90 Day Trial & A Bear!

It was a six mile hike downhill to Belden.  I have an easier time hiking downhill and move pretty fast so it didn’t take too long to get there.  I arrived at 11am, just in time to order a huge breakfast.  It didn’t come out of the kitchen right away, but it gave me time to gulp down some coffee, relax and talk to some tourists and locals.  After booking my room at the hotel I grabbed a couple beers with another hiker and enjoyed the afternoon.

Belden Town Hotel
The town of Belden is a funny place.  This particular hotel was about all there was, unless you hitch a ride a couple miles away to a place called Caribou Crossroads, which apparently has a store and a place to camp, but which I did not go to.  Also this hotel is the site of weekend long fests for the spring, summer and possibly fall.  They have rock bands, and jam bands, and all kinds of different music scheduled throughout the season.  As I had arrived on a Monday I was not going to be around long enough to hang out for the next fest, although on my departure I saw about 100 porta potties being delivered!  I also got lucky that there was a room even available because they book up fast for the weekends.  The room was as comfy as it could be and it had a patio setting right outside my door where I made some phone calls and texts on the outdoor couch.

Feet all wrapped up
 My feet had gotten pretty torn up on the last stretch, so I used the time to rest them and patch them up.  I also ended up booking a second night at the hotel to give my feet more of a chance to recover.  The hotel had a bar and a small convenience store so I took advantage and ate well, got snacks and stocked up on food for the trail.

Just before leaving Belden I had another huge breakfast to get my energy up because I had a big climb ahead.  In just over 13 miles you gain 4700 feet elevation.  With my feet aching the way they were I was careful to stop and rest several times to not aggravate them too much.  It did the trick and my feet started feeling better, or perhaps they were just numb. The last week or so I had been hiking with a partner, after staying in Belden I was solo hiking again and enjoying it immensely.  Below is the view I had all to myself this evening.  When I approached this spot I had scared away some deer I believe.  Looking over the edge, after hearing the noise of animals running away, I could see the dust stirred up in their wake.  I made dinner and sat and watched the sun go down.

Tent with a view
The next morning, Thursday, I got going early.  Now that this sections big climb was over I made some good time and moved quicker.  I met some day hikers and one of them told me that this is an interesting geological area because it’s where the Sierras end and the Cascades begin.  The Cascades have a more lava rock feel to them and you can start seeing it in all the scenery I was passing.

Lava Rocks in the Cascades

On Friday the 21st I reached the official halfway point of the PCT. It was my 90th day on the trail.  My (imagined) trial period was over.  My pace was much quicker, I was getting used to the idiosyncrasies of trail life, and I was feeling better than ever! Trail life definitely agrees with me.

Halfway marker! 90th Day!
Next stop was Chester, where I had another package waiting for me.  When I arrived at the trail head there was some trail magic in a cooler.  I grabbed a water and a small bag of fruit out of it.  While getting ready to hitch into town a woman named Beverly pulled up in her minivan.  It was the Angel who put out the trail magic.  She offered me a ride into town and dropped me off at the post office.  Both hotels I checked were booked up for the weekend so I went to a hiker friendly church and camped in their yard along with some other hikers.  Grabbed a huge burger and shake at the local fast food place, ran into the grocery store, then bedded down for the night.

Trail Magic at Chester
Getting a hitch out of Chester back to the trail head seemed an easy task, except I got too anxious and walked down the road too far.  The cars were going too fast and didn’t have room on the shoulder to stop for me.  I thought, it being Saturday, that there would be a good deal of recreational campers and boaters sympathetic to my plight.  Not until I was 5 miles down the road did a nice older couple stop and pick me up for the last 2.5 mile leg to the trail.

When it started getting dark and I was close to the campsite I was hiking to that night, I started hearing a strange howling/baying noise.  Something I had never heard before, but was probably a normal sound for any locals in that area and time.  I set up camp and reserved myself to thinking it was just an Elk or Deer.  It probably was.  I think.

Simple pleasures on the trail include a nice cold water foot soak.  After an uneventful night, thankfully, I hiked a few miles to a bridge crossing over a slow moving shallow river.  It felt Great.

Cold river feet soak!
By now, most of you who are reading this have heard the story of my bear encounter.  But for those who have not and are hearing it for the first time I will sum it up.  I was hiking toward Warner Valley Campground where they have bear boxes at each each campsite.  A bear box is just a large metal box that can be locked so you can safely store your food from bears.  There was nuisance bear activity in this area within a twenty mile range, so the park gave you three choices; 1. Hike straight through the 20 miles without stopping until out of the bear area, 2. If camping in the area, you must use a bear canister that you must carry and provide yourself,  or 3. Stop-over at Warner Valley Campground and use their existing bear boxes, providing that space is available at the campsite.  I was choosing the 3rd option and was about 6 miles out from the campground when I turned a ‘corner’ in the forest.  The bear, which you see staring at me in the photo, hopped off the log and started meandering toward me.  He wasn’t particularly large, and I found out later he was probably an adolescent, which accounts for his tan fur, being that he was a black bear.  In respect to scale, he was about 30-40 feet away from me, and that downed tree is just over table height.  The trail lead away from him which allowed me to back up easily.  While he walked toward me I talked to him as if talking to a dog; “Stay.”, “You’re Good.”, “No, stay there.”, “Hey buddy.”, and the like.  He rather quickly got bored with me and put his head down to search for more food.  The whole encounter lasted about 60 seconds.  To answer the obvious question, no I wasn’t scared.  It was more like something I just had to do.  I found it exhilarating!

The bear encounter
My day didn’t end there.  Only 20 minutes past the bear, I stopped by the Lassen Volcanic National Park’s steam vent and boiling springs.  It was a short side trip, and was well worth it.

Lassen steam vent
Creepy warning sign for the boiling springs

Being Sunday I was able to get a camp spot at the Warner Valley Campground without any issue.  When I went to pay the $6 site fee I found I only had a twenty left and asked a couple ladies who were drive in camping if they had change.  They graciously obliged and ask for help in setting up their canopy tent.  We chatted pleasantly and they offered me some fresh garden tomatoes for my dinner.  A little later in the early evening one of them stopped by and dropped of some fresh ground sausage, a small bag of hand picked cherries, a few fingerling potatoes and two farm fresh eggs from her own chickens.  It was going to be a great breakfast tomorrow morning!

Eggs, Potatoes, Sausage, and Cherries
( July 17 – July 23 )

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