I continued my walk around Brown Mountain. It seemed like a long way to the turnoff to Fish Lake. Maybe I hadn't gone 27 miles yesterday after all. I finally found the turnoff and hesitated. Did I really need to go? I thought maybe I didn't, but something steered me in that direction anyway. The trail since Ashland had been pretty boring, so why not take a detour for a little adventure?
The trail down was wide and smooth, almost paved. I found the PCT campsite easily. The book had said the trail was obscure. More lies. I made my way over to the store along the shore of Fish Lake. It was a small lake. People were fishing on the shore and from boats.
I reached the store at 9:00 and it had been open an hour already. My plan to sleep far enough away to arrive after they opened had worked. They had a cafe, too, so I went inside and had pancakes and eggs with coffee for a second breakfast. I purchased some candy and a muffin to replace my one missing breakfast. While eating, the owner handed me the trail register and showed me the hiker box. Inside the hiker box were Crystal Light lemonade packets. It was the one thing I had forgotten to pack and the one thing I had missed most. Trail magic! Fish Lake had exactly what I needed when I needed it most.
I read the trail register. I only recognized Aysa's name, who I had met two days back. So I flipped back to last year. I saw Cuddles' entry. I saw Rolleicord and EnviroPyro. I was happy to know that Rolleicord had stayed on the trail. Last time I saw him his ankle was hurting and EnviroPyro was worried and thought he should see a doctor in Burney. I had not seen them since. It struck me how easily last year blended into this, how the time collapsed and in my mind I was still on last year's hike. AT the same time, seeing my friends' signatures from a year ago drilled home how fleeting such an experience as this hike really is. It seemed so real and permanent and neverending while I was living it last year, and then in an instant, it was over. I knew this would happen to me again in a few short weeks. I felt sad.
I paid for my goodies and I was off. I stopped by the shore of the lake and soaked my hair and clothes. I already felt very hot so early in the morning. I climbed back up to the trail and returned to the PCT. I was very happy I had stopped at Fish Lake. I had not seen another person yesterday and it was good to have human contact, both real and in the book with my now imaginary friends.
It was also good to have real food. Is it the eggs, the pancakes or the coffee or the combination of all of the above that gave me so much energy? Maybe it was the gentle grade of the trail going easily up hill. I do so much better going uphill than any other direction.
I reached some sort of summit, possibly of the shoulder of Mt. McLoughlin but who can tell in the viewless forest? Then I was back to descending and endless, flat, viewless, silent trail. Fortunately there were a couple of nice springs along the way for water.
Toward late afternoon, the mosquitoes began to increase and I wore my headnet. I met a backpacker who stopped to talk. He asked me if I was going to stay on the PCT or take the lake-lined alternate route. I said I would stay high because, as was obvious, I do not tolerate the bugs well. He said he had started down the alternate route and turned around quickly back to the higher official route. The bugs were really bad and surrounded him in clouds like nothing he'd ever seen before. I thanked him for the advice.
The backpacker also asked me if I was hiking the whole PCT with just my little tiny backpack. I think my pack looks pretty big, but not as big as him. I just smiled and told him that I have everything I need, just that everything is small and light. I cannot hike with much weight. 25 pounds is already 1/5 of my body weight. Imagine what his 60 pounds would do to me?
I continued along the higher PCT route. Sometime in the late afternoon I paused as I stepped over a log. I was mobbed by mosquitoes in a way I had never experienced before. Suddenly 40 mile days seemed like a good idea and easily done as I ran from the cloud. With sudden energy I walked full speed down the trail to keep them away. Soon the bugs were finding their way into my headnet and biting in all sorts of tiny places not covered by clothing. I battened down my hatches against the siege. I was so hot, like a sauna, inside my clothes. P put DEET on my hands and walked with the straps of my hiking poles swinging against my fingers, swatting them away from my hands. They could bite me through my pants so I dared not slow down.
Near the junction with Sky Lakes trail, I met Lakota John from Alaska heading south. He asked me if I had been to Cliff Lake. I said I had not seen a lake in a long time. He was crestfallen as he realized he had been going in the wrong direction for over 5 miles and would have to turn around. He was 5 miles off course. He walked away quickly, but then returned a few minutes later to tell me the Sky Lakes Trail was much prettier than the PCT and I really ought to take it instead. I said I didn't want anything to do with lakes and their mosquitoes. They were bad enough up here on the PCT. He said there weren't any bugs on the Sky Lakes Trail, but when he talked, he seemed to not have a sense of linear time. Years, months, distances and locations seemed jumbled in his thinking. I did not believe him there'd be less bugs on the Sky Lakes Trail.
I continued on and decided to stop at a high point on the trail and make dinner. THe mosquitoes were driving me to distraction. My dinner fell over while it was cooking. I put out the fire this mishap started with half a liter of water. Ants were getting into everything and carting off whatever tiny prizes they managed to steal from me. Mosquitoes bit me furiously through my pants.
Lakota John returned and stopped to chat. Then he left again. I walked only a little while further with my dinner leading into its ziploc bag and making a mess. I found a flat spot, wasted more water cleaning up the mess, then set up my tent in a cloud of mosquitoes. With it up, I pondered how on Earth to get inside without bringing them all in with me. One of the zippers was broken so I had to unzip the door fully. I unzipped, tossed all my stuff inside, jumped inside shoes and all, then zipped up my fortress of solitude. I spent 10 minutes killing the 50 or so that followed me in before I could finally take off the headnet, shoes and hot clothing and finally not be roasting or eaten alive. Beautiful rest.