Wednesday, August 23, 2023

PCT Part 3: Canada to Mt Shasta

Yep, I've gone parts of three states and more than 1,000 miles without updating the blog. I'd apologize, but at this point it should be clear that I always do this on a long hike, and I'm only kind of sorry.

At any rate, I've still got 15 more miles to hike before dark tonight, so let's jump straight into the highlights:

Washington... was some of the most beautiful hiking I've ever done. Nearly every day held something particularly striking and beautiful. Lower elevation sections featured immense old-growth trees, the kind that you can only find in the northwest, and brilliant green ferns. Upper elevations held wildflowers and lingering snow patches. While I wouldn't necessarily like the Cascades to be my home base (thick vegetation makes off-trail exploration tedious), visiting the best of this wonderful range was a real treat.

Oregon... was a mixed bag. Certain parts were magical: the Three Sisters Wilderness, the bizarre and amazing Tunnel Falls (reminiscent of the behind-the-waterfall shortcut in Mario Kart 64), and of course the incomparable Crater Lake. But in truth, I was a little underwhelmed by the PCT's routing through Oregon. It seemed like at least a quarter of the trail through the state was burn area - sometimes a fresh, lunar-surface char, sometimes a decades-old burn that now resembles a Christmas tree farm. Either way, those miles offered little in the way of shade or scenic value. A friend assures me that (much like the CDT through the Greater Yellowstone), Oregon holds lots of promise, and the PCT fails to visit most of the good stuff. Perhaps a third long hike in Oregon awaits me someday!

To keep my spirits up in Oregon, I did two things. First, I picked up a 7.5" lightweight folding saw and did some impromptu trail work. The PCT is generally pretty well-maintained, but after a few years of Covid and big snow years, there are some areas of annoying blowdowns, particularly in the burn areas. I had to start limiting myself to ten blowdowns a day, otherwise I'd just spend all my time cutting and never make my miles. The saw lasted all of a week before I tried cutting a tree that was right at the limit of the saw's capability... and pinched it, breaking the blade. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. At some point, I'll probably pick up another one. There's a certain degree of reward that comes with helping improve a trail, rather than being just a mere consumer.

Jinxed It: Second, I made my own route. Congrats to everybody who saw that coming! A day before I reached Ashland, the Forest Service closed more than 100 miles of trail in northern California for fires. To date, I'd hit zero fire closures, which was certainly a rarity. While this closure was obviously a disappointment, it offered me the opportunity to engage the route-creator side of my brain. I mapped a 100+ mile re-route that avoided the fire closures and the worst of the downwind smoke areas. It went through a National Monument, two National Forests, and one BLM-managed Wilderness area. It was pretty quick-and-dirty, and at one point an unexpected private property issue forced me to do an additional 25 unpleasant miles on pavement. But overall, it was fun to escape the tyranny of the Red Line for a little bit. Plus, I connected my footsteps around the fires, which does remain strangely important to me. 

Aesop's Thru-Hike: On my first thru-hike, I watched older, more experienced hikers carefully. I found that they spent much less time in town than did the twenty-something crowd. They got up early, never did huge miles, but never took much time off either. Despite the fact that they didn't hike fast, they maintained a good pace over the course of weeks or months, because they were slow-and-steady... the tortoise, rather than the hare, in Aesop's fable.

I've never been a fast hiker. But I found that I too could maintain the pace necessary to complete a thru-hike if I minimized town time and maximized trail time. On the PCT, I've taken that strategy to its logical extreme. Since starting the southbound leg in early July, I have not taken any days off, and have only hiked fewer than 20 miles on four occasions. As a consequence, I'm on pace to complete the trail before winter hits the High Sierra in a little more than a month. Just as importantly, doing a trail-oriented hike (rather than a town-oriented hike) has offered me the kind of hiking experience I relish. I avoid the drama and chaos that swirls around trail towns, and spend time truly outside. 

Holding Serve: The foot's been okay with this heavy workload, surprisingly. I ask every day for a fresh helping of God's grace (and sometimes for 'two scoops' on particularly painful mornings), and every day, he delivers. I'm getting a lot of 'yes' right now, and it's pretty clear that I'm supposed to be out here, serving him.

What's Next: There are less than 1,000 miles left in my PCT hike. Already, I'm corresponding with friends and family about logistics for the Sierra, the grand finale of my PCT hike. Next update will hopefully come after I finish.

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