Curt knew I would be nervous without detailed planning of trails, mileage, rendezvous points, and alternatives. With 50 years of backpacking experience including planning, organizing and leading backpack treks for 30, he is something of an expert on the subject. Having a GPS/Spot Gen 3 tracker along was a new experience for him, however. He could upload his location each night via satellite and I could track his progress on my maps. He could also use Spot to signal for emergency help if needed and carried a cell phone, which he could use in the rare times he had cell service or if he had to hike out for some reason.
Then there was the unexpected— lack of water, smoke, fire, and possible injuries on the trail plus my challenges on the road of finding campgrounds and spaces near trailheads, power outages, limited cell service, and RV repair issues.
The first part of the trek introduced us to water shortages! Following mountain ridges over much of its length, the PCT is noted for its limited supply. The mild winter of 2017-18 with its lack of snow fall in the Siskiyous, Cascades and Sierras made it worse. Streams that would normally have been running through July were dry. Springs were sometimes a mere trickle. Even though we had downloaded the most recent information from the PCT site on water sources, the situation was changing rapidly. Our first day on the trail from Mt. Ashland proved the point.
We had planned a 10-mile day since it was our first day out. There had been sufficient water over the first seven miles. It wasn’t the case when we came to our planned camp site. Curt parked me in a pleasant location and took our water bottles down into the canyon where a stream was located. And came back empty. The stream was dry. “The map shows that there’s a spring in about a quarter of a mile off on a side road,” he announced. “We can camp there.” I loaded my pack and away we went. The spring was also dry. Have I mentioned that I was getting grumpy? Our options now appeared to be hiking three miles back or three miles ahead on the trail. “Let’s try farther down the canyon,” he suggested as a third alternative. I dutifully followed along. Fortunately, we hit water in a half mile. Curt’s experience with all-things-woodsy had paid off. The creek, by the way, was the headwaters of the Applegate River, which runs past our front yard.
We had just set up our tent when crashing thunder announced a deluge. I made it inside dry. Curt came in soaked. Mother Nature was having fun at our expense!
The greatest surprise and challenge was fire and smoke. The thought of making a fast exit ahead of a fire was always on our minds, but smoke was the main problem. Curt’s many years of working with the American Lung Association had educated him to the danger. “Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes,” ALA warns. “I resemble one of those categories,” Curt said. Older people are to stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise. Ha!
Fires started to impact the plan as soon as Castle Crags and smoke changed the trail plan totally in Chester when we couldn’t see a hundred yards into the forest. As Curt has shared on his blog, he had to alter his journey to avoid the worst of smoke and fire. Was I worried? Yes! The most difficult situation encountered was at Sonora Pass. I awoke the morning I was to meet him there to learn that a new fire had started on the far side of the pass. As I waited, I watched the smoke billowing from the fire grow larger and larger. When Curt hadn’t arrived several hours after I expected him, I became quite concerned. Fortunately, a long skinny fellow with the trail name of Bone came hiking up to our RV.
“You must be Peggy,” he said. When I responded yes, he told me that he had passed my missing buddy on the trail. Curt had asked him to pass on the information that he was fine and should be along in an hour or two. Much relieved, I settled in to wait and invited Bone to charge his cell phone in our van and have a cold beer. After Curt’s safe arrival (he tells the story in his blog), we drove to an RV campground for the night and learned that the pass and the PCT trail had been closed after we left!
While Curt was facing challenges out on the trail, I also had my share doing back up. As I mentioned earlier, I’d had lots of experience in camping with the RV. But I was a newbie at camping alone. Fires and lightning caused outages at campgrounds and RV parks, cell phone service was often spotty, And Quivera, our RV, demanded attention. Internal lights, the awning, and the air conditioning unit all had issues.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just find a shop that serviced RVs. But the local shops had a common response: “If you have a problem, call 30 days in advance for a reservation.” Does anyone else see a problem here? Repairs were up to me. Fine. The awning jammed, my solution? U-tube! I fixed it. Internal lights out? I read the manual, rewired the one I needed to read by and decided to let the other three go. AC servicing: well, other than pumping out playa dust from Burning Man— a forever problem— it was still working. Why worry?
There was a good ending to my efforts to find an RV service shop. I stopped by Camping World in Rockland near Sacramento and talked with the service staff. One of them walked out with me, confirmed that I would need to replace the awning eventually but told me bungee cords were a great temporary solution. He then replaced all the lights for me. Last but not least, he told me how to flush the AC with a hose. There was no charge for his good advice and help!
Next up: I will talk about the help that was generously offered to me along the way and a unique way of communicating with Curt: The Trekker Telegraph. Bone was a good example.