Day 91: Fire closure realness: a zero in Sisters

July 24
Mileage: zero

I don’t sleep much- I don’t know why, I just don’t. It’s too hot in the room and the bed is too soft and there’s noise, people, everything. I wake at five, tight with anxiety, feeling like shit. I walk to the grocery store that’s just opened and try and think what to eat for breakfast. I feel sad. I don’t know.

Errands- doing my laundry in a real machine for the first time since Ashland. Sitting in a towel with Chance watching the laundry spin, reading Glamour magazine. Did you know that if you avoid cottage cheese and alcohol, you can lose enough water weight by the weekend to be bikini-ready? And for fall there are things that look like blankets, worn with a belt. Am I pretty or ugly? I don’t know. I do like fashion though. When my laundry’s dry I put it in a paper sack and walk with Twinkle through the touristy main street. There’s a cafe with gluten-free baked goods and I get two big peanut butter cookies, eat one while I walk. The wind is blowing and it’s sunny. Back at the room we argue about the fire closures- everyone wants to hitch around them but me. I looked at the maps, though, the alternates aren’t that bad. I just want to hike Oregon. I just want to hike. But today we’re all zeroing, trying to figure it all out. I can feel the two-week challenge slipping away. At this rate…

I feel sad. I try to nap, but can’t. Guthrie is here- he made it into town! He spent 17 hours in his tent, waiting out the rain. Coughee is here too- he was off the trail for a while with giardia and feels better now so he hitched up to catch us. It’s good to see both of them. There are about a million people in the room- I suddenly feel overwhelmed, just want to get away. Rice Krispies shows up, so that’s cool. She’s gonna crash with us tonight. Yesterday, when we were all hypothermic and I could barely crank out 21 miles- Rice Krispies did thirty nine. By nine p.m. And then she camped. Alone. In the rain.

Someone puts on loud music, someone else is smoking cigarettes in the open back door but the smoke is coming inside, filling up the room. I’m laying on the bed, it’s sort of nice but mostly I feel like I’m at a party and I can’t leave. And I know everyone will be up till late, drinking beers, talking shit and quoting the movie stepbrothers. I love everyone but I want quiet, peace, I just need to sleep.

The local trail angel, Blanche, says yes! She’ll take me to the trail. She’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever met- genuinely loves hikers, loves asking us questions. She’s doing the Oregon section soon, with a friend of hers. She used to stock a water cache, even, at the trailhead, until the forest service had her remove it. There are two little dogs in the car and I pet them on the drive, look at their nice faces, feel my anxiety going down, down. I’m not sure what the others are doing in the morning- maybe walking some of the trail, maybe hitching a hundred miles around the closures, to Timberline lodge. I plan on walking the alternates, at least as much as I can.

I set up my shelter at the trailhead in the dusk. It’s so eerily quiet and I realize how unusual it is to be away from the noise and clamor of the group. I’ve camped alone maybe twice this entire trail. I feel spooked but then I get in my bag in my nice safe shelter, watch the sky dim, and the eerie feeling slowly transforms itself to peace.

Photos on instagram.

Day 90: Hypothermia in Oregon in July, and other exciting things that can happen on the PCT

July 23
Mileage 21
Mile 1968.5 to mile 1989.5

It drizzles off and on throughout the night; I stay warm and dry in my shelter; when I wake there is only fog. I extricate myself to pee at 6 and Rice Krispies is already gone, just a bare dry spot where her poncho tarp was. We won’t see her again. Godspeed! I think, as I eat cold-soaked oatmeal in my tent. Godspeed.

Twinkle rolls up while I’m lazily doing my morning thing- he camped a mile back, with Guth. They took shelter when it started to hail. Neither of them saw Chance or Mack. Twinkle’s slapping mosquitoes.

“See you down the trail,” I say.

The morning starts out mellow. At 7 a.m. I’m hiking slow through the foggy forest, fidgeting constantly. It’s cool, but nice, I’ve got my down jacket on. A few little raindrops fall, maybe sprinkles from the trees? That’s ok, my jacket can get damp. It’ll warm up, and then I’ll be able to dry everything- my sleeping bag, tent, groundsheet.

That’s not what happens. An hour into the morning it starts to rain- hard. The temperature plummets, a cold wind picks up. I hurredly strip off my wet down jacket, pack it away in my bag, and put on my thin rain jacket. Down doesn’t work when it’s wet, and I don’t carry a synthetic insulating layer. The idea is that as long as I hike fast, I’ll stay warm. But if it’s cold and windy and the rain doesn’t let up all day, that doesn’t work so well.

A few hours later, and the storm hasn’t let up. Rain is running into my jacket through the collar, wicking in through the shoulder seams. Rain jackets don’t work in long rainstorms- they just don’t. Not dri-ducks, not goretex, not a plastic trashbag. The water will always work its way through eventually- what a rain jacket does is buy you time, by helping to insulate your core, so you can hustle to where you need to go. But eventually you just get wet. No matter what.

I’m hiking as fast as I can, climbing in the rain and the fog through the forest, and I am soon soaked to the skin and very cold. My running shorts and rain jacket are plastered to me, my legs are red and numb, my hands are numb enough that it’s hard to grip my trekking poles. I’m starting to feel stumbly and my breathing is getting funny- my old friend hypothermia, following me through the woods. I haven’t seen anyone all morning- Twinkle and Woody are ahead of me, Chance, Mack, Guth, Jr. Sr. somewhere behind. I stop beneath the shelter of some trees, pull off my pack, and give myself a pep talk.

“You can do this. Remember September last year? You’re not hypothermic yet. It’s only fifteen miles to the highway. You’re going to put on your down jacket under your rain jacket. Even if it’s soaked under there, it’ll do a little. You’re going to fill up your water here. You’re going to stuff your hipbelt pockets with snacks. You’re going to hike as fast as you can, and you’re not going to stop until you get to the highway.”

I collapse my trekking poles and put them in my pack, since my hands are too numb to use them. I force myself to drink half a liter of icy water- I was so thirsty earlier, but didn’t want to stop! I slip on my wet down jacket, pull the sodden rain jacket over it. One part of me thanks the other part for the pep talk. I know I can do this!

Plodding plodding plodding in the awful cold rain. The wet down jacket does help- as long as I go fast I’m able to keep my core just warm enough, especially on the climbs. Inside, my heart is glad- parts of Oregon and Washington near the trail are on fire right now, and maybe if it’s raining here it’s raining there, too? I work my useless hands from their wet sleeves and hold my water bottle like a four-year-old, eat snacks. I climb up onto wind-blown ridges, feel the heat sucked out of me, hurry back down into the cover of trees. I’m gonna make it!

Nine miles from the highway I see the unmistakeable bright blue of Twinkle’s massive tarp, pitched among some trees. I look inside and find Twinkle and Woody, huddled in their sleeping bags, shivering.

“Good to see you, Carrot,” says Twinkle. He’s got a goofy look on his face- his hypothermia smile. He’s shaking in his bag. Wind beats at the tarp, flapping it against the guylines. I think about stopping but imagine myself in my damp sleeping bag, growing colder and colder as the wind blows the rain sideways under the tarp.

“I’m gonna keep going,” I say. “It’s only nine miles to the highway. Do you think you can warm up in that bag?”

“Yeah,” says Twinkle. “We just set up maybe five minutes ago.”

“When you two warm up you should keep hiking, get to the highway,” I say.

And then I’m off- can’t stop hiking or I’ll freeze!

A few miles before the highway the trail drops down off the mountain, into a loamy pine forest and the temperature warms a few degrees, the rain lessens a bit. I start to relax a little- you’re just on a day hike, I tell myself. You’re just headed back to the car. I stop and watch a little bird, flitting around on a branch. The forest is cool, and heavy, and still, and here is this warm little bird, so alive.

The bird is like energy, I think. Like an electrical spark, loose, moving around in the trees.

The last 1.5 miles to the highway is a flat, exposed lava field, and suddenly the rain really starts to pound. The heavens bust open and let loose, dumping some wild amount of water onto this one particular patch of earth. I walk as fast as I can, water running off me, drenching me to the skin. At 2:55 I turn a corner and see a wet ribbon of asphalt- what a happy, happy sight.

Except that there is no traffic. I stand on the shoulder, doing jumping jacks, willing the heat to stay in my body now that I am no longer hiking. It’s cold and I am so, so wet. At last I see headlights in the distance, cutting through the heavy rain. I push my numb hand from my sleeve and stick my thumb out. The car slows to a crawl as it passes me, and the clean, dry people inside stare out at me, this cold, drowned rat standing in the rain in the middle of nowhere, trying to hitch. The car accelarates and continues on. There’s a Sierra Club sticker on the back window.

I’m so angry I want to throw my trekking poles. I manage to make it 21 miles through the storm to the highway by hiking as fast as I can, only to slowly grow hypothermic because no-one will pick me up? I resume my jumping jacks, fueled by anger. Four minutes later another car passes, and the situation repeats itself. The car slows to a crawl, the people inside stare out at me. The car accelarates. I can feel the heat leaving me body- I stop doing jumping jacks and just stare numbly at the rain. I wish Guthrie would show up, Chance, anyone. I need a buddy in this situation. Where is everyone? Huddled in their shelters, waiting for the rain to stop? At least I am not doing that, I think. If I can just score a ride I can get a room in Sisters, take a hot bath. I resume my jumping jacks.

Several more cars pass without stopping. Then an SUV pulling a trailer slows, pulls off past me, and turns back around, and I know I’ve got someone.

The car is crowded with wet camping gear and empty fast food containers, and the heater is blasting. I wedge into the back seat next to my pack, and strip off my soaked rain jacket and down jacket. The couple driving tells me that they were camping, and got rained out. Their five-year-old is next to me, watching a movie on his tablet. Two wet St. Bernards are in back.

I am so, so happy.

“So what do you do when you’re not hiking?” The couple asks me. The woman is driving very fast, but then everything seems fast when you’ve been walking.

“What?” I say, confused. What do I do? “I don’t know.” I feel like I’m drunk, and I’m having a hard time formulating sentences. The woman is talking very quickly, as if her voice is on fast-forward. It makes me feel panicky- why won’t she talk slower? My body feels numb and heavy.

“I’m just really cold,” I say. “I need to get a room in Sisters.”

“There’s a campground on the edge of town that’s cheap,” the woman is saying.

No, I think, panicking. Please don’t drop me at a campground. The woman is telling me that everything in Sisters is full and/or very expensive, because it’s peak season and because the firefighters are here. But I don’t even care, I just need to be somewhere where I can be warm, where I can turn up the heat and take a warm bath. I don’t care how much it costs.

The woman drops me at the Sisters Motor Lodge.

“I always wanted to stay here,” she says.

Inside I ask about a room.

“They start at $150,” she says.

“What if my friends show up later?” I say. “Could I fit four people in there? How much would that cost?”

“Oh no,” she says. “We don’t do that.” She no longer wants to rent me the room at all. I’ve finally started to shiver, and now I can’t stop.

“Try the Sisters Inn and Suites, down the road.” She says. “They’re the hiker friendly ones. Left, then right, then left.”

“What?” I say.

The Sisters Inn and Suites has one room left. It’s $130 after tax. I hand over my debit card, feeling nothing. Money means nothing. The room is big and warm and nice- one of the best ones we’ve stayed in. Two huge queen beds, a sofa, a sliding glass door that looks out at a strip of grass. I microwave a cup of tea and fill the tub with scalding water. I pull of my soaked, disgusting clothes and look at myself in the mirror- I’m covered in dirt, poison oak and weird tanlines. I lower myself into the clean white tub.

The bath is too hot but in the best way. I sit in the water drinking my tea and watch the dirt and oil slough off of me, forming a layer on top of the water. Afterwards I wrap myself in a big fluffy towel and sit on the couch. I try to do errands on my phone but I can’t focus. I get a text from Chance.

“Headed there,” she says. “Mac is in bad shape.”

“I’ll make him a bath,” I say.

I text Twinkle.

“Your tarp sucks. Get here. I’ll order you a stuffed crust pizza.”

My phone rings- it’s Twinkle. The reception is bad, and I can hear the tarp flapping in the background. He’s still huddled under it with Woody and Jr. Sr.

“We’re getting colder,” he says.

“You need to hike,” I say. “You all need to get to the road.”

In the lobby of the hotel there’s a number for a local trail angel who gives rides, and after I get off the phone with Twinkle I call her. She agrees to meet them at the road at 9 p.m. Chance and Mack show up, soaked and cold, and climb into the bathtub together. Then we all walk a block to the grocery store and wander the aisles, gathering things we might like to eat. Chance puts an old western on the hotel TV and I eat roast chicken, potato salad, a pound of blueberries.

The boys arrive just before ten and spread their things everywhere where there isn’t already something drying, drink cartons of juice, chocolate milk, eat sandwiches and birthday cake oreos, take hot showers. We all collapse around 11, watch a PBS documentary about Orangutans. We’ve been blasting the heater for hours- the room suddenly feels too hot. I know I’ll be awake at five a.m., tired. Tomorrow- will it still be raining? We’ve got to figure out what to do about the fire closures, look at maps of the reroutes. I wanted to try for a 50 mile day into Timberline Lodge, kind of a dream of mine. Now what? I feel anxious, lying in the too-warm room on the too-soft bed. Then sleep.

Photos on instagram.

Also! Notachance has an instagram now- instagram.com/not_a_chance_pct

Day 89: The sky is a tempest/Three Sisters Wilderness

July 22
Mileage 28
Mile 1941.5 to mile 1968.5 (plus 1 mile to Elk Lake)

I wake up in the worst mood. Mosquitoes swarm the tent. The whole lot of us emerge from our shelters around 6:30, we pack up, we walk as quickly as we can, hoping we don’t have to poop, or snack, or rest- so goes the morning. The little vampires land all over me as I walk, I fidget and slap them, I’m grumpy and itchy and in a state of high irritation. I don’t use deet, so I just have to take it. I put in my headphones and angry-hike through the woods, past all the still, aquamarine lakes and stagnant ponds.

In this way we reach the Elk Lake lodge at 12:30. 17 miles by 12:30, that’s not so bad. My irritation won’t dissapate though, not even when I have a burger and fries in front of me. Man, I’m a grumpy fuck today. And then I let myself get even more riled up, on my phone on the lodge’s spotty wifi connection, trying to order new shoes. Every time I get to the “place order” page and hit the button, the connection times out and it goes to “page not found”. Before I know it three hours have passed.

“I don’t have anything to do,” says Twinkle, “but it’s been nice to just sit here and relax.”

“I haven’t been relaxed for a single minute,” I say.

Chance and Mack are on the front steps, drinking coors. Guthrie’s had about twelve Dr. Peppers. Woody’s eating everything from the hiker box- there’s dog food in there, which freaks us all out. We don’t want to think about it.

Some dudes renting a cabin comment loudly to the front desk person about how bad we smell. But we don’t even smell that bad right now. I feel sorry for the dudes- I bet they’re so bored. I’m still hungry, so I eat a bar from the hikerbox that I’ve never tried before. It tastes like a probar sprinkled with stale oregano.

We finally hike out at 4- the plan is 10 miles to Mesa Creek, a beautiful site where I camped last year. The mosquitoes have somehow increased in numbers so I’m angry hiking again, way at the front, powering uphill while the others take their time, protected by the dark magic of deet.

I get to the top of the climb and stop to take a picture of South Sister, and the others catch me. There’s a woman with them who I’ve never seen before- she’s carrying a small osprey pack, her shoes are in tatters, and a dirty hanky hangs from her hipbelt.

“Nice pee rag!” I say. “That’s where I keep my pee rag too!”

“It’s for my nose,” she says.

“Oh,” I say. “I keep that one in my pocket.”

Her name is Rice Krispies, and she tells us that she started the trail- get this-

On May 8th.

For perspective, in case you’ve forgotten, we started April 25th.

Notachance and I have been talking, the last few days, about how we wish someone fast would catch us. I get excited about the fast hikers like how I get excited about the true southbounders, who don’t flip- they’re so hardcore and inspiring! Last year, doing the standard 5 month hike, I got passed by and had the oportunity to meet a number of super fast hikers- but this year Notachance and I were worried that since we started at kickoff and were doing the four-month hike we wouldn’t get a chance to meet any of the May people, let alone the REALLY hardcore people who started in June.

And now suddenly Rice Krispies is here.

She did 30’s all through the desert. She’s only taken four zeros. Four. She’s been doing 35+ mile days every day in Oregon so far. I take out my phone and, like the nerd I am, calculate her average.

It’s 26.

“I’m planning to finish the trail in a hundred days,” she says.

Our average is only 22.

I am so stoked to meet Rice Krispies and I hike with her through the picturesque meadows beneath South Sister, peppering her with annoying questions.

“How many pairs of shoes have you gone through? What’s your base weight? Do you want to camp with us?”

I can’t help it. She’s the fastest person we’ve met on the trail this year. She said she started with a bunch of other people who wanted to go fast, but thet all ended up getting off with injuries.

She’s a very good sport about my questions. Meanwhile, the sky has been doing crazy things, but I haven’t really noticed. Then- BOOM BA-BOOM! Wild thunder. And lightning. Then more thunder and lightning. I look back to see the blackest, most convoluted clouds, rolling towards us across the sky. Suddenly I can feel it in my jaw, like when I sit too close to a wifi router. Pockets catches up- we’ve been leapfrogging with him for a few days.

“Some of your hair is standing up,” he says. Lightning comes down close, blinding us all. We’re standing in the middle of a big, open meadow.

We all start to run.

We reach camp- a spot sheltered by trees, thankfully- just as the sky opens up and it really starts to rain. And then hail- big fat hail. Woody and Jr. Sr. are already there, safe in their shelters, and Pockets, Rice Krispies and I throw up ours. I wonder how Twinkle, Guthrie, Chance and Mack are as I sit in my shelter, eating random things from my food bag and listening to the rain. I hope they took cover! The temperature drops- it’s gonna be cold tonight. I fiddle with my groundsheet, hoping I stay dry. Lightning cracks, illuminating everything.

Photos on instagram.

Day 88: praying for rain

July 21
Mileage 30.5
Mile 1913 to mile 1941.5 (plus 2 miles from Shelter cove back to the trail)

Sleeping long on the gravelly ground waking to the overcast morning seven a.m., everyone still curled up fetal in their damp sleeping bags, rubbing the dust from my face, Susan (Guthrie’s mom) puts out French toast with honey, stewed apples, leftover chili warmed up. Mike (Guthrie’s dad) roasts sausages over the campfire. There’s a cooler of sodas in ice and we all pound mountain dew and dr. Pepper with our breakfasts.

It’s so hard to leave. There’s a two mile roadwalk back to the pct- we pretend we’re a gang, walking in a line and snapping our fingers in unison. I’ve got a sore throat and my head feels weird- I don’t like this morning so far. I think I’ll fall behind but as soon as we’re in the cool shaded forest I’m cruising, even uphill- maybe it’s the dr. Pepper. I pass Rosary lakes, muted in the overcast light- oh, the memories. We all stop for lunch at the Maiden peak shelter, nicest shelter on the pct. Made of yellow logs, big windows and a woodstove. We sit around the heavy wooden table in the dim, eating cheetos, mike & ikes, lays potato chips, respectively. I’ve got to ski to this shelter some winter, I think. Same thought I had last year.

Plodding on cruiser trail through the afternoon. Pine forest and stagnant ponds, that’s what some people say about Oregon on the PCT. I don’t mind, though. Except in July the mosquitoes are bad. But still, how can you hate on the forest? Even dry third growth. Nature always wins.

I get service for the first time in a long time in a burn and I make a phone call to an old friend, sit on the side of the trail and talk for a long time. When I hang up a weight has been lifted off my chest. Old hurts resolved, something loosened inside of me. I fly down the trail after that, feel like I can do anything. I reach Stormy lake to find everyone in their tents, the mosquitoes thick above the aquamarine water. I eat dinner safe behind mosquito mesh- hikerbox tuna, potato chips, rehydrated spinach and peas. Overhead the stormclouds curdle, there’s a little thunder. Twinkle is looking at maps of the fire closure.

Rain, I think. Come on rain.

Photos on instagram.

Day 87: plodding through the dust to Shelter Cove

July 20
Mileage 21
Mile 1884 to mile 1913

It’s cold in the morning- cold! And hard to get up. I wake at 5:30, drift in and out, finally crawl from the tent to assemble my morning oatmeal. The mosquitoes are awake. It’s 7 a.m. when Twinkle and I start hiking.

I’m tired today. So tired. Why? Because we’ve been hiking a lot, I guess. Or I have giardia. I don’t know. Either way, today will make 180 miles in 6 days. Consecutive 30’s add up fast, apparently. So much ground covered, and just on our feet! It boggles the mind. Today we’re headed to Shelter Cove resort, where we’ve got resupply boxes. A relaxing 20 miles. Twinkle talks of hiking farther after that. No way, I say. You do what you want, but I need a half day. Wash the dust off me, rinse out my socks, write emails. Blog. In the world where we live in, 20 miles is a “half day”.

We take the Oregon Skyline Trail to Shelter Cove- it’s a popular alternate because it’s prettier, and has more water. At least that’s what we’ve heard. Really, though, the trail is made of dust. The Oregon Dustline Trail. Yellow dust sifting up with our footsteps, dust coating our teeth, making us sneeze. Dust on our skin, mixed with the sweat and the oil. Turning everything black. The creekbeds on this trail are dry, just tumbled lava rocks and dusty bridges. There really is a drought here. I’m so tired today, my whole body aches. Hiking. Man, I’ve been doing some hiking.

We plod in the dusty forest all day, sitting down in it now and then to eat disgusting snacks. Trail mix. By god, I’m sick of trail mix, but it’s all I have left. Why didn’t I pack any chips? A temporary lapse in judgment.

We reach the resort at 3 and everyone is there, drinking budweiser, trashing up the beautiful wooden deck. Guthrie’s parents are here-

“We’ve got a campsite,” says Guthrie. “My parents are making venison chili and gluten-free cornbread. Everyone could camp there…”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes.”

I shower at the resort, wash off all the black dust. 3 minutes of water for $1.50- I’ve got $5 in quarters but six minutes, it turns out, is all I need. Rinse my socks in the sink. Park next to the power strip on the deck, hunched over my phone, write a thousand emails. Everyone else leaves for chili but I stay. So much to do, so little time to do it!

The others return a few hours later and tell me tales of dinner- I realize I’m fucking starving. I’ve eaten three packets of fruit snacks and an almond snickers from the hiker box since we got here, no real food. The hiker box is incredible- several people dumped their entire resupply boxes in there. I managed to trade all my trail mix for stuff that seems more appetizing- bars, packets of tuna. Plus I bought a big bag of classic lays potato chips. A whole resupply without trail mix- I’m so excited for my food this section!

The trail to the campground winds around the lake- the forest is lush and green here, so different for the dust-laden dystopia we hiked through all day. Blueberry and huckleberries fill the understory- the berries aren’t ripe yet, but Woody and I eat them anyway.

“Vaccinium!” Woody keeps saying. “Vaccinium!”

Guthrie’s parents, Susan and Mike, have pulled a cute little trailer up from Texas, spread a checked tablecloth over the picnic table, and laid out the most incredible spread. Chili made with venison that Guthrie got, mesculin salad with tomatoes and vinegarette, gluten-free corn cakes, big ziploc bags of cherries and fat blueberries. (Thank you Susan and Mike!!) I eat until I can’t anymore, and then I write a dozen postcards. So much to do, so little time!

The others return, drunk, arms laden with hikerbox goodies. Mack and Chance eat lucky charms from their titanium pots- second dinner. We spread out our bedrolls to cowboy camp as the last of the light drains from the forest, the sounds of other campers filter through the trees. A very good day.

Photos on instagram.

Day 86: oregon will be over before we know it

July 19
Mileage 31.5
Mile 1852.5 to mile 1884

Sleeping in, going slow, taking breaks. Only a 31 mile today, so why rush? Climbing and climbing, Thielsen peak rising over everything, views of Oregon down low, forested and dry. The hot, dusty part of Oregon, the tinderbox. I miss the wet part of Oregon. I tell Twinkle stories of lichen hanging from the trees, beds of moss. The wisdom of the western redcedars. Everything will change, just south of Timberline. We’ll be there before we know it.

Lunch break at Thielsen creek, water tumbling down the mountain. Guthrie boils water in his jetboil for a five-serving package of mountain house lasagna.

“I am going to eat all of this,” he says.

Stopping for a nap on the dry ground, shade moving around. I finally have reception on a granite outcropping overlooking everything and I sit against a rock, write my blog, order new shoes. Before I know it I’ve taken three hours worth of breaks, won’t get into camp until 9. Fuck. And my phone is dead- I need to get one of those battery pack things. My solar charger doesn’t work so good in the woods.

Pounding downhill the forest is boring and my feet hurt, but life is like that sometimes. I get to camp right at dusk but no-one is there- a southbounder named Bob says they all went two miles farther, to a lake. No way Jose. Mosquitoes exist, but so does bug mesh. The night is cool, my sleeping pad is good and hard. The forest loves me.

Photos on instagram.

Day 85: Crater Lake day

July 18
Mileage 19
Mile 1829 to mile 1852.5.

I wake early but put my earplugs in and a shirt over my eyes and sleep in until 7. My god, that feels good. Everyone’s up already, I sit in the cafe and eat the remnants of their breakfasts. The shower is 75 cents for 4 minutes- the water runs out when there’s soap in my eyes, minty conditioner from the hiker box tingling my scalp. I fish around for more quarters and manage to rinse off. My shorts get a bath in the sink. Outside everyone’s care packages are going into the hiker box- I acquire caffeinated cliff shot blocks, mini snickers, and packets of tuna in olive oil. Score. Our sleeping bags have condensation so we dry them on the sidewalk. Jr. Sr. is in his underwear while the laundry spins and Notachance is drunk.

We make our way up to the rim village and sit in the cafe, charging everything and catching up on our blogs. We’ve got to go just 18 miles today to maintain the 30 mile/day average we’re shooting for through Oregon. The Oregon two-week challenge, it’s on. 30 miles a day, no zeros. Constant 33’s will buy us some half days. We’ll see how it goes.

Chance, Twinkle and I hike out around 2. Everyone else is already gone. No water for 27 miles but maybe there’s a cache in 18, where we plan to camp. We make our way around the rim, gaggles of tourists everywhere. We’re feeling slow, stopping all the time to photograph the lake that’s already been photographed a zillion thousand times. Crater lake exists, Crater lake exists! Tell the world! The water is a special color, though, and wizard island is cool. We think there should be a road winding around to the top of wizard island, a castle at the peak. Abandoned and haunted.

The trail leaves the rim and plods through flat boredom torture forest for the rest of the afternoon. We’ve fucked around so much we won’t get into camp until 9, so we go into cruiser gear. Notachance is singing, I’m thinking about my dog, Twinkle is somewhere up ahead, jogging. The mosquitoes get bad again. I keep checking our mileage- apparently I hike more than 3 mph now, so that’s cool.

We get into camp right at 9, a clearing in the forest all cluttered with sticks, everyone in their tents already, hiding from the bugs. It’s too late to eat a proper dinner but I do eat one of my exciting tuna packets. It’s warm enough to sleep half naked and I wrap my sleeping bag wrapped around me, the dark comes on in that deepwoods way, like a wool blanket in all the empty spaces saying hush, hush.

Photos on instagram.

Day 84: mosquito hell is here at last

July 17
Mileage 38.5
Mile 1792 to mile 1829 (plus 1.5 mile roadwalk to campground)

I sleep so well, safe from the mosuitoes, hearing them buzz furiously against the mesh of Twinkle’s shelter. The ants can still get in, but I don’t mind- they can crawl back and forth across my face all night if they want. Cuddle ants, I call them. Big black ones. Smell like ammonia if you crush them.

Around 5 a.m. I hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of feet on the trail and look up to see Notachance hiking by, then Jr. Sr., then Woody. It’s like a freaking parade. I put my head back down- I’m not ready to get up. In the end Twinkle and I are the last to hike out- 6:20 a.m. But I don’t care. I feel relaxed today. And I slept so good. As July fades towards August, the nights grow longer, and I become less sleep deprived, my anxiety goes down. This morning I feel like hiking slow, and I don’t even care. Life is too awesome to stress!

I set out with Twinkle through the cool forest- lots of forest in Oregon, not too many views. But the shade feels good, it’s kind of a relief. The mosquitoes are awful this morning tho, Alaska style. Mosquito hell is here at last! Last year we got it bad the three days after Toulumne, but by the time we got to Oregon mosquito season was pretty much over. This year we’re here earlier, and apparently if you’re in Oregon before August first, the mosquitoes are brutal. So there’s that, hiking down the trail as fast as I can, fidgeting and slapping my arms and legs, constantly shifting and moving my trekking poles around and stressing, stressing, stressing. The thing about mosquitoes, too, that makes it extra maddening is that they don’t do anything to you. They’re not actually hurting me, like how the sun can burn you or the rain can give you hypothermia. But they’re more anxiety-inducing than anything. I’m basically screaming inside my head as I rush down the trail as fast as I can, feeling the flutter of their wings as they land all over me, biting me in the same places again and again and again.

When the anxiety-producing stimulus is finally removed, euphoria rushes in. It’s one of the cool things about being alive. At 8 a.m. I find it- a patch of full sun. Mosquitoes are tiny vampires, they don’t like the sun. I sit on a log and wait a moment- nothing. Relief. Sweet, sweet relief. Well, I think, as I take out my food bag. I guess I’ll sit here for a little while.

Afterwards it’s hot, and I take my time tooling up the climb. It’s been around a hundred degrees for the last couple of weeks, and I’m drenched in sweat. I wish the heat wave would break, but I don’t worry about it too much. I deal with it the same way I deal with everything else uncomfortable on the trail- I just take it. Every day of hiking in uncomfortable heat, drenched in my own sweat and covered in chafe, mosquito bites and poison oak, is a day I don’t spend stuck in traffic or sitting in front of my computer, feeling lonely and bored. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I take another snack break- everyone is ahead of me now. The whole group is going 37 miles today, to Crater Lake. If we get there before 9, apparently, there’s a restaurant. I’ll probably get there too late to eat, but whatevs. I know I’ll make it.

I take a lunch break around 1 at a little stream- our last water source until Crater Lake. A 20 mile dry stretch- one of the longest ones on the trail and it’s here, in southern Oregon. I take off my shoes and socks and soak my feet in the water. Guthrie is here, and he’s feeling relaxed too.

“I think I’m just gonna do 30 miles today,” he says. “Get there in the morning.”

I head out after a bit, three liters of water in my pack. The trail is cruiser, winding gently through monotonous forest, and my hipbelt pockets are stuffed with snacks. It’s shady and not too hot. I don’t have to stop for anything. And then I realize- I’m bored with hiking slow.

It’s time, as Notachance would say, to run people down like rabbits.

Sochi is the first one I catch. He’s taking a nap next to the trail, so it’s almost too easy. He’s asleep! I think about the others in front of me, wonder who else I can catch. Twinkle’s not too hard- he walks super fast but he takes about a million breaks. Literally every four miles he has to sit down, eat a snack, drink his fruit punch mix and look at instagram. So even though Twinkle walks faster than I do, as long as I don’t take breaks I know I can catch him. And I have the magical ability, I recently learned, to hike 25 miles with only one break- I may not be the fastest hiker but I eat and drink as I walk, and my feet rarely hurt.

I don’t know if I’ll catch Woody or Jr. Sr.- I’m not sure how far ahead they both are. Woody hikes like a bat out of hell, trekking poles flailing, stomping down the trail breathing out of his mouth. And Jr. Sr. is determined to stay in the front, because he got on the trail not too long ago, is still getting his trail legs and doesn’t want to be left behind. So I may not see either of them.

The one person I know for sure I won’t catch is Notachance.

Only a crazy person would try and catch Notachance.

She’s the first one to start hiking in the morning, has the smallest pack, and she carries least food and water. And she can go the longest without taking breaks. Sometimes you can catch her, if she’s having a tired day or feeling leisurely. On those days she takes an hour lunch break, sits in the dirt with her shoes and socks off, eats cheese in tortillas or boils ramen on her little alcohol stove. But not today. I happen to know that right now Chance has a 1.5 liter carrying capacity, and it’s a 20 mile dry stretch to Crater Lake. So she’ll be going fast.

I’m thinking these thoughts, standing in the trail scratching the poison oak in my armpit, when Guthrie catches up to me.

“I just realized I don’t have enough food,” he says. “All I can think about is cheeseburgers.”

“Let’s do this!” I say.

Guthrie has this special hiking mode I call “Guthrie’s secret reserves”. Usually Guthrie is super zen about hiking- he doesn’t get caught up in the competitive nature of our group, doesn’t care if he’s at the back, just goes exactly as fast as he wants to go, stops when he wants to stop. He keeps threatening to slow down and do lower mileage days-

“I thought I’d be doing twenty mile days on this trail,” he says, somewhat resentfully, as we plan our big days, egg each other on, rush to get here, or there, or to the place after that. But even if he doesn’t like big days, he must like us, because he always sticks with us. And we’ve unanimously agreed that, being the L.L. Bean model of the group, he has the best legs on the trail. He claims that they’re “just for show”.

But they’re not.

When Guthrie wants to be, he’s fucking fast.

Right now, Guthrie is hiking fast. We’re flying down the trail. I keep checking halfmile’s app, guaging my pace and re-calculating our arrival time.

I pretend I’m an airline pilot.

“Current conditions- shady with no mosquitoes.” I say. “Estimated time of arrival 8:20 p.m. The flight attendant will be along shortly with a snack of stale sunflower seeds and broken peanut MnMs. Please keep your hipbelts securely fastened, as there will be no breaks until landing.”

Earlier I sat down for twenty minutes, and I know that’s the only break I’ll have in these 20 miles. I don’t care, though. I want to be fast!

Our estimated arrival time keeps getting closer. We’ll get there at 8:10, 8:08, 8:00. Then, six miles before the road, we catch Twinkle.

“Yay!” I say. “We caught you!”

“My feet fucking hurt,” says Twinkle. Mine are actually starting to hurt too. A 35 mile day followed by a 37 mile day- that’s pretty hardcore. My feet almost never hurt, so I imagine that everyone else must be in serious pain. Plus, if we make it, this will be the first time I’ve gone 100 miles in three days- I’ve tried so many times, and it’s always ended up being three and some change. So this will be the fastest we’ve ever hiked 100 miles. Woohoo!

In the end, we reach the road at 7:50. From there it’s a 1.5 mile roadwalk to the restaurant and store. We put our thumbs out, but no-one stops.

Pizza. Burgers. Salad bar. The waitstaff is rude to us, but we don’t even care. I eat until I’m comatose and then wander over to the store, where hikers are sitting at the picnic tables, drinking cheap beer. The campground is full but a hiker from another year has a site and he invites us to camp there. We head over in the dark, stumbling on sore feet, and spread our bedrolls in the pandemonium of the crowded campground. I have earplugs, though. I sleep.

Photos on instagram.

Day 83: southern Oregon blues

July 16
Mileage 34.5
Mile 1757.5 to mile 1792

I sleep so good in the campground, wake up once to find it eerily still, almost unnaturaly so. Where are all the people? Don’t people camp in July? Does everyone know something I don’t? In the morning it’s cool for a few hours and I feel good, leapfrogging with Guthrie in the shady forest, but then the heat comes on and I suddenly feel sick, for no reason I can discern. Dizzy, weak, achey. And my pack feels unbearably heavy. I felt this way for a few hours yesterday and I thought it was just fatigue, and that I would feel better in the morning. But today I feel worse- what is wrong with me?

I have spotty service and I text with Twinkle throughout the morning. They’re all an hour ahead- Twinkle, Chance and Jr. Sr. camped at the spring five miles past us. They’re all going to Christi spring, which would be a 35 mile day for me. This flu-like feeling I have is making hiking miserable- I don’t think I can go that far. I hate feeling slow- this is Oregon, the time to be fast! And yet I’m falling further and further behind, wading through the heat feeling bad. Morale is in the gutter.

I’ve got the southern oregon blues, I think, as I trudge through the forest all alone. I’m so stuck in bummersville I don’t even want to be with myself today. I can’t think of a single nice thing to think about. I listen to my music but it’s just noise, distracting me from how bad I feel. I take a lot of breaks, wishing I could just sit forever.

In the afternoon I reach a creek next to the highway and Twinkle is there, waiting for me. Everyone else has gone on, the last 12 miles to the spring. There’s a cooler of trail magic but all that’s left is ice, and I put some ice in my hat and lay on the ground. The day is cooling down, the shadows are growing longer. I start to feel better.

“I don’t know what that was,” I say, “but I think it’s maybe over.”

We set out for the spring at 5 p.m. The trail climbs up over the flank of Mt. Mcloughlin, through the “creepy lodgepole forest”, as we called it last year. Grey, homogenous, no understory, no light. Hornets in the trail, waiting to sting you. Everyone seemed to have some sort of existential crisis in this forest last year, and this year I am no exception. The mosquitoes appear as we climb, as though they’ve been waiting for us, and chase us up the trail. They’re so bad! Alaska-style! We hike faster and faster, trying to outpace them. Twinkle puts on deet, but I don’t wear that stuff. I like to pretend I’m super hardcore, and besides it makes me sick. I’m almost running down the trail now, wishing I could stop to eat or drink, mind racing with dark, stormy thoughts. This forest is enchanted, this forest is full of spirits. Like the Swamps of Sadness in The Neverending Story.

I reach the spring at 8:30. All the others are hiding in their tents, cooking mac n cheese. I caught everyone! I’m so happy. Twinkle’s not here yet so I dive into Chance’s shelter to hide from the mosquitoes. We have precious few chances to gossip in our group, as she’s always at the front and I’m somewhere near the back. We catch each other up on trail drama, whispering and laughing until Twinkle shows up. He pitches his shelter in a little flat spot next to the trail and I jump out of Chance’s and dive into his- the mosquitoes are that bad. I eat a few handfuls of trailmix for dinner and then collapse. I’m so freaking tired.

Photos on instagram.

Day 82: smoke, poison oak, oregon!

July 15
Mileage 29.5
Mile 1728 to mile 1757.5

It’s so peaceful. I’ve bounced my neo-air up to Cascade Locks since I don’t need it for warmth, and on my 1/8 inch pad the lumpy ground cradles my spine just so. It’s cool, so much cooler than in Ashland, and it feels good to be snuggled down in my sleeping bag. Ants crawl over me and away, going here and there.

I wake up at 5:15. Goddamit. I’d get up but then I’d wake Twinkle, who’s cowboy camped next to me. He’s so good at sleeping, I don’t want to ruin it. I close my eyes and doze for a half hour, and then start to tentatively rustle my food bag, looking for breakfast. The others wake up- and I notice that Chance is already gone. Dang, when did she hike out? Four a.m.?

I’m slow this morning. We’re in Oregon! We’re in the forest! The trail is cruiser! But it’s hot, and kind of smokey. Fire season has begun. I’m sweating, and my pack feels too heavy. Did I bring too much food? I move the pack around on my back. Packs always sit wonky on me. I think I’m crooked? Probably.

We take breaks throughout the morning, at springs coming out of pipes or just on logs. We talk to day hikers and section hikers, we chat with Sochi about the two cougars he saw during his 64 mile/24 hour speed challenge. The day grows hotter and hazier. I have some poison oak on my hips and butt from sliding down the embankment to the Klamath river, and it itches in the heat. I can feel it creeping down my legs, up my back.

At 5 p.m. we get a text from Chance- she’s ahead, at the Klum campground next to the resevoir. Making dinner. Free showers, she says. It’s a few miles away, and a third of a mile off trail. But I could take a cold shower! That would help my poison oak. And besides, I just feel tired today. I’d planned to hike until eight but damn, I just want to camp.

Should we camp at Klum? I text the others. They’re not very far behind Guthrie and me. I get a few tentative yesses and Guthrie and I head down there, figuring they’ll show up. We sit at the picnic table and make our dinners, but no-one appears, and our phones can’t get service. Last year I camped here, but Spark and Instigate couldn’t find it, and the three of us ended up camping in three different places that night, each of us alone, wondering what had become of the others. I wonder if that’ll happen again this year- like there’s a strange fold in the fabric of space-time and this place exists inconsistently, and some people never find it.

I take a cold shower. It feels glorious on my poison oak and my morale, and afterwards I sit dripping in the dusk, eating rice crackers and spacing out. I feel worn out from our stint in Ashland- an early night in camp is just what I need. The campground is empty save for a few day hikers at another table, and it’s incredibly peaceful here. I wonder again where the others are. I get anxious being separated from the group. I worry that someone is lost, or sad, or that messages got mixed up. But I can only worry for so long before my sleepiness kicks in, taking over everything. I unroll my bedroll on the hard ground, feeling so happy to be exactly where I am.

Photos on instagram.