PCT inspiration and eclipse

What inspired me to begin this trek along the Pacific Crest Trail? Let’s go back to fall 2023. I found myself along with another long time teacher at my school being drug through the mud by powers wanting to destroy the school. If you have read any news concerning education in the state of Oklahoma, you probably understand that education in Oklahoma is a war zone these days.

By mid-November my school’s president told the two of us that for the good of the school, it is best that we retire – since both of us had age and seniority such that we could get full retirement benefits.

So here I am, newly retired, but not all that old in my mind. “You’re as old as you feel,” the saying goes, and I have been doing a lot of hiking every summer and every Christmastime. The school president said that I should hike the Appalachian Trail, but I had already done that, albeit in 4 pieces, not all in one season. I have walked the Camino de Santiago French Route, the St Olaf Pilgrimage in Norway, the Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota along with hiking the length of Isle Royale and back, the Ouachita Trail in Arkansas 6 times, and the Ozark Highlands Trail twice. I mean the next logical excursion was the Pacific Crest Trail.

The problem was that permit applications for PCT NOBOs was November 15, just before the time that I saw my PCT opportunity arise. I looked through the PCT online literature, and I noticed this flip-flop suggestion to start at Walker Pass hiking south to Campo at the Mexican border, then to travel by bus or rail to Ashland, OR (at the very southern border of the state) hiking south to Walker Pass, then to travel by plane, rail, bus, and/or car to Harts Pass in Washington state. I would have to hike 30 miles north from Harts Pass to the Canadian border, then backtrack south past Harts Pass all the way to Ashland, OR, which would mark completion of my PCT flip-flop.

I conferred with one of the PCT volunteers, as they suggest. Since I am kind of old, age 63, I decided that 15 miles per day is a hefty goal for me, considering the weight I would have to carry. My stipulation was that I would be in the path of totality of the April 8 solar eclipse, exact location depending on weather reports, get back home in Norman, OK, then travel to Walker Pass. I chose a PCT starting date of April 11. 652 miles to Campo at 15 miles per day would put me in Oregon toward the end of May. The PCT volunteer said that I would encounter snow throughout northern CA and the Sierras. The suggested date for hiking in the Lake Tahoe region is after July 1 most years. Of course, at the time of this conversation, the snowfall was very low in the California mountains. It wasn’t until February that snowy hell broke loose.

Anyhow, at 15 miles per day, I would get back to Walker Pass and reach Harts Pass in mid to late August. With a month to hike through Washington and a month to hike through Oregon, that would put me in Ashland, OR toward the end of October. The volunteer said that the Oregon mountains in October are cold and the risk of hike-ending snowstorms are great. I said that I am no 20-something who can blast out 25 to 30 mile days. I will just have to do the best I can. I put in my permit application, and it was quickly accepted.

So my PCT hike was set. I had a lot of time before April, so I hiked three mid-length trails: (1) the Ozark Highlands Trail, including the new Buffalo River Trail section, at 253 miles. I took the road walk instead of the bushwhack section because it was snowing that day. (2) The Lone Star Hiking Trail in February, which I had eyed for awhile. It is 96 miles, no real hills or rocks to step over, but about 15 miles are road walks, including a treacherous 2.5 miles along Farm-to-Market Road 945. (3) My 210-mile version of the Ozark Trail in Missouri. I started at the Western Terminus, hiking north to the junction of the Middle Fork (of the Black River) Section and the Trace Creek Section, then east on the Taum Sauk section to my car on state road 21.

Soon it was April and time for the eclipse. The weather was backwards from long-term probabilities, with most clouds in Texas and clear skies in Maine. The Arkansas forecast was iffy and changing day to day. By Sunday April 7, middle to NE Arkansas looked like the best shot. I drove east out I-40 just past Russellville (which was touted as one of the big eclipse towns) to this little town called Atkins. I saw the lake on the map and figured that the north side would give good southern views.

At 7 AM I was the first one to this small municipal pier shown in the picture. I set up my binoculars and waited for more people to show up. Among the viewers were these older, well-to-do west-coast types who told me that they spent $500 for a Super-8 motel room in Russellville. They said that prices in Texas were over $1000. Anyway, by eclipse time the sky was beautiful, partly from my losing miserably at this dice game one of the women had us play while waiting for the eclipse. I said, “Unlucky at dice, lucky with sky conditions.” The eclipse was fantastic, everything I could hope for. I’m 4 for 4 with great skies at total solar eclipses.

Then I had to get home, so I could take my Greyhound Bus ride to California. Yes, I had checked out flights to Bakersfield, but they cost over $500 at best, and this was a month in advance. A Greyhound ticket was only $100. So I needed to be back in Norman by Tuesday morning.

I-40 was jammed but moving slowly west through Arkansas. I stupidly thought I could do better on the US highway, but getting through Clarksville, AR took forever, with stoplights that took their sweet time, and many more cars than usual. Back on I-40 it was moving nicely past Van Buren into Oklahoma. Then I caught up to the back end of the pack, and since they are perpetually digging up the roads in Oklahoma highway improvement, the traffic was literally stopped. I rolled along the shoulder to an exit and took a circuitous path north away from I-40, along US-64 to Bristow then west on the Turner Turnpike (I-44) to Oklahoma City and Norman. It took a long time and maybe it would have been better to wait out the road construction traffic jam, but I did see some of Oklahoma I hadn’t driven by before, so I was happy.

It was time to travel to the PCT. That will be the topic of my next installment.

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