Belden to Burney

Belden to Burney

June 26, 2014

Start: Halfmile 1316.0
End: Halfmile 1344.0
Distance: 28.0 Mi
Cumulative: 1,417.5 Mi

Passed the official, signed midpoint today. With re-routes and closures, the real midpoint changes from year to year. I think this is a day or two early for us, but I’m not mad. This whole hike is arbitrary anyways. I mean, who does this?! Was planning to skip Chester, but Carrot informed me at the road crossing that the local dentist gives out $20 pizza certificates to thru-hikers…just for showing up and posing for a quick photo. No way, c’mon…seriously? That was good enough for me. Threw the ol’ thumb out and made my way into Chester. She wasn’t lying. What a great side trip. Eleven bucks out of pocket for a huge sub, fries, mozzarella sticks, soda, and ice cream? Deal! (Shut up, it’s in the budget!)

But none of this is the story I want to tell. I had a visitor last night. Around 1230a, I awoke to the sound of a twig snapping near my tent. That’s weird for me, because I’m usually a really heavy sleeper. I was camping alone near a spring. My tent up, rainfly on. That’s the scene. Here’s how it went down.

(I wake and listen intently.)
(It’s closer now.)
Maybe it’ll leave. Maybe it’s just passing by. What is it?
(Much closer, like I hadn’t heard every step.)
(I’m up, eyes wide.)
Holy shit, it’s right outside. He’s on top of me.
Get up, Ethan. Get! UP!
You have to move. You have to speak.
Say something, Ethan. SAY SOMETHING!

(I grab my headlamp and turn it on.)
Good, now speak. Speak, Ethan.
“Can I help you?”
What the hell was that? An invitation?! LOUDER!
“What the f*** do you want?? What ARE you! Get out of here!! GO ON, SCAT!”
(Nothing. He doesn’t run, doesn’t even flinch.)
Oh God. You’re a cougar, a mother f***ing cougar.
(I want to look, but I don’t dare. Not knowing exactly what’s in the tent may be the only thing keeping him out of it.)
(I’m clutching a can of mace, a pitifully false sense of security. And I know it.)
(More distant now.)
(My heart is beating so hard it might leap clear out of my chest.)
(Nothing. Minutes pass, dozens of them. Still…nothing.)
(I can feel his eyes on me, or is it just paranoia?)
(An hour passes. I don’t dare turn off my headlamp. No sleep tonight.)

I did eventually drift to sleep. Never heard another sound. This morning was eerie too. The fog was thick in the trees. I packed up hastily and got moving.

Did I see him? No. But you’ll never convince me that he wasn’t a cougar. Not a bear, not a deer. A cougar. It was the way he moved, the calm, calculating steps. It was the cold stare I could feel against the tent wall. Chilling. But this morning I got my manhood back. I saw a black bear near the trail. He hadn’t seen me yet, but being able to see him gave me back my confidence. I hollered at him: Yo Smokey, comin’ through! He bolted up and into the woods. Yeah, who’s the man now?

June 27, 2014

Start: Halfmile 1344.0
End: Halfmile 1377.5
Distance: 33.5 + 0.5 = 34.0 Mi
Cumulative: 1,451.5 Mi

Left a little late this morning, which was fine, because it turns out that Firefly is no longer hosting hikers in Old Station. Wish I had known, probably would’ve had that breakfast shake in Belden. But then, would I have missed out on lunch in Chester? And what about my cougar friend? All things for a reason. Took the side trip to Terminal Geyser. It was pretty cool, well-worth the extra quarter mile. (Welcome to Lassen Volcanic National Park!) I reached Drakesbad Ranch around lunch, but skipped the side trip. Heard the food is overpriced and not awesome. When I passed through the adjacent campground, a youngster offered a nonchalant greeting:

“Hey, bud.”
“Where are you going?”
“Neat. Have a nice hike.”
“Thanks, take care. See ya.”

Haha, classic. “Have a nice hike.” If you only knew, my friend.

Felt lethargic all day. My legs are sore. Nothing major, just sluggin’ a bit lately. Psyched to sleep in and take an easy day tomorrow. I’ll cruise 4 quick miles, then eat lunch at JJ’s Cafe and lounge most of the day. Gonna overnight the Hat Creek Rim, probably leaving around 7 or 8p tomorrow. It’s a long, dry, hot, exposed section of trail from Old Station almost all the way to Hwy 299 (access to Burney).

June 28, 2014

Start: Halfmile 1377.5
End: Halfmile 1381.5
Distance: 4.0 + 1.0 = 5.0 Mi
Cumulative: 1,456.5 Mi

It was a “no alarm” kinda morning. So nice. Finally caught up with 10k, or rather he caught up to me. Since I’m overnighting the Hat Creek Rim, I was just hanging out at the General Store in Old Station when he walked up. Always so good to see him. He told me that the milkshake I wanted in Belden wouldn’t have been anyways; they were closed on Wednesday. Now I can finally stop thinking about it. He has different plans for the rim, so we went our separate ways. Should see him again sometime; lookin’ forward to it. I headed over to JJ’s for lunch. Ordered two lunches, a soda, and a cookie. Money well spent.

Chilling at the local visitor center now. Came back from the bathroom to find all three staff huddled around my pack.

“Is that a GoLite pack? I just got a GoLite pack.”
“Uh, no actually. It’s a ULA.”
“Oh, cool. You hiking the PCT?”
“How’s it been going?”

And on like this for a bit. They weren’t busy and clearly quite bored. That’s ok, it’s fun to talk about my trip, especially with folks who don’t get to do this sort of thing. So many questions.

June 29, 2014

Start: Halfmile 1381.5
End: Halfmile 1415.5
Distance: 34.0 Mi
Cumulative: 1,490.5 Mi

Left for the rim about 8p. Helluva view was waiting for me when I reached the broad traverse. Gorgeous. The pointed peak toward the right is Mt. Shasta. I’ll catch glimpses of her for the next few hundred miles.

I had high hopes for my overnight, but it was miserable, maybe because I’d built it up too much. I was tripping and stumbling over rocks that stuck up out of the tread. I could barely see them; they blended in so well with the ground. My eyes were straining constantly, even by headlamp. I was tired and not really in the mood. A few times, I stumbled so hard I would’ve wiped out completely if it wasn’t for my trekking poles. I was getting mad, raging mad, scream at the heavens mad.

I stopped about a third of the way through to get a few hours sleep. It helped, but I was in a bad mood pretty much all day. I just wanted to be to Burney, to be enjoying a cold drink and ice cream, to get these freakin’ trail runners off. And it was hot, so hot. For me, it was the most mentally challenging day so far. You know how time stands still when you check the clock every other minute? That’s how it is with miles when you check the map every other minute. I was being a baby.

Happy to be in town and re-group for the next stretch. I’ll stealth camp in the woods here tonight, then hit the PO in the morning. It’s care package day again…so soon! I wonder what goodies await. I have the coolest loved ones.