Oregon: Crater Lake to Sisters

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July 25, 2003.
Even though I was not taking a day off, my earlier than expected arrival in Crater Lake gave the impetus to take a little time off this morning. Plus, there was the store, and the store had coffee and newspapers. I got Sharon a cup of coffee and one for myself and was able to fish out yesterday's editions of USA Today from the recycling bin. Sharon was just starting to move when I handed her a steaming cup of coffee and sat down on the picnic table to read yesterday's news. As always, yesterday's news differed from the all other days by a few details. Still, it was nice to sit for a while and read the paper over coffee and donuts and watch the park campground slowly come to life. It was still a bit cold in the mornings and the prime season for the park had not yet arrived, yet there were still a few hearty souls out camping in the forty degree morning. Coach and Sharon went off to resupply and I left the paper for them to engage in the almost daily task of sock washing. Since I had started putting on a clean pair every day the foot fungus problems that I had started having after Mojave had cleared up completely. And my feet smelled better, which was no small benefit, according to Sharon.

Rye Dog made his appearance from the woods and joined the three of us for some breakfast out of the store. All of his money was in his bounce box, and his bounce box was in the post office up the road, which was one reason he didn't stay in an official site last night. His lack of money also meant a lack of food, and he was quite happy to accept a small loan from Sharon to buy some cereal and milk. My pack seemed extraordinarily heavy, though not just because of all the water I was hauling. On the alternate route I was taking, I would not go near water until late in the day and I was hauling 2 gallons of water in addition to the food required to get me 155 miles down the trail. This worked out to around 15 lbs of food. Combined with 18 lbs of water, plus my normal gear, my little rucksack was a pig this morning. I went to the store for a second breakfast of 2 Microwave "Cheeseburger" pizza rollups. Each promised 800 calories and, while I'd rather of had a omelet and pancake combo, the rollups really were quite tasty. Maybe I was just hungry, though.

With a last quart of chocolate milk drunk, I said good bye for good to Rye Dog, who was planning on slowing way down to wait for Beast and Tutu. I would not see him again on this trip unless I got hurt. I was sure that Coach and Sharon would catch up with me sometime soon, probably by the late afternoon. Leaving the campground around 10 am, I started walking up the road to the rim of Crater Lake. About 100 yards of road walking convinced me that another 8 miles of it would not be pleasant at all. There was no shoulder to walk on, and in places I would have to be on the road itself, not a good idea when sightseeing tourists are driving large, overloaded vehicles in the same space. 100 yards, and my thumb was out. Two cars passed without a glance and then a ranger in a truck pulled over. I ran to the truck, thankful for my goodluck, only to hear that hitching was illegal in the park. However, he would give me a ride up to the rim if he had the time. A few radio calls later, I was being whisked up to the rim in comfort and safety, chatting with the ranger. I liked talking with rangers when I could, partially because I thought it might be an interesting job to have. But, also because rangers had interesting stories to tell and always seemed to know a few fun facts about their place of employment.

The ranger dropped me off at the main visitor center at the rim and pointed out the trail/sidewalk I was to follow. After a brief stop inside the visitor center to fill up on water, I walked out to the rim for my first view of Crater Lake itself.

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Perhaps my expectations had been too high, but what I saw, while grand, was not on the scale that I thought it would be. The blue of the lake was deep indeed, but not the otherwordly color that I had expected. I had seen more interesting colors in a body of water in other places; this was just really, really blue. The lake was dramatic, being rimed with high cliffs, and had the mysterious Wizard Island, slightly offset from the center of the lake. Yes, the lake was large, but not mind-bogglingly so. It was something that I would not be able to take in completely using my camera, but I could with my eyes. When I first saw the Grand Canyon this March, I was amazed at the sheer size of the place. On that trip I had hiked down to the river and then along it before looping back up after a few days. Great fun in one of the only places that I had been that was simply too large to take in with a single view. Crater Lake just couldn't compete. Tourists were starting to form in clots along the rim, and so I pushed on in the still cool morning air (the lake is more than 7000 feet above sea level). The trail was a paved sidewalk for a while, though it quickly turned to a well worn, graveled trail. Steeply graded in places, it tried its best to stay alongside the rim of the lake, dodging back to the main road every 1/4 mile or so. The steepness of the trail kept most of the tourists down by the road, standing by their cars in "official" lake-viewing locations. The reasons they had for not walking just a little bit on the trail I was on escaped me, but I had to admit that the official places did have great views of the lake.

The heavy pack and the generally lazy feeling, driven, no doubt, by the presence of the lake, induced me to stop in a grove of trees overlooking the lake, where there were no tourists and the wind was calm. Making up some instant hummus, I smelled a rather disturbing scent coming from the bottom of my food bag. While the beginnings of the scent had been present on previous days, this was now rank: My organic garlic-onion bagels were decomposing. I had purchased a sack of them in Ashland and still had three left (they were not very good). The heat and the lack of preservatives combined to force a quick decay. Although they still tasted fine (I cut off the grey parts), they were smelly to a great extent and made my food bag, and hence my pack, reek. I sat and lounged for an hour, thinking that Coach or Sharon would be coming by soon, but no one did. I was all alone out here and was perfectly happy being so. They could catch up with me tonight at Thielson Creek, the first water source since the rim visitor center. And so I set out, dropping away from the lake for the last time, traversing through fields with distant views of the spire summit of Mount Thielson (the creek being on the other side), heading down to cross the road one last time.

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Dropping away from the lake also meant dropping into forested valleys and the end of the distant views. I would not be able to see Thielson until I was almost upon it, and this was slightly depressing. The heavy pack and the afternoon warmth, slightly less than the usual heat, kept me in a languid mood and my pace slow. At every break I thought Coach or Sharon would come upon me, but they never did. Tracing my way across another stretch of Oregon desert, I saw something odd in the sand-like volcanic soil. Something odd, because it should not have been there. Imprinted, quite visibly where the alternate route rejoined the official PCT, were a set of Asics Eagle Trail tracks. I had worn these shoes through the Sierra and their sole was very distinctive. Coach wore Eagle Trails, but he couldn't be ahead of me. I left before he did and with the exception of the short stop in the visitor's center I had been on the trail or nearby the entire time. He couldn't have come by me, but yet here were the tracks. Perhaps there was some day or section hiker wearing the same shoes. Perhaps, but not likely.

Across HWY 138 the PCT began to climb out of the forest that I had been hiking through since leaving the expansive views of the immediate Crater Lake area. I saw a figure moving slowly up the hill in front, a person, to be sure, was under the enormous external frame pack that blotted out the form of the person. I could see the blue jean clad legs and a bit of a flannel shirt on the arms, signs of a person new to hiking. I caught up with the sweaty man, who must have been broiling in the heavy clothes and huge pack, and exchanged the usual pleasantries before leaving him far behind. This was an easy climb for a thruhiker. But, for someone just out of their car it might be difficult. I didn't even bother to look for what kind of shoes he was wearing. I didn't have to. The trail topped out at the perfect time: 7 pm, cool, and with an incredible view of the backside of Mount Thielson. I was even ready for a break and the a bit dirt with a boulder for a backrest provided a perfect place to relax for a little while. I had become a big fan of taking a break an hour before reaching camp. By doing so, I always felt fresh and rested and unhurried on my way to bed. Having Thielson tower above me was an extra treat and I didn't even peak at my map until just before leaving. It was fun just looking at the mountain and trying to pick out nice climbing routes on it. It was nice even just to look at it with an artistic eye, rather than an analytical one. It was nice all around.

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I had reached Thielson creek and loaded up with yet more water: It was a long, dry trail to the next reasonable water, and even that was off trail. I had drunk down most of the 2 gallons of water that I had left Crater Lake with and my shoulders had been happy for the last few hours, when only a liter was on them. I was planning to camp next to the creek, but found several tents occupying the exact spots I wanted. No matter, the land is large and I could put in another mile or two. It was nearing 8 pm and I still had plenty of daylight to find a good, scenic campsite. Crossing the river, I came across an elderly couple just as the woman was about to drop her pants behind a tree (but in front of me). I gave a short whistled and she jumped out of her crouch in a fit of astonishment. We both had a good laugh over this and I continued forth in search of my room for the night. In the end, I had to settle for a room without a view, as I was solidly within the forest and had neither the desire nor the time to climb out of it. A small plateau down hill from the trail was flat and isolated and formed my bed for the night. Despite being in the Mount Thielson wilderness, sounds of rock music wafted up from down the hill, where a few cars and some locals were out having a good time in the semi-outdoors. Remarkably enough, the music was turned very low around 9:30, and I was able to sleep. The sounds of rocks falling off of Mount Thielson could be distinctly heard, crashing and banging their way down the mountainside. The rocks would not bother me, this far from the mountain, and the creekside campsites were well protected by both trees and some distance. There was nothing for me to do but to sleep, and sleep I did, knowing that tomorrow would bring yet another day in this bit of paradise.

I sat in the mud, and wanted to cry. Not because I was tired or sad or angry, but rather for the simpler reason of disappointment. It was hot, I had been walking hard, and I was thirsty. I'd been out of water for the hour before reaching this spring and really needed the water. The spring was, of course, steeply downhill and about 1/3 mile off the trail. The spring was a swamp, with a little mucky water and some mud. There was nothing for me here and my hopes of a cold drink were dashed. The morning had gone well and I had been moving efficiently and with relative happiness. And now I had another 2 hours to the next water, in the heat of the day, and even those two hours might not bring me relief. I might have another 3 miles on top of the 6 to Windigo Pass. There were rumors of water at the pass, but they didn't seem likely. At the pass, also, I had a choice. There was an alternate route to the PCT that was shorter, flatter, and actually had water. Of course, the water was from ponds, but it was water nonetheless. Crying wouldn't make me less thirsty, and so I tried to stiffen by backbone and make the best of it.

Being thirsty when there is water available isn't such a bad thing. People do it all the time. Being thirsty when there is no water to be had is wretched. Add in a mid 90 degree day and lots of hill walking and you have a formula for frustration. Coach's tracks were still in front of me as I wandered down the trail, still surprised that he was in front of me and that Sharon had not yet caught up. I was frustrated physically by the lack of water, and that led to a degradation of my enjoyment of the trail. When I finally got to Windigo Pass, I was fairly certain I would take the alternate route. But, perhaps a long, cool drink of water would change my mind. A note from Coach on a bulletin board said that he could not find the water. A note from Will was also on the board, as was a message from Wall. I left one for Sharon and set out on the alternate route: Its water was closer than that on the standard PCT. It had been almost 3 hours since my last drink of water and I still had another hour to go. I was still sweating and not in any danger, but it was severely unpleasant.

Today was just not to be mine, I thought, as I looked at the lake. Lined with reeds, it was nothing more than a breeding pond for mosquitoes. Perhaps 2 feet deep at the center, it was stagnant, stinking, and warm. I didn't even hesitate to wade out to the center in my shoes to try to get the best water I could, avoiding the scum around the edges. The silt at the bottom of the pond was so loose that suction from my waterbottle (used to put water in my bag) stirred it up. I could fill 20 oz. before I had to move to a new spot. My waterbag was filled with something liquidy, somewhere in between green and grey. On the bank, you could spy my route through the lake perfectly. Tracks in the water.

Now that I had water I also had to wait for the iodine I dumped in it to work. I needed to give it another half an hour and set the timer on my watch. The pond was the very definition of a bad water source, but I needed the water and couldn't skip it. The iodine would have to do. In the mean time I started boiling water for the instant potatoes I had purchased in Crater Lake. Looking at the package, I saw my mistake. They really were just instant potatoes. No other flavorings. Not even salt. The package contents were just:Dried potato flakes. I was even out of olive oil. And so I sat in the shade of a small bush, trying to beat the heat, thirsty, yet with a bag of water next to me, and hungry, yet with a pot of something inedible cooking away. I waited twenty minutes and called the iodine done, drinking down most of the 2.4 liters in the water bag before turning on the potatoes. Without any flavoring, they were like eating paste. Or, at least, what I imagined paste might taste like if it had no taste at all. This was all too much.

In a fit of anger, I hurled the contents of the pot over my shoulder and into the woods behind me. Instead of landing in the woods, the clump of potatoes hit the trunk of a tree, and stuck, a whitish mass of goo stuck to a small tree. Providence had again provided, and out came a few squeals of laughter at the sight of the potatoes on the tree, and at my situation in general. The laugh did me some good and I packed up, wanting to put in some long miles before the end of the day. I wanted to get to the Three Sisters Wilderness and their attendant mountains as quickly as possible, even though they were still around 60 miles to the north. And so I set out walking, laughing as much as I could as I went. I laughed about the potatoes on the tree, about my water gathering excursion in the lake, about Arnold and Grey, about the color of my socks and the fact that I had both red, blonde, black, and brown hairs in my beard. I laughed about how silly mathematics research is. I made up jokes about tree sitters and Dick Cheney, and short rhymes about, well, anything. I felt better than I had since leaving the mud patch called a spring, and it was with actual contentment that I cleared exited the trail onto a road, which led directly into a developed campsite where there might be water.

The campsite was large and seemed to cater mostly to horse riders of one sort or another. Near the entrance was a friendly old couple who were acting as campground hosts for the summer. We talked for a while about the weather and the heat, about the mosquitoes and whether there were any bears in the area. We both agreed that it was hot and that the mosquitoes were bad. They, incidentally, had a fire going to keep the mosquitoes away. They pointed me up the road to where I could get some water and where the trail might go. I wished them well and thought how nice it might be, when I'm 75, to be a campground host somewhere interesting.

I used the toilets and dumped out the last of my pond water in favor of something a little more palatable from the camp's many spigots. I chatted briefly with a variety of equestrians, who seemed to be gather for some large ride this weekend. I always seemed to get along well with the horsemen, I think perhaps because they have such a negative image with hikers. This causes, I think, many hikers to take an adversarial approach to equestrians, and equestrians to hikers. Perhaps I was a bit starved for company, as I had been alone all day. However, I suspect that the interest paid to me by the hosts and the equestrians as a thruhiker made me loquacious. After nearly an hour in the campsite, I finally shouldered my pack and headed out for another hour or so of hiking. Picking up the trail again was a bit difficult, but at last I left pavement for the woods, yet again. And then the mosquitoes came.

In the lake country of Oregon, mosquitoes are omnipresent, in swarms, no less, but they are only active at certain times of the day. The heat of the late morning and afternoon was simply too much for them and so during the bulk of the day they presented no problem to a hiker. However, once 6 o'clock in the evening came, they were out with a bang looking for food. I was the food, as much as I might not like it. I had 100% DEET in my pocket and used it liberally. It was enough to keep the mosquitoes off me for 10 or 20 minutes, but not more. They were just to rapacious. I had experience bad skeeters before in northern British Columbia. These ones couldn't beat the Stikhine bugs, but they were close. I killed them in scores, just by closing my palm in front of me. I knew that I couldn't kill them all, and so I tried to outrun them, blazing up the trail at 4 miles per hour. The skeeters understood this folly and all it served was to run into new packs of them sooner. There would be no escape from them until I was under my netting. At the same time, I wanted to get as far as I could tonight before stopping. I wanted to get back to the mountains that I had last seem from the flanks of Mount Thielson yesterday evening. And so I hiked on, swatting and killing, cursing and sweating, as I roamed through the unmentionable terrain. It was a test of desire and patience and I was able to hold out till near 8:30, when the mosquitoes were just too bad. A dry stream bed looked good enough, considering all I wanted was to get under my netting and away from the bugs. I found a relatively flat, stony area and through out, racing the mosquitoes to see if I could get my sweaty clothes off and into my bag before they completely drained me of blood. This wasn't how I liked to end the day, but I just couldn't take them any longer.

The mosquitoes had another hour and a half in which to try to feed off of me this morning, although I certainly killed more of them, far more, than were able to get sustenance from me. I quickly rejoined the PCT from the alternate route I had taken yesterday, thankfully rejoining at an actual creek where I was able to replenish my water supply and avoid more pond water. Near the creek I came upon two backpackers, out for a few days on this stretch of the PCT, which they had heard was fairly empty, but scenic. They were out for the summer hiking various parts of the PCT, doing a lot of camping and fishing, and generally having a lazy summer outdoors. I agreed heartily with their philosophy of recreation and left to their work. I was on a mission this morning for the Three Sisters Wilderness, a massive tract of land in central Oregon centered around three volcanoes, known as the Sisters. I would not be able to make the mountains today, but I could breach the wilderness at least: From the southern boundary to the Sisters lay 20 miles of forest.

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The mosquitoes went away for their nap during the warmer hours just as I arrived at Diamond Lake, a spectacular expanse of blue with long Diamond Peak above. In the quiet and still of the morning, the lake's surface was the perfect mirror, providing even more splendor to it than normal. I was glad, though, that I camped where I had last night: The thought of the number of mosquitoes that must live here chilled me. But, Diamond Lake was to be the last of the scenic stuff for quite a while. Oregon was like this, as I was finding out. In California, the scenery went on and on and on, and the trail rarely had a lengthy forest walk, under thick trees, for any extended time. There were times when I was buried in forest during a long, multi-thousand foot climb, but I knew that when I got to the top I would be back on a ridgeline or plateau and the scenery would be grand. In Oregon, things didn't work this way. From Ashland, I walked for nearly 100 miles with little that I would call scenic, the exceptions being a a few miles around Brown Mountains and a few miles north of Christie Spring. Then I got Crater Lake and all of its grandeur, but quickly went by. Twenty miles later, I got Mount Thielson, which also quickly disappeared. Then, nothing until Diamond Lake. Now, another 10 or 15 miles got me to quaint Rosary Lakes, and a few more to Charlton Lake, where I rested for lunch.

Charlton Lake was large and fairly accessible, and a few canoes disturbed the water, a few tents were seen on the shores. The mosquitoes had made a noon-time appearance in a fit of hunger, bothering me during the usual peacetime that the heat brought on. Thankfully they were not here, at this marvelous lake, and I was able to eat my supper of Lipton's Noodles and Sauce in serenity. Why lakes are so peaceful I'll never know. But sitting by the shore of one in the peace and quiet of a July day in Oregon was not only restful, but rewarding. Just sitting and watching the ripples on the surface, caused by a slow breeze and the occasional canoe, was a good way to spend time. The mind was quieted, and everything seemed to float in the very present. No worries about the future, no troubles over the past. I should like to live in a place like this, though that might spoil much of what is so special.

It was nearing 6 o'clock when I entered the burn area. A desolate stretch of land that had once been a forest, and might be one again sometime in the future. For now, though, it was white, charred trees, with dead fall and cinders everywhere. It was also the end of my time away from the mosquitoes: It was time for them to wake up and make their daily search for food. I took some comfort that I was not an easy target for them, and that many more would die by my hands. Even if I swatted whole generations of them, however, some would get a little blood from me and so perpetuate their lines. Mosquitoes had the numbers on me, and killing them served only to make me feel better, rather than actually alleviating any problem.

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I left the burn area happy to be among the living again and crossed the boundary into the Three Sisters Wilderness. I left the burn area in a sad state because with the increase in living things, and with the increase in time, the mosquitoes were now out in force. It was only a matter of time before their incessant buzzing, swooping, and biting would drive me under my netting. The DEET I was carrying was good, as usual, for 20 or 30 minutes before the effect was no longer strong enough to keep them off of me. And so last night was repeated, with me racing through the woods hoping that the mosquitoes might be just a little less thick ahead. Racing against my patience, knowing that once I was in the mountains, the skeeters would be thinner. The mountains were 20 miles away, a distance I could not make tonight. However, humans' perhaps are unique in the natural world in that they can, and often, do things for non-logical reasons. We are spiteful and vengeful and like to feel our power. And so it was that at 8:30 I found myself at Brahma Lake, a giant mosquito breeding ground, the smooth surface of the lake glowing yellow with the sunset. How long had it been since I had seen the sunset, I thought to myself. Not since walking into Crater Lake, my memory informed me. Why not stop here, my laziness asserted. Show how much stronger you are than the mosquitoes by staying here, in their prime domain, my ego argued. Yes, I would stay here, in the thick of them.

As I had a few more minutes than usual this evening, and was the only one at the lake, I took the opportunity to take a short sponge bath and scrub out my socks. The mosquitoes loved this, as my skin was exposed for easy feeding, and my still body promoted a good landing area. My feet felt better after a long soak and looked to be in good condition still. The pads of my toes were starting to hurt, however, and I noticed that small cuts, or grooves, had begun to form on them. My feet usually hurt at least a little in the New Balance shoes I was wearing, but the consistently long days, paired with shoes whose toe-box was just a little too narrow, were beginning to take their toll. No matter, I would be in Sisters the day after tomorrow and I had new shoes waiting for me there. The sun was down and my glow was gone. I was at least partially clean and felt I had proved how much stronger I was than the mosquitoes, though I did not care to prove it any more tonight. I ate my cookies under my mosquito netting, taunting the skeeters that landing on top of it, knowing that dinner was now out of reach, but wanting to try nonetheless. I was content, unlike last night, knowing that the mountains were again within my reach, that I would be able to wave goodbye to the mosquitoes for a while, and that perhaps they had less power over me that I had previously thought. Or, at least, I was able to fool myself into thinking so before nodding off for the night, all alone by the shores of still Brahma Lake.

Today was the day. The day I would return to the mountains and leave, for a little while, the deep, dry forests of Oregon. It was roughly twenty miles from Brahma lake to the basin before the South Sister, and I was determined to get to it before stopping for lunch. This was just as bad as racing a PO: I was hiking for a goal, a location, rather than enjoying the time that I had here, in this place. It was everything that I did not want, yet I had to do it. With some effort, I could get back to a land that I really loved, and leave behind one that was somehow much less appealing. I hadn't developed enough to be enjoy the long forest walks in Oregon. I hadn't developed enough to truly enjoy the journey, rather than only the destination. All of the this was very apparent to me, yet I pushed on anyways, wanting to get up high again.

Shortly after 1 pm, I found myself hiking up a dry, southern California style mountain, through waving brown grass. Winding higher and higher along the mountain, switchbacking furiously, I was sweating immense sheets, soaking every bit of clothing I was wearing. It was hot again and the mellow grade of the trail could not overcome the heat and the lack of shade. For, you see, I was leaving the forest behind. I was almost there. And then, I rounded a hump on the flank and in to view came a giant, red mountain. looming in the distance, too far to the east to be on the PCT. Still, it was my first warning that I was getting close, that I was returning to the mountains of my youth on this hike. The South Sisters must be close, and ten minutes later, it too came into view. A massive hump, this former volcano had mostly collapsed into itself, leaving a lump, rather than a cone. Unlike the Sierran mountains, the South Sister, like its relatives Shasta and Lassen, stood by itself, rising massively from the lava strewn countryside, a single sentinel in a land otherwise dominated by forest. Even though I knew that a lake was not far, I had to sit for a spell to look at the mountain, knowing that it marked the end of my racing; I could once again focus only on the journey, and not on the destination. It was easy to do so now, seeing as how I was at my destination.

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The humidity of the past few weeks had faded, making the heat a dry one, as in southern California. My sweat body was dry within ten minutes of sitting in the shade, and I felt it was again time to hike. Dropping down from the mountain side, I quickly gained the base of Mirror Lake, which would have reflected the face of the South Sister in its expansive waters had they not been occupied by several swimmers and loafers. Even though the place was different because of them, I could not grudge anyone the enjoyment of this place. Besides, the distance from a road meant that they had walked her, suffering greatly, no doubt, based on the massive amount of gear that they had. I spotted three children and two or three adults splashing around, either in the water or on top of blow-up rafts. Nestled in a far shore were two large family tents, with assorted furniture set around them. There was a certainty that that at least one of the splashing children would take the memory of this trip with them into adolescence and adulthood, adding to it by continuing to explore the outdoors, though perhaps accompanied by less gear.

I settled into a clearing near a side trail, protected from view and the sun by large bushes. I didn't want to disturb the tranquility of the camping family and tried to hide my presence as much as possible during my time at the lake. If they looked carefully, they might be able to pick out my orange shirt near the shore, but it was unlikely. I settled in to wait for my noodles to cook, lamenting my empty olive oil bottle. Lipton's Noodles and Sauce were always much better with a healthy dose of oil tossed in. Without it, they didn't quite cut it. The noodles bubbled away for a few minutes before the alcohol fuel ran out and I set the pot on the ground so that the food could finish cooking. I had been in the outdoors long enough for my hearing to become extremely acute. A person was coming my way and they were close. It could be Sharon, although the steps didn't sound like a hikers. Whomever was walking, they were doing so with a forced effort, rather than the smooth, energy-minimizing gait of a thruhiker. The person was also trying to be quiet, perhaps not wanting to disturb the family, just as I had not wanted to. A clean shaven face wearing boots and a day pack came around the corner with a look of surprise. Looking me over, he knew rather quickly what I was doing out here. And he wanted to talk.

I was no longer an idle California kid, out of a walk. Rather, I had hiked far enough to have the sort of wild-eyed look of a long term traveler. I was not a mere professor of mathematics, but someone doing something that many people found intriguing. Few people would want to be a college professor, speaking of calculus and differential equations to young minds, but almost everyone liked the idea of setting out far a long walk in the woods. The idea of leaving everything behind and leading a simple life, of recapturing the spirit of the frontier than was such a formative issue in my country. The land was mostly settled now and the frontier was now relegated to Alaska and the desert. Still, it was an image that could not be burned out of the American mind despite the influence of things like Fox News, American Idol, and Starbucks. I spoke with the hiker for 30 minutes, my noodles cooling even in the intense heat of the afternoon. I was doing something that he wanted to do sometime, if only he could get the time off. If only he could get over the idea of living out-of-doors for months at a time. If only he could separate from his wife and children for a summer. If only...what? And so he listened to every word I said, rather than simply nodding and waiting for a turn to speak. When students sit watching me in the classroom, they take copious notes, but rarely actually listen. They take down what they think will be useful later, to be discarded after the next quiz or exam. To be fair, there are some that are truly interested, but for most my class is something to be completed so that they can make progress in a degree. The man was listening to me, trying to extract as much as he could for later use, also. But, the stories and experiences I was relating to him might exist in his memory for more than a week or a semester. When he left, and I began to eat my now congealed noodles, I felt like some sort of rockstar. I'm not sure which one of us came away with more from our brief encounter in central Oregon.

With the lake behind me, I was now in the basin. The South Sister loomed high above, with the Middle Sister peeking slightly over the flank. The Middle Sister was black, contrasting starkly with the reddish hue of the South Sister. It was spikey and spire like, having escaped the collapse of its more southerly kin. Walking out in the open, away from the trees, the trail ran through the heart of some of the greatest terrain north of the Klammath range. And it was flat walking, clear across this plateau. I could see, perhaps a mile from the trail, a group of a dozen or so people in camp. Spread out along the banks of a snowmelt creek that ran off one of the Sisters, they were evidently in for the day,perhaps with the intention of climbing one or more of the Sisters in the morning. I waved to them in the distance, but declined going over to talk with them. My 30 minutes of being a rockstar was enough for the day. Near the edge of the plateau, the Middle Sister came out in full view, though I quickly lost it as the trail plummeted down to a river valley and the trees again.

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After watering at a comfortable creek, I dropped to the river bank on innumerable switchbacks and crossed the valley where it sat. Two tents were spotted off on the edge of the valley and further up were another set, their occupants fetching water on the edge of a tributary of the river. I exchanged the usual greetings, but did not want to stop and talk with them. The heat of the day was gone and the light was just right. I wanted the beautiful land all to myself and think they understood: The man had a heavy beard and the woman was wearing near-thread-bare nylon pants. They were used to being in the backcountry and knew what I knew, thought like I thought. And so I left them and began the climb out of the river valley, passing several other hikers on the way up. This was justifiably a popular place. Bend was close by and was known to be something of a mecca for the outdoor oriented. Supposedly like Boulder, CO, before it got large and was swallowed up by the wealthy looking to flee Denver, Bend was ideally situated for those with a mind to be outdoors: Rock climbing at Smith Rock, backcountry hiking and alpine climbing in the Sisters, and skiing opportunities at Mount Bachelor. Though I had only driven through it, Bend seemed at this time to represent the ideal, the perfect place to settle when I was done in Indiana.

Eight thirty found me out of the river valley and in a halo of orange and pink. I was standing in the middle of a sage dotted, lava plateau looking at the sunset, not caring that the bits of lava rock under my feet would not be the most comfortable place to camp. It didn't matter, when I had other, more important things to consider. I kicked a few horse turds out of the way and threw out my ground cloth so that I could recline while watching the horizon. Mosquitoes were out, though not in the ferocious swarms that had characterized the last few nights. As the horizon darkened with the setting of the sun, I nestled deep into my sleeping bag and pulled the bug netting over my head. As it seemed I always did when I was camped at spot like this, I continually thought how fortunate I was to be out here, how fortunate I had been to make the decision to come out here for a summer. It wasn't a hard decision to justify when I had a bedroom like this for the night. I was doing something beautiful that, come what may in the future, I would always have with me. If nothing else came in my lifetime, I would always be able to reach back and hold on tight to the memory of this summer. At some point in the near future, I would be sitting at home in Indiana doing nothing of particular import. But, sitting inside me would be the memory, the core of a experience that, perhaps, would leave me as a different person. I could lose my books or my futon, but I would still have this. I might lose my sight or my legs, but I would always have this. As long as I retained my soul, I had something that could never be taken away, and that gave me confidence and hope in the future: I had grasped something immortal and undying. A little piece of the infinite, here in this finite world.

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Leaving my plateau in the clear light of the early morning, I began the end of the climb that I had started the evening before. Leading up back into the forest, moving steadily along the flank of the mountain, the trail began slowly to leave the trees behind and begin the lava traverse that sprawled through the area. Trees began to thin until I was left with only small flowers and shrubs as vegetation. This, by itself, was fine with me although the cause of this would prove unpleasant a little later in the day. The trail led up a narrow gully dotted with lava and grass, climbing higher until topping out with a spectacular view of the North Sister and the hanging glaciers that emanated from both it and the Middle Sister. I was now completely on lava, without even a plant to smell. The glaciers were the first that I had seen, as neither Lassen nor Shasta have glaciers large enough to be spotted from any distance. The blue, shattered ice that so characterize glaciers could be seen, distinctly at several points.

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On top of exclusively red lava rock, it was difficult to find a comfortable place to sit and take in the view. Indeed, I had to walk ten yards off the trail onto a spit of land overhanging the gully below to get the view and the comfort that I desired. As much as I liked the Klammath Range in northern California, this was, perhaps, the best land since leaving the Sierras. I was hopeful that it would continue for a long time as, sitting on the spit of land, I could see all the landmarks that would guide my trip through the rest of Oregon, all the way to the Columbia, 175 miles distant. Lined up in a row where Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and, barely visible, Mount Hood.

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While a few trees could be seen along the route, for the most of the rest of the day I would be on lava. When the sun came out, it was going to be an anvil against which I would be crushed. I was planning to resupply in the town of Sisters, a 20 mile hitch from a highway maybe 8 miles distant from here. Hiking well, I could make it to Highway 242 before noon and hopefully score a ride into town before the heat of the day was too awful. It could spend the afternoon in Sisters resupplying and eating, and picking up my new pair of shoes at the PO. My feet were hurting from the grooves on the pads of my toes, and I wanted out of the traction poor, uncomfortable New Balance shoes as quickly as possible. If I had average luck with hitching, I should be able to be heading back to the trail by 4, when hiking on the lava would be a fun, interesting experience instead of a baking one.

Leaving my roost near the North Sister, I dropped quickly down into a slightly forested valley, which bent and undulated in a general descent down toward the highway. Along the way I was again transformed into a rockstar as I met a group of ten sixty-somethings out for a day hike. Spending thirty minute with them telling them about my trip and about some of the logistics of it (why did everyone want to know the weight of my pack?), I was less thrilled with the rockstar status that the PCT was conferring on me, but it was fun to talk with the day hikers, regardless. The enthusiasm that spilled out of them was inspiring. Not so much for the fact that they were toward the end of their life and doing something that I liked doing now, but rather because the more than 60 years that they had spent being bombarded with advertising and marketing and the general dross that permeates normal, civilized life had not left them dull, boring consumers.

The last mile of the walk to the highway was on pure lava. Looking across the distant highway, I could see the lava extended for a long, long way. Dark and jagged, traversing it in the heat of the day would be unpleasant, to say the least. I was staying in Sisters for a while, though I was determined not to stay the night there. Looking back, I kissed the Three Sisters goodbye, having enjoyed, immensely, their company for the past day. I was invigorated by our short encounter, something I desperately needed after the long walk through the mosquito filled woods north of Mount Thielson.

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When I stepped onto the highway, thirty minutes before noon, I knew that the hitch might be difficult. The two lane highway was about half as wide as normal and had an abandoned look to it. There were two general routes from the heavily populated Willamette Valley across the Cascades to a town like Sisters, and this was the one less traveled. The guidebook said something called an observatory was just over the hill and I thought that would be a better place to hitch from, as it might draw tourists, who might give me a ride. I walked over the hill to find a heap of rubble that was supposed to be the observatory, complete with an expansive parking lot and an interpretive trail. There were a few cars in the parking lot, but no shade of any kind. It was hot, there on the black asphalt pavement and I put my sun hat on in anticipation of a long wait with my thumb out.

In thirty minutes of standing out with my thumb pointed in the direction of the road, three cars had driven by. With each car that pulled into the parking lot, I smiled at the occupants and tried to say hello and something witty. A single male trying to hitch is not normally viewed as a safe bet, which is why I had, in the past, tried to hitch with Glory or Sharon. However, they were not around and I was on my own. To mitigate the fear factor of picking up a bearded, filthy man, I made sure they knew I was a PCT hiker before they went to see the observatory. I was hoping that when they were done and heading back to Sisters, I would no longer seem such a fearsome person. A cyclist crested over the hill and I put my thumb out, no so much hoping for a ride as hoping for a little conversation. The rider, a 20 something man, thought this rather funny and stopped in front of me, promptly falling over when he couldn't get his feet out of the clip-in pedals in time.

The cyclist was just starting a ride across the country, having started out on the Oregon coast six days ago. Although he had lots of new, fancy gear, he was still traveling fairly lightly and we understood each other immediately. "It is all about freedom, you know?" was his response to my unasked question of why. I knew, indeed. He had been squatting on some land near Crater Lake for most of the spring and early summer, working various jobs to get enough money to spend the rest of the summer and the fall cycling to Wilmington, North Carolina. He was heading into Sisters for the night, where he was meeting a friend of his. They were planning on camping in the city park tonight and he encouraged me to meet him and his friend their. They would buy me dinner and drinks in exchange for more stories from the trail. As nice as this sounded, I wanted to get back on trail tonight so that I could be off the lava fields before it got too hot tomorrow. As we talked an elderly couple came down from the observatory and began pulling out. They stopped and smiled and offered me a ride down the hill. I said goodbye to the cyclist and wished him luck on his trip. I would be doing what he was doing sometime in the future. I had met enough long distance cyclists this summer to become enchanted with the idea of a long ride along the backroads of this huge country.

My ride down the hill was courtesy of a husband and wife who used to live in the area and came out every summer for a few weeks to see old friends and relive old times. The wife was suffering from a degenerative disease which made it more convenient to live in Salem with close access to top-grade medical care and physical therapy. Whisking me quickly down the road, feeding me grapes and a sandwich along the way, they gave me a quick summary of Sisters and where I might be able to get supplies and a good meal. They dropped me off at the post office, seventy minutes after first putting out my thumb, in the stifling heat of mid day. Unlike the higher than that I was used to, Sisters sat at the base of the eastern slopes of the Cascades and was only a few thousand feet in elevation. What had been low 90 degree temperatures at the observatory were now upper 90s, with the mercury rising. The postoffice was air conditioned, though being self aware of my smell I did not linger inside after picking up my new shoes and socks. Since leaving the Sierra Nevada, I had stopped shredding socks, partly because my feet were no longer constantly wet and my shoes no longer held large amounts of abrasive sand. I put my new Asics on, bidding farewell to the New Balance that had so hurt my feet over the last hundred and fifty miles. I mailed the socks to myself at Cascade Locks, where perhaps I might need them, and then retreated to the shade of the bench in front of the PO to rest a bit and think about what I wanted to do next. With the heat, nothing happened quickly and I was not going to give up the shade without a plan.

While I sat thinking a man in his sixties, wearing a thick white beard, came out of the PO and struck up a conversation. A long time resident of Sisters, he was interested in what I was doing, as I was clearly not a normal tourist. Sisters doesn't see too many PCT hikers and I was enough of an oddity to spark his imagination. A truck driver by trade, he was very friendly and we wheedled away thirty minutes talking of the weather and what eastern Oregon was like. He was heading out to Ontario, OR, this afternoon to drop off a load of machine parts and so we talked of Ontario. I'd been through Ontario several times in the past and sympathized with him. As hot as it was here in Sisters, it would be five or ten degrees hotter in the east. After giving me advice for where to find the best food in town and where to buy supplies, he offered me the use of his shower. I politely declined, not wanting to put him through any trouble and wanting to get something to eat. We parted amiably, he heading around the corner to his house, and me down the board walk to a local grill that he recommended.

Sisters is one of the uglier tourist towns that I've been to, beaten out only by the Pigeon Forge-Seviersville-Gatlinburg complex on the north slopes of the Smoky mountains in Tennessee. The downtown area was designed for wealthy, transient families passing through on a summer vacation to nowhere. Fudge shops, clock shops, t-shirt shops, and even a cigar shop. The plural on the first three of the above shops is intentional: There were, unbelievably in a town so small, multiple fudge shops. If one store selling novelty clocks is too much, then what is said about a town that has two? I couldn't imagine that the inhabitants of Sisters actually liked the way that their town had turned out, but perhaps they did. Just as I did not mind being dirty and smelling right now, perhaps they did not mind the way their town was right now. Perhaps after the summer the tourists go away and the town returns to normal for most of the year. Sisters has a great setting, so maybe the rest of the year is palatable. Right now, though...

I had eaten my standard bacon-double cheeseburger with fries and a coke, along with a slab of Marion berry pie with a scoop of vanilla icecream, and had found my way over to the supermarket for supplies. Sitting on the sticky concrete in the shade near the trash area of the store, I ate down my pint of Chunky Monkey in peace and quiet, reading the free housing market ad magazine. Although I was a sight, no one bothered me here and it was cool to boot. Store workers came and went occasionally, but offered nothing except a smile and a wave. I think they realized that this was the only bit of shade to be found close by, and that it was better for me to be here than sitting in the frozen foods section eating my pint. My pack was again heavy, with supplies enough to last me the 166 miles to Cascade Locks. I was counting on making it in four days and a morning, a rapid pace but one that I could maintain without sacrificing my enjoyment. However, the longer miles required more food than a normal hiker would consume and I had at least 15 pounds of food. Additionally, it was nearly twenty miles to the nearest sure water source, which with the heat meant that I was hauling five liters of water, for an additional 11 pounds. For now, though, I was happy with my ice cream and my shade, quite content to let the heat of the day pass before returning to the road.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck is perhaps one of the great ways to see a short stretch of the countryside. Like riding a motorcycle without having to worry about the driving part, the bed-of-a-pickup truck rider gets to be out in the air, the world rushing by, without a care. In the bed with me were three other hikers, clean and fresh from several days off in town. The pickup was old, of 1960s vintage, and had various Grateful Dead and Free Tibet stickers on it, driven by a man with long white hair and a mischievous grin that belonged on a eight year old whose hand was perpetually in the cookie jar. The truck had driven past me, heading into Sisters, and on its way back out stopped to give me a ride. During the hour I had spent with my thumb out, only one or two cars had given me a look. One had stopped, but was only going a few miles up the road and couldn't take me all the way to the observatory. The occupants of my ride were section hikers. The previous summer they had hiked from Mexico to Sierra City and had come out this summer to finish up the trail. The white haired man was a friend of theirs and they had spent three days in town resting and relaxing with him. He dropped us off at the trailhead and sped back to town after leaving us with a few encouraging words. The three section hikers each had two liters of water, not nearly enough to make it to the next real water source. They were counting on being able to hike cross country to a lake for the night and I wished them luck, though felt doubtful that their plan would come to fruition.

With the onset of the early evening, hiking across the lava fields was pleasant and provided many long distance views back to the Sisters and their icy summits. I leap frogged with the other hikers, although by seven they had tired and I was on my own. I was hoping to find the turn off for the cross country route to the lakes that they were heading to, but never found it. Despite wandering down a few use-trails that looked promising. With the light growing dim, I gave up on my task to help them and hiked on into the red light of the last of the day. A large, open meadow at the base of Mount Washington provided a perfect campsite, although something about it felt very wrong indeed. It wasn't until I was laying on my groundcloth nearly naked, eating cookies, that I realized what it was: There wasn't a single mosquito anywhere. The buzz that normally filled my ears from six o'clock until falling asleep was not present. I didn't have to continually swat at the insects, nor was my skin reeking of DEET. For the first time since leaving Ashland, I was able to sleep without my mosquito netting and enjoyed the odd feeling of freedom immensely. Tomorrow I would cross Santiam Pass and break the 2000 mile mark for the summer. It didn't seem so impressive out here and I knew that when I returned I would be constantly asked why I hiked so quickly. People, particularly Appalachian Trail hikers, assumed that if you hiked more than 15 miles in a day, you were somehow missing part of the experience. That you couldn't see anything in your rush to fly down the trail and were having a terribly time being a mileage slave. They made the age-old mistake of assuming that they way they liked to do something was the only way to enjoy it. It was one of the things that I most hated about the AT, and something I would have to confront when the summer ended. For now, though, I had the meadow and Mount Washington, awash in alpinglow, all to myself, shared only with the few deer feeding unaware, or uncaring, of my presence near the edges of the meadow. How perfect this life is, how fortunate I am, how beautiful is this summer. All were in my head as I nodded off, the stars above the constant companions to my usually bedtime thoughts.