Mother Nature Always Wins

Mother Nature always wins.

We’re home. Off the trail. After having to hitch-hike around a 99-mile trail closure near Mount Rainier and hike in day after day of smoke, we decided to go home. This wasn’t an easy choice.

It’s been heartbreaking to give up the dream of hiking from Mexico to Canada in a single season. It certainly isn’t how I imagined my hike to end. As more time passes, I expect to reflect on the experience as a whole, but for now, all I can think about is the sting of the abrupt end.

At the time of this writing, there are eight trail closures due to wildfire in the northern half of the PCT. In the northernmost 1000 miles, there are just two sections where 100 continuous miles are open. As you can imagine, it’s smoky everywhere.

After hiking in heavy smoke for all but one day in Washington, driving through smoke the length of Oregon, and several days of smoky hiking in Northern California, we decided to end our hike. The trail through Oregon and Washington passes through wi…

Day 89 – Monday, Aug. 21

PCT Mile 1,459.1 to PCT Mile 1,485.0 
Day Total: 25.9 miles

I saw a bear cub this morning although it was too far away and much too quick to able to take a photo.

The cub was 50 yards away and ran into the trees and out of sight immediately after I shouted to Stephen, hiking behind me, to look down the hill. It's interesting that there's more bear activity in this part of Northern California than anywhere else we've been.

That's interesting, especially considering the night we spilled Spanish rice everywhere around the tent.

Happy Eclipse Day to all! We picked up a flyer about the eclipse at Burney State Park a couple days ago, and found out that where we were in the range of 88-percent totality. We were in a highly tree covered section of the trail, but we wound a sunny spot to stop and watch (safely) the eclipse.

We used a hole in a piece of paper to show a circle of sun on the ground. As the eclipse happened, most of that circle went dark.

We ate lunch in the shade u…

Day 88 – Sunday, Aug. 20

PCT Mile 1,434.4 to PCT Mile 1,459.1
Day Total: 24.7 miles

We get asked from time to time if we've ever done anything like this before, or maybe someone will ask if we've done any other long trails. Well, yes, I (Stephen) did the Appalachian Trail in 2011.

Invariably, the next question is how does the PCT compare to the AT. I usually say that it doesn't and sprinkle in some things I think the person wants to hear: the mountains out here are way more impressive, the trees are huge, every inch is more scenic, the desert was surprisingly beautiful, etc.

All of that is true, but the two experiences are difficult to compare for a number of reasons.

There are the basics like the terrain and weather, then there are some personal differences that make this entirely new.

First, let me speak on behalf of the AT. I loved the AT. No, the vistas are not as striking and the mountains are smaller but it's a different kind of beautiful.

I grew up with the Blue Ridge Mountains and Smoki…

Day 87 – Saturday, Aug. 19

PCT Mile 1,416.5, Burney Falls State Park to PCT Mile 1,434.4
Day Total: 17.9 miles

I'm going to start with the end of the day. That was the most memorable part and not for any good reasons.

Tonight after we set up the tent, we were making dinner as usual. Just as Stephen was taking the pot full of dinner (Spanish rice) off the stove, I saw a huge ant crawling up my hand and about to go into my sleeve, so I flung it.

But I also, without realizing, gasped and that spooked Stephen, causing him to spill half of our precious dinner.

 I felt like a doofus.

It was an ant!

We've been living outside for almost three months and I freaked out about an ant on my hand.

Regardless, my freakout caused Stephen to spill dinner.

We were in a bad situation. We were down half of our dinner of course, but more importantly, we also had a pile of Spanish rice on the ground in bear country.

It was dark. Do we pack everything up and move?

We decided to clean it up the best we could and stay put. Steph…

Day 86 – Friday, Aug. 18

PCT Mile 1,391.1 to PCT Mile 1,416.5, Burney Falls State Park
Day Total: 25.4 miles

We filled up with enough water at the tank to make it the remaining 14 miles of this long dry stretch and walked more than five miles before stopping for a big breakfast under a juniper tree overlooking the valley.

We had heard that we could see Mount Shasta from here, but the haze from wildfire smoke made it so we couldn't see the far side of the valley.

We planned to get to Burney Falls State Park by the end of the day to pick up a resupply package we had sent ourselves. Knowing that the box had enough food for the next 80 miles, we knew we could eat everything we were carrying right now.

What a fun challenge!

Stephen had warned me before we started this trip that it would get to the point where we had to always ration food. That we would get to a point where we would, at any moment, want to eat everything we were carrying and we would spend every day fighting that urge. But today, we could eat ev…

Day 85 – Thursday, Aug. 17

PCT Mile 1,363.4 to PCT Mile 1391.1, Cache 22 on Hat Creek Rim
Day Total: 27.7 miles

Today was hands down the flattest day on the trail yet.

We had some gradual downhill in the morning, mostly through pine forests. In the afternoon we climbed a tiny little incline to the infamous hot, dry Hat Creek Rim. It's a 30-mile waterless stretch that is mostly exposed and very hot. It was like being back in the desert.

Fortunately, we had gotten word that the water tank halfway through the 30 mile stretch (which had been dry for the last month) had recently been filled.

The highlight of the day was a short side trail to explore Subway Cave, a huge lava tube that we walked all the way through. It was pleasantly cool inside, like natural air conditioning. I could've taken a nap in there if it hadn't been so busy with hikers.

In other news, Stephen has lost so much weight that the buckles on his hip belt are touching. When backpacking, most of the weight of our packs rests on our hips w…

Day 84 – Wednesday, Aug. 16

PCT Mile 1,338.2 to PCT Mile 1,363.4, just outside of Lassen NP
Day Total: 25.2 miles

Today we walked all the way through Lassen Volcanic National Park!

We had seen Mount Lassen for several days towering over the other smaller mountains around it. I had been looking forward to the park for a while because some people say it's like a miniature Yellowstone. Today we got to see why.

This year Lassen started requiring backpackers to have a bear canister and unfortunately we had sent ours to a friend 300 miles back after leaving Yosemite, because it wasn't required anymore. Our options were to have it mailed back to us, to camp in the national park campground four miles north of the park boundary, or to hike the 19.3 PCT miles through the park in one day.

We chose the third option. It made for a pretty long day, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The highlights were seeing Terminal Geyser and Boiling Lake. Terminal Geyser isn't really a geyser. It's a steam vent, but it's an imp…