On Being… A Trail Journal Part 5

Day 8 Barlow Pass to Buggy Camp

In the morning, the amazing and much talked about (among the hiker community) breakfast buffet of Timberline is served. I am up early, all ready to get this next part over with so I can get down the trail. Some of my breakfast agrees with me and some does not, but the tasty vinegar, molasses, cider and ginger palate cleansing aperitifs really settle my stomach. I ask our server for another and this helps me over my weird bout of nausea and I am able to partake in as much of the buffet as I am able. We linger at the table and I watch the thru hikers hunker down with plate after plate. Some have come prepared with cards and begin playing games between what’s now become a 12 course meal. The sun is streaming in and I take the time to really enjoy the view, the lovely and rustic room, the guests, the food and my husbands’ company. I decide to relax about the trail. We are spending a small bundle on this tiny vacation in the midst of my trail journey so I decide to forgo my morning hike and “hitch” a ride down to Barlow pass. By cutting off 5 miles, I can spend more time with Joe and still have plenty of time to get to my campsite, wherever that may be.

We stuff ourselves as much as we can then wander about taking pictures and learning more of the history of Timberline lodge. We even step up on chairs to peek into the curators office, which in itself, looks like one of the educational display windows on the lower level.

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The Timberline experience.

Eventually it’s time to go and Joe decides to hike with me for a bit before heading back to work. We drive down the mountain to Barlow pass and everything goes by so fast! We are there in minutes, it would have taken me hours as the trail is steep and I have been babying my ankle, especially on the down hills.

I hoist my pack off the tailgate of the truck and together we go off on the PCT. I’m amazed he’s on the trail, it’s been 20 years since Joe packed with me. He seems to be enjoying himself and something about my hike has sparked a memory. He says he wants to backpack with me again and this makes my day. We talk about what a “return to hiking” trip would look like when I remember my socks.

I forgot my extra socks in the truck.

And so we go back and lo and behold, they are in my pack already. But all is not wasted as something tells me I will want my cashmere sweater. I sigh, not really believing that little voice, but since it’s more of a gut reaction, I go with it. I’m listening to my body on the trail, so it gets stuffed into my clothes bag. The weather does feel a bit cooler, maybe I’ll want it. Joe says goodbye at this point and I get to restart my trail solo… and that feels right too.

The trail is easy at this point. A gentle grade that follows a ridge-line. I get occasional views of Hood above the Salmon river meadows and stay under the cover of trees the whole way. It’s shady and so flat, I am surprised by the few times I have to climb up a hill or clamber over roots. Such a change from the previous trail. Miles roll along, nothing of note happens and I see very few hikers as I cruise along.

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If you look carefully at the timberline, you can see the ski runs of Timberline!

I finally arrive at a spring, the first water in miles and the first place that offers a campsite before a road crossing. I’d prefer to stay away from roads but I get to the spring so early, I start the inner debate… stay or move on farther? I get out my water bottles and filter from the spring, slapping mosquitoes as I do. This is a buggy little camp site, but the woods at this point are brushy and not looking very camp friendly.

There is a very nice young man camped here, we chatted a bit about school and how he’d quit his job to hike the trail. He was camped right past the spring, he stopped early so he could rest and read which suddenly sounded so absolutely wonderful, I decided to stay, bugs or not. It’s quiet here and I’m getting used to this communal camping scene. It actually is comforting, though I really did like my solo spot the day I crossed the Sandy. This camp has few choices and the spot I chose is a bit hilly, but there is a nice indentation for my hips, so I should be able to sleep comfortably on my side for once! I get all set up then return to the spring for more water.

Quiet camp indeed, there are two hikers who’ve been hanging out, filtering water and talking among themselves. D and Laura are two hikers from Switzerland and they are contemplating where to spend the night. We talk about trail, how far they’d come, miles and the challenges of the trail. I take another opportunity of find out more about Russel creek. They say it is very do-able. He jumped, she mostly jumped but for the last leap where he pulled her over.

Only the toe got wet,” says Laura pointing at her shoe. It wasn’t very deep, they tell me not to worry.

Okay,” I say, “but imagine your eighty year old grandmother wants to cross it. Can she do it?” I am using this matrix to judge point of view. If someone thinks an 80 year old can make it, then I can relax. D just narrows his gaze at me. Is he thinking “crazy American”?

Ya, well, you’re not 80,” he says logically. There is no arguing with this fact. I guess I am spry enough for Russel, but Russel is too hard for grandma. I asked about the snow bridge, they tell me it’s still there, and while snow doesn’t bother them as, “they are Swiss!”, the bridge was too dangerous. They’re only a couple of days behind the guys from the lodge, so that gives me an idea of their judgment. It seems quite sound.

Funny thing though, as we went on to talk about mileage and battery power for our phones, the intrepid Swiss reveal an Achilles heel.  D says he doesn’t have any issues with his battery lasting as he puts in big miles and can get to places to charge without trouble. He keeps his phone on airplane mode at night, which I find surprising.

Really? Even at night? You don’t power down to conserve the battery?”

No, I like to listen to audio books when I fall asleep. I need the books to help me sleep otherwise I listen to all the sounds in the woods and wonder, ‘what was that?’”

So there you go. Not afraid of rivers or snowy slopes or glacial creeks, but rather, of the sounds of the woods at night. Even after months on the trail. Which is something that doesn’t bother me at all. Fears are not universal it seems.

Joe and I talked about fears while at the lodge. He opined, “Fears weigh you down.” Which makes sense, fear being a thing that would make you more dense and thus, less enlightened.  Now if I could only talk some sense into my gut reactions to thoughts of river crossings, I’d be as light as they come out here. Sometimes the hubby has good insights. He has his moments.

I really do need to work on getting mentally stronger.  It feels like I’ve been climbing some mountains in my mind as well as with my legs.

I’m glad I was able to surrender at the lodge and be okay with skipping 5 miles. I felt so much better once I relaxed. With all the planning and prep I’ve done, it was hard to just let go and roll with what was happening. I get into a “have to get on the trail” and “how many miles do I have to make today?” mindset. I find myself being swept along with the rush even though I am going against it. Maybe because I am going against it, I see so many thru-hikers and section hikers with agendas. Everyone is on a clock of some sort.

Even the Swiss. D talked about his miles and how Oregon was a vacation because that’s when Laura joined him. Even though they are doing 20 miles a day, every day. Laura talked about when she had to get back to Portland, when her flight left, how she’d be flying to Turkey which would take 3 hours more. “But it was a significant cost savings, so the 3 hours would be worth it.”

See? Time and money… no escaping it, even if you are on vacation. Well, considering the uprising in Turkey, I can see why it is cheaper, I sincerely hope she makes it home safely.

Oh, time, such an intriguing concept. If fear is the mind killer, then time must surely be poison to your soul. Tolle talks about how the egoic mind needs time to stay in control. So it’s no wonder that living and dying by the clock is so universal. Especially in 1st world countries.  Time is the pathway of the ego, by focusing on it you forget where you are in the Now.

It’s contagious too, here they were in this nice, albeit buggy camp, with fresh water and a lovely, flat surface and they wanted to leave. All because they needed to make 2 more miles. They have a schedule to keep!. So I found myself pouring over my maps and wondering if I should have gone all the way down to Timothy lake to make better use of my day.

Argh! I riffle through my half mile maps, consult my app, check my elevations, and think about my hike tomorrow. I am debating my over night at Timothy so I can make some stupid arbitrary deadline. Really, who cares? I have to meet my next resupply at Hwy 20 nine days from now. I have the ability to slow down, I built the trip this way deliberately but just talking to other hikers has me second guessing and wanting to do more miles. I even have permits to stay at Jefferson Park for 2 nights so I can relax and hang out… but those are on specific days so I have to stay on some kind of schedule. Suddenly all my plans seem so restricting and they bind the edges of my journey in such definite ways, I am wishing I didn’t ask anyone to be involved and that I had just mailed boxes to resupply points. A box can wait as long as I need it to. Reservations and people, not so much.  At the time I made my plans, it seemed like fun to have family and friends meet me, but now they are targets I must hit so I can’t slow down or speed up or re-route on the fly.  I can change plans as long as I have cell service and if the reservation can be changed or the friend can be flexible.  Well, speaking of flexible, now is the time for me to be IT.

I probably should set aside my journal and read some more Tolle. That always helps to take the edge off and recenter me. The weather has cooled down and it’s starting to get darker in the woods. I’m glad I brought that cashmere with me and I’m finally wearing it for the first time. It’s so cozy! Wool makes me feel good for some reason. Silly sheep.

I’m tucked up in my bag with my wood leggings, wool socks, wool sweater and wool beanie. Wool me!

 

Day 9 Down to Timothy and Home Again

It’s cold this morning, glad for that sweater, I wore it all night. I awoke feeling off and have spent the last hour trying to figure it out. I started getting ill at the lodge, thought it was the food. Now, this morning I’m not quite right. On the trail I was fine and last night I just had Ramen, didn’t want anything complex after the big Timberline breakfast. My early morning constitutional wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be, I actually felt a little dizzy as I was coming back to camp, so my thoughts are running wild now. Could I have Giardia? How did that happen? I’ve filtered everything but the one spring where the water came out of a crack deep in a cave! No animals could have possibly contaminated that water… but my mind is feeding my paranoia.

Are you sure? How are you going to get out of here? It’s over 30 miles to Olallie, are you going to be okay?

On and on, it’s loving messing with me. Truly, my mind is saying some weird things and I want to tell it to shut the hell up. Instead, I have a cup of peppermint tea to calm my stomach, which is actually very helpful. I made grits for breakfast, but the first spoonful had me wondering if I was going to be able to eat at all. It’s like my fears are trying to stop my progress down the trail! What the fuck, mind?!

Ooooh! Scary water! Go back! Oooooo! Hmmm, okay you won’t go? Then we will make you sick… or make you think you are sick!

Two cups of tea later and the grits go down followed by a fig bar and I feel like myself again. I read in my book and that helps stop the run away train that is my mind. I’ve identified with my mind for so long, it’s become detached from my body so I no longer trust the things I feel. And by living in the future of what might be, I get all wound up and further removed from what is.

I came to the woods and trail to find the pieces of myself I may have missed while excavating my heart and soul these past few years. I came to reconnect with the simplicity, to disconnect from the never ending rounds of chores and daily farm life. I came to read, to think, to process, to just enjoy the wilderness.

But I’ve found something else. I’ve found that most hikers have an agenda and a schedule, they march hellacious long miles to get to the end. And then what? They keep busy as they take on the never ending footsteps through the wilderness, on and on, they have got to get somewhere. Every day, there is a somewhere that needs gotten to. There is a goal, a purpose, a point, a place or a number that must be achieved. And I find myself being tugged along in this tide of purpose.

I see now I may have made an error. No, not an error… in this case, error is a judgment. I’ve come to a realization. The months in preparation, in talking with friends, family, in gearing up for a goal that was met with astonishment, envy, surprise, and excitement only fed my ego. And my journey, the one I take internally, doesn’t need to be a trip for my ego.

An ego trip.

Why do I need to get to the end? Why do I have to do all these miles day after day? So others can get excited by it? (Oh! I know someone who did this!) Some want to live vicariously through me and knowing that I carry them along with me, drives me too. I’m feeling pressure to finish what I started for their sake but I don’t want that responsibility. It’s not what I want. I’m searching for enlightenment, illumination, understanding of self.  It’s funny, that even while I was preparing, I felt as if I was running away from home, I see now that I wasn’t doing that either.

I’m making problems where none exist. So what if I feel restricted. So what if I woke up feeling off. That’s happened before, at home even… so what? So it’s cold and I don’t have my gloves or heavy socks. So what?

So it’s 7 miles to Timothy lake. So it’s 3 days to Olallie resupply. So it’s 10 mile to water. So, so, so… so what?

My mind rambles on, catastrophising and issuing warnings. But I’m here to be. Be in the moment, be in the Now. I am being tested in my beingness when I meet other hikers and it’s all, “gotta get going!” They are racing time and I’ve been swept along with it. I went SOBO to learn what was ahead, but all I’ve learned it that everyone has their own perception of danger and they pass along their fears as truth. I now have to wade through these truths and perceptions.  I’ve set myself up to weigh, discern and judge, sifting through the opinions to see what is real for me.

I’ve also come into contact with so many personal stories. Most everyone wants to share who they are, what they are doing, where they are from and where they are going. Some want to share, and some want to know my story too.. they have time to stop and chat on the trail and treat it as if it was a speed dating party. How much information can they squeeze out of you in a few minutes of a chance meeting? There were a few of an interrogative nature that felt invasive. Others don’t have the time, a friendly hello or a nod, they are in the zone, in the groove. Some don’t even have time to say hello and after a week on the trail myself, I hardly notice. It doesn’t even blip on my radar as unusual or unfriendly, it just is.

And so, I find myself this morning wondering what many hikers have probably contemplated as they trudged the long miles… what am I doing this for? All my other trips where I lazed about in blissful enjoyment, that’s not happening. I’m swept along with the tide of hikers. I’ve joined the movement and the movement is north or south but either way it’s about the trail and getting the fuck down it!

This is not the path to enlightenment, for me, this is the path to self destruction. I feel that this goal of miles and an endpoint is just another focus on the future and takes me out of the timeless Now that I’m seeking to experience. I’m in the Now as long as I walk along and focus on the trail and my steps and even when I look at my maps and my journey. But then, I cross paths with a fellow traveler and the hiking community (it’s bonding and joyous and totally lovely in it’s welcome camaraderie) which takes me out of the Now and back into the Goal. This very thing I am liking is redirecting me from my own purpose. I have yet to learn how to not be affected by others.

And here is where I part ways with the madding crowd. Today I walk to Timothy lake… my first lake on the trail. Still water always helps calm my mind. I will gaze upon the waters where I hope to find a relief from the goal of “finish”. When I did long distance endurance riding, the motto was “To Finish Is To Win”. But that’s bullshit. There is no “winning” at the end, the journey is the win. I seem to have inadvertently supplanted one long distance endurance sport with another. Minus the horse, but still, there seems to be something about making miles that draws me but also now distracts me too. To be still and at peace… that’s the present goal.

I set aside my musings and got about the business of packing up camp. I’m getting faster, I’ve developed a system that makes things easier. When I get in my tent I put my empty bag at my feet, my kitchen things to my left, my paper things (map/journal/kindle/plans and TP) to my right. My hat and beanie at at the head of the bed where I need them, the stuff sacks, under my pillow. I can stuff my bag, then roll up my thermarest, my pillow and sleeping clothes. I set it all aside, pull up my backpack and toss it outside onto my thin mat. I’ve brought a body size sheet of thin foam under-layment that has had so many wonderful uses. It was a remnant from installing a new floor and is tough and provides a a thin pad for sitting during the day, a little extra insulation at night or even a door mat.

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A place for everything and everything in it’s place.

Before leaving the tent, everything goes out the door and onto the mat. I pull up stakes as I walk around the tent releasing the fly which gets balled up and stuffed into the tent bag. Then I can pick up the tent and shake out needles and dirt that have hitchhiked their way inside. While holding the partially opened tent in the air, I can unhook the tent poles and gather up the deflating structure of sil-nylon and mesh, ball it up and stuff it next to the rain-fly, all without touching the ground. The ground cloth goes in last, I fold it dirt side in so it doesn’t get my tent dirty. I know I’m living outside and dirt is a part of the package, but every little action that minimizes contact, adds up and ultimately saves on the amount of water and clean up I need to do at the end of the day.

Tent and sleeping pad goes into the bottom of my pack and has to go in first. I miss my old frame pack where it was compartmentalized with pockets and dividers. I never had to unpack it totally when on a trip and used it as a sort of portable cabinet. But the new pack has to be completely emptied and repacked every day. Other than my locator beacon and my rain gear, everything gets used and has to come out. It’s time consuming, but it is a lighter system so I’ve surrendered to the exchange of weight for time.

Next in line is my clothes then food bag, cook set, electronics. Toiletries, first aide on top of that, water purifier goes on top. The whole pack is structured with heaviest items on the bottom, things I need to get to on top. Lunch for the day has to be separated from my food bag, otherwise it’s buried too deep to get to without a major excavation.

I head out onto the trail after all is stowed and tucked away and realize I never took a picture of the camp. It’s my ritual to take a pic of the tent in camp each evening, but I guess I was too distracted by my body . I keep thinking my stomach is acting up because I am anxious about another glacial river crossing, which bothers me that I can’t control my worries. I’m worried about worrying… argh! It’s exhausting!

As I leave camp, I notice a pile of black poo next to the trail. I stop to toe it, checking to see how freshly laid it might be, softness an indicator of time. It seems to be a few days old so I continue on and wonder what animal left that so near the spring. I see these black poo piles at home and usually attribute them to coyotes or raccoons. I’m glad I filtered the spring water, no need to give my mind more ammunition for worrying!

The trail is an easy grade through the woods, I’m doing about 2 ½ to 3 miles per hour and at this rate, I figure I’ll be at the lake by 11 AM. And so I was! At the north end is Little Crater Lake. An odd turquoise blue pool of subterranean spring water that undercut the land and formed a steep sided pocket of water in the midst of an open meadow. The water is 34 degrees and looks so freakishly blue. I stop off for a few minutes of contemplative rest but find a group of man/boys jumping off the banks and doing a great deal of hollering. Not a place to relax, nor even linger. I guess they hiked in from Timothy where you can boat all the way to the end for easy access to Little Crater.

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Freaky blue… like big Crater, only little and not a crater.

 

 

I backtracked across the boardwalk trail to the PCT and headed south for Timothy. I kept expecting it to show up, but it was another mile and a half before the lake actually hove into view. From the north end, the trail comes out first on a leg of the lake and is intersected by the Timothy lake trail. The sign says it’s 15 miles to circumnavigate the lake and I’m surprised. I had no idea this lake was that big. When I finally see it however, I don’t feel delighted or joy at the prospect of a swim. What I feel is very, very tired. I think I need to rest and to eat, I feel shaky and lightheaded. I had snacked on the trail and managed to keep down my breakfast but I felt poor which is odd, the trail was so easy. According to my app, it was only about 6 miles or so to the lake trail bypass, so why do I feel so awful? It’s at this point I realize something far more than my anxiety or a vegan reaction to eating a bit of lox is going on. Something is definitely wrong.

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Surprisingly large Timothy Lake.

 

 

I picked up a 4G signal at the end of the lake so I shoot out a text to my house sitter, Amira.

Hey… what are you doing tomorrow? I may need a bail out. I’m at Timothy lake and I have some weird symptoms. It started at Timberline Lodge but I wanted to push through. I’d like to camp for the night and see how I feel in the morning. But I feel like I’m going to throw up or faint. Was trying to pretend this wasn’t happening. Damn it. Just want you to be aware and maybe available?

I walk on and in a few minutes she replies with an affirmative on the bail out, she’s able to come get me. I text back but it fails. This starts a frustrating on again off again signal that corresponds to the further I go down the lake, the worse the connection. But every once in awhile the phone dings I have a message… sometimes it’s from her, sometimes it’s my own failed text coming back. I plod on looking for an empty site but it’s Sunday and every place is taken with boat campers. I follow a side trail to the lake shore where I am accosted by two very large and very hairy Newfoundland type dogs who vigorously protest that I have walked too close to their camp. A woman holding a baby comes screaming up at the dogs and once the slobbery guards back down she asks me questions about the PCT and trail life. I am too tired to be scared of the beasts or to be more than baseline polite to her. I move on.

I am passed by an international tour group. They all wear matching packs and take up a 100 yards of trail with their strung out line of hikers. There must have been two dozen of them all together, a violation of wilderness rules and basic trail etiquette but I don’t suppose they know anything about that as they are obviously part of some organization. For all I know they are here to hike the 15 miles around the lake and will stay out of the wilderness proper. One can only hope.

A half mile and no signal later, I find a rocky point that’s unused. It’s high above the shore and windy, but there is a sunny spot between the rocks and I throw out my thin pad and sink down onto it whereupon I curl into a ball and doze just enough to take the edge off my utter exhaustion. I get up after a bit and still feeling woozy, find a lower, more protected cove to set up my tent. As I am setting up, two seagulls come and hang out on the little beach. Is mom watching over me?  If so, who is she hanging out with?

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My 2 hour camp.

 

I think I had a bite to eat, I really don’t recall, my thinking is muddled and I lay down again. This time, inside my down bag where I shiver trying to stay warm. And that’s when I know I am really sick. I thought it was a cool day, but there were people in bathing suits, swimming and playing in the water… those guys were jumping in Little Crater lake for crying out loud!

My symptoms were very much in keeping with what I knew about Giardia. So that did it for me. I needed to go home and get some medication, no way was I hiking 30 miles to Olallie like this.

All I needed was a signal but I really didn’t want to hike a mile and half back to where I got that 4G band. I climbed the hill behind the camp until I got a 1X and a teeny, tiny bar. A sliver of texting hope, I sent out a signal to Amira.

Test

Got IT! She replied.

So I called and it was decided that she’d leave right now to come get me. We agee to meet where the PCT comes out near a horse camp and she Googles how long it will take. I’ve got 3 hours to meet her there so I go back to my camp to rest before packing up. I don’t get another chance to sleep as some day boaters come into my cove and hang out for almost an hour, talking and laughing loudly.

The wind dies down after they leave and now I can smell something really bad in this camp. Something has died nearby and this really adds to my happiness quotient. Not!  I pack up again for the second time today. It’s 2 miles to the horse camp, I have plenty of time to get there. But as I climb back onto the PCT and check my Halfmile app, it says it’s 3 miles and I have only an hour left to get there. Ugh… 3 miles an hour with how I feel? This will not be an easy stroll.

I hurry along and work to keep my momentum as I climb over roots and rocks. The trail climbs away from the lake and adds elevation into my hike, not too hard but tough enough. I didn’t even stop for water even though I really wanted to and needed it. But I make it to the trail-head only 15 minutes late, hoping there is a bottle of water in the car for me as I’m down to my last swig.

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End of the line for now.

Amira shows up shortly afterwards and we take a series of back roads down towards Olallie where I think maybe we can swing by, I’ll pick up my hiker box and that will save me an extra trip later. But the roads twist and turn and we take several dead ends. I’m too tired to navigate and there are no maps in the car that show where the hell we are. She’s relied on her phone to get her here, but of course, there is no signal.  She’s a different generation, my old school ways aren’t her way, which is fine providing the phone does its job.  After a few tries, we agree to quit messing around and get back on the road we know and head home. It’s 10:45 before I make it to bed, the end of a very long and disappointing day. I can’t even think about what just happened. I’m off trail and sick and WTF? So I set it aside and snuggle in my bed, the dogs nestled around me like sentinel lions. They were so happy to see me, though Scout has lost a lot of weight for her… it’s odd that she got sick and does’t seem to be recovering.  

Just before turning out the lights I pick up my phone and do a quick Google search for Giardia symptoms and the very first thing that pops up is “symptoms in dogs.”  What?  Could my dog have Giardia too?  I click and read and from what Amira has described to me, it sounds like that could be Scout’s problem and then it hits me.  Symptoms show up 1 to 2 weeks after exposure.  Both Scout and I started to get sick at the same time and 10 days ago, the dogs drug home a possum.  But it was only Scout who rolled in the black, tarry, nasty possum poo and it was ME who bathed her without gloves or any concern at all for touching the gunk.  And black, tarry poop?  That’s the calling card of Giardia.  

All this time I am wondering what these animals in the woods are eating (a picture of the black poop I saw this morning flashes in my mind) when I should have been wondering what was eating them!  Why did I think wild animals are running around all healthy and happy in the woods?  Hello?! Some of them are sick!  

Well, that’s all it takes to convince me… we both have the same symptoms and we both got sick at the same time.  I am so very happy to have come home.  Poor Scout would have been sick all month… no one else knew what had happened.  Even if she had been taken to the vet, she still might not have been treated properly without this part of the puzzle.  Finally, I can rest easy knowing a trip the doctors is in store for us both.  I give her an extra hug and turn off the light.

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Her Scoutness… why yes, I’ll eat that!

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

On Being… A Trail Journal Part 4

Day 7 Timberline Lodge and Beyond

Zero Miles! My first one! Well, I just polished off a $12 salad of lettuce and dressing. I asked if they could make it extra large but I watched the cook put it in a to-go box and it was just a big handful. Sheesh! Not quite the welcome I was hoping for at Timberline.

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Carved fox on a stair post.

The lodge is an amazing WPA project, full of history and craftsmanship, hard work and ingenuity. In the downstairs museum I learned that the workers made .90 cents an hour during the depression and were happy for it. However this place is somewhat exclusive.  I feel rich just being here. At about $300 a night, Timberline is out of reach for most people. Granted, it is awesome, the luxury and the location is worth the price but the people who work here now (and the ones who built it) probably couldn’t afford to stay here. I’d like to see some part of the lodge that was economical so that more people could enjoy this historic public works project.

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Art everywhere!

I’ve been wandering around here all morning, since I was “up with the chickens” as we say on the farm. I had been awakened around 4 by noises and lights on Mt. Hood. I thought at first it was for climbers as a string of fricking alien-beam-me-up bright lights lit up the mountain. But the noise and movement of machinery soon let me know I was looking at snow cats grooming the trail on the glacier. Who knew you could ski here in July? Apparently, lots of skier know, the Wy’east lodge is crawling with them! I have since learned Mt. Hood is the only place in the lower 48 you can ski all summer long.

Went back to sleep for a few more hours then made my way down to the lodge proper for a facilities usage and to get put on a list that would somehow grant me early entry to our room. With that, I also got laundry privileges! I “hiked” over to the store, bought a Timberline T shirt, swapped out my dirty clothes in the bathroom and had my laundry done by 9 AM. For the rest of the day I was asked by tourists for instructions and help as I apparently looked like a member of the staff in that shirt!

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Would you like help finding your room?

It’s really kind of weird to be here after 6 days on trail. All these people! I don’t live or work in the city and actually see more people on the trail than I do in my regular life. I get that I’m unusual that way, I probably could be quite content as a hermit. Crowds make me nervous. Well, crowds of people anyway. I’m pretty chill in a flock of chickens, a herd of horses, a pack of friendly dogs.

About a year or so ago I heard about a personality description called “highly sensitive” and after learning more, took the 28 question test. Turns out I checked off about 26 of the boxes on that list. Artist, introvert, animal and nature lover, crowd and loud noise avoid-er, picks up and is affected by others emotions, stress and general vibes. Yep. Check, check, check! Learning about being “highly sensitive” has helped me understand why I’ve felt so different for so long and to finally be okay with it. I no longer feel the need to “fit in” and the relief and insight and self acceptance has been very, very freeing. So, no wonder the chaos at Timberline stands out in stark relief to my last week.

But I’ve got things to do, so I put on my game face and get with the program. After taking down my tent (which I longingly looked at as a tiny nylon refuge) I packed up and retrieved my hiker box from the store. In the ski lodge, I took over a table and laid out my resupply and jettisoned things from my pack that I didn’t use or need. My 8 ounces of camp shoes, gone. Really, I was only wearing them 5 minutes or so a day. My unused, extra-just-in-case water bottle, gone. The back-up packages of Ramen? Gone. The ultra light cashmere sweater? Gone. Winter gloves… what was I thinking?! Gone!

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I hogged a whole table with my resupply.

It felt good to see what I needed and what I thought I needed part ways. Even with all my backpacking experience, I’d learned so much about what to carry and what to pitch. But this was a trip unlike anything I’d ever done. I’ve never hiked so many miles or moved every night. In the past, my hiking buddy and I would set up our trips to mostly hang out at a high lake where we’d relax, swim, read and pretty much vacation in the wilderness. This PCT journey has been about goals.

Once all the sorting chores were done and I had my $12 salad in hand, I found a corner table to sit and write, charge my cell phone and people watch. But the first thing I see is a huge chipmunk run across the battered but well polished wood floor. A brown shadow, it heads towards the center couches that flank the fireplace. At first, I think it’s a rat, it’s so big, but then it reappears and skitters off looking for an unattended bagel. I flag down an employee who’s setting out coffee for guests.

Uh, excuse me, there’s a chipmunk in here. It’s under the couches,” and I point helpfully in the general direction.

Oh, those aren’t chipmunks,” he explains. “Those are Timber Tigers. They’re squirrels, actually.”

Squirrels? They look like chipmunks.”

Yeah, they are all over here. They come in as soon as it gets warm, we can’t keep them out. They don’t do much harm.” And off he goes to finish his duties.

Now, I’ve been pretty familiar with chipmunks and squirrels of all kinds for longer than this kid has been alive but I’ve never heard the term “timber tiger”. I shrug and figure he must know something I don’t, seeing as he works here but lo and behold, Google holds all the answers. Timber Tiger is another cute name for chipmunk and that is what is prowling all around the lodge. They are big, well fed and bold, and just like every other chipmunk I’ve ever seen. So much for the taxonomic knowledge of lodge workers.

Tigre Timberious

And so I eat my expensive salad and then notice the sad dog tied to a pole just outside my window. The sun is streaming down, hot on the concrete patio and this beautiful little French bulldog is tethered in a square foot of shade without any water. She is at the end of her rope (literally) as she tries to stay out of the sun but the sun is slowly winning. I am worried about her and look around the lodge, where are her owners? Surely they are coming back? She inches back but she’s gone as far as she can go. An internal debate starts, do I untie her and move her? Do I bring her water? Do I bring her inside? I fixate on the dog and write in my journal about bad owners who don’t seem to realize that the sun actually moves for crying out loud.

An old woman in a wheelchair is pushed near to where I am fretting and writing and eating. I look up as her attendant parks her in front of the view of Mt. Hood who rises so closely above the lodge one can literally walk out the door and up on his muscular flanks. The attendant turns out to be a granddaughter and she catches my eye.

My grandmother climbed Mt. Hood when she was 18 back in 1942. I’m just bringing her to see it again.”

The old woman nods towards Hood, her eyes deeply set in a face of worn lines, her hair a thin nest of gray white curls. Her skin is paper thin and she doesn’t speak, just gazes at this mountain she once climbed. Back when wool and waxed canvas were the only things between you and the elements. Before women were known as adventurers, though we know they certainly were adventuring all over the place. Back when she was young and lithe and powerful enough to climb this 11,250 foot giant of Oregon.

I wonder how much she remembers, how much she is aware. She looks so tired, propped up in her chair. There are 74 long and short years between the woman in the chair and the girl she used to be, the one who braved the wind and snow and rock and did this amazing thing. I hope she remembers it all like it was yesterday. Those deep memories are the last things to go when we get that old… I hope she sat there for what most probably would be the last time, and remembered how brave and young and fearless she was. I hope I remember things like this about myself one day. And that someone who loves me will wheel me to the edge of my adventure before I too have to pass beyond this earth and on to my next great journey.

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Old, amusing version of a Mt. Hood map.

 

I follow her gaze out the window and see the hot dog… her owners have come and are bending over her. The dog’s nose was just in the sun but she is rescued and they make a big fuss over how she had run out of shade, the poor darling! I learn her name is Daisy and she is untied and picked up and cuddled. Daisy is stoic about her fate and simply sighs in relief. As do I.

And now I see a parallel. The old woman in the chair, the dog in the sun. Each quietly enduring their place in life, with dignity and composure. No fuss, no drama, they were serene in their acceptance, they had surrendered to the moment and in the moment, had found a sense of peace.

I take a deep breath, let it go and do the same. The noise, the people, the chaos falls away and I am happy in my corner, jotting down my thoughts of the day.

And then, Joe is there! Our reunion is not marred with my internal anxiety, but feels surreal in it’s absolute rightness. Now if only our room was ready…. no sooner do I think this, when my phone rings. Our room is ready! We gather up my gear and box and head up to the cozy space. It’s lovely and charming and everything you want a lodge to be.

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Pendleton blankets on the bed!

Knotty pine walls, old dressers, refurbished bath… sadly only a shower. I won’t be using the Epsom salts for a soak as I had planned. We tour the lodge and the grounds and catch up on the week. Later, we treat ourselves to a fancy dinner and I order from the vegetarian menu. But while the dining room is rustic and lovely with its crisp napkins, its amuse-bouche, its palate cleansers and all the 101 touches that make it a 4 star meal, something sits on my stomach like an ill wish. I feel hot, too hot and I wonder what is in the lentil loaf. There are so many rich ingredients and I have had some issues with eggs in the past. Are there eggs in here? Did the teeny piece of salmon I ate mess with my vegan flora? I keep thinking I am missing vital enzymes to break down meat, as I seem to have reactions when I stray from my usual diet. I feel like I have let down this amazing meal by not being able to enjoy every last bite. And just like that, I am exhausted. We wrap up our experience and I go to bed, sleep finds me fast and holds on until the snow-cats start up again at 4 AM. Really Timberline? Really?

On Being… A Trail Journal Part 3

Day 6   Quick miles to Timberline Lodge

It was an easy hike to the lodge, even with the climb out of Zig Zag canyon. Since I knew I had all day, I woke up late, took the time to do my yoga stretches. Had a nice breakfast and even a second cup of coffee. I read a little in my Power of Now book and packed up slowly. I was on the trail by 10, stopping here and there for pictures. At the Paradise Trail turn off the signs were oddly placed and I found myself heading down a side trail. Before I went too far, I checked my trail app and it said I was on the PCT. I continued on, but a few minutes later, I paused. The trail didn’t look like the PCT. It was narrow and brushy and just didn’t feel right. I checked again, and now my app said I was 400 feet off trail. Huh! Somehow, I missed a turn.

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Here’s where I missed the trail. Too busy taking a picture, I guess.

Back up I went and discovered my error. The PCT had a switch back right at what I thought was a picnic spot with a view. I didn’t even see it. I must have checked the app when I was so near the PCT, it showed me on trail correctly. Well, good thing for technology but also for listening to one’s instincts!

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Bear Grass along the way.

Before I left for my trip, I’d been reading a book called “Awakening Intuition” by Mona Lisa Schulz. She talks about listening to your body and using your intuitive, gut feelings for insight and clarity with your life. If you rely solely on your mind, you loose touch with what your body is trying to tell you. I’m trying to get more in touch with my intuitive network on this hike, that’s why I listened to my body when I fell the other day. My mind was trying to say, you got this, go on! But my body was saying, hey, we need to REST, alright?

My ankle is a little sore and swollen, I feel it mostly when I am doing my morning and evening stretches. So I try to baby it a bit and even taped it up for yesterday’s climb. I’ve taken a couple of ibuprofen, but for the most part, I’m doing fine without the need for medication. I’d like to keep it that way.

I meet more hikers today, there seem to be more and more people on the trail the closer I get to the lodge. Most are just out for the day, or heading towards Paradise Park where the flowers are spectacular, or so I hear. I thought about checking it out, and I had the time, but it was another 1500 ft. elevation gain (and loss) and after day 2 and day 5, I just couldn’t do it. I really get why people go NOBO… the climbs have been a killer way to start my journey.

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The Zig Zag approach.

I drop down into the ZigZag canyon, not a bad descent but at the very bottom, the trail was a steep, rocky, mini cliff, just perfect for messing up your day. I tread lightly and make it. There are planks across the water and suddenly there are people in abundance. They seem to be milling around the water, taking pictures, doing God knows what. As soon as I cross, I meet a couple with their shiny, new, clean packs. I say “Hi” and I must look trail hardened, because the woman begins to ask me all sorts of questions. The regular credential questions to start, then when she learns I’m on my way to Crater Lake, she gets super excited. She congratulates me and says how brave I am to go it alone. I say, “I don’t feel alone, look at all the people on the trail!”

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The Zig Zag crossing and the slide down into it!

Now, while there are solo women on the trail, there aren’t very many my age. Actually, in the 6 days I’ve been out, I have yet to seen one out by herself. I seem to be an anomaly, but I also seem to be approachable so the day hiker continues to ask questions. I squint in the sunlight as we stand there with the hot sun bouncing off the stark canyon walls making everything too bright. People are streaming around us as they head for the plank crossing. Her husband smiles then talks trail… questioning where I’ve been, sharing where they’ve been. The inquiry comes to a close and I start up the other side.

It was nice to meet some enthusiastic wanna-be’s. Most hikers are very nice but as I got closer to the lodge, the tourists start to pepper the trail. Some were oblivious, standing in the trail taking pictures. One guy with a big pack stepped to the side but his pack was totally in the narrow trail. I said, “Uh, I still can’t get by.” Then he turns his body, swinging his load off the trail. Some day hikers come at me on narrow portions and don’t seem to realize we will have to pass and I am carrying more than a water bottle in my hand. They hog the trail and are surprised when I stop in front of them. I won’t risk a crumbling edge with this 30 lb pack (down 5 lbs from the start!). I figure I have a long way to go and if I’m going to get hurt on the trail (again) it’s not going to be from being overly polite. Usually though, I anticipate on-coming hikers and step off onto a safe spot so they can go by. It’s easier that way.

The most surprising tourist to me was the malicious “mean girl” who encouraged me with “You’re almost to the top! The lodge is just just around the next switchback!” then laughingly flounced down the trail. I was working my way up out of the Zig Zag canyon, carefully hauling my pack up another 1200 foot gain. The mean part was, I had just started the climb and I knew (because I studied my maps) that the lodge was 4 ½ miles away. No where near “around the next switchback”, so it was a very weird thing to say. Hard not to see it as just plain mean, really. I felt sorry for other hikers who might have fallen for that false encouragement.

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A little spot off the trail for a rest, a snack and a view!

As at Eagle Creek, there were the under-prepared day hikers with flip flops and no water. The women clutching purses, the smokers and the baby carriers (and by that I mean the people actually carrying babies… not wearing baby packs… which seems like a dangerous thing to do).  The middle age spread set and the slathered-in-sunscreen-vampires. After 6 days on the trail, the day hiker tourists really stand out.

 

Tomorrow night I have a room booked at the lodge and Joe is meeting me. We’ve never been to Timberline Lodge and it seems like a cool thing to do, a bit of a late 30th Anniversary celebration. We actually spent our 30th at the Olallie Lake resort where I dropped off a hiker resupply box since I couldn’t mail anything to the remote “resort”. I use quotes there because Olallie is a resort of rustic cabins, no electricity or running water. We stayed in a yurt and had a wonderful time. By comparison, Timberline will be a palace.

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Timberline Palace

But when I get there, as impressive as the structure is, the place is swarming with people and noise and too much energy. I feel out of place and everyone looks wealthy and clean. Regardless of my sudden discomfort at being in a real resort, I walk right in like I own the place, my trekking poles tucked under my arm. I wander about gawping at the architecture and the richness of it all. The beams and timbers circle a gigantic multi-sided stone fireplace in the center of the lodge. Everything is of a scale that makes me feel small, but it’s also rustic and old and a real ski lodge.

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Even the furniture is sturdy and unique.  Most everything was built on site!

I spent many a day in ski lodges during my New England youth, so I find a great deal of familiarity and comfort being in one right now. There is a beat up edge to Timberline, something that comes from decades of abuse at the hands of hard equipment, snow and outdoorsy people. I circumnavigate the center fireplace and stop when I get to the circle of couches taken over by a trio of thru hikers… or “hiker trash” as they are often called. Ahhh, now here we go!

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A PCT hiker and her pack taking advantage  of the great 4G signal and the ability to recharge in comfort.

Hello boys!” I say with familiarity, though two of the boys may very well be older than me. 

“Hi there!” they reply.  I stop to chat with the trio, one of which is waiting for the delivery of an ice cream sundae from the dining room. After about 30 seconds of back and forth I say,

So… Boston?” It’s so obvious, he has a wicked accent.

His eyebrows raise, surprised. “Yeah!”

I point to myself, “Nashua!” Which is the closest New Hampshire town, about 45 minutes north of Boston and where I went to school. I sit and talk to the guys, trail names are exchanged but for the life of me, all I can remember is “Boston” and not his actual trail name.

Trail names, by the way, are hiker nicknames that are bestowed upon one (or adopted) in lieu of using your regular name. Usually they are accompanied by a funny story, so that’s always an additional amusing twist. My trail name of Pathfinder was given to me over 20 years ago by my backpacking buddy because I was the map reader, and general which-way-er as we hiked. I am always taking short cuts down deer trails and pretty much ‘finding the path’… so it was a name that made sense.

My new hiker-dude friends for the moment were Fly-Fisher from Germany and “The Man In Black”, TMIB for short. Fly was talking about wanting to fish more, not enough time while hiking the trail. He had a Visa that said he could come back again so he had dreams of buying a F-150 pick up and traveling America, camping as he went. And fishing, I presume. We talked about hiking in Europe and the novelty, to him, of these long, long trails. He was soft spoken and serious and kind to say that my Oregon hike was still a very big deal. Considering he was finishing up a 2600 mile trail, my little piece didn’t seem to be that much but he put it in perspective. There were no trails at all (in Europe) that were even as long as what I was attempting. “Don’t ever say “just” 400 miles!” he admonished me. I had to agree… the word “just” is a bad habit. But distance is relative. I bequeath upon him, this choice bit of wisdom: “In Europe, a 100 miles is a long distance, in America, a 100 years is a long time.”  Fly Fisher nods in agreement.

TMIB was, well, dressed all in black. Which seemed like a hot choice given all the exposed parts on the trail. He was most enthusiastic about being at the lodge, he and Boston were actually a bit loopy from the trail… or from all the sugar they were ingesting, but they were laughing so much at times, it was hard to follow what they were saying.  It was noisy in there, but perhaps there was more than just sugar that had them grinning and giggling like naughty school boys. 

TMIB asked if I had any trail questions, and so I asked about the upcoming Russel Creek in the Jefferson Wilderness. This would be my last sketchy glacial creek crossing and I had heard some stories already. The lively narrative that followed had Boston running over the snow bridge that spanned the cliffs above the creek. But when TMIB and Fly-Fisher got there, no tracks were seen and they decided the snow bridge was unsafe. They jumped from rock to rock, avoiding the rushing waters but TMIB fell and a rock crushed his foot. He was glad he hadn’t broken it and pulled out his phone to show me pictures he had taken immediately afterwards. That’s when I noticed the time stamp, it had happened on Monday, just 4 days ago! These guys had been doing some serious miles!

Which means just 4 days ago the snow bridge was still intact. And that the creek was still, as TMIB said, seriously dangerous and I’d have to judge for myself when it came to crossing it. That bit of information was disconcerting to say the least.

I bade farewell to the dude-bro hikers. Fly-Fisher was cool to chat with, but the other two were getting ramped up. Between them and the loud, packed conditions of the lodge I needed to get outside and find a place to park my tent. We took pictures to commemorate the event and wished each other good luck on our journeys.

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Evidence: me and my gear are at Timberline.  We walked there, together!

A cheerful, ice cream filled Boston exclaimed, “Bye Nashua!” as I hefted my pack and threaded my way through the rich tourists. I heard some of them whisper, “A hiker!” in my general direction. It kinda was like TMIB said, we were rock stars! Dirty, scruffy and looking a little like homeless people, but I felt eyes on me as I wandered about, people wondering where I was going and what, maybe, I had seen.

Above the lodge, near the PCT was the ubiquitous communal hiker site where scores of hikers had waited out for the trail famous Timberline Lodge all you can eat epic breakfast. This breakfast is so well known, it’s down as one of those “must do, must see” trail moments. Right up there with climbing Mt. Whitney. I would have one of those breakfasts, with the hubby, before I headed back out onto the trail. Though being vegan is tough… most breakfast food isn’t made without eggs or sausage or some kind of porky goodness. I miss the taste, but I don’t miss anything else about animal food. No judgment, its a personal choice.

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I find a spot away from the communal camp, I’m still craving some personal space, but the whole area is noisy with people, cars, equipment. Its hard to settle down. I set up in a hillside of lupines. They are purple and beautiful, I take pictures then hide out in my tent and write in my journal.

I looked at my maps and think about where I am going next. The information about Russel Creek bothers me, I figured the snow bridge would be gone by the time I got there, but didn’t know the rock leaping was difficult. I think about how just today, as I was leaving the wilderness boundary, there was a huge sign about river crossings next to the self issue permit kiosk.

Apparently, the sign was placed by the family of an experienced hiker that had died crossing the Sandy River! So glad I hadn’t seen this until after I had crossed. That’s all I would have needed to ramp up my own anxiety.

Going alone has that drawback of feeling more vulnerable to dangers. I have to be extra cautious as I don’t have anyone to rely upon for emotional support if nothing else. Well, I won’t attempt a crossing that seasoned thru-hikers who have braved the mother fucking Sierra’s, think is dangerous!

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Lupines surround my tent.

But then again, as I have learned, there are all levels of perceptions on the trail. Some say it’s cold, it wasn’t. Some say it’s easy, it’s not. Some say it’s hard, and it’s a piece of cake. Conditions on the trail change all the time. The Seven warned me of all the blow-down I’d have to climb over and under. I had heard that a crew was clearing trail. Well, they’d heard that too, but that wasn’t their experience. I did the same trail, the very next day and the crew had been out and cut every blown down tree all the way to Timberline. They must have been right behind the Seven the whole way.

I’ve had a great 4G signal on Mt. Hood, there’s a big tower near the lodge, so I call home. The horses are fine, so are the dogs. Except for Scout. She’s not eating her breakfast and is depressed. Not like her at all. News from home takes my mind off the creek crossing and I eat my solo dinner (homemade smokey pea soup, yum!). I have too much food still left in my bag, I’ll have to do a better job packing for this next section.

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Nite Mt. Hood and all!

I get ready for bed and jot some final random thoughts from the trail in my journal:

Breath is life… focusing on breath is a powerful connection to the spirit within.

Being overly critical of yourself or others causes one to doubt and question their abilities.

Place your feet carefully as if your life depends upon it. Because out here, sometimes it does.