Day 106: Northern California Goes On Forever

Flash! I woke up to lightning shining through the tent, bright even with my eyes closed. I counted: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thous–crack. The thunder came, and so the lightning was only a half-mile away.

It was 11:30 at night, and we’d been asleep for a couple of hours when the storm came. Before bed we’d heard some thunder far-off in the distance, and we’d both assumed it’d skip us — we had clear skies overhead. Nope. The lightning flashed again, the thunder roared, and the storm got even closer. It was “heat lightning” at first, lightning with no rain, but that changed quickly, too. Soon enough it was absolutely pouring, and we just hoped the tarp held up. This was much more rain than we’d been in on this entire trip yet. It actually began to splash hard enough outside the tarp that little bits of wetness bounced up underneath the tarp, and we rearranged things to keep them as dry as possible.

The storm went on for several hours, and came in two or three waves — easily the longest, most intense thunderstorm and rain we’ve gotten on the trip yet. If it hadn’t been pouring quite so dramatically, it would’ve felt cozy and great to be under our tarp in the rain; as it was, we were anxious enough about it to stay awake on-and-off through all of it. Everything held tight in the end, though, and the worst casualties were damp shoes and filthy backpacks and ground sheet, as the dust turned to mud and got on everything. Really, it all turned out well in the end…but during the storm last night, it sure was intense for a while.

This stretch of the PCT we call “Northern California” takes as many miles to cross as does the entire state of Oregon or Washington. We left Sierra City just before mile 1,200, and the Oregon border isn’t until just before mile 1,700. That’s nearly five hundred miles of Northern California. And Northern California is, basically, one pine-forested mountain after the next, in endless succession. It’s not that it’s bad, exactly; it’s just that there’s so much of it.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m from Northern California. Although that term, usually used to refer to the San Francisco Bay Area, is a huge misnomer. Like most Californians, I basically have a big blank in my mind for everything more than about fifty miles north of San Francisco, except for “beautiful spots along the coast” and “lots of weed grows”. Turns out, there’s an awful lot of stuff where that blank spot in my mind lives. Just ’cause I don’t think about it much doesn’t mean it’s easy or quick to get through this.

It also probably doesn’t help that there really aren’t any landmarks out here, particularly from the halfway point (roughly mile 1,325) to the Oregon border (mile 1,690, or 365 miles later). Back in the High Sierra, every day brought a new pass to conquer; back in the desert, it seemed we ran across one interesting or weird place to visit every other day. Out here, you just slowly count down the miles as best you can, and that countdown goes really, really slowly.

We have, however, finally beaten that awful heat — whether it’s by ascending or just ’cause the weather changed, I don’t really have a good way of knowing, but highs in the upper 70s are so dramatically much better than highs in the upper 90s. It also helps that we’re going through forested mountains much of the time and out of the sun, instead of the full sun directly on us down in the valleys.

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