Wednesday, May 20, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 77: Sierra City

DAY 77
July 10th, Thursday
1177.5 to 1197

The logging was still going on the next morning, so Zach and I got an early start amid the golden dawn. We hiked across the dirt logging road and headed through a forest where every other tree looked like it had been ripped up by its roots. Fortunately we soon left this behind and took to a ridge of the mountain, barren except for soft flaxen-colored grasses and tiny flowers. 

We chatted as we hiked along in the golden morning sunshine, and after a few hours we delved into a forest again. White-headed woodpeckers flitted to nearby trees, and we thought we saw a coyote ahead on the path (although to this day I still think it looked more like a gray fox). The woods were marked for logging (every other tree was spray-painted with an orange band), but despite that, they were pretty. 

We were coming up on our next resupply point today: Sierra City. We were excited because our maps noted that the Methodist Church in town allowed PCT hikers to camp on their lawn for free (with a nearby visitor’s center offering bathrooms). We always liked at the prospect of a free civilized place to spend the night! 

We could either take the PCT down to a point on the road, then attempt to hitchhike in to the town, or take a side trail that would lead us straight to the town. We opted for the latter, and in the late afternoon reached the junction and found our way through a close wood. Glittering streams wound through the woodland, rushing between smooth boulders beneath the overhanging trees. They reminded Zach of Oregon, and me of the Smoky Mountains, and we both agreed they were beautiful.

Soon we joined up with Wild Plum Road, which wound past some campgrounds and along a popular swimming destination for both tourists and locals at the river. At last we crossed through some neighborhoods (a lot of vacation homes, I thought) and then emerged into the tiny mountain town of Sierra City.

It seems that Sierra City was a pretty polarizing town: a lot of hikers hated it. It did have an eerie feel to it, and some of the store owners were pretty weird. But despite that, it was honestly my favorite town on trail. From the moment we wandered along its main street, I knew that I was in love. It had historic buildings with tin roofs, a library with a tiny book exchange out front, old wooden buildings and a little wine garden and a restaurant that advertised “H2O melon” and a tiny post office. It was tucked into this niche of the mountains, with huge walls of green mountainside tipped with dramatic buttes rising up on either side, so that it seemed to be fenced in, with only a strip of sky above. The church, also tin-roofed, sat a tier above the main street, silent and aloof. The air felt vivid and humid and full of expectation.

Zach and I wandered in, and soon found the main hub of the town: the general store. To our surprise, we knew a lot of the people there! There was The Animal, cheerful as always; Raindance, who had enjoyed trail magic with us in the rain a couple weeks ago; Dawn Patrol and Star Rider, and several more people we vaguely recognized.

Zach and I raided the hiker box first, then looked around the store, trying to discern the best use of our money. Dawn Patrol walked up to me, smiling. “Did I heard you mention that you just had a birthday?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Let me buy you and Tabasco an ice cream cone!” she said.

Stunned, I thanked her, and Zach and I both loaded up on ice cream. I sat on the front porch in the sticky heat, licking my ice cream and watching the moody gray sky.

Soon Catdog hiked into town as well, and we waved at her as she walked up. She and Raindance and we decided to camp on the church’s lawn, and we all set up our tents in case it rained. The groundskeeper for the church walked over and showed us a hose we could use to wash our feet and the worst of our sweat. The nearby visitor center had bathrooms and a drinking fountain. It was practically like staying in a hotel!

Raindance was depressed, and I soon learned why: he was getting off trail here because his kidneys were starting to fail him. “I’m hoping a couple weeks off trail will help,” he said. “But I’m realizing that my concept of a thru-hike isn’t going to happen. Maybe I’ll start in Washington and sobo [hike southbound] to here. We’ll see.”

After we set up camp, Zach and I shopped at the store, buying some yogurt, pineapple, and donuts. At this point I wasn’t as freaked out about money, although I still wanted to be careful. If the Sierra had taught me anything, it was that spending money would almost always be worth it.

After eating a pint of yogurt, half a can of pineapple and three donuts, I began to feel a little sick. The heat wasn’t helping. I sat at a picnic table and felt queasy for a while. 

We spent a leisurely evening working on camp chores: washing our clothes, picking up our resupply box, sorting our gear, packing up our food, back-flushing our water filter, and lounging around. 

That night we climbed into the tent, debating whether it was hot enough to justify sleeping on top of our sleeping bag. We attached the rainfly but didn’t put it over the top— it was hot enough as it was. As night closed in, I looked at the dark pines above our heads, and listened to the quiet street sounds: people talking, the occasional rush of a passing car. Even these simple sounds seemed somehow magical, and the memory of them now almost brings tears to my eyes. Sierra City had cast a spell on me. Lulled by the peaceful sounds of civilization, I fell asleep.


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