We split an Uber with two other hikers and were deposited in front of a casino hotel. The quiet serenity of the mountains and trees was suddenly replaced with bright lights, billboards, and the sounds of people and construction. Each crosswalk had twice as many people as we would see in an entire day and our filthy clothes and dirt covered faces caused us to stick out rather than blend in.
There were all-you-can-eat sushi places, hot tubs, shops, and casinos. We ate and rested and ate some more. We checked out the lake, one of the deepest in the world, and ran our errands. Before we knew it our side trip into South Lake Tahoe was over and it was back to the hiking.
A Greener Trail
The next 10 or so miles would mark the last terrain that reminisced of the Sierra. The trail weaved through granite and trees as the distant views steadily became greener and greener. We passed Aloha Lake, a rather gray and uninspiring body of water surrounded by nothing but rocks. While still with it’s own challenges, the terrain eased up from the high difficulty level present in the last several weeks.
As the granite faded out, we were rewarded with lush forests. For the first time since we started this hike, we began to have days almost entirely under the canopy of the trees.
Some sections would be bright and more open, letting the sun shine all the way down to the forest floor. But then we would walk into a section so dense it would feel like we were suddenly indoors, the massive trees completely blocking the sunlight.
Birds chirped and bugs buzzed about. Deer grazed plentifully and leaves whispered together as they rustled under the blow of a slight breeze. It was wonderful and heart warming as the environment truly felt alive.
One town, two photos
After days of meandering through the forest, we finally reached Sierra City. While the official end of the Sierra section is up for debate, many hikers consider this to be it. South Lake Tahoe marks the end of the Sierra ‘map’ for PCT hikers, and the geological end of the mountain range wouldn’t be for another few days. But the hike into Sierra City, with it’s forests and phasing out of the granite, really starts to feel like the next section. More importantly, we descended down below 8000 feet of elevation, never again to reach such heights for the rest of the trip.
With the hardest part behind us, our morale was up from pain and difficulty that was beating us down in the section prior. That night we stayed in an amazing little hotel in Sierra City. We had our own private deck overlooking mountains and forests filled with not just pine trees, but beautiful oaks, maples, and aspens.
The ‘city’ was extremely small. So small that I was able to capture nearly the entire place in just two photographs. We had dinner at the one and only place that was open on a Tuesday night. It was taco night, and while the food left something to be desired, the atmosphere provided for a lovely and relaxing evening.
We ate outside in a small garden, and running through it’s center was a natural waterfall surrounded by green plants. There was live music playing in the corner. Dennis wasn’t a fan of their song choice and kept complaining that they should play something like American Pie. And by a stroke of fate, they played that very song as their finale.
After dinner we went for a short walk to check out the small residential section of the town. We passed by some locals drinking on their porch and they offered us a cold beer. We politely declined but got into chatting. As the conversation wandered it’s way between talking about the trail and life living out in a place this remote, it eventually reached an unexpected topic-big foot. They began to tell us their stories of the times they had seen Sasquatch. At first we thought they were joking, but the more they elaborated we realized they were dead serious. I’ll be keeping me eyes open and I’ll let everyone know if I have any sightings.
Slithers and pitters
Leaving Sierra City was a long, sun-exposed climb. We hiked up and up for hours under the heat of the sun. At one point I saw a baby rattlesnake slither between the rocks on the trail, a definitive sign that we were out of the Sierra Nevada.
For the next several days we cut through lush forests dotted with occasional views of rolling hills barreling into the distance. At a few points we could make out Mount Lassen on the horizon- a volcanic peak we would be hiking by in the coming weeks.
On one day it began to rain, and it was wonderful. Day after day of perfectly blue skies had begun to wear on me. I missed the summer storms of New England and the coolness they provided. It was only a drizzle but it felt refreshing. The sound of the pitter patter on the leaves in the forest was music to my ears.
Our next stop was in the small town of Belden, population 22. My mom and my sister were flying out and planning on meeting us there for a visit before continuing on a road trip of their own. After miles and miles of hiking we finally reached Belden, and then my jaw dropped in confusion.
Psychedelic Help – 5¢
I had been expecting a quaint little town not unlike the others that we had walked through. A general store, maybe a place to get a hamburger, and a small handful of locals who seem to run everything.
Instead I walked first into a tent city. And these were not other hikers who were camping out, these were giant tents, the kinds that have multiple rooms with zippered doors to get between them.
Then I saw the first of what would be many characters I would encounter- a man walking around in his underwear with a giant greenish gray afro. Moments later another guy wearing red polka dot short shorts, a Green Bay Packers Jersey, pink flamingo arm floaties, and the kind of hat you’d see an elderly woman wear while gardening. Another guy walked by in a shirt reading “This is my human costume, I’m actually a duck.” A women was placing pieces of paper with rocks on top of them throughout the parking lot. There was a large sign that read “How F—– up are you?” with a series of jokes that I did not understand. I could hear the muffled sounds of dance music somewhere in the distance.
As I walked through this unexpected place, I was on the phone with my girlfriend. I was describing what I was seeing and she said it sounded like I could’ve been making everything up. All the while the constant sound of electronic music boomed from somewhere in the trees.
Upon further investigation we found out we were at an event literally called “Camp Fu#* it up.” I tried googling it to see if I could learn more, but there seemed to be nothing about it. If anyone else can tell me what it is, please do so.
We followed the music into the trees to find a DJ booth on a beach by the river. Dozens of people partied about in an unending assortment of outfits. A sign read “psychedelic help – 5¢.” The most prominent part of it all though was the man made island in the middle of the river.
There was what appeared to be part of a playground floating in the river, with people climbing all over it. Surrounding it was a bunch of blow up rafts, in the shapes of ducks, flamingos, and more. Other partygoers were carrying coolers full of drinks out into the lake for their islander counterparts.
Homecoming (to me)
My mom and my sister met up with us here. They were just as shocked and confused as Dennis and I were as to what was going on. A women came up to Dennis and told him she was going to be right back with a bag of champagne for him. That was our cue to leave. We got in the rental car and headed to the Airbnb my mom had rented out.
Seeing my family gave me a sudden clarity into the mental exhaustion that had become commonplace while thru hiking. I realized I was not my normal self only through the the contrast with people whom I was close to and whom had not been on the trail.
It took well into the next day to start to feel like myself again. It was great getting to see my family and spend some quality time catching up and hanging out. We cooked fresh meals together which was a major treat. Dennis and I had been eating nothing but rehydrated camp food and restaurant meals for months.
The visit was short but sweet. My mom and my sister dropped us back off in Belden before heading out to go see the sights of California themselves. Being a couple days later, “Camp Fu#* it up” seemed to have dispersed and Belden had transformed into the quaint town I had expected. Well, except for the guy with a raccoon tail who tried to sell shrooms to Dennis.