PCT Central CA: Interlude (feat. Town Food)

I spend almost three days in Bridgeport, recuperating. It is a very small town, about five blocks long. There is a laundromat, a post office, a general store, about six restaurants, and about six motels. The first morning, I consume an enormous breakfast: giant omelette with veggies, hash browns, toast with butter and jam, and apple juice (of course). I wash my filthy clothes and text my friends and talk to Cyn, and mostly I lie in bed. The smoke is so bad that you can hardly see the mountain ranges surrounding the town — it’s like a screen of dusty white has been pulled down over everything. I go to The Burger Barn for dinner and eat a guacamole bacon burger and zucchini fries until I’m almost too full to walk the block back to my hotel.

I know I am still not recovered because I don’t want any sugary things, not even chocolate, not even a Nutella milkshake (new at The Burger Barn). A cup of horchata is the closest I can come to something sweet, and that’s still pushing it. Instead, I want everything salty, and I continue to eat bags of potato chips from the general store at all hours, day and night. My face is puffy from the sudden influx of sodium.

But still, I’m starting to think about hiking some more. When I arrived in town I was sure I’d have to just give up and go home, but now… I know I can’t continue my planned hike from here, though — the smoke is too awful. Instead, I’m considering a hike in Washington, with help from an old friend who lives in Seattle. I let my brain ruminate on this possibility. I talk it over with Cyn. I text Sprout and Whiz Kid for advice/support. I’m afraid to trust my body after this past week, but I’m just not ready to let go of this summer’s hiking yet.

On the second full day in town I’m still too stuffed from the burger to have a proper breakfast, and instead I eat potato chips in bed and then go to the tiny High Sierra Bakery in the late morning. I order a deli sandwich called “The Hulk” and a fruit smoothie and stay for a while to write postcards for folks who donated to the fundraiser for Al Otro Lado (thank you all!!). By now I have decided to go up and hike Section J of the PCT in Washington, a challenging but apparently mindblowingly gorgeous section from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. It is 71 miles with a lot of elevation change (over 19,000 feet of gain, over 18,000 feet of loss), but no smoke and at lower altitude than in the Sierra. I make a bunch of travel reservations and go to the Mexican restaurant for dinner. On my way out, I see that the building across the street has a giant Trump sign outside, directly facing the Mexican restaurant. I’m grateful I could recover here, but also glad tonight is my last night in Bridgeport.

The next morning I stop by the bakery again for a green smoothie and chocolate croissant. I text my friends: “I’m eating chocolate for breakfast! I’m me again!!” I walk to the bus stop. The bus is late, and I begin to panic because there is only one bus a day (seriously). But it finally arrives, the driver completely unconcerned about his timetable, and we are on our way to Reno.

The smoke is everywhere. We ride for a full 90 minutes before the sky is finally a shade of blue. Before that, the whole landscape is grey-white, thick and oppressive, apocalyptic. The mountains barely visible through the smoke all around us. I woke up with dry sinuses and a bloody nose every morning in Bridgeport. Reno is as hot as the fiery surface of the sun, but at least I can breathe. I have dinner in the hotel restaurant and feel as if there is no limit to the amount of protein I could consume right now. Cyn texts me photos from Tuolumne Meadows, now closed due to smoke. I was just there a week ago. You can hardly see any trees in the photos — everything is blotted out by the smoke.

In Seattle I am delighted to see Jeannette and James again, and very grateful to them for housing me and shuttling me to/from the trailheads. I buy my resupply for eight days of hiking: a lot of salty things and a huge assortment of bars because who knows what my body will or will not find edible. My bear can is very heavy. I will be so angry if I can’t eat again and have to carry all this food weight the whole time for nothing. I’m almost too excited to sleep, though, imagining the mountains I will be in tomorrow.

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