August 3 (~15:00 – ~18:30)
Seiad Valley store (mi 1656.0) – Grider Creek Campground (6.5 mi / Total: 1649.5 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1841.9
Weather: Burning hot.
After a day and a half off in Ashland, it’s time to get back to the trail, and time to finish Northern California. I hiked the Seiad Valley to Ashland section at the end of May, when the higher elevations were still covered in snow, when everyone I met was quitting the trail, and when I woke up after a snowstorm to a foot of fresh snow. Everything is different now, the snow is gone, and I’m looking at another flip down to continue south. Seiad Valley is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, over 70 miles away, and I’m not looking forward to the long, awkward hitch down.
I make myself a sign in the motel’s reception that may end up more confusing than intended: ‘PCT hiker -> I5 -> R96 -> Seiad Valley’ and walk down the road, closer to the edge of town, where the traffic thins out.
Despite my confusing sign to a destination no one’s ever heard of, a runner comes by and tells me he’d be quite happy to help out a PCT hiker. Although he doesn’t know where Seiad Valley is, he tells me he’ll drive me if I’m still here in half an hour. I doubt he’d drive me all the way once he finds out how far it actually is, but I never find out because a mother and daughter on their way to Etna pick me up, and drop me off at the junction with route 96, and I find myself hitching in the same spot I was months ago, in the blazing sun, on an empty road. From there I get a ride from two locals who look a little rough around the edges – but that’s what people look like around here, and it turns out to be a nice hitch. One of them does woodworking and shows me a ton of pictures of things he’s made once he finds out I’m a designer. After the long, windy drive they drop me off in front of the café, and there I am once again, but this time as a southbounder.
I wasn’t planning on staying, but I can’t help but go into the café for coffee, a milkshake and a chicken sandwich, and afterwards I sit outside, trying to use the slow WiFi to download some Netflix.
By the time I set off it’s 3pm, and it’s hot. The men in the truck told me the temperatures
would rise past 100 degrees, and while I’m not quite sure how much that is in Celcius, I do know that I’m close to dying. There’s a 6.5 mile road walk first, one of the very few road walks on the PCT, and then there’s a steep ascend, another 17 miles or so with some 5500 ft elevation gain. There’s a similar ascend on the other side, which I did as a northbounder in an afternoon, just a little steeper but shorter, and a little less high. It was also painfully hot then, so I’m hoping I’ll at least get halfway up the mountain for a good half day of hiking.
But it’s not quite meant to be. The heat wears me out instantly, and I just can’t progress, at all. I drop down next to the road every few miles, everything overheated, wishing I never have to get up again, and I’m growing more and more frustrated. I can’t decide if my new shoes are too big and I keep having to tighten them. When I aim to lean against a rock I manage to roll my ankle and both fall forward in the gravel onto my knees, before being pulled backwards by my overly heavy pack.
I’m in pain, my knee is bleeding and I’ve had it for the day. I try and clean the wound and pull out the bits of dust and gravel, and sit next to the empty road until I manage to get up again. The only thing that keeps me going is picking the dust covered berries next to the road, and when I reach the deserted campground at the start of the big climb, it’s already 6:30.
My mood isn’t very good, but I feel like I need to keep on walking – I don’t have the time left for such short days. I could do another 4 miles, but then I do the math – at this point, it won’t help me get to the next town any faster whatsoever. It’s a lost cause. I can just as well stay and at least try to have a restful night, and hope for a better day tomorrow.
So I do. I set up my tent and enjoy the fact that I’m not walking anymore, and then I spot the black bear stumbling down the mountain on the other side of the river, which runs next to the tentsites. For a moment I wonder if I should keep going after all but no, I’m not leaving now. Some time later I go to the bathroom, and as I walk back, I suddenly see a big black bear in the middle of an overgrown fenced in area, presumably for horses, some of the timber slats broken, and I stand there, stunned by the bear and the fact that I’m just there with nothing to protect me, and the bear raises its head at me, and bolts. For a moment I’m afraid it’s running towards me, but it tears away in the opposite direction, breaking through the timber fence.
I wonder if it was the same bear I saw earlier, or if there are two, and now I worry about them coming back to nose around for my food during the night. I take everything out of my vestibule and keep it inside my tent, and when I notice movement later on outside I’m relieved to find it’s not a bear but another hiker setting up – and I stop worrying altogether. Bears are never that scary with other people around.