Oregon: Ashland to Crater Lake
July 21, 2003.
I awoke in a sweat, despite it being 6 am. I was tired and grouchy
and hungry, the night having been spent in a fit. I was never this
tired while out hiking, no matter how difficult the day before.
I had always well and woke up refreshed and ready for another day.
I slipped on my clothes as quietly as I could and left the hot
room. It was surprisingly cool in the TV room, and outside of the
hostel is was comfortably cool. Sharon and Will were up and about
and had the same complaints that I had. Except more. Will had
been in a room with a loud snorer, whose alarm went off repeatedly
in the early morning. The snorer, not wanting to get up at the early
hour, kept hitting the snooze button. Sharon, too, had a snorer in
her room, although with the heat I asserted that it didn't really
matter. The hostel slowly came to life and Rye Dog made his
appearance. Breakfast was on our minds and we solicited the
staff for a suggestion. Just walk down the street a ways,
till you find this great little place, we were assured. And
so thirty minutes later, we found ourselves well outside of
Ashland, no closer to an omelet and pancakes. The others
decided to cook their own and set off for the grocery store.
I was not so easily defeated, and headed back into the central
area of town, where I found nice looking nook and settled in with a
cup of coffee. Quality coffee is difficult to find, and this place
had some of the best. The Oregonian newspaper provided
some entertainment, though was of no better quality that what I
had read in California. It was, however, a different state and I read
it from end to end while drinking my coffee and eating my
pastrami-green chile-tomato omelet with hashbrowns and a scone.
As with almost every breakfast place on the PCT, the cook was skilled
and turned out an excellent product, for which I did not mind paying
$10. I had work to do today, despite it being a day off, and
headed out into the still cool morning air to start the process.
I was low on cash and needed to visit a bank. I had long ago forgotten
the PIN number to my ATM card and so had to find a bank in which to take
out a cash advance on my credit card. I also had to go to the post office
to pick up my bounce box and buy food for Oregon. I had planned on
sending out food drops to Crater Lake and to two resorts on the trail.
There were no towns close to the trail between Ashland and Cascade Locks,
and so food drops were the standard route for PCT hikers. Still, it would mean
buying a lot of food and the main grocery store was a bit far away.
Then I would have to box everything up and send it out. However, even this
was complicated, as I had to send some of the boxes UPS, and others by the
USPS. On top of all this, I had to order new shoes to be sent somewhere
and buy a plane ticket home. That meant that I had to figure when I wanted
to fly and whether to do so from Seattle or Vancouver. I had to call
my mother and let her know I had made it safely, and I had to see
Terminator 3, whose lure had brought Will into town. He wanted to
get out today, which meant we'd have to catch a bus to the theater in the
afternoon. And the owner of the hostel, who was writing a book on the
PCT, wanted to interview us. We were the first thruhikers to stay at her
place this season, the front runner (Wall) having opted to stay at one of
the fancy hotels when he had come through several weeks before. Zebediah
had stayed at the hostel and had been interviewed by her, but I certainly
wasn't counting him as a thruhiker. My lazy day was looking like a busy
one, exactly what I did not want.
I was able to get my cash advance and bounce box, deciding afterward that
the business end of my day off could wait. Instead of rushing off to do things,
I bought six donuts and went back to the hostel. Will, Sharon, and Rye Dog
were sitting on the porch and playing Trivial Pursuit after
finishing off a massive egg breakfast. They, too, had gotten a box of
donuts. Their game finished, and then another was started, with Sharon
eventually laying claim to the champion of trivial facts. As much as I
tried to dispute this, she only had to show her cap full of markers to
put me back into place. In solace, I finished my box of donuts. This was
what I wanted to do on my day off. Eat and do trivial things, not shop and
mail and be logistical.
And so it came to pass that, as I sat in the shade near the post office,
my bounce box off to Cascade Locks, that Sharon made an assertion. She would
just try to buy food at Crater Lake, and then hitch into Sisters, thus
avoiding maildrops and schedules. It made such perfect sense. Tuolumne
Meadows had plenty of food, and so Crater Lake should be manageable also.
Sisters was a 20 mile hitch, but was also a tourist town, which meant
traffic (of course, the fact that tourists usually didn't pick up
dirty, bearded hitchhikers didn't faze me). It was 100 miles to
Crater Lake, then 155 to Sisters, and 165 miles from Sisters to Cascade Locks.
Perhaps further than I might like, Oregon had a reputation for being easy
hiking and I could make each of the longer legs in five days. A major set of
chores was removed from my day and my zero day was looking promising again.
Now, I just had to buy food to get me to Crater Lake, order shoes, and
buy a ticket home (how depressing that was). Taking Sharon's approach to
making things simple rather than complicated, I decided to have my
shoes send to Sisters and to buy a ticket from Seattle home on the
25th of August, the latest I could. I still had to get on the internet to
buy these things, but that would be easy from the hostel. Will had called
the theater to find out that we'd have to wait until the evening to see
Terminator 3, and Sharon had arranged to have dinner with the
hostel owner. The afternoon was mine again. And I had precious
plans for it: Buy supplies, buy junk food, sit around.
Setting a goal of being lazy is good on a long walk, and I had perfected the
art. In the afternoon I was able to buy food from the natural food co-op and
eat some junk food, but mostly I sat around. A trip to buy stove fuel from a
gas station and to an outfitter to look around were the only distractions, and
even these were enjoyable. My supplies for the upcoming leg were
strewn about my bunk, but I could repackage them later. For now, I
just wanted to sit on the porch for a bit until the hostel owner showed up
to interview us and take us to dinner. Rye Dog hitched out of town, although
it was likely that we would see him again in Crater Lake. He wanted to link up
with Beast and Tutu, which meant he would have to hike slowly for a while.
My zero day was really coming together.
Jennifer was waiting in the parking lot for Sharon and I to buy our goodies
before she dropped Sharon and Will off at the movie theater. I had decided
over dinner that I did not really want to see the movie and instead opted
to finish packing my food and laying about. She had interviewed us for a
hour at the hostel, asking a lot of the usual questions. Questions that I
didn't have much of an answer for, though questions that I should have been
thinking about. I had lots of longwinded replies, but nothing that could be
considered coherent to a non-thruhiker. What I needed were sound bites,
little phrases and set answers to people who would ask the inevitable
questions along the trail, not really wanting to hear the truth, but
wanting a little bit of the experience nonetheless. Jennifer listened
patiently at the hostel and over dinner to our rambling answers. I
wish I could have been more concise, but I had difficulty summing up
1700 miles of hiking. And so I found myself back at the hostel, alone
with the bike mechanics, eating a pint of Chunky Monkey and reading a
National Geographic magazine from 1982. So heavenly was this life,
right now, that I was somewhat put out by the end of my pint. It
seemed somehow grossly irresponsible of me to have run out, yet
I had. I took solace in getting my pack ready for tomorrow. Jennifer
was meeting us at 7 am to give us a lift back to the trail.
Why did she take such an interest in us? Why did she buy us dinner and
drive us around? Why get up early to take us back to the trail? She
was nice, that was all. No ulterior motive could I think of, nor did
her personality indicate that she was doing these things for any
reason other than simply being nice. Perhaps it made her feel good
to help others, or she enjoyed being a part of the trail experience.
No doubt she did, but these things she would not have done if at the
bottom she wasn't just a good person.
My icecream-less state was easy solved by walking down to the corner
store for another, though this time I came away with a pint of
Cherry Garcia. Two large bottles of beer came with me as well.
The hostel had a no drinking policy, which didn't bother me much as I
was not planning to drink them in the hostel anyways. Besides, I
had spied plenty of beer bottles in the hostel's recycling bins.
I took up residence in a comfortable place under the trees outside the
hostel and ate my ice cream and drank my beer, continuing to work over the
dated magazine. Israel, it seemed, was having difficulties in 1982 with
the Palestinians. There was a war going on in west Africa. The president of
my own country was doing things that environmental groups didn't like.
The persistence of history disappointed me and I returned the
magazine to the shelf as I finished off the last of my beer.
Will and Sharon returned early from the movie, apparently having met one of
the hostel workers out front of the theater and so got a ride back
quickly. I had purchased my shoes and my ticket and had even showered.
Will was staying the night and both he and Sharon still had a lot to do
tonight. So, we spent the better part of an hour arguing the merits of
various movies before finally settling down to watch Donnie Brasco.
And so the night repeated itself, right down to the heat and the thick
air and a lack of sleep. I was almost overwhelmed by how fortunate I
was to be here, but the hot room saving me from that ignominy.
Laying on my silk liner on top of the bed, I thought about the
most important question Jennifer had asked during our
conversation, "Why are you doing this?" A note, a tune, and
voice from a radio that was nowhere close reminded me of the
answer. This place, this life, this summer, was simply a
beautiful thing. Being immersed, completely and hopelessly, into
beauty of all kinds and for all the senses, was something I could not
trade and could not live without, I felt. It wasn't only the
grand mountain vistas and fearful desert land, nor the massive trees
and the cool streams, nor the sonorous birds or lazy reptiles.
It wasn't just the way that the world looked as it went to bed or how it
awoke. Not just the brilliance and hope of the stars in the heavens or the
smell of sage and juniper warmed by the sun. It was all the physical
sensations combined with the life I was living in my own mind. It was
the body, mind, and spirit all combined in a harmonious and balanced
mixture. It was beauty as Socrates might have tried to define it.
And so I tried to sleep, anxious for the morrow, anxious for the trail.
I was just as tired and unrested this morning as the one before and was
happy to be heading back out to the trail where I might be able to sleep
with some comfort. I had been told before the summer began that southern
Oregon could be unpleasant: Viewless, mosquito filled, and hot. Once
north of Crater Lake there was supposed to be better terrain, but that was
100 miles in the future. Jennifer dropped Will, Sharon, and I off at the
trailhead back near I-5 a little after 7 am. I never got a chance to say
goodbye to Will, as he powered away from Sharon and I after 5 minutes on the
trail. If he wanted to finish, he really had to hustle across Oregon where
the trail was supposed to be easy. I would have to average 30 miles a day
to finish in Canada; Will had five fewer days than I did at his disposal.
Leaving Ashland I was treated to a dusty, hot, mostly viewless trail,
broken up occasionally by some interesting rocks and views back to
Mount Shasta. The heat of the Oregon summer was generating a lot of haze and
the distant views I had had atop the ridgelines in California were gone.
I did not think that the haze was from pollution as we were far from a
major urban area, though I still took the lack of views somewhat
hard. Compounding matters was the mixture of land found along the
trail. Some was private, some was public, either Forest Service or BLM.
Some the private land was owned by logging or cow companies, other parts by
private individuals, and some by environmental groups. All sported
warnings to stay on the trail and not to linger. Surprisingly, it was
the BLM land that was in the best shape. On the Forest Service land there
were frequent blowdowns and other obstructions in the trail. The BLM
land, it was clear. The FS and BLM lands had just as few views, but
at least the BLM had a water spigot at a horse camp where I could get
some fresh water. And so I walked, completely alone, with Will somewhere
far ahead and Sharon somewhere in the rear. I had last seen her at a lunch
break that we both took near a dammed river. I was only a day into the
trek to Crater Lake and I already wanted to be done with it as quickly as
possible. This was, I felt, really against the spirit of the hike so far.
What had changed, I pondered.
Sharon had come across my pondering as I sat on a bridge across a small
canal that held the outflow of a man-made lake, its stinking, stagnant
water hurting my nose. I needed water, but the stink of the canal
wasn't very appealing. Even with iodine, it might still do my system
some degree of harm. Sharon found another outlet stream that stunk
slightly less and we both filled up before hiking on into the
evening. Oregon was not looking very good when we camped near
Moon Prarie Road in a dried up pine forest. I had no sunset and
ants were crawling over me in camp. The water tasted as bad as it
had smelled, even with a heavy dose of lemonade powder poured into it.
Since we were in a forest, I would not be able to see many stars tonight.
I tried to think back to the best part of the day, to write something in
my journal that might alleviate my growing displeasure with southern
Oregon. I could find nothing. The best part of the day had been
eating donuts in Ashland before leaving. To make matters even worse,
I had little hope for the morrow. This was not good.
The ants had denied me the restful night I was so looking forward to, and
I awoke as a grouch. They didn't bite or otherwise molest me, but they
crawled inside my sleeping back, exploring this strange body in their
homeland. Walking was not going to be much fun today, I assured myself.
There is something about feeding a bad attitude that is so reassuring,
so comforting at times. It is easier to continue in a poor mood
than it is to try to correct it. And so I powered forth, hoping that
somehow I might be magically transported to Crater Lake and have this
stretch of trail over and done with. This was the first time so far
this summer that I asked the inevitable question: Why am I doing this?
And not in a good, introspective way, but in a way that suggested it would
be better to be sitting at home in some comfort. Looking at blank
walls, I asserted, was more enjoyable than walking through this
garbage land. And then I reached the cabin.
On the Appalachian Trail there are three sided shelters the entire length.
Sometimes small, six person affairs, other times fancy 14 person
models with two levels, a front porch, and a skylight. The shelters
were spaced about a half days travel apart (for a normal AT hiker) and
acted as focal points for the trail culture that formed so much of the
appeal of the AT. On the PCT, there was no shelter system: This was
only the second on trail shelter that I had seen, the first being near
Donner Pass. This was a modest affair, but it had a hand pumped well, which
brought up cold, sweet water - a refreshing relief from the outlet water
I had been drinking. I found a bit of shade outside the shelter and
sat down to drink some water and try to pull together my floundering
hike. Perhaps it was the reminder of the AT that the shelter provided.
Afterall, the past two days would have been considered scenic on the AT.
The beauty queen of California just made the homely southern Oregon
meager in comparison. I had to find something other than stark,
grossly apparent beauty to focus on for a while if I was going to
continue to have an enjoyable summer. Days were so precious out here
that I could not afford to waste them in a funk of depression over a
lack of grandeur. And so I looked at the pines surrounding the
shelter and felt better. I scanned the forest for signs of
flowers or small plants, and found only minor rodents. The
mice and squirrels, however, were something to look at I wondered
what they might think of my invading their space for a while. Mostly,
I just sat for a spell, trying to pull myself together.
I was getting ready to leave when Sharon arrived in search of water and
we exchanged the normal greetings. It wasn't clear what she thought of the
land, but I was fairly certain that she was having the same difficulties I
was. Maybe not. She was a veteran of many long trails, not all of them
as scenic as California had been. How grand could the Ice Age Trail
have been? I know she liked it, but her affection for it, and the AT,
could not have come from the sheer visual spectacle of it all. I would
have to find the same. Moving down the trail, I tried to lose myself in
logistical thoughts of the future in an attempt to forget about the
land around me, to put off the problem at hand. I felt better after
leaving the cabin, or perhaps more content is a better word. Regardless,
I was here and I was continuing on. No, I would not rather have been at
home. If nothing else, I at least had the smell of the pines. And then
I had the lava.
In the shade of the forest, the heat and sun were not terribly oppressive.
However, the trail began its climb up onto the flanks of an old volcano, and
then around it. The image of a volcano can be a powerful one. Shasta and
Rainer are old volcanoes. All the major peaks of the Cascades are, in fact,
volcanic. Some of the these are very scenic, white topped monsters that
you can look at and admire from a far. Others, like Brown mountain,
were simply rubble heaps. The rubber was sharp, black lava. Lava comes
down in flows and trees do not survive when the lava comes down. Without
trees, walking on a black surface, the trail took on the character of a road
walk. Like the day heading into Seiad Valley, I roasted on the shadeless
terrain. To be fair, the people who built the trail through here
had a distinct reason for doing so: It was one of the few areas
with a view. It was above most of the surrounding forest and, despite
the discomfort, was really rather scenic. The heat-haze prevented rangy
views, but I could at least make out Mount McLaughlin towering in front
of me. This was the first real peak of Oregon, each leading up to Mount
Hood in a succession of grandeur. It was a sign that, perhaps, I
was in the process of leaving southern Oregon for a better place.
I had traversed the lava fields and then stopped just past a highway to
have lunch and rinse out my socks from yesterday. A big, strapping
man made river was flowing near by and there was plenty of shade. Sharon
appeared and began a siesta as I was leaving, though I was not
alone for long. Not three minutes down the trail, I ran into a man in his
late 50s, carrying all the gear that a thruhiker might. But, there
wasn't a thruhiker in front of me that I had not yet met.
Coach had begun hiking the
PCT last summer, but had to get off after a parasite left him in a
weak state. He was back this summer and had hiked most of the Sierra
region before skipping ahead to northern California to continue his
hike north. I kept expecting him to drop back during the few minutes
that we hiked together. After all, I was the all-powerful thruhiker and
was a mere 29 years old. Coach was a section hiker now and had just
come back from a wedding. Coach passed me, uphill, motoring on
without any difficulties.
I arrived late in the day at Christie springs to find Coach well
camped and Sharon poking about for water. This was an important
water source as there was precious little between here and
Crater Lake, 39 miles away. The sky was grey rather than purple, and it
was clear than a storm was on its way, the first since the snow at
Benson Pass, exactly one month before. Sharon and I found some space
near the spring and set up our tarps, getting set just before the storm
introduced itself with a drizzle. Then it rained. Then it poured and
the sky lit up with lightning flashes the size and power of which
I had not seen outside of the midwest. Thunder roared and the rain
came down harder and harder. My tarp was pitched well and no rain hit
me directly. However, the ground was so dry and so hard that after a
few minutes of rain, the ground just couldn't absorb it quick enough.
Rivers and creeks formed around us, flowing under my floorless
tarp. To keep my sleeping bag dry, I had to put it back in its
stuff sack. The heavy rain kept up for thirty minutes before
abating, giving the ground a chance to soak up the water. The
rivers dried up and I was able to get into my sleeping bag again.
The rain died off completely, replaced only with the wind and some occasional
lightning from the storm. My first rainstorm of the trail, I thought, had
occurred after hiking for 76 days. Even with the crash of thunder,
I slept deeply and comfortably, even with my slightly wet bag.
It was cool again and there were no ants. My hike was back, even with the
loss of two days to a funk.
The morning greeted me with a mist and a fog and a slow, cold wind. Mosquitoes
were out and and about, prompting me to put a full coating of DEET on my
legs and ears and neck and I hiked out, waking Coach in his tent with a
cheery Goodmorning. I felt better than I had for the past two days and
had a long day of walking in front of me. Crater Lake was within reach, the
land was looking more mountainous, and fog in my head was gone.
My expectations were not dashed, as the trail from Christie spring led out
onto ridges and the mist began to burn off. The cooler air that came with the
storm and the rain that it dropped had washed away much of the haze,
and I walked with actual pleasure, even with the mosquitoes and gnats
swarming about me. The DEET on my face kept them from landing, but
they swarmed about nonetheless. The ridgeline that I had walked from the
spring eventually gave out and I was forced down into the valley below,
but the sun had finished burning off the mist and driven the mosquitoes
away with its heat. Coach and I swapped places as our breaks were
staggered at odd intervals, but I was able to sit down with him at a
quiet stream side location for some lunch and a general drying of
gear. Sharon had hiked on, apparently on a real mission for
Coach was from Superior, Wisconsin, near the border with Minnesota and
was something of a legend, as it turned out. Sharon had heard of him,
but was very familiar with his exploits. Superior was not a large town,
yet it held one of the powerhouses of Wisconsin highschool football.
Coach was the headcoach of their football team and had been recently
inducted into the highschool hall of fame for the many state championships
that he had brought home to the small town in the northwest corner of
Wisconsin. I should not have been surprised to find that he was
a football coach, as many of his mannerisms reflected that.
He was driven and leadership spewed forth from his every pour. But
behind that was a warm, kind soul. He didn't have the constant
antagonism of most of the highschool coaches (in any sport) that I
had known. The coaches I had known had only one way in their small
minds to motivate people: Try to taunt them and embarrass them and in the
process somehow their anger might make them perform better. It was a
method of motivation that actually seemed to work with a lot of people.
It also drove alot of people away, as it had me. Coach, however,
was different. He was able to grasp the fact that not everyone can be
treated as a mindless machine, as something to be molded by fire and
forged against a hard anvil. Inside of him was an understanding and
caring and a certain softness. This softness could be seen in his
eyes when I asked him if he had children. The quiet stream and the valley
we were in went deathly silent as he began to speak of his children,
one of them in the past tense. One of his sons had died recently in a
traffic crash and the wound was still fresh. I listened to him speak of
his boy and it was clear that he was still coping with his loss.
I changed the subject to the future, not wanting to intrude on his
pain, and asked him if this was his last outing before heading taking
up golf in Florida. Coach thought this rather funny, as it was
meant to be, and declared that this was only the start. He had other
grand plans, such as cycling the perimeter of the country and
paddling from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the rivers of the
US. Given that there is no NorthWest Passage, I thought this a
rather good scheme. It would involve a lot of paddling and
portaging, and some walking in between. It would mean lazy
days floating down a river like the Ohio, and strenuous days
paddling against the flow of the Missouri. Walking with the
ghosts of Lewis and Clark through the Bitterroot mountains before
flowing down the broad back of the Columbia. After packing up my
now dry gear, I said good bye to Coach, thinking that I would not
see him again. He had had several days off attending a wedding
back east and, surely, would not be in the kind of hiking shape to
crank out a 39 mile day. The wedding, by the way, was one of his
former player's. He was the best man at the wedding, a fact that
no longer seemed so surprising to me after talking with the man for
a while. I wanted to be just like Coach when I got older and hoped that
some of his zest for life had rubbed off on me in our short time
Coach's pack disappeared over the hillside in front of the grass
where I was taking a break only four miles from Crater Lake.
Not only was he going to make Crater Lake tonight, but he was going to
beat me there. I was not competitive out here and the fact of
his making Crater Lake showed more about his abilities than a lack
of my own. I was comfortable with how I was hiking, but it was perhaps
a sign of the strength of the hikers out here that I could put in a
39 mile day and be the last of three to make it. Sharon was somewhere
in front and would certainly make the campstore before it closed tonight.
I would be in before 9 pm, but it was unlikely to stay open that late.
I started off through what the guidebook described as an "Oregon
Desert", though the description certainly didn't fit with my idea of
a desert. There were pine trees a plenty, though spaced far enough
apart that it didn't truly feel like a desert. There wasn't a lot of
sand, but there was a lot of grey volcanic soil. The one true
comparison between here and the desert was given by, of all things,
the sun. I had missed the sunset for the past two days, and then the
two before that when I was in Ashland. Like a strung out junkie,
I was itching for a sign of the pink and the orange that the
end of the day brought. It was growing in intensity and reached an
apex when I reached the road to Crater Lake. The official PCT
continued along north, but I was not going to follow it. Because the
PCT was officially designated to be used by horses as well, it was
at times routed around sensitive areas. Hence, it was going to miss
Crater Lake, but I was not.
Walking the road to the Mazama Campground was, like the aquaduct walk
in the Mojave, a real joy. Not a single car was to be found and the
relative openness of the road gave the sunset full honor. It was
cool and pleasant as I rode a high all the way into the campground,
finding Coach and Sharon's packs in front of the still open store.
Coach was inside and somewhat surprised to see me in the store
so early. He had warmed up some hotdogs in the microwave of the
store and anxiously rushed outside for dinner. The tide of good feelings
brought my energy levels up as I realized that I was done with the really
bad southern Oregon stretch and had nothing but the grand Crater Lake
and the big Cascades in front of me. In a fit of energy, I even
resupplied for the long leg to Sisters in the well stocked, cheap
store, before sitting down outside with Sharon and Coach and a
quart of chocolate milk. I had a box of donuts for desert and a
box of donuts for breakfast. Sharon thought my boundless energy
somewhat amusing and distracting, but tolerated it well enough.
She had arranged for us to stay in a campsite for a mere $14,
which seemed enough of a bargain. Rye Dog was somewhere in the
woods she thought and we would doubtlessly see him tomorrow morning.
Set up under my tarp and eating the last of my desert donuts, I was
happier than I had been for some time. I was out and free and the
land was again good. Coach was, by his example, supplying me with, well,
all sorts of good things. I had hiked further today than I had ever
before, although not by much. Perhaps best of all, I felt that the
two days out of Ashland had been more beneficial than I had thought
at the time. I knew that not all of Oregon could be stunning, and that
the mosquitoes were supposed to be ferocious until I reached Sisters.
I knew that I would have long stretches of trail with obstructed views
and the heat was going to be oppressive at times. But, I also knew that
it was here that I needed to be. That, even with all that I dreaded about
the next 155 miles, there was nowhere else I would rather be. With the
bad would also come the good. I just had to enjoy the bad as best I
could and the good would eventually come.