I woke up to an odd smell, and at first, I could not figure out what it was. As I packed up, I noticed that there was a thick haze. As I got hiking, the sun came up, and I realized that what I thought was the morning fog, was actually smoke from a forest fire that had blown in overnight. It brought back troubling memories of being evacuated from the backcountry at Philmont Scout Ranch last summer due to a devastating forest fire.
As soon as I got a signal, I looked to see if there were any reports of the fire. I could not find anything. I called the forest service and all nearby ranger stations, but they don’t work on the weekends, so I called my folks and asked if they could look into it. I decided that since there was a highway coming up, I would hitch a ride into town and see if I could learn more about where the fire was located.
I made it to the road and attempted to hitch. I knew it was a low traffic road, and after forty minutes of unsuccessfulness, I hiked 30 minutes up the trail to get a cell signal to see if there was any new information. Unfortunately there was not, so I headed back down to the road again. After a bit, I was able to get a ride with a lady who was headed up to Canada.
She dropped me off in Etna, a small town on the highway. Just as I got there, another hiker who had just been dropped off, realized that he had left his phone in the car he had gotten a ride into town with, and he was not happy. As I walked, one of the locals told me that the smoke was from a fire that was burning in southern Oregon, and the smoke had blown down from there. My Dad called moments later with the same news.
I walked to the city park, where you could stay and shower for ten bucks. The town was very hiker friendly with most establishments having free wifi and the public pool open until 5 pm.
I met a couple of northbound section hikers who were cutting their time on the trail short, not wanting to spend their time hiking thru the smoke. After a shower, I went to the laundromat and then to the Dollar General to resupply. After resupplying, I walked to a hamburger joint and had a burger, then hiked back to the campground.
There were quite a few more people at the campground when I got back. Two guys were at the swings with one pushing the other much higher than I am sure the swings were designed. I sat and talked to the guy who had earlier lost his phone. He got super lucky and ran into the same local that gave him a ride, and was able to get his phone back. We talked about our time in the Sierras. He had a much rougher time of it, being swept away twice in swift river crossings, once losing a trekking pole.
Tomorrow morning, I have to decide whether I get back on the trail from town and hike through the smoke for the next eight days or so, or skip the smokiest sections and get to where the air is clearer. I am not sure which I will choose. Tonight, I am leaning towards just getting back on the trail.