Day 57: Getting hitched in Reno… (NERO)

Day: Monday, July 25th 2016 – Wednesday, July 27th 2016

Miles: 1190.75 – 1195.3

Remote Site 1190.75 – Sierra City, CA 1195.3
“BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP”. An alarm clock. That most hated of time reminders. Sunrises and sunsets have been my timekeepers for so long that I’ve never needed an alarm clock on the trail, but today would necessitate an early start so a necessary evil was introduced to my routine. My 4:45AM start time was enough to get me on the road early for a Sierra City arrival and cleanup before hitting the roads for an epic hitch all the way to Truckee or to Reno (whatever I could get to).

As I descended the river canyon further from my camp site, the intermittent views of the Sierra Buttes was incredible – like a closeup view of Mordor after the fires subsided. An epic and impossible structure of rock that seemed impossible on first view. Entirely out of place wth surroundings. The trail meandered through deciduous forests, a novelty on the Pacific Crest Trail at this point. It eventually reaches its low point at a crossing of the Merced River at an incredible series of falls and pots. The rock hewn into perfectly smooth pools by previous floods

As I reached Sierra City early (assisted with a ride from the trail to the local store), I was able to shower at the local welcome center and remove any of my gear that wasn’t fly-friendly – such as my gas canister and pocket knife. The morning was going splendidly well.

After a quick breakfast of yogurt and oatmeal at the store, I hit the road, getting a ride to the busy crossroads at Bassetts Station within minutes. Sierra City was a friendly little place and very much aware of the PCT and hikers tramping through its little center. As I got to Bassets Station at 9:30AM I was feeling pretty good about the day. I had 14hrs to get 80miles to Reno, this was entirely possible!

Roll forward 3 hours. It’s 12:30PM. I’m still at Bassets Station. Things are not going so well after all. Very few cars are traveling in the direction Im going in although many are traveling north. My little sign with the words “TRUCKEE” not catching the attention of any willing driver. At this point things are feeling a little stressful for me. Every single car passes by and turns off right in front of my eyes aiming north (I want to go east).

Around 12:45PM and a red Toyota Prius I had seen passing by before, pulls up. It’s a senior gentleman. He opens his window: “Son. I hitched a few times back in my day and I can tell you this is a bad place to hitch, you going to Reno I’m guessing, I’m going to Graegles up north by highway 70, you should come with me and try there”. So it was, that I met Henry. Henry was a retired schoolteacher from San Francisco and spent the summer in the mountains. We had a fun and engaging conversation as we drove to a town I had never heard of, in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go, and with a lose idea that this couldn’t be any worse than where I was before!

I arrived to the Highway 70 crossing near Graegles and bid farewell to the hugely interesting gent that helped me on my way, and literally hopped into another hitch within a minute, this time driven by Sonny who had completed the PCT in the 90’s. Sonny would take me to Portola, CA. At this point I am so far off the grid that when I managed to find some limited cell service, my first reaction was to try and figure out where the heck I was. Sonnys advice was straight and to the point: refuse all rides going anywhere other than Reno directly, and hold your ground that one will come. Otherwise you’ll get stuck in a place you’ll never get a hitch. Portola was a small busy town. I got out of Sonnys car and decided to hop into a coffee shop nearby for a quick Espresso and restroom break. At this point I was 60 miles from Reno (having gone an indirect route albeit an increasingly more successful one).

Around ten minutes of standing in Portola with a new sign and a smiley face saying “RENO”, and I was riding along be with Dion, an industrious thirty something cutting his teeth in the driveway paining business. Times were busy and to my luck, he was going to Home Depot in Reno, close to the airport and the REI I hoped to drop into if I got a chance. I literally fell on my feet and lucked out with a ride straight to where I needed to go! Dion was a fun guy and relayed many stories about gold panning in the northern California rivers, his life in the area and once again provided a great insight into life along the PCT. He obliged me hugely by dropping me right to the REI about 3 blocks from Reno airport. It was 4PM and I had 7.5 hours to spare before my flight – success!

I completed my business in REI, swapping out my broken poles and buying some bits and pieces I needed and had the very good fortune to meet Ray, a local gentleman who heard of my busy morning and very amazingly offered to help get me back to the trail in Sierra City on Thursday under the auspices of getting his doggie some alpine air-time! After sharing some stories of the trail briefly (he hiked the trail in the 90’s), I wandered on from REI with an additional bounce in my step, focus now moving to New York and how we would surprise my parents tomorrow morning!

As usual not for me, not everything goes to plan. I received a notification on my JetBlue app to say that my flight to NYC was cancelled. Disaster! After a quick call to confirm, and enquire about alternates form Sacramento, Las Vegas, Oakland or San Francisco, it was obvious that JetBlue were not getting me to the east coast tonight. I cancelled my flight accordingly and quickly booked the quickest alternate I could find, Delta via Salt Lake City to NYC, a flight leaving in barely 2 hours time! I literally booked the flight as I ran the three blocks to the airport, before racing through security and making the gate just in time for boarding after a quick McDonalds stop!

Jumping on the plane, I spoke briefly to the flight attendant at the door who noticed my well worn bag. When I mentioned why it was so well worn, he said I deserved a beer for being a PCT hiker! Trail magic in the air! I sat next to an interesting girl living in Tacoma, WA who was very eager to ask questions about the trial. I also joked with another hiker who was sitting behind me and who just hiked the John Muir Trail along with hitching today from Lone Pine! We joked and realized we both bounced from JetBlue to Delta in trying to get the New York tonight! As we realized all these coincidences, we were hit with the next mess of the evening: a notification that our flight from Salt Lake City to New York was also cancelled! Now I couldn’t even get back to the trail if I wanted to, as Utah was the next stop on this bus. Byron (my new JMT buddy) and myself eventually found that we were now rerouted from Salt Lake City to Los Anglese in order to connect to NYC, so after some very quick connections in SLC we were racing back across the PCT to LAX!

By now I had quite a collection of boarding passes:

The sheep was very happy to make it to LAX for some reason…

The realization that I was now 32 miles from the PCT according to my GPS didn’t sit well with me!

Awkward for all 3 flights Byron was put sitting behind me…!

Finally getting on a flight that successfully departed for New York felt pretty good given the days movements, my NERO day was over and the two zero days begin. Tonight I forego my tent for an airline seat.

Notable is that I actually arrived to NYC earlier than my original flight should have, however I’m not sure that was a huge consolation!

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