Day 81 – poison oak hell

June 23, 2016

Dirt road (mile 1458) to bushcamp (mile 1480.7)

Miles: 22.7

We both woke up numerous times last night. The moon was so bright we could have hiked without a headlamps.

We had made a plan with Sue to meet her at Ash Campground at 10 am. We were hiking at 6 am, hoping to cover the 10.4 miles and be there on time.

The trail was downhill the whole way. The air was cool and refreshing – so much in fact that Andy considered wearing his fleece, an item of clothing we haven’t touched in days!

After 4 miles we hit poison oak. We had heard this section was known for having bad poison oak but we weren’t sure where it would begin. It was difficult to differentiate the 3 leafed beast from the many other green and vibrant looking plants.

Laurie kept talking to the plants in a similar fashion to the children’s book ‘Are you my mother?’

“Are you poison oak?”

“Are you poison oak?”

Finally we saw the familiar non symmetrical three leaved plant. Unfortunately it was common alongside the trail. We did our best to step around but sometimes we didn’t seem them until it was too late.

Sue met us eight tenths of a mile from Ash campground. Despite the warning that there would be poison oak on the trail she wanted to hike. It was a pleasant surprise to see a familiar hat bobbing along the trail towards us.

We hiked down together and shared an early lunch. Sue provided salad, blueberries, an apple and flavored nuts. Everything tasted wonderful- particularly the fruit. Thanks Sue!

With our early start and downhill trail we managed our second 10 miles before 10 am. The early mornings are hard initially but always worth it!

The three of us hiked north together after an hour of snacking. We crossed the milky looking McCloud River on a nice wooden bridge.

Since jumping back on the trail in Belden the river crossings have been easy. Streams and creeks are appropriately named and we only rarely get our feet wet.

Whenever we cross something on a bridge we look at one another through smiles and say “We could cross that if we needed to.” We have seen nothing like the Sierra “streams” and we hope this continues all the way to Canada.

Sue hiked 2.7 miles with us. The trail was well groomed and had less poison oak than the southern portion. We cruised over small ups and downs winding our way through the forest. The vibrant green plants offered a nice contrast to the brown bark and deep brown soil.

We ran into a couple that Sue had befriended the previous night. They had seen 2 cubs and a mama bear 10 minutes up the trail in the direction we were heading. Unfortunately we were not so lucky.

We hugged goodbye and Sue returned the way we had come. She will meet us tomorrow night for one last night together before heading home.

It has been wonderful sharing the trail experience with her and seeing her so happy. Trail life is magical, no matter how long you live it.

From there we climbed. It was hot and the trail traveled in and out of the sun. The wind was minimal and we were drenched in sweat by the end. We took a break near the top to cool off. The mosquitoes were around but not too bothersome.

Laurie was too hot to eat, Andy was distracted by editing a blog post. After about 30 minutes we walked on. The break helped us cool down and the heat didn’t feel as intense. The trail was mostly in the shade which helped as well.

About an hour later we got to a dirt road and the top of the climb. We took another break. Laurie fell asleep while Andy worked on the last few days’ pictures.

We walked on another mile before the real fun began. The poison oak got thicker, taller and more frequent. Our pace slowed, a lot!

It was mentally exhausting to scan the trail for poison oak amongst the other foliage.

We resorted to our previous strategy of calling out “left” or “right” but that quickly morphed into “both” and “shit, it’s everywhere!”

The nasty plant was shoulder tall in places, sticking out over the trail and hidden at ankle height while other large bushes covered the trail.

It was inevitable, the oils were on our clothes.

We walked on, mumbling to ourselves and hoping this wouldn’t last 20 more miles to Castle Crags State Park.

Luckily it didn’t.

We passed 2 southbound section hikers in their tents. They had started in Crater Lake a month ago and reassured us that the poison oak wasn’t bad further up the trail. This was a huge relief!

We chatted a bit and continued on. Our potential tentsite lay only a mile ahead.

We got to camp around 7 pm. The spot was small and slanted but we were tired and ready to settle in for the night.

We stripped out of our clothes and turned them inside out. We ate dinner and then a second dinner. The mosquitoes swarmed and buzzed outside our tent but then disappeared around 9:30 pm, just in time to brush our teeth.

We itched, not sure if from mosquito bites, poison oak irritation or our imagination. We suppose time will tell.

Tonight we are grateful for crisp and juicy apples and well groomed trails.

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We tried to take a selfie but Laurie fell asleep

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Going, going, going, gone

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