So we met some northbounder who stated unequivocally that the rest of Oregon was flat and boring. Needless to say, I’m cautious of hiking advice from nobos, as we sunrise hiked some of the most beautiful trail we’ve seen yet…
Day 35 – 39 (Highway 26 to MacKenzie Pass – near Bend)
Miles hiked this section: 109 ish
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 to mile 1990
Total miles hiked so far including blue blazing etc: 680 ish
Groucho’s sore throat wakes him up throughout the night. He takes Aleve but is still feverish at dawn. I get up at 8:30 and eat/read at the picnic table nearby – I just checked out Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me” from the online Seattle Public library.
Around 9:30 Groucho gets up and although we could hitch 6 miles to Government Camp and get a hotel, he’d rather hike on to the next water source and see how he feels. Thankfully the terrain is flat today.
At 11:30 we reach a cold toad-filled spring. Martin is there taking a break- we join him, and enjoy water and snacks.
A few miles later we break again at Little Crater Lake – a tiny crystal blue pool, 40 feet deep and 34 degrees, fed by an underground aquifer. Groucho jumps in as local teenagers and dogs gasp in wonder. The water invigorates him and he dries off in the sun.
The afternoon is lazy and flat flat flat as we walk the shores of Timothy Lake. I listen to Groucho’s archive.org download of public domain essays and texts. Notably, a Librivox recording of Life Without Principle by Henry David Thoreau. I feel I am connecting with a brother from another time hearing a voice reading:
“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!”
I feel very scholarly. We pass at least six equestrians. Until now we’ve only seen evidence of horses, now we see the huge wonderful beasts and I am allowed to feed one called River a “horse cookie.”
We enter a blessed huckleberry patch and lazily eat our way through the next few miles. I begin to anthropromorphize the berries, wondering if there are two hung aside each other, if I should pick both so they won’t be lonely.
We pass NOBO’s Indy and Brethless who deliver a message from Martin that he is camped 3 miles ahead. He’ll do happy hour at Ollalie Lakes with us tomorrow. An hour later we confirm the plan in person at camp, right next to a creek teeming with tiny fish.
We wake up at the same time as Martin and walk out of camp together. It’s our first time hiking with another SOBO. Our goal today is to walk 20 miles by 4pm so we can enjoy a beer at the Ollalie Lake Resort store. Martin, who works in Sweden as a sled-dog trainer, loves huckleberries as much as we do and there are plenty so they are joyous miles getting to know our new friend.
We stop at Jude Lake, hoping for a quick swim around 3:00pm, but its all silt so we hike on, arriving at the Lake around 4:30.
The store is great for a simple resupply and has a fridge full of beer and soda and a few NOBO’s lounging on the porch. We are not allowed to swim in the lake, but enjoy a couple hours of snacks and a few beers while noticing a growing cloud of smoke by the looming Mount Jefferson… definitely in the vicinity of the trail, but maybe about 50 miles ahead, so it’s hard to tell. No one knows anything about it.
Some campers pul up in an extra American super-truck with a full plate of ribs and some fresh fruit on hand, and we watch in amazement as Martin eats 5 lbs (2.2 kilos – he’s Danish) of BBQ ribs.
We cautiously set off around 6:30, stopping for a swim at the first lake we get to, and then walking another hour to Upper Lake where we hope to camp. We see no fewer than 10 tents, so we hike on, coming to a beautiful meadow great for cowboy camping. Martin has packed out the fresh fruit and a beer for each of us. We go to sleep just as dark arrives and the cloudless sky is bright with stars on the new moon.
Today it feels as though we pass a million NOBOs. We’re beginning to hit the edge of the wave and we wonder if it’s actually a tsunami coming for us as we reach central and southern Oregon.
We begin the day with a climb up to Jefferson Park and the view of Jefferson makes for a great lunch spot. We spy a lake from the ridge and an hour later are swimming in the lake. So beautiful and clear and bug free.
We pass a series of glacial creeks and rivers. Milk Creek makes for an especially tricky ford as far as not getting your feet wet, but I succeed by making a spiderman style jump across some rocks. Lady section hikers applaud me from the sidelines.
This day ends in a long climb uphill to Shale Lake. At the lake we pass another handful of NOBOs one of whom thinks they recognize us from the Appalachian Trail 2 years ago, when they were also a NOBO and we were SOBOs. We hike on a few more miles where the guidebook app promises “a camp site with a *view*” and indeed there are plenty of flat spots to cowboy camp with a view of Jefferson in the North now. We point our sights on the Eastern sky, willing the dawn to wake us. We have a big day planned tomorrow.
We have heard about the famed Big Lake Youth Camp for months and today is our day. The Seventh Day Adventist Camp caters to young people, but is notoriously generous to hikers as well, offering donation-based showers, meals, laundry and services. Today our goal is to hike the 27 miles by 4:30 so we can enjoy dinner and a shower with these fine folks.
Groucho and I wake at 5:00 and hike out. These early mornings pass so quickly and quietly. As I round a bend, I see the sunrise pinkening the clouds on the horizon, and because we are walking thru the site of the 2011 Jefferson wildfire, I am able to spy, way down in the valley, a plume of smoke rising from beside a lake. A wildfire? I check the compass on the Guthook app and determine that the fire is far enough off to the west that we won’t cross it. At the junction for Wasco Lake, where we take our morning break, we see a taped off side trail to Marion Lake, closed for fire. Now at least we know where it is.
We are back on trail by 9:30 am, already 10 miles into our day. As we begin a 3 mile climb uphill, the terrain becomes more and more sparse. The sun is also reaching full strength and we miss the shade from trees, so we pull out our trusty Chrome Dome umbrellas. I am eternally grateful for the possibility of creating my own shade. The last 14 miles of our day are all flat or downhill, but all through the 2011 wildfire zone. Burned and blistered branches. Silvery naked trunks of trees. Lush green undebrushes of berries and grasses. And the penetrating sun streaming thru a pure blue sky. It is beautiful and haunting.
We reach the camp at 4:30! And it is as awesome as everyone says. The vegetarian meal is humble but filling, and we enjoy wifi, showers and a fantastic hiker box in their little hiker hut. (A hiker box is like a free grab bag of whatever other hikers don’t want. This one was a treasure trove.)
After dinner, we hike on another hour and camp about 10 miles from McKenzie Pass where we plan to meet our friends from Bend, Jim and Rita, tomorrow morning at 10am.
We wake at 5am and despite 7 miles of old burned area, and 3 miles of shadeless lava rock, the whole morning flies by. The morning really is the best time for me to hike. The mind is alternately peaceful or sometimes dreamily active, but I am not burdened by heat, or aching muscles or goals or miles. It is the most absolute pleasant calm… miles to go until I sleep, and no worry about when or where that will be.
We arrive at the pass and walk east, up to the observatory which is super beautiful with views pointing toward all the many surrounding mountains. We feed an already fat little chipmunk some of our dried blueberries. Jim pulls up around 10:30 and we are shuttled the 40 miles to Bend OR where we resupply, shower, do laundry and errands. Then we rent bikes, order pizza and begin our real break. 36 blessed hours to do normal vacation things, eat, bike, write, read, and watch movies. Thank you Ratcliffe Family!
Day 30 continued
Before I fall asleep in our hotel room, I google “wildlife that shrieks like a woman in Goat Rocks” and come up with compelling audio/video evidence to suggest that the screaming we heard was likely a cascade-version of red fox. Goats make screaming sounds sometimes too, but I find no video evidence to support this. I sleep soundly with the knowledge that we probably didn’t leave someone to die out in Goat Rocks.
My parents are coming today, so I take another shower. We stop by the house of trail angel “Shrek”, and pick up our gift. Shrek lets hikers stay in his yard, shower and do laundry. Trail angels are so incredible. We meet Martin, another SOBO from Denmark.
My folks, brother and nephew roll up with our resupply. We ride to Hood River and have EXCELLENT VEGAN PIZZA at Solstice. We have been waiting for this moment for weeks.
We cross the street to the waterfront park and pack up our resupply while enjoying another full picnic. Our strategy to eat like maniacs in town, and not hike with SO much food seems to be working. We’re probably only eating 2000 calories on an average hiking day, but thousands of calories in town.
My New Balances are shot, and my toes feel scrunched. I don’t understand, as I wore this model throughout our AT hike. Groucho has been talking about this book “Born to Run” which explains how thousands of years of human foot evolution is ‘surprisingly’ better than a couple decades of capitalist shoe technology. I wish I could go barefoot… but that would probably slow me down at this point. I go to the excellent running store in Hood River and leave with a pair of zero-drop Altras. They are no frills — no arch support or heel (this is what they mean by zero drop), simple laces, a foot-shaped toe box, and light weight durable mesh. Because they are out of my size in a few other models, I get the Olympus – which has EVA foam padding on the bottom of the shoe, so they platform me a half inch taller throughout the whole sole. I am suspicious, but my toes are liberated so I go for it. Over the next few days I will see the benefit of the Eva foam, an excellent cushion from the lava rocks and occasional roots on trail.
My folks drop us off in Cascade Locks. We run into Nigel and Flossie and offer to buy them a cider while we charge our devices. Jack, a section hiker we met a few days ago is there so we sit out back and enjoy our first real social time with other hikers. Jack says that after he walked with us a few days ago, he named his walking sticks after us. Flattering! We enjoy the company and stay a bit too late, walking out of town around 8pm. We hike a few miles until dark, eating fresh cherries that a farm stand gifts us, and find an empty campsite near Eagle Creek. We worry it might be a pay site, but it’s already 10pm so we cowboy camp, vowing to wake early and vanish before morning light.
We are out of camp by 5:30 ish. We take the Eagle Creek Alternate Route, and it feels like vacation. A slowly sloping path creeps by at least 4 dramatic waterfalls. The creek has plenty of great swimming, and Groucho skinny dips twice before 10am. A dreamy morning. Around noon, we begin a climb up out of the valley to meet the PCT again at Indian Springs. Since it is not graded for horses, the route becomes steep (*almost* like the Appalachian Trail) and my calves burn. I turn up the tunes, and wonder if I will ever feel in shape on this trail. Walking all day, every day is hard work, regardless of how often you do it.
16.5 miles into our day, we run into the Dane – Martin – who left Cascade Locks yesterday morning. He is lounging across the trail by the spring, reading his kindle. Apparently he has hiked only 3 miles today (it is almost 6pm). His ease and charm refresh my tired bones. I love meeting hikers who remind me that it doesn’t need to be a slog every day… and that it’s not about how many miles you crush. His relaxation is contagious and we end early today at the next campsite we find.
If yesterday was vacation, then today is the marathon. Literally and figuratively. We have 24 miles to go to make it to Timberline Lodge – a national landmark, famous as a WPA legacy project, the site of the second chairlift in the US, and the hotel featured for external shots used in the Steven King movie “The Shining.” Groucho convinces me that we should get there in time to buy a beer. We think the restaurant closes at 7pm, so our goal is to do the 24 miles by 5.
The day begins easily and we quietly finish our first 7 miles by 9:30am. Around lunchtime we take the 2 mile “Ramona Falls” alternate, a little loop that used to be the PCT but is no longer safe for horses. It passes the picturesque Ramona Falls. We break at the falls, enjoying all the day hikers, and finishing the last of our snacks. Nothing is as motivating for a thru hiker as an empty snack bag. We hike out of the falls to reconnect with the PCT. Once we meet up with the PCT, our next milestone is a “tricky river ford” and I see/hear it in the valley below. We have only 10 miles to go until TOWN FOOD, and 4 hours to meet our goal. I have no doubt we will make it. I put on tunes and we are hiking fast, feeling great. I awake from my reverie and realize I no longer hear the creek beside us… we are on a trail, but my instinct tells me it’s not right. I stop and consult the map, and then turn on my GPS Halfmile App, and then the Guthook App. All confirm we are on the PCT, but somehow heading North again. We have hiked a mile in the wrong direction. We turn around, and soon run into a delightful couple of day hikers who confirm that yes, we missed the turn off. UGH. We look at the clock. We still have 11 miles to do and now only 3.5 hours. We are going to be late… maybe we will still make it before the restaurant closes, but it might be tight.
The ramen snacks are wearing off, as we descend into the sun-soaked valley of the Sandy River, which we eventually ford in bare feet. Then we have our big climb for the day – and even though I have all the tunes in my headphones, I am discouraged by our pace, and feel like I’m in extra high gear the whole way up. We pass a few NOBOs who confirm that the lodge has pizza if we get there in time. I wanted this to be a fun and relaxing few days and I am bummed that we are chasing what seems like an unrealistic goal. I eat dusty huckleberries hoping for a little energy boost. It’s too late to change the plan. We are out of snacks. HIKE FASTER.
A few miles later we crest the hill and enjoy a short descent. Unfortunately Groucho’s shin splints start acting up. We are reluctant to stop, but know it will be better if he rests them for a second. I try some thai massage which seems to help. We sing the town food song which helps on our last ascent of the day.
Two miles from the lodge, the terrain plateaus and walking is easier. It is 5:15. We will probably make it in time for beer. We run into another SOBO – Aho a recently retired mathematician, and his ol’ college friend who has joined him for a week … a couple of super sweet gents. While Groucho chats, I call the lodge and find out that the pizza joint is open until 8pm… and there is also a bar with food that is open until 11pm. Eureka! We are saved! We entice our new friends to go a little further for beer and pizza tonight. They are tired of carrying weight, so they set up camp, and then hike into the lodge just for dinner.
As we get to Timberline, we run into Martin who apparently passed us in the night and has been here since 3pm.
We head to the Blue Ox bar, and they make us outstanding personal vegan pizzas. We hang with our new friends and then meet a folk singer named Scott who is touring around the national parks and the Northwest in general. He, like many others, is sleeping in the quaint historic lodge tonight. He and Groucho chat into the night, and eventually he decides he’d like to buy our tab, declaring that he is inspired by what we are doing What sweet, unexpected magic! Thank you Scott.
We are elated by the unexpected magic, warm from the food, and happy to be amongst signs of civilization. We hike out at dusk, choosing a flat, covered spot to cowboy near the chairlift. Stars are epic. It is almost a new moon.
I wake several times during the night to wind. Groucho switched to his summer weight bag at Cascade Locks and he is especially chilled. We try to huddle for warmth, but without our tarp we are exposed to some cold wind here at 6,000 feet. The sky is dark with clouds passing thru. I dream within a dream that I wake to rain and we are struggling to put up the tarp. This frequently happens in the wilderness, the noises, temperatures, elements barage the senses and make their way into your sleeping life, so that it is hard to tell if you have been awake all night, or if you have merely dreamed you were awake all night.
At 6:00 am we hear the chairlift creak to life above us and the voices of lifties heading up to work. I pack up and brush my teeth and run my fingers through my tangled locks, preparing to rub shoulders with clean-smelling folk during the the famous all-you-can-eat brunch buffet.
We charge our devices in the lobby and run again into Scott, who asks if he can by us brunch. Amazing generosity. We enjoy chatting with him and learning more about his travels and life trajectory. We are joined by Martin, and Aho and Aho’s friend (whose name I am forgetting and am very sorry.)
My folks, brother and niece meet us at the lodge with our next resupply and we enjoy this opportunity to see them for the last time in several months. After touring the lodge, walking along the trails and watching Belle improvise a comedy routine in the Ampitheater, we yellow blaze (ride in a car) with them down the mountain to Barlow Pass. Groucho and I hiked this section in May as a training trip, so we’re not too sad to miss the miles.
At Barlow Pass we enjoy a huge picnic that mom has lovingly put together, and then almost suddenly, they leave. I feel a crashing wave of sadness… it is always hard to leave the comforts of civilization, but especially so when I also leave the complexities and energies of family. While I cherish my freedom and autonomy, I feel tethered to these humans. As they drive away it’s as though they have caught part of my spirit in their car door and the growing distance stretches my heartstrings too thin.
I sit in the dirt and seek solice on my i&i. I feel emotionally and socially tired and not much like walking or talking. Groucho confesses that he has a sore throat, isn’t feeling great, and would like to only walk a short way before camp.
We hike for less than an hour and camp near the rest area at Highway 26, bedding down by 7:30pm, crossing fingers that a long, warm night will cure Groucho of whatever ails him, and that sweet slumber will reset my spirits as well.