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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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