Right now the path to Canada is closed due to fires and related issues. As the fire conditions keep changing, new reroutes and workaround solutions are thankfully popping up with the help of incredibly generous trail angels and the hard work of the Forest Service. Locals are going incredible distances out of their way to ferry hikers between the increasingly crazy and complex series of hitches, boat rides, and alternate trail walks necessary to walk the last 12 miles/20 km to Canada.
I don’t care if I have to wait in a small Washington town or remote campground for a week and a half for some path to open allowing me to walk to Canada. I haven’t walked thousands of miles over four months just to get stopped within sight of Canada. Ravensong, the first woman to solo hike the PCT back in 1976, has reportedly opened her Mazama home to thru hikers. That seems to be the focus point for hikers right now for hikers trying to get to Canada.
Speaking of town stops, my zero day in Sisters, OR wasn’t terribly restful. I had to roam all over town at grocery stores, the post office, and the FedEx mailing post to get my food drops for Washington sent out. At the beginning of the trail town was this great place to rest and relax before heading back on trail, but now it just seems overwhelming and exhausting. All the locals seem impossibly clean, and as I’ve gotten closer to Canada it gets harder and harder to interact with non-hikers. I also can’t sleep in beds anymore without difficulty. I’m going feral. I miss the gentle breeze, the night’s cool air, and getting up at 2am to look at the stars while the deer crash haphazardly through the forest.
Luckily, Sisters has a campground with $5 camping for hikers and bikers. There’s apparently a popular route near or through Sisters on cross-America bike trips. The woman who ran the check-in process was friendly and helpful, but her obese husband basically called us lazy and said that our generation was worthless. I didn’t say anything, and just let it sink in that we had walked or biked months to get there while he had trouble getting out of his chair.
The campground kicked out Courage because he extended his two night limit while nursing some foot issues. Being the rule-abiding and upstanding citizens we are, we just snuck him back in after dark. It’s not like the campground hosts would ever do anything as arduous as walking the 30 seconds to the grassy camping area, so we weren’t terribly concerned.
It seems that various hikers out here attract different sets of people. Hawaii constantly has people giving her free stuff. Beer Goddess is always getting elderly men telling her how being single, always traveling or long distance hiking, and working seasonal jobs in cool places to support herself is inappropriate for a woman in her 30s. I’m known for attracting the weirdos like moths to a flame (“Because you mock them with a deadpan voice to their face and they think you’re serious and not insulting,” someone told me). Courage gets trail angels. No matter where we are, and we’ve been hiking together off and on since a few weeks before Oregon, trail angels flock to him.
He’d been walking around Sisters the previous day when a woman whose son is currently hiking the trail offered to give him and any other hikers who needed it a ride back to the trail, about a half hour drive from Sisters. We jumped on the opportunity, especially because she wanted to take us early in the morning. Not hiker early, but rather normal people early (~7:45am). It’s always nice not to have to hitch!
The trail on out was in the broad class often referred to as a “hike ender.” It traversed lava fields with apple-sized pieces of volcanic rocks that tear up both the shoes and feet. Courage and I made good time through it and ran into Billy Goat, a guy in his late 70s who has done the PCT multiple times and now spends his retirement hiking for long periods of time on the trail. He’s a legend on the trail.
On this section of trail lies the Seventh Day Adventist Big Lake Youth Camp, also known by trail signage as “big lake god camp.” They’re incredibly friendly to hikers, offering hot showers and meals with the campers. We arrived on Saturday, their Sabbath, and were very kindly given sack lunches.
They had an entire room devoted to thru hikers with free wifi, electricity, sofas, and a hiker box. It truly was a vortex. I planned on spending no more than an hour there…and four hours later still hadn’t left. Ace and I got sidetracked by this section hiker who was having an incredibly loud conversation with his wife on the phone outside the hiker area. It was strangely entrancing listening to him whine to her.
Eventually I realized if I didn’t leave immediately I would get sucked further into the vortex and spend the night, which I didn’t want to do if I was to get to the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood for the breakfast buffet in a few days. It’s called the best meal on trail (I’ll get into it later, but I made it and have to agree).
That evening we crossed the 2000 mile mark, which was cool but not as exciting as crossing into Oregon. Courage, Logan, and I hiked on just half an hour more before setting up camp out of the ridiculous windstorm. Courage and I ran up to a hammock because we thought it was our friend Fifty, but it turned out to be some random guy out backpacking. Awkward. Apparently we used so many trail acronyms he had no idea what we were asking him when we tried to find out where he was coming from and what direction he was headed.
Our next resupply was the Olallie Lake Resort, which has no electricity but a tiny store with enough snacks to make it to Mt. Hood. That, too, was a vortex. The owner let us hang out on the store’s front porch overlooking the lake. It was idyllic, and I spent hours there talking with other hikers and reading. Eventually, I knew I’d have to leave if I was going to make my 28 mile/45 km goal for the day to be able to make it to the breakfast buffet at Mt. Hood two days later.
Hiking that afternoon involved going through one of the top two worst on-trail storms I’d experienced since Mexico. The hail was relentless, larger than peas, and stung my bare legs. I put on all my layers, including my trash bag rain skirt, and managed to stay warm and dry. My shoes were not so lucky while traversing the Pacific Creek Trail. There are few things I despise more than wet shoes, but luckily trail runners dry out fast.
I made it to my 28 mile/45 km goal, and set up camp near a trail junction to a spring I couldn’t find (not that I tried hard, since another water source was just 40 minutes away and I was good on water). My clothes all dried out at night, but not my socks or shoes. I had a dry pair of socks I’d saved for such a situation as this, and with the help of putting my feet in plastic bags between the socks and shoes was able to avoid too much discomfort. The wet, accompanied by the cold, made me wait until after 8am to start my day. That’s about two hours later than I usually begin, which wasn’t good if I wanted to make another 28 mile/45 km day.
Just as I was concerned about having enough food to last me to the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, I ran into a to-be-left-nameless hiker chatting with a trail angel…with snacks! It was the best assortment of snacks I’ve seen on trail, and I rushed to get some before the trail angel realized the guy was totally insane and probably make an excuse to leave. I ended up staying almost two hours, drying out my stuff by the side of the highway in the noon sun. He went on his rants about the PCT Association being part of a conspiracy to destroy the “trail experience.” Backpacker magazine recently published an article about some trail angels who closed up shop, and they were talking about that. I’ve since read the article and don’t know what planet this guy lives on, but I don’t want to go there.
People who have read that article always tell me the PCT must be so crowded, which is ridiculous considering I go days at a time at some points without seeing a northbound thru hiker. Kelly, the trail angel, saw 10 hikers in 7.5 hours standing in one spot. That includes southbounders and people out for the weekend. My experience has been that the PCT is typically anything but crowded, especially a couple of thousand miles north of Mexico.
The trail around Timothy Lake was fairly crowded from day hikers, and I ran back into Beer Goddess and Hawaii washing their feet and looking homeless in a lakeside stream. The southbounders we meet have only been on trail for a month or so, compared to our almost four months, and look incredibly clean and well kept. A southbounder told me us northbounders come across as jaded, mentally unhinged, and really strong. “Wait ’til they realize long distance hikes are held together by caffeine and Aleve,” Beer Goddess muttered.
This section of trail was largely not terribly exciting, and had a lot of what have been dubbed “Blair Witch moments.” It’s a term in reference to the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, where three hikers keep on going in circles no matter how far they go in a straight line. The forest was so uniform that I got out my phone’s GPS function a few times to make sure I hadn’t backtracked. No backtracking happened, nor did stick dolls appear outside my tent along with human teeth during the night. The Blair Witch must be watching out for me.
Beer Goddess and Hawaii hitched a ride into town somewhere in NorCal in an RV piloted by some elderly shrooms-growing hippies on their way to a UFO convention. It ranks as the best hitch I’ve heard of on trail. The UFO hippies told them about “pronoia,” which is the belief that there’s a conspiracy out to help you. “The trail provides” is a phrase I’ve found to be pretty true. Just when you reach a low point and need help, something will usually happen to make everything better. Pronoia has been gaining popularity, too. Hiking the trail will definitely restore your faith in humanity and make you realize there are lots of good people out there, like the woman who drove an hour and a half from Portland to give us all those snacks by the side of the road. Or all the countless other trail angels who’ve done so much above and beyond the plainly phenomenal to help us out.
Beer Goddess and Hawaii pulled a 40 mile/64 km day to get into Mt. Hood for breakfast, arriving at 1:45am. I thought that was insane, so I camped about 7 miles/11 km from Mt. Hood and got up early to meet them at the dining room in time for an 8am breakfast.
IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT AND THE BEST MEAL I’VE HAD ON TRAIL. I drank something like six fruit smoothies, had two plates of scrambled eggs, sausage, and lots of waffles. A grandfather scolded his grandson and told him not to put that many chocolate chips onto his waffle. Hawaii came up and loaded massive scoops of chocolate onto her waffle and told the kid, “Sorry, little dude. Being an adult is awesome.” Our waiter had a seizure, but it was a good breakfast.
We ended up lounging around there all day, all of us exhausted and full. Courage and I went half an hour from Mt. Hood before setting up camp at 7 and going to bed ridiculously early. We made it the farthest out of anyone. One friend of mine stayed until 2pm the next day, having found a way into the hot tub and pool area.
If you’ve ever seen The Shining then you know what the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood looks like. The Timberline was used to film the outside of the Overlook Hotel. The staff there were surprisingly friendly, and the people staying at the lodge seemed to think we were rock stars for having hiked so far. Nowadays when we explain what we’re doing people say, “Congratulations!” instead of “Why the hell would you want to do that?”
The descent to the Columbia River passed through the Eagle Creek PCT Alternate, the most popular day hike in Oregon at just 45 minutes from Portland. It was spectacular, and involved hiking alongside numerous waterfalls. We even went behind a waterfall at Tunnel Falls.
And then…WE DESCENDED TO THE COLUMBIA RIVER THROUGH THE RAINFOREST AND REACHED THE WASHINGTON BORDER! Our third and final state on our odyssey!
A number of people have tried to do the Oregon Challenge, which is hiking from the southern to northern borders of the state in no more than two weeks. I know someone who’s done it successfully and it’s looking like he may have to end his hike, or at least extend his finish date, because he can hardly walk after his final 66 miles/106 km in 24 hours. There seems to be a common trend of people who do ridiculously long distance days, pass me, and then I end up passing them because they take a week off in town.
There’s a trail angel in Cascade Locks on the Oregon side of the Columbia who lets hikers stay in his yard. He’s even built a shack and dorm for hikers, which have electricity, a bathroom, shower, and laundry. The retired US Marine’s trail name is Shrek, and his place is called Shrek’s Swamp.
It’s not a terribly easy place to find, so when I got lunch at a local burger joint I went up to the window to ask if the owner knew where it was. I looked ridiculously homeless and filthy while asking, “Hey, do you know where Shrek’s Swamp is?” The guy gave me a weird look and said he had no idea. I’m sure he thought I was some crazy drifter. Such is trail life.
I’ll try to send updates through Washington. Things will be hectic over the next two to three plus weeks, and if I have to book it to get to Canada before the fires close everything down then I’ll do it. Wish me luck.