The PCT – Oregon – Days 123 – 132

Day 123: 22.6 miles

My first full day in Oregon was sunny and breezy. It mostly still looks like Northern California though and there are still views of Mt Shasta. At one point I came upon a toilet seat with a really grat view. I think it’s purpose was for campers who would bring a bucket, because there was no hole underneath.

I reminisced about California as I walked and tried to make a little sense of my journey so far. It was only four months ago that I took my first step into the wild possibilities of the PCT. The desert seems so far away, what I started with and who I was feels distant. But it slapped me around physically and hardened my legs. The Sierra feels like a fever dream that scraped me raw. It cleaned up some of my mental and emotional filters. The Sierra also kicked my butt into more shape and steeled my mental resolve. Northern California, although a more gentle terrain, became an endurance challenge. California seemed to never end, stretching out forever into the horizon. It was also hot. Very hot.

All three sections built on the same lesson though: it’s about the journey, not the destination. The little details and the side quests. The pancakes. The amazing trail angels and the random trail magic. It was never about the end point, but the experiences along the way and how I could let it change me if I wanted to. I managed to have this clarity while sweating up a climb in the full on sun.

The whole day was full of trail magic at every turn. Near lunchtime, two ladies had left some cold sodas and watermelon. About two hours later at the top of a hill, a trail angel was restocking two coolers full of sodas. On the way down from this hill a group of children (with their parents nearby) were giving away popsicles. I think all this trail magic is possible because of all the dirt roads we’ve been crossing.

High on sugar I ran down the mountain, through all the overgrowth of wildflowers and shrubs to getting closer to Ashland. Close to camp, my feet started to cramp up and I started to get shooting pains. I’m certain that my shoes are to big and will have to remedy that in town as well. I found camp occupied by two other hikers and we chatted a bit while fighting the blood sucking mosquitos. Also there were 4 bars of 4G! I was planning to watch some Netflix, but as soon as I lay down I fell asleep.

Day 124: 3.1 miles

Town day! I woke late because it was a short walk to I-5 where I’d try to hitch into Ashland. As soon as I hit the main road there was already a guy stopping to see if I needed a ride! He picked me and few others up and even offered to drive us up to the REI in Medford. (Ashland’s outfitter was closed because of a fire.) I managed to get most of my chores done by 1500! I even bought all the resupply I’d be sending ahead.

On the way out of Shop N Kart, a stranger asked if I was a PCT hiker (what gave it away? Was it the smell?) and did I need anything? A little known fact is that we’ll walk 2000+ miles in the woods but not one mile in town. I asked if he’d give me and this other hiker I was with a ride back to the hotel. It was hot and bright and the Uber pickins were slim. Matthew agreed to cart us about and even ended up giving us a tour. We got milkshakes at Zoeys Cafe. I got Peach in case you’re wondering and it was gone in about two minutes it was so good! I gave him the trail angel name Rogue which I think he liked (he’s from the Rogue Valley, was a river guide on the Rogue River, and Rogue Pears are his fav fruit).

I decided a couple of days ago that I wanted a hotel room to myself. I really like the group I’ve been hiking with but when it comes to staying in towns, it seems like we are all piled on top of one another. I’ve been missing my privacy which you’d think would be easy to find out in the woods. But not as easy as it sounds. So I booked a hotel room and savored the ability to be totally alone in my own space. I took a long hot shower and used TWO towels! I spread my gear out with no concern. I kept the TV off. And I slept in the middle of the bed. It was nice.

Day 125: 0 miles

TJ and Genna made it into town early and I met them for breakfast at the Morning Glory Cafe. Their pancakes were huge and delicious. We went walking about and I picked up my glasses at the post office. I can see normally again!

They came back to my hotel to swim in the pool and enjoy the A/C while waiting for Froggy and Grampa to get to Medford. They were staying up there and I forgot that tomorrow was Genna’s birthday. They left with my well wishes to get on the bus. I spent the rest of the day wallowing in the comfort of the A/C.

Day 126: 12.4 miles

I woke eager to get back on trail. After having a cinnamon roll and coffee of course. My hiking group was going ot be staying in Medford and I felt kind of bad for leaving (especially on a birthday). That all melted away as soon I stepped on trail though.

It was already hot and humid. I walked in an inquisitive daze. Small things kept capturing my attention. Like the new plants dotting the trail (Sulfur Buckwheat and Oceanspray), or the family of grouse crossing the trail ahead of me, a long line of little dinosaurs. There was an electric hum in the air, partly due to the industrious bees darting to and fro among the Giant Hyssop, but also because the air felt heavier. I hiked slow and dreamy as I pondered the trail before me. It kept going from green tunnel to volcanic desert, to lively meadows and back again. Pilot rock jutted over the landscape and a hazy Mt Shasta lingered in the background. I wasn’t worried about getting in miles for some reason, so I felt no rush and no shame in my constant stopping.

I broke to have a siesta in the shade of a Cedar next to a ice cold spring. A bunch of hikers bottlenecked here to escape the oppressive heat. I met the famed Sticky who would write comments on the Guthook map app in haiku format. Everyone was talking about blasting through Oregon and how the trail is getting hard mentally. For once I felt that was on the other side of this, but I’d be more excited to challenge myself physically if wasn’t so dang humid.

After being lazy in the shade for too long I shouldered my pack to continue into the still very humid afternoon. The first mile was all uphill and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. The air weighed down on my face and shoulders with a fierce intensity. I made it another mile to the next water source and heard thunder. That clinched it for me. The intense heat felt boiling and if it was going to rain also I was going to put up my tent. No sooner than I had crawled into my Dyneema oasis, it started pouring rain and then hailing! The air released it’s moisture and cooled quickly. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and then watching the Quivering Aspen leaves flutter in the wind.

Day 127: 20 miles

I started early to hopefully walk in the cool morning air, but it was already a steamy wool blanket of miserable air. The sunrise was beautiful though. I could see the colors through the trees and finally made it to an open spot for even brighter illumination.

The trail got overgrown and was irritating me. With the already intense heat also overwhelming me, I took the opportunity to walk a nice wide open gravel road instead of the trail. After I crossed over Hwy 66 the trail crisscrossed with a bunch of back country roads and so I decided to follow one until it met up with the PCT again. Shade, flat gravel, no touchy feely plants, what a treat.

I got to a trailhead that also led down to Hyatt Lake resort and it was lunchtime! They posted a sign with their number advertising to PCT hikers that a ride down to the resort was possible. After a short wait, I was down at the resort tearing into a cheeseburger. The heat seemed more intense down in the valley near the mostly dried up Hyatt Lake. Me and some other hikers decided to hang out around the restuarant for a long while. I chatted with Sticky (the haiku writer) for an hour while it just seemed to get more oven like.

At some point though you have to get walking and my first step back onto trail after the noon siesta was done with great reluctance. It had to be in the upper 90s low 100s with a humidity index of a 1000%. I stopped for many breaks under shade trees and drank almost a liter in the first hour. I got to a road that would take me directly to camp for the night. From the east I could see dark storm clouds rolling over the mountains. There was an occasional rumble of thunder.

Camp was an old seemingly unused drive in campground. I say unused because the lake nearby was dried up and there was absolutely no one there. But there was a shower! The water was tepid at best, but I didn’t mind after the heat I just walked through! There was also flushing toilets, picnic tables, and water spigots! Such luxuries seemed unearned after leaving town only two days ago.

I took a chilly but refreshing shower and set up my tent. I was sitting at the picnic table when the encroaching storm finally hit. It rained for an hour or so and cooled the air. I laid down with the smell of rain and green and wet earth to lull me to sleep.

Day 128: 23.1 miles

I got a whole two hours of walking in the cool morning air before it returned to the normal programming of heat and humidity. I saw some new plants by what looked like a lazy river, but was probably an aquaduct of some sort. It was fenced in by Showy Milkweed, Bull Thistle, and Great Mullein.

I saw the great sitting rock of Guthook fame. Many hikers have noted in the comments of a nearby road that there is the best of sitting rocks nearby, and it is not to be missed! One hiker even commented they wanted to take this rock home to meet their momma. I sat on it and ate my second breakfast. It was, indeed, a sitting rock for the ages.

The trail was a flat straight shot for most of the morning. I made it to the lunch spot I’d planned quite early. It was an old cabin with a hand pump water spigot and a picnic table. It was too hot to sit inside the cabin, but there was some nice shade around the picnic table. The water from the well was deliciously cold. I had to show a younger hiker how to work the pump. He had just moved the handle once and expected water to come pouring out. I told him he had to put some arm work into it and he looked at me like this was a foreign concept. I thought it was pretty obvious.

After lunch I shot off into the afternoon heat. I drank some of my caffeine Mio and went on a tear. The trail wound in and out of forests and lava rock fields. Every time I hit the open rocky path the heat assaulted me from everywhere. So I tried to hurry back into the shade. I was drenched in sweat.

It wasn’t all unpleasant though. I got some views of the pointy Mt McLoughlin. I listened to some funny podcasts. I managed to make some miles and not die of heat exhaustion. I made it to camp and snagged a spot right next to the creek. I even managed to get in a creek bath! Not bad for the day.

Day 129: 22.7 miles

It is so hot all the time, even at night, which makes it hard to sleep. I knew I should get up early, but it was already muggy and I felt groggy anyway. My clothes were still damp from yesterday’s sweat.

Most of the day was walking in the coverage of the forest. The trail skirted Mt McLoughlin and headed a northerly direction into some old burn sections. I napped for two hours at lunch near a cold spring. It’d be the last good water for a long while.

I got to a rocky ridgeline that overlooked some mountains to one side and a valley of lakes to the other. Up top where I was, a backbone of charred trees did little to block the late afternoon sun. I made camp next a relativley clear pond. The mosquitos were considerate and waited till dusk to appear for their blood donations. Luckily I was already zipped up in my tent.

Day 130: 17.5 miles

Today started out dramatic. I could smell smoke, like from a campfire and the view to the south was hazy. As I crested a wide open ridgeline the wind picked and knocked me around. From the northeast dark clouds rolled in and it started raining, chilling my already damp skin. Walking around Shale Butte, Lucifer, and Devil’s Peak was a quick act of hopping from tree to tree for coverage. As I reached Devil’s Peak the rain died out and I was treated to a striking view of swift moving clouds and the sun trying to peak out over a barren volcanic landscape.

I came down into the valley and the temp rose immediately. There were a few cold streams to gather water from, but they wouldn’t last long. It would mean a long water carry into the next day. I hauled out five liters and the sun started to bake the land. Near lunch I was slowly climbing and it was very hot and exposed. I made it a shady campsite and fell out. It took a good ten minutes to even be able to set up for lunch. I decided to set up my tent and take a long nap and get away from the mosquitos.

Four hours later I felt better. I’d slept off and on but was out of the sun and if I didn’t move too much it wasn’t a sauna. I wasn’t going to move until 1600. After eating some salty chips and chugging a bunch of caffinated water I set out.

The large burn area I walking through was truly apocalyptic looking. A current fire further off was giving the sun that hazy red glow and there was an eerie wind whistling through the blackened pine skeletons. Thunder rumbled in the distance and there was the constant crackle and pop of tree limbs falling. The air was heavy with humidity and volcanic ash coated my legs. Once again I was sweating buckets.

I hurried through this unsettling landscape to find a suitable campsite. The first stand of live trees I found were an oasis of green amongst the imposing charred remains of their peers. I set up quickly because the skeeters were out for business. Funnily enough I wasn’t sleepy though and ended up reading late into the night.

Day 131: 7ish miles

The trees snapped all night which kept waking me up. I didn’t sleep well, but was late in starting. The air was still hazy in the distance which was worrisome. As soon as I entered Crater Lake National Park the mosquitos got vicious. Even though I had a bug net on and was wearing bug spray, the skeeters had no mercy for my legs, especially my ankles and knees. I had to jog to keep them off me because if I walked at even a fast pace they were on me.

I eventually got to the road and started towards Mazama Village which would be were I picked up my resupply package I’d mailed in Ashland. I got to the general store and was immediately asked by other hikers what are your plans? Confused I showed them my Coke and ice cream and said this was my plan. But no, apparently there were new fires north of Crater Lake and the trail was closed. I didn’t have any cell service and the wifi at the store was truly useless.

Stumped, I went out side to sit on the sidewalk and contemplate my future while I mowed down a Strawberry Shortcake bar. The trail was only closed for about 50 miles and one could try to skip around it, but there was another closure ahead that would require more shuttling. It seemed like the best option was to skip to Bend and reassess. There was another hiker named Lindsay that I’d been bouncing around that I liked talking to and we formulated a plan to hitch to Bend. We got the trolley to the actual Crater and had out views (they were hazy) before sticking out thumbs out. A mom and daughter on their way back to Portland picked us up and drove all the way!

Once in Bend we found a very cute hotel and managed to score a ride up to Timothy Lake in two days. So things worked out, mostly. I’m just bummed that I wasn’t fast enough to get through Oregon before the fire season. I’d finally gotten excited about testing my strength and endurance and “putting it all out there”. Now I kinda feel a little derailed. I was thinking that thru hiking the PCT every single mile may not be possible anymore.

Day 132: 0 miles

There is a Black Bear Diner in Bend! I introduced Lindsay to the wonders of their pancakes and then we spent the day wandering around doing things.

I think what is so disappointing about having to skip is that I’ve felt like I was on the precipice of something meaningful. Like I was about to get some clarity and now it is going to slip away. Like all the disorganized whirlwind of change is going to scatter those precious thoughts to the winds. But then I remember to let out my breath – that deep breath that is constantly caged in my throat.

I remember that being in nature, walking and pushing myself, brings me back to my body. It grounds me in my own life, to say I am here now. I can hear my breath and feel my heart. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem “When I Am Among The Trees” and the line “never hurry through the world but wall slowly and bow often”. It all seems so choatic and is not what I planned but I am here now and that’s enough.

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