Day 100: Etna (1600) to Kelsey Creek (1629)
Day 101: 1629 to Seiad Valley (1656)
Day 102: 1656 to Bearground Springs (1688)
Day 103 1688 to Ashland (1718)
Highlights: Made it to Oregon!; Consistent big miles means I’m making good progress, and my body is adapting; Blackberries.
Lowlights: Quite a lot of sun exposure due to forest fires; shoes literally held together by duct tape.
Wow, a couple of big milestones here: I’ve been at this for over 100 days, and I’ve finally made it out of California! I love my home state, but it’s a gratifying sense of progress to have left it and moved on to Oregon, where the trail becomes smoother and easier.
Etna to Seiad Valley
As I wrote at the end of my previous post, I had hoped to get back on the trail on the same day as getting to Etna. Turns out that wasn’t really possible due to the dearth of vehicles on the road to and from the trail: All my errands were about 2 hours delayed due to waiting that long for a hitch into town, and then by the time I was ready to go back to the trail, around 7 pm, nobody was going back up the hill. So I slept on the lawn of the hostel where I’d already showered and did laundry, and headed out to hitch around 7 the next morning with three other hikers. We managed to get in the bed of a pickup truck not too long after, and were at the trail before 8. Not a bad start for starting in town.
The first day out of Etna was pretty exposed, in part due to fire damage and also partly just because. I passed a couple of really nice looking lakes along the way, but otherwise it was kind of a challenging day out in the sun. Still, I managed 29 miles, which is a pretty solid result for a day starting in town.
Day 101 was much easier – it was only 27 miles into the next town of Seiad Valley, mostly shaded and mostly downhill. In the lower reaches of this descent, blackberry bushes were abundant, both increasing my life satisfaction and decreasing my pace. I’m told that there will be blackberries throughout Oregon, so that’s something to look forward to.
I made it into Seiad Valley by around 6 pm on Day 101, did my grocery shopping at the general store, and set up at the RV park next door.
Seiad Valley is mostly occupied by ranches, with one cafe and general store in the middle, and a bar/grill half a mile down the highway. It is also very much in the heart of the State of Jefferson. Jefferson is a sort of secessionist movement in far northern California and southern Oregon to form a new state (i.e. not secede from the US). California and Oregon politics are both dominated by large, progressive urban areas, and the much more rural Jefferson areas feel that that doesn’t represent them. I used to think of Jefferson as a strictly right-wing Tea Party kind of concept, but now having been through it, it seems more about a rural vs urban identity, and there are actually a decent number of hippies in the area. To use a couple of pop culture references, the woman who gave me a hitch into Ashland described it as “where Shakedown Street meets Deliverance”.
Anyway, Seiad Valley is so Jeffersonian that the sign outside of the general store is just the seal of Jefferson (two offset X’s, apparently representing their disalignment with the rest of California and Oregon), and there are a bunch of signs saying “No Monument”, apparently in opposition to a federal government proposal to designate the area as a national monument, which would presumably hinder the ranching way of life there in some way. I can’t say I agree with that position – environmental policies generally hurt some group of people while benefiting society at large – but I can understand the perspective.
Seiad Valley to Ashland
On the morning of Day 102, I sat down for a breakfast of blackberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, and a blackberry shake in the cafe. The Seiad Valley cafe is apparently famous for its “pancake challenge”, which comprises 5 pounds of pancakes which you get for free if you complete it in two houes. Something like 7 people have ever succeeded. I did not try because I needed to do big miles that day to get to Ashland the next day, and because in order to have any chance of completing it, you basically need to skip the butter and syrup, and that just sounds miserable.
I got to the trail by 8:45 or so. More accurately, I took a bit of a shortcut by walking up a forest service road rather than the actual trail. This avoided me a big, exposed, dry climb, and also cut off 2-3 miles on the day. So while I progressed 32 miles of trail that day, I probably only walked 29. Some hikers view this as cheating, but I don’t – as long as I’m walking the whole way to Canada, I don’t really have any qualms about whether it’s the official PCT or some alternate route.
Apparently that day was also the first day of deer hunting season (bows, not guns), so the myriad dirt roads along the ridge were populated with serious 4-wheel drive trucks. The hunters were all friendly and gave rides up the hill (I didn’t take a ride, because that is cheating according to my personal rules), but it’s definitely redneck culture, while hikers are mostly hippies.
I camped about 4 miles shy of the stateline, and made it into Oregon at around 9 am on Day 103. After hanging out at the stateline for an hour or so, I realized I still had to do 26 miles to get to Ashland that night, so I went into full overdrive, power walking the flats and uphills, and running the downhills. The trail was pretty instantly easier once in Oregon – not too steep, well-shaded, and pretty smooth ground – so this wasn’t actually that hard. I made it to Ashland by 6 pm, which means I averaged 3.25 miles per hour, including a lunch stop. I was pretty fired up about that, and that bodes well for being able to do big miles throughout Oregon without necessarily needing to hike late into the night.
I met two really interesting guys just inside Oregon. They both attempted to thru-hike the trail in 1996, at the age of 23, and got burnt out and bailed after completing California. Now double in age, they’re going to finish the job this year, and were just starting northbound from the stateline. One guy’s trail name is Cyber Ninja or something, because he used to be on the cutting edge of technology back in the day, writing a blog on a PDA and flip phone. This time around however, he’s decided to carry only the same electronics that he had in 1996, so he doesn’t have a phone with him and instead has paper maps, a disposable camera, and a little handheld tape recorder.
Once in Ashland, I met my friend Étienne, who is joining for the next few days to Crater Lake. We got dinner and (too many) drinks, then did our errands the next day.
Ashland is super cute, and easily one of the nicest towns on the trail. It’s home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University, so it is both a theater town and a college town. It has a very nice downtown, where every single building appears to be an artisinal soap shop or a restaurant. It may be the only town I’ve stopped in where you could just wander downtown without a particular plan and find yourself fully occupied in all the shops. Highly recommend as a town.
Now back to the trail for a few miles tonight (Day 104), so that Étienne doesn’t have to do 30-mile days to make it to Crater Lake by Friday afternoon.