Within one week of our wedding, we Yogi’d a ride north to the trailhead on a hot afternoon by our trail angel Steve (husband of LavenderLady… my mom and angel as well) to begin our hiking honeymoon adventure. Our plan was to hike to Seiad Valley on the first leg, make it to the café where Shanda and her crew produce the world’s biggest pancakes, spend a couple of recovery days there, pick up our resupply box at the RV Park next door, then hike through the Marble and Russian Wilderness to Hwy 3- just beyond Etna, CA. We were feeling a bit apprehensive as we loaded our packs on…weddings tend to take up a lot of time and energy usually reserved for pre-hike training. We know from experience that the first couple of months the body painfully transforms. Excess weight is lost, muscle is gained, feet turn from hamburger to callouses, foot bones spread and swell from excess weight and overuse, and joints either survive or snap. Did we adequately prepare? Did we forget anything? I’ve also read in various journals it’s a warm part of the world and it did not disappoint. Fortunately, we hiked this section before the rattlesnakes showed up however; the bears were very much out and about. Water sources were scarce so sometimes we had to load up; making for a difficult haul during elevation gains, and the poison ivy is rampant in to and out of Seiad. I’ve also heard that section Q is one of the most difficult parts of the PCT because of its intense elevation gains and losses within short distances. The heat was unbearable for so early in the year, and if we were to hike this section in the summer, would most certainly have to hike at night. Our first night alone in the wilderness presented us with a perfect campsite. Our favorite criterion is a spot away from the trail, on flat soft ground, under a tree, and private. It was so good to be back doing what we love and getting away from the pace of society. All the anticipation and nervousness began to disappear with the setting sun, and as the stars began to make their nightly appearance, we began the slow process of shedding our ‘slave lives’ and submersing ourselves into the unconventional world of hiker trash. Later, after climbing 4500 vertical feet one blazing day, we spent the night at Buckhorn Spring on top of a summit and under what we dubbed ‘the tree of life’. She was an old, weathered, and twisted creature that provided us with a protected canopy of sagging branches to hide our tent under. During the day we climbed in scorching heat, but that night the temperatures dropped as a storm front produced rain and hail. A big bear decided to forage around our campsite, but did not cross our ‘urine’ line (it really works!) The next day, we finally started to pass some through hikers, many who began the trail at the Mexico border, but had to skip the Sierra’s because of snow. Foxtrot, Tin Tin, Magic Man, and Bigfoot were north bounding awhile, and planned to leapfrog back next month.
Our second night was spent at the abandoned Marble Valley Guard Station near a meadow under towering granite walls. We had the whole place to ourselves, so we took advantage of the solitude to give ourselves a bird bath. Well, almost to ourselves. We were rewarded with deer cautiously coming into our camp for a visit. This never gets old to me and so whatever I’m doing, I always stop and let the feelings of reverence and peace wash over me and silently thank them for showing up. I forget the agonizing foot pain, the itch of my mosquito bites, and the smell of my own stench when the wildness of nature gets so close. A herd hung out by our tent all night munching on bushes and it was just magical! Sometimes, when you’re out there long enough to slow down the mind, the smallest of things become a huge focal point for camp entertainment. For instance, near Bear Dog Spring, we camped in major bear country having seen a lot of skat on the trail. We hung our food bags that night and tried to listen for sounds of big animals nearby. Instead, our attention turned to a colony of ants working feverishly to move their larvae to another location. If you can slow the mind down for a moment in the wilderness, you can begin to realize the extraordinary goings on that make up an ecosystem that we humans just take for granted. Brad could hear bears foraging all around us that night, his senses keenly aware. During the night, he was rewarded with two owls overhead having a very important discussion. It went something like this…”I was over at Blue Jay’s house last night.” “Who?” “You know, Woody’s friend.” “Who?” “You remember; your friend introduced us at the Who’s Who convention.” “Who?” And so it went…
We made it down to the Seiad Valley Café for huge double cheeseburgers, fries, and a chocolate shake. The RV Park next door still has not recovered from a fire that burned down the owner’s house last year, and so we decided to get a hotel in Happy Camp, 18 miles away. Shanda offered us a ride and we had two great recovery days in town. However, it took us almost 4 hours to hitch a ride back to the trailhead (even all clean and shiny) but finally, a couple calling themselves the ‘Jersey Girls’ saw my big smile and decided we were not mass murderers and picked us up. They were out here gold mining on the Klamath River and new nothing of the PCT. We always take an opportunity to educate people about the trail and what to look for when they see hikers hitching so that maybe next time, they’ll feel more inclined to help us poor hiker trash out with a ride. Thank you girls for such a nice ride, we loved hearing your story and thank you for your generosity and kindness!
We met many section hikers near the Etna Summit. Bi-Polar, Uncle Bob, Salt Shaker, Moss Water, Je’Jo’, Jill (no trail name yet), Czech Mix, All Day Long, Carnivore and Purple, Ranger, Bubba Gump, Potato, and 3 guys with tarp tents out on their first hiking overnight. (Aren’t trail names fascinating?) The Russian Wilderness was totally burned to a crisp and we hiked through a holocaust of blackened tree reminisces and charred soil. The Marble Wilderness offered the most amazing views however, was very rough going hiking on scree, on granite mountains, and in sweltering heat. As if on cue, the next day we got caught in a storm and had to fish out our rain gear. We lucked out at our campsite that night as the colliding thunder and lightning storms moved around us instead of over us and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset to mark the end of another day on the trail.
The next day Brad was so excited that we had mostly downhill conditions (and a waiting hamburger) that somehow he lost his camp shoes. We made it to the Hwy and met our friends and trail angels Groceries and Smudge. Ice cold home brew and pastrami sandwiches were shoved into our faces and we gladly inhaled it. Never again will I ever take for granted friends, air conditioning, and a soft back seat of a vehicle taking us home. We will take some recovery time to nurse our blistered and bloody feet, strained ankles and knees, and leapfrog down to Walker Pass for our north bound section up to Kearsarge Pass. Brad has lost 10 pounds total, and I have lost 14 already. It’s that agonizing part of a through hike where our bodies must transform to gritty hiker trash.
-Tie Dye and Goldpaint