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.
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.
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!