Day 40 – Ups and Downs

I woke up and looked at my watch.  9:00AM.  I slept in.

I unzipped my tent and poked my head out.  90% of the hikers had packed up and left.  I scanned the ground and saw Exo’s stuff was gone too.  I shrugged thinking “That’s how it goes out here”.  Since I didn’t have anyone waiting on me I took my time eating breakfast and getting my tent and other gear put away.  I was already getting started late, who cares how long it takes to get going at this point?

I eventually got going.  I approached the fire ring where hikers sat last night – there was a group here hanging out and talking with the guy who set up the fire last night who was officially dubbed ‘Fire Angel’.  I was intending on just saying thanks for the fire and waving goodbye, but as I got closer I heard my name called.

“Hey Jackrabbit”

Wha?  I looked up.  Oh, it’s Exo.

“Oh hey man.  I thought you were long gone” I said laughing.

We both thanked Fire Angel and set on our way.  Our day started off completely flat.  The trail didn’t go up or down, it just went straight.  This is extremely rare on the PCT and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.  Eventually we got blasted by clouds again and the trail started going up over yet another hill in California.  I can’t complain, it’s the Pacific Crest Trail after all.  I usually don’t really mind in any case, but I’m still feeling sluggish.  We eventually got to the top and started taking switchbacks downhill to a parking lot.  As we did we passed a long line of Korean tourists.  We were offered fresh cucumbers but it wasn’t clear on whether they were offering for us to reach into a bag and take one cucumber or to take the entire bag held out at us.  A good rule to follow out here is to neither take food from hikers nor share food with hikers, it’s a good way to get sick/get someone else sick.  I declined and pushed on.

We made it down to a picnic table where other hikers were hanging out.

“Get your Cucumbers?” One of them asked.

We sat at the table for a while as more and more hikers came down, each of them carrying a bag full of cucumber.  With every hiker it became funnier and funnier.  How much cucumber were these people carrying with them?  We spread them out to each hiker and snacked on them.  They were so incredibly good, I wished I had saved it for lunch and made a mental note to pack out some vegetables next time I resupply.

We eventually got up and started going, but I was still out of my element.  These mountains are really beating me up a bit, to top it off the clouds are obscuring all the views taking away all the rewards.  The trail was going crazy with its elevation changes, going up and down all over the place.  It also really seemed to like the highway, as we met up with it again to come down to yet another parking lot.  This one seemed to be under construction, and on the other side of some concrete barriers were another group of hikers.  They were from the Czech Republic and didn’t talk much, but they were very nice.

We sat with them for a while.  One of them needed a ride due to an injury, and we had a trail closure up ahead either way.  The road was totally obscured by clouds, but we would occasionally hear a car coming in the distance and everyone would yell “CAR!”.  Someone would shoot up, run out to the road and stick their thumb out.  The cars would slow down to see what was going on, but no one actually stopped to pick up the injured hiker.  Exo and I opted to push on.

We shortly came to the highway yet again and were met with trail closure signs.  At this section of the trail there is a rare species of frog, and they closed the trail in order to protect their habitat.  Our options were to either hitchhike around the closure or walk along the highway.  I got the feeling Exo wanted to just hitch around it, but I kinda felt like walking it.  We pressed on along the highway for a ways until we heard a car driving up in the distance.  Exo shot his thumb out and we saw a truck pass us and stop at a pullout just ahead.  Exo cheered and ran up to the truck.  I stopped and hesitated for a moment.

“I’m trying to do continuous footsteps..” I thought to myself.  I watched Exo leap up to the truck and talk with the driver, and I shuffled forward.  Without much further thought I got into the truck and found myself flying around the mountain.  I talked with the driver while Exo sat in the bed of the truck.  Our new friend had just moved to California from the East Coast, he used to give Appalachian Trail hikers rides all the time and was used to doing stuff like this.  My trail app couldn’t keep up with our speed and we missed our turnoff by a ways.  We pulled off at the shoulder, I thanked the driver and offered a donation which was declined.  We got our packs out and stared downhill to see hikers walking along a road into the campground we needed to pass through.  Exo yelled downhill and they stopped and stared up at us.  It was the group of Czech hikers!

We slid down the hill and met up with them and wandered our way through the campground passing all the giant tents of weekend campers.  We came to a stream that trickled over the road a bit and laughed hysterically at one of the hikers making exaggerated movements to avoid getting the slight amount of water on his shoe.  As we neared the end of the campground and the start of the alternate trail linking up with the PCT, we saw two other hikers emerge.  They’re going the wrong way, what is this?!

They were section hiking southbound.  One of them had 3 giant bags full of chips, instant coffee, and caramel candy.  They were hiking and doing trail magic.  Oh.  My.  God.  I opted for a bag of Doritos and devoured them.  We talked for a bit and said goodbye to our new snack-lords.  Exo and I sat at a picnic table for a moment and talked about where to stop for the day.  We could push on and do a high mile day or end our day a tad early at a camp along trail.  Neither of us could make up our minds, but half-ass decided on stopping early to stay at an actual campsite.  Picnic tables and an actual toilet were the determining factor for me.

We started hiking and met up with a couple of other hikers Stork and Chelsie.  We hiked with them for a bit but I had a hard time keeping up with the conversation as I was at the end of the hiker line.  Exo would have to relay things back to me every so often, but in any case I was completely absorbed in the scenery.  At some point I was able to hear a bit better and listened to one of the stories of the day:  Two guys decided to take a longer alternate around the rare frog closure but got turned around at some point.  They hiked for hours to come back to where they started somehow and ended up adding six miles to their day.  Woops!

Stork and Chelsie stopped to take a break, Exo and I continued on.  We came down to a river where I tenaciously hopped across and promptly slipped and found one of my shoes submerged in water.  Dammit.  This moment was met with a roar of laughter from Exo.

We finally found ourselves back on a familiar tread: The PCT!  I missed you!  We pushed our way uphill one final time and got to the campground.  Yay!  We walked into camp and set up our tents.

“I kinda feel like making a fire” Exo said.

There were firepits, why not.

“Alright dude, I’ll set up my tent and gather wood” I replied.

Tent set up I started my search.  There wasn’t much other than sticks.  If we want to keep this fire going I’d have to gather a lot of sticks.  This is going to be a lot of work.  Occasionally I’d look up to see everyone hanging out and relaxing and I kinda felt like saying “fuck this” every so often.  Help would be nice.

I eventually had a pretty good bundle of wood going and got back to the picnic tables where I saw Exo treating his blisters.  It looked pretty bad, so I could understand his hesitance to walk around and help gather wood.  I sat down on a rock, grabbed my knife, and started cutting away little shavings of wood for kindling.  I had also found a treasure trove of really soft rotten wood that would just crumble in your hands.  It should be easy getting this going.  I also gathered some rogue pieces of bark to help get the coals burning to keep the fire alive.  I built a small log cabin out of the sticks in the fire pit to surround the kindling, then stacked other sticks up against the metal grate of the fire pit to make a lean-to, and lit the fire.  Success!

I was in a bit of a frenzy to keep the thing going, but no one was coming over to sit by the fire.  Why am I even doing this?  It was early and I had nothing else to do, so I kept it going either way.  Exo came back around and sat by the fire and told me there was a big rotten downed tree downhill from the camp by the river that would make for nice fuel.  I hopped down and dragged it back up to camp.  I dropped it on a rock to split it up and set it aside for when more hikers came through.

We sat by the fire until about 7:00PM.  We were elated to see a couple of hikers strolling by on the trail.

“Hey Hikertrash!” I yelled.

“Get over here!” Exo yelled.

They came over and were elated to see the fire going.  They set up their tent and sat by the flames as soon as humanly possible.

“We have to pull big miles every day in order to finish the trail before school starts, we don’t get to relax very often.  Sitting by a fire for once is amazing” One of them said.

“Now all we need are marshmallows” Said Exo.

“Or hot dogs” one of the other hikers said.

That would be awesome.  Oh wait, holy shit!

“I have an idea!” I said.

I grabbed a stick, sharpened it, then dug through my food bag.  Summer Sausage.  I cut it up, put a section of it on my stick, and held it over the fire.

“I have an entire sausage over there” I said. “Help yourselves”.

Exo shot up and grabbed a piece, and the other hikers followed suit.  I pulled mine out of the fire and took a bite.  Oh my greasy god this is incredible.  It was soooo gooood.  Everyone was in a similar state of bliss.  This stuff isn’t very good raw, but cooked… oh man is it the best.  We sat there and chowed down on actual food for a while and talked by the fire.  The new hikers went to bed after a while, Exo and I sat and waited for the fire to go out and got to work on extinguishing it.  Exo called it good after a little while, but I’m super paranoid about leaving hot coals in the pit, I’ve made the mistake of leaving a fire unattended in the past years ago, when I learned of the possible consequences I cringed and became really anal about fire management afterward.  I spent almost an hour throwing dirt over the coals, stirring and crushing them with a large stick.  Eventually I couldn’t see any coals glowing in the dark and went to bed.

I’m never making a fire on the PCT again.  The effort involved just isn’t worth it.

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