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 2

Day 4    Down to the Muddy Crossing

It’s a funny thing about going SOBO.  While I am out there, I meet most everybody on the trail who are heading north. I cross paths with NOBO hikers, and there are a lot of them. I get to ask what’s ahead. I also get to hear a variety of reports based on their individual perceptions, opinions and confidence level. My first clue this may be a problem, was the woman who warned me about the narrow Eagle Creek ledge. I kept looking for a part that was so death defying, I’d have to take off my pack and push it ahead (like she did). I never found that part.

Now when the Seven told me of the upcoming Muddy Creek crossing, they said it was no big deal and there was even a rope to hang onto if I was worried. So, I put it out of my mind and focused instead on the Sandy River. This one they said was more, well, sketchy. A bundle of narrow trees was the one and only bridge; they crossed by getting in the water and hanging on to the bridge for support. This seemed like a good fall back position so while the crossing had me worried, I tried not to focus on it. Well, not too much.  Even though I was recognizing I was getting a variety of perspectives on the crossing, I did continue to ask for the opinions of many of the thru or section hikers coming my way.  Like, most all of them.

And then, there was today. Where I learned much more about being in the moment and paying attention to where I was actually at, as opposed to where I would be in 11 miles down the trail.

Nothing to worry about!

Nothing to worry about!

When I get to Muddy Creek, I am taken aback.  It’s a silty, glacial, roaring torrent of a creek! The water was much more than the “walk in the park” I had imagined when I arrived after an eventful and long trail. I stood on the bank and looked at the 20 foot wide stretch of white water.  It was moving fast so I dropped my pack and tested the crossing. I took my shoes off and barefoot, used my trekking poles to probe the depth.  It wasn’t too bad at 2:30 in the afternoon and I  got half way across before I retreated back to contemplate my next move. Camp or cross? Camp on the other side, or continue on? After everything that had happened, I just wasn’t sure, it seemed too early to stop for the day. Hungry and tired, I sat under a tree by the log crossing and ate. I was surprised by the strength of the creek and suddenly, I was overwhelmed with fatigue so I lay down and took a nap.  The noise of the water drowned out my thoughts, the sun was warm, the grass was soft and I was just so tired. I felt like Dorothy in the poppy fields (Wizard of Oz reference here).

Some time later, I awoke and decided to try the log crossing…  just to see if I could.  Across the creek lay some seriously large trees.  Amazingly, they had fallen over right at the edge, they bridged the creek and they were level!  A natural bridge of two big logs with exposed roots on one side (that you’d have to climb over), then using the rope on the top log, you could walk on the bottom log right across. Easy, right? Shades of Eagle Creek, right?

Wrong. Imagine if you will, very large trees, and when you crawl out on the bottom one, you notice the rope you are clinging to is frayed and somewhat rotten. Added to that, the top tree is so round, it pushes you away from the log in an arch…. and you are carrying a heavy pack AND you have fallen 3 times already today so you doubt your surefootedness.

After my nap, I thought I would try it without the pack. For practice. Did I mention how these logs are at least 10 feet in the air above the creek? Fear of heights? What fear of heights? I got to the logs, walked out away from the edge about 5 feet and was scared by the drop. And the weak rope and my own weak grip. No way I’d do it with a pack on. I’d have to lean out over the bulge of the log and all the stubby branches too. Dear GOD! I got back to safety and stood at the end of the root side as a young hiker approached the logs from the south side. He was thin and tan, his long light hair swung about as he nimbly leaped on some lower downed logs. He was wearing neon yellow running shorts to go with his lightening print gaiters. Then he came over to the double log rope nightmare. He tested the ropes, walked easily across and right up to where I was standing at the root ball.

Are you a thru hiker or a section hiker?” he asked.

A section,” I replied, shouting a little over the noise of the rushing creek.

Cool,” he said, then asked, “How far?”

I’m going to Crater Lake.”

Cool.”

His level gaze was unsettling.  I stammered, “You made that log look easy! It’s too scary for me, I’ll have to ford it.”

Well, I can take your bag across for you if you want,” he offered.

I took a split second to ponder this offer and I did not turn it down! “Really? That would be great! I was just trying to decide if I should go over now or in the morning.”

He looked at me seriously. This was one serious kid. He said, “Well, you’ve got to cross it sometime.”

We talked a bit about campsites and he said there were some on the other side but they were expecting people to be coming in later and if I went now, I’d get to pick my spot. Well, there was no denying this young man’s logic. He scouted about while I put my pack in order and then he hefted it up and nimbly waltzed across the top of the log like a squirrel.

Note the squirrel hiker.

Note the squirrel hiker. Looks easy from here.

I made my way down to the ford and took my shoes off again, tied them together and draped them around my neck.  Taking a deep breath, I began to wade. The water was higher from when I first got there. I didn’t think that much time had gone by, but what had been up to my knees was now pulsing up mid thigh and seemed even stronger. I used my poles, trying to find the shallow places, the water was white with silt, I was stabbing blindly, feeling around the submerged rocks. My focus intensified to one step, hunt with my pole, another step, shift my foot. Then the next step. Then a deep drop off, hunt again, there, upstream it was shallow… step forward then over and then, finally, a few more steps and I was out. Phew! I was so glad someone had been there, just in case! But when I turned to look, my trail angel was gone. My pack was there to greet me, but I was alone.

I laughed a little at myself, I’d heard you should never cross alone.  But just knowing someone was there boosted my confidence.  Looks like I could cross a creek alone if I had to. It helped that I didn’t have the pack though… that thing had already tossed me about enough today. My heart was pounding when I got to shore and I sat down on a rock to put my shoes back on.

I shouldered my pack and climbed up to the south bank campsites. The forest was lovely, moss covered old growth trees in a grove of soft moss bedding that stretched up along the creek. I found a wonderful place to pitch my Ultra Light tent and while I did, my trail angel and his friend came over to visit. They were two High School students from Southern Oregon. The tent was admired and stories were shared. I was impressed that two young men were on the trail together.  They hadn’t even finished High School yet.  What an adventure for them!

Earlier today, while on the trail, I vowed to “stop telling my story”.  Everyone does it, ‘where are you going?  Where are you from? ‘ It’s become a right of passage, or, your ticket into the trail club. I think about it and wonder why. I feel like my ego is getting off on this whole trip. “Here I am! Here’s what I’m doing! Yes, I’m going solo! Yes, all the way to Crater Lake!” Which I already feel weird about since I had intended to go to Ashland, but now my trip is truncated. And sometimes I even add that in the story, for what reason I don’t know. I get to practice this vow and break it over and over… frankly, my lack of self restraint is bothering me.  I found myself narrating my tale again to this new audience, then later feeling annoyed at myself for yet again, breaking my promise.

This morning I got on the trail early, skipping breakfast because I knew I had 11 miles to cover. I went 4 miles in 2 hours, past a logging operation, past the sizzling high voltage towers, past the car at Lolo pass who’s back window had been shattered and presumably its’ contents ransacked.

Hood peeks thru the towers of power.

Hood peeks thru the towers of power.

I was walking along and eating “second breakfast” when I tripped and flipped forward into the huckleberry bushes. There are bushes everywhere along the trail, the berries are at their peak and have been a big part of my breakfast/snack routine for the past few days.  I crash right into them and roll onto my poles. I’m okay, but a little shook up. It was such an utter surprise, I did not see it coming, nor could I stop it from happening.

I climb a few more miles when I cross paths with a 70 something woman and her younger companion who were hiking all of Oregon and Washington. You GO girl!! She was inspirational… I wish I’d gotten her trail name. She teases me for eating all her berries, I tease her for eating all of mine. I was glad to meet a hiker who was taking the time to enjoy the wonderful huckleberries, they really were everywhere and so worth a pause here and there. I climb on before finally hitting the ridge then down into the Muddy Creek basin. I was thinking to myself I was making such good time, I could cross the Muddy and continue on. I felt great! And then, before I knew it, my foot slips, my hip rolls and off I go, pitched right off the trail and into the pine needles along the side of the trail. WTF? Again?! I’m glad it’s a soft landing but my ankle rolled a little on the way down. I’m stunned that it happened so fast and for the second time. I think of all the sketchy places where a fall like this could mean very bad things. Places where there is no side of the trail to land. Probably need to put my personal locator beacon, the INREACH…. actually in reach!

I also think about how the previous night, talking to my camp-mates, when they say they are scared of cougars… I reply with this nugget:

You’d be lucky to see a cougar. The things to be scared about are falls, spraining your ankle, maybe even lightening. You’re much more likely to encounter one of those fears.”

So prophetic. Well off I go again, I focus on the trail and tell myself I had better just stay at Muddy and rest up before crossing. Then, in a few more miles, I begin to think about how much ground I’m covering and how I’ll get over the creek and get closer to the Sandy when, WHAM! A rolling rock slides out from under my foot and this time I went down on one knee and the PCT has her payment as blood is drawn.

Okay! Okay! I get it! I’ll stay at the Muddy! I promise!”

You can bet I was focused on the trail after that. Every single footfall. I made my mind stay on the present moment, And having focused so intently, I was so very tired by the time I reached the Muddy. My body was tired and told me so in the only way it could. Just because it was early didn’t mean I could push past 11 miles. I hadn’t really rested, just a quick stop or two all day. I need to take it easy and stick to my plan. My body needs to rest, it’s having some issues with the trail. Tomorrow is some major elevation gains, another 3 thousand feet, and now my ankle is a little tweaked.

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The trail down to the ford. High water in the evening.

Anyway, SO GLAD that is over! I went back down to the creek before bed and it had rose even more. Tomorrow is a two mile hike to Sandy. Gulp. I will be getting to it first thing, so it should be easy to ford. I keep hearing how the logs are narrow and sketchy and even slippery and wet. But, as wonderful as that sounds, I will leave it for tomorrow. Right now, I’m all cozy in my tent. I don’t have a problem right now. I trust in the Universal energy to make my way smooth, the trail do-able. I’ve been learning about the power of NOW (reading EckhartTolle lately) my mind is not in charge. So, there, mind! You and your fears can just step aside for now.

Mossy site. So cushy!

Mossy site.

Day 5 Crossing the Sandy (lived to tell the tale). And finally, a solo camp!

I know I am sometimes all over the map chronologically, so today I will do my best to be sequential.  But wow… what a day!

I awoke just as it was starting to get light, the birds were singing their first song of the day and I was eager to get the Sandy River crossing over and done with!  I packed up as fast as I could and this time, made a hot breakfast to fortify me for what I saw as my greatest challenge so far.

My mind had been entertaining me with looped songs the past few days, yesterday it was Sarah Bareillis’s “Brave”, but today, out of nowhere, came an old Neil Diamond song from the Jonathan Livingston Seagull album.  This is an old soundtrack from a movie, circa 1973.  The movie and the book it was based on, was a favorite of my mother’s.  If ever there was a spiritual theme that resonated with her, it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  So to have Neil Diamond in my head, first thing, and that particular song… well, I felt my mother’s presence so deeply that morning.  I felt she was watching over me, she was there to help me face this river.

I was the first hiker out of camp that morning, it looked like tent city right down the trail from me, but no one was stirring.  I was on the trail by 6:50 and it felt good.  The air was crisp and Neil was singing:

LONELY LOOKING SKY
Lonely looking sky
And bein’ lonely
Makes you wonder why
Lonely looking sky
Lonely looking night
Lonely night, lonely looking night
And bein’ lonely
Never made it right

Sleep we sleep
For we may dream
While we may

Dream

we dream , for we may wake
One more day

Glory looking day
Glory day, glory looking day
And all it’s glory
Told a simple way
Behold it if you may
Glory looking day

Lonely looking sky

He was right there in my head, the violins, the piano, the horns, the whole orchestra pulsing around me.  I didn’t walk far before I began to cry.  Quiet tears of joy, of love, of the sheer beauty of the world that was waking up all around me.  I watched the sun kiss the top of the canyon as I took the Ramona Falls bypass up to the Sandy River, just 2 miles away.  And I felt my mother, who had passed away 4 years ago, I felt her presence…  she used to be so scared of my wilderness trips.  But now, she wasn’t scared any more of any thing, finally at peace and lending me her strength.  Somehow, I knew I would be across by 9, just a few hours from the start of my day.  I’d be across and I’d be safe and all was as it was meant to be.

On my way to the falls, 2 crows stopped to shout “Caw!  Caw! Crrook! Crrook!”  I stopped to “Crrook !” right back at them.  I’ve always felt crows to be messengers for me.  My mother’s bird of choice has always been seagulls but that would have been something very strange indeed to see a seagull up here.  I asked the crows if they were sent to watch me,  in keeping with the magical theme of the day.

“CAW! CAW! Crrook! Crrook!”

I told them, I would take that as a yes and continued on to the falls.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

I spent a little time at the falls, but mostly I walked in a blissed out state up and around until I came across 3 hikers who warned me of the crossing and jolted me right back into reality.  They talked about the logs, and how they had wanted to ford the river but it was too cold.  Startlingly cold.

I’m starting to think I am suffering from “too much information” anxiety!  But as I leave the nervous hikers behind, I slip back into listening to Neil Diamond sing and focus on the moment as it unfurls before me.  And then there is the Sandy.

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The Sandy River lived up to its hype.

I inspected the narrow logs.  They did not look very supportive so I tested out a ford by sticking my poles in as far as I could.  The water was swift and deep at that spot so I began to walk upstream looking for an alternate crossing.  Last winter I read a blog by an Oregon  woman who had hiked the same trail solo. When she came to the Sandy, she walked upstream until she found a safer crossing and in messages, she advised me to do the same. Now last year, it was a very low snow pack year, so the strength of the rivers were not quite what I was seeing.  But still, sound advice.  I kept testing along the way, until finally I came to a bend in the river where a gravel bar jutted out into the stream and the water fanned out into a shallow channel and one short narrow stretch.  It was an easy stroll across the shallows and the short part was not as deep.  I found my crossing!

I unhooked my pack and loosened the straps a little so if the worst case situation arose, I could get my pack off.  I took the time to attach my phone (in a waterproof bag) and location beacon to my body and tucked it into my shirt.  Crystal had done the same thing at this point and I thought it was a very wise idea.  I left my shoes on so I’d have better traction.  The Sandy seemed to have more volume than the Muddy and the day was going to be sunny and warm.  Better to have wet feet than a broken ankle.

I stepped into the channel and noticed the water wasn’t as cold as the last hikers had thought.  Cold, yes, but teeth chattering cold?  Hardly.  One foot after another, I thought heavy thoughts and planted myself firmly with each step.  The river was swift and strong and pushed back at me, wanting to uproot and sweep away.  No time to be anxious, I was in the midst of it all and there was no where to go but across.  It was narrow at this point, so just a few steps and I was scrambling out the other side.  I made it!  Hurrah!

“WOO HOOO!”  I shouted out loud and danced in a little circle.  Another solo crossing.  I snapped a few pictures and noticed the time.  9:01

The Sandy River

Things to do today: cross the Sandy River.   Check!!

After my celebratory dance, I filtered water from a clear stream (glacial silt streams are not good for water filters) and prepped myself for the 3 K climb to come. It would be another short mileage day, but that was how I had planned my trip.

Mileage and elevation and fitness were a consideration when I was sitting at my dining room table thinking about where I would camp and how many days I would need to hike. I then made reservations at Timberline Lodge, Jefferson Park, Obsidian Limited Entry and Crater Lake’s campground at Mazama. These dates gave me structure to what seemed to be a major undertaking. Like rocks in a creek, they served as stepping stones along my path. But, like a random creek crossing, they also wound up being too far apart or too close. It became hard to adjust as I was mid-stream. Adding in the friends who wanted to meet me, the zero days and additional hotel accommodations for such a short segment of the PCT (all of the PCT in Oregon is only about 450 miles), I wound up tying myself to a timeline that soon felt constricting. It’s hard to be in the moment and “see how you feel” when you have to meet a deadline. Sometimes I gave myself too much time, other times, not enough.

But on this day the 6 miles seemed just about perfect. Pack adjusted, I stepped on the steep trail with my wet shoes and immediately came upon a crow feather. It was soft and black and just waiting there for me as if to say, “see, you made it!”. I smiled to myself then noticed Neil had quit singing in my head. I was alone on the trail once again.

Alone, but not lonely. Loneliness is not something I usually experience, I’ve always been quite content in my solitude. Maybe it’s because I feel connected to nature, the world around me, the stillness I find within. But the handful of times I’ve experienced loneliness were always the result of being with people who wanted nothing to do with me, not necessarily in a malicious way, but more of an “insider” vs “outsider” fashion. So it’s interesting that I would experience this on my first day out and yet, not feel lonely. Just different. I don’t always notice the ways in which I feel different from others, but really, deciding to hike solo across Oregon… yeah, how different is that?

For the first time, I put in my earpiece and listened to Radio Lab podcasts as I hauled my pack up the ascent. I was climbing Mt. Hood proper now, the views below of the river canyons and glacial washes affirmed I was up on his flanks. And since I started at sea level and was going to be spending the night at above 6 thousand feet, it was pretty much a climb in my book. Not a summit, but definitely a climb.

And then there was this interesting rock on the trail.

And then there was this interesting rock on the trail.

Mt Hood is a big, beefy mountain. Called Wy’east by the natives and given a masculine gender, I felt that big, tough guy persona. He’s one impressive dude and he got my attention at all the best places. It was quite the haul up and my feet squished along in my wet shoes. They felt a little cold and good on that warm day. I had had some issues with my shoes, actually and had been taping my heels every day to ward off blisters. So far, so good but I wondered how long my luck would hold out. Blisters seem to be a normal part of trail life and something I was trying to avoid. Much to my surprise, the wet shoes actually molded to my feet as they dried and became a better fit as I went along.

Getting higher!

Getting higher!

I remembered a day hiker I saw, she was limping down the Eagle Creek trail, a shirt tied around one foot, a running shoe on the other. She apparently lost it while exploring one of the waterfall pools. Well, that’s what happens when you play in the water, which is why I had tightened my laces before I crossed the Sandy. Miles and days from a trail head, I did NOT want to suffer the same fate. Wouldn’t that have been a bummer of a tale?

Beefy Wy'east

Beefy Wy’east

The wildflowers began to show themselves in abundance, a mile from my destination, a hummingbird zoomed past me after feasting on the Indian Paintbrushes. I marveled at it, as I had named my pack Hummingbird with the hopes it would be light and fly down the trail. At this point however, Hummingbird was still heavy and weighing me down.

Avalanche Lillies, no avalanche required.

Avalanche Lilly, no avalanche required.

The views continued to be glorious and I followed the trail from one wonderful place to the next. I met many hikers along the way.  Most everyone was friendly and feeling those high mountain vibes.  One guy had managed to hike all of Oregon in 13 days.  He was averaging 35 miles a day and looked pretty wrung out. Another was on his way south after pretty much mountaineering his way through the Washington snow.  It’s been a late season for snow.  Just as I was about to look for a camp in a level bit of topography, two hikers came down the trail. They were a couple of guys around my age and once again, the credentials were exchanged. “Two Guys” asked about water, they were running a little low, and they wanted to know about the upcoming trail. I asked if they had the Half Mile app for their phone, as it lists all places for water along the PCT. Guy #1 said they did, but he was proud that they had yet to use it on their entire trip across Oregon. They were relying entirely on maps which were buried in their packs.  And apparently on other hikers to fill them in on things like, well, where’s the water? You know, unimportant things like that.

Now, I love maps as much as the next person. Well, maybe even more as I went back to school a few years back for surveying and mapping and actually worked as an intern in my local county’s cartography department for a year. So, yeah, I get maps. And I have them and they are accessible. But I also appreciate new technology, the apps and GPS on my phone are pretty dang impressive and helpful. Especially in situations such as these.

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The water was down here. Literally, right around the corner.

I gave Two Guys instructions about the upcoming trail and water. Guy #1 asked me again, the same question. I repeated my instructions. Again. He chatted on about where they had been and what they were doing… maybe just in case I had missed how important his story was? Then he asked again about water. WTH? How have these guys made it this far with this short of an attention span? I gave him the shortened version of what I had just said, twice and moved on down the trail.

“Okay, bye.  Have a good hike!” and I left before my face could contort itself into a shape that said, “Dude,  you have got a problem.” 

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Wy’east getting ready for bed.

Two Guys  moved on and I slipped off the trail and down a path that led to a frequently used campsite. I moved deeper into the wilderness, still looking for that elusive solo camp before settling on a lesser used spot tucked away behind some fallen trees.

Hood over my tent.

Hood over my tent.

That night, no one stopped at the communal site… it wasn’t listed on the Half Mile app, so I guess it wasn’t on the thru-hiker radar. And finally, I had my solo night. It was peaceful, beautiful in it’s solitude and the perfect end to an absolutely epic day.