Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day 24: Willow Creek to Near Highway 173

Back on the trail, we began to notice new tracks in the dirt. Yesterday we spotted the curvy tracks of a slithering snake among the many tire treads and shoe prints pressed into the soft dirt. Today we recognized the arrow shaped tracks of a bird, and the soft pad prints of what appeared to be a bobcat.

Hiking the PCT and spending the last three weeks in the wilderness seems to have heightened our senses, making us hyper-aware of the natural world around us. We notice things we might not have noticed before: the cone left at the top of a tall pine tree, a jay perched in a distant oak tree, the beating of a tiny hummingbird's wings. But we learned this morning that this heightened sensitivity does not extend beyond the natural world when, lost in the plants and animals surrounding us, neither one of us noticed a black SUV driving up the road until it was almost upon us. And we learned this afternoon that we can shut out the natural world as well.

It was late afternoon. Sierra and I were both listening to audio books to distract ourselves from the intense desert heat. Suddenly, I heard a strange, rattling sound in the background of my story. Pulling out my headphones, I froze in place, grabbing Sierra's shoulder. The rattling was coming from a nearby bush, right next to the trail.

"Back up, back up, back up!" I whispered loudly, as I watched a fat rattlesnake retreat farther into the bush. We slowly backed up the trail. The rattling continued. We backed up again. The rattling continued. We backed up a third time. The eerie rattling noise finally stopped.

After a few moments, I tentatively moved one foot back down the trail. The snake rattled furiously. We were stuck.

Retreating again, Sierra noticed a small, brush-filled ravine just below the trail and suggested we use it to circumvent the snake-guarded bush next to the trail. Hesitant due to the poison oak in the ravine, I reluctantly agreed. As Sierra pointed out, as between a rattlesnake bite or poison oak, poison oak was definitely the lesser of the two evils.

Back on the trail, safely beyond the rattlesnake, we once again began to wonder about the accuracy of the Data Book. Certain landmarks, such as Jeep roads, simply did not exist. Or perhaps the trail had since been rerouted to avoid them. But without those markers to go by, it was difficult to gauge our progress.

It also proved difficult to find a campsite. The trail traversed across the side of a steep, brushy hill, with no flat, open spaces for camping. Finally, just before we reached Highway 173 again, we found a small, flattish place to camp. We are now camped "cowgirl" style, underneath the stars.

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