Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Carrying a Bag of... Rocks? Yes, Rocks.

June 1: During the night, the wind picked up, so this morning was quite breezy. Not a "knock you over" kind of wind, but definitely a "make sure your hat is on tight" kind of wind.

Tradja and Jess packed up camp before I did, but I wasn't far behind them on the trail. I planned to fill up my water needs for the day at the water cache a little ways ahead, and use the water tank if the water cache was empty. (Rumor had it that the water tank for fire suppression purposes was pretty nasty, and only a water source of last resort.)

When I arrived, Tradja, Jess, and Go-Go were filling up from the water tank. "No water cache?" I asked. They didn't see any. The water did look nasty. Green, foul-looking stuff. I thought I had enough to push on, maybe to find a better water source than that if I rationed it carefully.

We traded stories for a short while, then I pushed on again, finding the water cache not 50 feet further along the trail. *heh* There wasn't much left, only a couple of gallons, and I took as much as I felt I needed to make it to the next reliable water source. I figured the others would see it when they started hiking again and could decide if they wanted to throw out the fire water and replace it with cache water or not then.

According to my guide, we would pass Sawmill Campground in a couple of miles, at mile marker 499.2. Just 0.8 miles after that would be the 500 mile point for the trail, and I hoped there was a marker in the trail marking the location. I was determined to make one if there wasn't, however. Five hundred is a particularly big, round number, and it needed to be honored properly.

The trail was nice and shaded much of the way, and the slopes covered with a thick layer of miner's lettuce. (Yes, I realize that the photo above does not show miner's lettuce. It was taken earlier in the morning. I didn't take a photo of the miner's lettuce, however.) After passing Sawmill Campground, I checked the time. At the pace I was walking, I should cover 0.8 miles in about 20 minutes. But the miner's lettuce grew everywhere, and I grew increasingly concerned that I wouldn't be able to find rocks to build a 500-mile marker if I needed to.

So I paused at a small clearing where I could see the rocks on the ground, and filled up a bag with rocks. Just in case rocks weren't readily available at what I thought was the 500-mile mark, I'd have them in my pack ready to go! I had nearly finished collecting the rocks when Tradja, Jess, and Go-Go caught me in the act.

"What are you doing?" they asked.

"Picking up rocks," I told them.

"No, really, what are you doing?" they asked.

"Really, I'm picking up rocks," I replied. I held up the bag of rocks. It wasn't a clear bag, but you could see the sharp edges of the rocks pushing against the sides of the bag.

"Why are you collecting a bag of rocks?" they asked.

"My pack wasn't heavy enough," I replied, straight-faced.

Go-Go cracked up at this, telling me that that was "funny as hell, and you just made my journal entry for that!"

Is that all it takes to make it into someone's journal? Carrying a bag of rocks on the trail?

Then I told them the real reason for the rocks--my concern that I wouldn't be able to find them at the 500-mile marker on the trail, and by golly, I was going to plant a marker if there wasn't one there already. So I decided to quarry for rocks about half a mile early where rocks were plentiful rather than risk not finding any up ahead. Which made sense, but Go-Go kept going on about that being the craziest thing he's ever seen someone carry on the trail. "A bag of rocks! That's funny as hell!"

I continued hiking with the three of them, checking my watch for the optimal place for the 500-mile mark. Tradja and Jess fell behind Go-Go and I a little ways, and I finally announced to Go-Go, "This is where I think the 500 mile point on the trail is." That section of trail was narrow and slightly overgrown, however, and didn't really provide a lot of space for me to lay out a "500" in rocks. So we walked ahead, looking for a wide spot in the trail to set up the marker.

It only took another minute or so of walking to find the place. I took off my pack, took out the bag of rocks, and emptied it on the trail. Tradja and Jess walked up as I was putting the arranging the number on the trail, taking pictures of me setting it up. Go-Go kept saying the whole thing was funny as hell.

Jess asked how I decided where to set up the marker. "The trail was wide enough to hold my message," I told her.

She laughed. "That doesn't sound very scientific!"

No, indeed it was not. Really, the marker is just an estimate. A fairly good educated guess, I felt, probably accurate to within a quarter mile, but I didn't really have any way to get a more accurate measurement than that.

I finished setting up the marker, joking that we'd probably find another one 200 feet up the trail anyhow. We walked up the trail, crossing a small dirt road about a quarter-mile later, which we expected to see just past the 500-mile mark. It looked like I had placed the 500-mile marker perfectly!

But when I walked up on the dirt road, I saw Avo there, setting the last pinecone in place for his own 500-mile mark. It was an impressive marker, probably three feet tall, entirely made out of giant pinecones. He even added an exclamation mark after the 500, so it read, "500!" It was beautiful. It was art.

I called back to the others behind me. "Well, isn't this awkward. There is another 500 mile marker," I told them. It was a little past the 500 mile point of the trail, but such a large marker would have never fit on the trail anyhow. It needed the space that a dirt road could provide.

Avo said he felt there should be a 500 mile marker, which is why he set it up in pinecones, not realizing that I had just set one up with rocks not five minutes down the trail from his location.

Jess walked up to his 500! and said, "There's an easy solution to this. Just take this dot from the exclamation mark." She walked up to it and put her foot on the pinecone. "And move it over a bit." She kicked the pinecone lightly, like a football, "So it reads 500.1."

We all laughed, except Avo, who might have thought we were crazy and not really sure if we could be trusted. We all took photos of the pinecones that now read 500.1, then continued our hike.

Not really much else happened during the hike. I did my longest day of hiking yet--23 miles--and rolled into a small hostel known as Hiker Town. It's a cute little place, set up with a western theme. In the hiker lounge, someone had left behind what looked like a birthday cake, which I split with another hiker. I took a shower, used the Internet, and relaxed. Only three hikers stayed there for the night, a nice, quiet night for relaxing.


Stacy Christian said...

You have to admit, it is pretty funny that you would pass up a water source, hoping for a better one later on, but couldn't pass up the rocks.


Anonymous said...

Is that a SPOR in your bag, or are you just....



GreenJello said...

The 500.1 suggestion was just pure genius. THAT will get people laughing their heads off, for sure!

Anonymous said...

Well, at least no one can call you a "box of rocks" !!!!

Anonymous said...

And here I thought you were going to take some time out and do some rock slashing!


Pre said...

Did anyone else get this song stuck in their head after reading about 500 miles?

Also Ryan: You've written plenty about the folks hiking the same direction as you. Is anyone at all hiking north to south? Any stories there?

Congrats on 500.1 (or whatever you're up to now in real time)


Ryan said...

A couple of years ago, I read that there were two (just two!) people who hiked the entire PCT southbound. It happens, but I don't really know who they are or where they're at.

Quite a number of hikers skipped the High Sierras and got a ride to Ashland and started hiking south. I've been crossing paths with a lot of those folks. =)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

The pine cone 500 marker is awesome!

The little hiker town looked charming. Any pictures of the room and area around it?

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers