Reunited, Puff Puff and I hiked out of Mt Shasta, or rather we hiked the PCT south off Exit 726 of the I 5. Shield Maidens. The night we spent on the Hat Creek Rim, the same place I camped last year with Sticky Buns and Milkshake, there was a brilliant red sunset, a nice little breeze and a herd of free range cows munching all night next to our campsite. I slept just fine while Puff Puff kept them at bay. The following night, we camped by a lake in a bunch of deadfall with deer coming and going all night long. Why are they sneaking around at night in a known “human bear interaction” zone? I hadn’t seen any fresh bear sign all day, nonetheless I made sure that no bear was infiltrating the deer plodding loudly through all the downed, dry and quite crunchy branches around our tents while Puff Puff slept soundly.
There are fewer and fewer hikers on the trail–a bunch of SOBOs have flipped from fear of the snow arriving in the Sierra, we see maybe one or two people claiming NOBO status, and section hikers are sparse as well. What’s a flip? It goes something like this: get a ride to Kennedy Meadows South, then hike north to where you left the trail, then flip back to KM and hike south to Mexico. Does that still count as a SOBO hike? Nah, I don’t think so. It may come back to bite me in the ass, but I tell people that in my experience, the high country in October is usually great weather, clear and warm enough in the daytime, cool to cold at night.
Just when I get done writing that I allot 5 days for 100 miles, Puff Puff made me hike 170 miles in 7 days, and 6 nights. Not only that but we had to stay at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch for a fabulous home cooked dinner and breakfast and hike into Old Station for breakfast at JJ’s a day later. And the guest ranch had cats, pure Siamese, dad Ninja, expectant mom Bonzai and adolescent Lucky. Insult to injury, if we did a 27 and a 26 back to back we’d be forced to zero in Chester while I waited for the post office to open Monday morning. Killing me.
This stretch has been warm, but with a dwindling number of daylight hours, 2 days ago I finally made good on my threat to set my alarm for 5:45 in the dark so I can be hiking by 6:30 in the light. We’ve managed to camp before dark every night, the latest was 7:06 pm according to Puff Puff’s calculation. The fact that this habit suits us both makes for a solid partnership. That and joining forces as Shield Maidens or Warrior Women for mutual defense against the boredom of solo hiking and other perils of the trail.
It’s hard to explain or understand why I love this life, there are hours of walking everyday that are tedious, slogging through dust and burn areas, or trudging uphill for miles through Manzanita and other brush, hours so boring that listening to an audiobooks is the only way to keep a pace. Sometimes it seems we should just hop in a car and road trip to the places we get to eat real food and sleep in a bed rather than walk. I measure a day by tiny goals: make it to a water source; get to a point where there are less than 20 miles to go, less than 10 miles to go; check the map only on the hour; make it to the top of a climb before eating a Snickers. Small, little delights spice it up, like startling a squirrel or seeing a snake, looking through a sudden opening of the trees to a vision of red rock and ribbons of ridges green and brown stretching into the hazy distance. If I don’t even know why I’m happy out here, on the trail and in towns, how can I answer the question “why?”
For those keeping track and confused about where I am: I’ve hiked all of Washington SOBO, I’ve hiked all but 235 miles of Oregon SOBO (or 8 days at Puff Puff pace), and I didn’t have to skip any part of California SOBO so far (fire forced many SOBOs to skip from Ashland, OR to Etna, CA). I’ve hiked 1100 miles so far.