Friday, September 29, 2017

The bike shuttle chronicles

First, thanks for all the sweet comments about Cale. It turns out it is a malignant sarcoma, and while this type doesn't spread quickly, they are difficult to remove completely and can return within a short period of time. But we have to try. He still runs and plays and eats; he isn't ready to give up yet. Surgery is set soon.

This summer, since most hiking has been shut down by fire, has been more about the bicycle. Due to a system of trails that start just outside my door, I have honed my skills until I can shred the gnar ride on them without white-knuckling. The trails themselves have been interesting microcosms of human life. There are three types of residents there--the homeless, gutting it out in Walmart tents; the residents, who put up elaborate tarps and tents and motor homes and drive out to work every day, unable to afford the exorbitant rent ($2000 a month? Seriously). Then there are the tourists, but there aren't many of those in the piney woods. 

I get used to seeing these camps. There are also the usual walkers and runners, some of whom I now recognize. The weirdest sighting happened yesterday as I rode happily along. Up ahead was...what? Oh. A man walking a pack of goats! He clapped his hands and walked off the trail, the goats following. Life on the speed of a bicycle doesn't allow for chitchat, so I continued on in a state of wonder.

But most often I have been charged with bike shuttling. It goes something like this: 

"Why don't you drop me off at X" (X being some forsaken high clearance washboarded road) "and then you can go to the other end and walk up toward me" (on some boring, dusty path)!

Being a bike shuttler is always risky. The bikers are vague about how long it's going to take them. Three hours? Five? Sometimes even the pickup place is in question. The older dog can't go as far so is miserably consigned to traveling with me, much to his discontent (and howling). It takes patience to be a bike shuttler, that and something to read while waiting.

I'm not good enough to ride those trails in question, and I want to be a Team Player, so I do the shuttle. Sometimes, it pays off, as was the case for the McKenzie River Trail. There's no way I could ride the lava parts (I was witness to a lot of hike a bike on these sections) but there are plenty of access points and scenic spots to hike to while waiting. First there was a waterfall loop and next up, ta strange and beautiful pool. Sometimes being a support person pays off.

Tamolitch Pool! The river goes underground upstream and comes out here! A strange and lovely spot that we shared with about 20 of our closest friends (Not. But there are a lot of other people on this trail segment)

Sahalie Falls! We saw a lot of high school trail runners here. It would be a great trail to run.
While bike shuttling isn't my favorite thing to do, it makes others happy, which is something the world doesn't see enough of these days. Plus, since I am unable to hike the last 50 miles of the Central Oregon PCT, I just know that all this shuttling will pay off next summer, when the fires are out and I need a ride to the incredibly far away, incredibly pot-holed Olallie Lake. Heh heh heh.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Guarded Prognosis

I wasn't really a dog person before I met Cale. He is my favorite of all the dogs I have known. A big fluffy teddy bear, he has the sweetest temperament and personality. He is content to lie behind the couch snoozing or run around in the field.

He suddenly has developed a huge tumor on his leg; it seemed to grow overnight. The vet looked grim, saying that its sudden growth didn't look good. The tests will be back next week. It's the kind of thing where you steel yourself for the worst.

But aren't our whole lives full of guarded prognosis? Every time we step outdoors, our safe return home is sort of a miracle. We are so fragile and the world is so hard. I've never been able to understand the people who smugly say that everything happens for a reason. You just have to look around you to know that isn't true. Nature does have some kind of order but it also is a marvelous chaos. Who would want to live in a world where the strings are pulled for you? Better to fling yourself out there, take fantastic leaps, love with all you have without fear, stop thinking about what could happen.

Easy to say, of course, but harder when you have loved an animal and know they won't be with you much longer. My husband always says it is harder to leave the pets when he goes away than it is to leave me, because the pets don't know. It's the same way when something goes wrong. The pets don't understand. They watch you wrap their leg with vet wrap, trusting that you will make it all better. But you can't, sometimes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Burney: a different forest every day

My expectations for California's section O were not high. I had read other trip reports and a few terrifying things stood out. Poison oak. Bears. Downed trees. All in all, it didn't sound that great. 

But I had to drive right by on the way to a work trip, and this was an isolated section that would fill in a PCT gap. How could I resist? I couldn't. With some trepidation (and with the added weight of bear spray), I headed southbound from Castella, bound for Burney Falls.

I came upon this detour, but people had written "not that bad" and "Nah, do it anyway", so I didn't take it. It wasn't that bad. Do it anyway.

Because most thru-hikers should be past this point by now if they have a prayer of making it to Canada or Mexico, the trail was mostly empty. The few views showed a wide expanse of trackless forest. In four days, I passed through old growth trees, savannas, oak groves, pine forests, and wide rivers. Ranging from two thousand feet to nearly seven, this felt like a whole world compressed into eighty-two miles.

Squaw Valley creek, which hasn't been renamed on PCT maps but is called "Politically Correct Creek" on some Forest Service maps. I wonder how that slipped by the Washington Office.
There was poison oak. There were more bear tracks than I've ever seen (but no sightings). There were a few downed trees. But of the nearly five hundred miles I've hiked on the PCT this year, this was my favorite. It is also the scene of my longest day--27 miles, all uphill (northbounders have it much better). The next day I struggled to reach 20, so it all evens out. 

The best campsite ever, overlooking mountains and Shasta.
A few stragglers lined the trail, people without a prayer, but cheerful nonetheless. A Swiss guy was taking his time, stopping for hours at the creek to cook lunch. A writer earnestly told me how she had been doing thirty mile days in Washington State (which seems a little hard to believe given the terrain) but had to slow down due to smoke. Another man who mistakenly called me "sweetheart" (ugh) mansplained about the trail, but redeemed himself by saying, "I'm just so happy to be out here." And another Oregon escapee, who said he just had to get out of the smoke. All of us on one ribbon of trail, people who would never camp together in the real world. The trail brings us together. I love that. Seven hundred and eighty-eight miles to go (this math problem occupied many, many miles as I hiked).

Miles and miles of forest.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Stuff people say on trail

Guys! I found smoke free air in Northern California! I had to come down here for work so's this trail called the PCT, you may have heard of it? I managed to wrangle four days to hike another section! I'll post about that when I get home. The TL;DR version is: Low expectations=exceeded!

In the meantime, please enjoy the Stuff People Said on Trail. What are some less enlightened, or just odd, things people have said to you?

"I only filter water in lakes and ponds, not in creeks."

"Sweetheart, EVERY creek will have campsites."

"How come you picked up my hat and carried it with you when you found it? You're supposed to leave stuff on the trail in case people come back for it." ( wouldn't even HAVE your hat if I hadn't carried it until I found you).

"There aren't any bears up here. Bears only come up high to hibernate." (I've never seen so many bear tracks on a trail!)

"You didn't hike to Ashland this year. My house is right on the trail and I would have seen you." (Okay, that is just slightly creepy)

A strange sight: a man with a backpack, plus two full bear canisters. "I wear these strapped in front."

"I didn't see any poison oak on the trail." !!!!

"I've hiked the whole trail but I don't remember this part."

"My food is in ziplock bags in my pack, so I'm not worried about bears."

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Adventuring in the smoke

Dear people of Portland.

I get that there's a fire twenty miles from you and that it is raining ash in your neighborhood. I understand that it is burning in a place that you consider your playground and you are devastated. But in case you haven't noticed, this is what has been going on in rural towns every summer. No, it's not scary and apocalyptic until your house has been under evacuation order or you can see actual flames.

Sorry, everyone else. I find it interesting that until smoke and fire affects a metro area, it largely goes unnoticed by the majority of the population. And frankly, somewhat annoying. But that's enough of that! Living in the forest, you know that you are going to be faced with fire someday.

I am lucky; I don't have asthma or any other known health problems. I definitely sucked in enough smoke when I worked directly on the line as a firefighter, so who knows what is lurking there, hopefully nothing. Most people in town have decamped to the gym, but summer is short. If I can stand it, I am going to get out there.

So I did. With trepidation I drove the awful, washboarded road to the Canyon Creek Meadows trail. I had wanted to hike this short trail for a long time, but had been scared away by reports of hundreds of people on it. And since it was one of the few trails still open, I thought it would be packed. To my surprise there was only one vehicle in the parking lot. I happily hiked through a thin layer of smoke towards Three Fingered Jack. I guess it takes smoke to find solitude on this trail. That, and an excessive heat warning. It was supposed to be about 100 degrees. But if it was that or the gym, I'd take the trail.

If you stay on the main loop, this trail is only five miles, hardly worth the drive, but wait! You can go further. An unmaintained trail winds its way through some delightful meadows and eventually scrambles up on the shoulder of the mountain. We all have our difficulties and one of mine is descending slippery talus. I avoid this if at all possible. But the promise of a little lake drew me onward. It was worth it.

A little smoky, but nice lake!
Not wanting to go home so soon, I extended my hike by taking a left to Wasco Lake, which is mostly surrounded by a forest burnt in 2003, and climbing up to the fire closure at Minto Pass.

Since the first day was so successful, I decided to take on Tam MacArthur Rim on Day 2. It seemed a bit more smoky as I drove toward the trailhead. But here I was, committed, so I began the climb. One thing I have noticed about the smoke is that I feel more tired. I can't spring up the hills like I usually can. Otherwise, it didn't seem to hamper the hike all that much.

This is a new sign for me...
The views were pretty muted and after I had walked the ridge for an hour and a half I thought that it was probably best to retreat. I met a friend on the way up. "I need to get in a hill," she said, looking doubtfully at the smoke cloud. It had gotten a lot worse in the last three hours. I wished her well and beat feet.

Since then we have had one reprieve, when we saw actual sky for the first time in weeks. Today, though, it is the worst it has been in a long time. Today is not a day for heroics. Today is a day for the gym. Even adventurous souls need to know when to call it.
Not too bad? I can sort of see the mountains?