Hi, my name is Isko Salminen.
I'm an adventure seeker and I love exploring nature with my camera and Australian Shepherd called Fire

Day 110: Finally in Oregon!

Date: August 17, 2017
Miles: 33.2 miles (53.4km), from mile 1,668.2 to mile 1,701.4.
Health: Feeling tired from the lack of sleep.

I wake up late to the sound of everyone leaving one by one. For the past couple of nights, I’ve slept way too little and that’s starting to take a toll on me. My mood and energy are low and getting up in the morning is really hard.

I force myself out of my sleeping bag and shelter and slowly start packing all my gear. By the time I’m done everyone else is long gone.

The air is clear and except for some ash on the ground, there are no signs of the fire and smoke from last night. I get on the trail and slowly start heading the same way others did.

Strange part on the morning climb.

The trail climbs right back up and at the top of the ridge, on a small spring, I meet two hikers I haven’t seen before. We chat for a while and they tell me how they slept on the ridge and saw the fire down in the valley not far from where we slept. Thankfully it seems the firefighters have managed to get the fire under control as there’s no sight of it.

I leave the guys at the spring and get back to hiking. I’m not feeling the trail at all today and getting into the flow seems impossible. I feel like I’m not moving anywhere. Luckily, unless something unexpected happens, I’m walking into Oregon later today and I’ll finally be done with California.

Little way up I notice a hiker with colorful shorts climbing on the opposite side and it looks like it could be Sam. I use the telephoto lens on my camera and try to capture a photo of the hiker. As I zoom in I notice it’s not him.

Smoke from all the fires.

At the top of the climb the view opens up and the entire scenery is covered in smoke. There’s a thick layer of smoke hovering over the mountaintops as far as the eye can see.

I feel so sluggish that I have to take a break on the next water source. The actual water source is down a steep climb and I leave my backpack at the top as I don’t want to carry it both ways. It takes me about ten minutes to climb down and back up.

After getting some water I cold soak some noodles and eat some candy, hoping the sugar would cheer me up. First, a southbound hiker joins me and goes down to get some water, and a little later a northbound hiker joins us. We chat for a while about the trail and hear stories about Oregon and Washington. We are about to hit the Oregon border later today and the SoBo just arrived to California so there’s a mutual feeling of something new happening.


We share whatever small tips we can about heading south but I’m a little weary about sharing any knowledge as there’s a saying on the trail that you should never trust any trail information SoBo’s share. I figure SoBo’s have the same saying about us northbounders so I try not to be “the guy who gave us the wrong info”.

Leaving the two I start walking again with new vigor from all the sugar and noodles. The trail starts heading down and soon the scenery changes. It’s getting greener and grassier and I walk past many cows. I must be getting closer to Oregon.

I do a quick stop at the Donomore Cabin and sign the trail register there. Sunshine and Iced Tea have been here a few hours earlier.

The cabin has seen better days.

Some info about the history of the cabin.

I pass a couple more southbounders. It seems we’re in the middle of a small SoBo bubble. This year was a bad year for going southbound due to the snow and how late the passes opened up in Washington. Still, it’s good to see some have made it. They have to boogie now to make it south of Kearsarge Pass before the autumn storms arrive.

Looking at Guthooks I notice I just finished my last climb in California and I’m 1 mile (1.6km) from the California–Oregon border. I make the last few zig-zags and see a tree with a small sign I’ve been waiting to see for the past 109 days. I’ve reached the Oregon border!


I celebrate for a while but it feels kind of empty to be here alone. I take some selfies with the little adapter I’ve carried all the way here but can’t get the camera to focus properly. I sign the trail register with a small comment and notice Iced Tea and Sam (Nobody) were here just a short time ago.

I make a short video for Anthony and Annie, the trail angels from Tahoe. They told me how they do this ritual of hopping right before crossing a border and I do the same, hopping from California to Oregon.

The end of California section on Guthooks app.

Saying goodbye to California.

Just as I’m about to leave I hear a noise from behind and see a hiker called Sunkist approach. As it sucked to celebrate alone I stay and congratulate her for reaching the border. I take a photo of her with the sign and ask her to take one of me as well. We talk for a while and then I leave her with the border.

Now in Oregon, the trail looks pretty much the same. It seems nothing has changed except there’s maybe a little bit more green everywhere. And maybe the hills are a little bit less pointy.


I still feel super slow but the beautiful evening light and gorgeous scenery put me in a better mood. Being in a new state feels great too. I pass one more SoBo and then see no-one. The sky is beautiful with pink and blue hues and the air is nice and cool – perfect hiking weather.

Beautiful evening hike.

Trying to cover as many miles as I can I keep walking long into the night. Hiking along a mountainside I can see city lights far in the distance and down below. Feels strange being alone here in the dark, walking on this dusty trail while all these people are at home, probably watching Netflix with their loved ones, eating good food and going to sleep in their comfortable beds.

City lights somewhere down below.

Passing 1700 mile marker at night.

I pass the 1700 mile (2 736km) marker at one point but it doesn’t feel like much as I have not walked all the way here due to all the skipped miles.

It’s almost 11 pm when I reach a small camp spot next to a water source but it’s occupied. Luckily the comments on Guthooks mention that there’s an old forest road little up from the spot and after some climbing I find it. I locate a small flat spot on the part of the road that’s not yet overgrown and quickly set up my shelter. Just as I’m getting into my sleeping bag I hear voices and see two headlamps climbing up and starting to set up their shelters down the road.

Tomorrow is town day as we get to Ashland. We’ve made plans to meet there with Sam. Hopefully, the Aussies and Roadrunner will be there too.

Day 109: Seiad Valley and under thousand miles to go

Date: August 16, 2017
Miles: 21.2 miles (34.1km), from Grider Creek Campground through Seiad Valley to mile 1,668.2.
Health: Feeling tired from the lack of sleep, but good otherwise.

I wake up to Sam knocking on my tarp. I left him a note last night outside of his shelter and he came to wake me up as I had asked. Having only slept for about 3 hours I don’t feel particularly well rested but I manage to gather my gear and start hiking with Sam. Chalk this up as one of those days you’d rather stay in bed than hike.

From the campground, we start the 6.4 mile (10.3km) road walk to Seiad Valley where our next resupply is. Wolf is also here and joins us for the walk.

Start of the road walk with Sam and Wolf.

The road walk starts as a dirt road and soon we reach small houses along the river going through the valley. The reason for the long road walk is that we’re on the wrong side of the river and the only bridge is in the opposite direction we have to go. So we first walk a few miles towards the bridge, then the same distance back on the other side.

My feet still hurt from last night and the hard road is making the situation worse. We’re all pretty fed up with the road walk and even talk about swimming across the river to cut back on the walk. Suddenly there’s a car approaching from behind and I instinctively throw my thumb up. To my surprise, the car stops and I decide to save my feet by skipping the last few miles of the road walk. We would’ve soon reached pavement and that would’ve been even worse to walk on.

Seiad Valley Café and store/Post Office.

Seiad Valley is not much else except a few houses and the Café. I walk the last bit to the Café and find Iced Tea there. I set all my gear to dry on the grass while getting to know some of the hikers already here. My sleeping bag is still moist from two nights ago.

The Café is known for one particular thing on the trail: the infamous pancake challenge. If you finish all five of the massive pancakes in under 2 hours, the pancakes are on the house and you’ll get your name on the wall. After seeing the size of just one pancake I instantly know I’m not up for the challenge. Instead, I opt for two regular breakfasts, a soda, and a milkshake.

The pancake challenge.

We sit on the counter and soon everyone else arrives. Sam goes to pick up his new headlamp from the store slash Post Office next door. He ordered the same model I have. He got tired of being outshined on all the night hikes. Contrary to what I read before the hike, we’ve done a ton of night hiking. Part of it is the rush we have this year because of the snow, part of it is the constant heat waves. It’s so much easier to get the miles done after the sun has gone down and you’re not sweating buckets.

It’s wildfire season.

The great seal of State of Jefferson.

Sam and Iced Tea chilling in the shade.

Seiad Valley is also known for one other thing: the rather large and steep climb out of the valley. You gain little over 4,600 feet (1 400m) in under 9 miles (14.5km). And as today is another excruciatingly hot day, no-one really wants to tackle the climb in the middle of the day.

We all procrastinate inside next to the AC, trying to come up with ways to avoid the climb but there’s no getting around it. Soon Sam and I head out and do the short road walk to the trailhead. I hate walking on these narrow roads as the cars drive by so fast and there’s really no place to dodge. Getting hit by a car while out hiking is not something I’m looking forward to.

When you’re the blue ball at the bottom.

After we reach the trailhead we climb a bit until we reach a spring. We fill up our bottles as this is the only water source on the entire climb. As we’re filling up, Iced Tea comes by and we chat for a while. We tell him to be on the lookout for the poison oak as it’s everywhere. He tells us he doesn’t know what poison oak looks like so we point it out for him.

Then it’s time to climb some more. The heat and the lack of sleep last night get to me really fast and I tell Sam to go on. It’s over 100 degrees (38c) and I’m just melting. After the trail rises above the tree line there’s no shade from the midday sun and my pace slows down to an agonizing crawl.

Almost, nearly, not even close to the top.

It’s simply too hot for me. When I find a nice little shaded spot with a little wind blowing through, I decide to wait out the heat. Sunshine soon catches up and after a short chat, she keeps climbing.

I watch the wind bring the smoke from the close by wildfires and the scenery gets even smokier. There are couple of wildfires around here and one that we need to keep our eyes on. If the wind direction would shift it could move towards us quickly but so far the trail is still open.

After taking a short nap I feel better and start climbing again. It was a long climb and I make it to the top just as the sun starts to set. The smoke from the fires makes the sunset even prettier.

Nearing the top of the climb.

The trail follows along the ridge of the mountains, at times dipping down for a bit. I stop at a small alpine lake to fill up my bottles and meet a hiker I haven’t seen before. We talk about the fires for a bit and then I hike on.

Soon the trail turns around the mountain and starts dropping down. Earlier the mountain was blocking all the wind but now the winds bring all the smoke from the fires directly at me.

I’m walking on a narrow path cut to the side of the mountain and due to the smoke and darkness, I can barely see 10 feet (3m) ahead of me. I have to wrap my bandana around my face and douse it with water just to be able to breathe.

Smoke from the wildfires before the sun sets.

As I keep going lower and lower the winds bring ash and at times it looks like it’s snowing. I’m getting really worried and start to wonder if I should turn around. As it’s dark and the air is covered in smoke I can’t really see anything around me. I try to look down below to see if I’m descending down to a burning forest but can’t see a thing.

I take out the map and notice that the closest evacuation spot is down in the forest in the direction I’m heading. The other evacuation spot being all the way back in the valley we started. As I didn’t see any fires close by earlier from the top of the mountain while looking down towards this direction I decide to push on.

At times I can only see the next couple of steps ahead of me so the progress is really slow. Finally, I reach the forest below and the air clears up significantly. There are no sights of fire and there are no trail closures so I push forwards towards the road and possible camp spot.

The smoke from the fires creates beautiful sunsets.

Once I reach the road I find everyone else camping there except for Sam. I ask Sunshine if she saw him but she didn’t. He must have pushed on.

Feeling a little sketched out about the smoke and flying ash I decide to camp here with the others and not push on alone. If something goes wrong, at least I’m next to a road with multiple people around.

I set up my cowboy camp and start heading to sleep. Just as I’m crawling into my quilt I hear faint footsteps on my groundsheet and as I turn around my headlamp barely catches a scorpion as it hides under my pillow. Great! I take a stick and move the scorpion further, hoping it would choose another direction but as soon as it hits the ground it zeros back towards my pillow. Sleeping with a scorpion is a hard nope from me so I set up my tarp about a hundred feet down the road to a new spot. Hopefully with less crawlies.

Looking at my mileage when going to sleep I also notice we have less than thousand miles to go. I fall asleep hoping I won’t wake up to a burning inferno around me.

Day 108: Big miles and long hours

Date: August 15, 2017
Miles: 39.2 miles (63.1km), from Shelly Meadows to Grider Creek Campground at mile 1,647.
Health: Tired.

We wake early, pack our packs and start walking. I’m on the trail 6:15 am. The spot I chose to cowboy camp last night was a bit too close to a meadow and the small creek running through it so my sleeping bag got wet from condensation.

We plan to push for 35 miles (56.3km) today to a small spot in a canyon with no other camping spots close by. As the trail starts to climb back up I enjoy the beautiful scenery and how great my new shoes feel. When all you do is walk all day, the shoes become your best friends.

Morning climb and views.

The climb is a long one. While the scenery is gorgeous, there’s not much happening – I just walk. I’ve grown tired of all the music on my phone, and as I don’t have any new audiobooks to listen to, the time goes by really slow.

The trail goes up and over a ridgeline, back down a bit, then again over the ridgeline, and so on. This is what we do every day – walk up and down mountains. At one point the trail goes through a part that looks like an old burn section.

I catch up to Sunshine and her crew and hike with them for about an hour but as they want to hike at a faster pace I soon hang back as I’m in no rush. Other than Sunshine’s crew I don’t see anyone on the trail all day.

After about 21 miles (33.8km) I stop for lunch alone. Not a single soul walks by the entire time I eat. After lunch, I pack more bars in the bottom pocket of my pack so that I can walk without stopping for the rest of the day. I’m planning to eat dinner in camp.

Alpine lakes along the trail.

After lunch, the trail drops down to a forest and after a while down to the canyon where we’ve planned to camp. As I walk further the canyon gets narrower and narrower. There are hardly any flat spots beside the small river running at the bottom. This explains why there’s only one camp spot on this entire section.

The trail gets really lush and at times a bit overgrown. I keep crossing the river multiple times over small bridges, hopping from one side of the canyon to the other.

Wolf and Stakes (further down) from Sunshine’s crew.

Soon it gets dark but I’m still a few miles from the camp. I hike the last miles with my headlamp out and once I reach the camp spot, I find it’s just a small outcropping next to a bridge, barely big enough for Sunshine’s crew. They’ve all huddled up on a single groundcloth as that’s all the space there is.

They’re already sleeping but they wake up and tell me they’ll make room at the foot end. I don’t really want to squeeze myself into such a small space and wake them up more. I tell them I’m ok and that I’ll walk back up to the previous bridge hoping to find some flat spots there.

Walking through an old burn area.

I walk back the 0.2 miles to the previous bridge but there are no possible spots to sleep in there either. I turn around and walk back to the next bridge trying to find any flat spots I could squeeze into on the way. I look for a spot under the bridge and even contemplate sleeping on the bridge but as it’s so narrow and not really flat, I’m scared I’ll fall to the river while sleeping.

The next marked camp spot is almost 5 miles down the trail where the canyon ends. It’s already 11 pm, meaning I’ve been on the trail for almost 17 hours by now and I’m tired. My legs are sore from all the climbing, and my eyes hurt from watching the trail in the beam of the headlight. But there’s not much I can do.

Starting the climb down to the forrest.

I keep walking on hoping to find a small patch of flat ground to camp on. Sadly the canyon is shaped like a V, with the trail cut into the wall, so there really aren’t any flat spots around. The fact that it’s pitch black at this point doesn’t help either.

After about 20 minutes of searching, I see what appears to be a small flat area down by the river. I start climbing down but end up almost causing a small rock slide and realize if I fall down here and hurt myself, it’s going to be a while before anyone’s going to find me.

I get down to the river safely by climbing a fallen tree and start to get ready to camp. As I’m unpacking my pack I notice there are a lot of fallen trees around here and the ones that are still standing are making a strange noise in the wind. I put my headlamp on full power and realize I’m in the middle of a burn area with all the trees badly burned and barely standing. I quickly remember how the firemen told us not to spend too much time in the burn areas as the trees can fall and snap unpredictably. As I’ve already seen this couple of times myself, this is the last place I want to sleep tonight.

I quickly gather my things and climb back up on the trail and decide to haul ass and get to the next campsite, making this a long night and totaling over 40 walked miles for today.

Feeling kind of spooked about the burn area, and noticing that the trail is covered in poison oak, I put my phone on the shoulder pocket, blast some Slayer at full volume, and put my headlamp on full power. I’m hoping that the music will let all the mountain lions know I’ll fight if I have to, and the headlamp is so that I can see the poison oak better.

And then I start running down the trail.

On-trail water source.

All I can see for the next hour and a half is the small circle of light from my headlamp penetrating the darkness and lighting up the trail. I don’t remember much about this section other than it was dark, I was tired, and there was a ton of poison oak. Or so it looked like in the dark.

Finally, little past 1 am, I reach the end of the canyon and find a camp spot across the river. Trying not to wake other hikers camping here I scout for a secluded spot a little of to the side and start setting up my camp. As I’m doing so I notice a familiar tent not far – Sam? I recognize his pack, poles, and shoes so it’s his for sure. I caught up to him!

I leave a note outside of his tent letting him know where I’m at and to wake me up in the morning.

19 hours of walking and almost 40 trail miles done. Today was a really long day but I’m happy I made it here.

Day 107: Wildfires, trail closures, and heading out of Etna

Date: August 14, 2017
Miles: 10.7 miles (17.2km), from Sawyers Bar Road to Shelly Meadows at mile 1,607.9.
Health: Feeling well rested and like I want to hike again.

I slept late. It feels really good not having to rush anywhere in the morning. While Sam was taking down his shelter and putting all his stuff together, I did a pack shakedown. All kinds of small stuff start to accumulate, and old stuff I thought I’d have a use for has been untouched at the bottom of my pack, so it’s good to shake things up every now and then.

Going through all my gear I mostly end up throwing away small stuff no-one has any use for. All the other things I put in the hiker box in case anyone needs them. When you’re out on the trail this long, you get to understand how little you actually need to live by. Wish I would’ve had all this knowledge before starting the trail.

Airplane Mode and Sunshine.

As the morning progresses Sunshine sends a message that she’s in town. We make plans to go eat breakfast together. I pack the rest of my stuff and Sam and I start walking towards the town. On the way, we hit the Post Office as I’m hoping my packages would have already arrived. Sadly they haven’t.

We walk to the diner where we agreed to meet Sunshine and join her and her crew for breakfast. She has a new trail family and we hang around with them for a while. After the breakfast, it’s time for Sam to head out back on the trail and he gets a ride pretty soon.

After Sam has left I tag along with Sunshine as she picks up a package from the Post Office. Mine still hasn’t arrived. As it’s starting to get really hot, and as there’s not much else to do, we decide to hit the public pool for a swim. The water feels amazing and it’s great to catch up with Sunshine. It’s been a while since the last time I saw her.

Hitching a ride up to the trailhead.

After thoroughly soaking up our weary bones in the pool it’s time to visit the Post Office again. One of my packages had arrived – I got my new shoes! But the package with my new charger was still missing. I was happy to have the new shoes as without those I couldn’t get back on the trail. As the charger wasn’t mission critical, nor very expensive, it wasn’t worth staying in town to wait for it to arrive.

I decided to ship some of my gear from the mornings shakedown forward on the trail to Ashland, and some that I have no use, back to Mikko in San Diego. The Post Master has been following our discussion the entire time and as I mention the issue with my still missing package, he tells me he’s going to open it, repackage it, and ship it to me to Ashland. As I ask for the price to pay for the shipping and the new packaging, he says he doesn’t accept any money and that he’ll pay for my shipping once the package arrives. The kindness of strangers out here is amazing!

I thank the Post Master and after giving him my contact information, we head out. I’m super happy to have my new shoes and knowing I’ll get the charger once I’m in Ashland.

Walking down the Main Street we meet Airplane Mode. After chatting for a while on the street we head for a quick lunch in the cafe. It was nice seeing her again.

At the trailhead.

After lunch, we gather our stuff and hitch out to the trailhead. Before getting a ride we meet some firefighters and ask them about the conditions up in the mountains. They radio up and we hear it’s all good for the trail.

We get a ride up the mountain and it takes a while to climb all the way up to the top. It’s a lovely ride through a beautiful forest. We get dropped off and thank our ride again. We do the final check on our gear and then one by one start hiking up the mountain. I trail behind others as I want to use the cell reception to send a couple of messages out.

Climbing back up (see hikers for reference).

The trail climbs up and the views are gorgeous. About three miles in I get a message from Airplane Mode telling us the fire has moved within a mile from the trail and that the trail has been closed. Right at this moment, the trail crosses over a ridge to the other side of the mountains and I lose reception. I hike back a little and send Sunshine a message but as the trail stays on the other side of the range for quite some time, I don’t think she’s going to have a reception before the next town.

Messages from Airplane Mode and an unfortunate song choice.

Crossing the range I can see the fire up ahead. I can either turn around and walk the three miles back to the trailhead or try to catch the others. I decide to go forward and try to catch the others – either to tell them the news or if the trail is still passable, get through this section with them. I figure that if I don’t catch them, the trail should be closed from where the fire is as there are crews of firefighters around this fire.

All the messaging and going back and forth lost me so much time that Sunshine and her crew have gotten too far for me to catch. They’re all fast hikers and unless they stop for a break, I’d have to run for miles to catch them.

Comment box on the trail.

Fellow hiker on trail.

On one of the wider parts of the trail, I meet a section hiker about to go to sleep. I tell him the news about the fire and he tells me he saw it from the trail earlier but it was still some ways from where the trail goes. I wish him good luck and push forward.

The views on this part of the trail are simply amazing! I watch the helicopters fly back and forth from the fire and the rising smoke makes the sky glow in beautiful colors against the setting sun.

Smoke rising from the wildfire.

The trail follows along the mountain range and the fire is in the forest right below. I try to look for escape routes in case the fire would start to climb up the mountain but there’re not many places to go. On the left is a drop down to the forest with the fire, and on the right is a steep mountainside that would be pretty hard to climb. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

Watching the fire down below from the trail.

As the sun sets and it gets dark I can see small patches of fire down in the forest below. It looks like the firefighters have managed to get the fire under control for the night but the air is still full of smoke. I wear my wetted out bandana around my face to make it easier to breathe but it’s not helping much.

Just as it gets completely dark I reach a forest and after a short walk see headlamps ahead. It’s Sunshine and her crew. I tell them the news about the trail being closed and we figure we were the last ones that made it through this section. We eat a quick dinner and then go to sleep. We all cowboy camp next to a big tree on the soft forest floor. As I close my eyes I hope that the wind doesn’t pick up during the night and reignite the fire not far from us.

Day 105-106: Zeroing in Etna

Date: August 12 - 13, 2017
Miles: 0
Health: Well rested but worn down by the trail.

Day 105

Wake up late as I have nowhere to go today. As it’s weekend, the Post Office won’t be open until Monday, so I’ll have to wait until the day after tomorrow.

During the morning I do a little gear maintenance. Three and a half months on the trail is hard on your gear. I think it’s also a time to do another shakedown as I’ve noticed some stuff I have no use for and haven’t used in a while.

Saw these just hanging at someone’s yard.

I soon get a message from Fireant telling they’re coming to town. I gather all my valuables and leave the rest inside my shelter in the park. It’s a small town and there are plenty of other hikers around so I’m not worried about anyone stealing my dirty gear.

We meet up with Fireant, Dandy, Roadrunner, and Roller who’s back on the trail. It’s so good to see everyone again. We hit the grocery store for their resupply and hang around the corner in the shade while everyone gets their stuff in order. After their resupply, it’s time to hit the local brewery.

Roller, Fireant, and Dandy doing resupply.

If washing yourself with baby wipes is not hiker trash, I don’t know what is.

Dandy and Fireant at the town brewery.

We order some beer and food. I go with the BLT and chips and it’s good. So is the local beer. We goof around for a while but sadly the group has to get back on the trail. They get a hitch almost instantly, we hug goodbyes, and then I watch them drive off towards the mountains.

Saying goodbye.

After they’re gone I walk back to the park and work on my blog for a while.

Thankfully I don’t have to be alone very long as Sam messages back telling he’s on his way to town. We meet up at the bar where we get some food and beers. Haven’t seen Sam for a few days.

We swap trail stories and Sam mentions how he ran into some hiker celebrities on the way here. He met John Z and Jupiter yesterday. For those who don’t know them, they are kind of big in the ultralight hiking community. Also, John Z is one part of the company called Pa’lante, the makers of the backpack I’m currently carrying.

Local High School next to the park I camp in.

I’m not usually big on “celebrities”, but before getting on the trail I thought the one person I’d love to meet while hiking in the US would be John. We compare our notes and timestamps with Sam and turns out that if I hadn’t injured my foot I would’ve pumped into John and Jupiter not far from where I got off the trail. What a poor timing to get an injury! Sam even told John and Jupiter to keep an eye for a Finn carrying a Pa’lante pack so that they’d recognize me on the trail. Bummer.

Etna Main Street.

As it’s getting dark we head back to the park. Etna is definitely a cool town. It has a nice small town feeling and the whole State of Jefferson thing is pretty neat.

When we get to the park it’s already pitch black. Darkness comes so much faster here than back home. Sam pitches his shelter close by and we talk while getting to bed.

Day 106

When we wake up there’s a strong smell of smoke everywhere. Looking around reveals that the entire town is covered in smoke. Damn wildfires!

Sam doing resupply in the park.

We take our valuables and head to town for breakfast. After breakfast, Sam does his resupply as he wants to get back on the trail tomorrow morning. We walk back to the park to pack Sam’s stuff and to charge our electronics.


After resupply, it’s time for a lunch at Dotty’s and we meet Iced Tea who just arrived to Etna. We swap more trail stories and talk about the wildfires. There are some firefighter eating close by and we ask about the situation up in the mountains. We hear that the trail is still open and the fire isn’t too close yet. That’s good news.

We spend the rest of the day not doing much. We go to bed early as Sam leaves in the morning.

Day 104: Why you should never switch shoes mid-hike

Date: August 11, 2017
Miles: 23.5 miles (37.1km)
Health: New shoes have completely wrecked my feet. I can barely walk.

My plan for today is to set myself up for getting to the town of Etna by tomorrow. As Etna is roughly 66 miles (106km) away, I need to start early and hopefully do a 40-mile day today (64,3km). I'm also hoping to catch up to Sam as he’s probably not more than 5 miles away at this point.

Even with getting to camp late last night I manage to wake up early and get a 5.30am start. The views are ok but as the plan is to crush miles I don’t stop to take any photos.

By midday, I’m feeling great and already on a path to do 40 miles. The only issue is my feet which are feeling a little iffy due to the new shoes. The shoes had felt great the day before, and even most of the day yesterday, but last night the problems started.

The shoes have a stiff, shaped bottom, meaning there’s a sort of a plastic foot-shaped area where your feet are supposed to sit. As my feet swell during the long day, they don’t fit into the shape anymore and walking becomes painful while my feet distort into weird positions.

The second issue is that I’ve walked almost all of the way here with zero drop shoes, meaning the difference between the heal and the toe is zero (usually shoes have 10-12mm drop). The new shoes have a larger drop and this is causing my stride and hiking form to go all wrong. I notice this as it’s putting a lot of stress on muscles I don’t normally use.

One of the few photos I took today.

I stop for a quick lunch after about 21 miles. After lunch, as I try to put my shoes back on, I simply can’t get them to fit. I force my feet in and try to start walking. This causes so much pain that I can barely take a step.

I sit back down and assess the situation. I have about 19 more miles to do today and can’t seem to take a single step. After some painkillers and trying to get the swelling on my feet to go down, I tie the shoes really loosely and try to keep pushing on.

As soon as I start walking the pain shoots up my legs and my feet are hurting really bad. I try to limp on and that helps for a while but after a little over half a mile, the pain becomes unbearable. I stop, sit down and get my feet up. I take more painkillers and after about fifteen minutes, try to push on. Managing to wobble only about a couple hundred feet I have to stop again.

I keep repeating this and at some point try to walk barefooted but the pain is too much. After about an hour of this and only managing to do less than a mile it’s becoming painfully clear I’m not doing 40 today. Heck, just getting off of this mountain is going to be doubtful.

Little bit of nice scenery.

Looking at the map there’s a road with a camping area coming up in about 1.7 miles (2.7km). I decide to try to get there and see what I can do.

It takes me almost three hours to cover that distance. The pain is so intense that every step hurts even with the painkillers. I finally limp on to the road and make my way to the campground where I find a couple of other PCT hikers I’ve never met before.

After talking with some of the hikers I hear that the road from here goes to Etna and that I could possibly get a ride early next morning. I could also stay here for the night, hope that sleep would heal my feet and try to push on. But doing that would mean I’d have to commit to the roughly 40 miles in the mountains with no way of bailing out if the pain doesn’t go away.

I decide that if I ever want to catch up to Sam, and not possibly wreck my feet in the process, my best option is to order new shoes and hitchhike to Etna. As there’s no cell service here, I should get to Etna as soon as possible so that I can order the shoes and hopefully have them delivered in a few days.

I shoulder my pack and limp back on the road hoping to get lucky with a hitch. After about an hour and no cars coming either way, it’s not looking good. A couple who's leaving tomorrow offers me a ride with them in the morning. They also offer me a bag of chips for tonight. I hesitantly accept the chips as I’m still hoping to get a ride to town and feel like the other hikers might benefit more from the salty snack.

Trying to hitchhike with the bag of chips.

Just as it’s getting dark and I’m about to give up, a car drives up to drop someone off. I walk over and ask if they’re possibly heading back tonight and where they’re going. They tell me they’re going back to Etna and tell me to hop on. I ask them to wait for a second while I go give the bag of chips to the other PCT hikers.

As soon as I get in the nice couple offer me a leftover pizza AND an ice cold beer. While we’re driving down from the mountain, I eat the pizza and enjoy a nice conversation with the couple. They tell me their son is a firefighter and currently putting out some of the fires close by. We can see the flames up in the mountains as we’re driving in the dark.

When we arrive in Etna, it’s pitch black and the couple drops me off at the park where PCT hikers can camp for a small donation. I thank them for their kindness and they give me one more ice cold beer for the night.

After leaving five dollars in the donation box I take out my headlight and try to find a spot to camp for the night. Once settled, I open the beer and order new shoes from Amazon. Even with Prime, it’s going to take a couple of days for the shoes to arrive. That should be fine as it’s going to take a day or two for Sam to get here anyway.

While it sucks I had to skip almost 40 miles, I think in the bigger picture getting new shoes and resting my feet, is a better option than to try to force it and possibly run out of food while injured up in the mountains. With wildfires blazing close by.

In hindsight, I should’ve gone with the Superiors in Shasta.

Day 103: No sight of Sam

Date: August 10, 2017
Miles: 29.5 miles (47.5km), from East Fork Sulphur Creek to Deadfall Lakes at mile 1,534.2.
Health: Legs and feet are tired from switching from zero drop shoes back to regular shoes.

Slept great last night. The ground beneath was so soft and the soothing sound of the flowing water from the creek below was just a perfect combination for good nights sleep. Sam’s out super fast while I have trouble getting my bearings. The fact that I’m not a morning person at all has been painfully clear during this entire hike.

Since I need to take care of some paperwork first, I tell Sam to go ahead. We’ll catch up later in the day.

Soon I’m back on the trail and hiking after Sam. The trail keeps climbing and by looking at the elevation profile on Guthooks, it seems like that’s all we’ll be doing today. We have a little over 7,000 feet (2,130m) of elevation gain to do during the day. I still can’t believe people say NorCal is flat and easy.

Morning view of the Castle Crags.

After climbing out of the forest the heat really hits again. It’s going to be another hot day and it’s not even 8 am yet.

Soon I reach the first water source of the day. No sight of Sam, or water. There’s an arrow on a tree pointing up towards the hill. Eventually, I find what looks to be a stream bed with large rocks but no water. I leave my backpack and climb down between the large rocks and eventually find small pools and a weak stream. This source won’t have water for long.

After filling my bottles and cameling up I get back on the trail. Wonder how far ahead Sam is?

More climbing.

As I keep climbing higher and higher I can see the valley we slept last night and the Castle Crags. I’m almost at their level when my phone peeps and I have cell reception.

Today is my nephews and godsons first day of school back home. Can’t believe that the summer is already over in Finland. When I left to San Diego, there was still snow on the ground, and now my nephew is going to school.

It’s times like these that are really hard for me on the trail. Missing my nephew going to school, missing my brother getting married, missing spending time with my friends, family, and my dog. You give up so much just to walk a two feet wide stretch of dirt.

It’s not only missing all those things but also being so removed from everything familiar. I haven’t spoken Finnish almost at all the entire time I’ve been in the US as due to the 10h time difference it’s really hard to find reception at a time when anyone back home is not sleeping.

Quick break to shed some layers.

Feeling little homesick and missing my nephew I sit down on a small outcropping, take off my pack and call him. It’s already evening and he’s already home but I want to congratulate him for starting school. We talk for a while over FaceTime and I find it really hard not to tear up. Seeing him in his parents living room, I wish I could just quickly teleport over there and give him a hug.

I end up calling my entire family. Knowing I might not be able to talk to them for a week or two I don’t care about missing miles or having to do the rest of the climb in the midday sun.

The top of the first climb on left.

After having talked with everyone and messaging couple of friends I shoulder my pack and get back on the climb. The sun is high and it’s really hot while I keep climbing towards the top. I keep my eye on the trail far ahead to hopefully catch a climb of Sam but I see no-one below or ahead of me for miles and miles.

At times the trail is covered in this thick short brush that’s hard to push through. It’s so thick that you can’t see your feet or the trail at all. They come in patches and I keep pushing through while getting my legs scraped.

While pushing through another long patch of the brush I use my poles to push some of them away as they’re starting to hurt. Just as I’m about to put my right foot down I hear the distinctive, angry, rattling right where I’m about to set my foot. Rattlesnake.

I freak out so bad I push myself away with my poles and jump backward away from the trail, falling on my back in the brush several feet away from where I was. Holy. Sh#t.

Immediately I realize I’m laying on my back not nearly far enough from where the snake was so I scramble back on my feet and head up the hill. Trying to go around as far as I can on the hillside I slowly make my way around the snake which I still can’t see. And I thought we were mostly done with the snakes at this point.

Castle Crags on left and behind them the valley we started this morning.

End of the first climb of the day.

After my heartbeat settles I get back on the trail and keep climbing. Soon the views open up and I can see Mt Shasta in all its glory. It sure is a beautiful sight.

The trail keeps climbing up along the ridgeline but with a much easier angle. Soon I reach the next water source and decide to have dinner in the small shade under some trees. While laying there eating I can see a small figure slowly climbing up the trail.

Views of Mt Shasta from the trail.

After I’m done with my lunch and filtering some water for the rest of the day the figure reaches the ridgeline and I see it’s Iced Tea. Strange as he’s usually up early and should’ve past us while we were sleeping. We talk for a while while he starts to filter water but then I must move on.

The rest of the day I just keep hiking without any stops, trying to cover the miles I lost while talking with my family in the morning. The trail goes up on one ridgeline, turns around and walks back towards the same mountains on another ridgeline. Then turns around again and again. I can’t look at the map as I feel so frustrated walking in circles.

Climbing while the sun sets.

Evening views.

I don’t see anyone for the rest of the day and end up walking long into the darkness to hopefully catch up with Sam but no luck, there’s no sight of him.

At one point I’m walking on a steep hillside in darkness and my headlamp catches two eyes slightly ahead. I stop immediately thinking this is not a good spot to encounter a mountain lion. I throw the lamp on full power and still see the eyes but not the shape of the animal. As I move my head slightly I see another set of eyes staring at me. And then another. And another. I start turning my head and see eyes up and down the hill, always in sets of two. Deer.

As I walk closer I see many momma deer with their fawns. It’s like a kindergarten and they’re all staring at me. No wonder as I’m beaming this massive light in their eyes while they’re trying to have dinner. I take one last look at them, wish them good night, and then head on in the darkness.

Finally, I reach my camp spot for the night. It was a hot day with a long climb and I’m exhausted. There’s no sight of Sam so I have to wake up early to catch him. Walking alone all day is no fun.