Here began the next whirlwind of activity. Though some hikers made it through just ahead of us, we were confronted with not just trail closures, but evacuations of entire resupply towns ahead of us. By the time we reached Drakesbad, we'd heard that Old Station and Burney were deserted, and that trail closures north and west, all the way to the Cali/Oregon border would make the journey a hitchhiking nightmare. Like most of the hikers around us, we hitched to Ashland, OR. Some die-hards did long road walks in combination with hiking the few miles of trail available to them. Road walks along interstates don't appeal to me. I came for the trail.
-Climbing out of Belden
From 2200 to 6500 in 12 miles. Tough start to a section. Met my first batch of southbound PCT thru-hikers, and they seemed overwhelmingly aloof. Water was in short supply, so my pack was a heavy beast indeed.
Forest management in this pumice wonderland is given over to timber companies in many places; signs appear to remind hikers how much better off these homogenous groves are under the tutelage of knowledgeable humans. Things are drab and soulless for miles and miles. Or so it appeared to this biologist.
Reached the halfway mark, smoked a Backwoods cigar, took a picture or two (or perhaps a dozen), and waddled on up the trail. There is much debate over the exact location of the midpoint and talk of moving the little concrete post. I say it's close enough and awfully arbitrary on a continually changing trail.
We hadn't planned to stop off in Chester, but ran into 3D at the trail magic coolers next to the highway and were convinced of the sense of it. A local dentist was providing gift certificates of $20 to thru-hikers to be redeemed at a local restaurant. The food and company were excellent, but getting a hitch back to the trail was nearly impossible. We had given up and were planning to go to a friendly Lutheran church's lawn when a couple of bored local kids called out to us from a gas station offering us a ride. Ended up camping just off the highway with a full stomach next to some interpretive trail signs.
-Drakesbad Trail Ranch
Some resorts give hikers the feeling that they are second class citizens. Drakesbad makes it obvious. Hikers get to buy the leftovers from buffet meals and are sequestered at a picnic table near the stables. They are invited to the pool showers but not the pool except at odd hours. Affluent guests accidentally mingle with and show an interest in us, but are quickly distracted by hyper-aware management. Strangely, they had some useful information regarding the fires burning around us, though, that made our future decisions become clear.
What a haven for yogi-ing! People brought us food and beer from all over the damned campground. Sadly, Any Minute doesn't drink, so I had to down several beers (can't let things go to waste, man). Also, as we received more accurate fire information, our plans changed quickly. Our next resupplies, Old Station and Burney, had been evacuated, and fires were interspersed along the trail all the way up to the Oregon border at inconvenient intervals. No sensible options remained. Every other hiker we knew, save one very stoned moron who ended up hitching from Old Station with a fire crew, had decided to get to the relative safety of Ashland.
At Warner Campground, there was a nice guy from whom I tried to borrow a map. He was bored and injured and had been camped there for weeks. He was kind enough to drive us to Chester, pick up Far Out, then drive us all 200+ miles to Ashland. Hell, he even reappeared a couple days later and drove us to the trailhead at Callahan's. Amazing guy. Best hitch ever.
-Ashland, Land of Indecision
Where do we go and when? Smoke was thick for a couple days, even in Ashland. Fire reports were difficult to obtain and the town was flooded with hikers. Roughly 200 large, indecisive toddlers with ferocious appetites and a need for outdoor accommodations were stuck there, hovering around the entrances to the co-op and brew pubs. Still lacking information, Any Minute and I could take no more (and staying in motels waiting for reports gets expensive), and we took off towards Crater Lake.