This period marks my last few days of hiking through what seemed to be the neverending state of California. I had to cut it short 400 miles from the Oregon border due to numerous wildfires between Old Station and Ashland. It was out of my hands and I'm fine with it. My journey through California has been spectacular with all the varying regions and terrains and wonderful people I've met along the way. It is also the state of my birth and I feel as though I have really assimilated it into my being by walking through it along it's mountain wilderness. Now it's time for a new experience and I'm looking forward to walking across Oregon.
I left Chester at midday and hiked 15 miles to the Wilson Lake outlet, which is not a lake but a dry marsh. Enroute I had to cross the North Fork Feather River over an arched bridge. There were some lovely campsites along the banks but I needed to get miles done. As I set up camp preparing to camp solo in the woods further down, I spotted a handsome, inquisitive young buck with his fuzzy antlers and a pair of large cranes.
The first half of the day was great in Lassen Volcanoes Park.
I did a side hike to Terminal Geyser, then went past the boiling, bubbling, murky green, sulfurous, smelly Sulphur Lake followed by an extended lunch at the upmarket but rustic resort of Drakesbad where I charged up my electronics, had a great lunch and tried to find out more about the wildfires just north of me.
Once I left the resort I went past upper and lower Twin Lakes and then through a devastated burned out section caused by a previous fire, that went on for miles without a water source.
I eventually camped beyond the northern boundary of Lassen Park. Helicopters flew overhead and the sky was getting smoky. It was a bit disconcerting camping by myself remotely in the wilderness knowing that a wildfire was raging not far off.
Whilst lying in my tent, I heard the crunch. crunch of footsteps outside. Something large was moving around outside my tent. I was terrified and my heart was racing, not sure of who or what it was.I shouted out "who's there", but got no reply. I then blew my whistle to try and scare it off but to no avail. Eventually I couldn't stand it anymore, so I burst out of my tent door, mace in hand and there stood a couple of blinking deer. I felt much better but they stayed and hovered around my tent for hours, sniffing at it and making a noise crunching around outside on the dry twigs.
Something woke me up at 03:30 while I was lying there all alone in the forest. The smell of smoke had filled my tent and I decided to pack up camp immediately and get out of there. It was still about a 10 mile/16km hike to Old Station. As night turned to day, I could see that the entire area was cloaked in a blanket of smoke and I hiked along anxiously, quickening my pace.
I reached a section where the PCT branched into two sections, one was the newer section through the woods and the second was the older trail "Parham Trail" along a dirt road, which I decided to follow, as I thought it would be easier to be rescued along a road if it came to that.
I went past an unmanned water truck and then hit a T junction. Did I go right or left? Something propelled me left and eventually I heard the sweet sound of cars in the distance. The dirt road took me right to Hwy 89, just outside of the old stagecoach stopover of "Old Station", a tiny town consisting of a post office, fire station, a grocery store and a motel.
Everything except the post office was closed, as the fire had knocked out the electricity supply. There, standing dutifully behind her desk was the post mistress, rendering service with a smile amidst all the smoke and chaos. I was able to pick up my resupply box that had been mailed there and packed Purple Monster full of food. The road going north was closed, as was the trail. Ten houses in Hat Creek which is adjacent to Old Station were burned down and the entire region was swirling with smoke thick enough to make my eyes smart. I had to decide what to do. After speaking with a few of the town folk, it seemed the best decision would be to hitch a ride to Redding, 40 miles away and get on the internet to find out where it would be safe to resume the trail again.
A very kind man went 20 miles out of his way to take me to Redding where I sat at Starbucks and looked at the situation online. The PCT website and facebook page had all kinds of valuable information and from there I could gather that there were numerous fires that were out of control and uncontained all the way up to the Oregon border. I had no clue what to do until a hiker advertised a carpool ride to Ashland. To my delight and amazement, when the lift arrived it was none other than Tasty, Storybook and Crawfish whom I had last seen in Yosemite!
As we drove to Oregon, the mountains all along the route where shrouded in smoke and the enormous Mnt Shasta was barely visible. Upon arrival in Ashland I checked into the beautiful Victorian Columbia Hotel and had an enjoyable evening walking through this interesting city and sampling some tasty Indian cuisine.
My resupply box containing a new pair of trail running shoes had not arrived, so I had to go shopping for a pair and find another hotel room which I found at the very friendly Shakesperean themed Stratford Inn.
There are so many awesome shops in downtown Ashland, good thing I'm here on foot with a backpack! My tango shoes were also in that box, so I had to buy a pair of shoes I could dance in tonight. This is quite difficult to do in a town that mostly sells comfortable shoes that are good for your feet, but I eventually found a pair that would do the job at a delightful store called Avant Garde.
After a delectable Greek cuisine supper, I went to join the Ashland tango dancers at their practica who were very welcoming and had a great evening of dancing and meeting new people. These were my thoughts prior to going there:
I am in the process of living deep, of confronting life to it's fullest in each moment. Each step makes me look at existence in the face, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the mundane and the passionate. This cannot be a achieved fully for me without the inclusion of dancing Argentine tango. So tonight I tango in Ashland! Abrazos.
The day I was going to leave was filled with trail angels and trail magic. Firstly, my wonderful daughter Sian paid for my massage at a spa and then Joan, a wonderful fellow tango dancer I had met the previous evening invited me to dinner and to stay at her home for the night, and she'll take me to the trail in the morning. Thank you to both my angels.