Thursday, July 30, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 105: Ashland

DAY 105
August 7th, Thursday

We woke up late again the next day, and hustled along the trail, taking a steep detour downward that would lead us to Calahan’s Lodge. A sign promised the first drink free at the lodge, which sounded pretty nice. Still, after our not-so-great experience with the employees at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, we were prepared for the employees to treat us like trash.

We crossed some railroad tracks, hiked along the shoulder of a highway near an interchange, then walked up to Calahan’s Lodge. I groaned when I saw it— it was gorgeous and looked very classy, with great thick beams and fluttering flags, so they’d probably be snobby. I was sure there was no place for two broke smelly bums in there.

We paused outside, trying to find a place to put down our backpacks. One of the employees walking by said, “You can take those in, you know,” and smiled. Smiling tentatively back, we stepped inside, dazzled by the high ceilings and crystal chandeliers.

“Welcome, PCT hikers!” the guy at the front desk said. “Do you have a package here?”

We said that we did, but we would get it later, after we returned from town.

“Okay. In the meantime, you can sign our trail register. We have one of our conference rooms upstairs set aside for you guys— there’s a hiker box, couches, and bottled water.”

Surprised at the warm welcome, we thanked him and headed upstairs. We soon found “our” room and said hello to the hikers hanging out there. The couches were covered in sheets, a wide table held an assortment of magazines, bottled water was free for all, and there were half a dozen hiker boxes piled with food. It was quite a pleasant surprise!

Zach and I were happy to settle in for a little while, glancing through the magazines, chatting with the other hikers, drinking free water, and raiding the hiker boxes. All the hikers who had resupplied in Etna, then hitched directly to Ashland, had dumped countless meals and snacks in the boxes, and Zach and I loaded up.

Now we grabbed our packs and headed outside to hitch to Ashland to see what we could see. On our way out, the lodge employee gave us a business card for a local taxi service even though we were sure we wouldn’t need it.

We stood on the shoulder near the onramp for a few minutes, and then a shirtless guy covered in tattoos drove up and offered us a ride. He blazed along the highway, asking us where we’d like to be dropped. Zach said the nearest big grocery store, so he dropped us off a bit away from the city center at a Safeway.

We hopped out of his car and pulled our backpacks out of the trunk. Then Zach released the trunk— and it fell and slammed on his hip belt, shattering the buckle. Oops.

We quickly decided that our next stop should be a hiking supply store, so we headed to the nearest Taco Bell to sort things out and figure out where to find one. It was hard for Zach to carry his fully-loaded pack without a hip belt!

We sat in the Taco Bell, and I sipped on water, feeling stressed. I was already itching to get back on trail. And my body had apparently decided that it was going to pump me full of adrenaline for no good reason.

We walked a mile to town toward the Ashland Outfitter. It felt like a long walk along a busy highway, and the sun beat down, but then we turned off onto a cycling/pedestrian trail which skirted some of the city parks. We paused to rest on the grass, and a massive bear-sized Newfoundland came wandering over. We petted it and thought it was cute.

"Oh no, it's a bear!" (Why do I take these kinds of photos?)
After the dog left, Zach and I sat in the grass, and my heart was racing for no apparent reason. “I am way too tense,” I said.

Zach rubbed my back and tried to get me to calm down. “You need a beer or something.”

“I wish I liked beer.”

“Everything’s going to be fine.”

“I know,” I said, digging my fingernails into my palms. “I don’t know why I’m so tense.” 

At last we found the outfitter, The Ashland Outdoor Store, and walked inside. The people there were extremely nice and friendly. They found the piece of hip belt that had broken (thank goodness), and then we even returned our air pads, which had deflated, and got two new ones. Then the employees searched near and far to find a piece of our water filter that had worn down. We came out of there spending less than five dollars, and had a repaired hip belt, a repaired water filter, and two new pads! That made me feel less stressed and happier.

We now walked to the nearest Safeway, and ended up buying way too many snacks (we were still a little traumatized from the High Sierra). I stared at the shelves, with all their choices, and irrationally felt like I was going to scream. I turned and walked away, trying not to think about anything.

At last we got out of the Safeway in one piece, and I was trembling with feeling overwhelmed. Too many choices. Too many things that cost money. Zach was just trying to keep me from exploding (and wondering, I’m sure, how he could get me to drink some beer).

We walked to the nearest park, Garfield Park, and sat down in the grass. We took advantage of the cell service to check our bank account and realized that one of our credit cards had been hacked, so we had to cancel it (we had another along, fortunately). Then Zach decided to walk to the nearest Little Caesar’s and bring us back some pizza. He did, and we ate some pizza and some donuts we had bought at Safeway. After that, I felt sick and had to lie down for a while.

I did not enjoy town stops.

Ashland was full of hikers— they roamed the streets in packs. Some had hiked here, but most had hitched to escape the fires, skipping anywhere from 60 to almost 400 miles. Some of these detours were inescapable… some were choices. I began feeling snobby, thinking that all those hikers were posers who wouldn’t have gotten to Canada at all if the fires hadn’t given them an excuse to skip. This was an ongoing mental battle for me, and turned out to be more of a character-building experience than I had expected.

Now I knew it was time to get back on trail. We had stayed in town, forced ourselves to not hike for a while, and I wanted to keep going. There was nothing for us here. I couldn’t relax.

We stood by the road for a while and tried to hitch, but no one showed the slightest interest in picking us up. Then we remembered that a few hikers had advised hitching at a particular spot along the road, so we walked a mile to that spot and stuck out our thumbs. We stood in the sweltering heat for an hour, but nothing happened, so we moved a bit closer to the highway and kept it up.

Finally someone pulled up and offered us a ride, but they were going to a completely different point of trail, about thirty miles past, so we turned them down.

We tried to hitchhike for three hours. The sun sank below the horizon. Zach checked with the nearest hotel what their rates were, and the three-digit number renewed our determination to hitch. At last, when the first planets began sparkling in the sky, we decided that we should call that taxi.

We did, and bought some apples at a nearby gas station and waited. At this point, oddly enough, I felt calm returning— the taxi was not nearly as expensive as it could’ve been, and the whole day was gone anyway. A lady in a car picked us up and drove us back to Calahan’s Lodge. We arrived just in time to grab our resupply box. We went upstairs and looked through the hiker boxes, which had been well resupplied during the day, and loaded up on food. Then we went downstairs.

We knew that Calahan’s Lodge allowed people to camp on their lawn for a fee. “Is it ten dollars a person or ten dollars a tent?” I asked.

“Ten dollars a tent,” the employee said.

Score! We said that we’d camp here tonight, and the guy gave us tokens for free drinks. We wandered into the main area.

There we saw two people we knew, sitting at the bar— Stumbles and Blue! We walked up to join them and Zach got a beer. The four of us sat at the bar, looking at the pretty liquor cabinet and chatting. Even though I didn’t have any alcohol, I felt more relaxed. After a solid day of feeling like a piano wire about to snap, I had finally wound down. We laughed and chatted late into the night.

At last we all said goodnight. Zach and I went out back, blew up our new sleeping pads, and laid them out under the sky with the sleeping bag, among the myriad tents and bedrolls of other hikers. On this nice grassy lawn we felt no need for a tent, and curled up under the stars and the soft glowing windows of the lodge in front of us. For once, I was glad we had spent the money to stay here. Soon I fell into a deep and quiet sleep.



  1. Q: As most of the hikers I am following this year seem to be leaving the trail in your approx location - aside from your tenacity and perseverance, what motivated you guys to continue north? 1500+ miles is significant in and of itself...a enormous accomplishment. And thanks again for posting

    1. Good question! A lot of hikers finished the trail at Ashland in 2014, too. Zach and I stayed motivated to keep going because we weren't just hiking to hike a lot of miles... we were hiking to hike the whole trail, as much as it was possible. We're both pretty goal-oriented, so if we had just been just hiking to hike, we would've dropped out somewhere in the Sierra. ;) Any amount of miles walked is a big accomplishment... it's all about what your personal goals are!

  2. Every step is monumental in getting you to the end of the PCT, just as in life. Enjoy the journey.