Oregon: Sisters to Cascade Locks
July 30, 2003.
For the third time on the trail, I felt unwelcome. The first two times were,
perhaps, understandable, being on private land. The Skaggs place in the
Antelope Valley and Belden were places where I felt that it was best to move
on from as quickly as possible, for one reason or another. It was here,
at Santiam Pass just after the 2000 mile mark on the PCT, that I first
felt unwelcome on my own land. On public land, that is. Yours and mine.
I had been moving early this morning and, after stopping for some water and
a rest at a small pond, had made it to the 2000 mile mark by around 9 am.
Even though I had just had a break, I figured that 2000 miles of hiking
deserved an additional rest and a celebratory Snickers bar. Besides, the
trailhead parking lot off of Highway 20 had an outhouse, which I intended
to use. In the parking lot as a sign, indicating that this was not my
land, that I was only a guest, not an owner. I was supposed to pay the
Willamette National Forest some set amount of money in order to access my
land. While this really didn't apply to me, as I was on foot, it did to anyone
who wanted to use the parking lot. The warning sign on the bulletin board didn't
actually say this, but I believe it to be true. It wasn't so much the message as
it was the tone of the message. It felt like I was being shaken down in the
school yard for my milk money; being extorted in the same was I was extorted in
the Antelope Valley. The Forest Service was trying to raise money, but they
were going about it in a way that could only generate bad feelings. A simple
sign like, "NW Forest Pass required in order to park. All funds stay within
the Willamette National Forest for improvement of facilities. A fine will
be levied on parked cars not displaying the pass." People might understand
that, but they would not understand a message that sounded like it was coming
from a gangster. Next to the sign was a cheery note from Jason and Amy, whom I
had last seen outside of Agua Dulce. They had gotten off the trail in the
Sierras, had purchased an RV, and were now driving up and down the PCT and
throughout the West. I had only missed them by a couple of days. Against
my better judgment, I left the Forest Service's sign up and went over
To my great surprise, the bathroom was occupied at the moment, with a large
black backpack and trekking poles set against it. I didn't have to wait
long to meet the occupant, as Commodore stepped out of the can after only a
minute or two. Tall, lanky, and with a scraggly beard, Commodore had hiked
from Mexico to Ashland last year and was now out on the trail again to finish up
the trail. He inquired about Gepetto, whom I had not met but assumed to be the
still sleeping hiker I had passed before the pond. We chatted about the
hike and what was to come when a ranger showed up. Half expecting a
confrontation with a money collector, the ranger was only there to put new
toilet paper in the outhouse and to sweep up the parking lot. She didn't seem
to have any interest in money collection, and I suspected that I was right that
the forest pass was required only for cars. I escaped into the bathroom and
came out to find Commodore still waiting. I suspect he was a bit lonely, as he had only
met one other thruhiker (Will) and the main pack was still a week or more behind me.
We set off up the trail together just as Gepetto arrived and joined us. Another
section hiker, Gepetto was short with a mass of curly black hair. He, too,
was trying to complete the trail this year although it wasn't clear how many
times he had hiked this particular section. The three of us were soon strung
out along the trail as it began to steeped and head for Three Fingered Jack.
Coming out on the ridge, alone, the mountain was spectacular: Jagged ridges,
lots of rockfall. It would be a fun scramble, I thought, to the top. Many
others thought so as well as there was a clear scar where the standard route
snaked up the backside of the mountain.
The day was heating up and water was something of a concern today. Far down in the
valley below the mountain I could see lots of flowing water: Cold, clear creeks
and springs. A delight for my thirsty body that could not be reached unless
I wanted to work very hard. All I could hope for was that the trail might
pass somewhat close by, thus avoiding yet more pond water. Instead of
cold creek water, I made the grievous mistake of passing up a cool lake for a
silly reason: There was a pack of Boy Scouts there and I had little desire
to talk. So what!, I reasoned, I can make it another 5 miles to Rockpile lake without
any more water! The last three miles to Rockpile were walked in a thirst-crazed
state, complete with time checks every minute. Every minute I looked at my watch,
hoping that 10 had gone by and I was a little closer to the water. Why was
I such a dolt at times?
lake was small, but cool and with plenty of shade on the fringes, and inhabited
by two naked swimmers. I filled up my water bag and gave it a heavy dose of iodine
for good measure and sat down to wait. I did manage to get my lunchtime meal of
Lipton's noodles cooking in between glances at my watch and at the
waterbag. I scrubbed out my socks, T-shirt, and shorts in a small bit of shallow
water, hoping not to earn too much bad karma by this. The thirty minutes of waiting
for the iodine to work were up when I returned to my lunch spot and I promptly
drank down two of the 2.4 liters of water in the bag before turning my attention
to my noodles. Commodore arrived, sweaty and tired and was just as happy to see the
lake as I had been forty minutes before. I left Commodore to his lunch and went for
a swim in attempt to cool off and to get clean. I hadn't showered since leaving
Ashland and had a significant buildup of trail dirt, sweat, and overall grime.
When I finished my swim and was dressed again, three hikers with minuscule packs
walked up: Southbound thruhikers. Because of weather considerations, almost
every PCT hiker heads north initially. Thus, meeting southbounders was a real
treat, sort of like finding a seventh donut in a box of six.
The southbounders had left in late June and had suffered quite a bit in
the snows of Washington. Tales of a three mile day, getting lost repeatedly, and
the beauty of the North Cascades entranced me, though I did sneak in a few
logistical questions. It sounded like I would not have to send out any
mail drops in Washington, thus relieving my planned zero-day in Cascade Locks
of a lot of work. The stores, they said, were fairly well stocked with all
the basics, and they even had recommendations for places to stay in some of the
towns. Glancing at my watch, I knew that it was time to be going. I had spent
two hours at Rockpile lake and it was now cool again. So, with a full bag of water
and a full belly, I bid goodbye to the southbounders and Commodore, who was
staying over the night. I was fairly certain that Sharon would make it to the
lake tonight and left her a message with Commodore.
Leaving the lake, the trail did climb and dip, but the refreshing swim and
the clean clothes, combined with the cool air and the ever closer views of
Mount Jefferson made the walking highly pleasant. This was the kind of walking
that anyone could enjoy, not just a thruhiker, not just a backpacker.
With the cooling of the day also came the mosquitoes, my brief reprieve last
night quashed in a swarm of the insects. At Shale Lake I picked up a bit more water
before running into the woods trying to avoid the pests. I had originally planned
to camp at the lake, but the mosquitoes and several tents along the shore convinced
me that there were better places to spend the night. Perhaps a cliff with a view of
Jefferson? The alpenglow on the approach to Shale Lake had been spectacular and I
was hoping to get more of it. An hour later I was still buried in the woods with
nowhere to camp. No views, not even a flat bit of ground. And so it was that
33.4 miles from my last campsite and more than 2025 miles from Mexico, I made my
first camp actually on the trail. In general this is a big no-no. Besides the
fact that the trail is rarely comfortable, you block people who try to go by
in the evening or morning. As it was already 9 pm, I was not worried about
hikers tonight, and tomorrow I would be gone by 6 am. It was unlikely that
anyone would ever know that I slept on the trail. Ordinarily I would have hiked on
into the darkness looking for a place off trail, but this particular bend in the
trail did look out in to the valley below, where I could catch the last light of the
sun bouncing off the rocks and cliffs and trees, even a lake far below.
Nestling into the my bit of trail, I wolfed down my cookies as quickly as possible
so that I could escape the mosquitoes. Even with hiking more than 33 miles, my
body was not tired and my mind kept telling me I was being lazy. Perhaps it was
the swim in the lake and the long sojourn by its shore. Or, maybe it was the
extra long break at Santiam Pass. Or the pleasant evening stroll in front of
Mount Jefferson. Whatever it was, it was idyllic and peaceful. No stress, no
rush, few worries other than water and mosquitoes. I was growing to like Oregon,
despite my initial impressions. It was different than California, and not in the
way that I first thought it was. For the most part, it didn't have the constant,
open beauty of California. What it did have was a peaceful feeling. If I could
conquer the heat, lack of water, and mosquitoes, that is. Sometimes, like today,
I did. Perhaps external beauty is best appreciated with internal adjustments.
Or, maybe the key to seeing new things is not to go to new places, but rather
to have new eyes.
The Milk River was only a mile or two down the trail and required a bit of work
before I found just the right combination of rocks on which to skip across. Today
felt like a day for skipping: I was heading into the alpine paradise of Jefferson
Park, the large basin that sits at the base of Mount Jefferson, whose snow and ice
and black rock I had been eyeballing the past few days. I was feeling carefree and
loose, just out for a stroll in one of the great regions in America. Jefferson Park
certainly isn't as known as something like, say, Mount Rainer or the Yosemite Valley,
but the pictures I had seen led me to believe it would be just as grand. By coming in
during the early morning, I might even miss the day hikers. Campers would still be in
their tents and I would have the whole place to myself. Traipsing up the trail, through
the spicy pine forest, my anticipation built with each step, drawing ever closer to the
the Park itself. The growing amount of white that came peeping through the
forest ahead told me I was close, and I gave a howl to the creatures of the woods
when I came out into the open for the first time.
Mount Jefferson towered above the basin where I stood, its crest and flanks dotted
with snow fields, complete with the pale blue sign of glacier. The rock of the mountain
was black with the early morning light, providing a powerful contrast to the white and
blue of the frozen water about it. Jefferson would be a fun mountain to climb anytime
but now. Right now, I could only imagine how much rockfall would hit me on the way
up. But, I could imagine spring and winter climbs a plenty on the various and obvious
routes to the top. Perhaps the Willamette National Forest had a big enough attraction
here to warrant putting up a bitchy sign. The Park itself was the large basin about the
mountain, which formed a barrier on one end. The PCT headed toward the mountains that
formed the barrier on the other end, but first I had to traverse the Park. The popularity
of the place was evident from the ruts and grooves in the land, as numerous use trails
spread out toward one small lake or another, one clump of trees or even just a bunch of
pretty bushes. Finding the true way was difficult, but it didn't really matter which
trail I took, as long as I was heading toward those mountains in the north. It was
still cool enough, when I took my break by a snow melt creek just before beginning the
climb out of the basin, to sit in the sun and feel its pleasant warmth on my face, with
the majestic Jefferson sitting in front of me, as he had for millenia. Overwhelmed by a
feeling of contentment, of happiness, I sat and drank my water and looked out over
Jefferson Park. I would be leaving shortly and wanted to absorb as much as I could for
as long as I could. As much as I liked it, the ease of access to Jefferson Park meant
that it would soon be overrun by dayhikers and campers, and a large park of
its exquisiteness would be lost in a wave of people looking for the very thing they
were driving away. It was time for me to go, to leave the place for another. I
was sure Sharon wasn't far behind and hoped that she might get here before those
from the parking lot showed up.
Switchbacking up the mountain side, I was reminded of the best of the mountains that
had come before. I was in the real land of the alpine, not some pretend, distant
version. What was so grand about the Sierra was that I was actually in the heart of the
mountains, rather than skirting along the edges and getting only distant views.
Here, too, I was in the heart, as I had been in the Klammath. As great as the Sisters
were, for long stretches I was only walking along side them, rather than with them.
Cresting out, the world opened up, as it always did, and showed me my next beacon:
Mount Hood. Now a little larger, its pyramid was distinct, though still small. The
route ahead did not look promising. While the next few miles would be grand, I spied
no more mountains, and plenty of forest, after the next three or five miles. I
would have to appreciate the forest for its own qualities, rather than have the
obviously beautiful mountains to focus on. Anticipating a long struggle to get to
Mount Hood, I proceeded to sit down next to a patch of snow and lean against a boulder
to admire the view. I had just taken a break forty minutes ago, and here I was on
my arse yet again. I really didn't care now. This place was too good to go past,
and it would be my last bit of grandeur for a day or more. The same all-powerful
feeling of contentment that I woke up with was still with me, but for how long I
did not know. As long as I stayed here, maybe just a little longer, the
contentment would stay with me. And so I sat, with my eyes open, my ears listening
to the wind, and my nose catching the scent of the forest below. Nothing else happened.
Thirty minutes had gone by and I was on the move again. I descended the various snow
fields, Will's tracks standing out still, despite his being probably three days ahead
now. Skating and skiing, I came down off the rim of Jefferson Park a little sad. Even
the thoughts that Mount Hood and Washington were ahead couldn't break the sadness and
I spent a joyless thirty minutes sitting by the side of a dirt road eating Nutella
burritos, six miles from the Park. I was thick in the forest now and faced a
difficult choice: I could pin the ears back and start racing for Mount Hood, or I
could try to progress as I should, at a measured pace and try to appreciate the
land that I was moving through. Ordinarily I would have pinned the ears, but
I decided that it was time to try something new and different. I never liked
racing and did so only as an expedient. I would try the other path this time.
And so I began hiking again, trying to keep my eyes moving around and about, rather than
locked on my feet and the ground they were moving along. I tried to listen for the
birds and try to make out the barks of the squirrels and the other rodents of the forest.
I tried, but I could not make the third growth forest any more beautiful. I could not
make the heat any less stifling and I could not make my mind less bored. My
pace quickened and my eyes dropped to my feet.
I walked into Ollalie Lake Resort for a last view of Jefferson and to buy some
cold drinks. With as much water as I try to drink, the taste of something
sweet and sugary is a good break. The resort is really quite nice, right on a
lake with Jefferson towering above, it was busy with families and other tourists
out to see the Great Outdoors without being too committed to it. I was happy that
they were here and having such an obviously good time. No frowns could be seen
on any faces, no arguments heard. I bought two 20 oz. cans of lemon iced-tea, and a
20 oz. bottle of Squirt, and sat in the shady dirt next to the store to cook
lunch. I didn't want to bother any of the guests by going to a picnic table
or other more comfortable spot. I just wanted to be out of the way and left alone
long enough to cook, eat, and rest. Besides, I was perfectly happy sitting here in
Leaving Ollalie Lake, I recalled that I had forgotten to sign at the register
at the resort. I had also forgotten to sign in at Sisters. And at Elk Park.
And at all the places that thruhikers frequently would visit. While Sharon would be
able to pick up my tracks in the snow on the rim of Jefferson Park, I had disappeared
from the thruhiker radar, and that was fine with me. The main pack was probably somewhere
in northern California, with perhaps a few around Ashland. Coach, Floater, Walt, Graham,
and Falcor couldn't be more than a few days behind. They knew I was out here, and
leaving signs for others would just feed my ego, rather than some important part of
me. And so I walked through the forest. Forest walking can be pleasant. I did it all
the time in the Smokys Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. But there the
forest abounds in life, spills over. Here, in the third growth forest of
northern Oregon, there was little alive. The trees, though technically still
alive, had little of the expansive breath of the trees and bushes and shrubs of
other parts of the PCT, and bore no resemblance at all to the majesty of southern
Appalachia. It was odd, I pondered, that I could see life everywhere in the most
desolate of places, as I had seen it in the Mojave, and yet here, in the a pine
forest, I could feel only death and isolation. This was a dying place, ready to be
torn down. Maybe a fire would consume it before the loggers got at it again. At least
the scorched earth would get some nutrients from the burned out trees, and maybe
the forest would be reborn into something more palatable. Not in my lifetime, however.
Nature just didn't work on timescales appreciable by short lived humans. I'd have
to come back in 100 or more years to see it anew.
I passed Trooper Springs, where several tents were set up and two horses were
tethered. I needed the water, though was not happy to see the horses so close.
Putting my faith in the horse packers, I took the mucky water and dosed it with
iodine, recalling the clear, pure water of California and hoping that Washington,
perhaps, would have sources better than Oregon. I was losing light, but I did not
get the magical stuff that so inspired me at this time. The forest and the ridges around
it blocked out too much of the sunset for me to perceive more than just that the
world was growing dim. I would have to camp soon, and that meant a night in the
woods, without a view of the horizon or the stars, my two normal requirements for
a good spot. By 8:30 I had found a small patch of clear, flat ground off the
trail in the midst of a dying forest. Not the safest place to camp, as the
trees looked like they might fall over at the slightest hint of wind. The
quantity of deadfall gave my fears some justification and I tried my best to
avoid obviously dead branches, just waiting to fall and to become widowmakers.
The nearly 34 miles I had hiked today were mixed. The grandeur and peace of
Jefferson Park had come and gone early in the day. I was then in the forest,
racing to get to Mount Hood. With a bit of work tomorrow, I would be able to get
to something good, to something more worthy of the PCT. I scanned through the
guidebook and the maps trying to find a close, interesting objective to focus on.
Nothing, it seemed, until Little Crater Lake, which the guidebook indicated was
a deep, cold, beautiful artesian lake. That would do for lunch, but it was more
than 20 miles distant; a long way to go with the ears back. And it then occurred to
me, clear and obvious. It wasn't the land that annoyed me. No, the land had done
nothing. It was the fact that I had become a snob.
How much time had passed? I was 23 miles down the trail, sitting at the
edge of a preternaturally aquamarine pond called Little Crater Lake, yet it
felt like a week had gone by. With nothing to look at besides a few poor
specimens of the pine tree family, time had begun to stand still. A
break at a river crossing to wash socks was the only non-tree watching
that I had done so far. The trail was mostly flat, with only an
occasional rolling hill to climb and descend, which meant that
I couldn't even think about the physical effort required to walk. No
flowers, no pretty shrubs, and only the odd squirrel or two for
distraction. Oregon had tempted my patience this morning and
afternoon, but now that I was at Little Crater Lake, I knew the
good stuff was not far ahead.
Little Crater lake was deep for a pond of its size: Perhaps 30 feet at the
center. The water was so clear and still that I could easily make out the
bottom. The color of the water was simply amazing and was something I had not
seen outside of the Caribbean. That strange, supernatural blue-green that
somehow begs to be swum in. I, however, was not swimming here. For starters,
the pond was small and I wanted to get water out of it, as would other thruhikers.
But, the big kicker was the temperature: The water was just barely above
freezing, having come from the bowels of the earth through a spring.
Little Crater Lake was a true artesian lake and its frigid waters would not
envelope my body on this occasion. And so I sat and cooked lunch under a
tree in some tall grass, daring ticks to try to latch on to me. It was
quiet for a while, even the three tourists seemed to understand that this
was a contemplative place. Midway through my noodles, however, five
pre-teen girls showed up, complete with swimsuits, accompanied by their
dotting mother. There was a large lake nearby and the herd had been swimming
their, evidently, before heading over to Little Crater. They wanted to
swim here and cajoled and taunted each other to be the first. The piercing
vocals of a choir of young, excited girls would be too much for even the
most practiced of monks to ignore, and I was neither practiced, nor a
monk. I had grown so used to the quiet of the land that now, with the
high pitched wails and shrieks coming from the other side of the lake,
I was most turned out.
After 30 minutes of taunts, the bravest of the five jumped in, only to leap
out immediately, with yet another shriek, into an outstretched towel. Once
one had gone in, the others jumped in without incident, repeating the
shrieks and getting out immediately. They jumped in a few more times, and
then finally walked back to their car, their courage tested and found
to be of the follower sort. They were young, so I couldn't be too hard on
them. I just wished they had stayed at the big lake for another hour until
I was gone. Thumbing through the guidebook, it appeared that I was going to
buried in woods for a while. The author was not very optimistic, but Hood was
close and tomorrow I would be able to reach its slopes. With the anticipation
of more dull, boring walking, I set out, at least with a full belly and
plenty of water from Little Crater.
The trail, initially, seemed to confirm the author's pessimism regarding the
charms of the area, but, topping out on a ridge several hours later, I
was presented with a most marvelous treat. The ridge walked through the
forest, but there were plenty of gaps in it: Mount Hood towered over a sea of
pine, a constant companion for as long as the ridge held. Had the author
even walked this stretch of trail?
I could only conclude that either he hadn't, or there had been a massive ice
storm or some other phenomena to take out enough trees to give a view.
Not wanting to waste time walking, I sat down by a particularly nice spot to
rest and reflect, and hope for a better tomorrow. An elderly man hauling a
large pack came by after nearly thirty minutes of resting, heading in the
opposite direction. Friendly and local, he warned me about drinking any
water coming off of Hood past the Timberline lodge: Hikers, climbers, and
riders all use the higher slopes as a toilet, and the water inevitably
drained down, where I would pick it up. I was tired, and it showed. He
gave me a few suggestions for where to camp nearby, but there was one
last hill I wanted to conquer. HWY 26 was not far, and there was a good
climb coming out of it. If I could make it up that, then I would be left with
only one climb between me and Timberline Lodge, where I might score a cup
of coffee or, even, a little breakfast. But, mostly, I just wanted to get as
far through the forest as possible. I said farewell and started trudging
again, coming dangerously close the dreaded Death March.
A Death March, to a hiker, means hiking when the mind has completely
given up from exhaustion, and is too dull to tell the body to stop. The
hiker enters into a zone where nothing is seen, nor heard. The
body is tired, but there is a fundamental disconnected between
mind and body that prevents the hiker from stopping. Senses stop
working and judgment becomes non-existent. The exhausted body
lacks coordination, to say nothing of direction. It is just moving,
no longer human. I had engaged in a true death march only twice before
(and not this summer), though had come close on a few occasions earlier on.
I did not want to be in one now and knew I was getting close. The only
way to fight off the death march is to invigorate the mind, to keep
it active and happy. And so I sang. I sang any song I could think of, but
mostly I sang fragments of tunes. I knew several John Denver songs all the
way through, and so gave my best renditions of "Country Roads" and "Rocky
Mountain High". I belted out the "Star Spangled Banner", even trying the
high notes. My songs degenerated into the chorus of "Bring the Noise" and
a phrase or two here from a Britney Spears song, whose name I never knew.
It was a well fought battle, but one that I would lose if I did not camp
I had made it across the highway and up the climb, but there was nowhere to
camp. My inventory of songs was gone and I did not want to spend the
night on the trail in such a popular area. For all I knew, equestrians
might come through on a late night ride under the stars. And so I pushed.
And the further I pushed, the more the land began to open up. The edges and
effects of the sunset began to appear here and there, and I started to hope,
against all hope, that perhaps I might get a clear knoll close by to
camp on, one with a view. The orange faded to red, and eventually to
purple, and I was still moving, still outside the death march zone,
though not by much. Hope was driving me forward, not letting me stop or
fall into despair. Maybe around this corner? I tried my best to read the
land ahead, pushing father than I normally would. A short view opened
up, but no flat spot. A little hill, but littered with downed trees.
At 9 I was headed on my way down from the mountainside and knew that an
aesthetic spot was not in my immediate future. I found a tree covered
knoll. I found a home for the night. Squeezing in between a downed tree
and young sapling, wedged around a rock and with sticks under me, I found a
place to sleep. I was exhausted, but happy in my knowledge of what was
coming up. One climb, and that was up and onto Hood. My cookies stayed in
their bag, uneaten. All I wanted was some sleep, and for tomorrow to come.
I wasn't in a good mood when I woke up. Nor was I in a foul mood. I wasn't in any
sort of mood that I could describe. I was simply tired. Mount Hood was ahead and
I felt no sort of excitement. Even packing up seemed to be a major effort, despite
requiring only stuffing a few bags and buckling a few straps. Damn tree. Damn
rock in my back. Damn knoll. Within a half mile of my knoll, I passed a
tent, and shortly thereafter arrived in a parking lot, where a Subaru
Outback was parked next to a card table. Two women were setting something
up and looked at me with more than the usual surprise. They couldn't
quite seem to make out who I was and I so I just said hello and kept going.
Before I could get passed, they asked me if I was one of the runners. "Runner? No,
I'm just out for a walk." They seemed relieved and then explained to me that
there was a 50 mile race going on right now. The main pack of runners had left from
around Little Crater Lake and were running to Timberline Lodge, and then back.
The main pack had set out in the early morning hours and the women were an aid
station where the athletes could drink some water and eat a few snacks. Their
initial surprise came from thinking me one of the runners, one who had blown away
the others and was far out in front. I chatted with them for a while, eventually
confessing that I was a thruhiker. Thankfully, they did not follow this up with the
usual round of questions about how much my pack weighed, how many shoes I had gone
through, how many miles a day I hiked, etc, etc. I just wanted to get up to
Timberline and maybe score a cup of coffee. Perhaps a muffin if one was to be
The climb up Hood was trying; not so much because it was difficult as it was because I
was mentally tired. Tired from the woods and the dull views and the seeming lack of
life in the area. I repeated my mantra of curses. Damn rock. Damn tree. Damn hill.
Damn clouds. Yes, even the clouds seemed to grate on me. They didn't obscure anything,
as there was nothing to see. It was their grey dullness that seemed to irk me.
And so I trudged on uphill, damning just about everything, although the PCT itself
never got its turn. Even with all this, I was still happy to be out here. I just
wished here was a little more scenic and interesting. Damn fern. Damn sand.
And then the trees scattered and the world was open again. It was still a grey
sky day, but I could now see Mount Hood at least.
I tried to fixate on the mountain,
in all of its majesty, tried to get my mind right and active again. But, I
could not. The trail turned to glacial debris, mostly in the form of thick, soft,
deep sand. More like finely pulverized rock. This made the going very slow. Sort
of like trying to walk along a lakeshore, in the water. Damn sky. Damn sand. Damn...?
In the midst of my damns, I had walked upon another hiker without
realizing it and looked up only when he said hello. I had not yet gotten the word
trail out when he made his presence known to me. I had become able to know when
others were around, and the fact that I didn't sense him troubled me. He was
hiking in the other direction on the Timberline trail and was in the first day of
his circumambulation of the fourth highest peak in the Cascades. He knew how I
felt, even though he was going downhill."I hiked the Timberline in the other direction
last year. Never again." I smiled at his fortune and pushed on, wanting to get off
the sand as soon as possible. My damning went on unbroken after leaving the
hiker, at least until I crested a hill and looked down up the open gash dug by
a glacier many years ago. Deep in the gash was a white river, flowing off the
mountain from a recent relative of the original glacier. On the other side of
the gash, was Timberline.
Timberline is an old, gothic style ski resort run by, originally, the park service,
although I suspect that this has since been privatized. Timberline Lodge was
featured (though not named) in the movie The Shining and has one of the
best locations I could possibly imagine. If I lived in the area and wanted to
get an apprehensive young lady into the outdoors, I would definitely take her
here. Less than a half mile of air separated me from the lodge, although
by foot it was far more. I couldn't just float over the trough and had to walk
well around it to where it came up to join the mountain at my level, then walk back
down another spur, then across some flat land to get to the lodge. Although the
damns went away, I was still dull and flat.
Having negotiated the trough and a few small creeklets, I took the paved
spur trail (can a trail really be paved?) the short distance down to the lodge.
The place was so nice, so posh, that I hesitated outside, unsure if I really
wanted to subject such a place to my filth and stench. A few minutes of
internal debate and the lure of a strong cup of coffee brought me indoors.
Unsure of where to go to find coffee, I wandered through the halls, peeking inside
of one room and then another, before finally finding the main dining room, which was
filled with well dressed, clean smelling tourists. I scent of laundry detergent
almost stung my nose, so used to the natural smell of the woods was it. I timidly
asked the black and white clad assistant if they had coffee for sale. The scent of
bacon and rosemary wafted from the chaffing dishes and I could see stacks and
stacks of pancakes and waffles on the various tables. Trays of fruit and 5 gallon
containers of orange juice. No, really, I just want a cup of coffee, and then I'm
out of here. The black-and-white man informed me that the continental buffet was
$6 and included coffee, and that the regular buffet was $11. Why did he have to
say buffet? That damned word meant work. But, not wanting to shirk my work,
I agreed to tackle the buffet, just to have a little coffee.
The greeter sat me down at a table next to a woman and her young daughter, though
I tried to sit as far from them as possible. It was a loosing battle: Anyone within
10 feet of me would smell the reek of exertion upon my salty body. I ordered a
coffee and then went to the buffet, getting an overview of the work in front of
me. Thick cut, juicy bacon sat in one. By thick, I mean like cardboard
thick. Thick like the Amish might cut it. Thick like a thruhiker would cut it.
Smothered in black pepper, it six pieces were on my plate. A smattering of
eggs scrambled together with red peppers, onions, and cilantro were piled up
next to the bacon, followed by potatoes roasted with rosemary. I had no
space left on the plate and so had to dump five sausage patties on top of
every thing before moving to the juice and pasty section.
Three platefuls later I was still not done. I hadn't touched the pancakes or the
waffles, and was considering filling up my water bag with 2.4 liters of orange
juice. This wasn't the regular, from concentrate crap that is usually found. No,
this was almost fresh juice. I decided not to tempt fate and didn't abscond
with the juice, settling instead for some more coffee and two cinnamon
rolls. I didn't want to eat so much, you see, that I couldn't hike. I was
contented now, and a massive stack of pancakes would push me over the edge.
This is one of the great joys of hiking long distances. I had polished off
perhaps 3000 calories this morning and was only contented. No fear of getting
fat furrowed my brow and the idea of cholesterol never entered into my mind.
Paying the $11, I retrieved my pack from outside the restaurant and went outside
to rest a bit before starting the hike anew. I was fresh and strong and,
unlike when I woke up, ready to do some hiking. To see what was over the
next hill or around the corner.
Starting up the paved track, I saw, in the distance, a figure wearing a
pack. Without my glasses, I couldn't make out who it was, but that there
was a pack was indisputable. The arms of the pack went up, high in the
air, and I heard a long, high wail, "Ssshhhuuuuggg." Ah, yes, Sharon has
caught up at last! I met her half way up as she hopped the yellow tape
that marked off where you were not supposed to go, and as we approached
I saw a smile that seemed ready to split her head in two. I wonder if I
looked the same. She let out another wail when we were within a few feet of
each other, and grinned harder. Even though I was ready to hike, I was
just as ready to sit and talk for a spell. Sharon had been only an hour or
two behind me for quite a while. She had stayed in Crater Lake a little longer
than I had, but not much more. She almost caught me that night at Thielson
Creek, but missed me when I moved on. Apparently, the first tent that I saw
there belonged to the first southbounder of the season. He, for some reason
(probably from Will), knew that I was coming and was sad to have missed me.
The old couple next door to him spoke of me as some sort of legend, implying
that I hiked through out the night and never stopped. She had camped at
Sisters Mirror Pond, where I had lunch, when I was camped ten miles up on the
slopes of the South Sister. She had missed me
in Sisters by the blink of an eye, apparently heading into town while I
was riding in the back of the pickup. In Sisters she had looked for me in
town at the various hotels, looking for a message or a note. When none could
be found and a shower was the ultimate luxury, she decided to hitch into Bend
where there might be cheaper space. A family had picked her up and taken her
home with them, treating her to homecooking and warm place to stretch out.
The younger daughter even braided her hair, a style that I think she secretly
liked. The southbounders that I had met at Rockpile Lake relayed the message
that I left for her and Commodore and Gepetto, who told her that she had missed
me by only an hour or two. She had expected to find me at Shale Lake that night,
but I had pushed on. The old man I had met the day before had also met her later
on and so she knew I was close. But, the hope that I had been spurred with late
in the evening kept her from catching me. Indeed, if I had not stopped for
the buffet, she would not have caught me at all.
We talked alot about the what had transpired in the days past, about where Coach
was and about how Zebediah must be faking something. About where Glory might
be and whether or not Will was still in Cascade Locks. Reluctantly, we parted
so that she, too, could enjoy the breakfast buffet, and made plans to meet
somewhere in Cascade Locks. It wasn't a large town and thruhikers would be
very conspicuous. And so I began my hike, in perfect harmony, knowing that I
would have a friend in town and that the best of Hood was to come. The clouds had
even gone away and the sky was blue, giving a wonderful background to the distant
peak of Jefferson. The trail wound in and out of the woods, dropping now and then
into various gullies and gulches as I started to meet more and more dayhikers and
weekend backpackers. Everyone, including myself, was in a good mood. Even those
people who knew that their paradise would end with the coming of the evening
were happy. Even those people lugging huge packs up and down the mountainside
had a grin and a happy word for me as I went by. I passed by four section hikers,
one of whom was a trail maintainer for the area and so I slowed on the uphill
climb so that I could chat with him and thank him for the work he had done.
Five minutes into our conversation he was breathless, and said he had to stop
for a while. Was I really hiking that fast?
Perched on a sandy outcropping, in the full sun, I sat and rested like a
lizard might, watching the small forms below me navigate there way down into
a gorge, across the river that flowed through it, and up the other side.
I would have to do the same, but in the opposite direction when I
felt so inclined to hike. Lounging in the sun, with the backside of Hood
directly in front of me, I felt lost in time. Was it now August? I thought it
was and tried for a moment to count down the days from Ashland, my only way
of telling which day it was out here. I could only get one or two days out of
Ashland before my mind wandered to such esoteric subjects as the color of the
sand. It wasn't just tan, but rather multicolored, with lots of shiny stuff
to pick at and scatter. It was just sand, but it was fun nonetheless. My
hike was back. Mount St. Helens could be cleanly seen in the distance.
In Washington, that is.
I did eventually leave my bit of sand and make the traverse down and out of the
gorge, stopping momentarily to consider getting water, then thinking better of
it as the old-man-of-last-night's voice came back to me, reminding me that
unpleasant things were above me, hidden from view. Flies were out in force,
but they were slow and couldn't land on me if I kept moving. Even when I stopped
to talk to a cute ranger (why were all backcountry rangers in the west
attractive, young women?) for ten minutes, I could easily kill the flies as
they did land on me. Surely this was a race doomed for extinction. Not far
from where I left the ranger, I came upon a man in a white jumpsuit and
thick gloves, carrying an assortment of implements up the trail. He
declared himself to be a trail maintainer, for which I earnestly thanked him.
Then, somewhat sheepishly, he admitted than he had only walked to Cascade Locks
last year. Only! Damn it man, that's more than 2100 miles! Only my arse!
He seemed cheered by my vitriolic exclamations, though we talked for only
a minute more. As he told me, he understood what it was like to want to hike,
but have to constantly stop to talk to people. He mentioned where I could find
safe water ahead as I was leaving and I thanked him once more for putting in the
time and effort to keep the trail looking so good.
Dropping rapidly down on switchbacks, I approached the large, unbridged,
glacial river that he had mentioned. One creek, non-glacial, had I been following
for the past mile. It was small and pleasant and the water tasted good. It poured
into a white, milky river flowing hard. No bridge and no obvious rockhop. A family
of four, towed by an eager dog, were on the other side looking for a way across.
I scouted up the river, and then back down, looking for something. I finally
settled on a small, narrow log and hoped for the best. Inching out slowly, I
realized that the log was much wider than it had looked from the back and
was able to get across without issue. The family was unsure of the log, but
seeing me come across seemed to inspire them with at least a little confidence.
I didn't want to hang around to see how the dog got across, as I suspected that
he would have to be carried by one of the braver members of the family. I passed
more and more day hikers on the other side of the river. There was a parking lot
close by and an attractive loop could be made that took in some pleasant
waterfalls. It was an alternate route for the PCT that many people took and
recommended, but I had no such desires. Instead, I followed the PCT where
it branched away from the trail to the parking lot, confident that, as I
was now heading steeply uphill, I would see no more people.
Mount Hood was a popular area though, and Oregonians must be tougher than the
Californians, as I began passing one party after another. I was climbing hard,
sweating for all I was worth, and yet around even bend there seemed to be a
clean, sweat free group of hikers. Not disturbing in any way, but I would have
liked to have known how they made it up without breaking out into perspiration.
Following my usual pattern I hiked on past the summit of the mountain that I had
just climbed, as it was buried in trees and had several groups on it. I wanted another
long look at Hood, all alone. From the summit, the trail led through thick woods
along a ridgeline, narrowing slowly, but surely. When it reached a certain
critical point, the trees would thin and I would have my view. Such a certainty
was good to have, as I was tired from my climb. I found my spot, with its
accompanying view, and proceeded for a sit and a bit of tobacco underneath the
awning of Mount Hood. I was not, however, alone for long, as two section hikers
came clambering up the trail, under the weight of large packs. They were heading
southbound for a week and seemed surprised when I told them that I would probably
only hike another 8 or 10 miles today before camping. They were hiking 8 or 10 miles
in a day. I was a rockstar yet again.
Dropping off the ridgeline the trail crossed a road and left the Mount Hood
Wilderness. I left the crowds as well. No one would come to this stretch of
land without a good reason when there was something as spectacular in the other
direction. In the quiet evening, I hiked on, happy and content, not carrying
about the frequent signs telling me not to camp or to leave the trail or even
to loiter. The trail ran on an easement for some electrical company. Or water
company. Or some such company that thought a stray hiker might do something
awful to their land. I didn't care as I was moving on, waiting and hoping for
a good sunset. I was heading up hill, and if I could make the crest by 8, I might
find someplace aesthetic where I could watch the sun go down. The trail, however,
was not cooperating: It was far too graded, and it took forever to gain elevation.
My body was charged and I was ready to go and wished for a more vertical
trail. I just wanted to see the sun set. Distance didn't matter so much now, as
Cascade Locks was assuredly on the schedule for tomorrow at this point. I would even
be able to have tea, although most likely my tea would really be a few beers by the
Climbing higher and higher, watching the way the land began to change and narrow,
I new I was getting close. I began to see a pink glow coming from above me,
heralding the top. A few minutes more, and I had to stop. I pulled out my
camera ready to fire off a few pictures, paused, and put it back in my
pocket. I couldn't, just couldn't, do the land any justice with my
camera. I couldn't replicate the subtle dark lines of the trees and
minor hills that sat in the dark blue valleys below. Or the way the mountains
in the distance were cloaked with a fine mist, barely perceptible, that
broke off parts of the pink light, glazing the dark peaks with an
angelic light. The sun. The sun sets in the West, and it is to the West that
I must go. Massive and unobstructed, the sun sat in the distance, slowly moving
lower on the horizon, changing color with each degree of descent. There was
nowhere to camp here, but I was happy with walking on. For Providence
was again providing: The trail switchbacked down the crest, down the barren
crest, with views out to the sun. I didn't have much time left and so walked
slowly, hoping that my reduction in speed might slow down the sun's as well.
I had to, absolutely had to, move out West. This was home, the place that I should be.
There was no good reason for me to stay in Indiana, or move to Texas, or to
New York. Every reason I could think of shouted into my ear that this place
was home. By place, I do not mean the ridge I was walking down, nor the
Mount Hood area. The trail was home for the summer and I was happy there, but eventually
the trail would end and I would have to find another home. The voices told me that
this was home, the West. The America of the Frontier, where so much of our
culture was born, where so much of our history was decided. A land of
unlimited opportunities for wandering and where freedom really was attainable.
The sun finally set and I was swathed in the purple afterglow of the day, slowly
fading to black.
The wind was picking up and I was getting cold in the dark. It was approaching
9 pm and I still had not found a place to camp. The fear of rain was in me and
I wanted to find a place where I could pitch my tarp, which kept me from simply
throwing out on the trail. Fifteen minutes later and my teeth started
chattering a bit. The chatter told me to stop, and so I did, of course on an
exposed part of the trail where I could look out to the east and see the
sun come up. If it rained, I might be in a little trouble, but Providence
had been there in the past, and I was sure nothing bad would come from another
night on the trail. I quickly wolfed down some Nutella with a Snicker's
spoon and watched the stars come out. Many hikers find the stars
intimidating because they find that the stars emphasize their smallness and
humanity's isolation in the Universe. Not I. The stars are my friends and
bring everlasting hope to me whenever I get a good look at them.
Tomorrow I would reach Cascade Locks, and the end of Oregon. But, more
importantly, Cascade Locks would be the beginning of a new state and a new hike.
It would also be the beginning of the end of my summer. That less than 600 miles
separated me from Canada did not cheer me. The fact that less than 600
miles stood between me and an ordinary life back in Indiana, hemmed in by
walls and an alarm clock, did bother me.
First light in the mountains is a time for reflection and hope, yet as this morning
broke I had only a single, logistical goal on my mind: Cascade Locks. I was going to
take a popular alternate route down Eagle Creek and a sequence of waterfalls. Although
this would dump me off at a parking lot a few miles from Cascade Locks, the guidebook
said there was a trail town. Plus, the guide had many warnings that people should only
take the alternate route if they were comfortable with exposed, open, dangerous trail.
Marvelous, I thought, that should make a nice change from the superhighway I'd been
walking on of late. And so I was pushing mentally for Cascade Locks, even if physically
I was still rumbling along at the same 3 miles per hour pace that I always walked at.
The sun began to make its way over the trees of the forest when I came to the lake
where the alternate route began. A popular place, no doubt, as there were many
regulations posted about the lake, warning of dire consequences if you slept here
instead of there. On this patch of dirt or another one. If popularity brings restrictions,
and restrictions are bad for the soul, then perhaps one should try to date the homely
girl with the funny glasses rather than the prom queen. Such nonsense flowed through
me as I quietly skirted around several encampments, their occupants still sleeping,
their food still out on their coolers. Coolers in the backcountry? The people who
hauled those in here must have suffered quite a bit so that they could have some of
the comforts of home out here. Better to have stayed at home with all the comforts.
Again, my thoughts drifted.
I dropped downward to Eagle Creek, passing more tents of backpackers who couldn't
make the lake last night, and a few day hikers roaming about. I was hoped to make Eagle Falls
before it became overrun with tourists and thought my hope was not misplaced: Eagle Falls
was only a few miles from a parking lot, but they were up hill miles. Tourists generally
don't get early starts and I might be able to have the place to myself, at least for
a little while. Dropping down and down, following the flow of the mountains and their gullies
and ridges, I felt, for the first time, that I was back hiking in the South. This land,
this lower Oregon, had a very Smokys feel to it, with much vegetation and the smell of
green. The PCT smelled different in different places, but the basics were always there:
Pine and sweet, subtle flowers. Sage dominated in some places, the almost traceless
Yucca in others. But, regardless of where I was, it was always a dry scent that
pointed to a relative sparsity of life. The Smokys, by contrast, smelled green and indicated
an over abundance of life, pilled, stacked, and jumbled on top of itself. Of life
bursting forth to grab at the seemingly unlimited resources around it. Now that I was
at a lower elevation and near the Columbia, Oregon took on the Smokys' smell and that
made it feel a bit like home. Not so much like Indiana, but rather like a place that
I cared very much for and had spent a lot of time in. Indiana held no attractions for
me. All that was waiting for me in Indiana were my job and my stuff; nothing of
The trail dropped onto a solid bank of rock along the creek and led directly to the falls.
The falls were impressive indeed, but not what I would call stunning. If I lived in the
area I might take guests up here to ponder them, or take a little bread, cheese, and
wine with me and a friend and make a picnic out of it. I certainly wouldn't
think of the falls as a prime outdoor destination, though. There were a few day
hikers milling about, but I did not care. The falls were not a contemplative place
for me, and so I hiked on after poking about a bit. The trail ran actually under the
falls, through a tunnel blasted out of the mountainside. It seemed like a
gratuitous use of dynamite to me, but perhaps there was no better way to get around the
falls. Dropping down quickly, I began to run into the hoards of day hikers that I suspect
would be on their way up. Some were moving well, others slowly. There were benches built
out of dead trees for the families to rest on and ample spots to catch a glimpse of the
river gorge. However, unlike the slopes of Mount Hood yesterday, I saw few smiles.
Most of the people did not seem to be enjoying their hike, perhaps because it was uphill.
Or, maybe, they realized that they didn't really care about seeing the falls and that it
was silly to continue hiking. Not wanting to look weak, they continued despite their
desires and this made them sad. Or, maybe, they just drank too much the night before
and were hungover. Whatever the reason, the sheer numbers of people that I was
passing and their grim faces brought an end to my normal greetings. My head was down and
my ears were back as I eased my body in full sprint mode for the down hill run.
I think I passed some more people, but couldn't be sure. All I saw were the rocks by my
feet and occasionally the river gorge. The trail leveled and I motored past several
families on my race for Cascade Locks. The parking lot was jammed, as was the access
road to it. Despite a multitude of signs telling people not to park along the
road, its shoulders were well filled with cars of all shapes and sizes, colors, makes,
and models. New, old, fancy, and cheap, it did not seem to matter. More people where
parking and heading up the trail to see the falls when I arrived in the
main parking area, where I was supposed to pick up the trail to Cascade Locks. The
lot was a big affair and not yet full, though it most likely would be within the next
hour or two. The crush of humanity after so much solitude was a bit too much and
I was happy to spot the trail to Cascade Locks. Unfortunately, it was going in the
wrong direction. It recrossed the river, heading away from town, on a large suspension
bridge. I walked over the bridge to get away from all the people and figure out where I
I sat down on a bench made out of an old gray tree and took a rest, rolling up a cigarette
and peeking at the maps that I had. The trail to Cascade Locks most certainly did not
cross the river, even though the trail I was looking for had the same name as the one that
I had used to cross the river. There must be a continuation of it on the other side of
the parking lot, although I was in no rush to rejoin the herd of tourists milling about
over there. I suppose that normally the parking lot would not have seemed so full, but
I had been in the woods and alone for a long time: A gathering of more than three people
seemed like a crowd now. I screwed up my courage and recrossed the bridge, passing a
German family out on vacation, seeing America. Seeing the Germans reminded me of
Team France, whom I had not seen since leaving Mojave. I wondered if they were
still on trail or if they had decided to hitch hike somewhere else. I thought about
all the people I had met, if only for a few hours, and wondered where they were
on their trip. Were they having fun? Or only putting in miles for the sake of
putting in miles. In my fit of trying to remember everyone I had met this summer, I
must have missed the turn off for the trail to Cascade Locks. I was frustrated and
found myself near the on ramp for I-84, the sixth interstate I had come to this summer.
The only direction people could go was east, right to Cascade Locks, where they could
then turn around and go to Portland. Hmm. I put my thumb out. One fully loaded
car passed. A second, a BMW SUV pulled up slowly, it driver an elderly man.
No way I would get a ride in such a posh car, it just didn't work like that. The
chances of getting a ride were inversely proportional to the wealth of the car. This was
an expensive car and so my chances were slim. The electric window rolled down and he
asked me where I was going. I couldn't believe my luck and reconsidered my hitch
hiking algorithm as we sped down the interstate to Cascade Locks. Soft, beige leather
underneath my backside and the lofty notes of Beethoven massaged my ears during the
short, three minute drive to Cascade Locks. The driver had apparently gotten up
early to make the hike up to the falls in peace and quiet and was now on his was back
to Hood River, the next town up, where Bonneville Dam is located. Friendly and
cheerful, I suspected that as a youth he had hitched across the country or some other
silliness, and was now repaying a debt of old. Or, perhaps, he was just a nice
person. Regardless of his motives, I liked the results, particularly as he dropped
me right in front of a pub, with large neon signs proclaiming the existence of
beers I had never heard of, and boasted of the pizzas you could get. I thanked the
man profusely and waved as he sped off back to the interstate.
Considering that Sharon would probably not get into town for another few hours, I
decided not to go against fate, and simply walked into the bar, hoping that my smell and
stench would not be too much for the occupants. I hated going into restaurants filthy, but
ignored my principals in favor of beer and pizza. The pub, fortunately, was only
lightly occupied and I found a seat in front of a TV that was ten feet from the
nearest bar goer, a reasonable distance I thought. The pub was simple and honest and,
perhaps most importantly, had five or six microbrews on tap. While there was no
Sierra Nevada on tap, there were, most appropriately, several beers from a
company called Walking Man. How perfect! I ordered a pint of IPA from the
friendly woman tending bar and settled in front of the TV, the menu in my hand, and
gluttony on my mind. The old Russian proverb about the donkey who starved in front
of two equal piles of hay floated into my time again. There was just too much to
choose from. Half a pint later, I settled on a large Greek pizza, and ordered a
pint of the Walking Man Brown ale. According to the bartender, Walking Man was
made across the river in Washington and had a very limited distribution. Perhaps,
as she put it, a radius of two miles. Too bad, because they made very, very
good beer. Better, even, than the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that I always looked
for. This was my first beer since leaving Ashland and it was hitting me hard.
As I started on the brown ale, the 14 inch pizza came out, bubbling with
mozzarella, feta, capers, olives, basil, red onion, and Italian sausage. Such good
food with such good beer cheered me, even though I needed no cheering up at this
point. I devoured the pizza and the second pint and considered ordering another
round of both, but decided against it, as it would be dinner time in another few
hours. I paid and stumbled out of the bar.
Even with the load of pizza in my stomach, I was fairly well buzzed when I left and
crossed the parking lot to the supermarket next door. Perhaps the man in the BMW
SUV had been a hiker, as he dropped me at the center of everything that was important
to a hiker in town. I wanted some ice cream and a newspaper to read, hoping that Sharon
might make it into town before I got a room and be spared the effort of looking for
me in the few motels in town. The supermarket was well stocked and it would be
easy to resupply from here for the leg to White Pass in Washington. The freezer
section, however, was the true joy of the place. No less than fourteen flavors of
Ben and Jerry's graced the shelves and I had to ponder, for a moment, what it was
that I truly wanted. I settled on a pint of Chunkey Monkey, grabbed the Mount Hood
newspaper, and, after a briefly chat with the woman at the cash register, set out
across the street where a small pavilion overlooking the Columbia was located.
I sat with my back against the wall as there were no benches that were not in the
thick of the cool, stiff breeze coming down the Columbia gorge, and attacked the
ice cream and newspaper. The newspaper took less than a minute to read and so most of
my concentration was on the hard ice cream in my lap. I kept an eye open on the road
in case Sharon might go by, but mostly I ate and reflected. Two states down, one to
go. One more state before I have to go home and end it all, end this summer,
end this beautiful thing. It was sad, although I knew there was nothing to be done
about it. I had to go back, for now, and there were no alternatives. I envied other
hikers who had nothing to go back to, nothing to draw them away from the sort of life
we were leading out here. I'm sure than many of them envied me, with rock solid
employment and a paycheck waiting. The safety and security that I had must have
been appealing to some, although at this point I did not want it.
The pint was finished and there was no Sharon. Feeling dirty and scummy and wanting a
shower, I could wait no longer. I shouldered my pack and walked up the street to
a motel that I saw on the way in. It looked cheap, but advertised Jacuzzis. The
houses along the way were well cared for and some even had immaculate gardens, quite a
switch from Dunsmuir, the last small town that I had stayed in. People in Dunsmuir
were leaving. People in Cascade Locks seemed to be settling in for the long haul.
Cascade Locks was, however, close enough to use as a commuting base into Portland,
whereas Dunsmuir wasn't close to anything, unless you count Redding. The motel,
unfortunately, had a "No Vacancy" sign in front, thus thwarting my plans of sitting in
a bubbling pool of water. There was a Best Western up the street, but I
didn't feel like spending as much as they would want, and so retraced my
steps past the pub and the supermarket to a where a cheaper place was located.
The Econo-Inn had all the looks of a place where I might be able to bed down
in comfort tonight and tomorrow for not too much money. Plus, it was only a
a hundred yards from the supermarket, a breakfast place, the pub, the Post Office, and
a laundry joint. I also suspected that Sharon would recognize it was a place
where I could be found. A room would cost me $50, but when Sharon arrived that would drop
to $25, a bargain for the place. The room had a single queen sized bed, a TV, a couple
of easy chairs, and a bathroom. I turned on the TV, stripped off my clothes, tossing
them in a Do-Not-Disturb pile, and began the task of washing myself. Although I had
swum in Rockpile lake several days ago, I was filthy. The tub turned brown as I
attacked the filth on my body with a washcloth and soap. As always, the feet were
the worst part and it took quite a while to get all the grim off of my heels and
from between my toes. The achilles never got clean, in a repetition of every other
shower I had had this summer. Clean and scrubbed, I had had just sat down on the bed when
several thuds came from the door. I put on a pair of shorts and opened it to see Sharon
looking dirty and tired, though smiling as always. In a flash she was in the shower, though
I could quite distinctly hear her condemnations of the dirt that I had left in the
tub. It was good to be with my friend again.
With both of us clean and the room strewn with dirty clothes, food bags, and assorted
garbage, we were left with the difficult task of doing nothing until dinner time.
This was not a major obstacle for me, though Sharon found such sitting and
doing nothing onerous at times. So, she did the laundry. After she left I realized that
I had left my underwear in the bathroom and so it would not be washed. Rather than chase
after her, I decided to wash it out in the sink, as I had done many times in other
places. As I filled the sink with water and started scrubbing away, I was shocked at the
amount of dirt that was coming out. Even on the third scrubbing, the sink turned
black with a greasy filth that made me question what was happening underneath my
Sharon returned and I was still working over the underwear. I had been working them over
for fifteen minutes now and the water was still a light tan. Calling it good enough,
I put the underwear up to dry and laughed at the sink: The once pure white was
now solidly gray up to the waterlevel. I couldn't remove it, either, as it the dirt
seemed to be composed of a grease that just wouldn't come off with casual work.
Uncaring, I sat on the bed to watch some TV and think about dinner. It was almost time,
and now that I knew the menu I could ponder more efficiently my choices. Sharon had not
had the luxury of eating earlier, so we made an early run to the pub for dinner.
Two more pints of Walking Man and a bacon double cheeseburger with fries seemed about
right. I finished off Sharon's coleslaw and was still a little hungry, which worked
out well as I still wanted some ice cream. The supermarket was still open when we
walked out into the night air, cool and comfortable even at the low elevation
of 90 feet above sea level. The stars were out, though some how less pretty than they
were last night, camped up on a no-name ridge in the middle of the woods, right on the
trail. I picked up a pint of Cherry Garcia and a six pack of some nameless brew, along with
a box of donuts for the morning. I felt only pity for those living and working in an
office somewhere, for all those people who had to pay attention to how many calories
they took in, or how much fat or salt was in each dish. I felt sorry for those
struggling to stay on one diet or another. In less than 7 hours, I had eaten
two pints of ice cream, a 14 inch pizza, a bacon double cheeseburger, fries,
coleslaw, and four pints of beer. Sitting in front of the TV, I finished off
the six beers I had purchased from the store and began eying the box of Old Fashioned
Donuts that was sitting on the floor next to me. Sharon and I had much to talk about
and tales to relate and the evening passed quickly in conversation and idiot-box
watching. As she fell asleep I turned the TV down and flipped it over to CNN Headline
News. No, nothing had happened in the past few weeks, at least according to them.
I ate a donut, and then a second, before turning off the TV and the lights, and sleeping
in the first comfortable bed since Dunsmuir, 650 miles to the south.
Oh, the beauty of a zero day! The joy of waking up in bed with no where to go, no
gear to pack, nothing to do but eat and nap and rest. A long walk becomes the
stroll to the store for an afternoon pint of ice cream or a leisurely stroll to the
bathroom. A hot shower and clean clothes are a fine way to start the morning and is
something that I always overlook when at home. Having hair that isn't greasy and being
able to rinse the sleep from my eyes with water, rather than picking at it over the
course of the morning, is an activity that becomes a delight only after it is
deprived. I finished off the donuts well before Sharon and I were ready for the
main breakfast, conveniently located just across the parking lot from our comfy room in
Cascade Locks. The breakfast joint was empty, as was most of the town in the
early morning. There isn't much reason for people to come into Cascade Locks anymore,
unless they need gas or a bite to eat, or perhaps to spend a few minutes gazing at
the Columbia from the small pavilion where I ate my lunchtime desert yesterday.
I ordered my standard breakfast of coffee with an omelet, hashbrowns, toast, and a
short stack of pancakes. For the first time this summer, this summer which is
so close to ending, I was disappointed with a town breakfast. The portions were
regular size and not terribly appealing, but Sharon and I both scarfed down the hot
food, pleased that someone else had to cook it, though with visions of what the rest
of the day might bring from the pub. Since both of us had decided, based on the
information from the southbounders I had met at Rockpile lake (and Sharon a bit
further south), that no maildrops were necessary for the state of Washington,
we had little to do today. Most thruhikers will send maildrops to White Pass,
Snoqualmie Pass, Skykomish, and Stehekin. The southbounders had given such
good descriptions of the stores ahead that neither of us thought for a moment that
maildrops were necessary. Whenever a gas station has two or more aisles, or a store
is equipped with the "Basics", resupply is easy. Stehekin sounded, perhaps, like it
might be a difficult resupply, but it was only three days from Canada and there was
a bakery besides. Without having to purchase, packup, and mail out several
boxes of food, the day's responsibilities were slim: Get, sort, and send the
bounce box, buy five days of food from the store, buy fuel, call my mother and
sister, drink beer, and eat ice cream. Sharon was trying to get in contact with
Jonathan Ley, a friend from the Continental Divide Trail in 2001. He lives in
Portland, a short drive away, and had promised to meet here sometime this
summer. Ley had written what I considered the best trail journal on his hike
from two years ago and I was looking forward to meeting the man in person.
With breakfast concluded we crossed the street to the Post Office where we
got our bounce boxes and looked through the register. We found Will's entry from
four days earlier, along with Wall and Zebediah, apparently still keeping up the
masquerade of a thruhike. The postmaster was quite friendly and happy to see
that the wave of thruhikers were on their way: The smalltown PO was jammed with
resupply boxes, bounce boxes, and gear boxes. I left a few taunts for Rye Dog
and Tutu, with a special note for Pacific Beast. I was hoping they might catch
up, but suspected that I would not see them again. I dropped my box off at the
motel room and walked over to the store to buy supplies. A few of the clerks
recognized me and we talked about the trail and what it was like to hike it.
They were even friendly enough to point me the way to the King Size Snickers bars
when they saw that all I had in my basket were the regular sized ones. I had a rather
less impressive pile of food than usual because I knew that I was close enough to the
border not to have to worry about maintaining weight: I could loose a few pounds
over the next three weeks without feeling much effect from it. Still, I had a
pound log of hunter sausage, a pound of cheese, a pound and a half of tortillas,
a pound of peanut butter, twelve candy bars, eight bags of nuts, several bags of
sesame sticks, a large box of raisins, a box of poptarts, several boxes of
granola bars, a bottle of olive oil,
and other assorted goodies that I thought I might like, including a
quart of chocolate milk for immediate consumption. The gas station across the
street had a bottle of HEET for sale, the last I would have to purchase this summer.
I was doing many things for the last time, and that was more than a little sad.
The afternoon was spent in front of the TV napping and packing up, getting all the
food transfered into small ziplock bags, and taking the few supplies I needed from
my bounce box. The Oregon sections of the data and guidebooks were returned to the
bounce box and the first half of the Washington section taken out. Ratty socks
were tossed out and replaced with fresh, clean ones. Another run to the store was
made for some ice cream, which I ate while talking to my mother. My lazy day was
getting busy as I frantically put the finishing touches on my bounce box and
mailed it out just in time, on its way to its final PCT destination of Skykomish.
The next time I would mail it out, it would be heading to Illinois. My sister
wasn't around, but I did leave her a message before taking another nap before dinner.
Jonathan Ley was on his way to Cascade Locks and would here for dinner. With my
belly full there was nothing else to do but sleep and dream.
I awoke with the thump on the door and blinked my eyes opened as Sharon hopped out of
the chair for the door. Ley was here and I revved to life to meet the author of
such a wonderful account of a summer spent in really living. I was expecting a
hippy, driving a battered pickup or bus of some sort. Instead, a thin, shaven
headed, goatee wearing, Trans-Am driving man walked in. I actually laughed when I
saw him, so worked up was my image of what he should like. Introductions were made and
greetings exchanged as we went out to the pub for some dinner. Friends are quickly
made when doing things like the PCT and tonight was no exception. Pints of Walking
Man were tossed down along with many slices of pizza as we recounted our various
tales of the trail, comparing notes with Jonathan for how things were when he hiked
in 1999. The long summer's day was over and once again we made a break from the
pub in search of more beer from the store and some ice cream as well. And some
donuts, strictly for my breakfast tomorrow.
Jonathan had brought a laptop, LCD projector, and a lot of wit to go along with his
pictures from his 1999 PCT hike. Conditions this year were far, far better in the
Sierra and Northern California than in 1999. Trails that were poor in 1999 were
stunning now. The heavy snows that he had encountered were missed by us four
years later. Some of the same trail characters were there, others had disappeared,
only to be replaced by the new. At the end of his pictures, I got in contact with my
sister, using Sharon's calling card, and talked with her about all that had transpired
since she had left me past Pioneer Mail, so long ago. I don't think it seemed like a
lengthy period of time for her, but for me it was quite literally a world apart. Not
separated merely by two thousand miles and almost three months of hiking. No,
the separation was measured in the chasm that divided the person I was when I started
from the person I was now. I wanted to stay like this person when there was no more
trail to walk and did not want to return to the person that first set out from the
Mexican border. We talked for an hour before I said goodnight to her and returned to
another set of pictures, this time from Jonathan's CDT hike in 2001. That there
was one 2650 mile stretch of trail through the grand wilderness of the
United States to hike was remarkable enough. That there was a second was
even more impressive. Throw in the Appalachian trail and you have the Triple
Crown of trails. While Europe has a fair number of trails, they are small and
insignificant when compared to the long distance offerings in the States. Moreover,
there is no wild left in mainstream Europe, those this may just be a
prejudice of mine. Regardless, the amount of long trail in America is something
worthy of admiration. Aside from the Triple Crown, there is the Pacific Northwest
John Muir trail and Sierra High Route,
Arizona trail, Hayduke trail, Desert trail, Colorado trail, Natchez Trace, Florida
trail, Bartram trail,
Cumberland Gap trail, Sheltowee Trace, Long Trail, Long Path, Cohos Trail, International
Appalachian trail, and others. Canada has an 11,000 kilometer long proposed
trail called the Trans-Canada, along with the Great Divide trail and others.
When taken by foot, the world becomes very, very large indeed.
The beer was mostly gone and Jonathan had to return to Portland for work tomorrow.
We wished him the best and I could see in his eyes the understanding of the joy that
we were experiencing. This understanding of what a day in the life of a thruhiker
is all about, is something that normal tourists, day hikers, or even weekenders
rarely have. It was nice to talk to someone who understood, even if only for a little
while. I finished my beer and the rest of Sharon's before attacking the donuts
that I had bought for breakfast, leaving two of the six to fuel me for the
start of tomorrow's hike. I was leaving Oregon behind for the, hopefully,
greener pastures of Washington. Everyone, I had been told, loved Washington
and I hoped it lived up to its reputation. I was taking a short cut tomorrow
by walking along a road for 14 miles rather than taking the trail for 35. I wasn't
doing this because I was running out of time, but simply because I didn't want another
dense forest walk through viewless terrain, as so much of Oregon had been. Sharon
was staying on the trail, which meant that I might not see her again after
I left tomorrow. Not only was my summer ending, but I was losing the last
of my friends and seemed destined to complete the summer the way I started: Alone.
It was a sad night, indeed.