Stretch 12, Chester to Dunsmuir (And to Iowa and back!)

Hello everyone! Louise and I are alive and still on the PCT and very sorry we have been delinquent in our blogging duties. Today we are hunkered down in Callahan’s Lodge near Ashland, OR, determined to make it right. Since there is so much to recall, and we even split up for a part of it, we decided we would each do our own post. 

It’s been a while since our last post so I’ll remind you what was going on. We had spent a whole stretch slowing down with hopes of seeing friends behind us, and while we were in Chester, Atlas caught up, and Frosty and Sunbeam passed by! This really lit a fire under us- we were done messing around and ready to squish some miles, as they say. 

We got out of Chester in the afternoon and–as Lassen National Park has just implemented requirements that you store your food in a bear canister when camping within the park– hiked the 15 miles to the national park boundary, so we could hike through the park in one day. The next day, the elevation profile was looking pretty easy so we decided to shoot for our largest day yet- 31 miles.

And we did it. It wasn’t awful–we saw a geyser and hot springs and many trees and walked by Mount Lassen–but I became less enthusiastic about hiking 31 miles as the day went on. I was ready to stop at 28, but we needed to continue to water so we made our way to the Subway Caves campground just past the Old Station junction.

We were tired but felt good about such a large chunk of progress. Unfortunately, this day did a number on Atlas’ already aching feet. He had had to alternate between his too-small boots and crocs. It was not working out. Someone at the campground mentioned seeing Merrel shoes in the hiker box of the Old Station post office. We were 125 miles away from any place to buy shoes so we decided it was really worth it for him to check it out. And this is when it started to feel like things were unraveling. 

Going to the post office meant backtracking slightly and hopefully getting a hitch the three miles on a very sparsely trafficked road. But slightly backtracking also meant passing by JJ’s Cafe, a very popular hiker brunch spot which we had painstakingly decided to forgo in order to make more miles. But now we had a great excuse to get breakfast!

So Atlas found some hiking shoes (far too big but better than crocs) and we ate breakfast and he ordered some trail runners to Mt Shasta and it was nearly 11 by the time we were back on the trail.  

We had hoped to do at least 25 miles each day of this stretch but that was feeling impossible. We were carrying 4 liters of water to make it to the water cache 16 miles away along very hot and completely exposed trail. And Atlas’ feet were almost no better at all. He felt he wouldn’t be able to keep up so we said goodbye before lunchtime. This was very sad. We lost some time to stick with Atlas but he still couldn’t keep up and all the while we were falling further behind a Sunbeam and Frosty. 

Louise and I made it to the water cache in a very sorry state and took some time to  recharge. We left, aiming to do 5 more miles and camp at the next good spot. We did exactly this, finding the perfect spot to camp under a tree overlooking a large valley and the beautiful sunset beyond distant Mt Shasta. 

As we set up and made dinner in such a cool spot we were starting to feel renewed excitement about our journey. This day that started a bit hectic was feeling alright when I had an upsetting revelation: I couldn’t find the zippered pouch with my medication. I looked and looked and it wasn’t there. 

I had only opened my pack two times that day. At JJ’s and at the water cache. It must be at the water cache 5.5 miles back I thought. I had taken something out of my pack at the bottom and the little medicine pouch must have fallen out. We talked through scenarios and who we could contact and decided that running back to the cache in the morning would be the fastest way to find the medicine or decide that I needed to get more in the next town. 

At this point we see a headlamp bobbing towards us. It was Atlas! He decided to keep walking. We don’t have much time to chat before going to bed though- we had a plan. 

The next morning I packed up and started running towards the cache before 6. It was odd going the wrong way on the trail but it felt great to be moving without a pack- I had just my phone, a snack bar, and an empty water bottle. In about an hour I was at the cache and the pouch wasn’t there. Weeze and I both had cell service- she had called JJ’s and it wasn’t there. This really didn’t make much sense but I had no more ideas about where it could be so I got in touch with my doctor and got new prescriptions called in to the Rite Aid in Burney, 13 miles from where we camped. I drank some water from the cache, ate the snack bar and jogged back.

By the time I got back and we started moving, the sun was already feeling strong and the air was heating up. After 6 miles the sun was fierce. We took a small break a the first water source we hit- there Atlas told us he wouldn’t be able to keep our pace and was stopping to rest at Burney Guest Ranch, before Burney. For the second time we said goodbye and continued to highway 299 crossing where we waited for a ride.

Realistically this hitch took an average amount of time but in the oppressive heat by the narrow, stark highway with no shade where cars whizzed by without slowing, it felt like we would never get a ride.

But a ride did stop for us and by 3 we had picked up the meds and were eating ice cream sandwiches outside Rite Aid. This is when we learned that Frosty and Sunbeam were in Burney! They had stayed the night and were packed up ready to leave. Perfect! We were ready to go to. 

We had hoped to be able to make it to Burney Falls State Park, 8 miles away, before the store that had our resupply packages closed at 8. Depending on how long the hitch took it wouldn’t be too hard to make it but we were already pretty tired. Sunbeam and Frosty offered to go ahead and get the packages so we wouldn’t have to rush. This worked well as I arrived a few minutes past 8. It took some time to sort through our boxes and eventually we set up our tent and went to bed a bit late in a picnic area near the store. 

With all that annoying stuff behind us we were excited to be traveling with Frosty and Sunbeam and making good miles again. Each of the last two days had been long and exhausting even though we had only done 21 miles. We wanted to get back to the 25-30 range. 

We got an early start out of Burney Falls State Park and were able to do 18 miles by 12:45 before enjoying a long lunch break. Breaking in the middle of the day was pretty crucial at that point as we were in the middle of a brutal heat wave. But we still aimed to do 11 more miles so we did get moving. 

Those 11 miles felt so much longer than the first 18 but eventually I made it, around 7. Frosty and Sunbeam and Louise were ahead of me but when I made it to camp I only saw Frosty and Sunbeam’s things. Oh no. I put my pack down and continued on the trail. Louise had gone to the spot a half a mile ahead. That wasn’t fun but eventually we were set up near our friends eating mac and cheese planning the next day’s miles. Frosty and Sunbeam wanted to get to I-5, 55 miles away, the afternoon of the 2nd day. The next day they wanted to do 30. That was sooner than we planned but we could do that we thought.

The next day, though, I felt exhausted. My knees and feet hurt and I had to really push myself every mile. After 20 miles I was sure I was not ready to do 10 more. 5 miles later, where we had planned to eat dinner, we had to say goodbye to Frosty and Sunbeam. 

It was sad to have spent so long hoping to see friends again and then realize it didn’t work to travel with them. But the next day when it was just Weez and I we felt relief from pressure we hadn’t even realized was there the past couple days. We realized how nice it is to make decisions just based on ourselves.

We walked together the whole day and I took part in Louise’s favorite walking pastime- singing. We sang along to songs we both knew and it really did make the miles go faster. I enjoyed it and Louise didn’t say anything about my off-key warbles so this may become a new thing for us. 

That day we did 26 and got to camp by 6:30. It was so hot, though, that we laid in the tent in our underwear for hours, sweating and listening to sounds of the highway. It didn’t cool down enough to even use my silk sleeping bag liner until midnight.

We were less than 4 miles from I-5 so the next day we were able to get to the northbound on-ramp pretty early. We were very lucky that parents of a hiker were heading north on I-5 after dropping their son off or else we might have been waiting a long time for a ride. And, we learned that they were parents of Squarepants, a friend of ours. 

So we got to Dunsmuir before 8. Our phones were dead so we were looking for somewhere to eat and charge. There weren’t many people around and we couldn’t look things up so all we could do was walk around. After over an hour of walking around we found 3 restaurants that serve breakfast but were closed at that time or because it was Tuesday. One diner, a mile away was open. Walking a mile to get somewhere not on the trail is very annoying but it was a good call. We spent a few hours at Penny’s diner, eating and charging.

After that began our week apart. Louise needed to resupply and get back to the trail and I began my journey to get to vacation with college friends in Guttenberg, IA, a tradition that I could not bear to miss.

This involved many legs of travel. First, I hitched to Weed, CA, with a wonderful woman named Christina who invited me to shower and eat lunch at her house (on a farm) before my Greyhound to Medford, OR. I spent the night in Medford and the next day met up with trail angel Ali who let me stash some things at her house that I didn’t want to fly with. Then I flew to Minneapolis (with a layover is Seattle) and got to stay with Mary Begley and Peter Briggs!

The next day I was in Jack’s car down to IA. The weekend was wonderful, full of my favorite games and favorite people. I got to bake a cake and make pancakes and swim in the Mississippi and go tubing. Eventually Sunday came around and it was time to start the travel back.

On the ride to the airport we witnessed many thunderstorms from afar and even a funnel cloud! It was a whirlwind and I finally got back to Medford at 2 in the morning. I had to scramble to retrieve my stuff from Ali and hitch back to Seiad Valley where Weeze had hiked to while I was gone. I needed to get there before noon in order to be able to do the pancake challenge that day, which left very little time to wait for hitches. Thankfully Lara picked me up from Ashland (in a school bus!) and dropped me at the highway 96 crossing where I got a ride right away from Nels and made it right in time! 

My goal for the pancake challenge was to eat 3 out of the 5 1 lb pancakes. I did this and even a little more! But, as I had anticipated, this feat incapacitated me and I spent the rest of the day writhing and moaning on the lawn of the RV park. Totally worth it though- I beat everyone I know that attempted it. 

After that we continued on but this post is already far too long so I will write about it another time! Now for pics!

2 thoughts on “Stretch 12, Chester to Dunsmuir (And to Iowa and back!)”

  1. Wonderful to hear of your many adventures. Y’all have really put in some high mileage days ! So impressed with your pancake eating prowess. All is well here – we are back in virginia – just launched a new little sailboat on the lake. You two will have to hike from SC to SW Virginia and go for a sail with me sometime. (It’s only about 350 miles, and I promise I’ll make pancakes ) In SC , everyone is getting ready for the eclipse on the 21 st. And I’m getting all ready to become a grandmother (!!) love you both. Keep up your stamina and spirit !❤️🏃❤️

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  2. My stomach hurts looking at those pancakes though I vaguely remembering participating in a brownie challenge when I was much younger. All of these experiences you are having are empowering. I expect you will be ready for a good pedicure when you are finished! Xoxo Aunt Fran

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