Off-trail PCT OR Section A

Nov. 8: Rescued from the Privy (Medford)

I’m going to go out of my way to ensure this post does not see distribution on my mom’s Facebook feed by starting it off with a frank discussion of poop.

There’s no way to avoid thinking about poop when the subject of today’s story is spending half a day curled up in a sleeping bag inside a privy, complete with photo of said privy, so it may as well happen in this post. I’m not going to get graphic or anything, but I have to bring it up because this is a topic that hikers openly and frankly discuss with one another.

Why? Because when it frequently takes so much effort beyond just finding a bathroom, it will tend to be a major event almost every time it happens. It can majorly affect the structure and schedule of a day’s walk. It can affect the comfort and speed of the hiking that both precedes and follows it.

In my case, I know that I have to prepare to adjust my schedule the day after leaving town and at least every other day thereafter until the next town. I will look at Guthook markers on the trail ahead to see if I will pass near and privy and totally adapt my schedule and perhaps even end-of-day destination to stopping in that place if so. If not, I still have to keep in mind that on certain days I will either lose a mile or camp a half-hour later just because of the extra time required to leave the trail to seek a private and suitable place.

And sometimes I can look ahead on the trail and determine there will be no suitable places for miles. For instance, when the trail runs along the side of a steep, rocky ridge. There is absolutely no way to leave the trail in such sections. On days like that, as you can imagine, I really have to think about when and what I eat and drink, or force the issue before entering such a situation.

I feel bad that there are people that are so squeamish about this topic that they wouldn’t even be able to begin to contemplate reading this post, but such people could never be hikers. I have had conversations with quite a number of hikers about their habits and schedules. I may have mentioned some of them here. Like with Crazy Legs (only in town) and Owl (always at the warmest part of the day). There was even a group conversation in which a woman introduced the topic with something like “Oh, of course we can discuss it. You’re all hikers. You’ll talk about any of this stuff all the time.”

So there is no embarrassment when I say this day started on a concrete slab above a frozen pile with a toilet seat a few feet to my right. It didn’t smell at all, and it sure beat the snowdrifts and flurries just outside the door.

My original plan for the day was to get up and hike 7 miles in the snow to a cabin just over the Oregon border that lacked a stove but would still be a better place to spend a night that was supposed to get down to 8 degrees than out in the snow.

But then I thought about how far I had made it postholing through snowdrifts the previous night, saw that it would still be another 35 miles from the cabin to Wildwood Lodge in Seiad Valley, counted how many meals I had left in my can, weighed the one remaining fuel canister that was heating the food and water that kept me warm, considered that the snow would only be deeper now and get deeper with the additional snow coming in the days ahead, then threw out all the calculations and just decided that I didn’t feel like doing that much postholing. Going any further would take me away from the roads that could most quickly get me back to civilization, so it was time to just completely nope out and save the rest of Nocal for another year.

Luckily, there was cell service right there in the privy. So I called Mom. We decided to loop in the local Sheriff’s Department who dispatched a Search and Rescue truck.

I plugged my phone in and spent the morning reheating my water bag when it got warm and watching videos I had downloaded. I would get calls every now and then on the progress of the truck. First, they had to save several drivers who had gotten their vehicles stuck on the road up. Then, they had to send for another sort of snow tractor because the drifts over the road were too deep to drive through. Even as I started packing in expectation of their arrival, they called again to say they were delayed who knew how long. But I was still warm and had plenty of battery life, so I was willing to wait. If worse came to worst, I could easily survive another night in the privy and just walk the road back to town the following day by getting a very cold and early start.

Just before 2pm, I heard truck engines pull up outside. I jumped up, shoved my feet into my stiff, frozen boots and ran out into the snow without even tying the laces. There were two OHVs there, and one of the men agreed to drive me down off the mountain since he had an empty seat in his.

“I need to pack up my stuff.”

“Take as long as you need.”

I had already packed everything except my sleeping bag and air mattress, so it only took about ten minutes to get everything into my bag. I also cracked open a pair of hand warmers I’d bought at Shelter Cove and tucked them between my double layer of socks to warm my toes in my frozen boots, but the oxidation reaction they depend on only worked a little bit in that low oxygen environment. I threw my pack and myself into Matt’s fully custom OHV and we started driving back up the hill. It took some effort to get back up to the main road, but from there down was easy because he had come up a road that was far less snowdrifted than the one the search and rescue team were trying to use. Speaking of which, I called them up and called off the extraction, giving the name and intended direction of my rescuer.

It was a very interesting trip we had that afternoon. I learned about building an OHV by starting with a Jeep frame and using parts that were far more reliable than Jeep used for everything else. Matt had used a state-of-the-art hydraulic transmission that needed fancy electronic controls, which he had programed himself on a cheap Chinese controller chip and PCB connected to his joystick shifter. Unfortunately, that system (probably the controller hardware) had just failed, and that particular transmission defaults to third gear, so even once we had descended as far as the paved roads, we couldn’t really do much better than 35 without a lot of noise. For that reason, we drove to pick up his diesel at his homesite in Talent.

I say “homesite” instead of “house” because his house, like those of every one of his neighbors, was destroyed in the Alameda Fire that consumed the entire valley from Ashland to just south of Medford just a month earlier. Outside of the fifth wheel trailer he had parked there, this entire section of town had been leveled. This was something else he had told me about on the way down. He had been lucky to get a good insurance payout that he had immediately turned into an order on a new mobile home before the increased demand had jacked the prices and wait times way up. The FEMA response to the disaster was so far minimal at best, and his neighbors with no insurance might be homeless for years to come.

Anyway, we switched to the diesel and he took me to a cheap (but nice enough) motel in Medford via the scenic route that followed the path of the fire, pointing out what had and had not been destroyed along the way. The devastation really didn’t need that level of narration. It was plain to see all around. But as sad as it all was, we parted amicably at the motel lobby door.

The man at the motel counter was very courteous but a total windbag. He went on and on about everything the motel had to offer and how everything worked (even the standard DirecTV universal remote that I had no intention of using) and would not be dissuaded from finishing his speech for any reason. Twenty minutes later, I finally had my key, but he insisted on escorting me to my room to show me and apologize for the missing nightstand a previous guest had sat on and broken. This was also something I had no need for, and I was happy when he finally left me alone.

He did give me two good pieces of information though. The number of a good taxi and a recommendation for a Mexican restaurant across the street that gave a discount to guests here. I called the first to schedule an early morning pickup before walking to the second. After a good meal, I went to the grocery store next door to buy some breakfast (since I would be gone before the motel’s breakfast started) and a few items I would need for the next leg of hiking. Back in the room, I made a list of all the things I needed to do when my alarm went off in four hours, then went straight to sleep.

Total distance: 0 miles

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