Because the train we caught left so early in the morning (4:56am) we had no choice but to get to Dunsmuir and stay there for the night. We got in to incredible heat and hid in the shade of a tree for a while figuring out where to stay. There were only three hotels within “walking distance” and one of them was right by the train station and right by our current location. Kyle went off to investigate while I stayed put. He came back to report that it was a funky old place, with no AC and no TV, but the rooms were cheap and they had WiFi. I had called one of the other hotels, which had no room, and the last hotel wasn’t picking up their phone, so we decided to go for it. The hotel was indeed funky. And creepy. There were at least four floors of rooms, and yet we seemed to be the only people staying there. The long hallways were empty and lights flickered. It was one of those hotels that boasts a lot of history and a very persnickety proprietress. Ultimately it became clear that her flaw as a hotel owner was that she cared more about the hotel than she did about her guests or their experience, but we didn’t know that yet. She put us in a north facing room, which she claimed would be cooler, and promptly informed us a that all the furniture were antiques so if we could not put any of our stuff on them that would be great. Packs on the ground please! While I found this a little strange I thought nothing of it, she probably had just had bad experiences with hikers before. Although it was hot, it was cooler inside than out and we had a ceiling fan. We settled into binge watching Orange is the New Black to pass the time but soon began to discover tiny tiny ants sneaking onto the bed. We only found a couple of them so we just flicked them off and went back to life on the iPad. We deal with a lot of bugs so it didn’t seem like a big deal.
Around lunch time we were starving so Kyle walked down the street to get us some pizza and brought it back to the room. After we were done eating we left the empty boxes on the night stand and that was when all hell broke loose. In an hour the whole nightstand and Kyle’s side of the bed were swarming with sugar ants. I am the kind of person that despises complainers and people who make a fuss but after trying to clean them up and discovering them all over the carpet as well we finally decided this actually warranted saying something. So I awkwardly informed the owner that there were ants in our room and asked if we could move elsewhere. We were moved into a different room with a more “Asian” theme that was about ten degrees hotter. When I say “Asian” theme I simply mean there were knick-knacks from a mishmash of Asian countries littering the room and the kitchen was filled with soy sauce saucers and chop sticks. So yeah. We weren’t sure if it was an upgrade or not. Our last room had been rather noncommittal in terms of themed antiques and it had had ants. So this was probably better.
Once it began to cool down we headed to the grocery store to get food for the train the next day (we suspected train food would be just as pricey as airplane food and decided to buy our own). When we returned to the hotel to deposit our food in the fridge before going to dinner we were cornered by the owner who informed us that the reason there were ants in our room was because we had eaten pizza in our room. She then asked us to make sure we didn’t have any food in our new room… I was just a tinsy bit flabbergasted. I have never wanted to write a Yelp review before, but you can bet I wanted to now. So it was OUR fault that there are ants in your hotel because we ate food in the hotel room, huh? Kyle and I bitched about it all through dinner, and were overjoyed to find that when we returned to our room that night, tiny tiny flying bugs had decided to join us. We might as well have been sleeping outside. But there was no point in saying anything, it was obvious the whole hotel had bugs, and it was probably our fault anyway, right? We hardly slept anyway because even though it had cooled off outside at that point, none of the cool air seemed to want to come through our wide open windows, and I couldn’t blame it. Kyle and I sweated it out for a couple of hours of restless sleep, the sleep of a person who is sleeping in a sauna. I woke up dehydrated and ready to get the heck out of California.
Even though our fancy new Amtrak app said the train was going to be an hour late we were desperate to get out of the hotel so we headed down to the tracks anyway. It felt good to be sitting in the cool morning air. We checked the temperature, 80 degrees, hotter than it would be all week at Snoqualmie Pass where we would be getting back on the trail. We high-fived.
Now we are experiencing train time. It is lovely to ride via train. The country side is gorgeous and whizzing by, making me very excited to get to walk back through it on our way South, seeing everything again from a different angle and speed. When we boarded we immediately spotted evidence of another thru hiker on board, in the luggage racks sat a beat up Osprey Exxos with smart water bottles stuffed into its mesh pockets. We have yet to identify the hiker, but we haven’t left our seats much. We have been sleeping and making sandwiches and writing blog posts, as we zoom North to cooler weather. We continue to search for that ever elusive “hike your own hike” and we continue to strive to do this in a way that works for us. I think this decision to set aside stubbornness and embrace opportunities and flexibility, shows more than anything how many miles we do have under our belts, how much we have learned since we started hiking the AT four years ago, and how much older we are on this trail. Also, we have realized that if there is some sort of a disaster and the train is stopped for days, maybe longer, we are probably the most equipped people riding. We have two food drops with us, about two pounds of trail mix Marla made us, and all of our train food which could realistically feed a small family for a week. We also have our stove, fuel, and obviously all of our backpacking gear. As we eye our train riding companions suspiciously we have decided to keep quiet about our provisions, survival is at stake after all. And that’s the quick of it, this is an adventure.
If I am honest with myself this thru hike is much much harder than the AT, and I really can’t quite figure out why. I still think the AT’s trail itself was more difficult, the weather was worse, the scenery was unimpressive, especially compared to this. But somehow, mentally, this is harder. We have had so many good times, seen so many good things, laughed and cried and had so much fun, but also we are on a stricter schedule, we are pushing ourselves so hard every day to fulfill our goals, we are working, it seems like. Back in the desert we had this interesting conversation with two other hikers, Gwen and Scrambler, about why they are out here and they both independently said that they were looking for adventure. I thought about that a lot after they said it. Of course I wanted adventure, but for me the PCT didn’t seem like an adventure at all. We knew so much about where we were going, what it was going to be like, and so many people were ahead of us and behind us, doing the same thing that we were. There is the daily unknown, at any moment everything could change with the twist of an ankle or the magic from an angel, but there was also the daily known. I have to admit that for some reason, even though I was liking Northern California more than the rest of California, things were starting to feel a little strained, a little forced, a little drab, a little blah. In the beginning I had felt some sense of adventure, but recently the trail had lost any adventure that had been there before. It was a challenge filled with beauty but it didn’t feel spontaneous or wild or ours. Everywhere you looked other people were doing it too. But this decision. This feels like something good. This feels like I am Frodo Baggins or Charles Darwin or Neal Armstrong or some other white guy who went on a crazy adventure. Who knows what we will find up there in Washington. Maybe it will be much of the same, or maybe it will be completely different. The bottom line is this feels like something Kyle and I are doing. We are striking out on our own path. There is a deeper beating in my heart as we head North, a tingling in my limbs, excited to explore a new part of the trail, and a happiness in my soul as I look into the eyes of my partner and know that this is what we both want.
And I wonder what you readers will be feeling. Are you also excited to suddenly be transported to such a different place? To be ripped out of a constant northern progression and thrust into a wild search for cooler weather and refreshed spirits? Does this feel like a real adventure to you? Are you shocked that someone who takes so much pleasure in planning and goal setting can suddenly throw all that to the wind and jump a train to somewhere new? Hopefully you are as excited as we are, because this is happening. Even now we are somewhere in northern Oregon, heading home, only to leave it again for something incredible.