August 20 (~06:40 – ~12:00 / ~16:15 – ~20:15)
After Snowbank Spring – before Painted Rock trail junction (24.9 mi / Total: 1143.6 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2224.0
Weather: Cold in the morning. Then warm, with lots of wind at high elevation.
I need to make one last town stop before South Lake Tahoe, which means that today I’m headed into Truckee to pick up a little more food for my last few days in Northern California. I have 15 miles to walk in the morning, and when I start my day in the cold, high country, I try and move as fast as possible, hurrying as though it’s only 5 miles away.
I make my way into the new light and magnificent mountainscapes, then through the expansive meadows that are littered with infinite boulders. I go up and down in elevation until I hit Castle Pass, and then I’m able to run down, while trying to avoid all the day hikers that suddenly emerge. Having all these people close by is stressful, and once a place goes touristy I lose interest. I mostly stop taking pictures – it feels less special when thousands of people are taking pictures of the same thing. Nevertheless, the amount of boulders in the landscape only increase and it’s really quite spectacular. By the time I reach Donner Pass, lots of people are rock climbing nearby.
Donner Pass is where I can hitch into Truckee. The road is quiet, and I position myself next to the road, looking as hopeful and happy as I can muster, but the few cars that pass aren’t stopping. Then a car pulls into the parking lot, and I recognise the PCT stickers, and the guy from the truck yesterday comes out.
I found Pasha, he says, and a hiker emerges from the shotgun seat, and it’s not the raging madman from yesterday. That was a crazy person, I think.
While Pasha sorts out his gear, the driver offers to take me into Truckee if I’m still hitching by the time they’re done, but just then a girl pulls out of the parking lot, and offers me a ride into town. Perfect! She’s she just been for a trail run and we have a great chat, and exchange contact details. She drops me off at the Safeway, where I’m too frazzled and awkward to do any shopping until I decide to pick up a coffee from the in-house Starbucks and get the clever idea to wear my wind jacket over my dirty white top – everyone is looking at me as if I’m a complete bum.
I do an odd resupply. It’s only for two days, and I bring bread, ramen, vegetables and jam. A little bit of everything. Then I go to the Starbucks next door and charge my electronics while I send some messages to people, pack up everything in the burning heat outside, and walk down the road for a spot to hitch – a little further out because of all the roadworks.
There are so many cars I’m sure everyone will think I’m homeless and I anticipate the hitch will take a while – but I’m wrong. Within ten minutes a woman stops, who’s taking her three dogs to a lake for a swim. My first hitch with dogs – I’m terrible with dogs, but apart from the hairs flying around, they stay quiet in the back and the woman, Holly, even invites me to ice cream. Then she leaves me at the trailhead where I sit on a big stone and finish my blueberry cone. What a way to get back on trail.
When I continue it’s after 4, and I’ve essentially lost 4 hours to town. For some reason I underestimated the time I would lose to resupply stops along this stretch, and I’m constantly forced to up my mileage because I didn’t account for the shortened hiking days. I always think, or hope, I can be in and out of town within a few hours, but that’s just not the case. I realise it’s unlikely I’ll be able to do 30 miles today, so I hope for 25, and force myself up the immediate steep incline towards Mt Judah, where I still manage to bypass all the dayhikers without packs. Once I’m at the top I continue along the PCT, the trail spacious and exposed, still higher and higher.
I can see where the path leads in the distance, and I like being able to watch where I’ll be going – first around Anderson Peak, then towards Tinker Knob, and the trail follows a sharp ridge with a sudden drop, and the fierce wind gets stronger and stronger, until I have to crouch down next to a rock to put on more layers for warmth.
After Tinker Knob I can finally descend and I feel great, running through these flowery fields, until I reach a playground of rock, and hop skip down to the tentsites near Painted Rock trail. Just before it gets too dark I spot a flat space in the sand next to the trail, just 0.2 mile before my intended place to sleep. I look down at my destination and hesitate for a moment, but it looks nicer here, and I decide to stay.
I’ve selected yet another spot higher up, away from the forest. I’m happy. The best thing about this is that I don’t need to worry about bears. Not that this is a scientific observation – it’s just that whenever I’ve seen a bear it’s in a forest hugging a tree. I don’t think bears care about views too much, so in my mind, these exposed spots are safe. Not that a bear would do much to me anyways, but I’d rather not have one poking it’s nose into my vestibule, looking for food. Either way, my theory proves correct for tonight – it’s so quiet all I hear are the moths flying against the fabric of my tent. It’s a beautiful night.