Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 85 (8/10) Racing for Lunch

When I went to bed I figured I had about 12 miles to town this morning. When I woke up I looked at the maps again and realized that town was actually further than I had thought, and that it would actually be 15 miles to get my resupply parcel and lunch at the diner. It was a slow morning, partially because of the location of my camp. Usually sunrise around 6am starts the process of waking me up, but I slept on the westward face of a hill, so the sun wouldn’t be shining directly on my sleeping bag for hours and hours. Left to my own devices to rouse myself, it was nearly 8am when I took off for Seiad Valley. Early on I ran into a few folks who mentioned how steep the descent would be for me. Of course, the PCT is still a well graded trail designed for hikers as well as equestrians. That means steep is anything between 500-600 ft of elevation gain per mile, and you usually don’t find anything beyond that. By the same penchant anything less than 200 feet per mile feels essentially flat (and thats pretty rare out here most of the time). I personally prefer gentle descents and steep climbs because I can’t hold a good pace on a steep descent while maintaining balance and control. On the uphill its easy enough to power through it, and it seems less exhausting when you can get the climb done in a hour or two rather than stretching it over most of a day.

Seiad Valley and the Klamath River
This particular descent was a monster. I would drop 4,500 feet over the course of eight miles. Ouch. I would much prefer to be a northbound hiker in this situation, one of the few times I’ve noticed a difference in the flavor of the trail for southbounders. Past Seiad Valley I’ll climb 6,000 feet, but this time over nearly 20 miles while descending only about 1,000 feet in that time. That’s a mile net gain that I have to look forward to after dropping into the valley. On the way down I ran into Sniper who had left from Seiad Valley early this morning. She was 6 miles in and I had only 6 miles to go, and we shared intel on the trail we would each encounter. She was particularly interested in water reports for the coming section, so I gladly let her know which springs were running well and which weren’t worth visiting. She gave me the tip that the cafe closed at 2:00, so as we parted ways I redoubled my pace in order to make it in time. Going down a steep descent is always a little unforgiving on the knees, but this time because I was moving faster I started having  pain in the front of my toes as they pushed into the front of my shoes and jammed my nails. I walked through it, but was slightly concerned about the possibility of damaging my toenails and giving myself worse problems in the future. The descent was pretty neat, and I got some great views of the valley ahead of me. The Klamath River is huge, and it turns out that it was a huge area for gold mining up until that was banned for environmental protection a few years back. There are still big piles of tailings on the side of the river from the dredging operations to pick up large amounts of rock and dirt then sort through it to find the gold. Now that people are banned from doing that, the area has slowly dwindled and the few local shops are struggling to survive without the influx of 49ers every year.

State of Jefferson Post Office
At 1:00 I hit the road at the bottom on the descent, and was given a warm welcome to the 51st state. Rather, make that a hot welcome. At 1,400 feet this is the lowest elevation in quite awhile, and the oppressive heat was plenty of evidence for that. Oh ya, back to the 51st state thing. For over 100 years there has been a movement to create the 51st state in this area out of counties from Northern California and Southern Oregon. The rationale is that these rural mountainous areas have been poorly represented at the state level and they would be better served as part of their own independent state. Back in the 40’s this came to head with a full vote for separation and the creation of a new state, but it fell by the wayside when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and after the war things improved and the movement lost traction. The independent spirit of the State of Jefferson movement is definitely alive and well in the area though, and you see plenty of signs proclaiming the unofficial state name. The other signs in the area are the prominent “NO MONUMENT” signs. An environmental group has petitioned to make hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the Siskiyou Mountains a ‘National Monument’ to give them similar status as a National Park. The difference - a National Park needs congressional approval, a National Monument can be created by presidential signature. In a county that consists of over 60% federal land, it is understandable that there may be resistance to this plan. It doesn’t help that it isn’t clear what happens to private land and water rights if the National Monument is approved. I chatted with a few hikers and a few locals, and it was clear that this was another big mess that had been brewing for a few years without any clear resolution in sight.

Fortunately for me, that had no impact on the quality of the food at the diner. I got in around 1:30, got my resupply box and was surprised to find a letter from my Grandmother in the box from home, and it was really cool to ready that. Plus, she gave me money for a treat, which was immediately converted into a burger and malt at the cafe. Thanks Grandma! Absolutely fantastic, and a welcome refreshing treat on a super hot afternoon. After lunch I started sorting through my food for the next three day section, and I got to meet a minor trail celebrity. Balls and Sunshine are a father/daughter hiking pair that has made it all the way so far. The neat thing is that Sunshine is only 12! She worked out a deal with her school to let her work ahead to get done in time to start hiking this year. Next year she plans to do the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail the following year, which would make her the youngest person to do all three of the US long distance hiking trails, the triple crown of long distance hiking. She’s about 4 months too old to set the age record on the PCT, but man, I was sure impressed by not only her maturity by her dedication to this challenge. At that age I can’t imagine committing to a four month trip like this. It was awesome to actually meet them after hearing a few stories along the way about the youngest member of the PCT Class of ‘11.

I was extremely unmotivated to get back out on the trail after lunch. The heat wasn’t helping anything, and I slowly worked through my food resupply, then took on a very necessary task. The dirt and grit in this section had been some of the worst and was seriously abrading my feet through my socks. So I took on the task of washing my socks so that they at least had the illusion of being clean. It took about 30 minutes of scrubbing to get the three pairs to a point where they were acceptably clean. Once they had air-dried (amazingly fast) I slipped them back on and forced myself back onto the trail. Rather, the road. The trail follows a 6 mile section of road through this town because it has to use a bridge over this wide river. Because of my 4 hour break, one of my shortest all trip, I wasn’t looking at a full 20+ mile day of hiking. I decided hiking out to the end of the road and to the campsite there would be a good plan. That worked out perfectly as the sun was setting just as I reached the camp, where three other hikers were already camped, ready to head into town tomorrow. I quickly made dinner then chatted with Kenneth for a bit before retiring to my sleeping bag. This low in the valley between mountains the sunset comes earlier and I was definitely out by 9:30 this evening.

Miles Today: 20
Trip Mileage: 1203
PCT Mile Marker: 1656

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