Northern California: Thru Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail In The Summer of COVID-19

  • Updated: August 10, 2020
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

July 13th to August 10th, 2020
601.7 miles, 29 days
Tahoe to Ashland

I'd sweated my way through the desert, limped through the Sierra on crumbling shoes, and now...I was still in California for another 600 miles. Bloody hell this state is long!  

The Northern California section of the Pacific Crest Trail has a reputation for getting people down and I can understand why. After finishing the Sierra it feels imposing to still have over half the trail and 1,500 miles to go. Also having left the epic views of the Sierra behind and having to deal with the fact that ever town stop involves a big descent followed by a steep climb to get back out causes things to drag. Especially after a large town meal and a few beers.

I also really didn't expect the heat. Suddenly we were back in mid 90s and now there was high humidity to boot.

But there were also spectacular rivers, lush vegetation, and some of my favorite town stops of the entire trail.

Circumstances & Challenges

"I'm sure by the time I'm through the Sierra I'll be bulletproof." - Me before starting the PCT
"What the hell." -Me in Northern California

Before starting the trail I had a picture in my head of how things would go. I figured that I'd struggle in the southern part getting used to the day in day out exertion and then once I was through the Sierra I'd be firing on all cylinders. I figured by the time I was in Washington I'd be so strong even the extra 30 mile backtrack required by the Canadian border being closed would feel like nothing.

That's not really how it went. In fact it seemed like almost everyone I ran into was walking wounded to a greater or lesser extent.

On my end I had at least managed to work through the achilles issue with a combination of rest, stretching, and rolling out my calf with my hiking pole each morning. And that was a huge relief since I'd really been afraid that might force me off the trail.

So of course I had other issues crop up.

Insert joke here about my trail name being Masochist

This was the section where I had a sudden onset of sweat rash under my pack. It drove me crazy since I'd been carrying the exact same pack since last summer and I had the same shirt since the mexican border. And yet now the spot in the middle of my back would start bothering my towards the end of the day and it would get so painful I couldn't stand having my pack against it at all until I'd let it heal a bit overnight. The marks down lower were an attempt to shift my pack away which ended up causing other issues.

This would dog me all the way to the Canadian border. I took people's advice and acquired cotton underwear and a shirt to sleep in but that didn't fully fix things. I switched shirts and tried to clean off whenever I had access to water. But it still came back.

My best tool to manage it was provided by my friend Barbara Fox who went out of her way to mail me a tube of A&D diaper rash ointment. At times I felt like I was practically bathing in the stuff but it did seem to help.

The other thing which helped at least a little was adding a piece of foam to my hipbelt. I'd slimmed down noticeably by this point and the lost padding caused my hip belt to ride a little uncomfortably. This didn't get rid of the rash issues but it did help a bit.

On top of that I started to have foot issues. I'd had the occasional blister or sore spots around the ball of my foot but now I was getting abrasions on the arch of my foot that proves almost impossible to protect with any sort of tape. When it happened I was pretty much forced me to stop for the day. As an added bonus if I wasn't careful to apply lotion to the marks on subsequent days they would harden and crack leaving me with a painful feet for days.

On the plus side back in civilization things seemed to have calmed down a bit. At least for the moment.

Trail towns seemed to have a handle on how to manage hikers with the ongoing COVID-19 situation and most facilities that hadn't closed for the entire season were back open with some modifications. Also a few locations like Belden or Wildwood Tavern were only open for hikers which was actually rather nice.

Of course the PCTA was still sticking to their position that it wasn't safe to hike and there were still loud voices in some of the groups condemning us.

The civil unrest seemed to have settled down a bit and mail delivery could be relied on again after getting a bit shaky during the shutdown period.

This was also the start of the fire season though it would get a lot worse later on.

This section was also where the reality of the schedule required to reach Canada before winter hit a lot of people. With my late start I'd had it at the forefront of my mind since the beginning but a lot of people who had started in March or April had been taking a lot of time in towns and suddenly started talking about rushing through Oregon or having to consider skipping forward.

South Lake Tahoe : Mile 1090

Jen and I left Tahoe in high spirits. In addition to a few days of rest and hot meals I finally had an appropriate pair of shoes and from here it was all new (to me) trail!

As an added bonus we even ran into a bear and her cub right after getting dropped off by a local trail angel!

The trail wound around Lower Echo Lake and for the next section we had a lot of company. It seemed to be a mix of day hikers, weekend backpackers, and a good amount of people doing the Tahoe Rim Trail.

While I was eager to get away from the crowds I did enjoy the hike around Lake Aloha around mile 1098. It's a massive lake with granite peaks in the background that was stunning to look at and I completely failed to properly capture it. In my defense there was a bitterly cold wind slamming us and I was struggling with a bit of foot pain from my new shoes while I figured out how to properly cinch them down.

Oh, and there were mosquitoes around. Nothing as bad as Jack Main Canyon but it was enough to send me scrambling for my wind layers again whenever we stopped out of the wind.

We also started seeing thunderheads off in the distance fairly regularly though we seemed to avoid a lot of the resulting rain.

Donner Ski Ranch : Mile 1130.6

Good bloody god Donner Ski Ranch made me happy. It was only a day and change out of Tahoe so I wasn't really desperate for food but the fact it was right off the trail and words "Free 40oz beer for PCT hikers" made it all but impossible to pass up.

I'd never had Steel Reserve before but it was quite tasty coming this late in a rather warm day of hiking. It was also 9% alcohol and so when combined with dehydration and an empty stomach kind of hit like a big load of bricks. Especially since they gave us the beer first and then our burgers and nachos took a little while to prepare.

As usual we didn't want to camp around anything approaching civilization so after wolfing down the food and finishing off what would could of the beer we set out in headlamps aiming for the next campsite once we got away from the road.

To say the hike to camp that night was a challenge would be a vast understatement. It felt like an eternity of stumbling along the side of a dark road and trail cursing possibly followed by me lying on the ground while Jen set up the tent. Possibly.

(The group that left ahead of us was doing shots right as we arrived and managed to hike several miles further on a combination of alcohol and mushrooms so hats off to them.)

More thunderheads and rain in the distance

Sierra City : Mile 1195.4

On July 17th we reached the small town of Sierra City. We hitched in from the trail to find that thru hikers seemed to be outnumbering locals. 

We had sent a package here from Tahoe which we picked up and supplemented with a few items from the store. I also had a chat with the people running the local cafe about my back issues and they went to heroic lengths to try and offer some help. 

We left after a few hours and witnessed a large trail family of acquaintances *trying* to get out of town at the same time we were but it didn't seem to be going well. Apparently they ended up spending the night due to a few stragglers.

The climb out of town was significant but the trail was so well graded it made for easy hiking.

When the campsites at the top of the climb were occupied we pushed on to where the trail crossed Sierra Buttes Road. We didn't arrive after dark and we did find another pair of hikers set up in the area but we managed to find a private -ish spot down slope.

I was ahead of Jen and when she arrived the people camped by the trail were loudly exclaiming their amazement about the NEOWISE comet. Full on, top of their lungs, double rainbow guy style "this is so amazing" in a manner that *might* have suggested a bit of chemical enhancement. But at least they were happy. At least until Jen came up and informed them that that the thing they were looking at was just a satellite.

 For the record we did see NEOWISE a bit later that night and let our slightly cowed neighbors know.

The trail also passed through some really lush sections that made me feel like I had moved into a new distinct area.

Unfortunately we also started to hit the occasional bit of light smoke.

Belden : Mile 1286.8 

Belden was one of my favorite stops along the entire trail.

Belden Town is a small riverside resort located along Highway 70. In a normal year they are known for their music festivals and I've heard all sorts of wild accounts of what goes on there.

But this was 2020 so festivals were off the table. Instead they were barely open offering food, a small grocery store, and rooms and almost everyone there was a PCT hiker.

Scruffy hiker trash provided for scale

They also had a hiker specific burger that wasn't on the menu called the Belden Burger. I saw it in a Guthook comment and when I asked about it the waitress lit up and soon I was plowing my way through a giant pile of deliciousness.

That, beer, and ice cream from the store left me a happy hiker. Also due to my ongoing sweat rash struggles we decided to spend a night here. In addition to the hotel style rooms in the main building they had cabins for rent at various rates.

We ended up paying a really reasonable rate for a cabin in the middle of the compound which they said used to be the old barber shop. It was basic but it had dry sheets and a hot shower so I was more than happy. We bought a bottle of red wine from the store and even the fact it was admittedly terrible didn't detract from the downright niceness of relaxing out on the deck while drinking it. 

The next day we ended up eating with a huge group of other hikers who had all filtered in at various times. Many of them we'd seen before but this was the first chance we had to have a longer conversation.

There were two main topics of conversation. First was scheduling with many people stating they intended to do Oregon in two weeks (aka the Oregon Challenge) to make up time.

The other was how everyone was going to get out of Belden since it was located at the bottom of a 5,700' climb and at least the first part was allegedly quite hot and exposed. And did I mention it was really warm out?

Some folks left at night but we wanted to give my back scabs another day to heal and decided we'd set out at 7 am the following morning.

That ended up being almost perfect timing as it was still cool and we were protected by the sun for the early climb before we got back into tree cover.

I was also feeling amazingly strong thanks to all the food I'd eaten and the two nights of rest. To the point I wanted to fist bump the sign for Bring-it-on Creek when I went by.

I found it interesting that near the top of the climb there were signs denoting a change from the Sierra Nevada range to the Cascades.

It seemed odd because there wasn't much around. But hurrah for reaching the Cascades!

PCT Midpoint : Mile 1325 -ish

On August 24th I reached the small post that officially marks the halfway point between Mexico and Canada. I'd been on the trail for 80 days,  I'd hiked over 1325 miles, and...I still had over 360 miles of California still to go. 

Have I mentioned this state is just too damned long? I was soon joking that I was going to start supporting the State of Jefferson movement just to be able to see another state sooner.

Chester : Mile 1331

Chester is generally referred to as the halfway point since it's the nearest town to to the post. Personally I'd been looking forward to it for weeks since I'd been there before and remembered a place that had decent food and really large ice cold draft beers. And after so many long hot days I'd been fantasizing to an obnoxious level about those drafts.

So you can imagine how hard I took it when we arrived to find the place had closed down last year. *sigh*

We lucked out getting a ride into town because just as we were pulling out our phones to look at ride options a trail angel arrived dropping off another hiker we knew named Melissa. 

The trail angels gave us cokes and a ride into town and were nice enough to both run us to the post office to pick up a package and then walk us through the meal options in town. We eventually found a mexican food restaurant with tables set out in the parking lot to scratch my nachos and carne asada burrito itch but I was still sad about the lack of draft beer.

We ended up buying our resupply at a Dollar General and repacking everything in the grass of a church next door. 

We needed to hitch back to the trailhead and rather than just stand around and wait we started to walk in the correct direction as we stuck our thumbs out. (I also tried to strategically place myself in relation to Jen in the hopes they'd see the small -ish girl and stop before catching sight of my slightly more imposing frame)

I don't know how much of an effect that had but we ended up getting picked up fairly quickly by a pickup full of locals. They were all quite up there in age and it was the one time I felt a little guilty taking a ride even with the masks. But they insisted and we were soon on the way out of town listening to how happy they were to see us and how on a normal year they gave hikers rides all the time.

We hiked out with aggressive plan to get in more miles before stopping for the day. Which was soon tempered by that mass of really yummy mexican food roiling around in my gut making each step less than pleasant.

We ended up finding a pond with some free sites nearby and calling it a night.

Lassen : Miles 1346 to 1365 -ish

We'd been seeing signs for a while announcing that we were approaching Lassen National Park. Lassen is interesting since it's the only part of the entire trail other than the Sierra where you're required to have a bear can to camp.

We sent our bear cans back from Sonora Pass so our plan had been to just hike through the 20 mile section and camp on the far side. Easy, right?

Unfortunately the preceding days didn't go quite how we'd hoped and we ended up starting July 25th with 10 miles to the park boundary. We'd been averaging somewhere in the range of 20-25 miles a day so even the option of stopping at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch / campground in 15 miles seemed like a waste. So we decided we'd push through.

Also if you picture walking through Lassen as a series of volcanic features, steam vents, and boiling lakes you're going to be dissapointed. Sticking to the trail the only thing you're really going to see is the small lake above called Boiling Spring right before Drakesbad.

Most of the section looks more like this. On the plus side we pretty much had it to ourselves and it was relatively flat. That combined with the motivation that we *had* to keep going got us through our first 30 mile day.

By the time we stumbled past the northern park boundary our feet were hurting and we were quite ready to stop. Fortunately there was a campsite right outside the park at mile 1365 with water about 1/4 of a mile away. I went about setting up the camp while Jen went for water.

Old Station : Mile 1373

Remember how I said that when we left Sonora Pass that I figured I wouldn't see any more friends until I was back home? Well then a few weeks later I happened to be checking Facebook and saw that my good friend and fellow WTC instructor Bill Payne was up in the area with family.

They were set up at a campground right off the trail near Old Station and Bill was nice enough to buy us lunch while we visited.

We could only spend a few hours since we had a schedule to keep but it was great getting to visit. Anytime I got to chat with friends I was basically skipping down the trail for the next day.

Hat Creek Rim : Mile 1380

Hat Creek Rim is just past Old Station and it's normally known for being hot and dry. The only real water source along the section requires a steep drop down to Lost Creek which most people were loathed to do.

As it turned out we had a bit of good luck / bad weather than made the section much more pleasant. Soon after we left Bill the clouds started to build and it was soon raining in the distance. And then raining on us. 

Jen has an aversion to hiking in the rain and we actually stopped and got out the tent for a little while. While Jen sprawled out inside the tent I decided to hike back about a hole to the Subway Cave parking lot to grab water so we'd have enough to cook dinner if we had to spend the night.

By the time I was back the rain had mostly stopped and we could get moving again leaving us with humid conditions but nothing like the heat others dealt with through here.  

According to a set of interpretive signs we should have been getting our first look at Mount Shasta but we had to settle for a nice sunset. It did get a bit windy once the sun went down but we kept pushing forward since we wanted to get close to the next water source.

Annoyingly this was when one of my headphone buds went out on me. Considering it was the end of a long hard day and I was using a rather involved audiobook to distract myself from the pain and keep moving this annoyed the crap out of me. Fortunately Jen was happy to swap me for her set and I made arrangements to carry a spare from here on out.

The next day it was another unpleasantly hot morning and we were quite happy to reach the volunteer maintained water cache at mile 1393.5. Someone fills the tank regularly and just asks for reports on the water level and optional donations to defray costs.

While we were sitting in the shade filtering water I commented on how much of a pain the rain had been the day before but that the only thing worse than rain was heat.

And then a few hours later we were again walking through the rain which was actually quite refreshing. I did my best to encourage it by shaking my first at the clouds and yelling "Is that all you've got?!"

Later that night I even managed to attend a Zoom call for the wilderness class I volunteer with. While I was out of touch in the Sierra the Orange County chair had resigned leaving me back in the role I'd termed out of after 4 years. People seemed to be entertained by the video feed of me hiking along as we talked. 

Burney Mountain Guest Ranch : Mile 1409.7

We started off July 28th walking past a power station and then a rather spectacular section of river filled with early morning fishermen. By now I was feeling hungry all the time so the prospect of hitting a town or resort and getting "real" food always had me shooting out of my sleeping bag and humming as I skipped down the trail.

Today the stop was Burney Mountain Guest Ranch. BMGR is another private resort which due to COVID was closed...except for hikers! And this place was amazing.

It's owned by a rather awesome lady named Linda who would appear to be quite religious based on the number of signs and knicknacks spread around the property. She was also a great source of information about the trail specifically around weather and timing reaching the Canadian border. Per her advice I was borderline and likely to see some significant rain in Northern Washington which ended up being pretty much spot on.

In addition to the usual shower and laundry services her resupply store had coffee and air conditioning which would have been enough to win me over even without the impressive stocking. Despite being in a relatively small room she had pretty much anything we could have wanted and I spent a good amount of time looking over the shelves saying "Oh look, she has x!" 

The one COVID related bummer was there was no food made to order but Linda had stocked the fridge with a number of pre made options and provided a microwave to warm it up. I heartily enjoyed both a breakfast burrito and a sizable slab of lasagna before we left.

The one complaint a few of my fellow hikers had was the posted policy of no alcohol or drugs which Linda explained was for insurance reasons. PErsonally I didn't find that unreasonable but with pot being so popular amongst thru hikers I heard more than a few grumbles.

Burney Falls : Mile 1419

As nice as it was at BMGR we hustled out as we had showered, eaten, and bought our resupply. Because we had another attraction we hoped to hit that day: Burney Falls.

Jen is a huge fan of waterfalls. Even a small trickle coming off a rock is usually enough to have her exclaiming about it being magical so you can imagine her reaction to the Northern California header image in Guthooks. If I'd been counting down to my beer in Chester she'd been counting down to this. 

Unfortunately it was another hot day in the 90s and the 10 miles from BMGR to the turnoff to the falls was rough. We had to push ourselves to keep moving through the heat because we wanted to reach the general store before it closed at 6pm. Because according to Guthooks they had a soft serve ice cream machine.

We hit the store first and found that sadly the soft serve machine was out of order thanks to a water leak. This quite upset Jen but I consoled myself with a rare treat in the summer of COVID-19: a functional soda fountain! I loaded up a huge cup with ice and Mountain Dew and then bought a Gatorade and Arnold Palmer to use as refills so I could enjoy every last bit of cold icy goodness.

It was heavenly. Falls were nice also.

The falls were down a long ramp and the cold wind blowing down the canyon quickly brought conditions from "that feels nice" to "brr I need a jacket." I was also quite entertained at the number of people setting up obvious instagram shots complete with multiple outfits and elaborate posing regiments.

Ash Camp / The Bald Fire : Mile 1470 

We were walking along towards the end of the day on July 29th when we caught up with a group of thru hikers that we'd been leapfrogging with over the past few days. Obviously something was up as they were huddled around the water source phones out talking intently.

And then came the dreaded words. "Have you heard about the fire?"

Fire closures are a fact of life on the PCT. They happen almost every year and if you're lucky there's an alternate route you can use to hike around them. If not then you might be stuck having to come off trail and hitch a ride to the far side.

The former I could live with but the latter would have broken my continuous footpath so I was understandably perturbed when they told me the PCTA was reporting a trail closure up ahead. 

The Bald fire had been triggered by a lightning strike and was burning within a few miles of the trail apparently with significant potential to spread. The information the other hikers had was that the trail was closed and they were talking about backtracking 5 miles, hiking out to a major road, and getting a ride around.

Since the closure was still a number of miles ahead and it looked like there were  options up there for going around Jen and I decided to push on. I spent that evening in a frenzy of planning coming up with a combination of fire roads and trails to get around the extent of the closure.

And then it was all for naught. I managed to get enough cell reception the next morning to call the fire information line and was told that a) the closure had always just been an advisory and b) it was lifted as of that morning.

So moral of the story maybe don't depend just on the PCTA fire closure information.

Oh, and the Ash Camp bathroom had a bat inside which made for a memorable bathroom break.

Squaw Valley Creek: Mile 1484.6

If rice krispies would like to sponsor me they have my number

Many of the spots that made an impression on my in Northern California weren't big destinations or overlooks but bridges. We'd be hiking along, come to a stream crossing, and find the most spectacular spot to stop and get water / have a snack.

Squaw Valley Creek was probably the best of these. It involved a slightly precarious climb down some rocks to access a ledge right off the water. There were some pools that were just begging us to go for a swim but we had a schedule to keep.

Shasta / Dunsmuir : Mile 1501

The Shasta area has three towns to choose from accessed from Interstate 5. There's Castella, Dunsmuir, and Shasta itself and they basically go from small to large ish in that order. We'd decided to hit Dunsmuir since they had a Dollar General to resupply out of and we could get a reasonable hotel room for the night since we were getting in late.

The trail crosses underneath the 5 and when we got there we tried the usual trick of calling trail angels and paid shuttles listed in Guthook comments. All were either not answering or involved multi hour waits which wasn't ideal considering it was already after 6 pm. I tried Uber and Lyft but they were either still shut down or had no cars in service in the area.

So there was nothing to be done but to try and hitch. From the side of the 5 freeway.

This hitch was a bit of a challenge considering the cars are all flying by at 70+ mph. We walked up the offramp and tried to position ourselves where we were reasonably safe from getting run over but where we could hopefully be seen early enough for someone to pull off.

And after about ten minutes I was starting to have some serious doubts when someone pulled over.

They told us they needed to clean out the back seat a bit and proceeded to throw a surprising amount of trash into the truck bed to make room. But hey, I'm hardly one to judge about things like that these days. Also the guy driving may have looked a bit like your stereotypical tweaker. But they did seem nice enough.

No sooner had we taken off but they were offering us bananas and alcohol. The latter of which they'd apparently been enjoying before picking us up. And the woman was just out of the emergency room for breathing issues and kept trying to smoke. And when our exit approached and they started joking about not stopping only to swerve dangerously at the last minute.

Needless to say we were quite happy to exit the vehicle as soon as we could doing our best to thank them and laugh politely at their jokes about organ harvesting.

At my insistence we made a beeline for a local mexican food restaurant (nachos and a carne asada burrito!) before setting off across town to do our resupply.

Strange things are afoot at the Dollar General

It was after 9 pm and there were only a few people in the store all of whom seemed to be eyeing us oddly as we raided the ziplocks, pop tarts, and candy. Because at this point I'd developed a major sweet tooth.

It was getting close to 10 pm by the time we were done. The only hotel we could find with a room available was a few miles outside of town but fortunately on the way over we'd struck up a conversation with some people sitting out on their porch. They told us to come back after we were done shopping and they'd give us a ride to the hotel which beat several miles of walking down a dark road.

After a refreshingly non sketchy ride the hotel was a bit odd. It didn't have a front desk but instead sent you next door to a small diner to get your room key. The room itself was reasonable for the cost and we were able to repack our food and get moving out of town the next morning.

We managed to get two more hitches the next morning. One was a ride from the hotel to a hardware store downtown to grab a new butane fuel canister and then a second one back to the trailhead. Interestingly enough both of the people who picked us up were locals further supporting my observation that tourists seemed to be the ones afraid to let people into their cars. Which fair enough.

We had a hot climb away from the 5 and by the end of the day I wasn't having the best of times. In addition to the heat I managed to trip scraping my knee so badly that I'd end up with a scab covering almost the entire thing. The evening water source ended up being a trickle we had to climb up a hill to reach. And then we arrived at our planned campsite to find it already occupied forcing us to push on well past dark. 

But I can't complain too much considering this was the view I enjoyed with my coffee the next morning.

Mount Shasta is a really striking visual from a distance but I will admit I became a bit sick of it. This section might be the most frustrating part of Northern California because you can see on that map that you're close to Oregon but the trail keeps meandering.

Why yes, that is the trail going south for 28 miles or so. You weren't in a hurry to get to Oregon or anything were you?

On August 4th we hiked into smoke with no apparent source. Best guesses from family was that it was blowing in from distant fires and we ended up spending most of two days hiking through smoke so heavy we could taste it.

It did make for some pretty sunsets but it was kind of worrying from a health perspective. We didn't really have any choice but to move forward and hope things improved.

Getting out of the smoke was enough of a relief we would have been overjoyed even if it didn't correspond with a really pretty section. After going through what felt like an endless series of burn areas we were suddenly back in lush greenery filled with flowers and small lakes.

We capped off the day with a camp at mile 1615 with a view that we just couldn't pass up.

Seiad Valley / Wildwood Tavern : Mile 1655.9

I've mentioned before fearmongering along the trail and for whatever reason Seiad had a lot of it.

Guthook comments described the trail into town as a bushwhackopolis and more than one person claimed to have lost the trail and recommended walking a nearby road instead. When we went through it turned out to be about 1/4 of a mile of overgrown but still passable trail.

The bigger challenge was the 6 mile road walk leading into town. It was flat but the pavement was just murder on my already battered feet and the entire time I just wanted to be in town drinking a cold beer.

Jen on the other hand was just over the moon due to the massive amount of edible berries lining the side of the road. I had to resort to walking behind her and occasionally providing some motivation by way of the sharp end of my hiking pole to keep things moving. 

Seiad isn't a large town by any means but there are two locations competing for the limited number of hiker dollars. One is the Wildwood Tavern which proactively advertises on social media and Guthooks and goes out of their way to offer everything a hiker could want. In fact they were another place that was closed due to COVID except for hikers.

And then there was the confederate flag flying RV park across from the general store. We'd read comments on Guthooks about some older guys from there chasing down hikers passing through town and making wild claims about Wildwood Tavern like that you had to sleep on gravel or that they made you work if you stayed there. All of which are lies by the way.

Sure enough we had an encounter with an older gentleman outside the post office spouting the exact same lines others mentioned and then getting into slightly bizarre allegations of drugs being hidden in his mailbox by the Wildwood owner. I was polite but needless to say we stuck with our plan to stay at Wildwood.

The best way I can describe staying at Wildwood Tavern is that it's like staying at a friends house complete with the owner Rachel acting like someones mom. Meals were a bit on the unofficial side with her sending someone around to get a general headcount and then making a big batch of something making sure there was always an option for vegetarians (which Jen really appreciated.)  It was also partially staffed with hikers who had had to jump off the trail for various reasons which was kind of cool.

Anyone driving by was told the place was closed but hikers had the run of the place including the inside with AC and some seriously comfy chairs I didn't want to get out of. Jen meanwhile found a kitten that she fell in love with and must have played with for over an hour.

It was such a nice environment that we decided to make a rare exception and camp in town. By evening several groups of hikers had rolled in including a few southbounders. I was eager to chat with them about the trail ahead but everyone I managed to talk to had skipped sections due to heavy snow in the northern cascades meaning that most of their advice was limited to Oregon.

The one ding I had against the place was that the food portions really weren't sufficient for my now sizable hiker hunger. We ended up buying an extra serving of veggie chili for dinner but even then that was barely enough. Also breakfast was going to be a bit on the late side so the next morning we packed up and walked back to the cafe next to the post office for an early breakfast before leaving town.

This place had a bit more reasonable portions including the famous Seiad Pancake Challenge. Sadly I'm not really a fan of pancakes in general and I couldn't manage to prod Jen into trying to force down 8.7 pounds of pancakes even for the trip report. Besides, she was busy making friends with another local kitten.

Leaving Seiad we only had about 34 miles until we were finally done with California. There was also a 5,000 ft steep climb immediatly after leaving the road. We saw posts from people later talking about how it was hot and overgrown with poison oak but again it seemed like that might have been a bit overstated. Possibly by locals trying to get people to pay for rides up around the next section.

We left town at 11 am on a warm day but the advantage of a steep climb is that it gets cooler as you gain altitude. 

I was chomping at the bit to get into Oregon and not even the disintegration of my hiking shoes couldn't fully dampen my enthusiasm. But it was a struggle.

My Topo Ultraventures had worked so well for the first several hundred miles that I'd ordered a spare pair and shipped them to my parents so I'd have a spare. Then suddenly it felt like I could feel every little twig and pebble straight through them. And of course this happened in a section between towns where all I could do was keep limping forward.

Seiad is the last town before Oregon but not the last stop. That would be this cabin less than a mile from the border.

 Why would I stop at a cabin when I was so close?

Matt's thru hiker rule #12: never pass up a toilet! It's appearance was timely and as you can see the ventilation was quite nice. Jen was actually upset she'd missed it and had to run off into the woods to dig a cathole. 

Which brought us at long last to...

California / Oregon Border : Mile 1691.7

Oh my god, you mean we're actually done with California?!

1692 miles and 97 days later I'd walked the entire length of California. And all I could think was that this state is just too damned big.

We signed the register, took our requisite picture with the sign, drank the small celebratory bottle of Jameson my parents had sent in our last resupply box, and then strolled on into Oregon.

Well Jen strolled. I limped. The next stop was Callahan's Lodge / Ashland at mile 1717.7 which is where I'm going to divide the writeups.

But first we had one more night. And my first morning in Oregon really didn't go well. As I mentioned my shoes had rather suddenly stopped offering any protection so I'd struggled with every mile. It also didn't help that while returning from my morning cathole expedition I managed to stumble on an uncovered cathole leaving my flip flops defiled.

We just had one last downhill into Callahan's but my feet were so that I ended up stopping at the road and hitching the last 5 miles into town. I'd return to that exact spot after the town visit where I'd be able to get new shoes.

Callahan's Lodge / Ashland : Mile 1717

Callahan's Lodge is a resort right off the trail and it's a short hitch from there into the town of Ashland.

We'd already planned to stop but the combination of my foot issues and the fact Jen was turning 30 turned this into a double zero. Also while we wouldn't have normally splurged for the more expensive rooms at Callahan's Jen's parents were nice enough to get us one as a birthday present. And did I mention they were famous for their in room jacuzzis?

So you can thank Mr and Mrs Blackie for this particular image:

We spent a pleasant evening enjoying champagne and bbq potato chips in the jacuzzi while I did my best to minimize walking.

Outside of the room Callahan's was a bit disappointing considering the prices. Belden had set a high bar when it came to trail burgers but the offerings here were particularly anemic. In the past they had the hiker special which involved bottomless spaghetti but either it wasn't on offer this year or I missed it and my burger was so small I had to eat snacks when we got back to the room.

After our birthday night splurge we decided to relocated to a cheaper hotel in Ashland.

Ashland itself was amazing. Our hotel called The Bard was your standard accommodations but after almost 100 days on trail eating trail town hamburgers and the occasional mexican food the opportunity to get elaborate salads, boba tea, and indian food was very highly appreciated.

Also they had multiple outdoor stores in town with appropriate size 14 shoe options. I'd almost despaired about being able to find any without ordering online. I ended up switching to a pair of Altra Olympus 4.5s despite my earlier misgivings.

Sadly this was also the point where I was losing my hiking buddy. 

After joining me at Hiker Town way back at mile 517 Jen had to get back to Southern California and get ready to start the new school year. I was going to really miss her but I also admit I was looking forward to getting to pick up the pace and mileage a bit.

We'd originally planned to have her exit at Fish Lake and that's where we'd sent my solo tent. Unfortunately it had been sent to her instead of me so when circumstances led to her leaving in Ashland it took a bit of back and forth via email and phone before the resort would agree to let me have it. And I'd be without a tent for the two or three days to Fish Lake since I couldn't send the Tiger Wall UL3 back from there. 

Jen left on August 12th and caught a bus and a train back to SoCal. That left me spending one more night in town and then hitching back to the trail in the morning.

Next up: Oregon! Flat -ish trail! Green views! And *sigh* more foot issues.

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