Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things That Go Bump In the Night

April 29: I survived the night, in remarkably good condition. The wind was still howling, and it drizzled for a few minutes early in the morning, but I'm not sure it would have counted as "measurable" precipitation anyhow. But I was dry and warm underneath my tarp, even if I was filthy from a coating a dust and leaves carried over by the wind.

I got up with the sun, ate breakfast, packed up camp, and left the protective windbreak I left all night. The forecast today called for wind "gusts" that peaked at 40 MPH, a full 20% less than the day before. Oh, joy. The skies were partly cloudy, and just feeling the warmth of the sun occasionally throughout the day made a huge difference in the day's attitude.

A couple of miles down the trail, I found Just Josh eating a snack on the side of the trail. He had set up camp in a particularly bad spot that night had ended up breaking down camp and moving further down the mountain in the dark of night, apparently suffering a miserable night trying to stay warm and out of the wind. We swapped our war stories of the weather from the day before. We were The Survivors.

Further along the trail, at Rodriguez Road, I found what was left of a PCT store. A trail angel named Renee, who spoke with an Irish accent but would tell anyone who asked that she was from San Diego, set up a store for hikers to get clean water, candy bars, cook meals, and most anything a hiker could need. She used to be a helicopter nurse for 21 years, if my memory serves me right, which sounded pretty darned cool to me, but she said the stress was terrible and she was glad to retire from it. In any case, the PCT store was basically shut down by the wind which blew much of her setup all over the place, much of it clearly broken and barely hanging in place.

The potable water was free for all, and she offered the cluster of us hikers all a free candy bar, which I gladly accepted. Two Israeli guys who were hiking the trail (from which I learned that there are a whopping seven people from Israel hiking the PCT this year) offered to help her break down the camp, but she declined their offer. I kind of felt bad for her--she clearly wanted to help hikers, but she really seemed like she needed help herself. It appeared to just be her there, and it seemed like we could have broke down that camp for her in minutes if she had let us.

I continued down the trail to my destination for the night: Scissors Crossing. It was near two busy roads and I was skeptical about setting up camp too close to them, but other hikers assured me that there were good campsites in the area and setting up camp under the bridge there would be a good windbreak, so I took them at their word at committed to camping right there.

Just before the first road crossing was the first water cache of the trail. In sections where good water is especially scared, trail angels haul out gallons and gallons of clean drinking water for hikers to stock up with. It was here I met the most remarkable young girl. Her trailname was Fossil, and she was 11 years old who had hiked there all the way from the Mexican border, even suffering through the brutal wind and rain. She intends to thru-hike the PCT when she turns 18 as well, and good for her. It's not often you see 11 year olds setting such lofty goals for themselves. She seemed quite in her element, although she certainly seemed less than pleased with the wind. We all were, though. When I asked her dad where they were from, he told me Portland.

"Oregon? I used to live in Hillsboro," I told him, and it turns out that's actually where they live. Then we started a long conversation about all of the hiking opportunities around the Portland area. Good times....

I signed the register at the cache, finding a couple of familiar names I recognized from the Appalachian Trail. I can't be completely certain they are the same people I knew from the AT or completely different people with the same trail name, but I know Karma from the AT class of 2003 is on the trail, and he appears to be a couple of days ahead of me. I also saw Hmmm.... listed in the register a couple of days before, and Amanda and I shared a room at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon with a Hmmm.... Could it be the same one? I don't know, but it would be fun to catch up to her and find out.

Fossil and her dad recommended I go down a small birding trail where numerous good campsites were available rather than directly under the bridge, so I went off to find a campsite. L'il Bit and Jill had already set up, and HoJo had just claimed the best site of all (in my opinion). I settled for a location next to the slope of a hill, trying to merge my tarp as an extension of the hill. The wind wasn't bad down here at all, but I feared it might pick up during the night so I prepped it as if the wind was still vicious--aerodynamic and low to the ground.

Tradeja and Jess walked by a short time later, telling me to drop by their site later if I wanted to chat some more, and I said I would. I made dinner first, though, cooking up a batch of Hamburger Helper.

The rest of the night, I traded stories with Tradeja and Jess, a cute couple from Bend, Oregon. (Let me point out, I have no idea if I'm actually spelling Tradeja's trailname correctly. It's what it sounds like when he introduces himself, however. That goes for a lot of trail names that I haven't actually seen written down anywhere.) Tradeja described an incident when he was struck by lightning, which he doesn't recommend, by the way.

I left as it started growing increasingly dark--especially since I had no headlamp to find my way back into camp. (They did offer to lend me one, but I still thought it was just light enough for me to get back without it.)

I crawled into my sleeping bag, and went promptly to sleep.

Until.... I woke up and heard voices in the darkness. L'il Bit and Jill were way too far out of range for it to possibly be their voices. They'd have to be screaming to be heard as far away as they were. Tradeja and Jess weren't even all that close. These voices sounded furtive, and whispery, and much too soft to be heard from their camp. And it sounded like the voices were coming from the other side of the road near where the water cache would be located. I tried to listen to the words, but couldn't make anything out.

Then I heard a vehicle drive up quickly and sirens pierced the night. The sirens only went off for a couple of seconds, but it obviously must have been the border patrol who had set up a checkpoint at Scissors Crossing. (You could see them as we hiked across the road, although I didn't think much of it at the time.)

A couple of car doors slammed, and there was shouting. Some in English, some in Spanish, and I clearly heard the word "Perros!" Dogs! I was wide awake at this point. Exciting stuff was happening! It was nearly a full moon, so visibility was remarkably good despite it being a little after midnight. But I could see nothing--just hear a lot of stuff happening up on the road.

Most of the noise seemed to be coming slight further up the road, closer to where Tradeja and Jess had set up camp, and I wondered what they were able to hear from there. A couple of minutes later, two border patrol agents with a dog came crashing down the trail with a flashlight. The first one saw me and stopped, pointing the light towards me, "Who are you?!"

Before I could even answer, the other agent said, "It's a camper."

I wasn't sure if being called a mere "camper" should be considered an insult or not, but I decided it wasn't a good time to argue the point. "Just camping," I replied.

"Did you see anyone run through here?" the first one asked.

"No. Nobody until you guys got here."

"Are there anymore campers up there?" the interrogator continued.

"Three that I know about," I answered. Jill, L'il Bit, and HoJo. It's possible others could have arrived after I set up camp, though, so I wasn't sure if there were more than three. "And two in the direction you came from." (Tradeja and Jess, and I knew those were the only two 'campers' in that direction.)

During the interrogation, I heard chatter coming from their walkie-talkies, phrases such as "They're running northeast!" and a warning about campers being in the area, but I missed most of it since I was focused on the conversation they were having with me first. They seemed surprised at the unexpected campers in the area, and apparently our camps were causing quite a bit of confusion for them. I suspect their dog might have been following *my* scent back from my visit with Tradeja and Jess earlier in the night. (And believe me, by now, I definitely had quite a scent to follow!)

They officers turned around and headed back where they came from. I'd hear more yelling occasionally, more car doors slamming, and things that go bump in the night, but couldn't really make anymore sense of what was going on. Probably they caught some illegals as they crossed the road, I thought, but what if they were drug smugglers?

Finally, the noise ceased, but I was wide awake for another hour after that thinking about all that had transpired, and trying to figure out the blanks in my knowledge of what was happening around me.


Kaaren said...

Wow, excitement!

Lee Tanney said...

Sounds like hiking is the easy part. Its the weather and excitement all around that is the challenge. News reports say there is more trouble ahead, with people setting booy traps on the trail ahead.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

If one thing is certain it is that humans are much more dangerous than nature and wildlife.

I know this was just a typo, but it still made me chuckle:
"In sections where good water is especially scared, trail angels haul out gallons of water"

How scared does water get on the PCT?

You mentioned how many Israelis there were hiking on the PCT and I remember you talking about an Israeli you met on the AT, too. Why do you think there are so many Israelis thru-hiking in the US?

Made me smile when you mentioned Scissors Crossing because as you probably know it is Tijeras in Spanish. Ironically, that's where I call my home in NM and I've even placed a Tijeras Letterbox a few years ago.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

westmetromommy said...

Hey Ryan--I know, over 3 years later and I comment on this post! Anyway, I just read a book set on the PCT and it reminded me of you (your blog will be mentioned in my book review on Friday, btw), so I was reading your old PCT posts.

Fossil was actually featured on Oregon Field Guide this past season! It turned out she wasn't able to make it all the way to Canada--I believe she either got sick or was injured--but she did go back the next season and finish the last leg.