Title: Hold for Hiker Trash
Author: K.A. Hrycik
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After her car goes up in flames, Vika Carmichael finds herself stranded in Northern Washington at a Victorian house that hasn’t seen upkeep in longer than she’s been alive, owned by an eccentric, foul-mouthed artist whose goal of reconstructing the old house is to aid Pacific Crest Trail hikers.
The Pacific Crest Trail—or PCT—is a continuous footpath that stretches 2,660 miles from the Mexican border in Southern California to the Canadian border in Northern Washington.
In Hold for Hiker Trash, Vika, a recent college graduate, found comfort in her reputation as a “perfect student,” but her knowledge of art history is hardly applicable in the foreign culture of long distance hiking or in the reconstruction of a 140-year-old house. Vika is immersed in the company of the backpackers as they join to help Dane, the artist, and his mother, the affectionate Grandma Peach, strip the house before they can build again.
Will Vika be able to find common ground with her new hosts and the rugged hikers who visit the house, or will she be left on the outside looking in?
“A Glimpse Into a Hike On The Pacific Crest Trail”
Guest Post by K.A. Hyrcik
We all have that place.
That place where uncertainty and fear float off, and the world makes total sense to us. For some, that place might be loud and colorful, for others it might be quiet and monochrome. Or maybe it’s loud and monochrome, or quiet and colorful. It might be inside, outside, on the water, in the air, on solid ground, caught in movement, or in stillness.
For me, life makes sense on the trail. The sun comes up and I hike. The sun goes down and I sleep. Magic happens in the time in between. My place has the creak of trees, chatter of squirrels, smell of mud and vegetation, and the rumble of the wind as it cascades down the leeward side of a mountain. There are some woods I know better than others but really, any woods will do. I go there to explore, sometimes I go to run, and every once in a while I go because it’s cheaper than therapy. Usually it’s some combination of those three.
Luckily for me, there are hundreds of trails across the country for exactly this. I’ve spent months on the Pacific Crest Trail, a footpath that stretches from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border in Washington, and so it stays near and dear to me. This trail has miles through high desert, alpine tundra, old growth forest, and coniferous forests, but the diversity doesn’t stop there. Hand in hand with the shifting landscape, the weather holds no shortage of dynamics. I’ve slogged over snow, walked close to fires, been pelted with hail, and caught in blistering heat.
And the wildlife!
Now, I’m from a small town in Western New York. Rumor has it that black bears have been moving back into the area from parts south, but I’ve never seen one in my backyard. Let’s be serious, though: squirrels in the bird feeder and raccoons tearing through garbage cans are the biggest wildlife problems we have. Those brazen little buggers will rob you blind while you’re sitting around a campfire.
California, Oregon, and Washington are a different story.
130 miles into my hike, I opened the door to an outhouse and what did I find in the toilet but a black widow spider. Along with every other kid around, I could identify their red hourglass pattern by third grade from picture books, but no one told me how my stomach would drop at how unsettling it is to see one up close and way too personal. It sat in a gnarly, asymmetric web that looked like a spider version of a haunted house, it’s narrow body carried around on long loooong legs and my brain just chanted, “venom, venom, venom.” Needless to stay, I bolted out of that confined little building and didn’t look back.
The first bear I saw on the trail was a young black bear, but unlike its name, it was brown in color. I startled him and he ran up a tree, but he must have eaten too many berries that day because he only made it up about three feet off the ground. He peeked around the tree and didn’t seem to want to move anywhere, but I wasn’t about to hang out to see if he’d change his mind.
The first rattlesnake I saw was in Southern California on the approach to Walker Pass and the Sierras. He was sunning right in the middle of the trail and was motionless until I stomped my foot and those vibrations in his belly had him coiled and rattling immediately.
I should have known …
I should have known that all the bears wouldn’t simply run in the opposite direction; I should have known that I wouldn’t be able to spot all the rattlesnakes from fifteen feet away.
The third bear I saw that summer was at night. I had set up my sleeping bag at the base of a pine tree in a little depression between the roots that caught needles that fell and created a comfy bed. When I woke to the rustling I knew to be my bear can, even my groggy, barely awake brain knew what I would see when I looked up. The bear stood on higher ground than where I slept about fifteen yards away, and he looked absolutely massive. I froze. I watched his hulking shadow as he tried and tried to get into the bear can, while I thought about yelling, making noise, wondering how fast I could stand up and shuck my sleeping bag because I probably wouldn’t be able to do much wrapped up like a burrito. Before I got a chance to do any of that, he had wandered over to a bag I had clipped into a tree. It popped when he swatted at it and it must have scared him because a second later, he took off at top speed, crashing through whole trees from the sounds of it, leaving a path of total destruction in his wake.
I put up my tarp quickly and waited for his return, and return he did. About half an hour later, I heard the same rustling noises, but this time I was prepared. I started flashing my headlamp, yelling and banging tent stakes together. And victory! He ran away again and this time, he didn’t come back.
I didn’t even see the second rattlesnake right away. The trail was packed dirt, north of the Sierras in California, and wound through towering trees — not exactly what I would consider optimal rattlesnake living conditions. This step — one of millions — was different. My foot planted and as my weight shifted forward there was a rustling and rattling six inches to the right of my shoe in the debris that lined the trail. My muscles reacted in total primal instinct and launched me backwards a couple feet. By the time I turned around, a rattlesnake lay in the middle of the trail coiled and rattling. My entire body was shaking, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I just stood there and yelled at this snake as though he could understand — and care about — my petrified state. We stood in a stalemate for a handful of minutes; neither of us approaching or retreating. Eventually I conceded the trail to the rattlesnake and picked my way over sticks and brush to get around while keeping a decent amount of space between the two of us, tossing in a few curse words over my shoulder as I made my way around him.
Even so, bears, snakes, black widows, hail … none of that will scare me away. That’s my place. That’s where the world makes sense, because those same places have trees that are hundreds of years old, places where I can see the next row of mountains, and streams that crash over rocks and memorize me for hours. The trail is where uncertainty and fear drift off with the cascading wind or get tangled in roots, and I can’t wait to go back.
About the Author
K.A. Hrycik grew up exploring the wilderness of Western New York. At 18, she got into a plane for the first time — and jumped out. Then came a summer in Alaska, time on a tall ship in the Pacific, and travels abroad. In May 2014, Hrycik started the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mexican border at dawn. Three and a half months later, she reached Canada proud, dirty, hungry, and with phenomenal calves. In addition to her travels, Hrycik received a degree in biology and minor in art history from Vassar College. WNY is her home base, where she tutors and teaches swim. Follow her on Instagram!
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