Day 77: Fording the Klamath River on my neo-air

July 10
Mileage 29
Mile 1648 to mile 1677

I sleep well, waking in and out of dreams, sometimes too alert- is it time to hike? Is it time to hike? In the morning it’s overcast, the air is cool, I eat some jerky (so salty! Why is hiker food always so salty or sweet. I want to wet, bland food of day hikers- give me a good bowl of beans and rice) and plod through the leafy, humid forest, eight miles downhill to the campground where everyone camped last night. It’s a fast eight miles of cruiser trail- Guthrie and I get there at 8:30. Still, last night it would’ve felt like a nightmare. What a difference a night of sleep makes!

After the campground we start the six mile roadwalk to the Seiad valley. It’s hot already, muggy, and the pavement is baking in the sun. The roadside is tangled with dusty blackberry brambles, not yet ripe, although Guthrie and I do find a few good ones. I’m sweating buckets, but we have a plan- we’re not going to do the whole road walk. We’re going to ford the Klamath river instead.

The Klamath river is wide, and brown, and slow, and right where the road meets it, if one were to cross the water, one could make one’s way directly to the Seiad valley cafe. But instead the road turns right for two miles, crosses a bridge, and goes back along the other side for two miles. That is the official PCT, and that’s what I hiked last year.

Fuck that.

“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” says Guthrie. We’re standing on the road, looking down a steep embankment choked with poison oak, trying to figure out how to get down to where the river is. “I think I might just do the roadwalk.”

“Come on Guthrie,” I say. “Where’s your sense of adventure. It’ll be fun!” I squat on my heels and begin to slide my way down the embankment, past the “No Trespassing” signs stapled to the trees. I slip in the dirt and land on my butt. Some poison oak slaps me in the face.

“It’s like glissading in the dirt!” I call to Guthrie, who has begun to reluctantly make his way after me.

Once we reach the bottom we push our way through some bushes and then we’re standing in tall grasses next to the river, staring at the deep, slow brown water. We blow up our neo-airs and I put my pack inside the trash compactor bag I carry to keep the contents dry in rainstorms, knotting it tightly shut. Guthrie has no such high-tech piece of gear, so he wraps his pack in his tent fly and twists it closed.

“Ladies first,” he says.

I wade into the river, wearing my shoes and everything. It’s amazing, we’ll remark later, how all-terrain our outfits are- the outfit we use to posthole for hours over mountain passes in the snow works just as well to swim across a deep river in high summer. All you need, it turns out, is a synthetic t-shirt, a hat, a pair of trail runners, and the shortest running shorts you can find. Bam! You’re ready.

The river is shallow for a couple of steps, and then it starts to rise. I put my pack in its plastic bag on my neo-air, and push it in front of me. And then, boom! The river bottom falls out from under me. The water is cool, but not cold. It feels refreshing and awesome and has that special river smell. I hold my pack on my neo-air, and try to kick. But the current is strong, and I’m not really getting anywhere. I turn so my back is facing the bank I’m headed to, hold the neo-air with the pack on it in front of me, and kick that way. I’m kicking as hard as I can and even though it seems like I’m not moving, if I look at the far bank I can see I’m getting closer. The river is wide, though. How far down will the current take me before I make it?

“Can you touch?” calls Guthrie, as he pushes his own neo-air into the water.

“No,” I say. I want to tell him to put his neo-air how I have mine, but I’m too busy trying to kick. Then Guthrie’s all the way in the water, and he has his neo-air in one hand, his pack in the other.

“My pack’s filling with water,” says Guthrie. I’m close the the opposite bank and I watch as he tries to kick while holding his pack above the water, his other arm slung over the neo-air. He’s not getting anywhere.

“I’ll rescue you!” I say. I throw my pack onto the bank and push back into the water. Just before I reach Guthrie he finds the shallows and stands up, gripping his pack with both hands.

“This pack is so heavy,” he says. “It’s completely full of water.”

“Yeah I guess that tent fly didn’t work so well,” I say.

“No,” says Guthrie.

“I guess that was kind of sketchy,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Guthrie.

“But fun!” I say, and we high-five.

Getting up the bank is another story. The shallow water is a quagmire of green sea-monsters and sucking mud, and the bank itself is a wild tangle of blackberry brambles. I climb out and toss my pack over, and then my neo-air, hoping that it doesn’t catch on a bramble and pop. Then I pick my way as carefully as I can through the brambles, swearing as they catch on my skin. Buy the time I reach the other side of the brambles, my legs are running in trickles of blood.

Guthrie has his stuff yard-saled out on the hot sand, drying it in the sun. He picks up his pack and tips it, releasing a gallon of water. My pack and it’s contents are dry- trash compactor bags are awesome! Best piece of gear ever. My shoes, however, are full of water. Squish, squish, squish.

Ten minutes later Guthrie pronounces his stuff “dry enough” and we set out in what we know is the general direction of the road, and the Seiad Valley cafe- the only problem being that between here and there is a lot of hot sand, a lot of tangled brush, and a good deal of blackberry brambles. Oh, and private land. It’s all private land.

We follow a bunch of animal trails to their dead-ends in the blackberry brambles before I think to look at my maps, and then I see that to our right a little ways is what might be a sort of road. We slog through the sand, pulling stickers from our socks and blackberry thorns from our legs, and soon find ourselves on a dirt drive, which we follow towards the road. There are houses on either side but we seem to be in the clear… until the dirt drive ends in goats.

It’s a road, and it’s full of goats. Baby goats, adult goats, goats standing there staring at us or sprawled on their sides in the sun. Either end of the road is gated off to keep in the goats, and there is no way through anywhere. To our left is a big red farmhouse, and we realize that to get to the road we’re going to have to walk around this farmhouse- basically through the yard, past the side door and up the driveway. We do this, just sort of pretending that we belong there. Inside there is a dog barking, and barking, and barking at us.

We reach the Seiad Valley store/post office/cafe at 10:40 a.m. Our friends are on the lawn in front of the RV park, sprawled out in bits of shade, half-drunk beers slowly growing warm on the grass next to them.

It’s eleventy billion degrees.

Guthrie and I sit in the tiny cafe and plug in our phones.

“Can you make gluten-free pancakes?” I ask the woman working there, remembering my epic breakfast from last year.

“Let me see if I have the mix,” she says. She hands Guthrie a giant plastic tumbler of Dr. Pepper with ice in it. I stare at my phone. I feel weak from hunger, or something- I noticed after getting out of the river that I felt dizzy, like how you feel when you get blood drawn. I’m about to get my period, and I think I might be a little anemic this month- it would make sense after the stomach bug I’ve been dealing with. It seems to be running its course, but I guess a couple weeks of solid diarrhea will have its effects. I think about my trail diet, and wonder how I could make it better. I wish the good backpacking food wasn’t so goddam expensive. In Ashland I’ll make my boxes for Oregon and Washington- I wonder what sort of super nutritious stuff I can afford to put in there.

They do have the gluten-free mix. Gluten-free pancakes, my god. Two tall fluffy pancakes with bacon and eggs on top. When does this ever happen? Never, that is the answer. Never is when it happens. I dig into all of it and wolf it down, not really tasting anything. Afterward I wish I’d gotten a burger. Beef, that is what I need. But there’s always this afternoon.

I pay $3 at the RV park to take a shower, even though I just went swimming in the river. It feels good and then I wilt on the lawn with my friends, putting my hat over my face and waiting for the others to give the word to hike out. It’s literally 107 degrees, and even thinking makes me sweat. Just before the cafe closes at 2 I order a burger to go, and I buy a sack of spinach and a bell pepper at the little store. I sit on the lawn and eat these things and then I wilt again, dozing in and out, listening to the others shriek as they run through the sprinklers. At last I hear rustling and look up- Notachance is stuffing her things away. Which means that we have approximately thirty seconds to get ready before she’s headed to the trail. It’s four p.m. Notachance, Mack and Twinkle head out, followed ten minutes later by myself, Jr. Sr. and Woody. Guthrie is leisurely drinking a carton of chocolate milk, like a boss. Guthrie doesn’t give a fuck. Guthrie is zen.

We’re taking the road alternate instead of the trail out of Seiad valley, as it had more water and shade and avoids a large burn. It meets up with the trial after fifteen miles, and is about the same length. Woody and I clack furiously down the hot, baking road, and after a time we catch up with Notachance, Mack and Twinkle. The group of us complain about the heat until the road becomes shaded by the cool, dark forest, and then we remark about how nice it is. There’s a creek running nearby, and we cross various other little water sources as we climb, and climb, and climb. There’s even a small waterfall, like a magical little grotto next to the road. We reach the saddle right at dusk, and drop our things on the dusty ground beneath the trees. A quarter-mile walk to the spring (where I saw a massive rattlesnake last year!) and then I spread out my things to cowboy camp- this ridge is balmy, and warm, and mercifully free of mosquitoes. I feel pumped from the evening hiking but awesome overall- I feel the ants crawl in and out of my bag as I wait for sleep, and somewhere way off an owl is hooting.

Photos on instagram.

2 thoughts on “Day 77: Fording the Klamath River on my neo-air

  1. Sounds like a full, rich day! I can’t believe how focused you guys are.
    Yes, protein is good!
    Be safe…

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