Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ash Camp

Logging trucks had blared by my campsite all night. I guess they do most of the logging in the stealth of night so nobody can get mad at them. I'm just glad that the efforts of environmentalists slow them down. The forest does grow back, but if they had their way, they'd cut the entire thing down as quick as possible for one big blow-out of short-term profits and executive bonuses.

After I packed up my tent I peered over to where Emily's Dad had set up his tent. He was still inside. He hikes fast so I figured I might see him again before he went home.

As I headed out, I saw fresh bear tracks on the trail and then a botanist who was car camping on the logging road. I talked to the botanist for a while. He said he'd be returning to Ashland later that day. I thought if I was Emily's Dad I'd probably ask him for a ride and figured that if I never saw him again, that would probably be what he'd done. In fact, despite walking very slowly most of that day, I never did see Emily's Dad again.

A few hours down the trail I ran into the young crowd from my dinner and a show last night sitting on a rocky outcrop enjoying the "view." Of course, there was no view, only smoke. Yesterday or the day before I had seen Shasta through the haze. It was so amazingly beautiful even as a faint outline of snow fields and rock against a white sky. I attempted to take a picture but the view was so faint so I had no idea if the camera would even capture it. Seeing Shasta had been one of those dreams I had for the trail. Like walking across the Belden Bridge, fire had robbed me of my dream to see Shasta.

My plan was to do an easy day, no more than 20 miles, so I stopped at the rocky outcrop and rested with the group for a while. There was no more music, but I enjoyed the company.

I set off again at a slow pace on a long, gentle climb around a peak with a lookout tower on top. The reward for my effort was a rather spectacular, vertiginous cliff that lead up to a dirt road. It seemed that Section O has a lot of climbs that lead only to dirt roads and then a descent down to either a creek or another dirt road, then another climb. It all felt rather pointless, but at least this one had a little excitement. The view was murky but I still had to avoid looking so I wouldn't get dizzy.

The next water source would be 14 or 15 miles away. I hoped to get there, get some water and then hike only a little further to a restful camp for my weary feet. The shooting pains were happening even as I walked and I hoped I could soak them and revive them and then hike only a short distance to a campsite. But the trail became very Southern California-like, perched against a steep hillside with the tread leaning outward toward the left foot all day long. There was no place to stop and rest along the way. At least it was shady.

At the water source, Deer Creek, I stopped and washed my feet in the ice cold water. The water made my feet ache but it felt so good to have clean feet again. I stopped there for a long time, ate a candy bar and let them dry.

As I rested, Cuddles arrived. He plays a cello in an orchestra. He came down to the creek, threw off his pack, sat down and asked me pointedly to give him a good reason to continue his hike. I answered that I did not have a good reason why anybody should keep hiking. I was only going to Ashland myself. He thought the whole idea of hiking the entire trail was so arbitrary. Why is one distance somehow more meaningful than another? I responded that personally I only wanted to go part of the way because I didn't want to complete the trail and have the dream die with the completion. I wanted to save some for later. He asked me why Ashland? I said I wanted to say I hiked all of California. He said that 1500 miles, which is what we were all approaching now, is such a nice round number, why not stop there? I didn't have an answer for that. Sure seemed like something was in the air lately making people want to give up.

He apologized for feeling so grumpy. He had been hiking 30 mile days to meet a friend and in order to meet him on time, he'd have to hike more than 30 miles today and he was really hating it. He also said he was thinking of stopping for the night at Ash Camp, which he claimed would be the only place to camp anywhere close to here. That worried me. Ash Camp would put me over the 20 mile mark.

As he rested I packed up my things and continued on, hoping I might find a camp site before Ash Camp. I found one really early on, but felt it was too soon to stop. Perhaps I should have taken it. It turned out there was nothing else all the way to Ash Camp.

Cuddles caught up to me and asked if he could walk behind me for a while. As we hiked and talked the miles went by quickly and I walked faster than I normally would have. It was all down hill and quite painful. At length we finally reached Ash Camp, which was a car camping site next to the McCloud River.

The river was wide and strong. There were fishermen there. I cooked my dinner and ate inside my tent safe from mosquitos. The heat was still stifling. Cuddles camped next to me and apologized in advance that he'd be packing up to leave very early to make up the more than 30 miles he'd need to go to meet his friend. In the waning end of the evening, SlickB, Paradox, Chief and Jarrow came by and finding no more campsites, probably continued a few more miles to Ah-Di-Na campground, which lured them with flushing toilets and running water.

One of the fisherman offered Cuddles and I a beer but I declined after my recent experience with beer. They thought there might be a new fire closure that would force us off the trail at Castella, to bypass all of Sections P and Q. I figured it was only a rumor, but it still got me feeling quite disappointed in how fire was stealing more and more of my dream. If he was right, that would mean after completing Section O I'd have to take a bus all the way around the closure for a rather anticlimactic final 3 days to Ashland. Something about that didn't seem right.

I fell asleep to the thunder of the strong, rushing river and the whine of mosquitos.

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