Pancake Challenge (PCT Days 111-113)

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I was pretty sure that the PCT only went through three states: California, Oregon, and Washington. How was it then, that I found myself standing in front of the post office for a different state? And a state that I’d never even heard of before? I must have hit my head harder than I thought when I took that nose dive!

Though I’d never heard of the state of Jefferson (the 51st state) before, I liked their motto which was something like, “politicians: one term in office and one term in prison.” It was hot out, I was hungry, and in addition to having a post office, the state of Jefferson also had at least one cafe, the Seiad Valley Cafe.

It was gloriously air-conditioned inside, so I sat down and made myself comfortable. Before the menus even hit the table I ordered a root beer float. I’d been dreaming of ice cream for days! As I browsed the menu, I sipped on the root beer float that had magically appeared in front of me… Hmmm… What did I want to eat?

Pancakes… I definitely wanted pancakes. The only pancakes I saw on the menu were the pancakes for the pancake challenge (I’ll admit I wasn’t reading the menu all that carefully). The challenge was to eat five challenge-sized pancakes in under two hours… If you completed the challenge then you’d get your pancakes free of charge. Five pancakes in two hours… I felt hungry enough to do that… I wasn’t sure what challenge-size pancakes were, but I figured there was only one way to find out…

When the waitress came back I ordered the pancake challenge. “Are you sure?” she asked, “they’re really big.” I was sure… I was hungry, I wanted pancakes, and I wanted to see what the challenge was all about.

As she placed the order people around the cafe began to murmur… Someone had ordered the pancake challenge! I was sitting in the back room with Whitewater (he got bit by a rattler on the day I took my nosedive) and GearSlut. We were tucked in the corner, so none of the customers in the main room could see who had placed the order.

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GearSlut, overwhelmed with curiosity about my challenge-sized pancakes, got up to take some pictures of the pancakes on the griddle. One of the guys at the counter said to him, “You’re an awfully small guy, do you really think you can eat that many pancakes?” He responded with a smile, “they’re not for me, they’re for her,” and pointed towards me. It was a great redirect :) If they were dubious about his ability to eat those pancakes, they were definitely dubious about mine!

Eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I had to get up to take a look at these legendary pancakes as they were being cooked. They were definitely big! Not only were they at least a foot in diameter, they were also really thick, probably half an inch of bubbly white pancake between the golden edges. They were so big they needed a special spatula to flip them (it looked more like a shovel than a spatula to me!).

I watched as the first couple of pancakes were finished and she poured the next couple out onto the griddle… They looked good, and the longer I waited for them the hungrier I got!

Eventually all five challenge-sized pancakes were delivered to me on a silver platter. I could barely pick the platter up it weighed so much!!! This was definitely the largest stack of pancakes I had ever seen, never mind consumed. “Clock starts now,” said the waitress as she brought over a bowl of butter and two containers of Aunt Jemimah’s maple syrup. I lathered butter onto the top pancake and prepared to dig in.

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For some reason a fork didn’t seem up to the task to me, so I lifted the platter to my mouth and took a few bites before deciding that the platter was way too heavy to hold up while I was eating… I was going to have to employ a different strategy…

I picked up one of the pancakes with both hands and took a bite out of it. Not bad… little dry though, so I lathered on some more butter… Just right!

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In order to come even close to winning the challenge, I was going to have to eat each pancake in 30 minutes or less. I finished the first pancake in just under 30 minutes, I was still on target time wise!

However, just two bites into the second pancake I was starting to slow down. Though it might be hard to believe, I was starting to get full! I was also starting to get tired of pancakes…

With plenty of free wifi, I got distracted from my pancakes and started checking Facebook instead of eating… Every now and then I’d remember that the pancakes were there and nibble at them… I ate another couple of bites with marionberry jam, which made those bites more palatable, but it still wasn’t enough to encourage me to eat more than a couple of bites…

An hour into the challenge I was still working on that second pancake. I stared at the pile… Even with another whole hour there was no way that I would make it through all five pancakes… In a couple of hours my parents would be meeting up with me… I wanted to be able to hug them without worrying about covering them with partially digested pancake…

With that thought I decided that I was going to stop eating pancake before I got too uncomfortable… I continued nibbling at the second pancake for the rest of that hour, as I chatted with some local gold miners. The youngest of the group had ordered the challenge the previous week and had managed to eat one and a half pancakes before the time was up, so I set a new goal, I wasn’t going to try to eat all five pancakes anymore, I was just going to try to eat a little bit more than he had.

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When my two hours were up I’d managed to eat two or three bites more than one and a half pancakes… Just a smidge more than the youngest gold miner :) After the challenge was over I chatted with the waitress and the cook for a while… It turns out that only two people in the last five years had successfully completed the challenge.

Even though I hadn’t eaten all five pancakes I had a lot of fun trying… It reminded me that happiness often comes from just getting out there and trying things… That you don’t always have to win to have a good time (especially since in this case I’m pretty sure winning would have made me sick!).

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Nose Dive (PCT Days 104 -110)

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I shouldn’t have insulted the lake, especially since this lake was known for being prickly (Porcupine Lake)! It probably didn’t help that it was a full moon, and a super moon at that. For my insolence, the lake demanded a blood sacrifice, which it took immediately, my bright red blood spattering across the cold grey rock.

It had all started innocently enough, doesn’t it always? I just wanted a campsite with a nice view, preferably of either the sunrise or the sunset. I’d hiked a quarter mile up a steep, rocky side trail to porcupine lake, hoping to find myself a nice campsite. When I got to the purported sites by the side of the lake I was sorely disappointed… They were all clustered together and the only views were of tents, rocks, and trees. Not my favorite kinds of views, so I decided to go explore down by the lakeshore… If I wasn’t going to get a sunrise or sunset view, maybe I could at least get a view of the lake?

It didn’t seem like it was too much too ask, and from a distance it even looked like there might be a couple of flat spots down by the shore at the far side of a small boulder field… Definitely worth checking out. I got over there with no problem, but once I got up close, I discovered that the spots were far from flat… My standards for flat are pretty low, but these spots definitely weren’t campable.

I grumbled some unflattering things about the stupid lake, and turned to go back up to the dark, viewless campsites where everyone else was camped when… Wham!!!!! The lakeshore jumped up and punched me in the nose with a giant grey rock!

The boulder I’d stepped down onto didn’t hold my weight… The footing must have eroded out from underneath one side of it so that when I stepped down, it immediately flipped me over and onto my nose. It happened so incredibly fast that I didn’t get a chance to break my fall with my shoulder, my pack, or my arm… I broke my fall with my nose… Thwack!!!

All thoughts were immediately erased from my head and replaced with pain… It felt like a combination of getting hit in the nose with a basketball and doing a bad backflip into a chlorinated pool, the kind that forces you to snarf chlorinated water up your nose…

I tried to stand up, but at the weird angle I was at, and with my pack still on, I couldn’t. Instead I managed to roll onto my back, but as I did I felt something wet spurt out from my face… Not a good sign. I tried to stand again, but with my pack still on I couldn’t. I lay there for a minute… Tears streaming down my face… Trying to collect myself. I was incredibly thankful that I hadn’t been knocked unconscious with that fall, and I still had all of my teeth… It could have been much worse… But it was still far from ideal.

Eventually I unclipped my pack, slipped out of it, and stood up. Man, oh man, did my nose hurt!! As soon as I stood up blood rocketed from my nose and splattered across the rocks a few feet away… A brilliant red splatter on the cold grey rocks…

Sh**!!! I grabbed my bandana and gingerly held it up to the fountain. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the bloody nose stopped, especially since my nose was so tender I couldn’t apply any pressure to it… The slight metallic tang in my throat suggested that it had found another route, but that didn’t last long either. I tried to think… Breaking my fall with my nose… Broken nose? I’d never broken my nose before. What was the biggest thing I needed to worry about? My airway… Had I screwed up the alignment of my nose or deviated the septum? If yes, I’d be hiking out to the nearest road and heading to the ER… I reached up and gingerly probed my poor nose… It hurt like heck, but it still seemed straight, and I could draw at least some air through each nostril, but I applied slight traction to the septum just in case… The alignments seemed like they were still ok… “Phew!” No forced march to the ER for tonight.

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I blinked back the tears that had come unbidden to my eyes… I was definitely a mess… My face and bandana were covered in blood, and now that the initial shock was wearing off, I noticed that my right arm was scratched up and oozing blood and my right shin had a big egg on it, which was also oozing blood.

It was suddenly convenient that I was by the shore of a lake. I walked down to the shore (about 20 feet away), rinsed the bandana out, and then used it to try to wash the blood off… I wished that the water was colder… Ice, what I really wanted was some ice to put on my poor nose… I could feel it swelling up already… Unfortunately, ice in the backcountry is rarely an option…

Once I’d cleaned myself off I decided that I’d better head back up to the main camping area… Even though I’d eaten 600 calories in the last hour, I still needed to make dinner and set up camp for the night, which meant I still needed to find a campsite… There was nothing to do, but do it, so I hoisted my pack up onto my back and set off, rather gingerly.

Da Vinci must have sensed that something was wrong as I hiked painstakingly from the rocky lakeshore back up to the area where everyone else was setting up their tents. “Hey Patches, are you ok?”

I blinked back tears and tried to control the waver in my voice, “I will be,” I said as I continued my slow plod to one of the remaining clearish spots tucked into the trees. I thought that I had pulled myself together before I left the lakeshore, but I was wrong. I was having trouble keeping full-fledged sobs from erupting from my body as I walked. Each heal strike felt like a new blow to my nose… This wasn’t fun at all!

I was far enough away from Da Vinci, and it was close enough to dusk, that he didn’t get a good look at me as I walked by. GearSlut, however, was closer. “Are you ok?”

Reflexively I went to nod my head yes (I didn’t trust my voice anymore), but I can assure you that that was a very bad idea… My attempt to nod yes caused massive pressure shifts in my nose and made me burst into tears as I plunked down to the ground. I don’t know whether GearSlut heard me crying, or saw me wince, but he was close enough to know that something definitely wasn’t right. Also, I must not have done as good a job cleaning myself up as I thought because as he approached he yelled out to the others, “first aid kits, we’re going to need some first aid kits over here!”

Before long GearSlut, Da Vinci, and DirtWolf were all sitting around me and the contents of all of our first aid kits were strewn around the campsite. “What happened?” They asked as I gingerly dabbed at my bleeding bits with disinfectant. “We didn’t hear you scream,” someone else interjected. “That’s because I didn’t scream,” I said, wincing as I dabbed at my leg. As I continued cleaning up I told them the story of what happened.

“Do you want a bandaid for your nose?” Hmmm… I wasn’t sure… I knew my nose hurt like heck, but I couldn’t see it, so I had no idea how bad it looked. There aren’t very many mirrors in the backcountry! Da Vinci, however, had a plan and handed me his cellphone… The wonders of modern technology, there was my nose!!

Damn! Instead of skinning my knees, I’d skinned my nose! Amazingly, my nose was the only thing that looked battered and bruised. The bridge of my nose was definitely still bleeding, I had to admit, it could use a bandaid. I tried to put the bandaid on my nose, but it went on crooked. I pulled it off (ouch!) and tried to replace it. Doh! Even more crooked. Trying to put a bandaid on my nose using a “mirror” and without my glasses on proved far more challenging than I would have thought! After three tries I finally gave up and asked for help (I am willing to ask for help when I need it).

Once I was all patched up, everyone went off to finish setting up camp and to make dinner, including me… The spot I’d plunked down in was a horrible site… Too small, rocky, and buggy… I was clearly a little out of it, and was just going to set up there anyway, but GearSlut insisted that I take the site he was partially setup in.

I told him that I would be fine, but my weak protests were ineffective and he had moved elsewhere before I had gotten around to unpacking. I looked around my site, it really was awful… The spot GearSlut had just vacated was much much nicer… The best that Porcupine Lake had to offer… so I picked my stuff up one last time and settled in for the night.

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My nose throbbed, it hurt to chew my food, and I was exhausted, but I was lucky and I knew it. You can be the most experienced hiker in the world, but sh** still sometimes happens… It’s a side effect of living… And I’ve been living an amazing life.

Tomorrow would be a rough day, but I would get up in the morning and hike… It’s what I do, it’s what I love… I may not hike far tomorrow, and I may not hike fast, but this too would pass… Eventually.

Rattle me timbers! (PCT Days 98-103)

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“Holy Sh**!!!” Adrenaline surged through my body as I danced five steps backwards, “Snake!” My first impulse when I saw the giant snake in the trail was to go backwards, but the only part of the snake I’d actually seen was the tail. From my new vantage point I realized that by going backwards I’d actually brought myself closer to the snakes head. “Holy sh**” I definitely didn’t want to do anything that would bring me closer to the head of a rattler!! I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. It hadn’t rattled at me, maybe it was just one of those snakes that imitated a rattlers patterning to confuse it’s prey?

The snake was stretched out diagonally across the trail with it’s head partly obscured by some oak leaves. It was so incredibly big that I couldn’t take in both the head and the tail of the snake in the same glance, so I slowly scanned the snake from head to tail. “Wow!” It seemed even bigger now that I really looked at it, and it was Definitely a rattlesnake… And not a young one either, it had a full set of rattles… I counted at least 10!

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Rattler. Rattler. Rattler! I had expected to run across bears on this stretch of trail, but not rattlers. Sure I knew that there were rattlers in Northern California, but I was in a shady pine and oak forest (mile 1473), not the sunny, rocky, exposed terrain where I expected to see rattlers.

Not only was this the first rattler I’d seen in 1000 miles (the first one since the Mojave desert), it was also the biggest rattler that I’ve seen! I was standing three or four feet away from it as I went through these contemplations. It still hadn’t moved, it still hadn’t rattled, and it was still in the middle of the trail. I was going to have to go around it, and now that I thought about it, I decided that I’d really like to be a little further away from it right now!

Since the rattler was splayed across the trail with it’s head pointed towards the southeast, I stepped off of the trail and went a few paces down the steep incline to the left (in a northwesterly direction).

Since I was a little further away now (and felt safer), I took a moment to admire the rattler and snap some pictures. It was different than the rattlers I’d seen in the desert. It looked greener than the Mojave Greens, and the black and white stripes on its tail extended from the rattles across at least a third of its body, , which was much further than the diamondbacks of the desert.. It was Absolutely gorgeous, as long as I was a good, safe distance from it.

“No, na, na, na, na, NO!” The snake had finally decided to move and it was moving the wrong way! It was supposed to continue moving to the southeast, the way that it was pointing, but that wasn’t what it decided to do. It decided to move towards me instead! It’s cold, golden eyes staring at me as it moved.

Suddenly I was feeling a lot less safe! Without breaking eye contact with the rattler I started to take a step backwards. As soon as I began moving the rattler gave one curt shake of its rattle, “bzzzzt!” Even though I’d seen lots of rattlers on the AT in Pennsylvania and in Southern California, this was the first one that had actually rattled at me! I got the message loud and clear. I wasn’t supposed to move while the rattler was moving.

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I stood there watching it, transfixed, as it’s body curled over itself and it headed to the westside of the trail where it stopped and coiled itself next to a log less than a foot from the trail. *sigh* This meant that I was going to have to try to go around it again.

After making sure it was all settled in and not moving I tentatively climbed back up to the trail. It watched me as I moved, but didn’t rattle this time. How was I going to go around him? I decided that hiking around him in an arc on the uphill side of the slope was the way to go.

As I started to hike around him he pulled out his rattle and gave it another curt shake. “Bzzzzt!” Ok, it was communicating with me clearly and efficiently… I was too close. I took a step back and made a broader arc up the hillside. This was apparently acceptable since he didn’t rattle at me anymore, though I was still unnerved as his head tracked my every step.

I made it back down to the trail and glanced back at the rattler. It was still there, watching me. I was reluctant to turn my back on it, but I had to… I took a deep breath, turned, and briskly walked away.

As I continued hiking towards McCloud River I was in a state of shock and disbelief… That was a HUGE rattler I’d just seen. Would there be more? I didn’t know. Though I’m not a parselmouth like Harry Potter, I congratulated myself for surviving my encounter with the rattler, and for understanding what it was trying to communicate to me.

“BZZZZZZZZZT!” Another rattler! Was I being punished for my hubris? Clearly it was too soon to be congratulating myself for handling rattler encounters well. “Bzzzzzt!! Bzzzzt! bzzzzt” This rattler wasn’t stationary or quiet. It was making lots of noise, and it was on the move. I’ve never seen a snake move so fast before in my life! It came flying down the hill above me, and then, when it got to the trail, it turned and headed towards me, still moving incredibly fast. “Bzzzzzzt!”

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“Aaaaaaaaaaa!!!!” I screamed. Not the scream of a child, not a scream of pain, but a scream of pure adrenaline-fueled terror. The adrenaline surge from the last rattler encounter hadn’t dispelled yet and here was a second rattler less than an hour later (mile 1475). What do you do when a rattler is speeding down the trail towards you (other than scream)?

From my last rattler encounter it seemed like a bad idea for both the rattler and the human to be moving at the same time, so I decided to stay put, right where I was. I was pretty sure that the rattler wasn’t coming for me, but I wasn’t sure where it was headed and I didn’t want to accidentally get in it’s way. If I stayed perfectly still it would just go around me and continue on its way, right?!

“Bzzzzzzzzzzzt!!” Here I was, playing chicken with a rattler. I didn’t like this game, I didn’t like it one bit! But I didn’t know what else to do.

“Bzzzzt!!” It continued rattling and coming towards me. Thankfully, at the last minute, it made a sharp righthand turn off of the trail and down the hill into the brush. “Bzzzzzzzzzt!!!!” It continued rattling until it was thoroughly ensconced in the bushes 10 feet below the trail.

“Phew!” It hadn’t been coming after me. I took a deep breath and realized that I’d been holding my breath ever since the rattler turned towards me. I watched it as it moved through the brush, slithering over or under branches at will. I’d never really watched a rattler navigate through complicated terrain before… It was fascinating. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was another big rattler (10ish rattles), but this one seemed to be more golden colored than the previous one. As I watched, the snake finally arrived at its destination, a hollowed-out log. It lifted its head up, looked inside, and then completely disappeared into the log.

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Suddenly I understood why it was in such a hurry, and why it was so grumpy. It was hungry, and I’d gotten between it and the meal it had spied in that log. I could relate since I get cranky if something gets between me and my dinner too!

Despite feeling like I might have some understanding (post facto) of the rattlers behavior, I was still feeling really shaken up. 2 rattlers in under an hour? Would my day continue this way? I wasn’t sure how many rattlers I could handle in one day without melting down. For the first time since Glen Pass I really wished that I wasn’t hiking solo… I didn’t want to be alone, and I didn’t want to be on this stretch of trail anymore. 2 rattlers in under an hour?! Why? What was different? Was this what Northern California was going to be like? Suddenly the trail felt like a scary place… My trail… My home… It wasn’t supposed to be scary!

I took a deep breath… I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to continue seeing rattlers at a rate of 2 per hour… I’d seen rattlers before, I’d probably see them again, but this was unusual. Also, I’d survived both rattler encounters without being bitten… Chances were pretty good I’d be able to avoid getting bitten in the future too. Besides, I was almost down to the river where I could take a nice long lunch break and collect myself.

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I continued hiking (it’s what I do!) and made it the rest of the way to the river without encountering anymore rattlers! Instead, what I found were 3 fellow thru-hikers (Blue Skies, Freckles, and Jawbone) and some amazing trail magic! After a quick dip in the river to cool off, Freckles’ aunt and her friend handed me a plate full of fresh, home-cooked food and a margarita! The food was amazing, and a margarita and good company was just what I needed to calm my nerves and regroup. After spending a few hours with my new friends at the river I was ready to face the trail again. Sure, there were rattlers out there, but there were also amazing people and views and new adventures awaiting me!

I was still a little bit jumpy as I headed up the trail, but my focus had shifted, there was poison oak everywhere… Since I was wearing a short skirt I was paying very close attention to all of the green plants by the side of the trail… Even though I’m not sure if I’m allergic to poison oak today definitely wasn’t the day I wanted to find out.

“BzzzzZzzzzzzzzt… Bzzzzt… Bzzzzzt!” Another rattler!

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“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you! I’m working on it!” I replied. My first rattler encounter I’d remained silent, the second rattler encounter I’d screamed, for the third rattler encounter I’d decided that if they were going to try to communicate with me, I would return the favor!

“Bzzzzzt…. Bzzzzt” I thanked the rattler for letting me know where he was. He was right, I hadn’t seen him until he started rattling. He’d been in the trail ahead of me, but covered by poison oak and other greenery (mile 1483). As soon as I head the rattling I took a couple of steps in the opposite direction and then turned to figure out where the rattler was. He was half coiled on the slope right above the trail. I don’t know rattlesnake physics, but it seemed like he’d have a pretty good striking distance with the mechanics of his position. He was slightly smaller (7 rattles) than the other two had been, and seemed slightly darker in color.

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To get around this one I stepped down into the ditch below the trail, carefully avoiding the poison oak, and didn’t return to the trail until I was well past him. He was still watching me, and I him, but we both seemed rather bored with the interaction, so I turned and headed back up the trail.

I was exhausted and it was getting late, so I checked my maps and started looking for a place to camp. The next campsite sounded perfect (mile 1487.0)! It was up the hill and around the corner from where I was, and it wouldn’t take me long to get there.

About a quarter mile from the campsite I heard some rustling in the bushes and the sound of branches breaking. I was either closer to the campsite than I thought, and there was a person in the woods, or there was a bear between me and my long-awaited campsite…

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I rounded the corner and sure enough… Bear (mile 1486.73)! “You’ve got to be kidding me, 3 rattlers and a bear, all in the same day!” It was unreal. I watched the bear with it’s golden fur as it ripped apart a fallen log searching for grubs. He knew exactly where I was… He’d turned to look at me when I rounded the corner, and after a moment of slow and thoughtful consideration decided that the grubs were far more interesting and returned to his log. I watched him for a minute before he tired of the grubs too and ambled down the hill, across the trail, and into the bushes on the other side. He was still making lots of noise as he foraged for grubs, but at least he wasn’t on the trail in front of me anymore, so I was able to keep hiking.

When I finally got to my campsite I could still hear the bear in the distance. I sighed. Even though it had been a long day, I couldn’t camp here… Not with a bear so close… I just wouldn’t be able to sleep. There was another campsite a little over a mile away, so I decided to push on… I could be there in 20 minutes or so… That wasn’t too bad.

Dusk was approaching and I was getting tired as I slowly and carefully picked my way through the poison oak encroaching on the trail. After about 10 minutes of picking my way through the poison oak you’ll never guess what I spotted in the trail a few feet ahead of me…

I stopped short. “Really, really?! Another rattler (mile 1487.22)?” I marveled at the absurdity of my day, 4 rattlers and a bear… I couldn’t believe it. In response to my utterances of disbelief the rattler finally figured out that I was there. It lifted up it’s head to look at me and lifted it’s tail to start rattling at me, “bzzz…”

I cut him off mid-rattle, “oh come on, why bother rattling at me? I saw you first, way before you had any clue that I was here… Is that really necessary?” I’m sure that the rattler had no idea that I was chastising it, but maybe it figured no one could hear it rattle with me chattering on, so it tucked its rattle away and slithered out of the trail… Wow! It was another really big snake. I counted 13 rattles before it coiled up and tucked it’s rattle underneath itself.

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“Dammit!” The stupid rattler had decided to coil itself up about 6 inches from the trail! I couldn’t safely pass it on trail, and the hillside was really steep both above and below the trail making it really hard to go off trail to avoid it. I stared at the rattler grumpily. I’ve heard lots of other people say that they’ve just flicked the rattlers away with their trekking poles… I looked at the massive rattler, and I looked at my trekking pole… Then I looked at the poison oak covered embankment. Hmmm… None of the options looked good, but to get enough leverage to flick the rattler down the hill with my trekking pole I’d have to get a lot closer to it than I felt comfortable with.

Hmmm…. I looked back over at the embankment… There were tracks where a bear had gone up to a tree above me, if I used it’s tracks I could avoid the poison oak and get around the rattler… If I slipped on that dang embankment I would end up covered in poison oak and less than a foot away from the rattler… There was only one solution… No slipping.

I grumbled at the rattler as I climbed up the embankment, went around the tree, and descended back down to the trail on the other side. I begrudgingly glanced back at it one more time before once again setting off for my campsite.

As I hiked the last little bit to my campsite I decided that if there was a rattler in my campsite I was going to kill it, cook it, and eat it for dinner… I was done with rattlers for the day! I was going to camp at the next tent site no matter what. I’d already had enough adventures for one day!!

When I finally got to my campsite it was beautiful. The sun was setting and the moon was rising, all amidst bright pink clouds… And do you want to know what was even better? There was neither sight nor sound of rattlers or bears anywhere! I pitched my tent, curled up inside, and went to sleep. What a day!

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Rattler mile 1473.07
Rattler mile 1475.20
Rattler mile 1483.20
Bear mile 1486.73
Rattler mile 1487.22
Bear mile 1494.63
Bear cub mile 1504.6

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For more information about California’s Rattlers click here!
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Extra Credit (rattlesnake physics): What is the spring constant for rattlesnakes? Does the stiffness of the rattle contribute to the mechanics of it’s striking distance? What are the advantages/disadvantages of fully coiling versus coiling in an ‘s’ shape? How are striking distances modified on steep embankments?

Extra Credit (cooking): Do you have any advice for cooking or preparing rattlesnake for dinner? Favorite rattler recipes? If you are on private property in California is it legal to have the rattler in your campsite for dinner? How about Oregon?

Where there’s smoke… (PCT Days 95-97)

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As I hiked up the hill leaving Baum Lake I started smelling smoke… It smelled like campfire smoke. Who in the world would have a campfire when the temperatures were in the 90s in July in Northern California during a drought? Didn’t they know that this place is just primed and ready to burn! Over the course of the next half mile or so the smell of smoke got stronger and I got grumpier. I was preparing to give the campers with the fire a stern talking to, whoever they were.

As I approached the crest of the hill I started to see smoke, but no signs of people anywhere! As I got even closer I saw plumes of smoke rising out of the bushes about five feet to the left of the trail. I leaned my hiking poles up against a nearby tree and then pushed through the bushes to check it out. This was not good… Not good at all!

There was a patch of ground covered with forest debris that was smoldering… It looked almost like the coals of a campfire that someone had tried to kick to break up, but more dispersed, and definitely no signs of a campsite… This was something different… Something that I’d never encountered in the woods before… It was an unintentional fire of some kind.

It was a patch of earth roughly 3 feet long and 3 feet wide with a dozen or so charred/smoking sticks and piles of leaves in it… There were no open flames, and it wasn’t spreading quickly. I tried to kick dirt over one of the small smoking piles and then tried stepping on it to put it out, but that didn’t come even close to subduing the smoke. This was going to require more water than I had, and more water than I could easily get. I needed help dealing with this thing. It was still so small that it didn’t seem like it warranted panicking (at least not yet), but it was Northern California, in a heat wave, in a drought… This thing needed to be contained and soon.

It looked like there was a road just up the hill from me and I thought I heard some kind of vehicle up there and maybe a radio. I called out, “hey, there’s a fire down here, is anybody up there?” But I didn’t hear a response so I started bushwhacking up the hill towards the road to find help as I pulled out my phone. My friend hotshot would know what I should do, so I tried calling her… I was pretty sure she’d just tell me to call 911 and get the fire department out there… She didn’t answer… 911 was next on my list…

As I got to what I thought was the road, I instead found a bunch of bulldozer tracks criss-crossed with fire hoses. A fire hose was exactly what I needed!! Well, that and somebody that knew how to use it! I heard another radio squelch… The fire department was already here, somewhere nearby… I just needed to find them.

As I starting walking towards the squelch I saw a very happy sight indeed, a fireman turning the corner and walking towards me with what looked to be another thru-hiker by his side. “There’s a patch of the forest smoldering by the trail,” I exclaimed.

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He nodded, “are there any flames yet?” I replied, “no, not yet… Just charring and smoking.” As I led the way back down to the scorched, smoking earth, the fireman explained to us that there had been a fire in the area yesterday that burned 68 of the adjacent acres, so this was probably just a spot fire that had escaped from the bigger fire. That made sense and explained why they were already in the area.

After we showed him where the fire was he thanked Easy Bee (the other thru-hiker) and me for our help, and for taking time out of our hikes to report the fire and followup on it. He then called it in to the rest of the crew who were going to get water and deal with this mess.

“Where is the trail from here?” He asked. We both pointed to the trail five feet below us. I then asked him a question that I’d been meaning to ask my friend hotshot for a while, “what should we, as hikers, do if/when we encounter a forest fire?”

1. Write down your GPS coordinates if you have them (halfmile’s apps will give them to us).
2. Call the local fire department or 911 to report it.
3. If you don’t have cell service make sure you get the GPS coordinates of the location of the fire, and the next time you get cell service call it in to report it.

If it is a small fire (like the one I encountered), he said that you can try to kick a perimeter around it down to the bare earth (it’s ok to include bushes within that perimeter if you need to). He kicked about a foot an a half to two foot wide buffer of cleared earth around the fire and said that that was likely to keep it contained. Even if you do that, still call it in.

If you come across a campfire that someone has unsuccessfully tried to put out, call it in. Chances are you won’t be able to completely put it out either. He said it’s funny the number of times they end up coming to an abandoned campfire site and find a note from a hiker saying they tried to put it out (signed with their trail name).

If there’s a large fire on the trail he said the biggest thing you need to do is keep your wits about you and pay attention to the wind directions. You want to go whichever direction the wind is coming from because it will be whipping the smokes and flames the other way. He said that usually you can tell just by looking at it which direction the fire is moving in… Don’t go that way, even if it means that you have to go back the way you came from. He also said that most fires around here burn to the northeast, so if you’re unsure which direction to go, you’ll probably be best off if you hike in a generally westerly direction. Avoid canyons, ravines, or anyplace that funnels the wind because that will also funnel the fire. Lastly, if you circle behind the fire, your best bet may be to walk along the edge of the section that has already been burned and charred… You know that that section isn’t going to burn again, even if the wind directions change.

I thanked him for his advice, and headed back up the trail. I hope that I don’t encounter anymore active burn sites on the trail, but at least I have a better understanding of what to do now if I find another fire.

p.s. Last night I saw another section of trees go up in flames in the valley from the overlook I was sleeping at. Be careful out there! For anyone near dunsmuir today:

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official news about the fire

Addendum:
I finally got a chance to talk to my friend Hotshot, who said:

“Only thing I would add to his ‘escape’ advice is that around here fire is often slope driven, not wind driven, going uphill from a fire can be really dangerous… No one can outrun a fire uphill.”

“Also, be careful walking through old burns… Fire weakened trees can be blown over pretty easily so try not to take a break or set up camp under them & keep your head up when you are hiking through a burn scar in the wind!! Welcome to west coast crazy:)”

Chomp, chomp, chomp! (94&95)

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“Snap! Crack! Boom!” Sure it was the 4th of July, but this wasn’t fireworks. It was 5:30 am and we were in the middle of a pine forest. “Crash! Boom! Bang!” The noise was startling and loud, and was a constant grinding/gnashing sound in the background. It was incredibly disconcerting, and it was getting closer!!!

We could hear it, but we couldn’t see it. What the heck was it? Where was it? Where was it going? Was it coming for us? It was just so loud and it sounded like pure destruction… It was downright scary.

As the sun continued to rise we saw the aftermath of whatever it was littering the forest floor. It wasn’t like the logging and lumbering areas we’d seen before. There, the stumps of the trees had cleanly cut edges, and so did the remaining felled logs. Here, there were plenty of stumps but they looked like they had been chewed up by a giant and then spit out all over the forest floor… It was really weird, and all of the shredded tree bits were fresh… Not more than a day or two old.

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“Griiiiiind! Smash! Crunch!” As the sky got brighter we saw bulldozer tracks criss-crossing the trail everywhere and we finally figured out what the noise was coming from. It had to be some kind of bulldozer/chipper combination… And it was headed our way… Would it be able to see us through the remaining trees? Did it know where the trail even was? Would we see the trees crashing down with plenty of time to get out of the way?

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I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to find out, so I picked up my pace… I’d feel much better once we were out of this area. I kept looking back over my shoulder… I still couldn’t see the roving menace. I’d never heard anything like it before in my life, but the longer it went on, the more frightening it became. It had me looking over my shoulder even more often than I had the day that the mountain lion hissed at me!

Eventually we came to a dirt road, and on the other side of it a steep hill with untarnished forest on its slopes. I don’t think I have ever been so excited about going uphill before in my life! It meant that the chipper wasn’t going to get me! The whole scene reminded me of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. As thru-hikers, I feel like we stand for the trees, and there are some things that are just hard to see.

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Bear?! (PCT Days 92 & 93)

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Every road crossing I’d come to yesterday had had signs posted asking my friend, and fellow thru-hiker, to call home to contact her family or to use her spot device ASAP. Initially I’d worried that maybe something had happened to her. This morning, when I saw some southbound hikers, I asked them if they’d seen her. Sure enough, they had, and just the day before. I was incredibly relieved. She was ok.

As I continued hiking I came across some dayhikers. “Are you J****?” They asked. I let them know that I wasn’t, but that I knew who she was and had heard this morning that she was ok. “Good,” they exclaimed, “the sheriff was out here looking for her yesterday.” The Sheriff was out looking for her too? That seemed strange. I was completely lost in thought and in my own world worrying about my friend and her family as I continued up the trail when suddenly… Bear.

Bear?! I’ve never been pulled back to the here and now so quickly before in my life. There was a big bear with golden fur standing in the middle of the trail staring at me!

I stopped and stared right back. I couldn’t help it, the bear standing less than 20-30 feet in front of me was absolutely magnificent. It was also the first bear on the west coast that I’d gotten a really good look at (the other one I saw was in brushy woods and took off as soon as it saw me). It definitely didn’t look like the black bears I’d seen on the east coast with its light, golden brown fur. It was also strange that it didn’t immediately run away like almost every other bear I’ve encountered. Perhaps I should have been scared or nervous, but there were no cubs around and both of us had seemingly come to the same conclusions: there would be no sudden movements, and it was way too hot out to run.

The bear had clearly seen me before I’d seen it… I like to imagine it watching my approach and wondering when I was going to figure it out. After cocking it’s head and taking one last look at me the bear slowly lumbered off into the woods.

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I should take a picture of him before he gets too far off I thought, but the best photo op had already passed… The moment I saw him, in the middle of the trail, with the sun making his golden fur glow, framing his head almost like a lion’s mane… That is the picture I wish I could share with you and that is the image that will remain in my memory forever. The pictures I actually managed to get are off his sunlit butt sauntering off (probably the most common picture that hikers get of bears) and then a couple more as he paused to look at me from the shade of the woods. At one point it looked like he might head back towards me… It was only then that I fully realized how big he was… He probably outweighed me by double or triple, though it can be hard to gauge… I’d love to get a good picture, but I definitely didn’t want him to intentionally come towards me, not even a little bit. At that point he and I both seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time again… We decided that the best thing to do was to keep on walking… Me down the trail, and the bear up the mountain.

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Halfway Half Gallon (PCT Days 91-92)

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How did it get to be July already? It seemed almost impossible. I started hiking on April 1, and it was already July 1! I’d come so far that it shouldn’t have felt strange that months had gone by while I’d been hiking. I had hiked through the desert and through the high Sierra and it seemed fitting that on July first I was going to cross the midpoint of the PCT.

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Last year when I crossed the halfway point of the AT, I was feeling the pressure of a time crunch, I had started the AT late (May 8) and I knew that if I was going to make it to Mt. Katahdin before the October 15 deadline, I was going to have to hike the second half I the AT much faster than I’d hiked the first half (which I ended up doing without a problem, finishing on October 4).

This time, on the PCT, I started my hike early (April 1) and didn’t have the same kind of time pressure. Even if I hiked the second half of the PCT as slowly as I’d hiked the first half (which seems unlikely to me), I’d still be done by October 1, hopefully before the first of the big winter storms rolled it.

At the midpoint of the PCT I stopped in the shade to celebrate with Wardrobe and Stumbles… The last 1300+ miles had been amazing and had challenged me in ways that I hadn’t expected (the trail always does), and yet here I was, looking forward to seeing what the next 1300+ miles would bring.

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On the Appalachian Trail the traditional way to celebrate the halfway point is to eat a half gallon of ice cream. They call it the “half-gallon challenge.” As I sat at the midpoint of the PCT in 90+ degree weather I decided that that was how I wanted to celebrate this halfway point too!! A couple of miles down the trail was Chester, CA, the closest town to the halfway point… I could get my half gallon of ice cream there and relax somewhere in the shade (or maybe even air conditioning) and eat it. That definitely seemed like a good plan to me!

My friend Wardrobe headed into town with me and sure enough there was a grocery store with a great selection of ice cream. I paced up and down the ice cream aisle, which kind of ice cream did I want to eat a 1/2 gallon of? On the AT I had gone with black raspberry, but here I had a lot more options. I also had to take into account the fact that the ice cream manufacturers have all downsized their containers so that they aren’t full half gallons anymore… They’re either 1.5 quarts or 1.75 quarts… I would have to supplement my box of ice cream to bump it up to 2 full quarts if I wanted to truly have my half gallon of ice cream at the halfway point.

In a sudden stroke of brilliance (if I do say so myself) I realized that I could just get four individual pints and if I ate them all that would make a full half gallon! 4 pints… That also meant I could go for the fancy ice cream, and I could mix up the flavors… Mmmmm… They had my favorite Haagen Daz flavors (their Ben & Jerry’s selection was abysmal): dulce de leche and raspberry… So those were the first two that I picked and then, eventually, I decided on strawberry and vanilla bean as the other two flavors. That should make for a tasty combination!!!

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On the Appalachian Trail the half gallon challenge is a timed event, you’re supposed to eat your half gallon in under an hour. I’d finished mine in just under 40 minutes, but those last few bites had been a real chore, and I left feeling slightly uncomfortable. For the PCT I decided to eliminate the timed component… Or maybe make it half a gallon at the halfway, in half a day. I was going to savor and enjoy my 4 pints of ice cream because I was vacation and there was no reason not to. I was determined to try to maximize the fun parts of this trip and to minimize the uncomfortable parts whenever possible!

When Wardrobe saw me with my four pints of tasty tasty ice cream she said, “maybe you shouldn’t have had the strawberry milkshake, the root beer float, and the chicken fried steak earlier,” and laughed. “No problem,” I assured her, “I’m still hungry!”

“Mmmmm” I devoured first one pint (the dulce de leche) and then another (the raspberry). I was halfway through the challenge and still loving my yummy yummy ice cream. I was right, eliminating the timed component and going with my favorite flavors had been a stroke of brilliance, “tasty tasty calories!” Eventually, to Wardrobe’s disbelief, I finished off the two remaining pints (the vanilla bean and then the strawberry). I’d eaten my half gallon of ice cream at the halfway point! Each pint had had 3.5 servings, and was between 230 and 270 calories per serving, thus my half gallon challenge had given me an extra 3500 calories… Not bad, especially when combined with all of the other stuff I’d eaten in town. It was kind of funny to think that I would need to eat at least 8 pints of ice cream for each day that I spent hiking to make up for the calories I was burning!

Happy, and feeling full for the first time in at least a week, I was ready to head back for the second half of the trail! There’s no such thing as too much ice cream, and there’s no such thing as too much hiking. Now the only question was whether or not I should make a new challenge: 1 gallon of ice cream, in 1 day, at the completion of the trail?