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2007-07-26 A spring in my step

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Considerably buoyed by the audio-visual mood enhancers sent from home I had a really good day, especially considering the numbers. Over 4,000ft elevation gain, 27.6 miles and all done in 12 hours.

The climb up the Castle Crags was a steep one so I was glad to be getting it done early. Once I got to the ridge it was much easier and I just dawdled the day away eventually catching Gary Myers and Old Corpus at my target water source, a trail side spring so clean and cold I drank a litre straight away. About an hour before that I passed three boxes near a road. Brad has set up a PCT cache there but all the edibles were gone. The only stuff left was soap, lip-salve, bug repellant (which I took) and a large number of new socks.

I ate well tonight, which is good because I am very low on snacks and will try to eat little tomorrow. I had instant noodles mixed with instant gravy, instant mashed potatoes and tuna. While that was settling I made Maple Bulgar in a pouch from a kit I found in the hiker box in Castella. It’s a kind of wheat breakfast thing, and went well with the strawberry jam Bear Bait had given me. Yes, I am full and it feels great. Two nights ago you could have put a plank of wood between my hip bones and it not touch skin. Tonight I have a belly!

I also have a great view. On an open gravelly saddle I’m watching the sun set and turn Mt. Shasta pinky orange. I won’t be here for sunrise but I expect I’ll still be on the ridge.


Home on the ranges

Today’s food fantasy: Slushies! A giant cup, one of those brightly coloured ones you see in malls continuously rotating, and when you suck it down you can hear the ice in the back of your throat. There may not be one until Ashland (185 miles away) and by then I’ll need two!

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

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2007-07-25 1500cc (Castle Crags)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

The first thing I said this morning was “bugger”. I said that a few times followed by “I’m late”. It was still dark but I now only had 12 hours to do 24 miles to reach the post office and my memory cards. As it happens the trail was pretty easy and I was cheered by the great view of Castle Crags (or as I prefer to misunderstand: Craig’s Castle).

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Castle Crags

There was a considerable climb but tackling it early and in the shade helped a lot. I would have flown up it if I knew what was waiting for me in Castella. Just before the road I found LumberJack’s bag of plums. They were all fresh and I took as many as I could. With a pocketful of fruit I started the walk to ‘town’. As soon as the plums were gone I started finding blackberries and had a hand full of them when I got a lift from a nice girl who works at the park so by 2pm I was unwrapping the two mystery packages. From Ireland I got a Baileys truffle bar and a card which I’ll read at the top of tomorrow’s ascent (Tuesday was 1,000ft, Wednesday was 2,000ft, tomorrow is 4,000ft. I don’t like the way this is heading).

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In the other packet was a memory card that almost brought me to tears right there at the post office. Videos from a night at my old flat with my friends, from my family and even the guys (and gals) from work. I was grinning the whole way through and especially when they were going to drive to the local chinese take-away. “I hate walking” said Sam “let’s take five cars!”, Shardonnay with her “mmmm, food we didn’t have to carry” and Tony with his “oohhh, I’ve been on my feet all day”. Yeah whatever dude!

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After a few really tough days it was exactly what I needed. Thank you so much to everyone involved. I’ll be keeping that card with me the rest of the way. Even if I have to use it to take photos I won’t be erasing the videos. I miss everyone back there so much, I miss everything. Yes even work. I’ll miss the trail when I’m done too but for a while this afternoon I was wishing I had just 200 miles to go and not 1200. Still, there are many high times ahead. I’m looking forward to seeing BlueSky and Vortex in a few days. Having someone to hike with is nice and since Lucky Joe just took a few more days off to visit his woman it’ll be a while before I see him again.

Panther, Bear Bait and the other Billy Goat were at the Castella gas-station/minimart too. We swapped spare food, ate a lot of ice cream and generally hung out. It took me until almost sunset to return to the trail (because I stopped to pick more blackberries). As I neared one of the very few houses on this road a lady and her little daughter were watching me,
“Are you going back to the trail?”
“Yes I am. 1500 miles now”
“how far?”
“1500, it’s worth it for these berries”
- she translates into American for her daughter -
“Well done, where ya from?”
“New Zealand”
“Good luck, good bye”

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I waved and carried on down the road. It was like having my own little cheer squad :-)
Then I found myself the victim of a Simon-Says game that I didn’t know I was in. Try this:

“You enter by a locked gate, and immediately turn left (south) on an old road. North, it goes 80 yards to refreshing Root Creek. You follow this narrowing road, hiking under pleasant shade of…”

I kept walking south, then a bit west, re-reading this trying to figure out if I’d missed a turning. I’d seen no creek and though the definition of a road has always been sketchy this was just a good flat path. I finally worked out that the road goes north, the trail does not. A subtle distinction but once I’d spotted it I walked on, found the next trail junction and set up camp to watch, and rewatch, those awesome little clips. I really feel like I can’t thank you enough. I’ll be back home in early October but until then I’m glad to have you all in my bag too.

p.s. Fresh fruit is the business. That and Baileys chocolate.
p.p.s. In all the excitement in town I forgot to edit yesterday’s entry to include how I set up the inflatable pink flamingo tent stake to cheer me up after that exhausting day. It’s just the most useless gear ever and putting it up made me smile.

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps

2007-07-24 So good when I stop

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

On the final climb of the day, with more moisture dripping down my back than in my water bottle, I began to feel a little defeated. I composed an entry basically pleading for mercy and telling everyone with a roller-chair and air-conditioning how lucky they are. But now that I’ve rested and mostly dried off I am feeling more positive and ready to walk again tomorrow.

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From my rock-top perch this morning I heard “the other” Billy Goat come by. At 5am it was still dark enough that he didn’t see me until he was quite close. The first song on my iPod set the tone.

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Eagle-Eye Cherry – “Are you still having fun?”
  You are on your own
  You do as you please
  Having so much fun
  Gone and lost your reason
  After all is said and done
  Are you still having fun?
  How were you to know when you’ve gone astray?
  That happiness would go like a lost emotion
  You have always gone your way
  Are you happy today?

Not every moment here is fun. The last few days have been incredibly hard physically but that’s my fault. I’ve set an aggressive schedule again and I’m throughly exhausted. I’ve run four marathons now. And at the end of each one I made a mad dash to the finish line. Moving my legs so fast I couldn’t feel them, just the frantic raising and falling of my thighs until just as they are about to burst I cross the line and come to a sudden stop. I stagger around for a while, quite uncertain what to do next then things kick in. Rest, refuel, recover. That’s how I’ve been feeling at the end of my hiking days recently. Totally beat and just a little disoriented. I look forward to reaching Etna not just for BlueSky rejoining the hike but the return to a more healthy pace.

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I am of course sticking with it. Just now I heard a squirrel talking loudly about something, and there is a serious amount of leaf-rustling and branch-breaking going on over there. You just don’t get this at home. I’m off to investigate the strange sound.

…whatever it was it didn’t like the look of me in underwear and Crocs so I didn’t get to see it. Deer I don’t mind, it’s the bears and mountain lions I worry about. And whatever little critter snuck into my bag and gnawed one of my breakfast bars last night.

I saw a rattle snake today. I was surprised to see one in this humid shadowy forest, such a world apart from where I saw my first one in the arid lands near Campo nearly 100 days ago.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps

2007-07-23 Coming apart

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

About midday today as I chugged up another bushy hillside I heard a worrying ‘pop’ and all the weight of my pack sagged onto my shoulders. The canvas strap that was laughingly called a hip-belt by the designers had given up and I had to rig up a replacement using two straps that came with my sleeping mat. It’s no less comfortable than before but I’ll need to find a new way to secure my mat next time it rains.

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Broken hip belt, repair

Hoping to reach Castella before the post office closes on Wednesday I made today a long one by getting on the trail at 5:30am and not getting off it until after 8pm. I took breaks for lunch and dinner but mostly it was walking. And it’ll be the same tomorrow and the next two months I guess. Today was more endure than enjoy but it did get me to a great cliff-top view of sunset right next to Mt. Shasta. I’m sleeping on rock slabs tonight, each up to a few inches thick and a couple of square feet in size. Hopefully the lumps beneath me are in the right places and I’ll fit right in, no bed of soft pine needles tonight.

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I forgot to mention a few animal encounters recently. On Saturday when sitting with Chigger and Stretch a carpenter ant crawled across my hand. I was just about to take a great macro photo when the little git bit me! According to tv I should soon develop ant-like powers of lifting 20 times my weight (like my pack isn’t heavy enough now), the ability to climb up walls and the idea that biting something a million times bigger than me is a good idea. It wasn’t, as the ant would tell you if he wasn’t dead. And an ant.

The next day I saw a skunk, or was it a cat with a white stripe painted on it? I had to make a lot of fuss to get a snake off the trail later and today I saw a massive bird of prey, an eagle of some sort I think. Its wing span was at least 4ft.


Lesson for the day: Though I can do 15 miles in the morning on less than 2 liters of water, that does not hold true for a hot afternoon.

I arrived at Moosehead Creek springs very thirsty. As I filled my second bottle the condensation on the first made it so appealing I drank the water before even bothering to treat it. We’ll see how wise that was later.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps

2007-07-22 Scoria

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

It was nice to have have hiked with Chigger and Stretch yesterday but I really wanted to get to Burney Falls Park asap to be sure they had my food package. If they didn’t I’d have to hitch to a town and back again tonight.

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Mt Shasta

After coming down from Hat Creek Rim the path got into scoria. It was hot and dry and soon it felt much like being back in the Mojave. I plugged on but I could feel a blister growing. Bear Bait has attributed it to the heat but I’m thinking the excessive pack weight is at least partly responsible.


Road crossing

At Crystal Creek Fish Hatchery I refilled my water bottles and took a little look around. According to the signs they release about 1,000,000 catchable sized fish from there every year and it’s funded by fishing licenses.

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The walk was very flat. With no pack and on a cooler day I could have run through most of it, watching for the rocks would have slowed me down. But today wasn’t like that.

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Burney Falls did indeed have my package though it turns out I didn’t need much of it. I’ve now got seven main meals in my bag and I only need two to reach Castella. I even gave away three Rice-a-ronis and two pounds of trail mix that Debbie Kennedy kindly gave me. I ate as much as I could but it was just slowing me down. Hopefully I’ll get some tips from BlueSky for weight reduction.

I stayed at the park’s store for over four hours. I would have left earlier but when Bear Bait turned up and bought beer I could hardly sneak out. So Chigger, Stretch, Panther, Bear Bait and I sat around talking about past and future PCT stuff. It was a really positive place to be. Everyone feeding off the excitement around them. I wonder if this sort of thing would have helped others stay on the trail. It makes me feel better about being here. The same goes for the night after Drakesbad at the Kennedy/Smith house. They were so interested in the trail and New Zealand that when I left I was on a really high plain despite the rain and the long way to shelter. I’ll try to make up a good sentence to describe the positive vibes.

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Chigger, Stretch , Panther and Bear Bait

Chigger is a tiny wee thing. Claims to be the second shortest thru-hiker, the title being taken by Oblivious. He’s 12 and still growing. Previously an equestrian sports photographer (no, I didn’t know such a profession existed either) she has done the AT and her boyfriend is currently doing the CDT. When telling stories she does the people’s voices, though she hasn’t got the Northumberland accent of Storming Norman and Hell-on-Wheels yet. She’s a freegan, meaning she gets food that supermarkets and bakeries are throwing out. Imagine eliminating your food bill.

Stretch has a great sense of humour. Though she doesn’t make a lot of jokes herself she audibly enjoys everyone else’s. She laughs and smiles a lot and it’s hard not to join her. Hiking with someone like that you’d never be in bad spirits.

I don’t know much about Panther except he’s twice had run-ins with bear cubs and their protective mothers. Bear Bait though has not even seen one yet. He’s a section hiker doing 1000 miles from Tuolumne Meadows so tomorrow he’ll be halfway.

Jinx and Cash have had to leave the trail. The scoria and hot trail mean their little paws can’t take it anymore. Two Dogs has taken them back to Old Station and will leave them on a friend’s farm and return here to continue alone. I guess we’ll have to call her Heidi again until she does something weird or wonderful to earn a new trail name.

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Burney Falls

Quote of the day:
Chigger: Are you pure?
SunWalker: I’ve been asked that before, in a very different tone of voice.

Purists are those that walk every single inch of the PCT, no scenic alternatives, no shortcuts.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

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2007-07-21 Hat Creek Rim

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Leaving such fabulous amenities as those at the Old Station Hiker Hideaway is never easy. After two zeros I was keen to get moving but it was still a struggle to put on that heavy pack and start the slow shuffle north, especially when heading towards the infamous Hat Creek Rim.

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Chigger, Stretch, SunWalker and Girl Scout

Things were helped by starting with Chigger and Stretch. We talked as we started but soon settled into our own paces. We took the detour to Subway Cave to fill up on water for the hot, dry rim, and walked through the lava-tube formation. Nice and cool in there compared to the midday heat up above.

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Pack sizes

You could tell by the way I was dropping my feet that I was having a hard time readjusting to walking the trail. My bag gained too much weight during the stop-over and I was wallowing in it. Contrary to what I said before I may very well start counting down the miles until I’m done. For now I’m putting this down to the first-day blues and hope that I’ll be more positive tomorrow.

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Lava Caves

We got some nice views of Mt. Shasta today and it’ll be in sight for at least two weeks as the trail bends west, then even south for a bit, to stay with the crest. Now I’m lying down on the ridge above Hat Creek watching hang-gliders do their thing silently hundreds of feet above me

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps

2007-07-20 My day

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Though I heard my troupe leaving this morning I stayed in the tent and didn’t wave them off. I’ll see them again in a week or so and today is my birthday so I opted to sleep in. It’s a relative term on the trail though and I was in the kitchen by 8am. Everyone else left this morning except Chigger who has been here nearly a week trying to get over her mystery illness.

Tree House

Overflow accommodation at Old Station

When Girl Scout returned from dropping the gang at the trail he had a little video to show me, check it out :-)


Happy Birthday

Through out the day I mostly ate, watched a bit of TV and repacked my bag. I’ve read a couple of the cards I received here but also kept some for on the trail. Along with the epic Shogun they’ll give me a reason to stop walking and take a rest.

A lot of hikers came in this afternoon. I already knew Mr Parkay and Stretch but the other dozen are almost all strangers and all the proof I need to know the herd is nipping at my heels. I really got to enjoy just having a few good friends around rather than lots of vague people. I think everyone here now is moving on tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll seem more spread out when we’re hiking.

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We’ve had a big social meal and a small musical camp fire. I’m packed and beginning to mentally prepare to continue with the hike. I’ve only one more planned zero day and it’s three weeks away. Even though I’m only halfway it seems so much closer to the end. Just under three weeks to finish California. Three to do Oregon. Three for Washington. It seems so simple in those terms but I still see a lot of effort ahead. The first half took a long time so I’m looking back on it and thinking I have to do that much again. This half is supposed to be easier. This half stays below 8,000ft. But I still have almost 1300 miles to go. Ridiculous.

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Belden to Old Station

Google Maps

2007-07-19 Baking in Old Station

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

I’ve had a zero day at Old Station in the home of Georgi and Dennis Heitman. A few of the others headed north while the rest of us went to Burney to buy supplies and I got the ingredients. Tomorrow is my birthday but due to the wonder of time zones I’m starting the celebrations today with a home made pavlova! It didn’t quite go to plan. The mixture tasted great, and it really puffed up brilliantly but when I took it out to cool there was some sort of implosion and I had to crumble it all up into a bowl and smooth the cream over the top. The saving grace was the genuine New Zealand kiwifruit I got from the supermarket. It went down a treat and Troll, Oblivious and Tiki even came back from 20 miles up the trail for a taste :-)

Pavlova

Pavlova / Pavlova with Cream

Otherwise not much happened. We ate, talked, planned and lazed. Two Dogs’ triplet sister is here to visit her and using Dennis’ workshop to fix the clutch cable on her bike. We had visions of her driving back to Oregon without a clutch, unable to go below 20mph :-)

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Belden to Old Station


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2007-07-18 The Spice of Life

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Variety is the spice of life so I was almost glad to realise the sound I heard at dawn was not a sprinkler but actual proper rain. I was even more glad that I was inside at the time.

Thanks to Sarge and Debbie I stayed warm and dry this morning while other PCTers were probably getting their first soaking in months. With limited computer access and constant rain we stayed indoors for most of the morning and I caught up on a missed episode of Curious George and Clifford – The big red dog.

Sarge drove me to the trail, via the deli to get me a sandwich. I have to hand it to the Americans, they sure make the best.

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It was still raining slightly when I started but the change was good and it made the air cooler for two hard climbs before the trail leveled off around Swan Lake. The novelty soon wore off as the rain soaked undergrowth brushed against my trousers and into my socks. I’d stuffed energy bars and snacks into various jacket pockets so that I wouldn’t have to open my pack in the rain. This and the easy terrain kept me moving pretty fast. There were dry periods but mostly it got down to a light drizzle that was comfortable to be in without a hood. Before I knew it I’d reached Badger Flat, the halfway point to Old Station. The rain was fading away and I glimpsed Mt Lassen with heavy clouds rolling over its shoulder. The day got better and I carried on along the damp trail with no dust for a change. Not surprisingly I didn’t see anyone until I reached the holiday village (mobile home park) at Old Station. Georgi Heitman (who gave me a lift down to the kick off) came to pick me up and I’ve been chatting with other hikers-in-residence here. Chigger, last seen powering off towards I-10 a couple of months ago, is here. She’s been really sick and is finally taking the time off to kick what ever she is plagued with before continuing north.

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Mt Lassen

The house is interesting. Lots of things hanging down everywhere. Sweet, homely things, nice quotes, cute pictures of country cottages, baking trays and old-time food tins. The grounds are large and almost everyone is tenting out there. I’m in one of Georgi’s ones, “the flamingo suite”, named for the pink flamingo stakes that secure it. Some of them are mine that I won at Kick Off and, had Ol’ Skool, Vortex and Blue Sky made it this far we were each to carry one to the border. Now I’m the only one left and I’ll have trouble convincing anyone else to take them on.

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Belden to Old Station

Google Maps

2007-07-17 Drake’s Good

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Wow what a surprise. This morning I was sleeping by a mosquito plagued spring, and now I’m on a sofa bed in Lake Almanor Country Club! I’ll start at the beginning.

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Mt Lassen

I have heard rumours of great things at Drakesbad Guest Ranch and I’d decided to be there for dinner in the hope of scoring a cheap (and by all accounts very good) meal. It was only 15 miles away so I took my time and made sure to visit Terminal Geyser for a good nap in the shade. The terrain was pretty easy, small climbs and descents passing North Fork Feather River and Domingo Spring it stayed within a 1000ft range all the way. The geyser itself was nothing special. It’s actually a fumarole and there are plenty of those in New Zealand but I was wasting time so I read a book for a while. Eventually I moved on along the dusty trail to pass Boiling Springs Lake. Imagine a million gallons of Lime flavoured Primo and you’re pretty much there with me.

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The trail undulated a bit more and then came out next to the ranch. I smartened up as much as a smelly hiker can (like doing up a few more buttons and taking off my hat) and walked up to the dining room/office where they told me dinner was at 6 and I can use the pool until then. Which I did, and the shower. mmmm hot pools.

While drying off on a deck chair, Sarge saw the NZ flag on my dad’s back pack and came over to say hi. He, his wife and four children are moving to New Zealand in a month so we had plenty to talk about and when the dinner bell rang I was invited to their table.

They had lots of questions about schooling and Wellington which unfortunately I couldn’t answer, but I could at least point out which things to visit on the drive down from Auckland.

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Debbie Kennedy with Craig after 90 days on the Pacific Crest Trail
Craig on his first day on the Pacific Crest Trail ->PCT

They’ve invited me back to her parents’ house within the bounds of Lake Almanor Country Club. It’s more like a semi-retirement/holiday home community, no collared-shirt and sweater rule here. Debbie has supplied me with a mound of food and Sarge showed me where to sit in the garden to get the best WiFi signal. It’s amazing what total strangers will do for you if you’ve got just the slightest thing in common. Actually we have a lot in common, try this out
*They’re moving to NZ in a month (I’ll be back there in early October)
*Sarge works for Oracle, and joined them when they bought PeopleSoft (just like my uncle)
*He just flew back here from Truckee with a guy who runs the airport maintenance (Kevin, possibly Roger Pynappel’s boss)
*They have four kids, aged 8, 6, 3 and 1 (I was once one of four aged 8, 6, 4 and 2)
*Sarge hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail (east coast, PCT is west coast)

It’s well passed my bedtime, but I might get to sleep in a bit, if I’m not up on the computer at first light.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Belden to Old Station

Google Maps