July 20, 2022
Campsite along dirt road at mile 1460.5 to campsite at mile 1487.5
I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up with a start at one in the morning hearing the crash of deer hooves in the trees to the left and mountain lions wheezing somewhere to my right. Oh, right, there are downsides to camping alone. I think I heard another hiker setting up camp last night, but on the off chance that I’m wrong, it freaks me out a little. I do what I always do when I’m scared camping alone: I get out my headphones and put on a podcast. Josh and Chuck talk about land acknowledgments and squirrels, and although I hear bits and pieces, mostly I sleep. It’s not good sleep though. I wake up at least four times throughout the night. It’s going to be a rough walk today.
I wake up properly when the sunrise starts. It’s a deep blue on top of orange just poking over the horizon. I can see it without moving, and it’s cozy. I finally start moving around 5:45. I’m tempted to start walking to try to catch Jumbo and Tribute, but then I remember that there’s a reason that I’m taking time for myself, and I decide to make coffee and have a chill breakfast. The coffee is the one that I got from Nikki and Chris’s trail magic, and it has cream and sugar in it, just like Trader Joe’s. It’s delightful taking a moment to enjoy the morning on my own.
When I finally start walking around 7:00, it’s all downhill for 10 miles. At first it feels great, but it’s not an even downhill, and there are rocks, and I don’t go as fast as I would like to be going. Still, it’s a really pleasant morning. There are deciduous trees. There are creeks every couple of miles. I give myself five miles until I can listen to something, then I put on music, but I don’t really feel like it. Good Omens it is. Everything feels so much like home today, or maybe the AT, which is kind of the same thing. I could be walking downhill to Damascus right now, or maybe Hot Springs or Erwin. But one glance across the valley shows me the telltale pines of northern California. Right, I tell myself. You’re here. Not anywhere else. This is the PCT, and you are ridiculously lucky to be out here.
I stop for water at Butcherknife Creek, which seems like a dramatic name for a beautiful stream covered in lush plants. Then I keep going Downhill to the McLeod River, which looks like chocolate milk goshing down stream. It’s only 11, but I’m so hungry. I’ve already had two bars, and I’m hungry enough to eat a wrap or two, so I decide to take an early lunch. It’s taco sauce, tuna, salami, and crushed up flavor blasted goldfish. Trail gourmet. There are a lot of bugs, so I’m not motivated to stay for very long. This probably isn’t a bad thing because it is already stinking hot, and I can tell it’s going to be one of those days when everything takes forever. Best to start moving anyway.
I hate to say it, but the trail goes by in a blur for a few hours. I enter an Appalachian Trail mindset, by which I mean that I zone out, lost in the world of my book, and enter a pleasant, mindless kind of flow state. There are all kinds of ups and downs today. None of them are that dramatic, but it’s hot and it takes me a while. I stop for a break at the top of a climb, make another cup of coffee, and chill out for a minute. I am surprised that I don’t see any other hikers up here. Actually, I haven’t seen very many hikers today in general so far. Part of me wants to see more people, but honestly, I am enjoying the quiet.
I keep going downhill, around more ridges, collect water a few times, and continue listening to my book. I don’t know why I love Good Omens so much. It’s just comfort food, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Listening to this story reminds me of the Appalachian Trail and watching the show with Patches right after it came out. It catapulted me into a new phase of intensity for my love of Neil Gaiman, and I read a few books of his that I hadn’t yet at that point. It’s also when I got into the Sandman and started reading it on the trail, sharing volumes of the comic with Patches.
Thinking about this makes me realize that the AT is a really special experience, no matter how much PCT hikers might put down that trail because it doesn’t have dramatic views all the time and because its terrain is often brutal. There are things that I really miss about the Appalachian Trail that just don’t exist out here: the constant trail towns, the down time, the lower mileage, the flexibility to faff around and read books and take tons of zero days. I love the PCT, love it for its own sake, but the AT will always have a special place in my heart.
After a while of going mostly downhill but with some ups, I end up at a beautiful creek in a valley. I walk down the creek and find a good spot for dinner. It’s couscous tonight, with string cheese, goldfish, salmon, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. It is heavenly, and it makes me feel like I have so much more energy for this hill. Good Omens finishes, and I stop it and listen to the gurgle of the creek for a while. Then I filter more water, take a short detour to the pit toilet at the trailhead, and start hiking again.
It’s a pretty steep hill, but I feel weirdly good. I put on some music—Father John Misty, Glass Animals, Fleet Foxes, indie kind of night—and actually, strangely, enjoy the uphill. When I get to the first of the two campsites I’ve been thinking about, I debate going further, but it’s 8:30 and I think I’d like some time to write. I set up my tent as quickly as I can because the mosquitoes are literally swarming me, then dive inside and sadistically watch them try to get in through the mesh but can’t.
I turn airplane mode off and see that Jumbo and Tribute have texted me. They’re at the campsite two miles ahead, the other one I was thinking of going to. Oops. I probably could have kept going, but I am so tired of getting to camp so late that all I have time to do is collapse. I know it’s crazy to try to write every day, and often I feel like Jumbo and Tribute don’t really get why I’m so obsessed with keeping this blog up to date. But it’s important to me. I just want to do my thing, man. So here I am laying in my tent, listening to the whine of desperate mosquitoes and what I think is a deer crashing through the forest like a drunk lanky teenager. I hope I get more sleep tonight.