Friday, January 24, 2020

Day 39: The Gold Miners

August 23: I took my time getting packed up and ready in the morning for, once again, the post office didn't open until 8:30am and I needed to mail my laptop ahead. Then I left town struggling under the weight of 12 days of food.

One disappointment I had leaving town was that I had never been able to contact Gypsy. He had offered to hike with me through the Pasayten Wilderness--a destination I was now heading toward--but I had never heard back from him again. I was hoping even as of this morning I might still get a last-minute call and work something out, but it never happened. I assumed that the fact it took me over a week to get his email with the proposition meant he gave up on me and had already headed into the wilderness himself and he hadn't replied to my calls or emails because he had been out of the reach of cell phone signals the whole time. Nope, it seemed that I'd be hiking through the Pasayten Wilderness alone. Maybe I'd get a signal on my phone up the trail and something could still be worked out, but it seemed unlikely at this point. If I saw Gypsy at all on the trail, it would probably be him hiking back out back to his vehicle!

You can lead a horse to water... but that's not what's happening here!

The trail followed some roads a short way out of town before reaching the trailhead for the Similkameen River Trail where I ran into a group of PNT trail supporters who were discussing future plans for installing a halfway marker on the trail. They were a friendly bunch and seemed excited to see an actual thru-hiker on the trail--I'm sure they've seen them before, but it had a feel like they had spotted a rare creature on the trail.

The Similkameen River Trail is a rails-to-trail route following alongside--no spoilers here--the Similkameen River. The PNT only overlaps it a short while, however, which I found disappointing. After a couple of miles, the PNT goes onto a paved (but not especially busy) road for the rest of the day. The road also follows more-or-less alongside the Similkameen River so I could see the rails-to-trail on the other side of the river for most of the day and it looked loads more comfortable to walk on than a paved road. Unfortunately, it appears to dead end not going all the way through to the small cobble of buildings called Nighthawk. The trail supporters I talked to said they hoped someday to extend the trail to Nighthawk which would then become the PNT. I'm not entirely sure why it's not done already because the trail looked great as far as I could tell. Maybe they hadn't gotten the official right-of-way at a key place on the trail. The river trail also goes through a tunnel in the mountain and maybe the tunnel is dangerous or needs repair before it can be opened to pedestrians. I'm not sure, but it was a little disappointing to see the trail and know I can't (or at least I'm not supposed to) use it.

Similkameen River Trail treailhead

By the afternoon, a light sprinkle started which was a little problematic for me because in the haste of packing back in Republic, I accidentally packed my umbrella with the duffel bag that Amanda took home. I had no umbrella! And there was no rain in the forecast so I didn't even bother to look for a replacement when I was in Oroville. It proved to be a challenge to take photos with my camera while keeping the camera dry! I sat down under a tree for protection against the rain hoping it would pass quickly and when there was a break, I resumed walking.

But it started up again. Eventually, I just started getting wet. It was impossible for me not to. Ugh. I wore a rain coat and stored my camera under the coat to keep it dry, then used one hand to provide cover for the rain when I took it out for a photo. It wasn't a perfect system, but it allowed me to keep taking photos. I took a lot fewer photos, however!

A couple of hours into the day's hike the trail passed a dam on the river creating a long, narrow lake behind it. Then just past the lake where it became a river again, I noticed a boat on the river. It was a dredge! I totally recognized the sluice box on the back as water and dirt ran through it and emptied back into the river leaving a small trail of dirt washing downstream. The dredge didn't have anyone on it, but it was running and it appeared that someone with a wetsuit was underwater sucking up the river bottom with the large pump running on the dredge.

It's a gold-mining dredge in action! See the bubbles in the water to the right of the dredge? I think that's where there's a diver scouring the river bottom with the pump on the dredge, then the tailings coming off the sluice box are streaming out from the dredge. I really wished I had my 300mm zoom lens here--I could have gotten a much better photo!

Then I noticed another dredge further up river. And another. There were dredges everywhere! How much gold was in this river anyhow?! Not all of the dredges were in use. About half of them were stopped and resting onshore seemingly abandoned although I'm sure they weren't truly abandoned. I had a million questions running through my head about how they got into this business, how successful they are (or aren't), do they need to file permits to do this, how long they've been out there and more! I couldn't really talk to any of them, however, with them being underwater or next to a noisy pump far out in the river. In all, I counted 14 dredges. Not including the one that went past me in the back of a trailer during the road walk.

I neared Nighthawk--a town that used to be big enough to host a post office until 1970. A large sign describing the history of the old mining town also says the entire townsite is now private property--perhaps one of the reasons the rail-to-trail doesn't quite reach it.

That's Nighthawk on the other side of the road. Today, there are absolutely no public services available.

As I approached the town, the rain started coming down relatively hard and once again I stopped under a pine tree to take cover. I sat on the side of the road for the better part of an hour before the rain diminished enough that I picked up on moved on.

I decided to cut the day's hike a little early due to the bad weather and set up camp alongside the river about 1.5 miles past Nighthawk. It was a nice, out-of-the-way location and almost immediately upon setting up camp, the rain stopped and even the sun popped out. Sometimes, I think nature just hates me. *shaking head*

I hadn't made it far today--a mere 15 miles--but I was okay with that. I got a late start out of town, the weather was miserable, and my pack was a monstrosity and tortured me with the 12 days of food it carried. And since I needed to camp at three specific campsites nearly two weeks in the future, I planned for shorter days that I knew I could make rather than more moderate days that I might have preferred but would have increased the changes I couldn't make it to my assigned campsites on time.

So I didn't expect to do a big mile day and I knew that tomorrow, my pack would be a couple of pounds lighter after eating a diner and breakfast out of it. I should make it a big dinner and a big breakfast as well. I needed to get my pack weight down! All good reasons to stop after a short day. =)

The rest of the evening I mostly spent reading my Kindle under my tarp and relaxing.

My home for the night!
The old Oroville Depot is now a museum.
The Similkameen River Trail was wonderful to walk on, but the PNT got off it much too soon!
The trail passes a gold course, and I found this golf ball on the road. I left it there. I picked up golf balls last time the trail went past a golf course but this time, I was hiking out of town--and my pack was already far too heavy with 12 days of food in it.
Still in cattle country!
You can see the Similkameen Trail on the other side of the river--entering a tunnel. I really wanted to hike through a tunnel!
There's a dam on the river, but I couldn't get a good photo of it from my vantage point on the road walk.
And the dam created this long lake.
It's not hard to figure out where a lot of the gold miners set up camp!

The view from my campsite was pretty nice!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Day 38: Bikes, Trains and Border Runs!

August 22: I had decided to take a zero day today. No hiking! It hardly seemed like I had been roughing it. But still, Oroville was the last trail town I'd be enjoying for the next two weeks and I felt I needed at least one rest day before continuing the march to the Pacific Ocean.

The Canadian border was so close, I had to drop by!

I knew I was close to the Canadian border--the entire Pacific Northwest Trail was close to the border!--but I hadn't realized exactly how close it was until I ran a Google search for places to eat in Oroville and it showed a McDonalds 7 miles away. I'm not a huge fan of McDonalds, but the result was surprising. Why is there a McDonalds in the middle of nowhere? Oroville was the big city in this area--if there was a McDonalds, why wasn't it in Oroville? The location for the restaurant was listed as Osoyoos--a town I had never even heard of but was apparently only seven miles away? How could there be a town big enough for a McDonalds only seven miles away that I had never heard of?

So I had it list show the route from Oroville to Osoyoos which is when I realized it was over the border. In Canada. There's a town over there! I didn't know about it because it was in another country!

The Canadian border was a mere 4 miles away, and I had a sudden urge to spend the afternoon going to the McDonalds in Canada just to say I did! OMG--that would be so funny to blog about! If I can hike 20+ miles a day with a full pack, I could easily make a quick 7-mile jaunt to the Canadian McDonalds with no pack and another 7 miles back. Even better, I knew I didn't have to walk it. I could ride a bike! When I checked into the motel, Clyde showed me two bikes that were available for thru-hikers to use to get around town. He never suggested I could use it to bike to Canada--but probably only because he never imagined a thru-hiker would want to bike to Canada in the first place!

And then I discovered something else: a brochure in the front office. Those racks of things to see and do in the area included a brochure for the "Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad" attraction with 45+ running trains. That sounded cool! So I googled information about where it was and it was another mile or so past the McDonalds. That was totally doable. I could check out the model train museum, stop for lunch, then head back to my motel in Oroville. On bike! It would be an adventure!

The main highlight I planned to hit in Osoyoos was the Desert Model Railroad attraction.

I'd also be biking into Canada's only desert! Yep, Canada has a desert, and this was it. I was going to ride a bike into the Canadian desert to see a model train set and get lunch at McDonalds. It would be fun. I can't make this stuff up! I'd been carrying my passport this whole trip just in case I wanted to dip into Canada at some point. It's finally time I used my passport!

I went into the front office where I chatted with Clyde a bit and told him of my idea and he said he might have something for me to use. He came back with an electric bike. It was his bike which normally thru-hikers didn't get to use, but he thought it might be more comfortable for the longer ride into Canada than around town like most thru-hikers do. I wasn't sure how I felt about an electric bike because I had never used one before, so Clyde explained how it worked and told me to take a quick ride around town to give it a try and see if I'd want to use it for the ride into Canada.

So I did. I rode it around the block a couple of times and could really feel the power kick up with each push of the pedals. Wow! This was fun! I was sold. I'd ride the e-bike into Canada!

He said the tires were a little low and suggested stopping at Les Schwab to fill them up with air, so that's what I did.

Then I started peddling my way to Canada!

9mph was a pretty good speed for me going up a slight hill and against the wind. I waited for a break in the traffic before I took this photo because I was afraid I'd crash the bike trying to ride with one hand and take a photo with the other and preferred not having cars nearby that would hit me if I careened into the middle of the highway.
The route wasn't great. It was along busy Highway 97 and there was a lot of fast-moving traffic, and I didn't have a helmet to wear which I found even more unnerving. If I were on foot, I'd call the route flat and easy, but on a bike there was a definite uphill to the peddling! Even worse, the wind was going against me so even though the electric bike was helping, I still had to put a lot of effort and power into the peddling to push against the wind and uphill climb. My speed almost never broke 10 mph at the fastest--but it would have been even slower on a regular bike or (gasp!) on foot! It was a lot of work! I quickly learned that electric bikes (at least this one) doesn't do the work for you--it just helps.

When I reached the border, I stopped briefly to take photos of the US-Canadian border. I hoped that photos weren't breaking any rules. I didn't see anything that said no photography was allowed, but the powers-that-be often don't like photographs at security-enhanced areas. But without definitive signs prohibiting them, I took photos.

I looked for signs or something that might direct pedestrians or bicyclists through a separate area from the cars but saw nothing and pulled up with my bike behind a car whose driver was being interrogated by a border patrol agent.

I waited for all of about 30 seconds before the car drove off and I peddled to the agent asking if this was the right place for bicyclists. I was surrounded by vehicles and probably stuck out like a sore thumb being the only person on a bike.

He said I was in the right place and asked me the standard questions about where I was going, how long I'd be in Canada and the last time I had been in Canada. Off the top of my head, I couldn't remember exactly when I had been in Canada last. "March or so?" I answered. "I flew into Toronto earlier this year, but I don't remember exactly which month it was."

Then he waved me through and I was in Canada! I did it! I rode a bike into Canada! I had now traveled into Canada on foot (at the end of my PCT hike), by car (a couple of times), by boat (for my West Coast Trail hike), by plane (when I flew into Toronto) and now by bicycle! I'm pretty sure I've entered Canada using more modes of transportation than almost anyone else on Earth! Just need to check off riding in on a train, horse, submarine and spacecraft and all the boxes will be checked. =)

It was official: I made it into Canada!

I now traveled through Canada's only desert to the train museum at the west edge of town. I locked the bike to a gate and entered the facility which felt slightly busy. I paid for a ticket and entered the rooms with the miniature worlds which were absolutely amazing! The level of detail was incredible and dozens of trains were running throughout the exhibit. I spent over an hour looking at all of the animations and trying to figure out how to get photos that really captured the essence of the place. The photos don't really do it justice, of course--they never do--but it was particularly difficult here because the lights weren't the brightest and there was a panel of glass (or maybe plastic) that separated the exhibits from the people so all of my photos tended to have low lights reflected in the glass.

The model train sets were absolutely amazing!

The trains ran through all sorts of terrain. Through mountains, past a circus, movie theaters, wildfires, and even past a nude beach that gave me a laugh when I realized it was actually a nude beach. At first glance, I thought it was a regular beach. =) Absolutely a wonderful place, though!

On my way out, I bought a few postcards of the trains then headed off to lunch. I altered my original idea of going to McDonalds, though, since I was never a big fan of it and instead passed the McDonalds to stop at the nearby A&W restaurant. I couldn't remember the last time I had eaten at one of those--perhaps 30 years ago? I wasn't really sure how I'd like their food, but at the very least I couldn't go wrong with A&W root beer! =)

So I ordered and enjoyed my meal, glad I chose it over McDonalds. Then I stuck around to write some of the postcards I had just purchased at the at the model train place. I really wanted to mail them from Canada as well so I got on the wi-fi connection at the restaurant and looked up where there was a Canadian post office. Just a 5 or 10 minute ride down the road. I could do that!

Lunch at A&W! Yeah.... I would do that again. *nodding* =)

So I biked to the post office, purchased stamps and mailed the postcards. And... that was that. I did everything I planned to do (and then some). Time to go back to Oroville!

I peddled back. The traffic lined up to get through the border station was a lot longer on my way back and three or four cars were in each lane of traffic. I picked a lane with three cars and waited my turn. Again, I was the only person not in a vehicle and I sensed everyone else looking at me wondering who this freak was that was riding a bicycle.

Eventually I got my turn with the border patrol agent and he asked me the usual questions about where I'd been, what I had been doing and where I was going. He asked me what I had in my pack (it was mostly empty, but I carried anything I considered valuable that I didn't want to leave at the motel like my laptop, camera, journal, etc.) and I offered to open it up and show him but he said that that wasn't necessary--just tell me what's in it. So I did and he eventually waved me through.

See the border cleared in the distance all the way up the mountain? It's faint from this far away and in the dry grass, there was nothing to clear so you can't really distinguish the border there, but it's still deforested all this way!

The ride back to Oroville went a lot faster than the ride out since now both gravity and the wind were going in my direction. I raced down the road, often at speeds at up to 25 mph and almost never below 15. Clyde told me that the e-bike will turn off at speeds above 20 mph so when I hit 25 mph, that was purely on my own with no assistance from the bike.

I arrived back in Oroville about a half hour after leaving the post office. It was an exhilarating day! One of my favorite zero days ever!

Back in town, I went on with my usual preparations. I did laundry, then grocery shopping and arranged a permit for getting through the North Cascades. I didn't get exactly the schedule I had planned out last night, but now my plan to hike non-stop from here to the town of Concrete over the course of 15 nights and 16 days of hiking. I dreaded how much food I was going to have to carry, but was glad I sent a maildrop from Eureka, MT, so at least I had 4 days of food waiting for me at Ross Lake Resort. I just had to carry food for 12 days! But still... ugh.

For dinner, I headed to a Mexican restaurant near the motel which I enjoyed quite a bit then called it a night. Tomorrow... back to the trail!

I enjoyed the decor of the Mexican restaurant
And more of the model trains because I took a lot of photos there!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Day 37: Arrival into Oroville!

August 21: This morning, I woke up anxious to get to Oroville, Washington. Oroville is the psychological halfway point of the trail. Every trail has an actual halfway point and a psychological halfway point. The psychological halfway point is typically the town or other major landmark that is closest to the actual halfway point and for this trail, that town is Oroville. The actual halfway mark is another day (or so) of hiking on the other side of town, but Oroville is definitely the psychological halfway point and I was anxious to get into town!

The morning was beautiful, especially with the cliff-side views from my campsite. It would have been a wonderful day to linger and enjoy the atmosphere for a bit, but I couldn't wait. Nope, I had to get to Oroville! And I was on the trail and hiking by 6:30am.

It's a beautiful morning from my campsite!

The trail was mostly level at first through thick trees before descending thousands of feet to the farming valley below. I passed a day hiker a mile or so from the trailhead at the valley bottom--the first hiker I had seen on the trail in over a week. We talked for about a minute before continuing on our separate ways. She didn't know where the trail was headed having spotted the trailhead as she was driving past and wanted to check it out. I told her it went uphill to some nice viewpoints over the valley but past that, there wasn't really anything worth checking out. The viewpoints were a good turn-around point.

The trail came out at a trailhead off of Highway 97 next to an apple farm. The rest of the day's walk into Oroville would be on the busy, paved Highway 97--definitely not a fun or pleasant experience. At least the road had a fairly wide shoulder to walk on, but that's about the only good thing I can say about the road walk.

In town, I headed to the Camaray Motel and was delighted to see their sign welcoming PNT hikers to town. What a friendly place! =)

I checked into a room but was surprised when I opened the door and found two people already inside. Oops! This room was still occupied! At least I didn't catch them in a compromising or embarrassing position.

I headed back to the front desk with the woman who was in the room to get things sorted out. Clyde put me in another room and the woman and him were discussing their situation when I left.

This new room was unoccupied--yippee!--and I dropped my stuff then headed off to the post office to pick up my maildrop. I had only mailed it two days earlier and figured that there might be a small chance that it hadn't arrived yet, but it had arrived. Yippee!

Then I headed across the street from the motel to a pizza place where I ordered a burger and salad. It seemed like I should have ordered pizza from a pizza place, but I was really in the mood for a burger. It was mediocre, though, and afterwards I wish I went with the pizza.

Later, when Clyde asked me where I went for lunch and I told him, he said that they have the best pizza in town. Then when I told time I ordered the hamburger, he said that that wasn't the best option. There was a better place in town for burgers. Oh, well.... Live and learn!

The rest of the night I spent locked up my motel room catching up with email and planning out the next couple of weeks in detail. This next stretch of trail is the longest, most remote section of the entire trail and my plan was to cover the next two weeks without getting off the trail to resupply. Logistically, it got even more complicated because I needed a permit to hike through the North Cascades National Park, so I called them up to work out a schedule depending on what campsites were available and when I thought I could make it to the park.

Basically, I had to pick out specific campsites where I needed to camp almost two weeks before I would arrive. There were so many things that could happen that could slow me down, or maybe if the trail is in particularly good condition (ha!!!! I crack myself up!) I could arrive early.

Ahh... so if I want to avoid livestock, I have to do my hiking before June 15th or after October 15th. Good to know!

I took a short break at this bench just before the trailhead.
It's an apple farm! Apples are big business in Washington. *nodding*
There were also a lot of migrant workers picking apples so I guess it was apple-picking season as well.
I thought this sign was funny. When they say "don't feed the cougars," I'm pretty sure they're joking that you shouldn't let them make a meal out of you--but it could also mean literally not to give food to cougars.
Highway 97 is a miserable road walk!
Crossing over the Okanogan River
Oroville is located just 4 miles south of the Canadian border. But how long will it take to get over the border? That is a mystery....
The psychological halfway point of the trail! Hurray!
I thought this might mean I'd finally see someone on the trail. Nope! I was the only walker for next 1 mile!
Good grief, Okanogan County! What's wrong with you people?!
Best welcome I've ever had to a motel! =) (Although I'm not sure why "hikers" is spelled with two i's.)
What a beautiful mural! I like that they have the American and Canadian flags next to each other as well. =)