I didn’t feel much better in the morning. I didn’t have an appetite, and was starting to lose energy as a result. The first thing I did was get rid of that beer, I left it at the trailhead. It was still a good beer, maybe somebody would want it. Next, I stuffed all my things into my pack and headed out. A couple day-hikers passed by me, and I put on my best face. They were from the Bay Area, up here on vacation. I stumbled down the trail with as much gusto as I could muster. I just wanted to be in Seiad Valley. Now. Sure, the area was pretty, but I was spent. The trail went along a ridgetop and around to the west face of long north-south mountain ridge.
For some reason, I started thinking about John. It had been 6 weeks since he died. Few days went by where I didn’t think of him, but today was different. I was truly sad. I started thinking about all the “what if’s” that might have prevented the tragedy. I thought about everything I’d seen and done in the last 6 weeks and how John missed all that. I thought about all the miles of trail still ahead in Oregon and Washington. John would miss that too. Sure, he’d lived a long and full life, sure, he had a loving family… but none of that really mattered right now. I could only think of the unfairness, the tragedy and the loss. It was senseless. Eventually though, I worked through it. Even if John was only with me in thought and spirit, I owed it to him to cheer up. Being sad and regretful wasn’t doing me any good. I looked up, cracked a smile, and kept moving.
The trail kept going along the side of the mountain ridge. But it never was level. At all times, the trail was either going up or down. To make matters worse, most of the tread was made of loose rock – exactly my least favorite walking surface. Up and down the rocks I went. I usually didn’t mind a “non-level” trail, but this was just stupid. I would go up 20 feet, just to go back down 30, then up 10. All the extra work wasn’t getting me anywhere. I was still low on energy. I took breaks at every spot that looked good. During one of these breaks, I decided to lay down and get some extra sleep. I just sat there, baking in the sun with my eyes closed. My whole body relaxed and sank. An hour passed like a minute. I felt a little better, but not much. Now, I was thirsty too. I was out of water. The next water was supposed to be from one of a series of small creeks which crossed the trail up ahead. I passed the first couple of these and they were both dry. The third, just a pile of barren rocks. I was downright angry by the time I reached the fourth. There was a tiny bit of water seeping out of the rocks. It would have to do. I dug out a trough slightly larger than my big toe. It was just big enough for my water filter to fit. I slowly pumped until I had about a liter of water. It tasted like a swamp, but it was better than unquenched thirst.
An hour later, I made it to a real stream. I took another long break. I ate whatever I could, and washed off my dirty body. I was doing anything I could to try and feel better… I still didn’t know what was wrong with me in the first place. Slightly refreshed, I headed back down the trail. More up and down and up and down over loose rocks. When was this going to end? I finally made it to tiny little Marten Lake. It wasn’t much bigger than a swimming pool. It was nestled on a ledge halfway up a mountain. All around were steep cliffs and boulders. I decided to take another long break. I even cooked a meal, which I ate part of. I almost called it a day right there, but I knew that a climb was right ahead. I didn’t want to do that in the morning… what if I felt even worse? So, I pulled myself together and headed out. The trail was now out-of-control, it was steep, up and down, and getting me agitated. I finally came to the spot where the climb started. The trail had been re-routed to avoid a steep semi-permanent snowfield ahead. The re-route went just about as high, then down the back-side of the mountain and back up. It was only a net gain of 1000 feet, but it looked and felt like a lot more. I hiked up and over a bunch of snowfields and on to a ridge. I kept going as late as I could manage, and finally camped among the trees. I felt proud, all day I had pushed myself to keep moving. My reward was a meager 22 miles.
I woke up to a cold dewy morning. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. All my stuff was strewn about, covered by a thin layer of tiny droplets. If there was any good news, I did feel a little better. I figured I should take advantage of this. I packed up and headed down the trail. It didn’t take long for me to get within view of Marble Mountain. It was a giant white ridge made of marble. I realized that almost all marble I’d seen previously was on the floors of big city banks. I was curious to see what it looked like “au natural”. I ate a big breakfast and headed down to marble valley, beneath Marble Mountain. There were smooth white marble formations partially hidden among the trees. The marble looked a lot different than the polished commercial variety. It was rough like coarse sandpaper. The individual marble rocks weren’t jagged and broken like most other rocks, the edges were all smoothed over. Water was slowly dissolving the marble, and the result was a weathered landscape carved over an eon. It looked like nothing I’d seen previously on the trail. I couldn’t help but think… why here? why marble? It seemed so odd and out of place, just this one freak mountain, then back to “normal”?
I was still going slow. I felt better, but not a lot better. My big breakfast was probably a little too big, now my body was trying to deal with it. I took breaks whenever I needed to. I knew that my last camp was only 25 miles from Seiad Valley. I figured I’d get to town by the following morning even if I took my time. So, that’s just what I did. I gradually made it around Marble Mountain, then up on a ridge to the north. Every now and then I’d pass an intersection with some side trails which went down to lakes below. I heard the distant ringing of cowbells more and more frequently. I got passed by a couple PCT hikers, Denny and Bob, who’d left Castella a day behind me. I finally made it across the ridge and had a view down a long gentle forested canyon stretching north. At the end of the canyon was the Klamath River and Seiad valley. I was within sight of my last stop in California. I eagerly headed down into the canyon, hoping to cut as many miles as possible off tomorrow’s hike. I cooked a large dinner along the creek at the bottom of the canyon. I was finally starting to feel much better. I hiked a little further, and made a nice camp on a sandy bank near the creek.
I had no reason to hurry the next morning, but I couldn’t help it. I wanted to get to Seiad Valley as quickly as possible. The rest of the hike down the creek was nothing special. A massive flood had swept through this creekbed 2 years ago, some of the bridges were still washed-out, but crossing the creek wasn’t hard. After a couple hours, I had made it to a dirt road. I followed the dirt road all the way to the Klamath River. Seiad Valley was just on the other side. Unfortunately, the only bridge over the river was 2 miles upstream. The “trail” was routed along the hot shadeless road for about 4 miles. I finally made it into town, and was greeted by some hikers who I hadn’t seen since the Sierra. I was already feeling better, and I hadn’t been in town for 5 minutes.
I stopped in a lot of great places all up and down the PCT, but this town had a skewed character all its own. For starters, the cafe was incredible. Massive “PCT” portions at an agreeable price. Rick, the proprietor, was the creator of the now legendary “Seiad Valley Pancake Challenge”: If you can eat 5 of his tremendous pancakes, you get them free. But more than that, you earn a place in PCT folklore forever. In 14 years, only 4 people had accomplished this feat. Rick had a poloroid of the last person to complete the challenge. He was a scrawny fellow sitting with a blank stare in front of an empty plate. It looked like he was filled right up to the top of his esophagus… ready to erupt at any moment. Everything else at the cafe came in gigantic servings. The burgers, the milkshakes (I had 3), the omelets in the morning. It was a hungry hiker paradise.
Attached to the cafe was the store and the Post Office, just beyond that was a trailer park. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the trailer park, and from the looks of it, most of the people there didn’t spend much time elsewhere. Everyone in Seiad Valley seemed either busy dredging a gold mining claim, or busy doing nothing at all. Not that there were a lot of people to begin with. The official population was only 350. I maybe saw 30 of them.
Then there’s the Wildwood. I can’t do justice to that place in writing. Let’s just say that some places can only be experienced first hand. Ashley, who ran the place, was one of the most genuinely and perpetually happy people I’d ever met. I was preparing to leave Seiad Valley the next morning when Ashley drove up. He asked a bunch of us “Anyone wanna go tubin’?”, and my stay was extended by a day. While I floated down the Klamath River under the bridge which “was” the PCT, a bunch of smelly dirty hikers (who I knew) were just crossing over. I couldn’t have planned that scene any better. Hikers rolled into town all day, and by that evening there were a dozen of them… most ended up at the Wildwood that night.
It’s difficult to just leave it there. More happened during those couple days than happens in a year most places. Seiad Valley will forever have a place in my soul.
After a day and a half off, I had to get going. Seiad Valley was a great way to say adios to California. Oregon was just a day away.