Monday, January 6, 2020

Day 31: My Croc! My Croc! My Kingdom for a Croc!

August 15: I woke up, packed up and--with Amanda's help--headed out. Initially, I had hoped to do a lot of slackpacking while Amanda was around, but it was about 33 miles between trailheads which included a 3-mile bushwhack. There was no way I could do that distance in one day, even with a light pack. Nope, I had to break it up between two days. There was a forest service road, however, roughly halfway between trailheads but we weren't sure if Amanda's vehicle could make it. She would try to drive out to it, but there no guarantees. So I packed up a full pack just in case she couldn't make it. I didn't want to be stranded overnight in the wilderness without a sleeping bag!

But my pack would be fairly light since I only intended to be out for a single night. I only needed two days and one night of food. My pack was so light, in fact, I even took my fancy camera--just in case there were any bears or bald eagles to get photos of. =)

Crossing Highway 20

So we checked out of the hotel and drove up Highway 20 back to the trailhead where Amanda had picked me up two days earlier.

An hour or two into the hike, I passed a group of 5 day hikers heading in my direction. We chatted a bit before continuing onward. The trail passed a hut which is available for rent. The 5 day hikers said it was rented for the night, but I had no intention of stopping here anyhow. It was much too early in the day to stop! It was a nice little hut, though.

I filled up with water near the hut from a small spring. Good thing too because the next two springs showing on my map turned out to be dry--a fact that I did not know at the time. But I started running low on water. I had expected to refill at one of the springs that were now dry and had thrown away my 1.5 liter water bottle in town after it sprang a leak so I couldn't fill up with a large amount of water even if I wanted to.

This cute little hut is available for renting overnight, but I hadn't made any reservations and it was much too early in the morning to stop now!

Further up the trail, I missed a trail junction that was largely hidden in some grass and went a half-mile in the wrong direction down a steep hill before I realized that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. I backtracked and eventually found the trail junction I had missed, but not without a bit of cussing on my part.

And finally I reached the point I had been dreading all day: the bushwhack. The primary route required a 3-mile bushwhack. There was an alternative route which allegedly was easier and had less bushwhacking, but I wanted to stay on the primary route as much as possible and charged into the forest.

It was a dreadful experience. Vegetation and snags grabbed at my clothes, ripping yet another large hole in my pants that I would have to sew up again later in camp. I struggled to find a route through the thick vegetation and trees. Branches ripped off my hat a couple of times.

The bushwhack has begun!

The worst section of the bushwhack had me go down a rather steep hillside then up what looked like a cliff. When I first looked at it, it seemed impassible. How the hell could I get up that?! I decided to veer around the right side where the cliff became a super steep hillside and I often used branches and tree trunks to pull myself up. I had one scare when the tree trunk I was holding onto ripped out of the ground and fell down the slope and I quickly tried to grab something else before it pulled me down with it! The tree wasn't very large, but the ground was very unstable and just couldn't hold the weight of the tree and my weight.

The tree fell and I scrambled up to a safer location, cussing at the lack of the trail. What the hell is wrong with these people routing this trail?!

Once I made it to the top of the ridge, the going was easier and quicker. The vegetation was still around in clumps but the thick stuff was easy to navigate around, although occasionally I hit a dead end and I had to go through the thick vegetation again.

It looks impenetrable--and it is! But it didn't stop me from pushing through anyhow!

Heading back down the other side of the ridge, the vegetation closed up again and the going became difficult.

There was a small pond ahead and I badly needed water. I was rationing the water I did have--temperature were miserably hot and my water supplies low, but I needed that pond water. I really hoped and prayed that I would not miss it and that it wasn't dry. It might be a problem if I couldn't pick up water there.

I did find it, though, and there was water in it! Hurray! I cheered at the welcome sight! Well, cheering might not be the right word. The pond looked muddy and stagnant and absolutely horrible, but bad water was still better than no water. I set my pack down on a dry patch of ground when I noticed that one of my Crocs had fallen off my pack. Argh!!!!

Horrible, stagnant pond water

I usually put my Crocs--my camp shoes--on the outside of my pack because there isn't much room inside and I did that out of habit, but it was a stupid mistake because the clawing tree branches and vegetation will easily pull off anything not secured to one's pack. But the really stupid thing was that with my pack empty of food, there was plenty of room to put my Crocs inside of it. I lost my Croc for no good reason at all!

And I certainly wasn't going to go back and look for it. Hell, I could walk three feet away from it and not see the thing--and there was no way I could possibly retrace the exact route I had taken. At least if I dropped it on an actual trail I could backtrack on the trail and look for it, but there was no trail to follow!

So I was angry about losing my Croc, but it was a lost cause and I quickly put it out of my mind. Right now, I needed water. I walked out on a fallen tree to get past all the mud on the shoreline and filled up in the pond. The water was still brown and dirty and stagnant--and bad enough that I felt it should be treated. I usually don't treat my water and, so far, hadn't done so at all on this trail--but I did carry a small bottle of iodine tablets just in case I was ever forced to drink water that was less than pleasant, and this ugly water source justified it. I dropped in a few tablets but would need to wait at least a half hour before I could drink it.

Nasty pond water--so bad, I even treated it!

I returned to my pack and continued the bushwhack. I was most of the way through it at this point, but I wanted to cry. The bushwhack was awful. I just wanted to be done with it. I swore up and down that I would never voluntarily do another bushwhack again. Never again! If there was an alternative that shortened a bushwhack or avoided it completely, I would take it. I didn't care if it added a dozen miles to my hike--I'd take it. This was the third bushwhack of the hike and every single one of them had been utterly miserable experiences. A small part of my brain wished there was a horrible wildfire that could clear out the vegetation.

According to my GPS, I was getting close to a forest service road which would mark the end of the bushwhack. I started looking for it ahead, eager just to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but even when my GPS showed the road as being 30 feet ahead, I could still see no evidence of the road. Was it not there? Was my GPS wrong? Surely I should have been able to see it by now! Where is the road?! I was desperate to get to the road out and out of the bushwhack.

I finally spotted the road about 10 feet ahead. I took a photo then raced the last 10 feet to freedom. I made it! I made it! I dropped my pack and shouted for joy! Goddamn f*#$ing bushwhacks!

It had taken me nearly 4 hours to make it through the 3-mile bushwhack. It's definitely not fast!

My salvation and my first view of the end of the bushwhack!

After a short rest, I pushed onward. The trail followed the gravel road for a short distance and I was elated to be walking fast, quickly and unobstructed. The road looked to be mostly in good condition, but a couple of trees and fallen onto it which might give vehicles trouble. They were, I thought, still passable for Amanda's vehicle, but only barely. Of course, I had no idea what the condition of the road was before I merged onto it, but based on what I could see, Amanda maybe could have made it out here.

I looked around for evidence that she had been there. She'd never have been able to find where I came out of the woods. I don't even know if *I* could have found where I came out of the woods, but the trail should veer off onto a proper trail with a trailhead and if she was able to make it, that's where she would likely be. But she might have left a note somewhere before that. Or drew a word in chalk on a tree or rock. Something to let me know she had made it, but I didn't find anything. I hoped to see any vehicle pass by. I figured if another vehicle had passed by, then it was proof that Amanda might make it as well, but no.... I didn't see any vehicles the entire way. None that drove past me, and none that were parked on the side of the road.

I finally reached the trailhead where the trail veered off the road and back onto a proper trail, but Amanda was nowhere to be seen. I guess she wasn't able to make it out.

I was exhausted. I'd only completed 14.0 miles according to my GPS, but it was a rough 14 miles and the sun was about to set. I set up camp by the trailhead and called it a day. I cooked dinner, then--since I knew I would be back in civilization tomorrow--spent the rest of the evening watching The Office on my phone. I also sewed up the new holes in my pants while watching them. I wasn't worried about running the battery down--it was freshly charged from town and I wasn't even able to use half the battery power before I was too tired and fell asleep.

The bushwhack was horrible! Horrible, I tell you! Don't do it!
A little levity at the end of the day on the road walk.


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

I'm guessing from this day's bushwacking adventure that you are not planning on trying the CDT anytime soon.

Ryan said...

I don't know.... I've heard that the PNT is actually considered more difficult than the CDT! So the CDT might have some bushwhacking areas, but overall, it's an easier trail! =)

Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

From reading CDT journals it appear that there are numerous sections of unmarked trail tread, sometimes for miles, but they seem to be in area of "wide open spaces" where getting from point A to point B is not a life and death struggle like you had on the PNT. More like trials in navigation and map reading, etc.