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!
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.
“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.