Water: 2L from Cold Creek (whoops! Not enough); iced tea; tap water
Even in larger groups, trail mornings are usually quiet, hikers coming to terms with the new day in their own ways: with coffee or breakfast or not; wide-eyed, sleepy-eyed or still attempting to rest. But this morning there is loud, even energetic conversation about, yes, bears. We recap what happened in the night for those who slept through the second round of action, and honestly admit our fears, or at least experiencing more difficulty than usual drifting off to sleep. And there are tales of bear-themed dreams (of No Boundaries head-butting the bear in the stomach) and jokes about failing to provide bear piñatas, as no food bags were hung in the high up scraggle-branches of the surrounding trees.
The way is mostly down today, and there are bear tracks in the trail dust. I stick with the now trio of couples until first water for break, merrily chatting away miles with Mamma Squirrel. But afterwards I fall behind, in part, because I keep stopping to take photos of all the amusing ‘PCT’ variations scattered at regular intervals, etched again with sharpie on trail markers. I tell myself I have enough photos, just to stumble across the irresistible “Possible Canadian Terrorism.” My eyes leap from marker to marker, until I can’t see the forest for the acronyms.
But then the trees give way to a high ridge with views of what is to come: the Cascades! The end of the Sierras is nigh, the Feather River way down below carving its way through a rift between the craggy granite hill I stand on, and the lava-red slopes to come. But also in the near distance, a terrifyingly long looking climb, a zigzag scar of path or road (maybe it’s not the trail after all) I fear is the PCT heading up from the river.
Then there’s phone service, with its combination of opportunities and demands. But it fades as I descend slowly to Beldon where there does not appear to be AT&T coverage or internet of any kind. Even the pay phone at the store is out of order. I sit on the porch chugging an iced tea. The way down was long and hot, I did not have enough water on me. Seemingly endless swtichbacks, the last four or so miles edged in poison oak, almost impossible not to touch for such a long stretch.
Belden is a welcoming, if strange, ‘town.’ A western-themed set for infamous raves tucked between train tracks and river in this narrow valley. But today it is mostly quiet; just a few hikers about drinking beer and eating fries on the river-view patio.I will not be hiking out today, I need to get my package from the super kind Braatens, where I can shower and stay clean and calm but without beer as per house rules. But my current friends are set on drinks and will be camping down by the river. The hikertrash in me wants to join, but I have only a split second to decide: take the offer of a beer from a hiker or of a ride from an angel. Brenda Braaten’s smile is so gentle and kind, I can’t resist what is truly a little haven. There are loaner cloths (neatly sorted by size), and clean towels, little labels and reminders on drawers and doors – sewing kit here; please leave towels here. The order is calming.
After showering and donning a yellow ‘PHS soccer’ T-shirt (more three letter acronyms that start with P) and some blue cotton shorts, I sort through my resupply, smiling at a note on the box in a familiar curling sprawl: Bad Camper and Dubbstep wondering ‘how the devil’ I am, and hoping that I might catch them soon. The contents are more puzzling. Somehow I sent myself five days food for a 63 mile stretch, leaving me worried that my next box might not be waiting where I think it is. I pack more than I need, then look at the elevation profile: a five thousand foot climb out of town tomorrow. I sigh, and take out half of the food to save weight.
Peter and Rita, a pair from Latvia sharing the little hiker apartment with me tonight. We chat about the English names for edible berries, and all the crazy nice things people have done for us along the way. Brenda comes in to ask if we can help scare the five point buck from her orchard, and solve mystery of the unusual fruit on the table: cherry plums. Who knew?
I ice-away my knee’s complaints about the long descent, then head to my choice of beds, a whole room to myself. I listen to the incredible chorus out the window, singing Chee-er-eet! Chee-erererereet! in unison. Except for one insistently syncopated chirpchirpchirp. There’s a cool breeze, a warning about an attack rooster, but not, I should hope, any chance of bears.