Mosquitoes and Mild Waterborne Illness (PNT Pt. 13)
Back on trail, I wound my way up a climb along a barbed wire fence. The trail led me back through the woods a way before I came out onto paved road and then back onto a series of gravel roads through pastoral land. Plots of wood that still existed in the area had all been scorched fairly recently, a sign at the end of someone’s driveway issuing thanks to the local fire teams for saving the owner’s property. My audiobook came to an end at this point, and I went back to my sporadic listening of Lord of the Rings, at this point on Return of the King.
Trespassing is Bad
The gravel roads lent to fairly easy travel and a good consistent walking speed. I cut down the slope along a road that seemed to connect the route down an extremely long switchback. The road I took ended up dumping me at the cattle gate at the back of some random persons property, which is always a suspicious position to be in; too many “shoot first, ask questions later,” in Backwoods Everywhere America.
I took to shwhacking through the woods around the persons property and army crawling under their barbwire fence along the road. A brief reconnaissance showed a stellar, off-grid set up for a small modernly stylized log cabin, and no car in the drive. There is a vagrant part of me that notes every time I come across an empty house. Big, empty, vacation houses are extremely common in all the areas I travel too, and to me, that is a disgusting and dramatically underexploited resource. Not saying that these homes should be broken into, and beds slept in, no, I have no grit for that level of anarchy, nor do I condone it. However, who is going to be harmed if I sleep under the occasional porch?
The road out in front of this property turned to pavement, putting me on an alternate route to avoid a devastated burn area that was reportedly difficult to traverse due to deadfall. The slight shortcut down the slope left me several tenths of a mile up the way from a potentially more direct logging road, but I chose not to turn around. Stupidly, I was carrying only about two liters of water and was walking into what was unknowingly about a ten-mile dry stretch. That would not have been a huge deal if it had not been near the end of the day and I was scoping out a campsite out of view of the road. It drove me to push another nine miles, to still dry camp, for much of the road dropped steeply off into a ravine to my right.
Uh, Hey Kids
The next morning, I came across a decently flowing stream in the gully next to the road. Around the same time, a local middle school cross country team began depositing kids all along the road. They had separated into small groups to practice what might have been a sort of cross-country baton pass. After all the kids left me in the dust, I slid down the slope at the edge of the road to fill up on water. Not the clearest water I remember, but it did the job. Mosquitoes devoured me in the closed off shelter of the trees.
Later on that morning, I came out into actual farmed land, parceled out into colorful plots within the valley. As I came back out onto pavement from between the neat rows of trees lining the path, some of the houses above me were of a rustic Victorian style in nature, vines growing luxuriously up their sides and satellite dishes rusting haphazardly on rooftops. The short neighborhood road leading back into farmsteads, deposited me out onto a country highway. A sign at the intersection and a waypoint on Farout directed me a hundred yards up the road to the local church.
At the church bulletin board, I found notes from my friends Renee and Tim who are currently working on the paddle portion of their Pacific Northwest Circuit route. We had been so excited to pass each other, and I missed them by an hour. Inside, the church had microwaveable pizzas and cookies for the hikers, and I charged my phone and messaged Renee and Tim while I waited for my pizza to heat up. It turns out that they took the main route into the burn area instead of the alternate when leaving the church, and very quickly found themselves bushwhacking to the alternate. The margin was just enough for us to miss each other. They left some notes for me later on that I was bummed to miss, but other people told me about.
The Rolling Hills and Road Walks
There was a decent resupply of some weird, sweet, almond Nature Valley bar in the hiker box, and I stocked up before continuing on. A good portion of the midday stretch was exposed road walking, and despite the heat, the area was beautiful. The yellow grasses of the rolling hillsides were thick with wildflowers, and I admired the shift in terrain.
A woman in a USPS Jeep stopped me along the way and asked if I wanted a ride to the other side of the road walk. She told me she had given a girl a ride the year before. I turned her down, of course.
By this point I was getting annoyed at hearing about how so many people skip the road walking of the PNT. To each their own, but the church had a little fact sheet posted at the intersection that said four-hundred-thirty-eight miles of the PNT is road walking. A third of the trail is a significant portion to skip. Of course, not everyone obsessive compulsively thruhikes.
Bad, Bad, Bad Water Sources
The road eventually transitioned back to gravel, delving into a sparse dry wood. Cattle blocked my path and were very upset by my presence. I sat at the turn off back onto trail for a while and watched Tik Toks while I waited for the cows to move. They were freaked out because I had walked into the middle of the herd and once they skirted around past me, they bolted down the trail.
Part of my break was to contemplate when to grab water, and I stupidly waited to get on trail water instead of walking a fifth of a mile off trail to a potentially clear source. Someone from a few days before, had left a comment on a waypoint that the water on trail was good. Water comments had been pretty reliable for me so far, especially because it was early in the season and water sources were better than normal. However, on this particular occasion, I got shafted. Not only was the water barely flowing, but it had also been trampled to muck by cows, giving it a stagnant, and delectably yellow tannin tinge.
Tasted like shit.
My meanderings along the trail past that point saw very little elevation change. I was high up already, though the surrounding land was relatively flat around me. Several times the trail dipped into shallow depressions filled with foul, stagnant pools of water, black from tannins. The mosquitoes grew thick, and as tree cover reemerged, the tiny blood suckers became a burden on my sanity.
Rarely, do I feel the need to bring out my mosquito head net. I keep it for emergencies, because there is nothing that will ruin your day like swallowing mosquitoes every few minutes from the cloud attacking your head. In fact, it may have become a mild phobia of mine after several truly awful experiences where I was not so well prepared. Even with the head net, the fuckers were tenacious.
To keep them at bay I maintained a quick jog for the next three miles. The trail was flat and wide, with little more impediment than the occasional low branch or downed sapling. I kept up the jog until, after descending for a while, a slight pain in the mid-shin of my left leg caused me to slow. It felt like a tendon had swollen across it and a more casual stride seemed a safer approach. The mosquitoes, though still present, had decreased to a more manageable intensity, and having recovered from a pretty intense shin splint in that leg earlier in the year, I felt that I should not tempt fate.
The High Desert of Northeast Washington
As I continued to descend, I emerged from tree line to find myself in a high desert biome. It reminded me of New Mexico on the CDT, the overabundance of sagebrush making itself known by its unique scent and taste on the air. I can never decide if I like the smell. Though fresh and herbaceous, the scent can be a bit overpowering at times.
At some point I came to an overlook with a breathtaking view of the valley. The river flowing through the high desert left a wake of lush farmland along its banks. Bare mountains framed the bucolic scene, leaving an impression on me, of paintings of vineyards on terraced hills along the Mediterranean. Scenes I have not yet scene in real life.
I thought of camping there, though it seemed less than ideal. I had phone service, and yet, I had way too much day light left to stop. Little did I know that there were two hikers I would meet the next day camped down the hill from where I stood. A month traveling alone, and I almost missed them by a hair.
To the Highway
The trail eventually turned down a canyon leading into the valley. A stream sped along the flank of the trail, providing water, but renewing and exacerbating the scourge of mosquitoes. The tree line eventually broke, and I came out onto an open grassy hill, the trail, lined with tamarisk, switch-backing down to the edge of a young apple orchard far below. I had put off camping for too long, and now I would have to wander into town and hope for the best.
A gravel lot led out to Highway Ninety-Seven. Even in the open air of the road, the mosquitoes swarmed me, and I had to keep my head net on. I got long, mystified stares from people passing by in their cars.
No Hope for the Hopeless
The sun had set, and I wanted to be in town and in camp as soon as possible. I dreamt about dinner and a cold beverage, beer or otherwise. I wondered hopefully if I might find a house to stay at. In less than an hour, I crushed the next three miles, swinging my hips like a goddamn runway model as I speed walked up the road.
When I actually reached town, it was about nine o’clock and to my dismay almost everything was closed. From what I saw, there was very little to be open in the first place. Upon further inspection, I did not even see a gas station convenience store that I could grab a snack and a soda from.
Several things were running through my head as I entered town. On top of my legs feeling absolutely destroyed from crushing thirty miles, some jogged, and most of it on pavement, I was feeling the perpetual tiredness of my endurance trek. Signs posted on the main stretch indicated the campground to be almost a mile away. I cursed myself for not heading back along the dike that I spied on the town side of the bridge over the river. It looked like it had strong potential for a stealth campsite, but I had passed it up in favor of making it to town. There was no logic behind the sentiment except that I did not want to bother myself with what was potentially a very mediocre place to sleep. That may sound completely reasonable, but if I have learned anything, it is that you should take what you can get when it comes to a potential place to sleep.
A party was going on, up on the third-floor balcony of the apartment building at the beginning of the downtown stretch of the main street as I came into Oroville. A woman from up on the balcony catcalled me and waved. I waved back and smiled, feeling a bit like a badass after my day. My ego became easily overinflated when coming into contact with non-hikers, people living their everyday lives, especially after being alone for so long. I considered calling up to the people on the balcony, perhaps to request a place to stay, or at the very least a cigarette. At the moment, however, I was feeling tired, not brave, and I dismissed the thought before of going in search of whatever it is I thought I was looking for.
Utterly exhausted, I saw signs indicating that the campground was about a mile walk from the main street. Too far.
Vending Machines are Inherently Good
I walked up and down the street trying to figure out where I wanted to go, before returning to the grocery store, which, though it was closed, had two vending machines with off brand sodas for fifty cents. I put in a dollar fifty and drowned myself in three root beers while scrolling through Tik Toks and leaning up against a pillar.
I had been having excruciating stomach cramps for the last six or seven miles into town, compounding my ills, and the soda eased the pain. I think I accidentally messed up while filtering the gross cow water from earlier in the day and had gotten a mild water borne illness. It has happened before, but usually because I was being a big dummy and not filtering my water, or sometimes when my o-ring pops out of my filter and dirty water dribbles down into my bottle on accident. I think the latter had happened on this occasion. It is an awful sensation, when you are crushing miles, and then all of a sudden, your stomach twists, and every step feels like a knife to the gut. It comes in waves, and all you can do is lie down, or endure it and continue.
People are Afraid of Me
A woman with a large reusable grocery bag came to the vending machine while I was sitting there. She saw me and got a soda, but quickly hurried away, visibly frightened of me. I did not blame her. What the fuck was I doing sitting in front of a grocery store, dirty and with a backpack as it approached eleven o’clock at night.
Go Ahead and Find a Place to Sleep
Checking Farout, I eventually came to a decision. The trail turned out of town and skirted the river only a few tenths of a mile further along. I decided to try my luck and pick a spot to camp just outside of town.
Hobbling down a side road to the edge of town I passed a packed RV park and then came to a gravel lot and trailhead. A wall ran along the edge of the field to my right and a tree topped the wall, low hanging branches caressing the tops of the tall dry grasses growing beneath. I made my way over to it by the light of my headlamp and found an alcove, grasses packed flat, and only a small patch of poison ivy growing in the corner. It was perfectly hidden by the tall grasses, or so I always tend to hope in the dark, and I set up my tent for the night.
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