Pacific Crest Trail

An unexpected trail closure

Day 138

This morning was like the two preceding it. No better. No worse. So let’s not waste more words on that. It was quite cold getting out of my sleeping bag and I was only just able to keep warm while wearing most of my clothes in the darkness of the early morning. No thunderstorms nor rain or snow that night, though.

I went back a bit to get back to the trail and set forth. Very quickly, that came to an end, though, as there was a sign saying “closed due to forest fire until further notice and a plastic strip blocking it. “What the heck?”, I thought. Either there has come a new fire closure, or rerouting details from the PCTA were off. There was a dirt road all the way to the point where I expected the trail to actually be closed running almost in parallel with it, so I hastily hiked the mile or so along it to see what was up there. My heart was pounding, and that was not primarily from the physical exertion. That place was of course also blocked as it lead back onto the PCT, but next to it was the description of the detour that I knew and a handwritten note telling me to go to the next trailhead, which was already what I had in mind, so I went there and, hurray, the detour wasn’t closed! For some reason whoever had been in charge had chosen to close the PCT further south than indicated on the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s home page. I saw a car that could’ve belonged to a forest service worker driving up the dirt road as it was a large white pickup truck and way too early for any hikers to be driving. Currently being quite paranoid about new trail closures, I hurriedly filled out a permit form and went on the trail. So far so good.

It had been almost overcast in the morning, but like yesterday, the sky was changing quickly and off went almost all the clouds just in time to reveal the beauty of the mountain pass that I had just made my way up by getting to the fire detour. It was certainly a nice change from the spook of the early morning. A mile or so later, the trail descended down the valley to the forest floor and concomitantly, the clouds overtook the sky again. Perfect timing!

The detour was signposted, but I also had the route on my phone along with GPS, and soon another inconsistency appeared between my phone and the signs, but both routes would eventually lead in the same direction so I didn’t fret and followed the signs.

The trail itself made for a pretty easy going. I met a surprisingly high number of other through hikers today, so I am probably getting into the bubble. One was going the opposite direction, so I asked him if he was a SOBO, which he declined and saying instead that he had been to the monument and now had to get back and out of Hearts Pass, as he didn’t have the special permit to enter Canada by foot via the PCT.

A bit later the signed detour again veered off from my phone. The one on my phone pointed towards a route that seemed to have fallen into disuse and had many downed trees. Next to it a sign stateed that it was severely damage by a land slide two years ago. Of course I then again followed the signs and not my phone. Not long after that the detour got into another valley and followed what seemed to be a much less used and somewhat overgrown trail. While we ascended, there was quite some stretch without water, which made me think that I had made a major mistake in not bringing more. Eventually though, we passed a handful of more water sources. It then started drizzling.

Along the ascend up the second valley, I saw a hiker going comparatively slow. Getting a bit nearer, I saw that it was Tinker, one of the hiker I dined with in Stehekin along with Bandit and Oldtimer. He was a former electrical engineer around seventy years old. I asked, how he was doing, to which he answered that he was enjoying life to the fullest. I thought then, that that was just his normal hiking speed. He complained a bit about the rain, but agreed that we had overall been quite fortunate with the weather.

A bit later I met Dragon. I had heard someone utter her name while I was lying in my tent last night but hadn’t seen her the last hundreds miles. We had never been talking a lot but some reason we did today. Today was special. She was doing well, had been to the PCT days and had taken some days off just because she felt like it. With today being her, and likely my last day on trail, we talked about the end, how the trail had affected us and what we had learned. She said that hikers think they will be happy when they reach the monument, but most won’t because they’ll be sad that it is over. It is bittersweet and for her, she considered it more bitter than sweet as she really enjoyed hiking and how simple and stress free life was on trail. It would take some time to sink in that it was over, or at least that was her experience from the Appalachian Trail. She thought that the trail hadn’t changed her nor that she had learned a lot. On the Appalachian Trail, though, she had learned to be a bit more relaxed by taking things as they come by her hiking partner then being perhaps a bit too relaxed. One thing, though, that she would be taking back home, was that she’d probably be equally happy with shorter hiking trips as opposed to the long distance trails like the Pacific Crest Trail. She was going to Bolivia to see her sister and maybe get some work down there before going back to Canada and possibly resuming her education to be a physical therapist. Her mom had been somewhat worried about her traveling alone and had somewhat jokingly said that she hadn’t raised so strong and independent women with one sister through hiking and the other having moved to Bolivia. My mom had mostly worried about me getting lost and bears, I said. I thought that I would be glad when I got to the monument, but not denying that I would get “trail withdrawal symptoms”. I certainly will. I also said that I did feel like the trail had changed me. Through much of my adolescence and adult life, I have been postponing my happiness, so to say, by telling myself that it could wait until later, as spending time on my career and education was more important. But chances are, that I will keep postponing it if I don’t say that now is a good time to make the changes. And that is what I am saying. Taking time off to hike the PCT was one step in the right direction, but only the first one in balancing work and leisure. She asked me if I had other big adventures on my bucket list, to which I answered that I had was getting to turning point in my life: many of my friends were married and had kids. Was that the way I wanted to go, or did I want to roam the world for much of my life like some of the people I had met on trail? I thought that I would settle down, but that wouldn’t mean that there’d be no room for shorter adventures. Dragon and I parted when we got back from the fire detour and I wished her well in case we wouldn’t meet again. I wanted to camp there but she was, like many of the other hikers pushing five miles more to a lake. I wasn’t risking that. I probably already had been doing too many miles and felt that I had been hiking too quickly.

The place I was planning to camp was quite windy and exposed and had to choose between two nearby campsites. I went to and fro a couple of times but then it started raining a lot and I concluded that they were equally bad and pitched my tent on one of them. I thought I could do it quickly enough to not get wet, but in hindsight, I should definitely have put on my rain clothes. When I got into my tent I sat there for a while and said to myself that I really needed to put on some warm clothes, but was unable to muster the required energy until I started feeling quite cold, so it resultantly took me quite some time inside my sleeping bag before I started feel warm again.

Meanwhile, I saw Tinker, who had decided to camp on the same campsite as me. He was wearing rain clothes. While he was pitching his tent, he started groaning in a quite disconcerting manner. I thought it was because his body was hurting, but I was certainly glad to see that he relatively quickly got his tent pitched, got into it, and kept moving while inside.

I was getting quite hungry, but didn’t want to eat inside my tent, so I patiently waited to a temporary cessation of the raining before getting out again. Shortly after, Tinker also got out of his tent, very shaken by the episode that he had been through. Apparently he had started becoming severely hypothermic while setting up camp. He was all better now and his sleeping bag completely dry, he told me. I regretted that I hadn’t gotten out of my sleeping bag and helped him when I had heard his groans, but I hadn’t realized how bad it was.

I was soon back in my sleeping bag as the rain resumed. It started pouring down and the wind picked up. I felt save and comfortable in there. It didn’t matter if my things got a bit wet as today was likely my last night on trail. I did feel kind of sad saying that to myself, but at the same time exited about the prospect of standing next to the monument tomorrow. We have another proverb about bears in Denmark, which says “you shouldn’t sell the fur before you’ve short the bear”, so let’s see. I probably have overexerted myself a bit today but hope for clemency tomorrow.

Now if only I didn’t felt that I needed to get out in the rain and dig a cat hole.

This day’s miles: 2622-2641 (actually walked as a fire detour four miles longer)

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