We made it -- out of California! It feels good to finally put all 1,700 miles of Cali behind us, including the smoke. We have under a thousand miles left to go... and we may actually need to slow down a bit. This is quite a contrast to our AT hike when we were slowed by injuries and pressed for time until the very last moment.
Reason and I are in the lovely town of Ashland, Oregon. I said OREGON!!! Woohoo!! We seem to have literally crossed some kind of line and are now surrounded by green. On our descent into town we found ourselves shoulder-deep on the flanks of Mt. Ashland in Queen Anne's Lace, lupine and wild lilies. We've even seen some blue skies.
Since I last emailed we've been moving quickly. We set our pace to a consistent 25 miles or more a day, and we're feeling great! Until reaching Ashland we hadn't taken a day off since Truckee, over 20 days and about 550 miles ago. We did take a bus and several hitches around a 100 mile trail closure, and we road-walked 52 miles around a second, smaller closure.
I hope the last of the fires is behind us now. Since June 22nd, the day after the lightening storm that ignited most of the fires in California, we haven't seen much in the way of blue skies. The air has been full of smoke and haze. Once the sun slips behind the curtain of smoke, the sunsets and sunrises are bloody red. A few mornings the smoke has been so thick that the morning is a little dark until about 9:30. Occasionally we've found specks of ash on our tent. We should have had a view of Mt. Shasta for about 250 miles, but we've seen it only three times, and those were only partial viewings. Still, we are enjoying our hike and wish only the best for those who are truly threatened by the fires.
We had a great experience on our most recent detour around a small fire closure. We decided to road-walk from the town of Etna, CA, to the small community of Seiad Valley, CA. I regretted not walking around the last closure -- we have our feet, hearts and lungs, after all and could have employed more self-sufficiency. But then again, road walking is not always as pleasant as trail walking what with the speeding cars, narrow shoulders, lack of resting and camping spots, and polluted water sources. At any rate, we had walked about 16 miles from Etna past the town of Fort Jones, when at about 7:30 in the evening an adorable boy rode his bike out to the road from his farm to invite us to camp. "Wanna camp in our yard tonight, " he asked. "My mom says it's ok."
Well, we couldn't refuse such a charming invitation! So off we went with nine year old "John" and his twelve year old brother "George", who had also run out to meet us. Their brother "Glenn" is a teenager, they explained, and therefore shy and not available to greet us. We arrived at their farm to meet their mother "Susan" and receive a cursory wave from "Glenn", who disappeared into the house to play the piano for the rest of the evening. "Susan" runs a small scale organic grain farm in the lovely Scott Valley. She mills her own grains and sells shares of the yield to about a hundred individual customers in ten deliveries a year. This summer, "John" and "George" are running their own vegetable CSA program under Jennifer's watchful eye. "John" and "George" harvest the veggies each Wednesday, and divide the yield into bags for their eighteen customers. They make their deliveries the same day en route to their piano lessons. (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA allows an individual to subscribe to their share of a farm's produce. Reason and I have subscribed to a CSA for the past several summers, receiving a bag or two of local, organic produce each week for the duration of the growing season.)
"Susan" laughed that it did seem a little unusual to send her nine year old out to the road to talk to strangers, but the family was aware of the trail closure and had been watching hikers walk by for the past few days. The boys were intrigued, so she encouraged them to find out more. "John" and "George" peppered us with questions for the rest of the evening, all the while showing us the goats, chickens, horses, geese, and even the toads on the farm. We all walked out to the boys' vegetable patch and dug fresh carrots, beets, onions and potatoes right out of the ground to cook for dinner! We added a few green beans fresh from the vine and some fresh eggs, too! When Reason and I exclaimed how nice it was to have such fresh food, "Susan" ran into the house and brought us mason jars of fresh, raw goat's milk yogurt that she made. We were in heaven! "Susan" went on to tell us more about her farm and show us the many grains that she grows. Her farm is very unusual for its small scale and for the diversity and number of grains that she grows. People come from all over North America to visit this farm, and in fact two of her customers stopped by the next morning. I was so interested that "Susan" does all of the work on her farm with the help of a small combine and her own mill, and that she can bypass the wholesaler and sell directly to customers eager for local, organic foods. She only needs the help of a mechanic every now and then!
By the time we chopped the veggies and fried them up with the eggs, it was getting quite late. "John" and "George" stayed up to help us eat, and continued to ask us questions despite their sleepy eyelids. They implored us to stay for pancakes, and we of course couldn't resist! We woke early and were greeted by Heidi the friendly border collie. Then "Susan" taught us to milk the goats and let us have a try! We filled up on toothsome pancakes from grain grown and milled just out back before heading on, much to the disappointment of "John" and "George". We'll be sure to send postcards!
The rest of our road walk was not quite as eventful, but we were at such a low elevation that we were slowed by the abundant blackberries all along the Scott and Klamath Rivers. We also walked through some tiny gold rush hamlets. Gold mining is still alive in this part of California as evidenced by placer claims marked on trees and dredging contraptions parked in the rivers. A local in Seiad Valley explained that the high price of gold has brought more dredges this year than they've seen in many, many years.
Our only other excitement stems from several trail celebrity sightings. Not long after leaving Castle Crags, CA, we were briskly passed by Tattoo Joe and Scott Williamson. Tattoo Joe is the current title holder for the fastest un-supported thru-hike of the PCT at 79 days, having taken the crown from Scott Williamson. This year the two are cooperating and hiking together for a new record. They average about 40 miles a day. They must hurry though, for rumor has it that they have a competitor this year. We think it might be Squeaky, who is well equipped to up the ante. After Flyin' Bryan completed the Triple Crown (AT, PCT and CDT) in a single year by flying back and forth across the country to hike sections of each trail in their best season, Squeaky bested him by thru-hiking all three trails in a single year.
The un-supported hike that Tattoo Joe and Scott Williamson, and maybe Squeaky, are attempting means that they must still supply themselves. No one meets them at road crossings with more food, etc., and they carry their own gear. Ultra-marathoner David Horton holds the record for the fastest supported thru-hike. Horton ran the trail in 66 days, but was supported by quite a large crew. Two others ran with him at any given time, and an army of ultra-marathoners ran to meet Horton at trail junctions and road crossings with his gear, food and water. Horton averaged 46 miles a day, and was often met with ice cream packed in dry ice!
Reason and I also had the pleasure of hiking a bit and breaking with Billy Goat, long-time resident of the PCT. The LA Times recently ran a front page article on Billy Goat. (http://www.latimes.com/news/
We met Billy Goat down south near Big Bear City and again near Mt. Baden Powell. This time, Billy Goat explained that he was spending the month of July in a small section of Northern California. He prefers to be in the woods than town, and so has a 30 day supply of food that necessitates two backpacks. This unusual arrangement means that Billy Goat hikes one pack a few miles south, drops it off, then hikes north to retrieve the second pack and walks it south. He does this all day, meaning that he hikes each section three times! Billy Goat spent about two hours with us, giving loads of insight about the upcoming trail and suggesting that we slow down so we won't have to return to civilization too soon!
So that's all. We're now enjoying the town of Ashland. It is a nice hippie/yuppie town with fantastic fresh food. Ashland also has a population of young homeless folks, many of whom I think choose to live off the grid, etc., who are dirtier, smellier and more stained than we thru-hikers. There is quite a bit of tension in town over this issue, and I feel a bit self-conscious in my own homeless and unemployed state. I worry that I might be told to move along!
Ashland is also home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and we took in a show last night. We acquired standing room only tickets for the Comedy of Errors. The play was set as a Western and the action of the long-lost sets of twins and their cases of mistaken identity revolved around the Shady Pine cafe, complete with sheriff, deputy, and madame.
We'll be back in the woods tonight, and will press on towards Canada. Our next stop is Cascade Locks, OR, near the end of August, where we head in to Portland for a visit with Reason's Mother and Grandmother!
Our best to all,