Archive for July, 2006

Destination: Ridge
Starting Location: Interstate 5
Today’s Miles: 17.50
Trip Miles: 1525.10
Interstate 5 (1506.5, 2130) to Ridge (1524, 6150) ascent (4964) descent (938)

I think it may be an interesting few days. This evening I decided to break away from the group for a few days. It was really hard & I tried to ensure everyone it had nothing to do with them. I love these people & I hope/plan to hike all the way to Canada with them but I have not spent a single night alone on this trail & it is time. I plan to hike to Etna solo. This is the perfect place for a solo as it is logistically straight forward & a rendezvous will be easy.
The truth is, I am afraid to hike alone. Not in a physical sense, but I am uncomfortable being by myself for long periods as I think I get lonely but I don’t know. At the same time I am pretty introverted even though I learned to be extroverted due to professional requirements. For you psych majors I am a Myers Briggs (personality profile) INTJ. I know it is a pretty weird set of attributes in one go-BIG. So I am camped alone; I picked a terrible spot as I hiked until dark, on a ridge and it is very quiet while the wind blows.


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Destination: Interstate 5
Starting Location: South Girard Ridge Road
Today’s Miles: 11.50
Trip Miles: 1507.60
Girard Ridge (1495, 4500) to Interstate 5 (1506.5, 2130) ascent (180) descent (3225)

Cruised down Girard Ridge into a smoky realm that filled the air to the point of nearly obscuring 14,000’ + Mt Shasta. As I was daydreaming down a perfect grade, on a perfectly maintained trail, in a lovely forest, I nearly bumped into Lucky Liz as she was heading up to meet us. What a wonderful sight.
We could not check into the chalet (nice 2 bedroom place with kitchen) that Liz had reserved until 4 pm, so we decided to take a bath in the upper Sacramento River while Liz took Sunny, Tadpole the hippo and Rolling Thunder to Mt Shasta City. We figured we were going to go out for lunch & do our town chores so we should try and look like respectable hiker trash. Swiss Miss however took the way too far. While sitting on a rock in the river, without soap or cream of course, she proceeded to shave her legs while wearing her bra and underwear. Now Swiss Miss is cute, and the fishermen upstream seemed to lose interest in fish. We on the other hand dealt with more important issues like rinsing our socks so they were suitable for a washing machine.
Chores complete we headed to the chalet. It was so much nicer than doing a resupply out of a motel room, and the relaxed feel of the place was wonderful. Had a great private dinner with my wife – what a treat.
Professionally I was taught that when someone gives you feedback the appropriate & wise response is to say thank you & then shut-up. I typically get defensive first however. I try not to tell people what they would or would not like but I did that in an earlier journal entry when I wrote Liz would not have liked the Sierras in those conditions. After thinking about it a lot, I completely agree that while I may have an opinion & while it may even be right, that is not my call. I also finally see what I was actually trying to say was that I am getting more okay with decisions others make regardless of my opinion. I often get upset if Liz does not want to do something. But I see that changing somewhat – if she wants to, fantastic and if she doesn’t that is becoming more okay.
Now I understand that the very wise sage Mr. Gottago commented that when I start speaking for other people they should simply say JYOJ (Journal your own Journal). First I find that damn funny Ray and second that is good advice my friend – thank you.

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Destination: South Girard Ridge Road
Starting Location: Deer Creek Today’s Miles: 27.20
Trip Miles: 1496.10
Deer Creek (1467.8, 4700) to South Girard Ridge Road (1495, 4500) ascent (4268) descent (4462)

For years I have heard horror stories about the trail conditions in section “O” – our current section. Terms like impassable and a nightmare were frequent descriptions. Well thanks to the PCTA, the US Forest Service, the Backcountry Horseman, the California Conservation Corps, the Student Conservation Association, Landmark Volunteers and I am sure others (like Tim Stone, former Forest Service PCT Manager), section “O” is in fantastic shape. We had a few miles of azalea & maple jungle north of Peavine Creek but it was already flagged for maintenance. Other than that the trail had typical heavy winter damage but near Ash Camp today we met members of John Lyon’s Backcountry Horseman team who were going in on mule to remove the fallen trees. Anyone who is opposed to equestrians on the trail should do some homework. They would quickly learn the PCT would not be passable without the help of our 4 legged friends who do so much of the hauling in of equipment needed for maintenance.
Thunder unceremoniously unheathenized me when I said with absolute certainty that I believe in a spiritual aspect beyond man even though I have no idea what it is or is not. He claimed only a true atheist can claim the heathen title. I was crushed as now I had no identity. Fortunately Sugar Daddy showed up and I asked for a biblical definition and he assured me that all non-believers/non-Christians were indeed heathens. My identity is restored.
We seem to be making real northward progress & we were amazed as we saw Mt Lassen in the distant horizon behind us. Tomorrow we hit the 1500 mile mark.
I am so excited to see Liz tomorrow. Our last phone conversation was rushed and on a poor cell phone line. I am looking forward to moving beyond that and getting an update on my wife’s life.
Last report had mom on an IV as she was too sick to eat or drink. She had wanted to lose a few pounds but that is a tough way to do it. I am eager to call her tomorrow.
Before my hike I was opposed to carrying a cell phone. Now, I see it differently. We have used cell phones frequently at road junctions & in town to coordinate all kinds of things and they have been a useful tool. Again, thru-hiking is not backpacking and the solitude and escapism I sought while backpacking is not paramount as there is plenty of that. However, using a cell phone to call for help in a non-emergency is completely irresponsible and a waste of very limited resources.
One hiker this season has actually called for help twice and was picked up each time. Each time this hiker had made it to a forest road, they had ample supplies, they had maps & a compass and even provided the rescuers with GPS coordinates. They simply decided the going was too tough. Other cases this season have involved similar ridiculous non-emergencies such as being scared. I am sorry, the PCT is a challenging trail & heavy snow & runoff has made 2006 particularly so, but we all knew that or should have known that going in. If the conditions are too much, go back the way you came & quit wasting resources & helping to contribute to the continual erosion of personal responsibility. No wonder federal or state park or wilderness employees discourage people from using the backcountry. They know if they send people in many will call for help to get them out. Yea this bugs the hell out of me. We have two trail staff for the entire Shasta/Trinity forest & hikers are calling the Forest Service for a ride, or 911 for a helicopter.
The hike down to and along the McCloud River was amazingly beautiful. The azalea and unfortunately poison oak were everywhere along with maple trees & conifers. The water in the river is still milky as it comes off the glaciers of Mt Shasta. I have hiked along the PCT many times to access the prettiest river in California. And the McCloud River rainbows are the wildest trout in the state, and that is a very good thing.
As thru-hikers we have been blessed with amazing generosity along the way & our group talks about this a great deal. We also realized that we are all disturbed by what Sunny has described as “an expectation of generosity” that we have seen some hikers exhibit. Others have described this as an entitlement attitude. Now we have a bit of it ourselves as we approach roads & start talking about trail magic potential but I like to think that is different. During a home visit at a trail angel’s house we recently saw a hiker have a fit because the host actually left at the appointed time & the hiker, being late, missed the ride. When we asked what happened the hiker said “I can’t believe they didn’t wait for me”. Earlier in our trip I talked to this same hiker about cutting switchbacks and I explained all the reasons we should not do it unless necessary due to snow or other obstacles and the hiker replied in all sincerity “yea but, it is good for me”. I do not know if people develop these attitudes on the trail but I suspect they must come with the basis and the generosity of people along with some “rock star” treatment by some folks we meet, which exacerbates some very ungrateful & unhumble tendencies.
Cutting the calluses helped a lot but one of them actually has a big blister under the callus. I know, how does that happen? It hurts but is manageable. The problem is, I can’t seem to pop it as I can’t get through the tough outer skin. I am going to try soaking it in Mt Shasta in an attempt to get it under control.

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Destination: Deer Creek
Starting Location: Power Lines
Today’s Miles: 27.80
Trip Miles: 1468.90
Beyond Power Lines (1440, 3110) to Deer Creek (1467.8, 4700) ascent (4429) descent (4429)

Met Steve and Chris who encompasses the entire Shasta Trinity National Forest trail cres. These two guys obviously love their work & we were thrilled to see most of the down trees on the infamous Section O had been cleared. Now I have been critical about the Forest Service at the policy level but at the staff level you could not find a pair of better trail hands.
Walked through more timber harvesting & could not believe the PCT was not delineated. Had it been, the motor grader operator would likely not have pushed his road cut fill onto the Trail. He was pretty surprised to see us shaking our head in disbelief. Lumber should be expensive but not because of an unnecessary supply problem caused by anti-logging efforts but rather because we log sustainably and to do it well costs more.
Saw an osprey yesterday & she was really upset we stopped under her huge nest perched on top of an old snag. Likely had chicks and so we moved on.
Good hiking today and I thought a lot about Liz & my interest in moving to this part of the state. Hopefully it will all work out.
We have the worst campsites of possibly the entire trip. We needed water & had to get here & did not want to go any further. Thus I am on a 5% slope, Thunder is on the Trail, & others are wedged against trees and logs. Good, ice cold water in Deer Creek however. I had to clean my feet & my ankles turned blue.
Health is good. Had some calluses that were so thick they were catching on each step and hinged back and forth. This was painful after 20+ miles & figured we had better operate. So after slicing Swiss Cheese for everyone at lunch I started slicing off parts of my feet. Thunder commented that he was never taking anything cut from that knife again. I doubt that & Swiss Miss was happy to get more cheese tonight. I had no idea these calluses had gotten so thick – I cut off ¼ inch of dead skin from my right heel. We had some really off color jokes about supplementing our diet. The surgery made a significant difference in foot comfort & I hope to soak in Mt Shasta and remove some more.
Liz & I miscommunicated about Mt Shasta and with me getting sick our plans got goofed up. These little communication breakdowns can be significant and really screw up expectations and that always seems to lead to disappointment. I have been thinking about this and need to work on being clearer regarding what I am thinking.
Really enjoyed comparing life notes with Rolling Thunder during the last few miles of the day. We basically agree that it is complicated, nothing is really black or white in reality & adjustments & compromise are the only viable & sustainable solution. We talked a bit about our journals. He is trying to capture the culture of the Trail & I am trying to capture my personal thoughts & observations during this adventure. One interesting thing is that we both have some basic views on things but those break down rapidly when you apply them to specific circumstances. Again no black no white just shades of grey.

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Destination: Power Lines
Starting Location: Hwy 299
Today’s Miles: 24.10
Trip Miles: 1441.10
Highway 299 (1415.9, 3110) to beyond Crackling Power Lines (1440, 5243) ascent (4806) descent (2710)

Sheri & Cathy got up at 5:45 a.m. to drive us back to 299 and then they had breakfast waiting for us at 9:00 when we got back. I did not know my sister could get up before 8:00 let alone that she would do it for me & my friends. That was so nice & I feel like this hike has brought the two of us closer together. I don’t know why or how but it feels that way. Maybe it is simple that I am appreciating what was always there – a wonderful loving sister.
My friend and brother-in-law lost his son unexpectedly a few days ago. I was reminded as I walked today about a rare emotional glimpse into my grandfather. After my aunt died prematurely he said to me that “a parent should never out live their children because the grief is so overwhelming”. I am sorry for your loss Bob & wish I could have been at the service. I am thinking about you.
The arm looks fair, the hives are better, I farted without concern today – things just may be looking up.

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Destination: Hwy 299
Starting Location: Dry Creek Gully on Hat Rim
Today’s Miles: 24.80
Trip Miles: 1417.00
Hat Rim (1391.1, 4810) to Hwy 299 (1415.9, 3110) ascent (1640) descent (3422)

I had an absolutely miserable nights rest as I lay on my bag itching while suffering terrible stomach problems. When I got up to dig an emergency hole I could not find my way back to my bag as it was black. When I knew I had walked far enough I thought to take a compass bearing so I would not walk in circles. Then I sat down & listened. Finally someone made a noise & I walked over. I was only 15’ away.
Up at 5:00 a.m. to beat the heat of the rim and after my 5th cat hole break I was looking at a long day. At breakfast Pang gave me a dark chocolate bar and said they work for diarrhea. Given that I could not take anything else because of the antibiotics restrictions I ate it and it worked. I was so happy and I flew across the rim, which is really neat, and did 21 miles by 2:00 p.m.
At 2:05 Sheri & Cathy found us and this time they had Subway sandwiches, cases of soda & cold juice. Cathy commented that I had hives & she was right. Benadryl calmed them down & I realized that was my problem the night before & also realized I was likely having an allergic reaction to the sulfur drug – no big deal just take it with Benadryl, right? Very, very wrong. Thunder called Keri & gave her an update on her remote patient & when he returned he said “if you have hives, that is really bad – really”. Wonder what that means so before I took my next dose of pills I called Dr. Delphine & without going into why it is really bad – really she told me to immediately quit taking the sulfur drug – uh, okay. Then she asked what else I was taking & I told her the name of the antibiotic. She quickly asked if I was having diarrhea. Until I ate a chocolate bar yes & it was really bad.
She strongly recommended that I also immediately quit taking the other antibiotic as it is strongly associated with diarrhea, kills too much good stuff, & can often cause significant complications if you have diarrhea. Okay but what about this crap that is eating my arm? After a lengthy dialogue about what it was doing & what it looked like the recommendation was to treat locally with antibiotic cream & monitor. Now Delphine is a good friend and a great doctor so for now I am following the second opinion’s advice.
Saw some good trail maintenance today I thought about my friend & trail gorilla from Southern California Don Bennett. Got word that Don succumbed to cancer and I remembered out last conversation in April when he told me he was looking forward to getting back out there. May your saw always be sharp Don – you will be missed but not forgotten.
Showers & more food at Burney Falls State Park after Sheri & Cathy loaded up 7 stinking hikers at Highway 299. We also found Inaki (now rain skirt), Mike Unger and a couple of 1000 mile section hikers & we celebrated, complete with cake, ice cream and talking candles, Tadpole the hippo’s birthday.
When my head hit the pillow after 10:00 pm I passed out.

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Destination: Dry Creek Gully on Hat Rim
Starting Location: Old Station
Today’s Miles: 13.40
Trip Miles: 1392.20
Old Station (1377.7, 4580) to Dry Creek Gully on Hat Rim (1391.1, 4810) ascent (1207) descent (938)

Physically I am a wreck but what a great day with 7 of the former stinking dozen.
We have decided we may want to stop joking about things that might happen. First it was the bridge is likely out & then it was. Second it was about flesh eating illnesses and it is. We have joked a whole bunch about “not dying” yet or “that didn’t kill us”, but we may start exhibiting some humility – not.
Rolling Thunder, Tadpole the hippo, Sunny, Swiss Miss, Pnag, Sugar Daddy & I are camped on pine needle beds on the infamous Hat Creek Rim. We are just into the trees as much of the rim was burned by an enormously hot fire years ago. From our perch we are watching a blazing orange sun silhouette behind the greatest mountain in California – Mt Shasta. We can see her with the characteristic clouds hanging on top. I just had to leave my pine needle bed because Sunny is offering Reese’s Pieces. The first ingredient is sugar followed by defatted peanuts & partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – yum yum.
Our hiking started at 2:00 as the best sister in the whole world, along with Cathy the great, drove us to the trail head. Now from what two doctors and a nurse have told me I am in a bit of a bad physical situation and lay people continue to mention people loosing limbs via amputation as a result of this type of infection. So Sheri & Cathy have rearranged their entire schedule and they are following us for a few days. Their first stop was about 5 miles up the trail at Subway Cave. In the two hours it took us to hike this section our trail nurses as we are calling them drove to Burney & bought 5 large pizzas, sodas and fruit drinks.
Then an hour later they met us at the Highway 44 overlook with leftovers and full water bottles for our Hat Creek Rim crossing. They wanted to follow us via a questionable dirt road and we had to say enough! So we agreed to meet in Cassel tomorrow for a late lunch/early dinner likely followed by more support in Burney Falls State Park – unbelievable and so very appreciated.
Avoid excess heat, avoid exposure to the sun, keep arm elevated, drink extra water, use warm moist compress through out the day, keep area clean, and take your antibiotic cocktail. Well, I am on Hat Creek Rim that is largely devoid of shade as the result of a fire, we are having record (100+) temperatures, there is a water alert in this section, I am filthy again, and elevating would require tying my arm above my pack. But hey I am taking the drugs & hopeful that western medicine pulls me out of this one. Oh yea a side effect of the cocktail is potential diarrhea. Let’s just say a cow has nothing on me and finding trees on the rim is a bit impossible. Thus I walked at the rear and dug shallow holes. Apparently there is a popular saying in Asia about western hikers that basically states “it is a brave man who farts in Asia”. I understand this. Perfectly. And think – 10 days of antibiotics.
A good nights sleep did me wonders last night & my friends are the absolute best for waiting for me. I really considered asking Sheri & Cathy to take me home yesterday. They knew that, so they basically eliminated the option by providing help while telling me to get well because going forward was my only option. Thank you. These little black bugs are attracted to the light & are driving me nuts so goodnight John boy.

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Destination: Old Station
Starting Location: Old Station
Today’s Miles: 0.00
Trip Miles: 1378.80

An unexpected zero day. I woke up in a sweat, had terrible diarrhea and threw up a few times for good measure. Not sure if it was related to my flesh eating infection but I am pretty sick. Sheri and Cathy gave up their bed in the motor home, turned on the air conditioning, and sequestered me. I emerged many hours later and was told I looked as if I had been hit by a truck – I felt worse. I was able to eat a few scrambled eggs and was so happy Pang, Swiss Miss, and Sugar Daddy had decided to wait for me.
Rolling Thunder, Tadpole, and Sunny also stayed as Tadpole deals with a lymphoid problem. The hot hot Northern California is taking a toll.
Thunder sent a photograph to Carrie an emergency room doctor and friend of Thunder’s. We got back an instant response with an concurring diagnosis but a more thorough monitoring program along with other management recommendations. The trail community is the best.
Hope to hike by tomorrow afternoon and believe it is doable if we go slow in the cooler evening hours. That is quite a contract from this morning when all I wanted was to be home in my own bed.
Except for Mike Unger, who is staying in town, the stinking dozen are all here along with many others. It was good to see everyone and when I emerged again I got a nice round of applause.
Sheri and Cathy have been incredible taking care of me and feeding other hikers. Along with our host we have quite a community here.

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Destination: Old Station
Starting Location: Past Badger Flat
Today’s Miles: 10.20
Trip Miles: 1378.80
Past Badger Flat (1367.5, 6293) to Old Station (1377.7, 4580) ascent (650) descent (1500)

When I arrived at the emergency room and they said “you must be Robert, the doctor is expecting you”, I knew I was in the size town I prefer – small. Georgie and Dennis, our host and trail angels had first arranged for a nurse to stop by and then they had called the local hospital (40 miles away). The early diagnosis was a brown recluse spider bite but the ER doctor pegged it was a staff infection. I am pretty casual about these things typically but I guess this can be pretty serious and the doctor prescribed an antibiotic cocktail to hopefully kill it. Fortunately Sheri and Cathy came up and were able to shuttle me around the county.

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Destination: Past Badger Flat
Starting Location: North Fork Feather River
Today’s Miles: 22.70
Trip Miles: 1368.60
North Fork Feather River (1344.8, 5020) to Past Badger Flat (1367.5, 6293) ascent (2728) descent (1583)

Drakes Bad was an unbelievable surprise and I mean unbelievable. We had heard rumors that hikers had received a warm reception at the lodge within Lassen National Park. Arrive around lunch and after the guests have eaten you may be able to get some pretty good food. We marched in at 10:15 a.m. and candidly we were marching as if on a mission. We headed straight or what looked like a dining area. Then I saw him – coming fast from our flank, with authority, and clearly intent on intercepting us. Not an encouraging sign and he literally put up his hand and brought us to a halt. “On the trail you may need to rush but at Drakes Bad you must relax. Put your packs over here. Walk down this path to a shower with soap and towels provided, grab a soda and soak your tired muscles in the mineral pool. At 12:00 be here for an all you can eat buffer.” Uh – OK. While soaking in the springs someone asked “what is this going to cost us”. I looked around at the clientele, the European make SUV in the parking area and commented we might want to find out – this place is definitely expensive. Sugar Daddy is on the tightest budget so he was nominated to ask. He came back that lunch was $13.00 for guests but for us stinking hikers it was $6.00. The shower and soak was on our host as they wanted us clean and relaxed for lunch. When the lunch bell was rang we waited politely while the guests began to line up. Ed our now host came over and asked what we were waiting for. We explained that we thought we should wait for the paying guests to eat. “Nonsense, you need the food more than they do-get in there”. And the food was appropriate or the regular clientele who I am sure are used to such luxuries. But to hiker trash it was amazing and far far superior to the buffet at Tahoe. Five salads including a fruit salad with perfectly ripe raspberries, blue berries, and black berries. As we cleaned them out the brought more. This went on for two hours and then Ed brought out one of those giant industrial mixing bowls (5 gallons) that they had to use to mix chocolate frosting in. He brought five spoons and we smeared homemade cookies with chocolate frosting. The real guests looked on in amazement. When we were full beyond comparison which was an hour after they officially stopped lunch, Sunny, Tadpole and Rolling Thunder came in. This time Ed said “the kitchen must start preparing for dinner, so you must eat first, then take a shower to relax your tired muscles”. As we crawled out of Drakes Bad Ed and his lovely wife Billy gave us fruit for the road and wished us well on our journey. I am still in shock. For 14 miles after our stop we kept saying “did that just really happen”.
Nastya from the Ukraine is working at Drakes Bad for the summer. I met wonderful people like her last year in Alaska. They come to the U.S. to work in our National Parks. They are full of stories o hardships at home, and a true appreciation for the opportunity to see and work in America. She shyly asked if she could talk to and we quickly pulled up a chair. Then with incredible enthusiasm and broke English she blurted out “I want to hike this trail – how do I”. We loved her as she reminded us of ourselves when our hike was only a dream. We left her with PCTA.org as a place to start. As her break ended she glowed and stated “2008 I hike”. Watch for her as I have no doubt she will be one of us – nothing can stop that kind of passion and desire.

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