have to follow the smell of pot and filth to find the hikers.

Speaking of homelessness, as I mentioned in the last update there was a plethora of drifters in Shasta City. The Shastafarians, as we called them, were friendly enough and even offered to let hikers join them in their riverside shantytown. I don’t know of anyone who took them up on that offer, not that they owned the land rights to let us camp there, but I appreciated the offer.

After resting for a few days, my feet were finally in a good enough position for me to head out back onto the trail. Hitching along the interstate back to the trail is pretty difficult from Shasta City, largely because people usually can’t tell us apart from the Shastafarians and those who are homeless not by choice. However, I found out the regional transit authority operated buses that pick you up from town and drop you off right back on the trail. It seemed like the hikers who stood outside for over an hour with cardboard signs probably should’ve done a quick Google search before hitching, which I try to avoid whenever possible.

I’ve had pretty good experiences while hitching with the occasional exception of people who judge me for not immediately going to graduate school. I usually tell those people that I wanted to go to medical school but my parents made me travel to Ethiopia and hike the PCT instead. The question of “Why are you hiking the trail?” is probably the most difficult to answer. “Because it’s fun” usually doesn’t satisfy people, and a lot of the time it’s more arduous and painful than fun. One of my friends tells people, “The devil told me to do it through Son of Sam, my neighbor’s dog.” 

Stinger and Stummy got a ride a month or so ago from a guy who said he was a ventriloquist. The driver took out a doll and used it to say, “I’m going to kill you!” Then he laughed it off and acted like nothing happened. Stinger said his hand was on his knife for the rest of the ride, and Stummy was trying to figure out how to make sure the doors were unlocked so they could jump out and roll if need be. But it all worked out.

I joked with Dana about how interesting it would be to hitchhike drunk. “Dude, don’t do it. I did it getting out of Burney by myself and got picked up by a meth head. She had a bottle of pills in one hand and her other was on the steering wheel, and she was telling me all about how she didn’t get along with her family so she was moving to Idaho and needed friends to go with her. I told her I was just going seven miles, but she wanted me to go with her to Idaho. She said there was a cat somewhere in the car, and there was cat food scattered about the cab. I saw her thumb a playlist called ‘depressed music’ and blare up that subwoofer. That poor cat is not going to survive to Idaho.”

The next part of the trail was a 240 mile half circle around Mt. Shasta, continuing the PCT’s tendency to do a lot of east/west travel. If we went in a straight line then the trail would only be about 1200 miles instead of its 2660 miles. I got rid of my camp shoes because my new trail runners were more comfortable, and I didn’t really need them for river crossings now that I’m out of the High Sierra. Plus, my shoes dry much faster than boots, so they were superfluous weight. Considering I carry only half a toothbrush, I’m pretty focused on minimizing how much weight I have on my back. It may sound ridiculous, but every gram matters when you’re carrying it up mountains.


Steady outside Ammirati’s Market.

I took a detour on the trail to pass through Ammirati’s Market in Castle Crag State Park. There I picked up new socks and a water filter I’d had shipped out to me via Amazon. I also ran into Steady, the retired woman I met in South Lake Tahoe after we had to hitch around the Washington Fire. Steady isn’t the fastest hiker on the trail but, true to her name, she’s consistent. “I see all these young guys doing 35 miles a day, go into town, and get so drunk they stay for days at a time. Then they can only do 10 miles out because they’re so hungover. I do 25 miles a day every day, and that’s why I’m ahead of all of them,” she told me as we gorged on food outside the market.

The trail up to that point was hot, muggy, and through unappealingly uniform forests. After Shasta we had phenomenal views and walked along exposed ridges, a very welcome change. 

Along this section I ran into my 68 year old hiking buddy Pine Stick! I hadn’t seen him since the Sierra Nevada. He, the retired Australian Wallaby, and I did much of the second half of the desert together. It’s kind of weird sometimes how you can go weeks or even months without seeing someone who’s just a couple days ahead or behind you. 

I’ve gotten to the point where I go days without seeing another thru hiker on trail, and the next couple days I didn’t run into any others until Eagle Eye on the descent into Etna. I’d planned on hitching into Etna that night, but he talked me out of it. Etna is kind of in the middle of nowhere, even by PCT standards. You can wait there an hour or more before a car comes by, but legend has it the percentage of cars that stop for hiker trash is exceptionally high. So, with no camping close to the road and sleeping by the highway not exactly appealing or safe, we decided to camp together a couple hours’ walk from the road by a stream. It was nice getting to camp early, but I was unaccustomed to having that much free time. We’d talked about building a fire (which we afterwards found out is totally illegal because of the drought) but instead decided to go to bed before 8pm. Definitely a good choice. 

The next morning we booked it to the road, where we waited an hour with just seeing a single car go by. A shirtless older hiker came by and we gave each other the “this dude is so weird looking that we are never getting a ride” look. It ended up not mattering because Eric arrived! Eric volunteered for the PCT Association back in the early section of the desert at the North Fork Ranger Station supplying hikers with water. He hiked the trail seven or eight years ago, and was now shuttling hikers back and forth between the trail and Etna. 

The grand tour of Etna was concluded in about three minutes. As Eric put it, “Etna’s a dying town.” After getting my “muggle name,” as he called it, he gave me my eyeglasses my father had shipped out from Ohio. I was done dealing with putting in contact lenses with filthy albeit sanitized hands, and the delay of up to an hour it’d been causing me lately. He then dropped me off at the town’s best, and only, restaurant for breakfast. 

The Yogi Trail Guide listed Etna as the quintessential hiker town. It was nice and quiet, but there just really wasn’t anything there. I hung out at the library for a bit before it opened, having seen two people I thought were hikers. I asked one of them what her name was and she hissed at me like a cat. Not a thru hiker, just a crazy woman.

I was going to try to hitch back up to town, but Eric said he’d give me a ride back in the morning with some others. It was about to storm and there was practically no traffic, so I got a bunk at the hostel and took advantage of the shower and laundry.  Eagle Eye was there, and said he hadn’t showered since Lake Tahoe…almost a month prior. 

Pine Stick showed up, having gotten food poisoning along with Root Canal and Liability from the potato salad of a trail angel. There were horror stories abound of intense vomiting in the forest. I’ve mentioned Liability before, but he’s no longer a liability now that he’s turned 18. I haven’t seen him since he hiked the Sierra Nevada with his sister, but he’s a cool kid.

Chester to Shasta (1329 – 1499)


Halfway to Canada victory photo.

Along with the halfway point comes a tradition from the Appalachian Trail: the half gallon challenge. Hikers eat a half gallon (1.9L) of ice cream in half an hour at the halfway point. I didn’t participate, partially because it’s not really a PCT thing and partially because it sounded disgusting, but some did. Beer Goddess was trying to get me to do it, and I asked her what she and her friends ended up doing right after it back on the AT. “We spent the afternoon vomiting on the curb.” 

I asked her how she felt 3/4 of the way through her ice cream and she replied, “Like I’m going to vomit. You should do it.” Despite the ringing endorsement I passed. I did, however, have three milkshakes from the Pine Shack Frosty across the street. They had 30 flavors and I got caramel, lime, and peppermint. Soooo good. 

half gallon challenge

Beer Goddess and the half gallon challenge in Chester.

Courage, Mechanic (a hiker from Tokyo), and I decided to camp out at the Lutheran church, which lets hikers stay in their yard for free. They had the fastest wifi in town, and also gave hikers bottled water. Mechanic and I got breakfast together at the local greasy spoon in the morning and decided to postpone getting back on trail until the heat of the day had passed, around 6pm.


Hikers hanging out in front of the laundromat in Chester.

Silver made a cardboard hitching sign that just said, “Didn’t you read Wild?” The photo became the top post on r/pacificcresttrail and was very popular on the Facebook page. I was pretty proud because I took the photo, even if I didn’t make the sign.

Hitching back out of town was more difficult than getting in, but Mechanic and I managed it (I had him stop waving his hands and trekking poles like a madman before we finally got a ride). I only went about an hour into the forest before getting to a campsite with Sweet Cakes, who had just gotten back on the trail after vacationing with her boyfriend’s family for a week at the beach in South Carolina. There was a dirt road leading to the camping area along with an ATV, and we didn’t feel comfortable camping alone so we got a secluded space to ourselves. “I never feel unsafe around thru hikers, it’s just the non-hikers that make me uncomfortable.” I agreed with her.

Following that thankfully uneventful night we entered Lassen Volcanic National Park, the fourth of seven national parks the PCT traverses. Unfortunately, the trail doesn’t pass through the geothermal areas for which it’s famous. We did, however, get a couple hours of hiking along the park’s spectacular skyline. Some people got off trail to hitch to summit Lassen Peak, which is a short hike. It felt pretty great zooming past all the day hikers with my larger pack.

On the trail we always complain about how heavy and big our packs are, when in reality we all pack pretty light. It’s called “packorexia,” and is typically cured by seeing the John Muir Trail hikers with their aluminum folding chairs. Unlike the AT, the PCT is comparatively inaccessible and consequently gets fewer day hikers and weekenders. It’s a bit of a shock to the system seeing all the national park visitors on “our” trail. They usually have no idea what the PCT is, though from what I’ve heard before Wild got popular even fewer people knew about it.

When people do know about it, the older guys go on about how we’re not really backpacking and how easy we have it with technology, all the advances in lightweight gear over the past decade, and dehydrated food. At the risk of not being humble, I don’t think there’s any way to make a five month hike through the mountains “easy.” My father backpacking even in the 70s in New Zealand knew carrying canned food was stupid. Very few of us carry dehydrated food unless we prepared it before the trail and mailed it out to ourselves. Most of us have instant noodles, mashed potatoes, or beans for dinner, most of which were available in the past. I did meet a guy recently who eats raw potatoes on the trail. We never remember his trail name, but rather just call him “that guy who eats raw potatoes.”

The Lassen section was cool, but then came the dreaded Hat Creek Rim. This is a 30 mile (48km) waterless stretch, the longest on the 2015 PCT, in an exposed section that’s supposed to be the hottest part of the entire trail. People generally resupply and fill up on water at Old Station, which is just a gas station and cafe. I hung out and weathered the afternoon thunderstorm there with Stummy and Stinger, the latter of whom has done all three of the big American long-distance hikes (Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails). 

There were some adorable dogs at the gas station. Stummy is definitely a dog woman, and after lavishing attention on one casually asked the owner how much it eats each day. The guy was midway through an answer but then said, “Hey, you can’t take him with you!” 

The other two headed during a lull in the storm to the Subway Caves, which are some nearby lava tubes. I stayed and waited out the thunderstorm at the gas station while eating a ridiculous amount of food. Some teenager made a show of plugging his nose when he walked by me, the little shit.

Later, a woman came up and tried to give me $5. I realized I must look pretty homeless, and it didn’t help when some guy came up and gave me the rest of his food from the next door cafe. When the storm came back during my subsequent hike along Hat Creek Rim, I ended up taking a break in an outhouse. Probably didn’t help my smell.

Heading out to Hat Creek Rim

Heading out to Hat Creek Rim during a lull in the storm.

A trail angel maintains a water cache at Forest Road 22, and it’s colloquially known as Cache 22. It really confused non-hikers when we constantly talked about how much water we were going to find at Cache 22. I got stormed and rained out pretty bad on that stretch, and did the 30 miles with just 3 liters of water. It was hard to get myself to drink water when I was soaked and shivering. My boots got drenched and covered in mud.

Over the previous 1000 miles I’d been debating whether or not to continue with my heavy boots or, as the vast majority of thru hikers do, switch to trail runners. When I got sick and tired of being soaked and hiking in wet, heavy boots at the end of the Hat Creek Rim I set up camp next to a river and called it quits for the day. I kept hearing hiker after hiker pass me by and thought to myself, “I really should just tough it out like everyone else and keep going.” When the rain stopped I did just that, packing up all my gear and heading on. Just out of sight past the creek where I camped were 12 tents, with hikers saying I had the right idea to just stop and wait it out. Despite that, I went on for another hour so I could get up and immediately hitch into the tiny town of Burney.

Burney’s one of those low-elevation towns whose altitude is multiple times the size of its population. I’d reached the breaking point with my boots and, after waiting 45 minutes for a hitch into town and reuniting with Beer Goddess, decided to take the bus to Redding for the day to get some trail runners. 

Although I was basically kicked out of the post office for charging my phone there after sending home my boots, the trip was a success. I got some shoes that seem to fit me, and I managed to do 54.5 miles (88km) in a day and a half. First, though, I hitched back to the trail with another hiker in some random guy’s windowless van. 

I started to have an issue with one particular blister on my toe a few days into my hike with the new shoes. Usually I just drain the blister with a needle, clean it, and then it heals overnight. This one really impeded my ability to walk and didn’t seem to heal. It probably didn’t help that I cowboy camped and was rained on two nights in a row (one other hiker slept through the ten minutes of rain). So, it kept getting wet and just never seemed to dry out. On the plus side, by stopping early from the blister I got to camp with some friends of mine and listen to their stories of crazies on the AT. Machete Mitch was my favorite. He’s a guy who didn’t carry a tent or sleeping bag, and would instead make a fire each night, heat rocks, burn his hands moving them to a pit, fill up the pit with dirt, then sleep on it. Since he did this repeatedly through the night he never really slept, but did nap on the path in the middle of the day. He also tried hunting squirrels with a slingshot, but apparently that didn’t work out well. 

I’ve spent two and a half days in the city of Mt. Shasta waiting for it to heal. So far it seems to be pretty good, and I’m hoping all will go well when I get back on trail tomorrow morning.

Shasta is a pretty weird town, and definitely is hippie central. There are crystal healing shops everywhere, and you can hear people on the street talking about stuff like “the balance of male and female energy.” There are also a ton of drifters. I’ve never seen so many homeless people in my life. I heard they all congregate and camp near the river, and that hikers are welcome there. We all decided not to go join them, but they’re friendly enough. A drifter who introduced himself as “the black man” told a couple friends of mine that if they slept on the porch of the pizza shop they wouldn’t get kicked out by the police, and they actually ended up doing that. Apparently it worked out well. 

I researched more into the job offer from Spain and ended up accepting it. Orientation is September 24 in Madrid, and the first day of classes at my bilingual elementary school in an affluent neighborhood is October 1. I should be well done with the trail by then if all goes well. 

It’s kind of crazy to think I’m nearing the home stretch. Just a little over a week to Oregon, which most people speed through to get to the Washington Cascades. The Trinity Alps, Crater Lake Rim Trail, Three Sisters, and the Tunnel Waterfall at Eagle Creek are all supposed to be highlights of our two and a half weeks in the Beaver State. 

I’ve received permission from the Canadian government to enter the country via the trail, which I’m really excited about. Canada is getting closer!

Belden to Chester (1284 -1329)

The trail has been doing an obnoxious series of nice, gently rolling walks at the cooler altitudes punctuated by sudden and steep drops to rivers. I understand we have to drink water eventually, but it still is not pleasant having to descend to the hot and humid valley floor and then immediately reascend. The descent to Belden, “the creepiest town on the PCT,” was like that as per usual. The only difference was that I had four very close encounters with skunks on the way down. I wanted to stop and let them do their thing, because I knew otherwise I’d get to town and have a horrible day, a new trail name, and be the center of trail gossip for a spell. The mosquitoes swarmed me when I stopped, so I just yelled at the skunks like a crazy man while they reared their tails and prepared to spray (I didn’t get sprayed). 

Belden is just a collection of a few stores that turn into raves on the weekend. The Fourth of July rave attracts thousands of people, and they don’t turn the music off until 6am. Hikers get in for free, but the Braatens have opened up their home to those who want to avoid that scene. Mrs. Braaten, a true trail angel, shuttles hikers back and forth from the trailhead multiple times a day in her truck, and calls it the “stinky dirty hiker shuttle service.” It was oppressively hot and muggy, but the shower and chance to escape the midday heat were well worth it.


A Belden party.

At the hiker open shelter I ran back into my Japanese hiking friend Courage! I hadn’t seen him since the snowstorm in Wrightwood on my birthday (May 14) when together with The Animal we flagged down a utilities truck to take us to town. It was great seeing him again, even if he was heading out while I was entering. I caught up with him the next day and we’ve been hiking together ever since. 

The Braatens have some sensible rules in place, and anybody who doesn’t follow their strict no drugs or alcohol policy is immediately asked to leave. Mrs. Braaten had just gotten done kicking out three hikers when I arrived, but the two women and I who stayed the night at her home seemed to be on her good side. “It’s such a breath of fresh air having you guys here after those trouble makers,” she told us as she gave us peanut butter oatmeal cookies she had just baked. The ones who were kicked out didn’t get fresh baked cookies, but they were already pretty baked themselves. 

I relaxed in the house all day, having decided to stay the night with Mrs. Braaten’s permission. Beer Goddess arrived later in the evening and yelled, “WHERE’S ONE OF US?!” “I think he’s sprawled out in front of the fan in the back room.”

Basking in the fan was nice, but Beer Goddess dragged me outside to chat. Silver, a guy who wanted to hike the trail in 100 days but gave up on that to just section hike to Oregon, was there with her. They had plans to go to the rave, while I stayed inside and listened to a hiker tell stories of when she lived and worked in rural Romania. 

Early the next morning Mrs. Braaten brought out to us some watermelon and homemade maple and molasses muffins. It was such an amazing breakfast compared to the usual poptarts, and she even drove us back to the trail. 

A big group of us camped together later that night after a surprisingly easy 29 miles (~48km) even with 5000 feet (1524m) of climb in the first bit. It was a weird day of hiking in which we spent almost the entire day on the edge of thunderstorms. We heard the thunder all day and saw the dark clouds, but didn’t feel a single drop. 

It was on this section that I finally ran into Rebo, an interesting older guy who constantly posts video updates on the PCT Class of 2015 Facebook page. He started in late March and, although definitely bizarre, is a pretty nice guy. 

On the final descent to the highway leading to Chester, I ran into a section hiker heading towards me. “Goddammit!” She shouted upon seeing me. “It’s good to see you, too!” I responded. “Please just tell me you’re going south.” Nope. Too bad she already had a trail name (Legs), or else it’d probably be Sobo (southbound). 

Legs, Courage, Rebo, and I all arrived at the highway within a few minutes of each other and decided to hitch together. I stood up front with Legs, who was my “trail bride.” It’s a lot easier to hitch with another person, especially if you look like a straight couple. We had Rebo and Courage stand a bit out of sight, but then Rebo lit something to smoke, picked up an empty roadside water jug, and started bashing it against his head.

“We need to get him back in the bushes or nobody’s ever going to give us a ride,” I hissed to Legs.

“Relax, One Of Us. I’m a girl, we’re going to get a ride.” True to her word, within ten seconds a van pulled over. Rebo ran up to the car and said, “We don’t need a ride, but thanks!” If looks could kill, Legs would be in jail for murder right now. “Quiet,” she growled at him before chatting up the couple who offered to take us to Chester.

gang near chester

Hikers near Chester. L to R: Rebo, Courage, Legs, Runner, and I can’t remember who the last one is.

The people picking us up had a daughter who’d hiked the PCT a couple years previously, which made us feel safer than getting in the car with some random strangers. It was Fourth of July, and they were heading on a ride through the mountains to escape the valley heat. They dropped us off at the laundromat, outside of which was a gathering of seven or so of our kind.



Chester is basically a one street town, but it’s popular for having a large grocery store and being THE HALFWAY POINT! I’M FINALLY HALFWAY TO CANADA!

Sierra City to Belden (1195 – 1284)

Sierra City was a neat little town, and I took advantage of the massive hiker breakfast the town’s only restaurant offered. The center of the hikertrash community was the general store, a tiny shack with a deli attached. They’re famous on the trail for serving one pound (450g) burgers, and I inhaled mine before also ordering a milkshake. This hiker who is a Debbie Downer seemed upset I ate mine so easily when he’s way bigger and could barely eat half, and tried to tell me it’s because I’m malnourished. It was kind of funny, though I almost feel bad for him because he seems miserable on the trail and talks all the time about how he wants to go home.  I would feel worse if he hadn’t already tried to talk about how I’m doing my hike wrong a few times (I wrote in a trail register I was having a slow day because I’d taken six hours of breaks by 2pm; he read that a few hours after I got there and it seemed to really upset him for some reason). Hike your own hike.

Sierra City to Belden has been pretty uneventful, other than running into a woman with whom I took the bus from San Diego to the border and hadn’t seen since day one. She is now Smiles And Miles, having been rechristened from Smiles Not Miles after she blazed ahead super fast from the herd. I told S&M about the hilariously awful gay Amish romance novel I’m reading and she said, “How the hell has that gotten through all the hiker boxes?! You’re the third person I’ve talked to who’s read that thing! That book is doing a thru hike of its own.” Apparently it’s popular on the trail. One of her hiking buddies found the pamphlet I got from the crazy End Times woman and placed in the Reds Meadow hiker box with a “What the hell is this?” moment. I’m glad to know that thing is still kicking it somewhere out there. 

S&M’s other hiking buddy has a thick Boston accent, and was telling us about the guy at Walker Pass in the desert who picks up hikers to drive them to Lake Isabella in a seemingly stolen car. He didn’t cry about how Peter was crucified upside down when Endless rode with him, though the hiker’s stories about Lake Isabella as creepy seem to be a common theme on the trail. He was told by a local he should be wearing snake boots, and that the same local started imitating a snake so Endless would know what it sounded like when he encountered one. That guy was apparently so fat he couldn’t get up off the floor of the post office when he bent down to pick up a penny.

I did take the Buck’s Lake alternate on the PCT, which adds about an hour of hiking but lets you stop at a small store in the middle of nowhere with ice cream. Needless to say, it’s a popular alternate. Some guy came up to me and said, “When we get these skinny people coming in here eating tons of ice cream, you know it’s a thru hiker.” He’s a local who did the Appalachian Trail in 1988 and the PCT in 1995. Cool guy. He’s half Japanese and was able to talk a bit with Mechanic, a hiker from Tokyo. 

“Belden is the creepiest town on the PCT,” is what my town guide said. Apparently there are raves on the weekends with massive drug use. An elderly couple has opened up their home to hikers. They seem kind of quirky, but quite nice. 

I found out right when I got to Belden that my application for my Spain job  somehow got switched from high school to kindergarten. I don’t think I can teach kids that young, so I’m trying to switch. Lots of other people have the same problem. If it doesn’t work out I don’t know what I’ll do after the trail, but I’ll have plenty of time from here on out to think about it. 

The woman who owns the house I’m staying in just came in to say, “Does anybody want to see a fine specimen of adult male bear poop? If not, I have some mountain lion poop, too.” Should be an interesting night. 

This all seems fairly mundane to me. I’m not sure if this is just a semi-boring update, or if I’ve become accustomed to the bizarre out here.