Mile 2,350.1 to Mile 2,365.2
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Day 6: Mile 2350.1 to Mile 2365.2
Miles to Go: 36.8
I poked my head out of the tent, fully expecting to see a damp, muddy forest, but save for the few sprinkles we’d gotten last night, the ground was dry. A low hanging fog shroud the forest, making the grassy, overgrown trail on the opposite banks of the small creek that led away from the spring seem ever more enchanting and mysterious than it had in the fading late. I liked to think it was part of the old Cascade Crest Trail, the Washington precursor to the PCT.
Breakfast was hurried, there’s something about a cold damp mist that isn’t conducive to lingering, especially when you know there is a shelter ahead!
Not even two hundred yards up the trail, we met a hiker, packing up his gear. It was pretty obvious from his wild beard and disheveled appearance that he was straight up hikertrash.
“You thru-hiking?” We asked.
“North or South?” Bearclaw asked him. Usually, this wouldn’t be a question, but we’d bumped into almost as many SoBo’s as NoBo’s over the last week.
“Well, I’m headed back south now.” He said modestly.
“Um, yeah. I tried last year, but I got to Canada too late in the season and didn’t quite make it. So, I figured I’d give it another shot this year.”
We congratulated him on being super badass.
“Trail name?” Bearclaw asked.
“I’m Charlie Day Hiker.” Day Hiker? Ha! Hikertrash have the best sense of humor.
Wishing him the best of luck on his return journey, Bearclaw and I hiked off into the mist, excited to get to the shelter at Urich Camp and have a cup of hot Choffee and our morning snack by a nice warm fire.
The smell of wood smoke called to us as we got nearer. Obviously, someone was already there, which meant it would be nice and toasty-warm when we arrived. Bearclaw and I eagerly left the trail and hiking out of the forest, headed towards the shelter along the edge of Government Meadow. A hundred feet from the front door, we stopped dead in our tracks.
Milling around the front steps were four young boys, dressed in head-to-toe camo and packing rifles. The moment they saw us, they stopped talking and stared. Call me crazy, but when I see four boys in front of a cabin with guns, I don’t immediately think hunting—I think militia and the Aryan Nation. The juxtaposition of an innocent child and a weapon used to kill things creeps me out. You know how horror movies with evil, possessed children are exponentially scarier than horror movies with adults because children are supposed to be sweet and innocent and not evil? Kids with guns give me that same unsettled feeling.
The two oldest boys headed up the steps and disappeared into the cabin, presumably in search of an adult. In my mind, banjo music began to play.
“Do you really want to stop here or should we just go?” Bearclaw asked.
I debated. I was cold, but the idea of being tied up and tortured or brainwashed by some weird cult or forced to marry someone’s brother and uncle didn’t really sound like a great way to get warm.
As we turned to leave, a jolly, clean-cut, middle-aged man popped out of the cabin. He looked 100% nicer than the toothless, inbred bearded man I’d imagined.
“Good morning! Kind of weird being greeted by a bunch of kids with guns, hey? Don’t worry, they’re harmless!” Weird wouldn’t be the first adjective I chose, but it was nice to know he understood.
He went on to tell us that he and “the boys” were just out for a father/ son bonding weekend and thought they’d bring the guns out for a little target practice and for protection so that just in case a bear wandered by, they could shoot it. At the mere mention of bears, the boy’s eyes widened.
I’m sure what I’m about to say will piss off a ton of people, but this drives me insane! I have nothing against hunting for food. Nothing. If you want to go out and bag a bear and make bear burgers, bear steak, bear sausage and a fur coat to keep you warm all winter, knock yourself out. Environmentally hunting for meat is probably a thousand times better than the feedlots our hamburger comes from. But to see a bear wandering through its own backyard and randomly shoot it to “protect” yourself is infuriating. It’s a bear. It lives in the forest. Just because it wanders by, does not mean it wants to eat you! Bears don’t wake up every morning and think to themselves, “You know I should do today? Go eat some people. That would be fun.” Bears aren’t as sadistic as we are. Could you imagine if they were?
“What are you going to do this weekend Boris?”
“I think I’ll take a trip into the city, might camp out in that guy John’s yard. When he wanders out of his house to collect his newspaper I’m going to pop out of the bushes and “protect” myself by ripping his limbs off.”
“Are their problem bears in the area?” Bearclaw asked.
“No. But you never know with bears… You guys pack a gun when you’re out backpacking, right?”
“No. We’ve found that bears are pretty timid and usually try to avoid people at all cost,” Bearclaw responded. “The few times we have seen a bear, they’ve run away as fast as they could. You come up here regularly? Are there a lot of bears up here?”
“I’ve actually only ever seen one bear,” He admitted, “when I was about nineteen. It was on the Pacific Crest Trail, as a matter-of-fact. I was out backpacking with my uncle. He was a beautiful bear.”
What the BLEEPITY-BLEEP-BLEEP?! If you’ve only ever seen one bear in your entire life and it was beautiful why would you teach your kids that bears are scary and bad and you should shoot them on site to protect yourself?! I gave myself a mental facepalm but said nothing. We were all entitled to our own opinions, and he would probably be equally appealed that I skipped through the forest trying to pet everything I saw.
“Well, you know, there’s some weird people come up here too.” He added quickly, “Vandals, drug addicts, weird kids come up here to have séances. Last fall someone shot holes through the door and the bullets lodged in the wall behind the stove. You guys want to come on in and take a look?”
The cabin was cozy, warm and well-maintained and we happily stood around the fire for a few minutes, chatting about the trail, the local wilderness, and the Skidoo club that maintained the cabin. His desire to kill bears aside, I had to admit he was a pretty pleasant guy.
Back on the trail, we wandered in and out a few old clear cuts, now thick with huckleberries. If I were a bear, that is where I would have been, chowing down on huckleberries. Who am I kidding, I’m not a bear, and I was still there chowing down on huckleberries. Just past a forest service road, the huckleberries gave way to golden raspberries. I’d never seen golden raspberries before and immediately popped a handful in my mouth to see what they tasted like.
“Do you even know if those are edible? What if they’re poisonous?” Bearclaw sighed.
Spiting them out, I stopped and Googled “golden raspberries.” It turned out they were just normal raspberries with a mutant gene, so I crammed a few more in my mouth. One day, my love of tasting the “forest” may earn me a Darwin Award, but this wasn’t that day.
By midafternoon, the clouds had all but disappeared, and we happily hiked along, stopping to talk with a handful of thru-hikers as we went. The views alternated as we hiked in and out of forests and clear cuts, clear cuts, and forests. I wondered briefly what Pinchot and Muir would have thought of the large barren squares of earth that stretched out like a patchwork quilt across the mountainsides. In all likelihood, Muir would have appalled, while Pinchot would have happy to see they’d left some behind.
Having hiked our miles for the day, we made camp just off the trail on the far side of a sprawling huckleberry patch. While Bearclaw settled in for a nap, I nibbled my way through the berries, hoping no one mistook me for a bear and shot me.