A visit from a bear, and halfway to Canada in Chester CA
It was wonderful having my friend Aiko hike with me between South Lake Tahoe and Truckee, and I was looking forward to kicking up my pace and seeing how quickly I could get up to Ashland and my next hiking companion, Russell. After Aiko’s mother took me back to the trailhead at Donner Summit, I charged through the miles, walking under I-80 thru a small culvert, and making it by myself to a gorgeous ridge-top campsite at mile 1170.4. I put my tent in mesh-sided stargazer mode, and watched a mole eating lupine plants while I used the one or two bars of AT&T service to chat on the phone with Russell.
Around 9 pm I heard loud crashing noises. I froze, staying motionless for a few minutes. The sound didn’t repeat, so I went to bed. At 9:30, I heard more crashing, and this time loud snuffling and sighing, almost like a sad, massive horse mouth-breathing. I froze again, lying prone in my sleeping bag, my head nestled into the pillowy softness of my food bag.
Shit. I was pretty sure it was a bear, and I was sleeping in an open tent, alone, with my food under my head. Maybe it would go away?
A minute or two later, I heard CRASH CRASH again, and more loud snuffling, this time behind the tent. It was circling me.
This time I felt compelled to take action. I sat bolt upright and started yelling, “HEY. GO AWAY, BEAR. GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME. GET AWAY.”
I pulled out my iPhone and turned it on, glad that I’d just downloaded some music in Truckee. As I sat there yelling, I thumbed thru my collection, looking for the most intimidating tracks. Bon Iver and The Magnetic Fields didn’t seem real promising, so I picked some Muse. I blasted MK Ultra and Knights of Cydonia, alternating that with yelling and clapping.
The snuffling and crashing happened two or three more times, then stopped by about 10 pm. Each time it returned, I yelled and assaulted the bear’s ears with epic rock.
As I had cell service, I also tried googling “what to do when a bear comes around your tent at night”. The recommendations all started with “never keep food in your tent”. Gee, thanks.
I didn’t sleep until 1 am that night. Nerves and jumping at the wind kept my system in hyper-alertness; not so good for sleeping.
When I ran into my buddy Swig from Weed the next day, I asked him when a bear sounded like. An accomplished outdoorsman and hunter, I trusted his experience here. He described what I had heard, clearing any doubt from my mind that what visited might have an over eager marmot, or herd of deer.
The scenery started really looking like the Cascades that day. Douglas firs, ferns, and maples dominate the vegetation, making me feel at home. I camped with Swig that night for security, and nero’ed in and out of Sierra City the next day.
One of the first things I saw in Sierra City was a confederate flag hanging next to an upside down US flag, which didn’t inspire me to spend the night. I had a milkshake and a few meals at the really friendly country store, and went for a dip in the river with a posse of filthy hikers. I camped that night alone a few miles out of town, and spent hours flinching at every blast of wind.
The next morning I saw my first rattling rattlesnake of the trail. And the next morning I saw mountain lion tracks on the trail. Sheesh. Apparently Northern California is Predator Land.
In Sierra City I picked up a solar panel and small battery, so am now hiking with music. I keep one earbud in, and the other ear open to hear rattles and roars. This has been awesome for climbing hills, and keeping motivation going into the evening.
Despite the welcome addition of music to my day, I had trouble keeping a positive attitude in this section. I loved the scenery as I walked north through Belden towards Chester, but it was hard to be in touch with my husband, and I struggled with the isolation. The spike in fear from the bear encounter didn’t help.
My stay in Belden with the Braatens was relaxing, and I enjoyed being the youngest hiker there by 28 years. Huge props to the 60-something and 77 year old section hikers I met there. On my hike out of town the next day, I let myself get caught up in little worries, and spent much of the 14 mile climb trying not to cry. Or crying. I was glad no one was around at 6:30 pm when I got to the top of the climb and sat sobbing and trying to choke down a Clif bar for dinner.
Ah, the hiking life. How blissful it is.
The next day I hiked from 7 am to 7:30 pm, reaching a new PR of 27 miles. I felt better emotionally, no crying that day.
To top it off, I reached the midway point of the PCT that afternoon. I had now walked 1325 miles from Mexico, halfway to Canada. Before this, I’d been wanting to quit during almost every uphill. By that evening, the rest of the hike sounded doable. More importantly, I wanted to do it, to finish this crazy thing that I’d started.
I reached the highway to get to Chester CA by Lake Almanor. A local schoolteacher gave me a ride into town, dropping me off at a milkshake shack minutes before it closed. I slurped on a blackberry milkshake as I wandered around town in a haze, looking for an open room for the night.
I finally booked a room at a cheap motel. It smelled like a dead animal carcass was hiding under the bed. The shower was hot, though, and I found wifi at a nearby cafe. It was my wedding anniversary that day, and I would have slept at filthy Hikertown again as long as it meant getting to talk to Russell on the phone.
Past halfway. Bam. I’m doing this thing.
Hugs & happy hiking,
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