Day 116: The State of Jefferson Is On Fire

I bet you didn’t know we have 51 states, did you? Or, rather, that’d be the case if the people around here had their way. Welcome to the State of Jefferson, a movement to have about the northern ⅓rd of California secede and create a new state.

It may be completely delusional, but people around here take it very, very seriously. We stopped this afternoon to pick up a resupply package in Seiad Valley, CA, which, if not the epicenter of this movement, is certainly one of its most consistent supporters. There are “State of Jefferson” signs on practically everything — the local U.S. Post Office included — with brochures, stickers, license-plate frames, and meeting notices all over the place. Their major complaints about being part of California seem to be quite vague, involving “heavyhanded regulation” and the fact that this whole third of California only has six members of the California Assembly and Senate combined, compared to 114 for the rest of the state. (The fact that that’s directly proportional to the number of people who live up here — or, rather, don’t — seems to have been forgotten.)

If you’re worried about tanks rolling south from Weed, you can calm yourself; this is strictly a peaceful secessionist movement, according to everything we saw. They “only” have to get a majority in the California Assembly and Senate, and another majority in the U.S. House and Senate (and survive a presidential veto), and…boom! Fifty-one stars on the flag! What, exactly, the State of Jefferson would do for an economy or for many other services is left a bit vague, but, hey…who wants to ruin a good secessionist movement?

All that craziness aside, Seiad Valley was a wonderful little stopover this afternoon. Its commercial side consists of one store, one café, and an RV park. Between these three, we had showers, giant burgers and milkshakes, bought more ice cream and soda, and relaxed in the shade for a while. Just a few hours of that kind of stuff can perk you right back up again.

Oh, and another pick-me-up we ran into today: on the way into Seiad Valley, we passed the point that marks 1,000 miles left until we get to Canada. Now, a thousand miles is still obviously an insanely long way…but this feels really good — to make some more concrete progress towards our goal and feel like it’s no longer quite so out of reach for us. Hooray for another pick-me-up!

Which is a good thing, because the climb out of Seiad Valley is one of the single most brutal of the entire trip: 4,600 feet straight up the side of a mountain. You can debate whether this or the climb out of Belden is worse, but, honestly, they’re simply both terrible. We thankfully managed to time it so that we knocked off a thousand feet or so tonight, leaving us less than the entire thing tomorrow morning.

That’s also good, because it is hot around here. Our thermometer read 96°…at 6 PM, and that’s with 30% humidity. (Trust me, that feels really, really humid when it’s that hot.) It’s brutally hot still, and hiking up even a little bit of that hill makes you sweat like crazy. The morning tomorrow — we’re starting early, getting up at 5 AM — should be a bit cooler, which we’ll be very grateful for.

And the “on fire” bit? Simply put, I’ve never seen smoke like this in my whole life. The valley here is absolutely filled with it. Even mountains that are really close are nothing more than faint outlines, and trees on the same mountain seem hidden in the mist. Given how far smoke from a wildfire can carry with the wind — over 200 miles, I’m told, pretty easily — it’s just about impossible to know which fire this is from, and there are many, many possibilities. I’m just grateful that, so far, none of these fires have blocked our path or required any detours, which seems kind of amazing, frankly. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that that continues, especially given how hot and dry it’s been in California for so long at this point.

Remnants of past years’ fires still haunt the trail, too. One major fire burned the area on the way into Seiad Valley just last year, and not only are huge swaths of forest burned, but some big wooden bridges at river crossings were destroyed. We’re lucky that the river was low enough that crossing via logs and rocks wasn’t too difficult, but seeing these huge bridges demolished is a testament to how rapidly fire can change things around here.

Tonight, falling asleep with a still incredibly smoky sky, seeing blackened trees around here, reminds me of just how big a deal fire is in this area. I’m grateful to all the people at Cal Fire for the incredible amount of work they put into protecting us from these fires…and glad this means we can continue on this trail.

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One response to “Day 116: The State of Jefferson Is On Fire”

  1. […] we get to Canada. That seems scarcely believable — can it really be? I remember when we passed the point where it was 1,000 miles to Canada, and that was a long, long time ago. It should be less than a week before we’re done, and […]

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