Trail Crews (PCT Days 145-147)

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I encountered some folks up near Goat Rocks doing trail maintenance, trying to fix some erosion damage, and making the glacier more cross able. Trail crews are my favorite people to meet on trail… they are my heroes! They also inspired my most recent pop quiz: name the artist and the song!
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Hikers, there’s a trail near your town
I said, hikers, pick a small stretch of ground
I said, hikers, ’cause the trails wearing down
It doesn’t need to stay crappy

Hikers, there are things you can do
I said, hikers, we’re relying on you
You can help out, and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to volunteer now

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Get away from all the harshest city noise
Turn the trail back into a joy

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

You can help clean the trail, then they’ll feed you a meal
We can all help our trail heal

Hikers, are you listening to me?
I said hikers, will we just let it be?
I said hikers, make the trail of your dreams.
Just remember one thing

The trail will erode by itself,
I said hiker, donate your time or wealth
Or just get there, to the P C T A
Start helping, as soon as today

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Get away from all the harshest city noise
Turn the trail back into a joy

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

You can help clean the trail, then they’ll feed you a meal
We can all help our trail heal

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Hiker, I was once in your shoes
I said hiker, I suffered from big city blues
I felt so trapped there, trapped on the inside
I had to get to the outside…

That’s when I chose a whole new life
A life hiking, the pacific crest trail
With trails maintained by the P C T A
They can get you hiking today

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Get away from all the harshest city noise
Turn the trail back into a joy

P C T A… Working with the P C T A

Hikers, hikers, there’s a trail near your town
Hikers, hikers, pick a small stretch of ground

P C T A… Working with the P C T A

Hikers, hikers, there’s a trail near your town
Hikers, hikers, pick a small stretch of ground

P C T A… Working with the P C T A

Hikers, hikers, there are things you can do!
Hikers, hikers, we’re relying on you!

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Root Beer Floats (PCT Days 142-144)

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“Wow,” I thought as the naked trail runner approached me, “not only is he naked, he doesn’t have any tan lines! He must do this a lot!”

He’d just crested the hill that I was doggedly climbing, and was beginning to descend towards me. I was glad it was a rather straight stretch of trail and I had a couple of seconds to get over my surprise at having a naked guy running down the trail towards me at 6:30 at night… Especially since I was in one of the deep, dark, forests of Washington…

Naked trail runner on the PCT… very tan… no tan lines… I smiled as I realized that I probably knew who he was… I stepped out of the trail as he approached and said “Coppertone?” I was pretty sure that was the trail name of the naked man approaching me…

“Yes,” he replied with surprise and slowed to a stop in front of me. He was wearing a hat, shoes, socks, and was carrying what looked to be a kindle in his right hand… That was it. “Have we met before?” He asked.

“No,” I replied, “I’m Patches.” He then asked if he was almost at the next road crossing. I assured him that he was, you could see the road from about five feet behind me… It was a steep descent to it, but it was close.

“Well, I’m going to continue my run down there and then head back to the road crossing up ahead. I’ll have a root beer float waiting for you when you get to that road,” he said as he continued his run.

I’d been hearing rumors about Coppertone for almost 2000 miles. The first time I’d heard about him I was a little bit north of Deep Creek Hot Springs in Southern California. “Did you see the naked guy with the shovel doing trail maintenance near deep creek hot springs?” Asked a fellow thru-hiker. No, I hadn’t. There were lots of naked people at the hot springs, but I definitely hadn’t seen anyone that was naked and doing trail maintenance. “We’ll, there’s this trail angel, Coppertone… He’s a nudist, and, well, he gets his name because he is tan all over… I mean *all* over!” They emphasized the ‘all’ with with both intonation and a widening of their eyes… There was no mistaking what they were getting at. “He meets people at road crossings with root beer floats,” they continued. “You must have just missed him at the last road crossing.”

The next time I heard about Coppertone was just North of Walker Pass. All the hikers zooming past me were talking about the root beer float serving nudist, “Sometimes he wears a short denim skirt, but only when he has to… When nudity would be inappropriate.” I wasn’t sure about the whole nudist thing, but a trail angel providing root beer floats at road crossings in the dessert? That sounded absolutely amazing. I love root beer floats! Even when I’m not hot, thirsty, and calorie deprived, root beer floats are one of my favorite extravagances.

Having a naked man in the middle of the woods in Washington offering me a root beer float definitely would have been a little disconcerting if I hadn’t been hearing about this guy for months… As it was, I still shook my head in amazement as he jogged passed me… The rumors were true… A nudist that trail magicked root beer floats… You never know why you’re going to run into on the PCT!

Even though I knew he’d be coming back, I was still startled a few minutes later when he hiked up behind me… I’d gotten used to having the woods to my self and was still making my way up that seemingly never ending steep hill.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said as I let him pass in front of me. “I hadn’t counted on this hill,” he explained, “it’s too steep for running.”

“How’d you know that is was me?” He asked as we continued hiking up the hill. The internal filters between my brain and mouth apparently still exist and I paused a second before answering. Truth? Yeah, truth. “The nudity. I haven’t seen anyone naked on the PCT since hike-naked day.”

“Oh,” he seemed surprised. “I’ve been hearing about you and your root beer floats ever since Deep Creek Hot Springs,” I continued. We then chatted about the different places along the trail that I’d missed him by a day or two, and about the other thru-hikers that he’d met along the way. Before I knew it we’d made it to the top of the hill and the terrain had flattened out. Since the hill had flattened out Coppertone set off at a jog again saying, “See you at the road,” as he disappeared down the trail.

It occurred to me then that he must have been cold… I was wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and I was definitely cold. So cold that after he jogged off I stopped to put on my jacket and a hat. I idly wondered whether or not he would be clothed when I arrived at the road… Since it was pretty chilly out, I was willing to bet that he would be.

It would be at least an hour before I got to the road, and close to the time I usually set up camp. I checked my map, it looked like there was a spot to camp just north of the road that would be perfect. I try not to camp near the roads when I’m alone, but in this case I knew that Coppertone would be camped at the road, so I felt better about it.

When I finally arrived at the road I met Coppertone again, this time fully clothed, and he had the promised root beer float waiting. I plunked down on one of the chairs he had out and joyfully took a sip of my root beer float. It was an amazing thing! I asked if Coppertone knew if there were any campsites tucked into the woods right across the road. He said he wasn’t sure, but as I ate a big spoonful of root beer soaked ice cream he jogged off to go check.

When he got back he said that he hadn’t see any, but I was welcome to cowboy camp under his truck if I wanted to. While I contemplated my options and finished off my root beer float he offered me some hot tea (it was getting colder and colder as the sunset) and cookies. “Absolutely!” I smiled. I was in the middle of a 150 stretch between resupplies, so all of the extra calories I could get would help… Also, relaxing in a real chair, in the woods, enjoying a cup of hot tea with a new friend… That’s a pretty awesome way to spend a summer’s evening!

I really enjoyed hanging out with Coppertone. I have to admit, when I first heard about the naked guy who gave out root beer floats it sounded a little bit… Odd. Though most of the trail angels are amazing people, some of the established trail angels have reputations for being creepers too… For making people, especially women, feel uncomfortable… Rumors and gossip run rampant on the trail (sort of like they do in any small community), but the rumors about Coppertone on the trail had all been positive… Sure, nudity is culturally uncomfortable, and the fact that he’s a nudist meant that he was frequently talked about on the trail, but everybody said that he was a great guy and not a creeper. I’m glad to report that that was my experience as well… He was a great guy, and even hanging out with him by myself, at a road, at nightfall, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

Eventually I finished my tea and cookies, and with 15 minutes before full dark I reluctantly said goodbye and disappeared into the woods. The offer to sleep under his truck was tempting, but I didn’t think I’d sleep well on the gravel out in the open like that… Not when I had the option of sleeping in the woods!

Ode to California

I’m not sure that this qualifies as an ode, but I figure that before I post what I wrote as I was leaving Oregon, I should post the one that I wrote as I was leaving California.

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California, they said it
Was a mythical place
It’s where people headed
Done with the rat race

California is where dreams
Or nightmares come true
Hurry up and come join us
We’re waiting for you

My friends all head westwards
Abandoning the east
Heading to California
Where they hope to find peace

Now that I’ve been here
And seen it up close
It’s not all that different
Here on the wrong coast

I’ve walked through your deserts
your mountains, your plains
I’ve dealt with your weather,
Your heat, wind, and rains

I’ve been welcomed into your homes
Both fancy and poor
And wherever I’ve turned
Someone’s opened a door

California I’ve seen you
What you have at your core
Now I see what it is
That they all adore

Though I don’t want to move here
It’s too hot! It’s too dry!
I as I head into Oregon,
I’m not ready for goodbye!

The beginning of the end (PCT Days 139-141)

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It’s funny, we still have 500+ miles of trail left, but crossing the Bridge of the Gods and entering the state of Washington… it feels like the beginning of the end… People are starting to make plans for what comes next, people are scheduling flights home… The nebulous finish time is starting to coalesce into a fixed date when people are going to meet us at the border.

Though part of me looks forward to the end, looks forward to the soft beds, the running water, the smiling faces of loved ones… Part of me rebels against it all. I love this life, the freedom of it, the adventure of it… I’m spending everyday out in the woods, on the trail, on an amazing journey of beauty and discovery… I’m not ready for this dream to end… I’m not ready to seek new dreams yet… I’m still in love with this one.

I took a zero day (hiking zero miles) in Cascade Locks to eat, to rest, to recover, and to delay the inevitable… Entering Washington was the beginning of the end of this journey, and I knew it.

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I watched a bunch of Disney movies as I lounged around in the oh so soft bed. They all seemed to have the same theme… Leave home, go explore the world and have grand adventures (growing up in the process), find your Prince Charming, marry your Prince Charming, and live happily ever after (ie create a new home and have kids so that your kids can repeat the cycle).

As I watched Tangled one scene seemed particularly apropos: “What if it’s not everything I dreamed about,” Rapunzel asks. “It will be,” replies the ever suave Flynn. “And what if it is? What do I do then?” asks Rapunzel. “Well, I guess you go and find a new dream,” replies Flynn.

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Right after their dialog there is an amazing display of floating lights, which is, in fact, everything that Rapunzel dreamed it would be… Just like my thru-hike has been everything that I dreamed it would be, and more.

I wish that the movie had ended at that moment… The moment where Rapunzel was filled with happiness and amazement, at the culmination of her journey, and where *her* dream had led her. Instead, the movie had to move beyond that to the societally prescribed dream… Apparently a Prince Charming is still required in order to have a happily ever after…

They were so close to being on the mark… If they’d let the happily ever after be her discovery of her new dream, or the beginning of her journey to find her new dream, that would have been amazing! Telling young women that they can be amazing, and have amazing journeys, and amazing lives regardless of whether or not they find an awesome partner to join them on their adventures… That would be truly revolutionary!!!

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Hiking both the AT and PCT solo has been incredibly empowering. I am a woman, and I can have incredible journeys, adventures, and dreams on my own. Would I like to find someone to share my dreams and adventures with someday? Yes, that would be awesome. Am I going to put my life and my dreams on hold waiting for Prince Charming to come charging into my life? No!

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I’m going to keep living and keep dreaming… I don’t know which dreams await me, but when this dream is done, I’ll find another dream to chase after… The happily ever after is in embracing the journey, finding your dreams, chasing them, and recognizing and cherishing all the beautiful moments that you find along the way… And that’s something that you can do alone, or with other people by your side.

I crossed the Bridge of the Gods and left Oregon behind. I was in Washington and it was the beginning of the end, and it was hard, both emotionally and physically… Just 550 miles to go… Then what? Then it will be time to celebrate and to find a new dream. Until then, I will try to cherish and enjoy all of the beautiful moments I have left on this amazing adventure!

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All-you-can-eat (PCT Days 135-139)

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The all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Timberline Lodge is legendary on the trail… I’d started hearing about it at least a thousand miles before I got there, and now I was hungry… I’d been hungry for weeks… All-you-can-eat buffet… That’s every thru-hikers dream!

Wet and bedraggled, I finally made it to the Timberline Lodge… A warm, dry place with an all-you-can-eat buffet… What more could a weary traveler ask for!!

Pop quiz: What is the name of the artist and of the song that commingled with my dream of eating more calories and led to this song getting stuck in my head?

Calories, calories, calories
I need to get more
Calories, calories, calories
I need to get more calories
I need to eat more food
I want to eat whatever I like

You say milk, I say shake
You say French, I say fries
You say fast, I say hey man,
McDonald’s was never my scene
And I don’t like Starbucks

You say lo, I say mein
You say meat, give me a choice
You say beef, I say steak
I don’t believe in dieting
Fasting long or weightwatchers
All I want are

Calories, calories, calories
I need to get more
Calories, calories, calories
I need to get more calories
I need to eat more food
I want to eat more

Double-stuffed Oreos
are coming your way
So forget all your diets oh yeah
Blueberry pies will be baking today
We need more desserts oh yeah
On your marks, get set, eat

Calories, calories, calories
I need to get more
Calories, calories, calories
I need to get more calories
I need to eat more food
I want to eat whatever I like

You say coke, I say pop
You say pork, I say beans
Hot dog, I say cool whip man
I just wanna find a nice buffet
You say Mac, I say cheese
Caviar, I say please
Calorie count, I say Jesus
I don’t want to be a master chef
Don’t want to be Ramsey
or Emiril Lagasse
All I wanna do is eat

Calories, calories, calories
I wanna eat more
Calories, calories, calories

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(For dinner I ordered every dessert on the menu!)

Fiery Temper (PCT Days 132-134)

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“Really?! You’ve got to be kidding me! A campfire?!!” There was no hiding my disbelief. I was at PCT mile 2067 on the Warm Springs Reservation, a section of the trail that had been closed due to wildfires until today, and these two backpackers were having themselves a nice big backcountry campfire, miles away from the nearest water source. I just couldn’t believe it!

The wildfire just a couple of miles south of us was still smoldering, and I was tired of having to breath smoke and watch as our forests burned… Being caught in the woods during a wildfire is a terrifying experience… You feel so powerless in the face of fire… You have no control over how fast it burns, how big it gets, where it goes…

Yet here was fire in the woods, fire that didn’t have to be there… That was created by humans, and that humans controlled (at least for now). The evidence of what would happen if they lost control of their fire was all around us…

A few minutes earlier I had approached a couple of southbound hikers to ask them about the still smoldering fire at mile 2065. “Hi, are you guys from around here?” I’d asked. “Well, we’re from Eugene, does that count?” Yes, that definitely counted. I told them that I was from the east coast and not very familiar with this whole fire thing. “Should I be worried that a six foot by six foot patch of the forest is still smoldering?” I asked. “It’s within the fire lines.” They assured me that that was pretty common, when the fire gets into the root system it can take months to burn itself out.

We then had the usual backpacker conversation about whether or not I was going to stay there or press on. They were both going to stay, and I was going to continue on. “There aren’t that many places to camp coming up… “There are some nice flat spots way down by the river,” said one of the guys, “and about a quarter mile down there’s a couple camped in the Cadillac of campsites, with a campfire.”

“A campfire?” I asked incredulously. They then launched into the story of how they’d smelled smoke and prepared themselves for more wildfire, but found these backpackers with a campfire instead, and how they hadn’t seen anyone out here during wildfire season with a campfire, not in the last 25 years!

“Did you rip them a new one?” I asked. “No,” they replied, they had just stared in disbelief and kept walking… Who starts a campfire in a section of the backcountry that had been closed due to wildfires until the previous day? It was pretty hard to believe.

“Well, I think I’ll have a little chat with them,” I said as I headed down the trail. “If we hear a ruckus down there we’ll come and back you up,” they offered as they resumed setting up their camp.

I wondered why those two burly guys hadn’t said anything to the folks with the campfire. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might need anyone to back me up when I confronted the campers about their fire… I just knew that I had to say something…

At some level the PCT feels like it’s my home, my trail, and someone was doing something that endangered the trail and everyone on it… I had to say something because somebody had to say something, and because those guys hadn’t.

I didn’t really believe that anybody was actually stupid enough to have a campfire there until I rounded the corner, smelled the smoke, and saw the fire. The two guys hadn’t been joshing me… It was 85 degrees out, we were in an active wildfire zone, and this couple of yahoos had a raging campfire that looked like it was about to escape it’s fire pit… My jaw dropped in disbelief.

“Really?! You’ve got to be kidding me! A campfire?!!” I said in my out loud voice as I approached the couple.

“Yeah, it’s great isn’t it,” the woman replied. “It was just such a perfect spot, and someone had already laid out all of the fuels, so we just had to!” She smiled.

I’m not sure what I’d expected to hear, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t it. How was I going to handle this? They had no idea that they were doing anything wrong, and here I was, getting ready to burst their bubble. I reminded myself that there are things called tact and grace, and that sometimes it’s good to use them…

“You know, with wildfires still smoldering less than a mile or two away, a campfire might not be a good idea,” I said, trying to maintain a friendly tone.

“That’s a good point,” they replied, they’re relaxed position staring into their fire remained unchanged… They were doing a northbound section hike up to Cascade Locks, and had just walked through the same burn zone I had… How could their attitude about fire be so blasé?

“Well,” I continued, “you should be really careful, the reason why this trail was closed until today was because 27,000 acres burned, and it took them months to get it under control.” At this point the guy stood up and went over to poke at the fire. “Also, I’m pretty sure that since it’s fire season (and half the state is on fire) you could get in trouble for having a fire out here.”

“Well don’t you worry. I going to have a nice big drink and then I’m going to wee on it,” said the guy standing by the fire. At first I was a bit confused, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a conversation between adults involving the word ‘wee’. It took me a minute to parse the sentence and realize that his plan was to take a big swig of water and piss all over their campfire. I just stared at him for a moment in disbelief.

“He’s really going to do it,” his partner said to me while I was still parsing his statement, “You really don’t want to stick around and watch.” She was absolutely right, I didn’t want to stick around and watch… I didn’t want to stick around at all… I didn’t want to smell what would result from his pissing on the fire, and I didn’t want to camp anywhere near them.

I’d done what I needed to do, I’d made my point, and they were going to try to put out their campfire… I hoped that they would succeed, even if their methods were questionable…

As I walked away I heard the distinct sizzle of piss on fire… I didn’t turn back, I just kept walking… Eventually (about five miles later) I found a nice lush section of forest near plenty of water and pitched my tent… I appreciated the solitude… There was still a chance that the thunderstorms rolling through that night would start more fires, but at least those would be acts of God, and not acts of human stupidity!

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