Day 94: night-hiking to Timberline Lodge, and other things that I do every year

July 27
Mileage 40.5
Mile 2042 to mile 2112.5 (minus 30 miles for the fire closure)

I sleep so good. Again. Out like a light dark long night not waking up once, wild dreams of mansions and horses and family secrets, chests lined in velvet, full of treasure. What the fuck? I think when I wake late, 6:40 a.m., rubbing my eyes. I feel like I’ve been on a magical journey, watched a really good movie. Crossed over to the other side and back.

I’ve been walking for 30 minutes when 10k, a total badass of an older hiker, catches me. He lives in Appalachia, runs a hiker shuttle, is friendly and full of wisdom. And he hikes really fast. We climb up and up, over a sort of pass which I crossed last year in the rain and from which one can see forever (and our first glimpse of Mt. Hood, so small and far away!) and then down and across a series of long, cofusing snowfields. Snowfields in July- you just never know on the PCT. I still get a touch nervous navigating on snowfields without a trail, so it’s nice to be here with 10k. I take a few photos and then, beep boop, my phone is dead again. We drop down into the forest and at 11:30 we reach Ollallie Lake resort, where there is a little cabin that sells candy bars and canned beans and where the second fire closure starts.

I look at the rudimentary paper map of the fire closure and the reroute around it that they have at the store. My phone’s dead, so I can’t look at the data and see how many miles it is but I can tell it’s a long road walk, any way you cut it.

“I think I’m gonna hitch around it,” I say. I don’t want to do the road walk.

“Nah, wait for Sochi and hike it with us,” says 10k. Sochi is right behind us and it would be fun to hike with them. But a long road walk! I didn’t do the roadwalks around the two fire closures in southern california, either. I just can’t stomach the thought of roadwalks. And I don’t even know how long this one is. What if there isn’t any water?

I chat with a couple loading up their suburban- they’re going the same direction I am, headed back to Portland on the roads that go around the fire closure. Sure, they say, they’ll give me a ride.

I squeeze into the backseat with their sweet, neurotic dog and a pile of blankets, my pack on my lap. The couple is out for the weekend- he works as an electrician and she has a desk job. We’ve been bumping down the dusty road for ten minutes, chatting about this and that, when I realize that I forgot my trekking poles.

“Oh my god,” I say. “I forgot my poles. You can just drop me off and I’ll hitch back.”

“No,” they say. “We’ll take you back.”

I can’t believe their generosity and moments later I hop out of the car, to the suprise of 10k and Sochi, and retrieve my poles from the porch of the store.

“I’m not gonna say anything,” says 10k. “I’m not gonna say anything. But karma! Karma!”

He is teasing me, of course, for not doing the road walk.

Back in the car we’re headed north again, on the dusty rutted road. The man, who’s sitting in the passenger seat, pulls a gun from down by his feet and shows it to me.

“You mind if I put a round in my glock while we drive?” He says. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t mind.” He’s got an open bottle of wine in his lap, and he takes a long drink from it.

“Um, I don’t mind?” I say.

“I bothers me,” says the woman. The man opens the clip on the gun and loads it.

“Let’s go to that lake you like,” says the man, to the woman. “You love that lake.”

“Honey,” says the woman calmly, like she’s talking to a four-year-old- “we are going home. Tomorrow is monday, and we have to work in the morning. And I’d like to have time to unpack the car and relax.”

“What kind of gun do you have on the trail?” Says the man, to me.

“I don’t carry a gun,” I say. The man has finished his wine, and now he’s switched to beer.

“But what about the animals?” He says. “How many mountain lions have you seen?”

“None,” I say. “People get stalked on the PCT in California if they night-hike, but I’ve never heard of it happening in Oregon.”

“Oh they’re out there,” he says, a far-away look in his eyes.

We’re almost there when I realize that I can plug my phone into the car, and charge it a little bit. Yes! When the couple drops me at the Clackamas campground I’ve got a little sliver of a charge on my phone, and I thank them and then stand there, waiting for my maps to load as they drive away. Halfmile loads- I’ve skipped thirty miles of trail to get around the closure, which means that Timberline lodge, where all my friends are, is only…

25 miles away. With four thousand feet elevation gain.

It’s 2 p.m.

I look at the shady forest, the cruiser trail. I’m in the rainforest now, everything is lush and soft. The light feels heavy and yellow.

Do I have 25 more miles in me?

Fuck yes, I do.

Right away my phone dies again. So now I have no maps.

But you know what? I know the way.

I dig around in my food bag, finally find the things I’ve been saving for an occasion such as this one- caffeinated jelly beans and caffeinated cliff shot blocks. I eat the jelly beans, fill my water in the cold, aquamarine stream all edged in ferns, stuff my hipbelt pockets with bars. I find my headlamp and put it that in my hip belt pocket, too. I can feel the caffeine coursing through my system as I sling the pack onto my back.

And then? I fucking cruise.

The path is flat and gently graded uphill, the forest shady and warm. Cruiser trail of dreams. 25 miles with no breaks and I’ll get to Timberline Lodge right around 10:30 p.m.- no problem. I put in my earbuds and listen to Gossip and Patti Smith and Garth Brooks and Florence and the Machine. I climb and climb and then, suddenly, dramatically, to my left over a great distance, is Mt. Hood.

Way up on top up there, that snowy peak, what looks so far away right now- that’s where I’ll be tonight.

I think about a lot of things as I hike, and the light grows longer and softer and cooler as it moves through the trees. I think about last year- last year I night-hiked to Timberline Lodge too. Not because I’d planned to but because my trailmance at the time dumped me (I don’t usually blog about these things but hey, this is old news, so whatever) and I knew that Spark and Instigate, who were ten miles ahead, would be there. I cried as I walked this trail along the mountain with its epic view of Mt. Hood, I cried as the last of the light left the forest, I stopped crying when I broke above treeline to the white sand full of lupine reflecting the light of the milky way and the sillouette of Mt. Hood making its own light even in the dark- the stars, and the blue-black sky, and the mountain, and just me alone with the universe, slogging through the sand, nothing between us anymore. And then I found Instigate and Spark where they’d stealth camped below the gondolas and I went to sleep just as the sky clouded over and it started to sprinkle, and in the morning we ate the buffet, just me and my friends who I loved, and I knew that everything would be alright.

All these memories come back to me as I hike. The trailmance I had last year that was nothing short of epic, and the tumultuous feelings that I’d had, and the way we’d broken up here, on this stretch of trail (this is the switchback where I cried, I think, this is the log where I waited for him) and then how we’d gotten back together in Washington and hiked in a sort of fantasy to the border, where he’d ripped my heart from my chest, torn it to pieces, and then stomped those pieces into the ground.

I did eventually get over that fool of a boy, although it took five months and many, many hours listening to this song while crying and spooning my chihuahua-

You know how the time flies
only yesterday was the time of our lives
we were born and raised in a summer haze
bound by the surprise of our glory days

and now here I am again, hiking through all these same places (yesterday I passed the tree where we made out, in the rainstorm- I recognized the tree immediately, the texture of it, the way the bark smelled) and now it’s all coming back, coming back. What memory this forest holds! I think, as the evening grows dim, and the trail grows steeper. I’m not heartbroken this year and yet the forest, still, is full of feeling, the memories everywhere, those memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I come out at Barlow pass right at dusk, and see the sign there- 10 miles to Timberline lodge. I start to hike even faster, pushing up and up and up. I’m thirsty, I’m out of water, I can’t turn my phone on to see where the next water source is but I remember this same thing happened last year, that there will be a stream right before the top. I’m hungry, I’m crashing, I eat a snack. I get water at the stream, hands shaking from adrenaline, listening to sticks break in the woods. I’ve eaten the caffeinated cliff shot blocks and caffeine is coursing through my system, making me feel invincible- I never consume caffeine so when I do I really, really feel it. Usually it makes me an anxious mess, but not when hiking. When I’m hiking caffeine makes me feel AWESOME.

I’m above treeline, I’m slogging in the sand. The milky way is there, just like I remember it, the light reflecting off the white of the mountain. In the distance, across a ravine, is the bright glow of the lodge and then I’m crossing the ravine, feeling my way in the dark, I’m walking up the long sloped parking lot, I’m standing at the base of the big stone steps of the lodge.

It’s 10:30 p.m.

Inside there is the clink of glasses, the plush opulent lobby, vacationers walking around, looking clean and awfully awake. I reek, I’m thirsty, I have armpit chafe. I go in the bathroom and wipe the dirt off my face with a paper towel and then sit in an overstuffed chair next to an outlet and plug in my phone. I turn on my phone and there’s a text from Chance and one from Guthrie- they group has hiked out a few miles north. The muscles in my legs are popping, caffeine is still coursing through my system. What’s a few more miles? I wanted to eat at the breakfast buffet here, it’s one of the highlights of the trail, but all my friends already ate here this morning, before Bearclaw and Dirtmonger’s wedding. It’s something I’d wanted to do with everyone- what fun would it be to do it tomorrow, by myself? I have a resupply box here as well, but to pick it up I’d have to wait until they opened in the morning, and meanwhile my friends would get farther and farther ahead- who knows when I would see them next. I’ve been hiking alone for a couple of days and I miss them dearly- especially Chance and Guthrie. Chance just gets it, all the things that are in my brain, and her insights are priceless, and Guthrie is so zen- just being in the same room as him makes my anxiety go down. I have enough food in my food bag, I think, to make it to Cascade Locks, especially if I do most of it tomorrow. I refill my water bottles and shoulder my bag. It’s time to go.

An hour later I still haven’t found their camp. Did I pass them? Did I not go far enough? I don’t know, but my legs have turned to lead and I’m slogging up the trail, almost dizzy with exhaustion. I’ve crossed a swollen, silty stream and my shoes are wet, I can feel blisters forming on my toes. Next flat spot and I’ll camp, I think, and then at half past midnight I come upon a trampled little clearing right on the edge of the mountain, looking out over the whole world. I wearily pitch my shelter there, climb inside, eat a little food, brush my teeth in slow motion. I look at the maps on my phone, subtract the fire closure to figure out my mileage- 40.5 miles. My longest day yet, just like last year. Dang. I lay down to sleep but can’t- my heart is racing, anxiety beating its loud drum inside of me, fueled by caffeine and loneliness and exhaustion. I start to cry, curl up in a ball, sob like a wounded bear. I’m so, so lonely. So lonely I can’t stand it. But I’m also very, very tired, and mostly I know that I just need to sleep. And, eventually, I do.

Photos on instagram.

Day 93: solitary solitude in Mt. Jefferson wilderness

July 26
Mileage 32
Mile 2010 to mile 2042

I wake when the sun’s red-orange rays cut through the mesh of my shelter. I fumble for my phone to take a picture of the sunrise, way up on this bridge, and then remember that it’s dead. God dammit though, I slept good. And warm- it was cold but not too cold, my sleeping bag stayed dry. My god I love sleeping on the ground.

I’m hiking at 6:40, slow and fidgety. It’s going to be one of those days. Climbing up ridges, feeling lethargic. What is wrong with me? Yep, definitely one of those days. Walking through slopes of old burns, the bright white snags the purple lupine, the green tufts of beargrass. If I keep my phone off while it’s plugged in to the solar charger I can get just enough of a charge, in the intermittent sun/shade, to turn it on if I need my maps.

I stop for water at a still clear still pond and dismantle my steripen, lay the parts out to dry in the sun. I put the chemical drops in my water and assemble my salami-mustard sandwiches. It’s quiet here, solitude feels good. I put my steripen back together, but it still won’t turn on. I wish I had a bag of rice. Maybe that would work?

More ridge-walking. Man I feel slow. I stop to watch the helicopters dropping down over a lake below, filling their big hanging water buckets, flying over the ridge to the fire north of here. An hour later I reach a dusty little spot with the first real view of Mt. Jefferson- conical and striped with snow, standing hazy against the blue summer sky. Lunch is nutella on potato chips, one of the best things ever. But I eat too much and then I’ve got a stomach ache, and it nags me and won’t go away. Hiking alone there is less to focus on, and I time how long my stomache ache lasts- six hours. Meanwhile I descend through the cool, gently lit forest, climb way back up. We’re almost to the temperate rainforest and I start to see bracken, oregon grape, lichen on the trees. I cross a couple of silty, rushing streams, my feet get wet. The wild mountains!

At dusk I’m in a meadow crossed with streams, Mt. Jefferson looming over everything. There are other backpackers around, the regular sort, standing idly around their campfires, luxurious double-wall tents pitched back in the trees. I stop and look at them- the way they’re just standing around stresses me out. When did I become like this? And is it a good or a bad thing? I don’t know.

In my tent I’m almost too tired to eat. I do, though. And then, sleep.

Photos on instagram.

Day 92: Fail/Win/Fail

July 25
Mileage 20.5
Mile 1989.5 to mile 2010

It gets cold at night, in my shelter all alone in the woods next to the highway. I wake up at one point from the cold and find my sleeping bag drenched in condensation. The end of July in the moutains, and fall is already here. We’ve got to get to Canada! I roll onto my side, curl in the fetal position. I’m almost warm enough. I sleep.

I sleep late, hike slow. There’s 7 miles of broken lava, a long burn. I lose the trail for a quarter mile, work my way over blackened blowdowns, that takes some time. Late morning I have reception for a moment so I sit in the dirt next to the trail and check my email. I hear the clack of trekking poles and look up- it’s Sochi! He spent a few days in Crater Lake with his girlfriend, thought he wouldn’t see us again.

“We don’t hike so fast,” I say.

“I did a couple of 40’s,” says Sochi.

I cruise with Sochi through the dusty, burnt forest. He’s headed to Santiam pass, the next highway crossing, where he’ll hitch into Sisters. I tell him about the nice trail angel, Blanche, who gives rides to hikers, and we give her a call. She’ll pick Sochi up at the highway in 30 minutes, she says. I say bye to Sochi at a little pond and squat on the rocks, filling my bottles. I’ve been out of water for an hour and I’m thirsty. I put my steripen in the water-

And it won’t turn on. I press the button again and it turns on for a second, then dies. My faithful steripen!

Fail!

Well hell, I think. Something happened in the rainstorm before sisters- the steripen got wet inside somehow, and in the hotel room it wouldn’t turn on. I finally got it to charge but now, it seems, it’s dead for real.

I hike as fast as I can to the road. I’m thirsty, goddamit! But maybe I can get a ride to Sisters and from there hitch to Bend, where there’s an REI. I get to the Santiam trailhead and there, stapled to a wooden post, is the most glorious sight-

A laminated sign, saying that the southernmost burn area is open.

The trail here is open! I can just hike!!

Win win win!

I text everyone I can- the burn is open! The burn is open! I don’t know what everyone decided to do, but via some vague text messages I put together that a couple people are southbounding the section we hiked in the storm, and a couple people are hitching straight to the Timberline lodge, where our friends are getting married in a few days. So I’ll be the only one in this section, and I’ll be hiking alone for the next hundred miles.

But solitude is good for me, right? I’ve hardly ever camped or hiked alone. I don’t have to be a big baby about it, right?

Sochi and Blanche, the nicest trail angel in the world, are still at the trailhead, and I get a ride with them to Sisters, where I stick my thumb out on the highway leading out of town. Within minutes a pickup stops- awesome! At this rate I might get to REI and then back to the trail in a few hours, and I can put in some miles. Which is good, because the faster I do this section, the more of a chance I have of catching my friends.

The ride is a couple of Earth First!-ers on their way to survey a timber sale for tree voles, the favorite food of spotted owls, which are endangered.

“If we can find the voles then we can often save the sale,” they say. Radical environmentalists- my people! Or at least, my people when I was a young crust punk, living in crowded houses thinking I could change the world. We know a lot of people in common and it’s nice to be in their pickup, which smells of Dr. Bronners and bruised apples, hurtling down the bright highway through the dry pine forest. They invite me to bowling and/or karaoke later but I can’t, I’ve got friends to catch!

At REI they stare at me like I’m a strung-out junkie and tell me that no, their policies have changed, I can’t return my steripen. I mean sure, I lost the receipt, bought it last year, and am not a member but dang, REI used to be so good like that.

Fail.

“I mean, we have them here,” says the woman behind the counter, waving her hand in a lackidaisical way. I survey my options- my gear fund is tapped, there’s no way I can spend $100 on a new steripen. The sawyer mini is cheap, but they’re all out of those. I pick up a box of chemical tabs. I don’t want to drink chemicals, but these will work for now. The checkout clerk gives me a hostile stare while she rings me up. Wow, I think, REI really has changed. I stare right back.

On my way out I see a big map of the PCT pinned to the wall-

“Our coworker Cat is hiking the PCT!” It says.

Outside I sit in the sun and assemble salami sandwiches. There are shops everywhere and lots of clean, brightly-clothed people, walking around eating icecream cones. No-one stares at me, which is nice. I relax and eat two sandwiches. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and it’s 2 pm. I put lots of mustard on my sandwiches. I love mustard.

My hitching luck out of town is not so good. I stand on an onramp for an entire hour, just roasting in the sun. People stare at me, but no-one stops. I guess I’m a strung-out junkie again. My morale drops. I wish I wasn’t by myself. But hey, what can you do.

I’m walking away from the onramp, trying to look up bus schedules on my phone, which is almost dead, when a dude in an SUV pulls up next to me.

“Are you a PCT hiker?” He says.

The dude’s name is Joey and he hiked last year, although I never met him. He drives me further down the highway, kind soul, so that I’m more likely to get a ride. Soon after a small, weathered, red-faced man stops and makes room for me on the seat of his pickup, moving his tools to the back. The man talks slow, and it’s hard to hear what he says.

“I was born in this area,” he says, sweeping his hand over the dry fields. The wind howls through the cracked windows. Maybe it’s because I’m dehydrated, but I suddenly feel like I’m in a John Steinbeck novel.

In Sisters I get another ride outside the subway- a young couple in a vanagon, on their way to the coast to go surfing. They’re both beautiful like a patagonia ad, and they have a nervous chocolate lab who licks the mosquito bites on my legs, leaving slobber all over me. But I don’t mind. I miss dogs!

The couple drops me back at the trailhead. It’s seven p.m. Too late to do a bunch of miles but hey, what can you do.

I contemplate hiking five miles but only hike 2.5- I’m fucking exhausted after my long, fruitless trek to REI, and my morale is shot. Time to sleep. Camp is a narrow, breezy ridge overlooking long, forested slopes and a whole lot of empty nothing. I set up my shelter and climb inside, instantly feeling safe and secure and very, very sleepy. I try to turn on my phone but it’s all the way dead. I don’t get the external battery I ordered until Cascade Locks, and there’s too much forest here for my solar charger to work. Well, I think. That will make this section interesting. And then, like a light, I am out.

Photos on instagram.

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.