Thursday, July 7, 2011

Skunk Trail (Sunday)

I went to sleep Saturday night, my body in agony, but it's amazing how much it seems to heal overnight after a good sleep. Spillz was up by 6:00am, starting her morning coffee. She mentioned having a "trail sleep." That's basically when you fall into a deep sleep, and maybe wake up once to use the bathroom, but are otherwise thoroughly unconscious the entire night. I wasn't so lucky, waking up several times to twist and turn.

We were hiking the tracks by 6:45am. I love hiking in the morning, when the body and mind are refreshed and energized for the day. If the Skunk Train tracks were longer, I could see one developing a love/hate relationship with them the same as one does on a long distance trail.
There were still several long bridges to cross this particular day. We had about 17 more miles to get to Ft. Bragg, and then had the problem of finding our way back to my vehicle in Willits. We estimated arriving in Ft. Bragg by 2:00pm.
One cool thing about the trail is that it had mile markers. They are designed for the train obviously, but it made our calculations much easier. We were making good time.
Again we passed several random railroad contraptions, and homes with 4th of July decorations.
For the most part, it seemed folks were suspicious of us walking down the tracks. A hearty wave or hello, seemed to disarm stares or questionable looks however.
The morning's hike went without incident until we reached Company Ranch. At this point, several loose dogs barked and growled upon our arrival.
It was also one of the rare times I was hiking in front of Spillz, she being the stronger hiker. I was a little concerned how the dogs would react to her since I was the first to pass by. A couple of minutes later she described having to tell one of the owners to call their dog off. Apparently, a boxer locked on to her with it's gaze and it wasn't clear whether it was friendly or not.
Fortunately, we passed without a major incident and returned to the coolness of the shady Redwood forest.
According to my train schedule, the steam engine was due to arrive around 10:15 or so. We could hear it in the distance, but still had to be very careful not to get caught on the middle of a bridge when it arrived.
Again, around mile twelve, my body began to cry out, "Why are you doing this to me!" We stopped for a break just before this long tunnel pictured above. There was a pipe to the right that was making a lot of noise. We knew the steam engine was due to return in the next 30 to 60 minutes. The tunnel was long enough that we did not want to make the mistake of walking through if the train was coming around the bend. We tried to listen, but the pipe was making so much noise it was impossible to tell whether it was a train or not.
We basically had to make a decision based on our brains rather than our senses. The train was not due to arrive yet, but who could really be sure? We decided to go for it. It was a long couple of minutes to walk all the way through, I had to look over my shoulder several times. The floor was covered with a slick coating of mud. I could imagine seeing the headlight coming around the corner and then having to make a mad dash. Thankfully, it never came to that, and we were soon back in the glaring sunshine, heading towards Ft. Bragg.
As we got closer to the coast, the vegetation began to change a bit, we passed some homeless camps, and saw a few stragglers walking down the tracks.
One more mile to go and it was only 12:15pm. Spillz and I were making good time.
We arrived in Ft. Bragg shortly after 12:30, and the pressure to get home in a timely manner began to mount. Spillz walked directly to the brewery to get a pen and paper to make a sign for our hitch to Willits.
After making our sign, we walked the final 3 minutes to the Ft. Bragg Skunk Train Depot for a FAIL of a victory photo. Now, phase two of the adventure.
We were still three miles from the 20 which would take us directly to Willits. Neither one of us wanted to walk the extra 3 miles, but I was a little worried that few people would be willing to stop for us in town to get us to the 20. Some roads feel better than others, and this one did not feel right to me. Anyhow, Spillz put out her thumb while we walked, and I looked for someone approachable to ask for a ride. Thankfully we walked right past a gas station and the first couple I asked for a ride thankfully said yes. They seemed a little leery, but I told them we just needed a ride 3 miles down the road to the 20. They were a nice couple from Berkley, and dropped us off before continuing their journey farther south. One down, one to go.

When we arrived at the 20, we found a good spot and needed a ride the 35 miles or so to Willits. Spillz held out her sign and I stuck out my thumb. It only took about 5 minutes before a woman and her daughter stopped to pick us up.
"I don't usually stop for hitchhikers, but you guys seemed OK," she said.
I started to think that this was too easy.
"I can give you a ride about half way," she said.
It was a pleasant ride, and conversation was easy to come by, despite having to yell over the Christian music that was blasting from the back seat speakers. After arriving at the half way point, she dropped Spillz and I off. We had about 15 miles to get to Willits. It was much warmer inland, and Spillz and I went back to hitching. Again, Spillz held the sign while I stuck out my thumb. We had no luck for the first 45 minutes. Spillz decided to make a sign that said, "Have Gas $." Eventually, a car pulled up going the opposite direction and said,
"You might have better luck a minute up the road. There is a large pull off area with bathrooms."
With that advice, Spillz and I picked up our packs and started walking down the road.
All of a sudden, this huge pickup came barrelling down the road, and swerved in front of us, nearly running us over.
"Throw your stuff in the back!" the man yelled.
As soon as I looked the man in the eye, I had a feeling that this was going to be a risk. His female companion invited us into the cab, and Spillz and I got in. All of a sudden, the man slammed on the accelerator and we were off.
"They call me Scrooge!" the man screamed over the squealing of the tires.
Spillz and I held on for dear life. We proceeded to take the 20's hair pin turns at at least 80 miles an hour. While Scrooge slammed the pickup into gear he screamed and twitched,
"If I was picked up by someone like me, I probably punch myself in the face!!!"
Spillz began to yell, "I'm going to get sick!"
I couldn't tell if she was really going to get sick or she was scared.
Scrooge proceeded to yell over his female companion, "I feen for crank like an animal!"
Oh no, this was getting real bad. I tried my best to change the subject and talk about cars, but I had to yell over the wind, the talking, and the ever present squealing tires.
"I only have about 15 pounds of pressure in my right front tire!" Scrooge barked after taking another sharp left turn in the wrong lane.
With only 6 miles to go to get to Willits, someone in the car mentioned the KOA, which was about two miles before town.
"Drop us off there!" Spillz yelled.
After a frightening 4 extra miles, Scrooge screeched into the KOA, made one last comment about "flipping cars," and let us out. Spillz grabbed the packs while I asked for a picture.

We walked the last two miles back to Willits trying to process what had just happened. We both agreed it was THE. WORST. RIDE. EVER. My car was unscathed in the parking lot, the keys were exactly where we had left them. We drove back to Ft. Bragg where Spillz's car was also unscathed and waiting. Our adventure was coming to a close, but it seemed to present more questions than answers. After eating some pizza at the Ft. Bragg Pizza Factory, Spillz began her drive back to Sacramento, while I returned to Ukiah, not after picking up a young couple hitching the same road we had just been on a couple hours earlier. It seemed the only way I could think of to restore some balance that had been lost...


  1. The hike looked beautiful. Too bad about the ride back to your car. Not much chance to relax and reflect before reentry!

  2. Didn't actually get to watch it, but I saw a listing for a Huell Howser episode (probably "California's Gold") about the Skunk Trail. No idea if it was any good.