Category Archives: Trail Stories

Stories from the trail.

A Taste of Heaven

Crossing the Bridge of the Gods

So much excitement pending as I walk across the Bridge of the Gods. This is it.  The final part of the journey.  My pack and all my things are somehow attached to my back.  I meet Stephen (Also known as Brr(silent D)) halfway across the bridge.  (He hadn’t seen my tracks on the trail and was wandering back to wait for me).

The conversation on leaving Cascade Locks is really just us listing off all the amazing food we ate on our day off.  This talk quickly turns to ‘man, I’m too stuffed to walk’.

‘ultralight tent, ultralight pack, ultralight stove. Yep, she just doesn’t get it’

We make it four miles and camp. Spend half of the next day hanging out in our tents, staring up at the trees and the sunlight making patterns through the leaves.  Trying to eat some of the weight out of our packs.

 

We know this weather won’t last.  Should really be working on busting out some miles while it’s nice out. Everyone has told us that it’s going to rain on Friday.

Yep.  It’s going to rain. Clear blue sky.  Beautiful fall colors.

Once again, we can’t help but lollygag.

I can’t say I enjoyed the first 50 miles of Washington.  There wasn’t much point to it.  Up a few thousand feet to go down a couple thousand, then back up.  Making a big circle West then East. Silly really.  But there’s a new ecosystem to walk through.  It feels prehistoric.  Ferns and moss.  I expect a dinosaur to leap out, or Sasquatch.

Then we get to the Indian Heaven Wilderness.  It’s Thursday.  The sky is blue as it has been for weeks.  Everyone has told us that this is it.  Our last day of summer.

Walking through heaven on our last day of summer sounds like a great plan to me.  The huckleberry bushes are all red.  There are many pretty lakes and we get views of Mt. Hood, and Adams and Rainier.

We take a lunch break at Blue Lake and go for a swim on principle.  (A swim that lasts just long enough for me to leap back out of the icy water and run back to the other side of the lake to the sunny spot where we left our stuff.)

If this is it.  It is gorgeous.  Let the rain come.

 

Wild Wild Washington

Here we go.

Last state.

I go into Portland to be overfed by Grandparents and get out my cold weather gear.

It’s an entertaining foray into the storage unit.  I’m crawling thru a jungle gym.  My grandpa hear’s a shout. “I found it!”  A few minutes later, I emerge with my synthetic sleeping bag.

Repacking my bag with all my warm clothes, heavier, bigger sleeping bag, gaiters, ski gloves… I feel like I am prepping for Apocalyptic weather.

After all that I shove into my pack, it better snow.  I am ready for it.

My pack is overstuffed.  Every week, it looks like I have no idea what I’m doing.  Too full pack.  I’m walking around with it wearing a sundress, in October.

Ready to rock Washington.

With all we’ve heard about Washington, it sounds like it’s a black hole on the map.  Some really wild, wild place.  Sasquatch must live there.  It snows up North!  (If I had never been up in the North Cascades, I might be a little scared to continue).

Onward.

500 miles to go.

Just because I can.

Team Lollygag

I hoof it to Willamette Pass.  Take the alternate around Crescent Lake cause I’m not sure I’ll make the rendevous in time.

I get to the pass early.  And wait all afternoon.

After a while, I start to wonder: is it the right day? am I in the right place?  I’m positive the rendevous was for this day, this afternoon, at the pass.

Some hikers finally show up and their ride offers the use of a cell phone.  ‘Gnarly? I’m here’.  ‘Oh, we’re at Shelter Cove.’

Well.  I’m not too far off in my memory of the rendevous.

Backtrack and Gnarly drive up to where I am at the trailhead, and out of the car pops Stephen!  (Stephen who we’ve  been trying to catch since our fire detour in Susanville).

It’s another hiker!  We say ‘beer’ and he agrees to come hang out in Eugene for a day so we can hike thru Oregon together.

Both of us are excited that there is another human out there on the trail.  Oregon is just too quiet of a place.

Hike on.  It’s September, people often suggest that we are late, but there are just too many pretty places to see.  Can’t just zoom by them.

Team No Hurries quickly morphs to Team Lollygag.  Oh, we can hurry and put in the miles when we want too, it’s just that most of the time, we don’t want to.

Stephen calls it Sprint Training with Dances.  Walk a bunch of miles. Find a cool spot. Explore. Swim in a Lake.  Walk a bunch more.

We are stunned by all the volcanic peaks we walk around.  Sisters, Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt Jefferson, Hood.

Turn around and we can see where we camped the last three nights.  Walk around one mountain a day.

Oregon is fun.  Oregon is a lot quicker to hike thru than California, but anyone who told us that Oregon was flat and you get 30 miles a day easy, we’ve definitely come to the conclusion that they are liars (maybe they do walk 30 miles or more a day, but it is definitely not flat.

Finally. To the Bridge of the Gods.  The Columbia Gorge.  One more state to go!

I have walked approximately 2155 miles!  I can do anything now.

 

Into the Woods

It’s quiet in Oregon.

Real quiet.

Did civilization end?

I wouldn’t know.

There’s something to solo hiking, I suppose. Time for thoughts… except I don’t really have any interesting thoughts in my head.  They’re pretty regular thoughts.  Then you see something pretty, but there’s no one to chat with to say ‘ooh, did you see that?’

Most of the time, even if you are solo, there are people to run into and chat with.

I see no one for 3 days.

When I finally run into hikers, I am just ecstatic to have someone to talk with (besides myself and my cutout cardboard of Brave that was from a fruit snack box).  They are a couple returning from a day hike with their yellow lab.  Ask if I need anything.

I’m pretty full on food, just refilled water.  I’m set really. But thanks.  I have to resist the temptation to ask if maybe they could loan me their dog for a little while.

Into the Skylakes Wilderness.  Into some amazing country in Oregon.

Hiking as fast as I want. Lollygagging when I feel like it.  Finding lakes to swim in.

Time goes.  Miles go.  And then… I reach Crater Lake.

As soon as I enter the park, I feel like I’m home.  I remember this trail.  I remember all the trail names and where they go.  Worked my first trail crew gig here.  Two summers of fun, and dirt, and the occassional tourist asking if we were a juvenile deliquent group doing our community service time (because really, who is that dirty on purpose.  It also didn’t help that our crew leader wore full park service uniform with the radio and looked like a possible parole officer).

Memories flooding as I walk up to the rim.  Excitement pending.

See the road.  And then the world drops off. Cross the road to peer over the edge.  And there she is.  Stunning as ever.  Crater Lake.

It’s hard to fathom that much water.  That much pure blue.  The mind really can’t take it all in.

It’s another lollygagging kind of day.

And then I have to really put in the miles.  Got a rendevous at Willamette Pass. With Dad and trail friends.  Through the Pumice Desert, around Mt Thielsen and on to the next Pass.

I Am Team Not Hurried

Hiking in Oregon begins with eating too much spaghetti at Callahan’s and waddling two miles up the trail to find a flat spot for the night.

We think this is an excellent start.

And then, life is not so excellent.  A full twenty mile day through the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument.  We’re filling up water at a spring (really a drip).  The process of collecting enough drips to fill up three liters of water is very long.  Long enough for Backtrack to say “I think it’s maybe time you get set free”.

What?

His knees.  Have given out.  It hurts to walk. Up or down.  This twenty mile day which I thought was normal, was torture for Backtrack.

I’m not ready to lose my hiking partner yet!

“Well, maybe we can get you to Hwy 140, and out to civilization then.”  That will give me a couple more days to hike with him and prepare to go solo.

The next day, its all over.  We’ve slowed down today.  Gone about 10 miles, and are again filling water.  This time at a campground.

“I can’t walk anymore.” says he.  And just like that. His hike is over.

We were sitting in some shade with a view of Howard Prairie Lake.  I had been cranky earlier and was eating and ready to nap. Hot afternoon. Late in the afternoon. But I didn’t mind that we hadn’t gotten very far yet.

Backtrack asks me how far I’m planning on going today. I know he’s hurting, and I reply that it doesn’t really matter to me.

To him, the thought of doing 9 more miles was too much.  He couldn’t do it.  The Aleve was wearing off.  The knees were saying ‘we quit.’

After 1700 miles, surviving the ailments of blisters, strained calf muscles, more blisters, aches and pains, and everything else.  It’s over.  We thought maybe now that we were finally in Oregon (and Backtrack had new shoes), that he would be done suffering from one pain or another. 

After everything California threw at us, aren’t we in the clear by now?

We walk a very slow, sad walk to the paved road by the campground.  Backtrack makes a sign ‘PCT Hiker. Injured. Home’.  He asks if I’m gonna head back to the trail now.

No!  I’m not just going to abandon him on the side of the road.  Team No Hurries doesn’t worry about miles.  Team No Hurries doesn’t leave a team member without a final celebration.

We hitch out to the nearby Howard Prairie Lake Resort.  Connect to the world.  Figure out to get him home to Portland.

Drink a beer and tell trail stories.

It’s a sad parting the next morning.

I rather liked hiking with my dad.  (Although it was really me flying ahead and he chasing me all day.  We’d meet up at every break and share stories about the critters we’d seen and gummy worms would be thrown (or debris, or other bits of food).

Who will I throw things at now?

Suddenly, I’m alone out there.  Have to brace myself.  Prepare my mind to hike and camp alone.  There aren’t many people out in the woods, on the PCT, in September.  Most hikers we know are two weeks ahead.

It’s about to be a very different experience.

It’s about to get Real quiet.

Yet, I am determined.  At least one member of Team No Hurries is going to make it to the end of the trail.  It’s that stubborn red head gene.  I just can’t quit once I’ve set myself to do something.

We’ve spent just about five months on the trail together. And we’re still talking.  (I suppose since our family survived the teenage years of Blaze and myself, and no one was shunned, time on the trail was just more of the same).

Goodbye to Backtrack.  Mom and the dog will be happy to have him home.

The Dancing Lizard is just going to have a lot more conversations going on in her head.

Here I go.  I Am Team Not Hurried.

 

Home Sweet Oregon

We pass the ‘Welcome to Oregon’ sign going 60 miles an hour.

I’ve been looking forward to reaching the Oregon border since the beginning of the trip.  41/2 months later, we finally make it.  But not to the sign I was hoping for.

On the trail there is a California/Oregon sign at the border.  I’ve been dreaming of happily sitting at that sign (or happily collapsed on the ground beneath that sign for months).  But the trail was closed.

The recommended detour for this last Northern California fire is to take a bus to Yreka, another one to Weed, then take Greyhound to Ashland.  We considered hitching, but thought that making a sign saying ‘Weed’ would be counterproductive.

Third lifeline.  Call a friend.

We get to Seiad Valley, Grider Creek Campground, and are greeted by our good rafting friend Kevin. (Who has lots of stories of rafting this summer to share, which we listen to with envy).

Pile into the car and away to Oregon we go!

On our way to Kevin’s house in the Klamath Basin, we stop by our favorite pizza place in Medford, Kaleidoscope Pizza (this is a favorite for the end of rafting trips).

Hwy 140 over the mountains to the Klamath Basin.

It feels like coming home, and at the same time, everything seems strange.

Our farm is just 30 miles up Hwy 97.  It’s been about a year since I’ve been back in the basin. A year since I was helping my dad pack up the farm, and my parents were making a big move across the world to Malaysia.

Now we’re hanging out with good friends, enjoying the view from their house at the Running Y.  A huge window in the living room has a gorgeous view of the marsh and Klamath Lake.  You can see all the way to Mt Scott and Crater Lake.

I know this country well.

Enjoying coffee in the morning, Kevin says ‘It looks like it’s gonna be a great day.’  and I reply ‘Yes.  It looks lovely. I’m going to enjoy it from inside.’  Backtrack seconds this.

We plan our Oregon resupply strategy.  It still feels likes summer to me, but apparently it’s late in the season so some places on our route are closed.  Logistics.  Shopping for  twenty days of food.  Sorting twenty days of food to mail it. Figuring out where to mail it to.  And in between, eating lots of food and enjoying the view.

It feels so good to finally be in Oregon. Only 957 miles of trail to go!

After sixteen-hundred-something miles, that suddenly sounds doable.

Everyone asks. Are you done for the season? Gonna finish Oregon?

Our reply is: Still hiking North.  (Backtrack says, if I were to ever write a book of our adventures.  That should be the title.)

Still Hiking North.

I feel like I may just end up spending the rest of my life hiking North. (On the windiest route possible to get North).

The other day, in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, I found my first patch of huckleberries.  Life is very good when there are huckleberries on the trail.  The blackcaps really were a sign of hope.

I’m in Oregon!

But I’m not home yet.

Etna

I like to believe we’ve been hiking in the State of Jefferson for a while.  Which means that technically the PCT goes thru four states.  Even if one is mythical.

You hear stories on the trail about PCT hikers stopping in a town, and never leaving.  Eventually they blend in with the local population.

If there were a town I would blend into.  I would choose Etna.

Primarily because they have an old fashioned soda fountain inside their pharmacy.

I firmly believe that every pharmacy should have an old fashioned soda fountain.

All the businesses in Etna are along one main street.  And that is the total of the town.  They have a hardware store, a couple cafes, a theater, a grocery store around the corner, and a brew pub.  A brew pub that comes highly recommended by thru hikers.

The town is surrounded by farms and Victorian style houses.

It is a place where everyone knows each other.  Authentic small town America.

We stayed the night at the Hiker Hut, and made ourselves leave the next morning (even after biking over to Bob’s Ranch House for an amazing breakfast.)  It was tempting to let the food coma take over and stay for another day, but we were determined to keep moving.  Oregon is so close.  You can almost see it.  You can almost smell the change in the air (but maybe that’s just the aroma of late summer).

The Marble Mountains are our next stretch.  55 more miles in California.  (The last 55 miles that are open for us to hike that is).

For just a moment, I considered staying.  I hear they’re hiring at the pub.  But then my legs took over and said ‘let’s move’.

And I agreed, and returned to the mountains.

The Last Leg

This is it! One more stretch of California! And we’re walking West and Southwest!?

Isn’t the proper direction North?

We have maps again!  So I know we’re going the right way.  I’m also enjoying a new pair of shoes.  Post Office stops are fun.  Even the packages we sent to ourselves have surprises in them (Cause I’ve forgotten what I put in the box).  We sit on the lawn outside the post office and it feels like Christmas.

Before leaving Mt Shasta we stopped at The Goat and I had the most amazing burger of the trip.  Called the Wino Burger.  Wine sauce, goat cheese, and bacon.  And a pint of Lost Coast Strawberry Wheat.  (Yes, I’m writing about food again.  But it was really, really good food).

Full and happy, we get a ride to Castle Crags State Park and begin walking again.

Five days to Etna.

Stunning views of crags, Shasta surrounded in smoke, and valleys which we are high above on the side of a ridge.

We spend one evening at an amazing overlook.  We stop walking early because this spot is so cool (we also spent most of the day gaining a couple thousand feet of elevation and after so many detours, and days off the trail, we’re feeling lazy and out of shape).

TV for the night: watching the Bagley fire light up the hills (from a safe distance across I-5 and 16 miles into the wilderness).  The moon is bright and almost full.  As the sun sets, we can see spots of orange flame.  Nature, even when destructive, is incredible.

The miles start to fly.

During one break, a lizard climbs onto my leg and we chat for a minute, (before it realizes it is sitting on a human).

I find black caps (black raspberries). They make me very happy.  It is a sign of hope, I tell Backtrack, hope that soon we will find huckleberries.

We finally finish the last Ed Abbey essay in the book Beyond the Wall (Which I picked up in the first 200 miles).

Last 26 miles to Etna, we meet some firefighters at a road crossing, waiting to restock a helicopter.  We mention that our last day out to the town is usually light on food, and they give us gatorade and MRE’s.  Which we happily devour in the shade while chatting about all the fires in the area.  The night before some smoke jumpers jumped a fire nearby.  (So that was the plane we saw).  The word is that it was an escaped campfire.  Bummer.  It’s unfortunate that people don’t read all the signs posted that say ‘No Campfires’.

The MRE’s do inspire some creativity.  My new shoes have been hurting one foot.  My big toe feels like it is being decapitated, very slowly.  I’m eating a tootsie roll, considering how to fix this problem, when I get an idea from staring at the wrapper.  I can use the white cardboard from the wrapper as a splint.  The finished product looks like something traumatic has happened to my foot.  But it works! My foot is happy again. When we call Blaze later, I tell her the bear did it.

On to Etna.  Meeting two more hiking dogs on the way.

 

Into the fire

We’ve been watching a fire from Hat Creek Rim the past couple of days.  Wondering which one it could be.  To feed our curiosity, we go into Burney Falls State Park hoping to find a fire bulletin board.

Nothing.

No one at the store knows anything about the fires.  The visitor center is closed.

We manage to send an email out to my sister and she calls the payphone by the visitor center.

‘Any fires we should be aware of?’

‘Nothing new.’ is the reply.

We figure we must be in the clear until we reach the fire at Seiad Valley.  Still plenty of trail to hike between here and there.

We eat dinner at the bottom of the falls.  One of the most gorgeous places we’ve dined.  We eat a fitting seafood chowder. (Another treat from my Grandma’s care package).

Onward we hike.  We’ve got an hour before dark and we’re hoping to hike a few miles to get out of the park and find a flat spot.

Dad’s song as we hike out goes something like this:

‘Got no maps.  Got no socks. Need new shoes! Hiking to Canada anyway!’

During our fire detours, our next set of maps, (which were originally sent to Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen NP.) went missing.  We aren’t sure if they were forwarded as requested or not.  They haven’t caught up to us yet if they were.  The logistics of trying to get to a town and get new maps printed are beyond what we want to mentally handle right now, so we figure we can sort of tell where we are by using the pdf version of maps that are on my dad’s gadget.

Nothing for it but to keep walking.

Hiking a ridge, with no flat spot in sight.  We make it down to the Pit River Dam.  I wait for Backtrack to catch up to make sure I’m going the right way across the road.  A car drives by and the woman inside asks if I’m ok.

I realize it’s almost dark, and I’m in the middle of nowhere walking across a dam.  ‘Just looking for the trail.’

The couple inside the car point us to the trail on the other side, and drive off.  We’re almost back into the woods, when we see the car turn around and it starts honking at us.  We wait, curious.

‘Do you know about the fire ahead?’

I’m thinking: which one?  We’ve just gone around 2.

‘The one in Seiad?’

“No, there’s one just up around McCleoud.  The trail goes right thru where it is. I’d hate to see you walking into it.”

We stand there confused.  Trying to process. Fire. Ahead. Blaze told us we were clear.  Maybe this is the one we were watching?

We reply that we don’t know about this fire, and would need to get to wifi to find out what’s going on.

Then something beyond magic happens.

The couple are hosts at Camp Britton, and offer to take us to their place to use their laptop, and they have an outbuilding with beds in it that we can sleep in.  They keep repeating that they just had to turn around, couldn’t stand it letting us walk into a fire in case we didn’t know about it.

We are so grateful that they did.

They just happened to be up at the dam checking out the smoke from the fires right when we were crossing the road.

Serendipity.

Connected to the world again, we discover that the PCT trail closure for the Bagley fire was just posted today.  From a place called Bartle Gap all the way to I-5.  It’s a rather big fire.  Looking at maps, the fire seems to be right on the PCT, or perhaps the PCT is being used as the fire line.

Now what?

Fred and Judy, our angels, offer to take us all the way to Mt. Shasta City.  Judy wanted to get out of the house tomorrow anyway.

They are the sweetest hosts.

According to Fred, ‘the laundry machine is just sitting there, you can use it if you want’.

So we do laundry, play with their dog Anna Bear, read up on all the fires in the area, enjoy breakfast with our hosts in the morning, and then get whisked away around the Bagley fire.

Third fire detour complete.  Rather unexpected.

None of the fire closures were part of our plan anyway.

It is frustrating to have to skip pieces of trail that I am capable of hiking. So it goes.  Snow, you can slog thru if you’re determined enough.  Fires you have to time-warp around.

Those sections of trail can’t be part of my thru-hike.  I’ve learned to roll with whatever the trail throws at me.  Even when I don’t want to roll with it.

I just want to get out of California!  We’re so close to our first border crossing.  It’s only a couple hundred miles away!

 

 

Hat Creek Rim

I love Hat Creek Rim.

Many who have hiked the PCT would think I am crazy.

Hat Creek Rim is a 29 mile dry section of trail (no natural water sources, part of it has burned) The rim has a lot of sage, manzanita and scrub oak. Northern California can be hot. High desert country.

It reminded me of home country.

We started at 11 am.  (We had met one person who said he started this stretch at 4 am and wished he had started earlier). We gave this advice due consideration, and continued our hike Team No Hurries style.

The night before, after arriving at Old Station at last, trail angel, Firefly, took us in and we got to sleep in her tree house.  We enjoyed listening to her stories and finally got ourselves back to the trail mid morning.

Excited to hike again after our 3 day fire detour.

We had a cool day to hike. A break in the hot weather.

Views of Mt Shasta surrounded in smoke, behind us Mt Lassen with one plume of smoke, and further off a wall of smoke from the Chips Fire.  Between us and all the smoke, it was clear and stunning.

Walking on a rim, a ledge formed by lava.

It reminded me of times I’ve spent in Smith Rocks and the high desert country of Southern Oregon.  Places I rambled in and used to call home.  Hiking Hat Creek Rim, I finally felt like I had walked home (or to one of the places I call home).

We ate lasagna for dinner from my Grandma’s latest care package and watched a blood red sun set behind Shasta and the smoke.

An almost full moon rose, and we continued our hike a few miles into the night, watching orange flames glow to the West of Shasta. That must be too close to be the Seiad fire. (We’d have to wait til we got to the next town to find out what fire we were watching.)

Seventeen miles in, we reach Cache 22.  A very thoughtful water cache.  We sleep under the canopy of branches at the cache and listen warily as critters crawl through the branches all night.

A beautiful high desert night.  The only thing missing is the yipping of a coyote. (We think they must be busy at the nearest fire.  BBQ for dinner.)

Story writing in the cache log book. Another late morning.  We drop off the rim and walk across a lava mesa.  Tall grass and many oaks.  It looks like what I imagine the African Sahara to look like.  I thought perhaps we might see a zebra or a lion.  But as usual, just more chipmunks.

The lava bed ends, and we drop off another ridge down to something unexpected. A wetlands! A river running into wetlands, pelicans and great blue herons, and a patch of blackberries!

It’s hard to describe just how incredible those two days hiking Hat Creek Rim were. I was in awe at most of what I saw. Hiking with a big grin.  I really am in Northern California now!

It is, perhaps, one of my favorite stretches of trail, and I thank the weather gods for their generosity that day to help me enjoy Hat Creek Rim so much.  It is amazing how a few degrees difference in temperature can make the world appear to be either a beautiful or dreadful place.

It was beautiful.