Leaving Cascade Locks was difficult. It was a fun place, there was still good times to be had there. It was also a place I easily could have put my journey on hold and come back to finish the trail later. My stubbornness would hold true and I’d leave town mid-morning to walk across The Bridge of the Gods and climb back up into the Cascade Mountains.
It was a moody, rainy and windy day, the kind I like. It felt like the climb out of town went on forever. Everytime I hit what should have been a mountain vista, it was fogged out. There were less people on trail than I had expected, they also weren’t going as far as I expected. I was lucky, as my day dragged on I found the last spot to setup a tent right before a big climb. That night I would make new friends and enjoy one of the best nights of sleep I think I’ve had all trail.
The next morning was a full day and my goal was ambitious. I didn’t know how the day would play out but I made it 15 miles to Panther Creek Camp Ground before noon, so I planned to do a 30 so I could end the next day with a night in Trout Lake. That would give me sometime to relax there the next morning. The day turned into a 36 mile day, my biggest yet. I had a shin split start acting up midday so the afternoon was miserable as well. Luckily I got to end my day with a cold soak of the legs and feet in a beautiful lake.
On Tuesday, I’d wake up cold and quickly make my way 23 miles to Trout Lake. It’d be a fast but good feeling morning. I was looking forward to town and I’m looking forward to towns the next few days and weeks. Luckily the carries are short in Washington and the outpost of civilization are abundant. Dinner was a delicious Reuben sandwich and the locals had plenty of free drinks to hand out to thirsty hikers. I ran into Will again before he sprinted back out to the trail and enjoyed getting to know new friends better while we relaxed for the evening.
That night in town I posted my last blog of Oregon on Facebook with a quippy joke about Venmoing me for a breakfast fund. To my great surprise so many friends and family reached out and sent money for food, drinks and whatever else was needed for the rest of the journey. I can’t begin to tell you how good that breakfast tasted…. I also can’t put into words how thankful I am for everyone who reached out. I’m only ~15 days (~350 miles) from the finish as of posting this but sometimes it seems like there’s still eons to go. Knowing that there’s people rooting for me all over and that would kill to have the opportunity I’ve had keeps me going.
I left Trout Lake on Wednesday the 25th and began the climb up the western slopes of Mt. Adams. It’s a beautiful peak I’d be starring at for days and thought about trying to climb a little over a year ago. That afternoon hike was difficult, my mind wandered wildly but the terrain was beautiful and rewarding to hike in. Glacial valleys, alpine Meadows and beautiful mountain vistas. By the evening I had made my way to Killien Creek and found my friend Dirty Nucks there. We chatted over dinner and discussed our mixed feelings about these last few weeks of trail ahead. We were both tired, but we were both set on finishing.
The following morning was cold but I quickly found friends. The miles flew by as I hiked and talked with Double Barrel, First Class, Tea Time, Mona Lisa and Dirty Nucks. By the end of the day I would meet Five Star and Cyclops. The day would involve a lunch full of laughs, blueberry picking and amazing Mountain Views entering Goat Rocks Wilderness. We’d all camp together that evening just over Cispus Pass. It’d be a rainy evening with many laughs and as many tents as you could ever fit in a 20’x10’ space. They were great company.
The day heading into White Pass we all got up together and began the climb up Old Snowy. It was fun to do the miles with other people, it was enjoyable to share the wonderful views with friends. At the top we had views of Mt. Adam’s (which we were leaving), Mt. Rainier (where we were heading) and Mt. Saint Helens off in the distance. I hit a point in the day where I wanted nothing more than to just slow down and enjoy it but I was in a rush to keep on schedule for other plans the following days. As we descended down the Knife’s Edge on Old Snowy the fog closed in and I sped up. I’d get to White Pass a few hours before everyone else, resupply, charge up and continue on just after they all wandered in.
It was good to know I could still make new friends this late in the game and it was good to know they wouldn’t get too far ahead when I took time off later in the week. I hope for the rest of my hike to be filled with moments like these. New friends, beautiful views and lots of laughing. I have 350 miles to go. It’s a long way, but I’m ready for it.
Getting around the fire closure in Oregon wasn’t too bad. Everything went right according to plan, we were even able to throw a few extra people in the car and make use of the extra space to maximize the magic. Got breakfast in Sisters, met some fellow Cincinnatians and found all the goodies I needed for the next stretch of trail. Just after noon I found myself at the Frog Lake Trailhead about 12 miles south of Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mt. Hood.
I’d separated from Leapfrog to get to Trail Days a bit sooner so I was close to 15 miles ahead of him. This was the first time on trail we’d gotten that far apart and the first days of us each hiking on our own. That first day I climbed up the south slope of Mt. Hood and the great peak revealed itself to me as I reached the upper slopes. I got lucky and some friends offered me a warm bed in Timberline Lodge that night, it was a welcome treat.
The next day I was tempted by a buffet breakfast and a chance to have a slow day but that wasn’t what was in my cards. I hiked 29 miles that day, not planning to have made it that far. I went by gorgeous waterfalls and beautiful ever changing views of Mt. Hood. Around 2PM I made it to Lolo Pass and some wonderful trail magic, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some watermelon. By the evening it was windy and cold, fall had arrived.
The last day of Oregon I walked down the Eagle Creek alternate past the famous Tunnel Falls and other beautiful sights along the river. It was a treat and a moment to breath. I was excited to get to Cascade Locks, I was excited to be ending Oregon and I was excited to see friends at Trail Days, a celebration of everything PCT for the weekend.
PCT Days was relaxing, it was chaotic and it was fun. I enjoyed seeing friends, old and new. I enjoyed having fun and getting lost in the crowd. In these few days I decided that I wanted the rest of my trail to be a random adventure. I didn’t want to plan ahead, I just wanted to do what feels right each day. Unfortunately you can’t do that with a partner so I decided that I’ll be hiking on my own the rest of the way. I’m sure Will and I will continue to see each other and be in the same bubble but the need to pick my own adventure has overcome my want to continue this journey with a partner.
I’m not sure what the coming days or weeks will bring but I still have high hopes that the rest of this journey will be amazing and enjoyable. I’m excited for the days ahead. I’m excited to finally enter Washington and hopefully finally make my way to Canada.
I went into this section with hopeful anticipation. I was tired of walking but I was excited for the miles ahead. I knew they were beautiful, I knew it was just a short time until I would be through Oregon and I knew the end of this journey would start approaching quickly. We had taken a few days off while Leapfrog’s girlfriend came out to visit and the final day of the break sitting by Diamond Lake I could feel my mind and my legs very ready to get back to trail. It was hard to know if it was cause I wanted to get this next section done or because I knew what the trail had in store for me.
The first day out we pushed 31 miles, cruising past Mt. Thielsen and finishing what I hope will be our final long water carry. The whole day I passed new faces, people I had never met before. Our bubble was gone and had faded into the massive Oregon bubble that had formed. From talking to SOBOs we figured there were about 50 hikers in each 25 mile stretch of trail all the way from Ashland to Oregon. Everyone was in the state at the same time this year cause of the fires in NorCal.
We ended the day finding our old friend Poppins. It had been almost 800 miles since we’d seen him. He’d been enjoying his time and fighting his way around the fires with everyone else behind us. It was good to see an old friend, it meant there were probably more just ahead.
On the 14th we cruised our way to Shelter Cove, a resort on Odell Lake. Diamond Peak was beautiful, and it’s glacial water was a wonderful treat for lunch, along with the lakes and ponds that dotted the land but ending the day at a resort was even better. I had a delicious burger and a soda, took a bath in the lake and we found even more friends that had been just behind us before we took our zeros earlier in the week. It was a good place to end a day.
I spent a lot of that second day out trying to figure out how I felt about the journey so far. Truth be told, I’m tired of walking, I have been for a couple hundred miles now. There are still beautiful sections and places and there are still wonderful moments along the way but what I found simple pleasure in has found its way to feeling like a job. I’m going to spend the last hundred miles of Oregon trying to change that, but at this point I’m less than 30 days to the end so I can suffer as needed (if needed).
The morning of the 15th we found our way out to Willamette Pass and up into the 3 Sisters Wilderness, we’d spend the next three days here. It was a land of lakes and ponds, dotted with burn zones, sporadic granite cliffs and a slow change to volcanic rock as you continued north. It was somewhere I’d love to come back to with a Kokopelli packraft and a 12 pack of beer to spend the weekend exploring each lake along the way.
As we approached the South Sister on the second day, you could start to see the faint patches of snow higher up on the mountain. It was a sign if what was to come. That afternoon we found our way down to Elk Lake Resort for yet another resupply, afternoon drink and some warm food. Part of me wanted to stay but I knew McKenzie Pass and the final push out to Washington was only a day away.
The next morning I woke up to the sound of rain on my tent. It was cold. The mid-70s of the day before had crashed down into the upper 40s. Getting out of bed wasn’t terribly hard, I was excited for the cold weather. The wind later on in the day would prove to be less than ideal though. The mountains were moody this morning as I wandered my way through the best parts of the Three Sisters. The peaks faded in and out of clouds and the landscape became ever more volcanic. There were blueberries to snack on everywhere. It was beautiful and reinvigorating.
On the 18th we’d find our way to McKenzie Pass with a friend waiting to drive us around a fire closure. We’d make new friends helping some other hikers getting towards Bend (shoutout to Darrin, Kaitlyn and Oscar), we’d run into Stretch and Steer and help them bounce around the fire closure as well. I’d be dropped off just south of Mt. Hood and the three day race to get out of Oregon and make it to Trail Days at Cascade Locks would be on. It was exciting and also tiring. Excited to be finishing Oregon, tiring to know I still had 500 miles (about 3 weeks of hiking) ahead.
The section from Ashland to Crater Lake wasn’t physically challenging but I found myself in a mental battle for the week. Oregon had given us the first truly “wavy” section of the PCT. Even the big climbs were small and the trail was gently graded up and down. I found myself tired though. Three months on the trail hadn’t settled anything in my mind. I was missing the simplicity of a life of not walking (although walking is pretty simple).
The first few days we resort hopped, going from outpost of civilization to outpost. Hyatt Lake to Fish Lake, to Crater Lake. It was easy and fun miles, we kept finding old friends along the way and it was a reminder that we were all still out here going north together. As we left Fish Lake Resort I found myself going back and forth between being happy I was on trail and wanting the rest of my time to fly by. I was increasingly spending time on trail sending out resumes and filling out job applications when I had cell signal, looking at houses to rent and all the other things I would need to do to get my life going again.
For a few weeks I’ve been dealing with knee pain, most likely quadricep tendinitis. It’s been a challenge to get up every morning knowing I was going to spend a few hours in some level of pain or discomfort before it warmed up and soothed itself out for the afternoon. I’ve been stretching, taking morning ibuprofen and sometimes applying Tiger Balm in the afternoons if it didn’t calm down. The reality of tendinitis is it dosen’t really heal until you cease activity, which I can’t do just yet. I think that that discomfort though is a large reason for me being ready to be done. It’s this feeling of my body physically telling me, you should take a break. But I’m only 700 miles from the finish…
As we crossed 1800 miles and entered Crater Lake National Park, I felt the resolve to finish what I’m doing and complete this years long goal but I also felt the need to finally figure out why I’m doing this. I wanted to know what was the purpose of this long walk for me. I’d spent years dreaming about it, I’ve spent months walking. I’ve seen beautiful things, been amazing places and met wonderful people, but what was it all for. Was there no purpose or outcome of this grand journey? Is the purpose for me to appreciate what I have? Is it to understand the world in a different way? I worry sometimes that I’ll come out of this in a month more confused than when I went in with no sense of direction. Thru-hiking probably isn’t meant to hand you an epiphany, you still have to find your own meaning.
I’m taking a few days off trail now to rest the legs and the mind. To sleep in a bed, binge watch movies and let my body go comatose for a bit. On the other side of this final break I’ll have a five day sprint to the latest fire closure near McKenzie Pass, a day to get around that, then two days to arrive in Cascade Locks on August 20th for PCT Trail Days, a celebration of everything hiking. In about a week I’ll be done with Oregon. Ahead of that lies the final 500 miles through Washington, 21 days to the Canadian Border, 3 weeks of the final push. I hope to find my meaning for all of this in those 30 days. I hope to enjoy as much of that time as I can.
We left Etna in the evening with a hitch from the retired fire chief. He talked to us about the mountains and you could tell he had a long history with them. As we arrived back up at Etna Summit it started pouring, not something you want to come back to trail to. We quickly got on pack covers and rain gear and began the two mile hike to camp. The rain subsided quickly and we got cozy on the ridge. A quick in and out of town was a good thing in this case.
The next morning Will and I said goodbye to our friend Sheriff, she had hiked close to 1300 miles with us at that point but her knee was giving her problems and she decided she should slow down for a bit. I was sad to see her go, I’m certain that in a lot of ways she had been the glue that had allowed Will and I to hike together for as long as we have. The next two days were burnt and bushwhacking hell. Years and years of burn zones had piled up and you got the impression that the forest service didn’t have the time or the care to come clean up the trail of down trees and over growing bushes.
After two days out of Etna we arrived in the town of Siead Valley. The day into town had been a fourteen mile trudge downhill and my knees were feeling every bit of it. When I got to the general store I found a gaggle of hikers hanging around. Everyone was discussing plans for the next few days, excited to get to Oregon and tired of the heat (it was especially oppressive that day). The restaurant and inn up the highway made a nice place to hangout for the evening, charge phones, do internet errands and all the other hiker town chores.
The next morning we got up at 5AM and climbed 7,000’ out of the valley and back into the ridge. The climb wasn’t bad and there was a nice breeze at the top. We spent the day finding other hikers up on the ridge and gossiping about a potential fire ahead of us. We’d seen helicopters flying around all morning but no smoke. The next day I would run into two firefighters who told me it had just been a little spot fire that they quickly put out.
We crossed the Oregon border on the second day out of Seiad Valley. It was a weird feeling to finally be out of California after 3 months in the state. These new Oregon miles were pleasant and the company was wonderful. Crossing the border didn’t change anything about the trail but it changed my mindset completely. I felt rejuvenated and hopeful about finishing. I felt excited for the miles ahead. I was still sore, I still had things that hurt but they weren’t the focus of my attention.
That night, before crossing under I-5 (again) and arriving at Callahan’s Lodge we cowboy camped in Grouse Gap shelter. Mt. Shasta was still staring at us off in the distance (to the south now). The smoke from a fire that had gotten out of control near Etna clouded the sky. It had the vibrant red of fire retardant, a reminder that we still had challenges ahead.
The PCT stands for the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,653 route extending from Mexico to Canada along the west coast of the United States. Every year several thousands attempt it and only a few hundred finish.