a journey of 2,652 miles
THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL 2018
starts with a single step.
Miles 1274.8 to 1286.8. Sunset camp to Belden. Hitch from Belden to Mt. Shasta
Today we will reach Belden and hitch to Chester from there because of the fire closure. It also means we can‘t reach the PCT midpoint marker as it is inside the fire closure. We‘ve had a few days to come to terms with this and are just generally excited to, from tomorrow onwards, be hiking „on the other side“.
We get up early, take in the beautiful view once more and start our 5000ft in 12 miles (1500m in 19km) descent into Belden. The first part is through beautiful forest. Dario and I are hiking alone, the others left after us and need to take it slow on the steep descent because of their knee (Flamin Hot) and foot (Sweatheart).
We are hiking in silence, both deep in thought. I think about this whole trip, all the miles behind us and all the miles ahead of us. And how mid-August is fast approaching and we are pretty much halfway now. When we should be waaay up north. How are we gonna manage to make it to Canada in time, before winter is coming? We should really be aiming for 1 October but let‘s be realistic here. How are we supposed to do the second 1325 miles in 1.5 months when it has taken us almost 3 months to get to where we are now, the midpoint? What if we skipped ahead? Say, to the north of NorCal, and save 2 to 3 weeks? I consider our options, make a pro and con list in my head and come to the conclusion that there is no other way. We have to skip up north. As amazing and perfect our trip to Europe has been, we of course also lost 3 weeks on the PCT and would theoretically be crossing the border to Oregon soon. The only pro argument to stay put and keeping hiking where we are now is our ego. And it‘s big. We really want to walk from Mexico to Canada. We don‘t want to skip. I always told Dario that I‘d much prefer hiking it all in one go and not get to finish because of the snowfall rather than skip a part and make it to the finish line. But by now so many people have told us about the beauty of Oregon and Washington and we really want to see it! We have already spent over 3 months in California and can safely say that we have hiked all the way from Southern California over the Sierras to Northern California. If we skip a part we should do it now, also considering the fires further up in Northern California where fellow hikers are complaining it‘s quite nasty to walk through all that smoke.
For most hikers finishing means getting back to the "real world", for us it means to get started on the next part of our adventure around the world. So technically, if we skipped a part we would most likely avoid hiking in snow and get to relax underneath some palm trees on a Caribbean beach a little sooner. Not a bad prospect right now. Not bad at all. And we would still have hiked around 90% of the entire trail. We also need to take into consideration that Flamin Hot is soon skipping north and Sweatheart will need to rest her foot for a couple of weeks and will most likely not get back on trail.
In my head the „let‘s skip up north“- argument list clearly wins. I know it makes sense. It is time to share my thoughts with Dario because we are in this together and both need to be convinced that this is the best solution for both of us. So I drop the bomb on him. And let‘s just say, tonight we will already be camping next to Mount Shasta, 215 PCT miles north of Belden. But one after the other.
Dario doesn't need convincing. Once I have listed all the arguments the only question is where we should hitch to. We agree it doesn't make sense to hitch into Chester only to hitch further north from there. We might as well hitch from Belden directly, to another PCT further up north. We decide on Etna, it being one of the favorite hiker towns on trail and also the last resupply town before the Oregon border.
We arrive in Belden around midday after a really steep descent but beautiful views and head directly to the restaurant for breakfast. There are a lot of people there, most of them hungover. The festival is now over, the recovering part of it is in full action. I order a delicious BLT sandwich with avocado and Dario order the burger. Judith from Switzerland and Happy Hour from the US, both section hikers, soon join us and support our hitching idea. But Happy Hour also tells us that they have literally just reopened the PCT north of Belden. The fire has been 100% contained and is no longer a danger for the PCT. The PCT midpoint can be reached again! Great news! But Dario and I look at each other and know that it's not enough to make a difference. We definitely decided by now to skip north. Now we only need to inform Sweatheart and Flamin Hot, who arrive about 1.5 hours later. Sweatheart looks completely exhausted and looks defeated, knowing and feeling that she has to get off trail now. Flamin Hot first finds out that the PCT has reopened and is so happy, only to find out that we are leaving to go further north and then becomes sad. But he is leaving for the PCT trail days at the Oregon/Washington border in a couple of days anyway and might rejoin us later.
We prepare a sign saying "2 PCT hikers to Chico/Redding", say goodbye to the others and go stand by the road to get a ride. It takes a while but finally a nice man who partied at the Funk Festival stops for us and drives us to Chico from where we catch another ride in direction of Redding from where we plan to hitch to Etna. But the next guy can only take us to the small town of Los Molinos, still a couple dozen miles outside of Redding. We end up waiting there for a long time and finally a sweet young lady called Indigo stops for us. It turns out she was at the festival in Belden! We could have just gone with her from the start. But oh well, she goes all the way up to Mt. Shasta, another town on the PCT. We decide to go with her all the way and get another hitch to Etna the next day. It is really smoky up here, even worse than around Sierra City. It's from the Carr fire near Redding which is huge and still hardly contained.
She drops us off at the KOA Campground where we pitch our tent, have showers and do laundry, all for 45$. Since we are quite hungry we order a large pizza and have it delivered directly to our campsite number, along with a 2 liter bottle of coke. Welcome to 'Murica! It's also my sister Dana's birthday tomorrow, but it's already tomorrow in Switzerland, so we send her a lengthy video message to say happy birthday.
And finally, off we are to bed. What a long day. What a long journey. Who would have thought that at the end of this day we would fall asleep in Mt. Shasta. "To adapt is to move ahead", someone once said. So true.