July 30, 2022
Grider Creek Campground at mile 1649.5 to Seiad Valley at mile 1655.9, then evacuated to Medford, Oregon
Since we only have six miles, we wake slowly. It’s still cloudy this morning, that pleasant after-rain hangover, and it’s such a nice change of pace from the blaring sun. As we have breakfast, pack up, and start walking down the road, though, we begin to get concerned. The sun is the bleeding orange ball of light that means fire. We haven’t heard about any fires, but then again, we haven’t really had service for the past few days.
The thick haze hangs over the world for the entire six miles into Seiad Valley. Jumbo is excited because the cafe in town has a pancake challenge, which involves five massive pancakes. If you can eat them all, the meal is free. Needless to say, most people don’t complete the challenge, but Jumbo is kind of a human trash can, so there might be hope.
It’s a road walk, following gravel and then paved roads next to and over the Klamath River. As we walk, we realize that the white stuff we thought might be from trees is probably actually ash. It’s grim, but fires can be pretty far away but seem close, so we don’t worry about it too much.
When we get to Seiad Valley, which is deep in State of Jefferson territory, we’re surprised to see a huge horde of hikers outside the store. We roll up and see Gus and Cathole, who tell us that not only is the restaurant closed, but part of the PCT is closed due to a fire. They had hiked up the road a bit and then had to turn around when they saw the fire and realized that there was going to be a closure. Now everyone is trying to figure out what to do, how to get out of town, and where the fire is.
I’m hungry, though, so I get a microwave burrito, iced coffee, and massive muffin at the store before I can process anything. Then we walk to the neighboring RV park because they have better wifi, and it’s then that we check the PCTA website and learn that the McKinney Fire in Northern California and southern Oregon is a veritable inferno that was 300 acres last night but is now at 18,000. It jumped the river and came very close to both the PCT and the town of Seiad Valley. Hikers have been evacuated off the trail, and it looks like this town will soon be under evacuation orders too.
We start madly communicating with Beetle, Andy, Knuckles and PowerPlant, 8 Bucks and Toothpaste, Qwerty and Trash Balloon, and a number of other hikers we know to see what they’re doing. It sounds like most people are getting rides to Ashland, Oregon, which is the north end of where the PCT is closed. The closure, at least at this point, is from Seiad Valley to just south of Ashland. This is incredibly depressing because it means that we won’t be able to cross into Oregon on the PCT. But it’s even sadder thinking about how powerful this fire is and how many people are going to lose their homes or even their lives in its blaze.
We sit around drinking soda and beer, waiting for a ride from a local who has dropped some folks off and is coming back. But then another local offers to take us, so we pile into her Jeep, with Jumbo and Tribute and a number of hikers in the back, and me in the front with two hikers named Polar Bear, from Germany, and Barbara, from Slovakia. Our driver takes us to the town of Happy Camp, and then the motel owner where she stops chats with a group of firebreak workers from Mexico who were staying at the hotel. They agree to take us—all seven of us—in their twelve-passenger van to Medford, which is near Ashland. From Medford, Tribute’s friend Jen will pick us up and host us at her house. We’d been planning to do this on Monday evening anyway, so it kind of works out that this is where we’re going!
We panic a little at first because the driver turns around and goes back in the direction we just came from. We pass the Seiad Valley store again and see some hikers still there, trying to get out. Then we hit a road block, have to turn right and go down an extremely windy road, and soon after that, the driver pulls over because the engine is overheating. Once that issue is resolved, we make our way to a gas station that, incredibly, doesn’t have a bathroom. So Barbara and I run across a strip of grass to a place that is labeled Visitor Center but really just looks like an antique store. The bathroom is pristine. The woman working there is super nice, and she asks us about our plans for avoiding the fire and wishes us safe travels.
Back on the road, we finally find the interstate and I promptly fall asleep, which is impressive given the volume at which the long playlist of mariachi music is blasting. Apparently I sleep through the crossing into Oregon. So I don’t have a great photo of me with the Oregon sign, but I do have a hilarious photo of me sleeping that Barbara and her partner took. Welcome to Oregon!
We get dropped off at a hotel in Medford where the guys in the van are staying. We thank them and then hop into an Uber that takes us to Cracker Barrel. I’ve been winding Jumbo up about Cracker Barrel for ages now because it’s the most American restaurant I can think of: southern food, gift shop with grotesquely American knickknacks, bottomless coffee, huge breakfasts. It’s pretty much empty when we walk in, and they give us a table way in the back. I teach Jumbo how to play the game with the wooden triangle where you have to jump tees and see how few you can have left at the end. (That was very hard to explain. I hope you know what I’m talking about.) He is oddly good at it, after a few tries. I order chicken fried chicken with heaps of sides, coffee, and an iced tea because why not. Oregon is on fire and we have no clue what we’re doing.
After dinner, Tribute’s friend Jen picks us up in her truck and takes us to her beautiful home in Medford, where Jumbo immediately bonds with her son Oscar over their love of the same video games, and where I take a long, luxurious shower. We get ourself settled, put in our laundry, and crack open some wine. Jen lets me use her computer to work on my blog while she and the boys get into the pool. I join them for a bit after that, then we sit around at their amazing outdoor theatre and watch Predator followed by Ghost World, the latter of which is totally bizarre and amazing.
Jen and I are the last ones up, and we finally go back inside at 2:00 in the morning. There’s an L-shaped sectional sofa in the basement, where Jumbo has already claimed one arm. I squeeze into the other one, then have the thought that it might not be a good idea to sleep with my head right next to Jumbo’s feet at the exact same moment that he rolls over and kicks me. I laugh. It’s fine. I’m drunk. I’ll fall asleep anyway. Tomorrow we’ll deal with plans and logistics and fire stuff, but for now, I’m just going to pass out.