This post will take a step sideways from my usual art blog format. I’ve made some changes in my life… mostly to the way I think and process and thus, believe and behave. I no longer feel driven to create art as a way to keep my head on straight. I still want to create and paint and feel closer to that muse than ever, it’s just that I no longer feel driven. And while I have yet to get myself back into the studio to see how all this shakes down, what I did do is return to the hiking life that used to fill my soul with an extreme form of joy in being alive.
And so… I hiked. 130 miles. In the wilderness. Alone.
What I hoped to find was a greater presence of peace within myself as well as more imagery to add to my series, “The Wilderness of Women”. I did find those things, and along the way, a few more unexpected truths.
My solo journey began in late July after many months of planning and packing. Testing gear, training, making my own vegan trail food and modifying equipment. The trip was planned, but then, before I could even start my border to border hike across Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail, changes were made. Circumstances shortened my time away from home. I compromised and rearranged the journey. Friends got involved and stepped up to bring me resupplies… which was great, but it meant that I now had to schedule within their availability. This had an unforeseen affect on the length of my hike, but was really just another facet of the gem that was my journey.
I kept a journal and took the time to write every day; details of things that happened along the way, thoughts that came to me. Observations and musings… sometimes it read like a log book, other times it’s profound and poignant. I’ve whittled down the entries to include what I consider the most interesting and relevant parts. Here it is… my trail journal, part 1:
Day 1: Eagle Creek Trail (PCT Alternate) (AKA Too Many Tourist Heaven)
Joe drops me off after a quick goodbye. Later I feel bad that I was so distracted, but I was eager to GO and focused on getting to start my hike after all this planning. He wanted to help me so much, but I wouldn’t let him.
“No, no… I have to do this!” I exclaim when he moves my gear about.
“Fine,” he laughs and teases, “Get the hell out of my truck!”
“Okay, BYE!” And I pretend to walk off. After 30 years of marriage, we know we don’t mean anything by this exchange. We hug and laugh but then I really am on my way. It’s hot and mid-day and the trail is full of tourists. Some are coming back to the parking lot, some heading out to see the waterfalls along the Eagle Creek Trail. Some are slow, wearing flip flops. clutching purses or carrying small children. Some are fast, unencumbered by 35 lb packs on their backs, they skim over the rocky trail and quickly climb out of sight.
As the trail snakes up the canyon, it hugs basalt cliffs. In places it’s so narrow and precarious, only a cable hammered into the wall keeps you from pitching into the abyss. One woman says she was terrified and couldn’t look down. I focus on the slick rock and hope I don’t meet anyone coming in the opposite direction. I do, but in places where I can safely be passed.
It’s a Saturday and the place is LOADED with people. I didn’t bother to count, but I probably passed a 100 people by the time I got to 7 1/2 mile camp. At this point, the trail is brushy and the forest deeply shaded. I made good time, climbing 1500 feet by 4:30 PM, but the site is right on the trail and unappealing so I continue on. There aren’t many places to camp, Eagle Creek is mostly a canyon and any other possible campsites are taken. I hiked another half mile, taking my pack off twice to climb over, then under fallen trees. I needed water to camp, I was running out, but the trail left the creek and began to climb up into the deep forest. The thick under-story of Devils club, salal shrubs and cedar trees did not lend itself to rough camping. I tried to find a place but it was getting darker in the canyon and I was tired. I finally gave up and retraced my steps. I had to climb over and under the logs again then asked a group if I could use the empty tent space next to their camp.
They were very friendly, two University teachers and their friend, so I felt quite at home among them for my first night on the trail. The creek was right off the camp but I had to walk through their “living room” to get to it. They are welcoming to me, especially after I say I went to the same school and had been a teacher myself. But later, the friend is quite interested in my journey and asks many questions … and I get very talkative, which results in the teachers getting quiet. I feel like I’ve overstayed my welcome so I retreat to my tent, whereupon the laughter and camaraderie resume, loudly. It confirms my party crashing vibes.
They stay up rather late, there is bourbon involved after all. It feels strange and I wonder if I feel lonely, but I don’t. I feel more “out of place” and knowing that, I choose to be okay with all that is happening. This is a journey of discovery and of being in the moment. This particular moment is noisy and a little annoying as they laugh and shine their headlamps on my tent. Accidental? Maybe. I do wish I had the chance to camp alone my first night, but there were so many people up and down the trail, I’d rather camp near these intellectuals than the group of flannel wearing men with furrowed eyebrows I saw just around the corner. My camp-mates may run hot and cold, but I feel safer here. And so I sleep as they party on into the night.
Day 2: Up to Indian Springs (Brutal Climb)
I made it to Indian Springs!! It was a grueling day, I climbed about 3 thousand feet… in 5 ½ miles. Ugh. The most gain was the last 2 miles and it took me almost 3 hours. At first, I’d count 100 steps then stop and take a breather. Then it was 50. Then 20 and finally 10. I’d plod 10 steps and stop to breathe. It was brutal, grueling, hard…. how many words can my tired mind come up with for steep and exhausting? Not many apparently.
Long, low miles, it was 3 PM when I stepped out of the woods and into a party. The abandoned campsite of Indian Springs had a truck, tables full of food, water, BBQ grills, lounge chairs and 7 women. One looked up at me and said, “You made it!”
“I made it!” And wondered what the hell was going on. Turns out, these 7 women, all from the same family ( sisters/aunts/in-laws) had hiked from Timberline lodge to this spot. Where they were met by an uncle/brother who drove the difficult road bringing the party trimmings, including a propane shower!
I was welcomed into the family party and plied with water, food, wine and a hot shower. I declined the last two items, (I don’t really drink… much) and the shower? Well, that’s some amazing trail magic, but it was only my second day after all! I didn’t feel deprived enough of the luxury of showers that taking one in the abandoned Indian Springs campground was worth the effort. I was holding out for a high mountain lake!
The Indian Springs party was so warm and welcoming, such a difference from how I started my day. The Eagle Creek women were rather cold to me, I barely got a good morning and it was very quiet as I packed up. One of them pointedly turned her back to me, whenever I looked over at their camp all I’d see were backsides. It was odd, I mean, you have to work at maintaining that position. Finally, I shouldered my pack and said “Bye, have a nice hike out!” One quiet “Bye” was all I got in return.
Well, I hoofed it out of there by 9 and had a laugh at myself for even noticing the morning cold shoulders… was my little ego wanting to take a “poor me” ride? Silly ego! I focused on the trail and the moment and in a short time I met two very friendly thru hikers (hikers trying to go from the Mexican border all the way up to Canada). They both stopped to chat about the trail and were happy to answer my questions about the river crossings and other trail conditions. They asked where I was going and where I started and suddenly I felt like I was part of the trail hiker community. Not just a camper or a day hiker, but someone who was out to do some real mileage. Someone out to accomplish something bigger than themselves.
They warned me that the Indian Springs trail was steep and hard. I gulped a little inside. If a thru hiker who’d already seen so much, including the Sierra Nevada range, said it was steep… uh, yikes! But that was the way I had to go, so go I did. Just at the trail junction, I came across a group of women who were cheerfully day hiking from a nearby lake. As they went past me, I noticed one of the had a Hamsa tattoo on her leg.
And since I’d drawn a few and happened to be wearing a shirt with a Hamsa on it I called out, “Nice TAT!” And for some reason, they came back. They were chatty, but mostly wanted to know how to find Indian Mountain. Then they showed me their directions for a loop hike that would take them back to their lake. No map, just printed directions from an internet hike site. I pulled out the map, had them take a picture of it, then pointed at the Indian Springs trail which they had just missed.
“You’ll need to go that way for 2 miles, then turn left to get back to the lake,” I told them. They were very happy they had come back and asked for help, as they would have gone all the way to Eagle Creek before they had figured it out. As they left up the steep trail I told them the Hamsa was a sign of protection.
“I guess it’s working!” said the tattooed girl.
I took a big swig of water then started up the trail myself. The thru hikers did not exaggerate. It was steep alright. At times I had to roll myself up a step as high as my waist. There was no way to “step up”. My calves were screaming, so to shut them up, I’d turn around to rest, just so the incline went the other way while I paused. After an hour and a half, I looked up my location on my phone. I have an app that works off satellite GPS and tells you where you are on the trail. Unbelievably, I was only half way up the trail. I was pretty shocked and since I was hungry and tired, I sat right down on the trail and had lunch . Food always helps. 20 minutes later I pressed on. I met some more thru hikers, this time from England who were already disheartened by the steepness. They were hurting, just different parts. Everyone I met seemed to agree, downhill is worse, though it was hard to relate as up, up, up seemed to be my only experience so far.
And then, 3 hours after I saw the Hamsa tattoo, I found the spring and the end of the trail. And the most welcome welcoming committee ever.
So tired… will write more tomorrow. Reminder: write about the lost hiker and her brother. And about the 54-Days-Out-Boys.
Day 3: The Ridge Above Bull Run Watershed
I went to bed early, but the party lasted into the night. I was tired from my hike, they don’t call 9 PM “hiker midnight” for nothing. Most are pretty wiped out by then. But the “Seven” (as I began to call them) had a pretty flat hike the day before and were jazzed by the family trail magic. They had a campfire, which generally means you are staying up late and enjoying the fun. It would be quiet for a while, voices murmuring in the background as I drifted off to sleep, then the group would erupt with laughter, startling me awake.
OMG, What kind of trip was this going to be? So weird to start off with my second communal camp and second night of a trail party. I sincerely hoped things would quiet down once I got further down the trail. Indian Springs ends, or begins, depending on which direction you are going, at the PCT. Maybe getting on the Pacific Crest Trail will make a difference.
Before I wrapped things up for the evening, a hiker came up the Indian Springs trail with a frantic look on his face. He asked us if we had seen his sister, describing her in detail. He hadn’t seen her since 2:30 that afternoon when he stopped for water. She, however had hiked on and rather than wait at the trail junction, had kept going. Apparently she missed the turn off just like the Hamsa tattoo girl. Her brother, thinking she had made the turn and wasn’t waiting for him, hiked up the Indian Spring only to come out at the top and discovered she wasn’t there.
I helped him look at a map, pointing out what she had probably done. And suggested he go back down Indian Springs and meet her as she was most likely climbing up right now. But he opted to drop his pack and head the opposite way in case she completed the loop and was circling around to our campground. We told him we’d be on the look out for her and not let her leave should she arrive.
About an hour later, the sister popped out of the woods… she’d figured out she was going the wrong way and (as predicted) had backtracked and climbed up Indian Springs. She was entreated to stay and given “Seven” hospitality. Since she was in very good hands, I retreated to my camp where I listened to my neighbors chat about Harry Potter books for another hour. These guys had come in right after the brother and settled into the site next to me. They had been on the trail for 54 days and this was their last night. Three 20 somethings, they appeared all trail hardened and looked every bit the bearded survivalists they had become. And then they started chatting about Harry, Hermoine, Dumbledore and Snape. It was rather adorable actually. First thing upon awakening in the morning, they picked up where they left off… who had the greater challenges, who was the best character, what Harry would have done if Ron hadn’t… so cute.
I packed up, did some yoga stretches and said bye to the Seven. In my first 200 feet on the PCT, I met a group of older gentlemen who also had hiked down from Timberline. They were very interested in my “hands free” umbrella set up. As we chatted, I found out that I was meeting the Chairman of the Board of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, John Crawford! He gave me his card, solicited my membership and shared his trail name, StormChaser. The other two were also on the board, apparently there had been a meeting at Timberline that year and they were using the annual meeting as a springboard for a section hike.
Around the “corner” I came across the brother and sister team (Will and Anne) who’s reunion last night was met with cheers from the Seven. I could hear Will shout from my camp, “Where the FUCK were you??!!” as he came back from his search. Apparently that was accompanied by leaps of joy and huge hugs all around. We chatted a bit about how to avoid that situation in the future, and considering they were hiking SOBO (south bound) from the Canadian border to Mexico, it was a good idea they develop a strategy.
The rest of my day was rather uneventful. I met section hikers Smudge and Toaster, two 63 year old women who were on their way to Canada. They had started at the Oregon border and looked great. So capable and strong. They actually looked better than many other thru hikers I saw later, which goes to show you, wisdom and experience really do make a difference.
I met “In and Out” who chatted about gear with me. Again, my hands free umbrella set up was the icebreaker. He took a picture of it so he could make one for himself. I probably should explain… I have, along with many other hikers, a silver colored umbrella that works as a marvelous portable shade as well as a rain cover. But, if you use trekking poles, like most hikers are now-a-days, you can’t hold your umbrella. I figured out if you cut a paint roller, drill a couple of holes in it and attach it to your backpack strap, you can stuff the handle of the umbrella down the short tube and voila! Hands free! It was the talk of the trail as hikers asked what my roller was for… if it wasn’t being used. Otherwise, many were envious of my set up. That shade saved me more than once!
It was nice to have relatively flat day after climbing up out of the Columbia River Gorge. I was starting to understand why even section hikers went NOBO (northbound). Day three was mostly ridge walking along the Portland watershed known as Bull Run. I caught a glimpse of Mt. Hood, it was nice to see where I was going for once! I also caught glimpses of jumbo jets. Apparently this portion of the trail was right on the flight path of PDX. Every 10 minutes or so a big old jet would wooosh on by. I’m sure the passengers were getting gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, but for me, it was definitely disturbing the peace of my hike.
There were signs all over warning hikers to stay on trail, no camping allowed. So I headed for a site at a trail junction. Just as I was checking it out, a group of women came in, also looking to bed down for the night. They graciously offered to move on, but the site I had just passed was so fly and mosquito infested I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! So I stepped across the trail to a flat spot that wasn’t a part of the camp and let them have it. I’d rather camp with the 4 women then an unknown mixture of who knows who. I was literally feet from the PCT but the flat spot was far more cushier than the regular site. It was full of fir needles and was my softest bed yet.
And better still, everyone was tired. My friendly neighbors who had been buddies for over 25 years all tucked themselves in by dark. Finally, a quiet camp!