Cowboying under a tree next to the trail (PCT mi 1627.7), walked 21.2 miles today
Did not sleep well at all for the second night in a row, was up by 7 or so and right away got packed up to leave. Wasn't really interested in attempting a hitch out of Etna, so I killed a little time while a bunch of the other hikers also got ready and set up a shuttle for 10:15. Got to watch SportsCenter for a bit, but they didn't have much to concentrate on besides a white Philadelphia Eagle yelling about n---ers at a Kenny Chesney concert. Except they couldn't say on tv what he actually yelled, but that didn't stop them from dedicating half the show to covering the incident. It's hard to believe I used to get up by 7 every day when I was 6 years old just to watch SportsCenter, but I think it was probably not quite as shitty back then as it is now.
Anyway, the shuttle left (8 hikers in a pickup truck) around 10:30 and we were up at the trailhead by 11. From the bottom of the drive up it looked as though the wind had finally blown the smoky haze away from this part of the mountains, but then our driver started to tell us about a new forest fire started last night by some arsonists. It was very very visible from Etna Summit, and there was a Forest Service lady parked there giving out maps of the fire to all traffic. She said the arsonists started five fires, all smartly chosen to be nearly impossible to contain, and that they would probably be fighting this fire for the rest of the summer. Then she added the kicker, which is that the people were rumored to be driving a white "hippie van" with flowers on the side. I can't really think of anything that better illustrates how grotesquely ass-backwards this part of the country is ... Expert arsonists possibly rebelling against a controversial timber sale starting a massive forest fire deep in the Siskiyous out of their VW van? That's something you would read about in a Ken Kesey or Edward Abbey novel, but it's actually still reality in the State of Jefferson in 2013. Whether the van rumor is true, who knows, but neither the Forest Service lady nor our driver were incredulous about it, only annoyed. The point is, it's totally conceivable out here.
The fire was enormous and created a lot of smoke that smothered my first 8 or 9 miles of hiking ... It was really thick, it made my eyes water and left an awful acrid taste in my mouth. Figured this was just going to be the M.O. for the next few days, but fortunately for the mid- and late-afternoon I got to an area that was totally clear of smoke, although you could look back and see the fires to the south and west. Was alone because I left first from the trailhead and hiked kind of far and fast, and the Marble Mountain Wilderness, where I finished out the day, was spectacular. I remember when I talked to Spins and Baboon right after they finished the PCT last year, they said something like, "I would do Washington and Oregon again, and I would do the Sierras again, but the rest of California can go fuck itself!" But that hasn't been my experience at all--I've very much enjoyed most of California, except for a few short (two days or less) sections which were problematic. The trail keeps staying interesting and there are lots of sublime mountain areas out there/here that I never knew existed. From the high ridges this evening I could see all the way west to the marine layer of clouds socking in the coastal hills. It was really beautiful and I was really happy. In a position now where exactly 25 a day will get me to Ashland Monday night to see Kristin.