Keeping tabs on my movements

To let family and friends back home know that all is well, each day I’ve been using a Garmin InReach to send my nights camp location to them.

If you haven’t heard of an InReach check them out. No I’m not sponsored.

A company called Delorme used to own InReach, making a two way satellite communicator that allowed text messages to be sent back and forth from most places on the planet using the Irridium satellite network, the same as a sat phone.

A few years ago Garmin bought Delorme out and integrated the InReach with a GPS unit.

Anyway, long story short my location at the end of the day is sent from my InReach with a short message basically saying ‘everything is good, this is where I am’.

I learned today that my young nephews are tracking my trip progress at home with a big map and moving a Lego character each day. I thought that was so cool and had to share it.

This is what I received this afternoon:

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Day 67: Halfway to Canada!!

Mile 1318.0 to 1331.3 (13.3 miles, 21.4 km)

Hitch into Chester.

True to form as the track notes suggested deer activity was rampant last night. I’m not sure how many but hooves could be heard all night and very close to tents. Camel finds that his tent peg bag and hat have disappeared.

We part ways and I later find his hat saturated in deer saliva and torn to shreds as they’ve chewed the salt clean out of said hat. Other hikers have their pole handles chewed up.

I had two things on my mind today – reach the halfway marker and get into Chester.

It was an easy 5 miles to the halfway mark and such a relief to reach such a big milestone. I had mixed feelings. It was really good to be closer to Canada than Mexico now but boy did it sink in what a big journey this trip is. It’s long and I’m getting tired but want to see it through. I know I have it in me both physically and mentally. It is this stage of the game that the mental aspect kicks in. We’re halfway through but still in California and still only half way. It’s like reaching a mountain summit but knowing you still have to get back down.

The small post marking the midway point wasn’t that impressive for such a milestone. That’s OK. It’s something tangible to teach and means so much.

It’s amazing to think that this three foot wide patch of dirt extends 1325 miles south to the Mexican border and the same north to Canada.

On a high after passing the midway point I pretty much flew down the gradual descent to the highway to hitch into Chester. I don’t recall much of the walk other than it was fairly easy.

Reaching the highway I held my thumb out for about 30 mins with no success. Lots of traffic in the opposite direction and no one was stopping for me on the way into town. So adopting a new strategy I held a thumb out with hand and a wad of cash in the other.

A stream of traffic rolls by and one vehicle pulls up. A black and white cruiser with blue and red flashing lights. It’s the highway patrol. Oh boy, I’m in trouble here I think. I’m not sure if hitching in California is legal or not but it’s the only way to get around.

The officer gets out, approached and says ‘I can take you in town, I just need to move some stuff for your pack.’ Relief. I’m not in trouble with the law in a foreign country.

I jump in and we talk happily the whole way into town. A shotgun and AR15 sit in the centre console.

Pulling up in town was hilarious. There is a laundromat and pay shower that most hikers hit up when entering town and there are a bunch sitting out the front as the car pulls up and I jump out, shaking hands with the officer. Best hitch so far.

So, a half day in town to get cleaned up, fed , resupplied and laundered.

This is a pack spill looks like in a motel room. I’m amazed all the time that this all fits in my pack.

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Day 66: A New Gear Found

Mile 1286.5 to mile 1318.0 (31.5 miles, 50.7km)

Good call to camp by the river last night. I was pretty much on my own last night and walking through Belden town cement last nights decision. There was definitely a party in town last night. The aftermath of a rave was was in your face. Sleeping bodies poking out of vans; tents pitched on every available piece of ground; empty alcohol bottles strewn around; and trash cans overflowing with garbage. Small hippy store fronts shutdown for the night and portaloos lining the street.

Crossing the bridge across the main river I ran into Camel leaving town at the same time. It’s 6am in the morning. I haven’t seen Camel since Agua Dulce and the desert beyond. His hiking partner is off trail. Camel is from Israel, young and 2 years out of the army, searching for the next chapter in life while on the PCT.

We climb all morning. Steep in short sections, otherwise a gradual but steady climb up. 14 miles to gain 5000ft in elevation.

A few hours in and we reach the Lassen National Forest. Lots of rivers on the ascent that meant less water needed to be lugged up hill. Walking through pines for most of the way with volcanic rocks spread across the ground. Up. Up. Always up for the next few hours.

Reaching the high point we find cell service. It’s just after midday. Add the two together and it was a no brainer – time for lunch. This high point is also the 1300 mile mark. Just 32 more to the midway point of the PCT but we won’t get there today.

The afternoon session for me was all about setting up for a hitch into Chester. Camel has enough food to reach Old Station, a tiny highway stop that has just enough to resupply from a gas station to enable one to get through the hiker friendly town of Burney. I weigh my options up. I could probably stretch me food to go the distance to Old Town but that would mean staying on trail for another 4 days to reach Burney.

I really want to get into town for a short half day break and I really need to wash my clothes. They’ve been rinsed in creeks on the way through but haven’t been truely washed since South Lake Tahoe. They are filthy and smell bad. Rinsing in creek water is just not going to cut for another short stretch. They are filthy and stink of sweet and grim.

I’ve also been doing bigger miles, finding a new gear in the legs and mind that has seen me consistently push through the 30 mile mark for 4 or 5 days now. I want to keep this up but I could do with a shorter day tomorrow.

Pressing on after lunch we hit a road junction a few miles in and find a local trail runner set up with a cooler of drinks. All the beers gone and only 2 Cokes left. Perfect. We’ll take it on this hot day.

There were some great views over Mt Lassen and a glimpse of Mt Shasta in the far distance before afternoon haze blanketed it from view.

Late afternoon knowing I’d be slower I moved in front of Camel I took off only to get stuck behind a Boy Scout troop on a steeply benched track with no room to move shortly after. I had eyes on a camp site only another 1 mile away but I think the scouts did too. I got in front and reached the camp thinking I had walked 33 miles for the day. It wasn’t that great a spot and other scouts were there. I was exhausted and pretty much done for the day until Camel arrives announcing its only 29 for the day and convinces me to push on another 2.2 to a camp site further up. Leaving the scout troop to the site we pushed on. The young kids were in awe of the small packs and boasts of 30 mile days.

The last mile was a grind but we got there in good spirits just on dusk. Enough time to get tents set up. There was meant to be a spring at the camp site but it turns out it’s another half mile down hill. I have enough and I’m not going down there. Camel, true to form (see below) is completely out and has no option to do another mile, albeit without a pack.

Track notes for the camp warn about lots of Mule Deer during the nights, craving anything with salt and notorious for being very brave and steeling any sweaty gear left lying around. They have been known to chew trekking pole handles, clothes to pieces and try to steel backpacks. Everything would go into my tent tonight.

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Camel – in true ultralight form carries the minimum amount of water, often running out.

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Day 65: Towards Beldon Town

Mile 1258.8 to mile 1286.5 (27.7 miles, 44.6km)

Plus 2 miles (Bucks Lake Alternate)

It was an overcast and humid start to the day. Thick cloud tempered the usual bright rising sun. The air was heavy and it felt like it could rain today.

A few quick miles in on the PCT and I hit the bitumen. There is a 6.5 mile alternate route that can be taken towards Buck Lake, adding 2 miles on top of what the PCT distance would be. There isn’t much at Bucks Lake but they do have a general store that sells breakfast burritos, snacks and other stuff. It was with this in mind that I choose to take the alternative. There is also a resort that offers hikers a free beer but I was way too early for that.

I reached the store around 8:30 and I inhaled my second breakfast, a big fat breakfast burrito with eggs, mince and beans. Of course this had to be accompanied by a coffee. Not a cafe style coffee, just the usual drip created stuff but it would do. While the opportunity was there I also grabbed a Dr Peppers (I live this stuff), some jalapeño chips and a chocolate bar.

Key members of the local volunteer fire brigade were having a chin wag. They are hosting a pancake breakfast tomorrow which was advertised on the road sides on large posters. They exchanged pleasantries with me enquiring about the trail and how things were going; and I introduced myself as a forest firefighter from Australia. I got talking to the chief and ended up trading patches with him. I’ve been carrying some patches from work with me from the start with the idea of trading them with fire folk I meet along the way, to add to my collection hanging on my work desk.

Leaving the general store I met Baby Blanket. He had just come from the store but forgot the one thing he went there for – batteries. We would both try and hitch the rest of the alternate back to the trail head. I continued on alone, while he went back to the store.

Walking around Bucks Lake it reminds me of the perfect set for a horror movie. Lots of weekend cabins built right on the waters edge and small boats moored to short jetties. Mixed in were the really lovely cottages I could picture myself living in and the new expensive waterside builds gated off.

I didn’t pick up a hitch and ended walking the whole alternate. I was taking a break at the trail head, drinking my Dr Peppers and putting sun screen on when Baby Blanket arrived in the back of a pick up. Damn. I should have waited and got a ride out.

We walked and talked for most of the afternoon, sharing a similar pace which was great. It was good to have a partner in crime for a while. But it wouldn’t last. I can climb all day but come long descents my pace slows quite a bit and we had a massive descent coming up. I let Baby Blanket jump in front and being probably half my age he bounded away like a squirrel down the hill. Me, relying quite heavily on the aid of my walking poles I took my time. It was a killer. It was the complete reverse of the climb up at the end of yesterday. This thing was mega steep, cut out of the hill side at the maximum grade the trail builders were allowed I suspect. It was a long slow grind down.

Even before reaching town, on the descent down, you could hear the phat bass of dance music bouncing off the surrounding hills. Another hiker heading in the opposite direction confirmed it ‘There’s a big party in town. It’s crazy.’ I was hoping to get a room in the pub for the night. I made a call and they also confirmed ‘Nothing available. There is an event on.’ What to do?

My feet were aching by the time I got down to Belden. Crossing the railway tracks and making my way to the river I called it quits for the day. There is going to be train traffic and noise from the highway on the opposite side of the river but it will beat the loud all night music from in town. Tomorrow is going to be another killer. A 14mile climb straight up the other side of the valley and rest is important.

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Baby Blanket – started the trail with a really ultralight quilt against all advice and froze every night for the first couple of weeks. When showing people what he was using they asked ‘What is that. It’s like a baby blanket.’

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Day 64: Sounds of Summer

Mile 1227.1 to 1258.8 (31.7 miles, 51km)

A very warm over night.

I hit the trail to the rising sun peaking over the mountain horizon on the opposite side of the valley. Walking through tall pines decorated in the brightest moss their whole length, sunlight broken by the canopy and casting dappled light on the trail in front. A nice way to start the day.

The sound of summer was in the air most of the day with the high pitch ringing of cicadas or similar bugs out in force. Not sure if they are cicadas or not. Bright displays from richly decorated butterfly’s displaying vibrant oranges and large black and white ones. I should be more up to speed than I am with all the different trees, flowers and wildlife. It’s a work in progress.

The terrain was perfect during the morning, allowing a good speed and lots of ground covered. Early on the trail even followed along several ridge lines offering commanding views.

Towards the afternoon though the trail turned into a green tunnel of sorts. Moving through a mix of oak and pine, always on the contour, tree branches drooped over the trail offering few views other than the narrow three foot wide stretch of dirt that is the PCT.

It looks like we are moving through a previously harvested area. On multiple occasions the trail followed along old, reclaimed forest roads. The untrained eye would just view these sections as really well constructed sections of trail but the forester in me quickly picks up on the wide bench and batter of an old forest road.

In the afternoon it was a hell descent and to be honest was I fairly bored with the what we were walking through. Long, unchanging scenery through a green tunnel, it was a challenge to stay motivated. I knew there was an opportunity for a swim coming up and pushed myself towards the river lying at the bottom of the hill, not before stopping at a creek to pick up some ice cold water.

A large bridge spans the Fowler River, sitting way up high. The river obviously floods to crazy levels as massive dead tree was sitting perched on boulders around 10m above the water line. I picked my way down to the river, finding a nice large eddy to jump in for a swim. There was a lot of current in the main flow of the Fowler so I stuck close by the sides. Still the swimming hole was fairly deep, around 5 metres.

I ‘washed’ some clothes (read rinsed) but it wouldn’t matter. Once crossing the bridge and onto the other side of the river I was faced with a really steep 7 mile climb up to gain 3000ft. All that rinsed out sweat just went right back in.

On the ascent I saw two King Snakes I think they are, banded with red, black and white stripes. I wasn’t sure about the snake situation in NorCal. I thought we had finished with snakes once we hit the Sierra but they are obviously out here. Just not sure about rattlers.

The massive up hill at end of day was a slog and grinding me down. I would have camped much earlier if I had had water. My reserves from the Fowler were dry and the only source was up high from a spring. It was a relief to reach the spring. Draughting deep from the refreshing water, I filled my bottles and climbed the remaining mile to one of the few flat areas where I could pitch my tent.

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Day 63: Independence Day

Mile 1195.4 to mile 1227.1 (31.7 miles, 51km)

Plus 1.4 miles from town to trail

I unintentionally did a 33 mile day today.

Feeling great and in good spirits after a relaxing half day I decided to push it a little bit today. Typically I have a location in mind to call it quits for the day. Today was different. I did not really have any specific place in mind to finish and thought I would just keep walking until around 7pm or until my feet told me they had had enough.

Well, 7pm rolled around well before my feet said quit. It stays light here until around 9pm now so still a couple of hours of light left in the day but I checked my maps and realised I’d already hiked 33 mile for the day. Wow! A new PB and still feeling good. 33 is enough and on finding a flattish spot to pitch my tent I stopped.

Starting the day was a bit tough. Leaving the comfort of a soft bed and heading back out on trail is always challenging. I’d love to stay another day and sleep in, wait for the shops to open to grab a cooked breakfast and hot coffee. (Not sure if they are actually opening today though as it’s Independence Day.) The moment that starts happening though is the moment this hike is over. It would be easy to do short days all the time, laze in town and take more time but I won’t reach Canada doing that. Those type of holidays are for another occasion. I’ve past far too many people still averaging 15 mile days which is going to make it real hard for them to reach the end if they stay on trail. I keep hearing that pace will lift further in Oregon – I hope so.

I had a 1.4 mile road walk out of town and then a 7 mile climb to gain 1500 ft in elevation. I made the right call in staying the night in town and tackling this climb in the morning. It was tough and felt like it took forever. Climbing this hill towards the Sierra Buttes in the afternoon sun would have been much harder work. Midway up there were some great views looking back into the narrow valley and the Sierra City township.

The trail took on a new flavour from here on which I’ve heard will the be the norm for quite a while – after climbing one hill the trail descends straight down to a valley and back up to another hill. All in all, I think this happened 4 times today.

Views were mixed with some ridge top views but mostly the trail stayed on the contour not really taking you to any summits as such. The grading is certainly nice and it makes climbing so much easier.

I forgot to put my sun gloves on today. I’m not sure how I forgot as they form a permanent piece of my uniform. The price paid? Both hands sunburnt.

A big one today that I’m really happy with. I might see if I can go another 30 tomorrow and if they becomes the new norm that will be awesome.

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Day 62: Sierra City half day.

Mile 1187.0 to mile 1195.4. (8.4 miles, 13.5km)

Plus 1.4 into Sierra City (too short to bother trying to hitch)

I had the worst, restless nights sleep last night. Surrounding the camp area where we stayed the pine needles and branches are thick so that anything that moves off the hardened surface of the trail or the camp area makes a huge racket. Around 10pm a couple of hikers roll into camp shinning head torches all over the place (tent material is not thick), trampling all over, snapping twigs and making a huge noise. Then they decide to set up. I swear they deliberately had everything packed in the most crinkliest plastic bags known to man.

Then all through the night the sounds of large animals moving around and through the camp, very close to tents. My immediate thought is a bear. When I hear footsteps around 20m from my tent I grab my head torch and shine it out into the darkness to pick up the red eyes and large body…. of a deer. Phew! Not a bear. Relax and try to go back to sleep.

It seems the deer here like licking up the salt from hikers wee. Through the night you can hear the sounds of tent flys opening, people’s footsteps crunching the ground as they head out for a leak; tent fly closing again and then a rush of deer hooves breaking sticks to locate a fresh batch of number ones and get stuck in. What ever you fancy I guess.

With lack of sleep I slept in by hiker standards not waking until 6am. Excited for some town food I was on the move within half an hour.

It was an easy mornings walk into Sierra City, a one street, sleepy town with not much happening.

The gathering point for hikers is the Sierra City Country Store. It seems to be only place open, with many stores closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

A line of hikers fill the seats out the front of the store. Packs and trekking poles lining the side of the building. Everyone in grubby clothes and filthy legs. Most dark and tanned (unfortunately not me). Trail runners and Dirty Girl Gaiters form part of the uniform. All wearing smiles. Many with faces planted into mobile devices as they locate the wifi password.

We are patiently waiting for the slow service but very tasting burgers and milkshakes from the store.

Many hikers are diving into resupply boxes, remembering what they had sent themselves, sorting out what will stay and what they are sick of, throwing into the hiker box for others to have. The hikers on a tight budget hover like vultures around the hiker box, watching and diving in to grab the discarded food items before someone else does.

My Gut Buster burger and chocolate shake come out. A hearty meal that will fuel me all day until dinner. One of the best shakes I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.

I sent myself a box of food a few weeks back. It is possible to buy a full resupply from the store but it has a limited selection and is well overpriced. That is fine. You expect that in such a small town. I will go through my box later and supplement food items from the store.

First I had to locate my box in amongst the hundred other boxes there. It wasn’t like the post office where they find your box for you. It was a case of having to sort through the boxes yourself. Huge piles had to be shifted and gone through one by one to find mine. I’m fine with this but gee it places so much trust in everyone doing the right thing. It was clear from the brands on the sides of boxes that hikers had sent themselves new packs, walking poles, shoes etc… There was little control and no system at all for storing in an easy to find way. Anyone could walk in and walk out with a box. The store didn’t even want to see ID to ensure that I grabbed only my box. It’s great that they even accept so many resupply boxes to begin with but I would have liked to have seen more controls in place. Anyway my box is there unmolested and all is well. Another 6 days of food.

I’ve found a great place to stay for the night at the Buttes Resort that has small cabins with a bathroom and kitchenette for $100. Very cute little cabins. I can picture myself building something like this in the wilds and living contently. Most hikers will camp for free in the local church yard tonight with cold showers if they can brave it. Hot (and cold) water on tap for me tonight. Although no laundry so it looks like I’ll have a very long shower to wash clothes as well.

An awesome deck with a perfect view. Some wildfire smoke haze about.

It’s Triple T day at a restaurant and bar across the road – Tunes and Tacos on Tuesday. Looking forward to that.

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