Miles Hiked: 25.2 (longest hiking day ever!)
Camped at: cowboy camping on the lawn at Acton KOA Campground with many many thrus; closest neighbors are Sarah Fey & Mario, Princess & Mr Sandals, and Gretchen.
25 miles in less than 12 hours today – a new record! Luckily for me, most of the miles came easily, there were a few climbs like Mt Gleason up over 6000 feet but most of today was a gradual descent, ridge walking, and rolling hills. The afternoon sun got hot at times but the temps remained mostly cooler than normal with a wonderful cooling breeze. My original goal was the North Fork Ranger Station 17+ miles in – but I got there at 1:45. I briefly contemplated camping a few miles further down the trail, but when Todd at the ranger station came out to tell us the KOA was serving food until 8pm I was sold! I began dreaming of a burger, ice cream and coke. Guess what I ate for dinner! Granted, the burger wasn’t fresh, just reheated, but that didn’t matter to me after 25 miles today. I swear I had an olfactory hallucination on the last 8 miles today, I kept smelling fried food. Happy Feet also smelled it – so either we were both delirious with dreams about a burger or something out here smells like that :). Now I am showered, wrapped in my bag and looking up at the half full moon and stars coming out, proud of the day I put in, and very happy that my energy level finally seems to be back to normal.
This morning began after a surprisingly good night’s sleep at the Fire Station. I was up and out by 6:30am, and onto the Mt Gleason road walk alternate around 10+ miles of the PCT reported to have “unavoidable” poodle dog bush, the nasty blistering rash causing plant that grows only in burn areas. I really enjoyed the road walk, which paralleled the PCT on the other side of the mountains for the most part, despite the fact that the majority was paved. Had lots of elevation change, but it was definitely less strenuous from a dodging-the-plants perspective. I sighed happily every time I saw poodle dog on the side of the road and I was strolling down the center. That road is closed, as it has enough damage from the Station Fire, so it was just me and the 5 construction vehicles I saw in the first 6 miles. Everyone waved, and one of the guys asked if I needed water or anything – so so nice! After I got to Messenger Flat campground and rejoined the PCT, the poodle dog bush didn’t magically disappear, as I was still in the burn area, but it was for the most part avoidable. Some of the poison oak was not, however. The trail was very overgrown in spots, so it was extra nice to be able to shower tonight though my clothes are still potentially contaminated until I get to the Saufleys tomorrow.
I had good conversations with Apple Butter and Papa Bear about our feelings on the burn areas, and they each focused my attention in a more positive light on the almost miraculous way nature comes back from such an event. I’ve mentioned before that I find the sight of all of the dead blackened big trees, a result of human stupidity rather than a controlled or natural burn, rather depressing. I found myself pondering that other than protecting human habitations when a wildfire breaks out, I don’t really know that much about the policy and politics involved with western wildfire control and prescribed burns. Something to look into! In the meantime, I feel conflicted about using these areas while they are recovering. I usually feel I do a pretty good job at Leave No Trace while out here, but the trail through these areas seems so delicate and damaged, can it really be good for hundreds of hikers to go through there every year? I heard today from the Ranger Station that over 1700 hundred long distance permits have been issued so far this year. Granted our use is concentrated to the trail bed for the most part, we are asked to camp in certain areas, depending on the burn area, but the trail, sooty and ashy mixed in with the sand, was literally crumbling away in many places on the ridge walk today, and plants struggling for life were down trodden at times, especially when we were all weaving abruptly to avoid the poodle dog. Perhaps poodle dog is nature’s way of saying: humans stay out for 10 years, let the area recover! I wouldn’t mind more detours or plain old closures, if environmentally sound. Still, it was a relief to gradually leave the burn area for more desert ridge walking at the end of the day – some amazing sights that took my breath away!
Happy Feet and Rei in the distance:
Tent city at the KOA: