Greetings from the currently overcast city of Portland, Oregon! It’s hard for myself to believe that I’m here, still connected by the time and space of trail and a journey that started over 4½ months ago. Since I last checked in (1,499 miles later), it has been a lot of big miles, a brand new state, and even my first bear sighting! Without a doubt, and with heavy legs, these last 500 miles have been the most impressionable yet, so without any further delay, let’s adjust our packs and hit the trail.
Passing mile 1,500 and Castle Crags State Park, the end of California was nearly in sight, but in typical fashion of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Golden State wasn’t going to let me leave without a few more mountains to climb. With the elevation and state line less than 200 miles away, the marathon days were attained, but they took every second of sunlight possible to complete (and some starlight as well).
Thankfully, with areas like the Marble Mountain Wilderness and Trinity Alps to lead the way, the miles were well earned with every new horizon displaying what would be the last of my California portion of the adventure.
As I made my way north, it was the southbounders who were the first to give me the news; the forest was on fire ahead of me. Once I reached my next resupply spot, I received more information regarding the Gap Fire, which eventually burned 33,000+ acres of Klamath National Forest in Northern California, and effectively blocked my path across the border into Oregon.
At the time, I honestly took it as a blessing in my pursuit to reach Canada before winter, but it was a slight disappointment to walk nearly 1,650 miles and not be able to physical exit the state of California on foot. Instead and unceremoniously, I caught a ride in Seiad Valley, CA and crossed the border into Oregon via vehicle, landing me in Ashland, OR – and traveling a rough distance of 60 trail miles in less than two hours (a feat that would have otherwise taken me 2½ days of walking).
Despite its lackluster transition, it was very exciting to be in Oregon and out of California. I felt slightly renewed, like a definite chapter in my book had closed only to find another, and with the runway-like appearance of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon (especially compared to the high-flying fun of the Sierras), I began putting down the serious miles needed to get me to Canada.
Coming out of Ashland and en route to Crater Lake, I proceeded to hit 90 miles of trekking over 3 days. Some of that big mileage, with its 14 hours of hiking per day, sometimes it felt like a bit much. In fact, at the tail end of that 3rd day, in the midst of a long waterless section, when I was fully ready to set up camp for the night but was compelled forward by a palpable thirst, I spent a long moment in the silent wilderness questioning just about every decision I had ever made in my life. It was the lowest of lows for me on trail so far, and if Crater Lake had an airport near its sparkling shores, I would have been on the first plane home that evening.
Not Surprisingly, after a full night’s sleep and a 6-pack of donuts the next morning, I was feeling a lot better, and after taking the entire day off to shower, sit down and eat more donuts, I felt ready and willing once again. The Campsite at Crater Lake NP where I took a full zero day was a fair distance away and well out of view of the lake itself, and with the intent to see the natural attraction at a magical moment, I departed the campground the following day around 3:30 a.m. to bustle up to the lake before the sun rose.
Hiking in the dark up to Crater Lake proved to be worth the effort. While it could have been that lowest of lows I experienced just two days prior, but the beauty and splendor of Crater Lake, which reaches its sparkling blue waters over 2,000 feet deep into the ancient caldera of an erupted volcano, it made my pack feel like it was filled with helium balloons. As I’ve told anyone that will listen, I encourage everyone to put Crater Lake National Park on their short-term adventure list.
From that magical morning in Crater Lake, I entered a new phase of my hiking experience, and felt a surge of life force that I can only best describe as the pure essence of backpacking. To travel from one spot to another, only carrying what you need and only needing what you carry. Every motion that wasn’t walking forward seemed only secondary to that. Eating, sleeping, relieving myself in the bushes, they all served a higher purpose of continuing forward, and even my thoughts, between crunching logistics and hamburger daydreams, seemed to change and exasperate the idleness of sit-down breaks.
As with anything dealing in purity, this “pure” recreation plug-in proved to be too much for my physical body. About 2½ days and 60 miles north of Crater Lake, my left ankle swelled up to the size of a softball. The only thing I was certain about was that it wasn’t broken, and that continuous stretching temporarily relieved some of the pain and achiness.
I hobbled into my next resupply point after a tender 86 miles, which was the beautiful and hiker-friendly private campground resort, Shelter Cove, and was pleased to take a half-day off and meet a fellow hiker who happened to be a physical trainer when he wasn’t playing in the dirt (the trail provides…) He confirmed with me that my ankle wasn’t broken (you are standing on it right now, aren’t you?), and that it was essentially a very tired tendon. The best option, he said, would be to take a week off and stretch it out. The second best option? The same stretching routine and some Vitamin I, he said with a wink.
With my Ibuprofen packed away, and a long morning of stretching, I hesitantly hit the trail later that afternoon. I traveled only 7 miles, consciously feeling the tendon in my ankle the whole way, and stayed the night at a hut in the woods constructed by a local ski club, complete with a wood-burning stove and solar-panel lights. That night, sleeping in the loft of the shelter alone, I surely dreamt and worried about the miles ahead of me, knowing that I needed to cover some distance and feeling the bulk of my ankle resting listlessly in the back of my sleeping bag. It was the worrying that was getting to me, that almost pulled me under completely, and as it turned out, those fears were far worse than the actual traveling itself.
While my ankle was still a little tender climbing down the ladder of the loft the next morning, I could tell that it was feeling better, and just having a little more knowledge of what was actual ailing me seemed to quiet my nervousness about it some. I built up my fire from the ashes of the night before, and with a toasty recognition of the chilliness outside the shelter of a pre-dawn Oregon morning, I was anxious to see where the day was going to take me.
Three Sisters Wilderness, that’s where it took me, and down a section of trail that I think will forever be endowed into my subconsciousness. There was something about the emerald lakes and flat hiking that made a positive attitude easy to keep, and with some good stretching at each scenic stop, my ankle pain was going from manageable to not-noticeable, and just at the height of feeling good, springing from the forest and running away as fast they could, three bears suddenly came within my sight.
It was a mamma bear and two cubs, which isn’t exactly an ideal combination to run into in the wilderness hiking alone, but we all kept our distances and moved our separate ways with barely enough time to say hello. It was an exciting experience for sure, one that I had expected to happen much sooner, and now with a bear sighting under my belt, I’d be fine if that was the last ones I ran into for the rest of the trail.
Through a confusing and colorful combination of logistics, timing and invitations from old friends, at the Big Lake Youth Camp (mile 1,992) I ended up going off trail for a slight side excursion that suddenly might demote me to a section hiker this year depending on who you ask.
The invitation was too sweet, and the friends too kind to pass up the opportunity to meet a new adventure crew in Bend, Oregon and rock climb at Smith Rock State Park for a short weekend trip. The crag was friendly and everyone got some solid lead climbing in, and better yet, it was a welcomed moment away from the tunnel vision of Canada that’s filled my solitary hours of hiking.
From Smith Rock, I stayed in the vehicle until it landed squarely in PDX – Portland, Oregon. Here, I have taken three showers, eaten 2,000 calories for breakfast the last two days, and I will embark back out on the trail Wednesday, September 21st at the Timberline Lodge (Mile 2,094). This effectively is a skip of some trail, just over 100 miles, and in the days leading up to this jump, it weighed on my conscious the same way my pack pulls down on my shoulders.
Seeing some friendly faces, and getting on the crag, plus the two days that I have taken in Portland all have made the bitterness of skipping trail taste a bit more sweet, and ahead of me there is still a lot to see.
Just 50 miles north is the border of Washington, and it’s safe to say that if my trip was a pencil, it is getting to the point. I’ve been out here doing this for what feels like a long time now, and with only 550 more miles to go, I expect the real difficult times haven’t yet appeared. Rain, snow, steep miles, all that and more I can expect out of Washington, but I’m really interested in what other experiences can be found outside of my comfort zones, what it’s going to feel like to hit the wall and try to climb over it, because suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel, the Canadian flag waving against the snowflakes, it’s all a bit brighter now, closer to my reach, and I can only hope that my fingers grab onto something before it’s time to go home.
Big thanks to all those who have directly supported my endeavors, it could not have been done without any of you, and thanks to all those sending me good vibrations and well-wishes, every now and then I feel a sudden breath of fresh air because of them.
I expect to check in one more time before the end of all this, so keep your eyes out for any updates, and if you’re like me this year, let’s hope that Old Man Winter arrives a little late this season.
Until next time,