South Lake Tahoe to Sierra City (1091 – 1195)

South Lake Tahoe was a whirlwind, and a bit overwhelming. As per usual, there was so much to do in the town stop that it was anything but relaxing. Going into town has become a ritual of gorging myself on food and immediately going back to the trail. 

My first order of business in Tahoe was to find a pizza. A place only a half hour walk from the Motel Six, which felt incredibly luxurious, was selling large pizzas for around $8 and as such was popular with the hikers. I hadn’t showered or done laundry in days, and ate my entire large pizza in five minutes on the curb of the restaurant. I’ve learned to do that kind of thing out of sight of most people, because otherwise I get lots of stares of disgust. Still hungry, I went to the grocery store to get ice cream. It was heavenly, even if walking over an hour to visit the pizza and grocery stores caused me to stay up super late (9pm). 

The next day was my busiest town day yet with beard trimming, haircut, post office runs, food resupply, sock swapping (mine had holes after a thousand miles), trying to figure out what I did with my hat, eating, more eating, and the 24 hour marriage license shop. 

50_through_south_lake_tahoe_by_mark_miller

One of the main streets in South Lake Tahoe.

The main challenge of the day was getting everything to the post office by 5pm, closing time. The chance to FINALLY get to send home my big, heavy bear canister was totally worth all the rush. I’d carried that monster for almost 400 miles by that point, during which its carrying capacity went from five days of food to barely three. 

My food consumption, as I mentioned previously, has been skyrocketing since the end of the High Sierra section. Nowadays I have to consume four to five thousand calories to stay reasonably comfortable, which makes sense considering I walk the equivalent of more than a marathon almost every day. In the desert we would go up to five or six days between resupplies, but nowadays four days is pushing it. 

Not only did I have to buy food to last me the 100 miles (161km) to Sierra City, but I also had to mail a food drop to the following stop of Belden. Some hikers methodically plan out how many calories per day and buy food based on that, but I just fill my bear bag until I think it’s way too much. “Way too much food” usually translates to “barely enough” by the time I get to town. 

Lake of the Sky Outfitters is the center of town for hikers in South Lake Tahoe. They let me bag and process all my food while leaving my pack in front of the store. Free wifi, tea, and a list of trail angels willing to drive hikers back to Echo Lake to rejoin the PCT are the main reasons they’re so popular. They take a picture of every thru hiker that walks through the doors, and have a wall filled with our portraits. It’s pretty fun going and seeing all my friends that are ahead. 

They said I was around hiker #145 for the season, compared to hiker #750 out of 2500 in my third week. Not everyone stops by the outfitters, but I’ve still passed probably around 400 hikers since starting. I’m moving somewhat fast, as all the trail angels keep telling the people in my bubble, and am still on track for an early September finish date. 

Apparently all the rumors I heard about “the herd” are true. I started on the edge of the main pack of thru hikers and have steadily been increasing my distance from them, the bulk of whom are in the beginning or middle of the High Sierra. The pictures posted on the PCT 2015 Facebook page of the main resupply stops earlier on in the trail are overwhelmingly crowded compared to when I was at the same locales. 

That same Facebook page is an endless source of amusement and drama, often intertwined. The arguments are so petty and banal, while the posters are largely not hikers. The latest piece of entertainment involved a guy who rented a uhaul truck in Bishop, filled it with 24 hikers, and then drove to San Francisco for a couple rest days.

On the drive to Frisco they were pulled over by the police, and every person given a seatbelt ticket. Then they were allowed to keep on going to San Francisco! Way to go in enforcing safety, California. Here are some photos from inside the truck (yes, that’s a hammock) and of everyone holding his or her seatbelt fine. 

image1

Getting pulled over.

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Inside the truck.

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Posing with the tickets.

I wrapped up my time in Tahoe at the 24 hour wedding chapel, the only place in town with a notary service available after 5pm. A Spanish visa form needed to be notarized for my job, and this was the last point at which I could get that done for quite a while. The woman running the place said she hadn’t notarized something other than a wedding license in months, and asked me questions about what I was doing in town. She had just watched the movie Wild, which almost everyone on the PCT detests because it depicts us as a bunch of promiscuous and ill equipped heroin addicts (I’ve never seen it, that’s just what I’ve heard), and did it for free because of that! She seemed to think I was really cool. I would have to agree with her. 

I cornered another hiker at the grocery store and talked him into letting me share a room with him at the motel and also riding back to the trail with an angel the next morning. Steady, a retired woman from Washington state, had called 24 people on the trail angel list before finding someone who could drive us on that weekday morning. Thankfully others are more prepared and persistent than I am! Our driver was a retired local who “only” does hikes of up to 200 miles (330km) nowadays with a group of her retired friends. All these hikers in their 60s and 70s are pretty impressive. 

Like pretty much everyone else on the trail, the other hikers in the car were from the west coast. One of them told me he’d gone to Columbus, my hometown, for some club sports competition. He claimed there was a gang fight right outside his hotel in the middle of the night (I recognized his photos he stayed in a neighborhood that’s not the nicest at night) and basically thought I grew up in a war zone. Too bad he didn’t visit Detroit or downtown Cleveland on his Midwest trip.

We followed the Tahoe Rim Trail through some very pretty mosquito infested swamplands, which wasn’t fun until we got onto the dry and bug free ridge. There were a bunch of people out for a week or so, and generally did in one day what we do in three hours. They were mostly friendly, if a little off put by the large amount of marijuana use on the trail. I was talking to one weekender while I kept dropping my food, picking it up off the ground, and eating it without pause right in front of her. She seemed pretty unfazed, but I wasn’t sure. I will not waste calories. I draw the line at eating food I find on the ground, but a lot of others don’t. 

Echo Lake

Echo Lake, just north of South Lake Tahoe.

I lost a lot of time over the couple of days near Donner Pass (yes, that Donner Pass) while reading about the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. Opening my Facebook newsfeed was like getting blasted by rainbows, as I’m sure anyone who was on social media then knows. 

The delays worked out well because I ended up running into Reno Dave, a trail angel from Reno, Nevada just 90 minutes away, and his hotdog barbecue! Simba and I got there just as he was setting up, and it was a godsend to have hotdogs and cold pop. Reno Dave has been doing trail magic at Donner Pass for five years, and fit the typical “yo hikers, you want free food from a stranger?” trail angel profile. He said by far the biggest change in the PCT in that time, which has seen an almost doubling in the number of thru hike attempts each year, has been the big increase in the proportion of women on the trail. It seems like we’re 80% male, so I’m not really sure what it was like in 2010. 

Just a couple hours from Donner Pass was an interstate 80 rest stop popular with hikers for its electrical outlets and chance to get judged really hard by travelers who think we’re homeless/insane. I sat in the corner and ate a quarter pound of chocolate like a starving refugee, and followed it by eating a sleeve of crushed butter crackers with a spoon. When I washed my hands in the sink of the bathroom I couldn’t get the porcelain to turn white again, which was kind of embarrassing. Parents grabbed the hands of their children when they gawked at me and two other hikers, but it was worth it to recharge my iPod. 

Not too far from the rest stop was a cute little cabin in the woods. I stopped by and wrote in the trail register, “This looks like the picturesque setting of *insert Stephen King novel murder scene here*!” I decided not to stay there, partially because it creeped me out being there by myself and also because I still wanted to hike for a couple more hours. 

I slogged through it all the way to just before Sierra City, a one street town with 50 residents, and camped out in a spectacular gorge. The trail in Northern California has been going from mosquito infested, wet valley to dry ridge repeatedly through endless pine forest. It’d be pretty cool if it weren’t for the bugs and oppressive heat.

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