Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Sunday, August 31, 2008
"We asked, but he said he didn't want to come up."
We climb in our tents and get ready to go to sleep, but Greybeard's still rooting around outside. It sounds like he's taking a piss like he usually does in the morning, but I don't think much of it. Then when he still doesn't get in his tent, I remember he asked us if we ot Nomad up, which is usually Greybeard's job in the morning. I'm thinking he thinks it's morning, but I feel bad asking him, not wanting to insult the guy, so I keep my mouth shut.
"Now wait a minute..." Greybeard stops in his tracks, wondering out loud to himself.
"What time is it?" he asks us.
"Well kiss my royal American. I thought my watch said 5:00."
And he climbed back into his tent and went to sleep.
The thing is just a giant piece of granite sticking straight up in the middle of a valley. One side is sheer cliff face, straight up a few thousand feet and the only way to get up it is to rock climb.
The back side, the easier side, has stairs cut right into the face and you can see the scars where the workers cut into the stone with jack hammers or claws or whatever rock cutting tool they used to build the thing. No fine finish on this one.
There's a nice false summit a few hundred feet below the actual top with some gorgeous camping spots that we had planned on using until a thunderstorm rolled in.
The weather on this trip had been nothing other than the epitome of good weather. Blue skies, sun, mild temperatures. Probably what you'll get if you make it to heaven, but last time I talked to god he said your chances are looking pretty grim.
First damn day of summer and the sky looking one way is blue, smattered with fluffy white clouds, and the other is a black and gray ceiling of about-to-rain.
It looked horrible, but we kept trudging up and up and up, climb all the way to the false summit, pick out camp sites and then we watch a single bolt of lightning strike way off in the middle of the woods somewhere.
If we had actually been at the good campsites (we stopped 100 yards short and didn't see them until later), we would have stayed. Flat, big and protected by trees. About as good as you can get for storm protection up there.
But without said information, we chose option B and dropped down a couple hundred feet. Sure enough when we got to our spot (off the trail to the left and surrounded by trees) it started raining. None of us were completely set up, but we did our best and pulled everything inside our tents before the worst of it started. It really wasn't that bad of a set up and it was actually enjoyable relaxing and listening to the rain.
So there we are, all five of us cozy in our tents, some sleeping, others reading, journaling or some other activity that we turned to because we pitched so early.
I end up having beef jerky, peanuts, cookies and peanut butter M&Ms for dinner while reading about John Muir's adventures in the Sierras.
After a while Slider calls over to me, "Hey Thrust, what's the sky look like?" It had stopped raining, but I figured it was probably still crappy out so I never bothered to look until he asked. Wouldn't you know, back to normal. Clear and blue.
As soon as I told him, Slider started gearing up to make a climb to catch the sunset and figuring that since who the hell knows when I'll be back in Yosemite, I decided to go up too.
I said that the easier side has steps cut into it, and that's true, but once you reach the top of the steps, you climb the slope of some uncut rock up to a flat area, at the end of which you make the final push to the top.
Back before Half Dome had ever been summited, people thought it was literally impossible to climb, and truthfully I could see why. But in 1875, some guy went up there with a bunch of metal poles, cut one hole after another, inserting the metal poles into them and leaning against the one he had just inserted while he cut the hole for the next. And he did that all the way to the top.
I don't know how the guy did it. First of all it was pretty scary walking up even with cables to hold on to. I couldn't imagine sitting there chipping away at some rock leaning against a pole hundreds of feet above the approach below. And that's if you fell straight down. Go to either side and it's thousands of feet to the valley floor. Have fun!
One tip: don't try to climb as fast as you possibly can. The summit is higher than you think and if you're thru hiking, it's the first time you've really used your arms in months. Suffice it to say I was a bit out of breath at the top.
There were maybe five others up there waiting for sunset and two of them were lovely ladies who had apparently just finished posing naked. At least that's what they said we'd find if we checked out their camera, which unfortunately they didn't let us see.
One was American, the other Swedish and they met in France while they were both working in Paris. They talked to each other in mixed French and English with Zsa Zsa Gabor accents. Funny for a minute, very tired after that.
"Dates la fromage?"
"Ya. Ova here, dahling."
"And where are you from, dahling?"
Me: "New Jersey. Where are you guys from?"
"She is from Sweden, ya, but soon she will be Americain."
And with that, I had had enough of them. You couldn't get a straight answer out of them over anything. Jokes, laughing and crappy accents were all that left their mouths. The one woman's husband served as their interpreter, giving us the old "You see what I have to put up with? Heh heh heh."
But they did offer us some of their dinner - chicken and rice - which made them a little more okay in my book.
I took a modest spoonful, not wanting to take advantage of the guy. Next thing I look over, the guy has his head turned and Slider is shoving a spoonful in his mouth so big that food is falling off.
That's also when I noticed the wine-filled Nalgene that was three quarters empty. So maybe they weren't annoying by nature only, so I guess I can excuse them a bit.
It would have been smart to bring a headlamp for the way down being that we were going up to watch the sunset. Naturally I had nothing and had to rely on my godawful eyesight and Slider's headlamp in front of me which was almost as good as my no headlamp.
Going down - much scarier than going up. Pretty easy to ignore danger when it's behind you, but when it's staring you in the face all the way back to the bottom, that's another story.
It would have been nice to bring some water being that it's a bit of a climb and we were bound to get thirsty. Naturally we brought nothing.
There was a daypack sitting just off the trail the first time we went up, still there when we went down, same going back up the second time and more of the same the second time we came down, evidence enough that it had been abandoned. So like divers to an unexplored shipwreck, we went treasure hunting. Bandaids and a nice unopened bottle of water. I knew there was a reason we didn't bring our own water.
We get back to camp and Gopher asks us if we actually went up there, so we start chatting a bit, maybe a little too loudly.
No sooner did I get a quarter of the way through the Trail Magic post when I decided to go get a late lunch down at Billy Goat's Tavern in the downtown area of Mt. Shasta City. After telling me they were out of my first two choices, I went for the fish tacos.
Right in the middle of the second taco, something in my stomach did a backflip. It went away almost immediately and I just chalked it up to indegestion. Later that night I'd be chalking it up to the work of the Devil.
Two words: liquid fire.
Two more words: lava butt.
And finally two last words: dragonmouth anus.
All night I'd wake up every hour and a half with my intestines very loudly percolating. It felt like jellyfish massing into a Portuguese Man-o-War and heading into my colon to hunt for prey.
The final battle came at 4:30am, after which I was able to sleep until 7:30am and also regained the ability to fully control my bowels and walk at the same time.
Guess I jinxed the good luck.
(Friday July 18, 2008)
I don't know what's with West Coast bumblebees, but they love to hang out on you. One flew on Chickety's hat the other day and was just hanging out. One was sitting on my leg yesterday doing the same thing. And just a minute ago I had to beat two away that insisted on hovering around my head while yelling "You are not my friend! I don't like you." I hit one really hard and he rolled into the street, got up and started flying around again. Weak human strength.
Also, actual guests of the resort gave us beer and food for the trail. Bam!
Another 3/4 of a day later (23 miles well before 4:00) we hit Old Station where the Heitmanns live. They're trail angels who've been supporting hikers for years, so this stop was expected, but no less welcome.
Shower and laundry again (if you're counting, that's an unheard of three days in a row), homecooked dinner and breakfast the next morning, Internet, beer - another great stop.
The Heitmanns also are the ones, along with one other guy, who fill water caches for the Hat Creek Rim section just after Old Station, the hottest, driest, most miserable place on the entire PCT.
And wouldn't you know, the next day, just before we went into the hottest, driest, most miserable portion of the Hat Creek Rim, there is a trailhead parking area where we met a family who is trying to get rid of some extra food. At this point I start shaking my head because I just can't believe it, but can't believe it even more when the mom pulls out this huge bag of roast beef slices. A double take would not have been inappropriate. So we feasted on Skittles, chips, grapes and roast beef. They had Coors Light too, but I didn't want to dehydrate myself or drink a can full of piss water.
The next day we hike eight miles to highway 299 and go into the town of Burney. What is reputed as the hardest hitch on the entire trail takes us a combined total of 30 minutes to get one in and out. J.B., another guy hiking with us, catches a ride from a guy who takes him back to his house and oil wrestles with him in a kiddie pool in his basement...just seeing if you were paying attention...let's him use his shower.
After resupplying and feasting in Burney (forgot to mention that a woman drove up to me Neighbor and Chickety and gave us a bottle of water) we hiked a grueling, body destroying eight miles more to Burney Falls State Park where we camped for free and got to sample all the goodies the park store had to offer (which wasn't all that much different from a 7 Eleven, but still, junk food is junk food).
But the store did have beer, which caused everybody en masse to buy a six pack, all of which were fair game, leading to many a drunk hiker and me writing drunken blog posts for all to read.
Two days later we get to a place along the trail called Ash Camp and there's a guy hanging out there who gives us all yogurt and soda. He also, when Slider tells him about the busted sandals he's wearing, gives him the sandals off of his feet to hike in. The sandals off of his feet! Claimed he didn't like them anyway.
The next day we get to I-5 and a few guys are there ahead of us. Slider met a guy who lived in Mt. Shasta City while hiking who offered to come pick us up and drive us into town.
Sure enough, ten minutes later, the guy pulls up, loads eight of us into his van (a VW Vanagon that is incredible shape for its age) and takes us into town. On the way there he asks us where we're staying, we tell him that we're looking for a cheap place in town, he says, "How about a backyard?"
Lets us camp in his backyard, use his shower and bathroom as we need to and (this one I couldn't believe) tosses the keys on the table on his deck and tells us to use it for whatever we need. Two hours later after posting my bail, he tells me drug running was not what he meant.
Well, this one is true anyway. He and his wife own a spa in town and said we could have massages at a discount, so I ended up getting a 30 minute foot massage and a 25 minute leg massage for $46. Ballin'!
Two nights we ended up staying there, and amazingly that's not the end of it. But the other bit of trail magic happened before all of this and is part of another story that I'll tell you later on.
We pretty much end up plopping down in that spot for five hours or so going in and out of the grocery store as our hunger gets the best of us.
The hotel rates in town are pretty pricey for a small place like Chester, so we're planning on trying to find a spot in town to camp, maybe a park or some woods out of the way. We had our hearts set on this baseball field, but the bathrooms were locked, gates all chained up and signs posted offering rewards for turning in trespassers. Not such a good option.
Not to mention the local cop on duty drove by about three times, very conspicuously checking out us suspicious hikers making sure we weren't dirtying up his nice little mountain community. Once he saw that we had disappeared from our hangout so suddenly, it would have been all the excuse he needed to go on a townwide manhunt and get his picture in the paper.
Who he should have been watching out for was the dirtbag kid that came over wearing a Hooters t-shirt, drinking a large soda and smoking. It must have been his first week smoking because he was coughing the entire time and hocking up some fierce loogies, and doing it considerately in the grass next to us and the creek running behind us. Real upstanding young gentleman.
He overheard us talking about where we were going to stay and offered us spots next to his trailer in the trailer park across the street. Although the trailer wasn't actually there yet, but would be he assured us when his friend came with it later that day.
Naturally his friend shows up trailerless in a white trash mobile. Not that any of us for a second entertained the idea of taking him up on his offer to rob us in the middle of the night.
Either way, I don't know what exactly we were doing there all day. I checked out one hotel and it ended up being $80 per night which would have worked out to $20 per person. Sweet enough deal, but we never attempted to make the reservations even though the place was right across the street.
We chatted up a guy who actually lived at the trailer park where the dirtbag kid claimed to and he told us the place was in the process of being sold and that if we went to the back along the stream that ran next to it, there was plenty of room and no one would bother us.
Seemed like our best option until a guy in a jeep rolls up. He asks us if we need a ride to the trail in the morning (which we do...score) and Neighbor shoots right back at him. "You know of a lawn we could camp on?" Turns out the guy is the manager of the Best Western down the street, which is somehow affiliated with the motel in the adjoining parking lot. Gives us two rooms in the other motel for $60 per night and we get full use of the Best Western's facilities. Basically for us that meant Internet and ransacking the continental breakfast.
And this Best Western was super nice. Way nicer than I expected, and thankfully the aesthetics also carried over to the continental breakfast. Hardboiled eggs, a waffle maker, the sweetest nectar of tropical and non-tropical fruits, pancakes, all kinds of cereal, english muffins, the works. This thing had it all. Presentation surpassed expectations as well. The whole nine yards with linen table cloths. Didn't think we could do any better until...
The Drakesbad Ranch. Not even a full day's hike away. Basically like taking a 3/4 day after a zero. But let me tell you (and I know how I rave about everything on this trail), this place is the best bang for your buck of any place in the country. Yes, I said it. Not the county, but the country in its entirety. I defy you to find something better (well, it also helps that you get this deal only as a PCT hiker, but still).
We got showers (Clairol soap included), laundry (with loaner clothes so that we could wash everything), use of their hot spring pool, dinner and dessert for the grand total of $10.
Now I know you just went "Psshhh" and did a little flip of the hand to show that you don't find that deal remotely exciting. But that's because you didn't get to taste any of the food. Easily (easily!) one of the best meals I have ever had in my life and worthy (definitelyly more so) of a place on the menu of any restaurant you've ever been to.
The meal changes every night, and we had just missed prime rib and duck earlier that week. We came on turkey night. Turkey has pretty much been a miss for me ever since I was a kid. Always dry, fills you up but is never the best thing on the plate. So pardon my low expectations and wishing that we had gotten there on a different day.
Salad comes out. All good, dark greens. None of that iceberg garbage. Lightly covered in homemade raspberry vinagrette with yellow bell pepper sliced thin. Mmm mmm good.
Main course - turkey with sweet mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce and a vegetable. I hate cranberry sauce and you know my thoughts on turkey. Absolutely loved both. Would have eaten seconds and thirds if I could have. The cranberry sauce was nothing like that trash in the can. Light, sweet and quite cranberry-y. As for the turkey - Best. Bird. Ever. Tender enough you could just cut it with your fork and moist like I never imagined it possible for turkey to be.
Next came bowls of homemade chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet. Bellisimo! Rich is the best way to describe it.
Not to mention they had an endless conveyor belt of all kinds of breads coming out to us throughout the whole meal. Couldn't tell you what kind, but they were tasty as hell.