August 8th, Friday
1727 to 1750
I woke up the next morning when the bright sun cleared the roof of the lodge. I looked at the creamy blue sky above, and saw Zach still asleep next to me. I felt no particular urgency to get up, so I snuggled in next to him and laid there until he woke up. Then we sat up in the sunshine and looked around at all the hikers packing up their stuff.
We ate leftover Little Caesar’s pizza for breakfast, then packed up (which didn’t take long since we didn’t have to take down our tent) and headed inside. We checked the hiker boxes one last time, then thanked the people at Calahan’s Lodge and headed toward the door. On our way out, a guy stopped us and asked if we were returning to trail, and when we said yes, he said that if we would wait a second he would drive us over there. It would save us a bit of road walking, so we were glad to accept his offer. He drove us over there and dropped us at the trailhead, wishing us luck.
We walked through a forest for a while, sweating a little in the heat. It was odd because at the moment we were traveling more south and east than anything else— we wanted to head north! The woods around here were lush but distinctly dry. It was clear we were in an arid region, and after the sweltering humidity of northern California, we didn’t mind one bit.
After several miles, we planned to stop at the next spring to fix some hot food for lunch. When we got there, we found that several people were there already, crowding into the sparse shade, since the area was dusty.
We gathered water and wondered if we should wait to eat a proper lunch until later. A guy with bright blue eyes barely visible behind all his scruffy facial hair introduced himself as Prometheus. There were a couple other people there, a pretty girl who I’ll call Chris and a serious-looking blond guy I’ll call Tom. Chris was ranting about how she identified as a Christian, and that no one could tell her she wasn’t a Christian just because she didn’t believe anything that remotely resembled Christianity.
Trying to tune out her conversation before the temptation to butt in was too great, I asked Prometheus if they had been able to hike through the fires. He shook his head sadly. “No, we hitchhiked from Chester. A lot of the towns were completely shut down due to fire, and we just didn’t want to sort it out.”
We winced— that was almost 400 miles of trail. “Wow, that sucks,” Zach said, and I nodded. For once, my snobbiness took a backseat. I felt genuinely sad that they’d been forced into that situation, and had no idea what Zach and I would’ve done in the same position.
“I know,” Prometheus said with a heavy sigh. “We just didn’t know what else to do.”
“Are you guys planning on going back and hiking it again after the fires die down?” Zach asked.
Before Prometheus could answer, Tom savagely cut into the conversation. “No, we’re going to just cheat!” he snapped sarcastically. “Of course we’re going to hike it! We’re not a bunch of cheaters!” He turned away, sucking his cigarette like his life depended on it.
Zach was too startled to make his point— he was going to say that if we had been in the same situation, we probably wouldn’t go back and hike the miles, but just take a loss and deal with it. Prometheus looked at us and apologetically raised his eyebrows.
Zach and I looked at each other, and no words were necessary. We packed up quickly, said goodbye to them, and hiked along the trail as fast as we could. We really wanted to outpace them— there was no way we wanted to end up camping with them tonight.
As we walked, I felt angry at them, and had to pray for God to forgive me. Although Tom was a bit of a jerk, most of the problem lay in me. I was dealing with my own pride. If someone said they were thru-hiking but skipped 400 miles of trail, were they still thru-hikers? But why should I care what people called themselves? Zach and I had skipped almost 70 miles of trail by this point— did that not make us thru-hikers? Did “thru-hiker” even have a definition? Why did some people, like Prometheus, seem like a true thru-hiker to me, but people like Tom didn’t? The mental struggled roiled in my head, and continued to roil for several more days. Pride is difficult to weed out, once it’s taken root.
In my journal I note, “Nice mountains,” though I can’t remember much except walking through a fir forest but seeing desert landscape in the distance. We paused to drink water and chatted with a couple from Austria, who were hiking a section of trail, and we enjoyed talking to them. Their names were BFP (Big Fuckin’ Pinecone) and Deer Wrestler.
Zach and I hiked on, and soon saw that there was an opportunity to camp for $2 a person at a nearby campground. We got there well before dark. The ranger on duty was a substitute and didn’t want to deal with collecting fees, so had told the PCT hikers that we could camp for free. BFP and Deer Wrestler were there, as well as a group of about seven southbound hikers (sobos).
The PCT hikers were regulated to one campsite, as usual, so we all claimed spots and squeezed in. We learned that there were free showers! I went in and took a long, hot shower— the first one since Etna one long, intense, smoky week ago. Someone had left little individual-size shampoos, lotions, and conditioners, which I took full advantage of. I was loathe to put my dirty clothes back on, but at least my body smelled like flowers!
I sat and chatted with the sobos, asking them news of people they’d met and what was ahead. Most of them had skipped about 400 miles of trail as well, up in Washington because the snow in the Cascades was too intense early in the season. I could definitely understand that (and when we got to those steep, crumbling mountains a couple months later I saw there was no way we’d ever attempt it in the snow). However, sobos are, as a rule, almost adorably arrogant. A southbound hike is indisputably harder than a northbound one (due to the weather in the mountains), and sobos act like they are the most hardcore hikers you’ll ever meet. It was just hard to take their arrogance seriously when they talked about skipping all the hard parts. However, despite that, they were all nice.
Zach and I fell asleep that night in the midst of a veritable dog pile of tents. Between this and Ashland, we had spent two consecutive nights in civilization, and that was really nice.