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.