Hellllllloooo Oregon! After three months of walking, eating, sleeping, and pooping in California we have arrived in Oregon. I am getting ahead of myself though. I will start back where I miraculously healed in Mt. Shasta, California.
After Elena left Chester to get back on the trail, I made my way by public transportation and hitching to the quaint little town of Mt. Shasta. I was resting on a bench with my house, food, clothes, and all my other belongings (my pack) when a vagabond sat next to me with his dog. We began to talk. He introduced himself as ‘Dirt’ and his dog, who was a mix between a dingo, a coyote, and a pitbull, as Alabama. When he heard that I was injured, he said that he had something for me. Dirt pulled out a bottle with an herbal tincture that he had created and instructed me to squirt some down the back of my throat. Last time that I had an injury similar to this, it took a month to recover with a walking boot so my morale was rather low. Maybe if I hadn’t been so tired or bummed about my shin or desperate for a remedy I wouldn’t have taken it, but as it was I took the dropper and gave myself a liberal squirt. For the next couple of hours I received a lecture on time, being, ego, and the interconnectedness of the universe as well as being treated to an energetic bluegrass concert from this wanderer named Dirt.
Later, I was picked up by our family friend, Weston, and taken to his house. I owe many thanks to Weston for being a wonderful host and to the Stroud family for allowing me to recover at their awesomely off-the-grid, solar powered home. I awoke the morning after taking Dirt’s homemade medicine and thought I was dreaming. Even when I would try to induce pain in my shin it refused to hurt. A 100% recovery overnight. I do not know if the healing was due to Dirt’s potion, which I thought could only be produced by Professor Snape, or if my body is better at repairing itself after months of continual damage. I am exceedingly grateful either way. After spending the better part of a week around Mt. Shasta, which is reminiscent of a naked Mt. Rainier, I met back up with Elena near Castle Crags State Park.
We ascended up from the I-5 corridor to an elevation where we looked eye to eye with the crags. The Castle Crags are tall granite spires which poke out of the rolling hills of Northern California. It’s as if a small part of Kings Canyon National Park was transplanted and placed just south of Mt. Shasta. From here the trail followed many ridges northwest. The forecast for the next few days called for likely thunderstorms which greatly excited Elena, as usual. Unfortunately for her the PCT was built underneath blue skies. Over the course of the next day we avoided the rain completely, but when we looked at where we just were or where we were going there were ominous thunderheads and streaks of rainfall.
The same day that we managed to evade the rain was the same day that the trail led south. Around the Trinity Alps the PCT takes a U-turn and leads you towards Mexico for 30 miles. Imagine a teacher asking you to write a paragraph for an essay in class and then telling you “Okay now erase that paragraph, but write it again once you have erased it.” That is kind of what it felt like to turn our compass rose around and then continue cruising. As with all things, the frustration ended when we decided that the whole hiking south deal was so absurd that it was hilarious. Nothing defeats anger quite like some light humor. We attained a northward bearing again and made an unexpected hitch in to Etna under cloudy skies.
Elena and I ran out of batteries and wanted some food so we figured Etna would be a pleasant stop. After we filled our bellies, restocked our snacks, and charged our electronics, we arranged a shuttle to get back up to the trail. Once we reached Etna Summit we took our packs and were immediately entranced by the view. On the horizon was a dense mixture of clouds and smoke from the Salmon Fire. The clouds and haze were salmon pink as if they were on fire as well.
We were so awestruck that Elena didn’t even realize that her phone did not make it out of Etna. We flagged down a ride for the fourth time that day and rode down to Etna with the man who was in charge of the fire camp near the fire. Now I will take a time-out to recall a couple of other instances when Elena forgot an instrumental piece of gear. Day 7: Elena forgot her solar charger at a trail angel’s house and did not realize until we had camped 2 miles away. This made for a refreshing starry run under the full moon to retrieve the charger, as I was the only one in our party who was not in some sort of pain. Day 15: Elena forgot her poles at another trail angel’s house. The trail angel was kind enough to take us back to the house to pick them up. I became frustrated the first time it happened, but then I noticed that some of my favorite conversations and moments occurred during these unplanned trips. They are what make this trip an adventure. These unexpected happenings allow me to not think about what just happened or what will happen, but to be in the moment which is conducive to being more immersed in the experience at hand.
The next morning we returned to Etna Summit to begin hiking again. Armadas of fire trucks drove by us and helicopters buzzed by overhead. This was a war zone and the enemy was the fire. At first, all of the activity inspired and excited me, but then it left me a little hollow. All of these firefighters had a distinct purpose in being there and doing what they were doing; to fight the fire. I, on the other hand, am walking from Mexico to Canada without the same type of purpose. I now see that a balance is necessary between pastimes done for oneself and activities done for a cause greater than oneself. For the next couple of days, Elena and I slowly descended down to Seiad Valley. Walking through all of the smoke was eerie as we could only make out the outlines of the nearby hills and Marblehead Mountains.
After watching some people attempt the pancake challenge in Seiad Valley, in which a person must eat 5, 1-pound pancakes in two-hours, we began the steep ascent back to the mountains. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve that night as I was trying to fall asleep. The next day we would cross the border into Oregon. We did not realize how big California is until we had to walk across it. We woke up early and started to hike under the stars since our excitement wouldn’t allow us to sleep anymore. During mid-morning we met a woman who had sold her home four years prior and had been traveling ever since. She told us of its rewards and we could feel her happiness emanating all around. On the PCT we have met many folks who haven’t followed the status quo lifestyle of going to school and then getting a career. Lots of these people work seasonal jobs, find work where they travel, or have other ways of supporting themselves. To them, the idea of working to support a lifestyle in which it is necessary to work seems like a pointless cycle. Instead these people find ways to do what they want to do even if it means sacrificing some comfortable securities like having a home. They don’t lack work ethic or ambition, they just see life differently. Everyday is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the world and all its curiosities for them and from what I perceive they are all the happier for it.
Elena and I reached the border a little after midday. I pulled out the bottle of champagne I had been carrying since Seiad Valley and tried to pop the top, but the top just fell off without an exciting pop. In the same way, reaching the border was a huge achievement for us, but we had no rush of elation or overpowering sense of joy. Similar to the midpoint, reaching the Oregon border was an anti-climactic experience, one that is more exciting conceptually than in reality. According to old, wise Elena, many things in life turn out that way. I, young, foolish Gus, am learning the value of the much used cliche that it is the journey that matters most, not the destination. It was only then that I was able to look back on all of California, including the desert, with a fond mind. I guess that through the haze of nostalgia even unpleasant experiences can be remembered with an ounce of appreciation.
Fuelled by a bottle of champagne, pounds of gummy candy, the fresh Oregon air and the blood orange moon, Elena and I walked through the night until we found a nice rocky stream bed to sleep on. We slept 40 miles from where we awoke that day. The following morning we walked east towards I-5 again. In Ashland, our Oma and Opa treated us to some Shakespeare, some good food, and plenty of much needed rest. It was a wonderful treat and we are grateful for it.
Thanks once again to everyone who has supported us in any manner whether it is words, thoughts, rides, food, or any other help. Also, Elena and I are nearing our goal in our PCT: Promoting Community Transformation fundraiser! If you are unsure what this is or would like to donate, check it out at http://ettaprojects.seeyourimpact.org/.
See you soon Washington!