Street Brawl

pct flowers

It’s fisticuffs at the grand old Truckee Hotel. Seems the concierge arranged for one taxi driver to take me to the PCT trailhead on Interstate 80. When that looked iffy, she arranged another. Of course, both show up simultaneously.

Never mind the early morning hour, around 6 am. It’s show-time.

“Who the f*** are you?” one yells.

“Who the f*** are you?” replies the other.

“F*** you! This is my fare!”

“No, it’s not. The hotel called me! So f*** you!”

“You f***ing scab! You’re not taking my money!”

“It’s my money, a**hole!”

All this unfolds beneath the windows of the hotel’s (until recently) sleeping guests. I get in with the driver whose eyes haven’t yet rolled back in his head, but it’s a near thing. As we pull out, the competing driver is shouting unprintable imprecations and pounding on the trunk, thinking to grab my backpack and hold it hostage.

I suspect this is not your everyday Truckee scene. The town counts among the most charming on the PCT — like Julian, some eight hundred miles back — and Truckeeites consider themselves family friendly folk. I hitched in on a Monday after a long day on the trail, asked the tourist office for the best old-fashioned lodging in town and liked it so much that I spent a zero there the next day.

By hiker standards, it’s paradise: cool bars, patio cafes, restaurants, gear stores, supermarkets, hotels and motels, including a hiker hostel (literally) on the wrong side of the very busy train tracks that run through the center of town. The Truckee Hotel is the crown jewel, and among the most affordable, with a fine wood-paneled bar and the best chef in town. I returned to the trail almost reluctantly.

Just when you think you have the PCT figured, it surprises you. By repute, the 40-odd mile stretch from Donner Pass to Sierra City, at mile 1195, is considered something of a sleeper. Ten miles in, I had formed my opinion: pretty, yes, but nothing special. Deep pine forests, grassy open meadows, gurgling brooks and streams, the larger ones crossed by neat wooden bridges. The birds singing, wind in the trees, the trail soft with loam and pine needles — it all reminded me of my own northern Michigan.

Street Brawl photo

How wrong I was. By mile 15, I was agog. Woods give way to crestlines give way again to woods and then to ridges offering vistas worthy of the Sound of Music. And the meadows, meadows, meadows — miles and miles of them, nothing but flowers, rising up the slopes to sharp green ridgelines, etched knife-like against the sky, itself a hazy, milky liquid blue unlike anything I have ever seen.

Words rarely fail me, but today they do: dazzling, glorious, gorgeous, awesome — god-like, even. Yesterday – passed one hiker coming through a more modest patch of flowered meadow. “We’re in a fairyland,” she exclaimed, by way of greeting. What would she say today, I wonder? I gotta borrow from this morning’s taxi drivers. Unbelievable. Unfuckingbelievable.


And here’s where it gets embarrassing. For a moment, the sheer ineffable beauty is so overpowering that I go down on my knees. It just seems like the thing to do. “Thank, thank you, thank you,” I say, over and over, not sure who or what I am thanking but hands held out as if receiving a blessing. As I am.

I stop early for the night, after 22 miles, and camp overlooking a small stream with the sun setting across a green valley in the distance. A light breeze keeps the bugs away.

July 3

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