North and southbound: 2 PCT hikers meet in Seiad

Danielle Jester
Daniel, AKA Lieutenant Nippleshot, left, and Honeybuns – who declined to give his real name – are two of the hundreds of Pacific Crest Trail hikers who have passed through the small town of Seiad Valley in the past few months.

Though the town of Seiad Valley is small and remote – it sits along the Klamath River about 50 miles from Yreka – during the summer months hundreds of people from far-flung places visit the town while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Two such hikers, who go by the colorful trail names Honeybuns and Lieutenant Nippleshot, were spending some time in Seiad on Friday before heading north and south, respectively.

Honeybuns, who declined to give his real name, set off from the PCT’s southern terminus in Campo, California on May 15. His arrival in Seiad marked just over 1,650 trail miles; the PCT is about 2,650 miles total.

He was given his trail name by another hiker simply because he was eating two to three honeybuns a day. A Jacksonville, Florida native, he hadn’t seen the west coast until he flew across the country for his hike. But he’s not a stranger to thru-hiking – the act of hiking a long distance trail end to end – as he hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016.

Having started his hike later than most northbound PCT hikers – typical start dates range from mid April to early May – Honeybuns has come to terms with the fact that he won’t be completing his PCT hike this year. Rather than pushing to make as many miles as possible before his cut-off date of Oct. 22 when he’ll travel to attend a friend’s wedding, he said he just wants to enjoy the experience.

Honeybuns’ main motivation behind hiking the PCT was to see the Sierra Nevada mountains and he said his favorite part of the journey thus far has been seeing that portion of the trail, covered in snow “with tons of green.”

The hardest part, on the other hand, has been the loneliness, he noted. Because of his later start date, he didn’t encounter many people in the earlier weeks of his hike. Since then, he said, “Every time I’ve caught up to someone, they’ve flipped up north or gotten off trail.”

During high snow years, some PCT hikers will choose to skip over the Sierra range to hike further north where there’s less snow, then return to the Sierra after much of the snow has melted. Hikers on the trail this year had plenty of snow to contend with earlier in the season, with the Sierra seeing some of the heaviest snowpack since 2001.

Before hiking through the Sierra, Honeybuns said he’d never dealt with more than 6 to 8 inches of snow. That changed in the Sierra, where the snow was often deep and would stretch for miles on either side of each pass, he recalled.

Eating at restaurants becomes a particularly enjoyable experience for long distance hikers. The average hiker burns at least 6,000 calories per day and many fantasize about what food they’re going to eat when they’re able to stop in town. Honeybuns said his favorite trail town so far is Big Bear, largely thanks to the sushi happy hour at a restaurant there.

He also spoke highly of the food at Denny Bar in Etna, the last town he’d spent time in before Seiad, noting that he ate three of the asparagus, bacon and goat cheese pizzas. And he had nothing but positive things to say about his stay at the Etna Motel, adding that the motel’s manager, Derek Whitley, “is an awesome guy.”

Honeybuns has been averaging about 28 miles of hiking each day, he said, but he’s taking time to enjoy his time in towns just as much as his time on the trail. He isn’t sure of his post-PCT plans. It’s possible that his former employer may rehire him if he returns to Florida, he said. He’d been working as an anesthesia technician in an operating room, a job he really liked. He also talked about the possibility of looking for similar work on the west coast.

Lieutenant Nippleshot, whose real name is Daniel, is a west coast native who decided on the less common southbound PCT route partially because it allows him to “walk home,” more or less. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and now, he semi-joked, “I pay to be homeless.” Pointing to his now home, he said, “I live in that tent.”

Lieutenant Nippleshot was given his trail name by two fellow hikers after he’d hiked about 200 miles. As his first name is Daniel, they originally called him Lieutenant Dan, after the Forrest Gump character. The rest of the nickname came after a hiker handed Daniel his steel slingshot and told him to shoot something. Not realizing he had the slingshot set up backwards, Daniel said, “I shot myself right in the nipple.”

Unlike Honeybuns, LNS had never experienced a thru-hike before setting out on the PCT. He had hiked a small portion of the trail in Southern California’s Anza-Borrego desert. Though it was just a four or five day hike – compared to the exactly two months he’d spent hiking at the time of this interview ­– he said it “destroyed” him.

He did the hike with a 50 pound backpack and said he carried “all the wrong gear” – items that were heavy and ineffective. The trek left him in a lot of pain, he said.

Asked what made him decide to attempt a thru-hike of the PCT after having such a miserable experience on just a small portion of it, LNS said that thru-hiking had been a longtime goal of his. Additionally, he realized that there would be “a ramp-up period” of the thru-hike where his body would be acclimating to the strain and exertion. “I just knew I was a total mess [during the first hike] and there’s sort of a learning curve,” he described.

Along with the convenience of hiking toward home, LNS said he chose the southbound PCT experience because he “had been attracted to the idea of it being a more lonely hike.” And because of the way a southbound hike is timed – southbound hikers typically start in June or July versus April or May for northbound hikers – hikers will typically experience less snow and fewer mosquitos than their northbound counterparts.

According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, over 90 percent of PCT thru-hikers head northbound. LNS estimated that this year the number of southbound hikers may be three of four times higher than normal. It’s likely that many would-be-northbound hikers looked at snow forecasts for the Sierra prior to their hike and decided to head southbound instead, he thinks. And then there’s the northbound hikers who decided to skip the Sierra once arriving there in favor of travelling up to a more northern trail location and heading south, he said.

The past couple weeks have been harder than the rest, LNS said. There have been fewer people around and he’s been in less physical pain, he said. The lessened pain, while obviously a positive thing in many ways, has also made the hike more difficult. The consistent physical pain that he experienced earlier in the hike created a distraction, he explained. In its absence, his mind is freed up to think more about how he misses his girlfriend and other lonely thoughts. Still, LNS said, “having the time to be in the echo chamber [his own] head” has a provided a “good chance to cleanse [his] soul.”

He’s also learned to embrace discomfort. Hiking in the rain has made for some of his less than enjoyable days on trail, he said. “I want to walk with my legs and arms far apart so as little of my body is touching wet clothing as possible,” he said. One day during a soaking slog, he mentioned, “I started writing a rap song in my head about how much I hate the rain.” It was that day or the next, he said, that he came to a realization: “I can’t get away from the rain. It’s just going to be there. It’s uncomfortable but it’s not going to hurt me.”

That realization can be applied more broadly in life, he noted. There are uncomfortable things that happen in life that people become programmed to respond to as though they’ve been injured in some way, he detailed. By realizing that a person can be exposed to an uncomfortable experience continuously and not be hurt by it, that person can shut off their negative response and get through the uncomfortable experience more easily, he said. That change in his thought process “helped me to say, ‘Just shut up and hike,’” LNS shared.

For all the lows on the trail though, there are plenty of highs – both literal and figurative. LNS said one of his favorite experiences on the trail came when he was hiking in Washington. He recounted, “I had sat down at a high mountain, taking my lunch break I hadn’t seen [Mount] Rainer in two days because it had been obscured by other mountains. I was sitting at this high place only seeing off in one direction, then I come around a corner through two trees and see Ranier right in front of me.

It was ultra close and it was just this massive mountain. It was so impactful because up until then it had been extremely far away. It made me aware of how far I’d come in such a short amount of time.” With a smile he adds, “Plus I was really high up, so I hade 3G [phone coverage] so I face-timed my girlfriend and showed her.”

One of LNS’s main objectives now is to make it through the Sierra before any snowstorms hit. One never knows when the snow may arrive. He said he’s trying not to stress about it. During the time of this interview, he was just shy of his 1,000 mile mark.