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