In the dark

by Gillian Larson | posted: May 17, 2014

After Graeagle, I continued along the road toward Quincy until I could make my way back to the PCT by cutting across on a series of dirt roads. On Thursday night I camped along what seemed to be a deserted road only to have a truck drive through my site late at night; I was a little creeped out by that, and I immediately used my satellite communicator to text my coordinates to my mom, so she at least knew exactly where I was, but the rest of the night proved to be peaceful.

On Friday the horses and I reconnected with the PCT, and as night fell I planned to camp along a river that appeared accessible on my GPS guide of the trail. But when I got there, I discovered a huge, deep gorge, with a suspension bridge over it, and no water access at all. The horses navigated the bridge alright, but I was very worried about where we would camp and how I would get water for them, as there had been nothing for miles before the bridge, just switchbacks on a heavily wooded ridge, and there didn't seem to be anything promising ahead, either. I thought it was possible that I'd end up riding through the night just to find water. Then, when I crossed a dirt road after the bridge, I figured I'd try following it to see if it led to the river somewhere--maybe someone's fishing hole access? A little further on, the road forked, and I stood there for a moment trying to decide which way to go: eenie, meenie, miney, mo . . . At last I decided to go to the left, for no particular reason, but it turned out to be a fortunate choice. Just a little further on the road dropped sharply, then widened into a sort of clearing, and out of the corner of my eye I saw something rectangular--a horse water trough! How I got so lucky to find that in the middle of nowhere, I have no idea; it's almost like something was guiding me to it in the dark. The water in it wasn't the most pleasant, but I didn't hear any complaints from Shyla and Takoda, who were just happy to have plenty to drink, and there was even some grass to graze on.

Then on Saturday we continued to Belden, but got delayed past nightfall on the trail by several downed trees, one of which took me over an hour to hack my way through. After that, as we continued toward the town, which I could see off in the distance because of the lights from a music festival there (even though I was too far away to hear any music), I walked in front of the horses in the dark, when all the sudden I saw some eyes glowing ahead in the bushes on the trail, reflecting the light of my headlamp. They were forward-facing eyes, so I knew they belonged to some sort of predator, but I couldn't tell what it was. I yelled and waved my arms, but whatever it was didn't budge. I had seen a bear weeks before, north of Highway 58, and a coyote or two at different times, and even bobcat earlier Saturday along the trail, but all of them were very shy and ran off immediately, perhaps especially wary of the horses. But whatever owned these eyes wasn't moving. Finally I started barking like a dog, and then the creature turned and left the trail. But all the rest of the way to Belden, as we descended on a steep series of switchbacks, I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking of how predators generally attack from above, and imagining how I must look like the "baby" of the herd, and the easiest of the pickings! It was 1 a.m. when I arrived at last in Belden, and boy was I glad to see civilization, even if it consisted of an interesting assortment of human beings camping in the woods during the festival. I disturbed one young woman under a tarp in the horse corral and apologized for interrupting as I said I needed to put the horses there for the night, but she was very gracious and told me that horses had "great energy" and a "cool vibe" so she was happy to share the space!


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