June 29 – 1197 to 1220 + 1 mile side trail from Sierra City (24 miles)
June 30 – 1220 to 1250 (30 miles)
July 1 – 1250 to 1272 (22 miles)
July 2 – 1272 to 1292 (20 miles)
July 3 – 1292 to 1315 (23 miles)
July 4 – 1315 to 1344 (29 miles)
July 5 – 1344 to 1366 (22 miles)
July 6 – 1366 to 1388 (22 miles)
We started June 29th in Sierra City, the unofficial northern end of the Sierra mountains. The Red Moose cafe opened at 7am. We’re so used to getting up early now that we were waiting outside before the doors were unlocked. Breakfast was eggs and sausage (Lorax) and pancakes (T-Fox) accompanied by bottomless coffee. It was great. Not great in the sense of high quality food, but great in that a non-oatmeal breakfast with semi-decent coffee feels rarer than an ivory billed woodpecker in Appalachia, and thus always sets the day off to a great start. T-Fox was also told that she needs to eat way more by the innkeeper Margaret, which she took to heart and downed some candy right away.
Torn between the bottomless coffee and the rising temperature, we finally slipped out of Sierra City and the Red Moose Cafe at 8:30am and road walked 1.5 miles before beginning the 3000′ ascent back into the high country. It was here on the climb that we encountered our second rattlesnake of the trip. This one was a eager juvenile that was located well off the trail, yet felt the need to rattle vigorously anyways. It was neat hearing a rattle for the first time, as our first snake at mile 650 was too mature to bother. The ensuing buzz was quite a bit higher frequency than I had imagined – more akin to a motor with a loose nut than a pair of handheld morocca’s.
We topped out on the climb around noon and had lunch next to a dusty jeep road where off-road enthusiasts took the faster, albeit more expensive, route to the high country. The extent to which seemingly remote areas in Northern California are accessed by motor vehicles is similar to SoCal: absurdly high. How did all these roads to nowhere get paid for? It’s a contrast to the high Sierra and hopefully a contrast to the upcoming wilds of Northern Oregon and Washington.
The next day we continued to traverse the Sierra Butte’s in Tahoe National Forest. The weather has been particularly hot lately so we got started early and planned a mid day swim at a small lake. We arrived at the water at 11am but the brown water left our team split on the appeal of a dip. We decided to march on, since covering miles is always a good idea. Despite the heat, the walking was fairly good and we covered 15 miles by noon. Some trail magic in the form of two Oreo cookies lured us into the shade for an hour with Steve, Tarzan and a section hiker who showed us the most soft, clean and yet blister ravaged feet we’d seen in months.
Disappointed by our earlier failed attempt at a swim, I proposed a 30 mile day to T-Fox that would reward our endurance with a swim in the Feather River. She vacillated and the decision was deferred, but in the end the lure of a dip was too strong so we hiked until 7:30pm to complete our first 30 mile day of the trip. Late in the walk I encouraged T-Fox by exclaiming “only 30 more minutes” to which she replied “that’s what most people consider a full workout at the gym”. The water ended up being completely glorious as we sat on the cobblestone creek bottom, neck deep in pleasantly cool water with an amphibian newt (?) standing guard over the pool.
We started July 1 – Canada day! – a little late at 7am. Our 30 mile day previous had us heading to bed a little later than we’d like, so with some begging and pleading, I was able to convince Lorax to allow an extra hour of sleep. It was a scorcher.
SWELTERING hot. Literally dripping sweat. If you have never experienced full on sweating before – the kind where you can’t feel a dry spot on your entire body – than I guess you haven’t hiked the PCT. It’s not like this was the first time it was this hot…just the first time I may have sort of…well…partially enjoyed it. Sweating like that makes one feel alive – like you are truly embracing Mother Nature and your current circumstances. No air conditioned car to drive to your air conditioned office, then on to your air conditioned dinner spot and so on. Just full on heat for the entire day, and well into the evening.
As gross (and incredibly smelly) as I was, there was something wholesome about it. It was hot…and that was ok. There was absolutely no escaping the fact that I was disgusting…and that was ok. Had I showed up in Starbucks that afternoon with sweat stains and horrendous body odour…that would not have been ok. Sort of odd really, that we place so much emphasis on appearance and such in “the real world,” yet out here in the TRUE real world, nobody minds, and everyone is happier for it. I do have to admit that some days I miss makeup and jewelry, but it’s freeing to be without.
We had a two and a half hour nap in the heat of the day, which was glorious. Later on, we came across some Trail Magic – beer!! Being as it was ridiculously hot, we took our two beers and chilled them in a stream later and had them ice cold with our pasta. It turned out to be a fairly festive Canada Day dinner considering!
July 2nd we woke with town on the mind. We were hauling! Unfortunately I slowed down a lot after that (which can happen when I push too hard), but we still did the 17 miles to Belden by noon. There was a 5000 foot descent to the valley…my knees were knackered.
We had a refreshing swim in Feather River, just outside of town. I felt at least partially more presentable for town. Belden was a weird town, but we hung out there for the afternoon, mostly trying to stay still due to the heat. At 7pm we decided to get 2.5 more miles that evening, since the trail ascended 5000 feet.
July 3rd we got on trail at the usual time of 6am. Soon we were entering Lassen National Forest. The climb was MAD. Truly horrific.
Whoever was in charge of developing that trail was either on crack or a saddist. There were parts that shot straight up the valley, with no switch backs. Needless to say, it took us a lot longer to hike. Fox was panting…again…but we managed a 23 miler.
The next day, July 4, we achieved a monumental goal. Shortly before noon we arrived at the PCT midpoint marker post that lies 1325 miles from both Mexico and Canada. It’s pretty nuts. We’re now closer to Canada than Mexico! Actually getting to Canada feels slightly tangible now, and I think it’ll quickly draw close as the miles are passing pretty quick these days. It took us 78.5 days to get from Mexico to here. We’ve only got about 60 days to complete the second half, but thats 3 days ahead of schedule. The second half should be much easier since we’re now in extremely good shape plus we won’t have to cross the Mojave or the tough high Sierra.
The paramount event of July 5 was the $13.50 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Yeah Lassen Volcanic National Park has some pretty neat wonders like Terminal Geyser and Boiling Springs Lake, but those geological abnormalities didn’t capture our attention like endless trays of hot bruschetta-pizza. Actually the trays of bruschetta-pizza weren’t endless. The last tray was emptied a full 20 minutes before the buffet closed, thanks mostly to the hard work of myself, Lucky Strike and T-Fox. I downed 7 of these culinary wonders, doubling the combined efforts of Lucky Strike and T-Fox. I also had a turkey breast sandwich so big I felt compelled to try to squish it thinner because it was awkward carrying around a sandwich with 50% of the toppings formerly at the buffet. Add to that 3 coffees, 3 orange juices, 3 brownies and a creme brûlée. T-Fox and Lucky Strike focused more on emptying out the salad bar and draining both large jugs of fresh orange juice. We joked that we should take the jugs back to our table and if the wait staff inquired, we’d just say “oh these aren’t single serving?”. We crawled out of Drakesbad at 2:30 with another 15 miles in mind. We ended up only covering 12, but we had a great swim in Upper Twin Lake. It’s 9pm as I write this and I’m still so full my appetite hasn’t returned. T-Fox is making me have some cheese and crackers but I’d be just as happy going to bed without.