Day 86 // 15 miles
PCT mile 1346.3 (Skipped ahead 521.1 miles)
Total miles 825.2
"It's a little messy but better than... dying." Steve, about our decision to flip flop.
Today was the day I finally got to get back on trail! It's funny how even though I always want to get to towns for their nice amenities, I always start to feel antsy after being off trail for a while. Chester was a nice little town with friendly locals and a hard-working feel. Cheer, Snickers and I went out for breakfast at the Kopper Kettle, and then we headed back to pack up.
Cheer and I said see you later to Snickers before heading out. It feels a bit like the Fellowship of the Sierra was broken, and Cheer and I are Frodo and Sam, pushing on to Mordor, hopeful that we'll see the others again. Kathy, our amazing trail angel, picked us up at the grocery store around the corner. She is planning her own section hike of Oregon later this year, and it was fun talking gear with herand telling us about our trail adventures! She also took our packages to mail tomorrow since the post office was closed today, and we gave her our numbers so we could make sure we'd given her enough cash to cover it. What a sweetheart.
We pulled into the parking lot, and here, 521.1 miles from where we bailed out at Taboose pass, we were back on the trail. Mile 1331.2 was just past the midpoint marker of the PCT, so we'll see that when we come back, well past halfway done. We entered a beautiful pine forest, and a variety of mature trees greeted us. White pine, spruce, sugar pine, and more (according to the signs).
The dry trail was a beautiful sight, and the weather was perfect! 75 degrees, shady, and breezy - we couldn't ask for anything better. Honestly, it did feel a little weird as we started walking; the Sierra was such a crazy challenge, so I had to mentally readjust to this simple life of just walking down a long windy dirt path. Part of me felt a little guilty for skipping, like I was a fraud for avoiding the hard section of trail. But as I eased back into things, I remembered that I'm not out here to prove anything. It took courage and humility for us to decide that sometimes, you have to realize your own smallness compared to the force of nature. And really, I want to enjoy every bit of this trail, without unnecessary fear for my own safety. I know my comfort threshold with adventure, and the Sierra had pushed those boundaries and finally surpassed them.
We hiked in a few miles and stopped at a stream for a break. There, we met Orca and Fast Times, two hikers who made it through the Sierra early in the season. They said this was their third day without any snow and they were relishing every bit of it.
The trail was so peaceful, and we could tell it seemed much less trafficked than the desert section. We're ahead of most hikers going through the Sierra, and there are people scattered up the trail because of flipping. I'm guessing maybe two thirds of people gave up the idea of a continuous hike because of the Sierra. Soon, after a climb, we saw Mt. Lassen through a break in the trees. Too cool!
We stopped for lunch and I pulled out a new addition to my pack - chicken dipping sauce from Walmart. I sent a photo to my friend Isaiah who works at ChicFilA. He commented on the counterfeit waffle fries in the background of the label... cutthroat move, Walmart.
We neared Lassen National Park and the mosquitoes started to get worse. I donned my head net, and soon, we reached the park boundary where we would camp. Because we're required to have a bear canister if we camp inside the park, most thruhikers opt to camp outside the boundary and hike the 19 miles of the park in one day. We also had sent our bear cans home, so we went for this loophole method :)
After warring with the mosquitoes while cooking dinner, Cheer and I dove back into the safety of our tents to eat, then hung our food before getting to bed. An army of mosquitoes waits outside the mesh of my tent, laying siege until I emerge.
Day 87 // 20.9 miles (plus 1.5 miles of side trails and backtracking)
PCT mile 1367.2
Total miles // 846.1
In the cool morning air, the mosquitoes dispersed! Praise the Lord! Cheer and I ate our breakfast in peace.
I headed out of camp behind Cheer, at 6:45am and entered Lassen. Soon, I heard footsteps behind me and met a hiker named Ginger Balls who was moving FAST. In the short time I was able to keep pace with him, I learned that he was the guy who got Frostbite in the Sierra in May! He had spent some time letting his poor toes recover (he was close to losing some, but they're okay now). After two weeks off, he got back on at Sonora Pass. I caught up to Cheer at the junction to Terminal Geyser. We decided to go see it since it only added 0.6 to our day.
It wasn't exactly a geyser, but a huge steam vent! Super interesting! It smelled like sulphur and I joked that I could feel my pores opening just standing there. We got back to the trail, and soon saw another turnoff for Boiling Lake. This one was basically on the trail, and it was AWESOME.
Steam rose off the lake, and we could see bubbling pots of mud around the edge. It was very otherworldly, like something you'd see in Star Wars. We passed a campground and greeted some RV campers, then pushed on through a nice wooded area. After a while, I heard the sound of an ax on wood. Rounding the corner, we saw a forest service crew doing maintenance to prepare for a controlled burn. They were clearing some debris and felling some dead trees. As we talked with a woman from the crew, we heard a huge crack and saw a huge dead tree fall. I've learned a lot about wildfire on this trip. Since they occur naturally because of lightning, controlled burns can help reduce the severity by getting rid of fuel on the forest floor. We continued past the crew and found ourselves hitting some patchy snow afterwards. At a river crossing, we checked the map and realized we had missed the PCT turnoff and were on a side trail. We had to backtrack through the snow, but we found where the PCT actually crossed the river. Thankfully, a huge log was there to keep our feet dry.
Another crew of parks service and forest service workers greeted us. They were tracking a rare type of bird in the area. After a bit more patchy snow, we lunched at Lower Twin Lake. The blue water was surrounded by pines, and our only company for the entire hour was a group of Canadian geese, a mama deer, and her baby. It was beautiful and still, and I was so thankful that places like this still exist.
After lunch, there was a pretty long, flat section through a burn area with sweet views of Mt. Lassen again. I put on some music and we both crushed those last miles. After so much hiking in snow, it's sweet to have that feeling of gliding down the trail again.
We reached the boundary marker at last, where a guy was camped literally right outside the sign. He planned to go SOBO through the park the next day. A bit afterwards, we met Gravity and Happy Feet. From afar, I saw them with their gigantic Canada hats and flags hanging off their packs. They greeted us with a joyous "Happy Canada Day!" I had forgotten it was July 1st! The two of them met on trail, but are both from Victoria, BC. They told us about some of the tent spots ahead and we did the same for them. Such a fun pair. I left humming "Oh, Canada," though I still don't know the words - Mike Emerson and April Ether, if you're reading this, all I can ever remember is the lyrics from your parody of their anthem after you got ticketed in the Boundary Waters 😂 We started descending a beautiful slope of flowery bushes that glowed during golden hour.
Mt. Lassen bid us farewell and we went into a little grove of pines. Just before our campsite, we also found a cooler. Trail magic? I opened it and inside was a random collection of uninteresting books and toiletries - body spray, lotion, and the like. We were confused but I took the opportunity to model the body spray like a Hikertrash Vogue photoshoot.
At last we reached our sweet campsite among the pines. All in all, a really nice day getting back into hiking higher miles.
Day 88 // 18.4 miles (plus extra mile to Subway Cave and half mile to water)
PCT mile 1385.5
Total miles 864.4
This morning, Cheer and I both slept in - me because I was so cozy, and Cheer because she heard a herd of deer around our tent last night. I slept right through it - I'm always nervous that if a bear ever tried to get my food that I wouldn't wake up. There are definite perks to camping with a pal.
Once we got going, we made pretty decent time through the forest. At one point, I saw a southbounder heading towards us. I didn't recognize her at first, until we both burst out, "No way!"
It was our friend Grinder from the desert! We both met her pretty early on, and she flipped to Ashland to hike South! That's been an unexpected fun part of flipping - you honestly never know who you'll bump into at any given moment.
We also saw our friend Simless who we had met at Brenda's house in Tehachapi! So fun.
We made our way to Hat Creek Recreation Area, where we planned to go to the Subway Cave side trail. It sounded really cool, and we needed to get water at the trailhead anyways. We had lunch at the picnic area and saw a ton of tourists. There was a sweet Indian family who asked us about our hike and they were amazed!
We donned our headlamps and took the steps down into the cave for our spelunking side trail. The cool air surrounded us under the ground and we could see moisture in the air. It was awesome and huge! The cave was formed by a lava tube, and we followed the signs explaining how it was made.
We emerged on the other side and headed back to the trail. It was super hot out, especially compared to the cave, and we didn't have much shade anymore, so we pulled out the trusty sun umbrellas.
After the climb up to Hat Creek rim, we found some trail magic! Water bottles and some random military rations. I ate some two year old cheese with stale crackers but was super thankful for extra water in the heat. We also walked to the overlook point and saw our first hazy views of Mt. Shasta! Wow! And Lassen towered behind us.
The sun was hot into the evening as we pressed on, passing wildflowers and scaring a whole herd of cows off the trail.
Finally we reached the Lost Creek Spring, a side trail down into the gorge where a lush river flowed. This was the last water for several miles, and we didn't feel like dry camping so we had to take it. The switchbacks down were steep and I had to scramble down some rocks and do my best to avoid wiping out on the rocky trail.
After filling up 4 liters, I was now doing the climb back up while juggling water. Oof. We hadn't been sure we wanted to camp at the junction to the spring, but that climb down and up clinched it. We were done for the day. I haven't worked that hard for water since Guffy Springs near Wrightwood.
The spot was beautiful though, and we enjoyed the sunset even as we set up, exhausted.
Day 89 // 24.2 miles (plus .25 to the Guest Ranch) PCT mile 1409.7
Total miles: 888.6 Cheer and I left our campsite around 7am this morning - she was a bit ahead of me as I had to filter water, but I knew I would catch up. We hoped to do a longer day to get to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch for the night. I wound my way through a forested area until I got to the trail register. Afterwards, the trees gave way to an exposed area of the Hat Creek Rim. I could see Shasta from a distance, and it was a beautiful but warm morning.
Eventually, I caught up to Cheer at this forest service communication station place. We snacked for a bit then kept on trucking. The Hat Creek Rim is known as one of the hottest stretches of the PCT, and while I was thankful I wasn't out there later in July, it was still cooking! Cheer and I both had our umbrellas out before long.
We bumped into Orca and Fast Times again while they took a break. They were hoping to get to Burney for the 4th of July and crash a kind person's BBQ 😂 We stopped for lunch soon after, needing a respite from the heat and some food to keep us going. We had kept up the pace, so we were thinking we could get to the ranch for dinner.
Back at it, the trail was hot and the lava rock was hurting my feet pretty badly. But we saw some faces we knew coming southbound - Ritz and Navi! We had met them at Brenda's in Tehachapi and were glad to see they were hanging in there! They told us about trail magic at the road 3 miles ahead, so we booked it onward. I was so ready for another break. I had been pushing my pace all day, and it was hot and tiring. All I could think about was cold soda. So an hour later, when we finish reached the road with no trail magic in sight, I was gutted. We had missed it by just over an hour! I sat myself down, needing a chance to pout and feel sorry for myself for a little bit.
I put on my mosquito headnet and we pressed on. Through dry grassy meadows, we made our way towards the lake. My back started aching badly, so I put my umbrella away to use both trekking poles. It was a rough afternoon, but I started to feel a little better after getting to the lake. This was still the longest day ever though.
At last, we made it to the side trail to Burney Guest Ranch. The quarter mile of dirt road felt like an eternity, but we arrived to find a sweet little Christian retreat center where we could camp, resupply, shower, and get dinner. Linda, the owner, had extra dinner prepared, so after washing up, we had burrito bowls and I played a few worship songs on the piano. It was so nice.
I was surprised at how few other hikers were there, but Linda said that the numbers have fluctuated a lot this year with so many people flipping. After a shower and starting laundry, I enjoyed the sunset and grabbed a fruit juice pop to eat on the front porch. It was a great ending to a long, hard day.
Day 90 // 9.3 miles
PCT mile 1419.0
Total miles 897.9
4th of July!
Our morning at the ranch was super nice! Linda was visiting family today, but she had left breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls for us in the fridge. Soooo yummy. The hiker store there is on an honor system too, so I was still able to resupply. They really are in tune with what us hikers need!
I picked up some permethrin spray, and Cheer and I treated our clothes to keep the bugs away.
Once we had packed up and paid our tabs with the lady filling in for Linda, we sat on the porch talking to some new arrivals. Graham and SmallFurryAnimal were hanging out, and we got sucked into conversation there.
But we wanted to make it to Burney Falls for the 4th, so we got back on the trail. The trail was pretty flat, and though it was hot, the miles were pretty easy. Once we arrived, our first order of business was to make sure Cheer could get her resupply box. There were SO many tourists! Our second order of business was to find out where the tourists had gotten their ice cream cones. The place for both those tasks was at the general store. We sat with our ice cream and met a southbound hiker, Z.
Afterwards, we finally headed down to the falls. It was spectacular! The mist inspired another great Maid of the Mist episode. I wished it was a little earlier so I could jump in, but it was quickly getting colder.
We headed back up to the visitor center gazebo to charge our stuff and met Z again and a lady named Noelle. She was injured on the trail, so she is supporting her husband via their RV while he continues his hike. Getting tired, we made our way to the hike n' bike camp for the night.
Day 91 // 21.4 miles
PCT mile 1440.4
Total miles: 919.3
This morning, Cheer and I made our way to the General Store to get some extra candy and snacks for the morning.
We didn't hit the trail until around 9:30, and it was really warm. After looking at the elevation profile for the day, we saw that the next 21 miles were all uphill. Great. We trudged our way up in the heat, thankful for any stretch with shade. Passing the Britton dam and lake was pretty cool!
I honestly don't remember that much about this day, but I started the book "Everybody Always" by Bob Goff, and it was a good distraction from the burning in my legs.
The evening was beautiful, the cool air a welcome change, and golden hour in the pines making everything feel a bit more magical.
I reached the dirt road turnoff to the spring and was glad to see the tent sites nearby as Guthooks had said. Cheer and I were both pretty exhausted and ready for dinner. I made another buffalo chicken ramen with mashed potatoes. Yummmm.
Day 92 // 23.5 miles
PCT mile 1463.9
Total miles: 942.8
Today marked 3 months on the trail for me! And it was a great day.
The terrain was pretty up and down most of the day, but nothing too crazy. We took in some really gorgeous views of Mt. Shasta, and both of us were feeling pretty good. Neither of us was pushing too hard, but the miles were coming pretty easy.
Some girls like fancy clothes and jewelry, I just like eating cookies in the woods.
I finished "Everybody Always" - it was a speedy audiobook and I didn't want it to end! It really got me thinking about ways I can show love and be Jesus to the people around me.
Eventually, the trail made its way up to a ridge where I could see Shasta on one side, and beautiful blue mountains on the other side. Wildflowers were everywhere, coloring the slopes with red, yellow and purple.
After a while, we hit a section with some snow and started bushwhacking around it. Eventually we realized we were heading further away from the trail, so we clambered up the snow hill and looked for a way to the trail. There were a ton of shrubs close together, but we knew this was the way back, so we started through the thick growth. Eventually, we made it out of the bushes and found our way to a little forest service road that would reconnect with the trail.
The views on this side of the ridge were incredible! The mountains were so blue, and the foliage so green. Mount Shasta was getting closer, although it was still a bit hazy. Later we learned that there was a small, mostly contained fire in the county that probably caused the haze.
We got back to the trail and found a nice spot for lunch. Always nice when you can find one with shade and a view. Plus we also had a bit of service!
After lunch, I put on some music and enjoyed the beauty. It was warm, and I was sweating profusely, but it was a beautiful day.
We eventually headed downhill into a lush green river valley. Maybe because we were hiking in Northern California, I kept thinking about that scene in the Parent Trap where they go on that backpacking trip and push Meredith's air mattress out on the lake. Lol. It made me chuckle to myself.
We had seen only 4 or 5 people all day, so when we arrived at the tent site and saw 8 other tents camped there, it was a surprise to say the least! We had camped alone every night since being in NorCal, so this was different! Cheer ended up pitching her tent down the trail a bit, but I managed to fit mine near the rest. This site was supposed to be one with some crazy salt-deprived deer, so I made sure to put all my stuff inside my tent as I watched a deer nearby loitering.
Day 93 // 25.5 miles PCT Mile 1489.4 Total Miles: 968.3 I heard a few others getting ready this morning as I rolled over in my quilt and hit snooze on my alarm. I eventually started to pack up, but to my surprise, when I got out of my tent, I looked over to see Kris from Canada! I haven't seen her since Day 2 at Lake Morena!
She is hiking southbound (SOBO) from Ashland after flipping. So sweet! It's amazing to think about how this dotted line from Mexico to Canada connects our stories and journeys as hikers. You never know who might pop back into your life 1400 miles later! Cheer came up as I was talking to Kris, so I finished packing and we headed out. The morning went by quickly as we had a 10 mile descent in front of us. I made Cheer take a picture of me in a hollow tree because I'm a dork.
We stopped for a bit by the river at Ash Camp/Centipede Gulch for a snack break and enjoyed the lush river views. For a gross name like Centipede Gulch, it was suprisingly beautiful!
It didn't take much longer to get to the bottom, and we filled our water bottles and started up a 5 mile climb.
Thankfully most of it was shaded, and I put on some Sufjan Stevens and enjoyed rambling though the woods.
By lunchtime, we had already made 13.5 miles and were feeling like we could potentially make it 25 miles for the day. We kept pressing on up the hill and reached the top soon after. Going downhill again was super nice. We crossed lots of little streams and eventually made it to one with a sweet waterfall. There were two guys there hiking SOBO that were really friendly. We made it to the next water source, Squaw Valley Creek, a beautiful river winding through a rocky gorge. After crossing the bridge, we found a little trail down to the water. We knew that we had about 9 miles to the next source but also had to dry camp. So I took pretty much a of my 4-liter capacity.
With only 5 miles to our desired camp spot, we started a climb that was way more steep than we had realized. Thankfully I had talked ibuprofen and eaten my Snickers bar at the river!
This last 5 miles had over 2000 feet of elevation gain! I trudged on, little by little, and listened to some worship music for encouragement. Finally, I saw the camp spot! I had hit another PR record! Cheer and I made our dinner but ate in our tents to avoid the mosquito swarms. Dunsmuir, we are coming for you!
Day 94 // 11.8 Miles PCT mile 1501.2 Total miles: 980.1 Our big day yesterday set us up for a nice short morning of downhill to get into the town of Dunsmuir.
Zipper issues with my tent fly... gotta send it in for repair.
Cheer and I packed up and ate breakfast, swatting away the mosquitoes. I was excited for some good town food, as usual, and even more so since my hiker hunger is beginning to kick back in from doing higher mile days. The morning was beautiful and cool, and as we rounded the corner, Mt. Shasta greeted us through some hazy clouds. The morning light also illuminated some amazing mountains and crags we hadn't yet seen - probably Castle Crags and the Trinity Alps!
We cruised down the hill, passing more beautiful little wildflowers in their summer bloom, along with some streams and lush greenery. Before long, we only had about 2.5 miles to go, and Cheer and I stopped for a break.
I had some good service, so of course I used this opportunity to show her the SNL skit "The Californians", since I heard her talking about the highways in LA like they do on that skit. So funny to be in the middle of the woods, cracking up about a silly YouTube video. As we continued down, we saw a sign for the hostel where we planned to stay and a logbook. Thankfully, the hostel owner Kelly offered rides when available.
Soon, we made it to the road near I-5, and Kelly swung by to pick us up. Her hostel is called Crossroads, and it was so cute and cozy with a bit of a hippie vibe.
We got spaces in the bunk room, and then Kelly dropped us downtown at the Dunsmuir brewery for some lunch. I got a delicious pulled pork sandwich, and after lunch we went for round 2 at the Burger Barn with shakes and fries. Yep, the hiker hunger is back.
We walked the town, noticing that a lot of places were closed, and then decided to head back to the hostel. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any Uber or Lyft drivers around, and Kelly had the evening off, so we had to hitch. But no one driving by in downtown Dunsmuir seemed to have any idea what the heck we were doing.
Kelly had mentioned that it might be easier to get a ride if we just talked to a local, so we walked over to the busy bank parking lot and I saw a nice looking older lady exiting the bank with her grandson. I smiled and said, "Excuse me, any chance you're heading south on I-5?" Hahaha. I never thought this would be my life in a million years. She said she wasn't, but I explained that we were hikers just trying to get to the hostel two miles down the road. "Oh sure, I can do that!" she said. We learned that she worked at the Chamber of Commerce and was familiar with the PCT. We offered her some gas money, but she refused and wished us well on our trip. After getting back to the hostel, we had time to shower and start our laundry before ordering pizza. Tomorrow we'll get our resupply done and enjoy a zero day! :)
Day 95 // 0 miles PCT mile 1501.2 Zero in Dunsmuir It was super nice to sleep in today at the hostel. I got up and headed to the outdoor kitchen, where I made some French press coffee and helped myself to some of the communal breakfast food. I sat with a few other hikers, Fairy Feet and her husband whose name I can't remember. We also met Legs, a sassy southern girl who is super sweet. She hiked the Mountains to Sea trail in North Carolina, then turned around and hiked it in the opposite direction (known as a yo-yo hike in the long distance hiking world). She told us she wants to go yoyo hike a bunch of random short trails around the world so she can be the first woman to do so 😂 I called up Big Agnes customer support because my tent fly has a jacked up zipper. Unfortunately, they didn't have any used replacement ones available that I could use while they fixed it, but they offered to rush the order for me and get it back to me asap if I could manage without it for a while. Cheer and I headed to Yak's, a famous burger place, for lunch. We got some loaded tater tots and humongous burgers, and it was honestly the best burger on the whole trail so far, maybe ever.
Our friend Yoda joined us after a bit. He is from Michigan, and was telling us about his adventures working on farms and backcountry camping in New Zealand. It sounded awesome! He's a cool dude. Once we were stuffed, we headed towards town and hit up Dollar General for resupply. It was amazing! Normally resupply in Cali is pricey, but Dollar General is where it's at!
We stopped at the grocery for some fresh fruit, I picked up a mailer to send in my tent fly, and then I popped in to the hardware store to find something to use as a temporary emergency tent fly. The nice man working the store recommended a plastic paint drop cloth, so I went with that. Let's hope I don't need to use it! Finally, we decided to pick up dinner before heading back to the hostel. We popped into the Pizza Factory, and I opted to live up to my namesake and get the Calzone. Yessss. We got a ride back with the same nice Uber driver lady we had ridden to town with. Thankfully we didn't have to bother with the hitch situation this time! The rest of the evening was spent repackaging food, chatting with other hikers, and packaging my tent fly to send in.