Day Four: Civilization x 2
- August 22: Dalton Lake to Whispering Pines Campground
- Miles: 19.7
- Elevation gain: 3,000 feet
Eager to get on with my anticipated day of dodging ORVs, I was walking by 6 a.m. The air was chilly, so I started off wearing my Buff and thin glove liners. My feet got immediately soaked walking through dewy grass.
The trail headed uphill and soon joined a heavily damaged jeep road. But I was soon striding along happily, enjoying varied terrain that included slots between 12-foot high rocky walls and even a handful of steep, though brief, sections.
I realize different people enjoy different activities, and I can certainly see that it might be fun to ride an ORV through the forest. That said, it was sad to see how users destroyed the very trails they enjoyed. There were ruts, gaping mud holes and places where riders had continually widened the track, tearing up hillsides.
But much to my surprise, I got to the tiny hamlet of Nemo at around 8 a.m. without having seen a single ORV. The highlight of the morning, so far, was the gang of turkeys ambling through open forest.
As it turned out, the town’s two stores were closed until 10. The Branding Iron restaurant, associated with Nemo Guest Ranch, was open, so I got a cup of coffee and sat on the porch scoping out where I was headed. I could go back up the road and rejoin the CT, but since I was no purist — a hiker who makes a point of walking every step of a trail — I decided to head west out of town on Boxelder Road. The information in my various sources was vague, but I figured the South Boxelder trailhead would not be shy.
After three-quarters of a mile or so, I turned into a small dirt parking area to find yellow police tape and a sign reading, “TRAIL CLOSED.” Off to the right, a paper sign reading “CENTENNIAL TRAIL” had an arrow pointing further down the road. I continued along, seeing no CT signs. When I came to a bridge over Boxelder Creek, I tugged out a map. Clearly, I’d come too far, so I headed back toward town.
I tried following a spaghetti tangle of muddy trails deeply pocked by horse hooves, but none appeared to be the CT. I made my way back to the paper sign, the last clear indicator that the CT even existed, and stood there pondering the “TRAIL CLOSED” barrier. It was the only trail on this side of the road I hadn’t tried, so I stepped over the police tape and after just a few yards through the trees came to a well-built footbridge over the creek … and a CT marker.
Clearly, there had been some kind of reroute in recent years, and the paper sign and “TRAIL CLOSED” notice, along with a lack of CT signage, had confused me. It soon became apparent that the trail had been closed to ORVs, but not foot traffic, and I saw why. As the CT climbed, I walked past deep gouges in the jeep track that would have trapped even big trucks. In places, people had dumped garbage and junk into them, everything from trash bags to busted-up furniture. Lovely.
The last section before Pilot Knob trailhead was a pleasant meander alongside a long, grassy valley to my right. The weather was perfect, the sky was blue, and amazingly, I reached the end of the ORV section without having seen a single vehicle. At Pilot Knob, I made a snap decision to walk a mile west on dirt Merritt Estes Road.
I was hungry and, in a theme that would continue for much of my hike, hankering for Coke. The Sugar Shack restaurant perfectly satisfied my cravings, as I ate a Beyond burger, fries slathered in ketchup (and mustard, a trick I’d learned from a friend years ago on a ferry over the Straits of Juan de Fuca) and huge, bottomless glass of ice and Coca-Cola.
I hadn’t seen a single hiker of any kind so far, and the appearance of an apparent stinking bum did not sit well with all of my fellow patrons. Thankfully, I found took a seat in the far corner of the outdoor patio, well removed from the horrified.
Instead of backtracking to Pilot Knob, I decided instead to roadwalk along Highway 385 for a little over a mile to pick up the trail. The next three-and-a-half miles carried me gently downhill, far enough from the highway that I couldn’t hear the hiss of traffic. I stopped regularly to pluck and pop ripe wild raspberries.
Expecting to come to the Deer Creek Trailhead, I was puzzled when I reached Silver City Road. I had obviously overshot, but had seen no signs and no trailhead. I backtracked a third of a mile, where I followed a faint trail down into a shallow draw, coming to the secret trailhead after a quarter of a mile. It was a perfect example of the frustrations I had with the CT: Signs nailed to trees at regular intervals where the route was obvious, but none when you really needed one.
Ready for a scrub, I followed the road about a quarter mile down to Whispering Pines campground, a place that catered to the ORV and RV crowd. I pitched my tent beneath a small wooden pavilion, showered, splashed around in the swimming pool, then bought a margarita-style drink made with malt liquor. I pored over map and guides while eating dinner, pleased that my 20-mile-day had put me more than five miles ahead of schedule.
Movin’ right along, I wrote in my journal.