lead a life uncommon

Against the Grain


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Next Time

Day Whatever.

Smoke poured into the valley, menacing and dark.

I closed the windows on the house and turned on the air conditioning.

What a thing. Air Conditioning.

Conditioning The Air.

I looked at my foot, still peeling from the swelling going down. From the beating the trail imposed. No feeling in my toe yet, but the doctor said it will for sure come back when it does, no sooner and no later.  

My feet hurt so much for weeks. Both of them. I could barely put them on the floor. I’d wake up at night and seriously consider crawling to the bathroom. I could barely walk. Was this normal? Does every hiker go through this when they come off trail?  

But it’s been three weeks and they finally don’t hurt much anymore, and I mostly stopped wearing the boot in the last couple of days. But it doesn’t take much walking to remember that it is still injured.

Being home is so normal and so weird. Everything is the same here. Did this whole thing really even happen? Did I make up the whole journey? Was it all a dream? Am I the same person?

The Trail brought me back to center, that’s for sure. It gave me the adventure I sorely needed. It provided me the solitude, the ability to sort out problems on my own. It kicked all weakness out of me, breathed strength into me, and left me standing shattered and whole and wild.  

Gone was the loudness of my mind, replaced by the loudness of my spirit.

Since I came home, I’ve moved my gear around six times, wondering what I’d leave behind next time. What I could do without. What I could do differently. What level of deprivation with which I was comfortable. Wait…Next Time?

I looked at my sad stack of empty notebooks. They had so much more to tell.

Next Time I’ll start in Campo and not worry about the overcrowded trail. Because there would be People. And I will never again underestimate the power of having another human around. Someone to expect you in the evening. Someone to smile at you. Someone going through the same difficulties with whom to encourage and bond.

Next Time I’ll take different shoes. I’ll just get the stupid boots I’ve been railing against. I’ll cave because the trail runners I used this time Did Not Work For Me.

Next Time I’ll only have something like 1650 miles left to complete the whole thing, so I won’t push for 20+ mile days unless water is the issue. I’ll be happy with 15.

I had trouble sleeping in my bed when I came home. One midnight, I painfully made my way to the garage and got my sleeping bag and a car camping mat. I pulled them one aching step at a time out to the concrete pad in our back yard. I lay down in my familiar cocoon and watched the stars for a few hours.  

So that’s what they look like.

Next Time I’ll stay up to take a look at them once a week.

Since I came home, I’ve had BBQ’s, movie nights, game nights, deep-cleaned the house, painted the spare room, watched the dusk settle over my beloved hills.

I’ve eaten fresh peaches from the tree and all-you-can-eat sushi and salsa made from scratch. Drank cold beer, taken the boys to the river, gone to the Monster Fish exhibit in a wheelchair at the museum with my Mom.

I went to watch Hillary Clinton speak, and they put me in the ADA line because of my boot so I got to sit in the third row right up front.

I learned that everyone wants to talk to you if you’re clearly only temporarily and minorly physically impaired. So there was a lot of talking and kindness in the ADA line.

Gurl, one lady said, I heard you fell in a gopher hole.

That’s right, I said.

You gotta come up with a better story than that, she said.

I’m a shitty liar, I told her.

She laughed.

Do I feel satisfied with my Trail experience? I can’t tell.

I know I’m excited about the Fall, and I’m hoping to do an overnight backpacking trip with my Mom next month.  

I’m sick of the lack of exercise and am looking forward to going on a walk like regular people are wont to do.

Turtle texted me. He finished the trail. I’m so proud of him, and it makes my heart burst with happiness that he accomplished his dream.

How do I really feel about backpacking though?

When biking, I learned about each of the small communities I traveled through daily. The beauty and the people and the small-town-rituals and the dialect and the flavor of those lives.

When hiking, it seems I learned more about the hiking community and carried that through each town I would weekly inhabit.

So does that make me a cyclist who just happened to go hiking this one time? Do I like cycling better?

I just don’t know.

I don’t miss the exhaust and the wind from passing eighteen-wheelers blowing me off the road. I don’t miss the chicken trucks and the assholes flipping me off and throwing trash at me. I don’t miss worrying about slipping on the wet asphalt and having to ride on the paint itself when that was the only smooth surface available. I don’t miss road construction.  I don’t miss tunnels.

I do miss the way the air changes when I ride near water. I do miss the climbing so slowly to the top of a mountain, and then getting the sweet reward of cruising really fast down the other side. I do miss small town events like the 4th of July Porcupine Races and the pie socials and the rodeos and the invitations to go alligator hunting. I miss the tiny little bike shops. I miss covering more ground each day. I miss how every valley smells a certain way, and I can remember that smell long after I’m gone.  

I always said I like slow sports best, but maybe walking is just a little too slow.

But then again, I still dream about the trail almost every night. I dream I have a trail friend – a woman who is trans, named Jennifer. I dream that Jennifer carries red heels and matching lipstick in her backpack to wear when she gets into a town. I tell her she’s beautiful and she laughs and says she cleans up well, and then we curl our hair and we each eat a gallon of ice cream.

I dream that I walk around a bend in the trail and slip in a hot pile of bear shit and land on my side right in the pile and I freak out because I’m not near a stream and I don’t know what to do, and where is the bear?

I dream of the parts of the trail I didn’t get to see. I dream about storms I didn’t experience, and snow I never saw. I dream of fields of huckleberries and gloomy forests and hot dusty flowers and exposed ridge-lines. I dream of losing my footing and slipping off the side of a mountain. I dream of picking up handfuls of wet soil and smelling the earth.

Maybe I’ll shake the Trail from my bones.

But maybe I won’t.

I will keep my mind quieter, and my spirit louder and my notebooks ever ready for more stories.

Because whether it is cycling or hiking, I can say with certainty…

There Will Be A Next Time.

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And I Was Home

Day 71
Pit…pat…pit-pat…pit…pat-pat-splat.

Light hit the side of my tent and my eyes sprang open. My heart pounded out of my chest. Was I on a road? I never pitch my tent on a road. How did I forget my rule? Was a car coming down the road? Did they see me? Please don’t hit me. Please don’t run me over while I’m trapped in my tent.

My hands flew to the zipper of my tent and I opened it and pulled myself out of my sleeping bag and into the rain in one swoop.

But I wasn’t on a road.

I was just still next to the creepy bathroom at the fairgrounds.

And the next lightning bolt lit up the same side of my tent. And I sat in the rain, halfway out of my tent, and let my heart settle down. 

And I was wide awake.

Thunder rolled across the valley. My watch said 4:23 am.

I started my ritual of packing things. The rain came harder and harder.  

I remembered the minivan.

I scooped belongings into a big pile and limped over to the minivan, opened the side door, and dumped all my wet gear on the seat. It took three limping trips.

My hair streamed water down my back.

‘In Oregon, we don’t tan…we rust’ Cindy had said. 

It hadn’t rained on me in a long time.

I sat in the driver’s seat and watched the sky cry for me, tears blurring the windshield. How did I feel? Was I okay? 

I opened the pack of Junior Mints and pushed a few into my mouth. They were stale.

I turned on the car and started to drive through the remnants of night.

When I got home, it was still pretty early.  

No one mowing lawns or picking up the paper in their slippers or waving good morning.

I made my way up the stairs and rang the doorbell. No answer. Knocked several times. No answer.

I finally made my way inside and figured my husband had taken the dogs for a hike.

I opened the back door and looked out over my beloved mountains and I ran my hand over the sweet face of my beloved cat. I put some water in the kettle to make some coffee but decided to go take a shower first.

A Real Shower.

I opened the door to my bedroom and found my husband and my dogs all piled on the bed. No one heard me come home.  

They all rolled over and gave me sleepy grins and I lay down next to everyone, and then it was a giant mess of happiness and kisses.

And then coffee and breakfast and hot shower time with real shampoo and conditioner.

I put on a sparkly clean, pretty dress and clean cotton underwear and we went to Urgent Care.  

The X-Rays Were Negative.

Nothing was broken, but ligaments were torn on both sides of my ankle, and I was ordered to be down for a month.

They strapped me into an Orthopaedic boot up to my knee, told me to take two Aleve twice a day, and sent me home where I ate Tostitos and lemon hummus, cracked open a beer, and sat on my back deck with my family.

The sky a baby blue, my dog glued to my good leg, my husband fawning over me, the wind gently brushing my skin. 

Back to a land so familiar and so foreign.  

The Land of Ice Cubes.

The Land of Padded Chairs.

The Land of Movies and Cars.

The Land of People With Regular Names.

The Land of Concrete and Air Conditioning and A Variety Of Clothes From Which To Choose.

And I thought about reintegration from trail life to this other kind of living. And I wondered how I would do.

And I wondered if The Trail was done with me for now…or done with me for good…

And I wondered about all the feelings I didn’t yet have time to feel, and how much time I should give myself to start feeling them.

And I looked at all these things around me. All these things that I love so very, very much.  

And I looked until my eyes hurt and my heart filled up to three times its usual size.

And I Was Home.


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I Turned Left

Day 70
Miles Hiked 0

The morning campfire crackled and popped, sending up little curly-queues of smoke as the flames licked the sides of the cowboy coffee pots. I sat with Carla and Richard and Cindy, telling stories in tones hushed by the morning light.

Most of the camp was still sleeping. Those not with us were already fishing.

I knew that no matter what was wrong with my foot, I’d have to be off of it for a while.  

I didn’t imagine it was broken. It wasn’t purple or hideous, and I’ve broken enough bones in my life to know that it would’ve been really painful from the get-go.

But it was swollen, and it was painful.

So…

Another hiker named Honey came into camp. She’d met James and Dwayne down at the river, and they’d sent her up for some coffee. Her voice rich and melodious, her laugh infectious and genuine. Such an interesting character. If she lived near me, I’d invite her to every party forever.

“What I want to know is…” Honey grinned, “Are you saddle sore from ridin’ that horse all the way here?”

“Whaaat? No way,” I lied.

“I’m impressed!” She said, and gave me a knowing look. She knew I lied. I smiled sweetly at her.

Pretty soon, Cindy made scrambled eggs and elk sausage for breakfast and fed everybody. Including me and Honey. The sausage was from elk they’d hunted and had processed.

Amazing.

After a while, Ridiculous and Pearl showed up at the camp. He’d seen one of the signs the kids posted at the trail. He pulled my tent out and tossed it to me. I thanked him heartily.  

In a game where every ounce counts, it is a really, really big deal to carry a one-pound-eleven-ounce item for twenty-four hours for a stranger.

A seriously big deal.

Cindy plied Ridiculous with some coffee too, and we all chased the shade around with our chairs as the sun ramped up the day.

Then it was time to go.

I’d decided that since it was obvious I’d have to be off my foot, I could either go to a doctor in Bend and then just stay for an unknown length of time in an unknown location…or I could go home and to a doctor at home and stay for the same unknown length of time there. If it was a week or two, maybe I could start again in Truckee and hike south.

If it was longer…well…

Then at least I was already home.

Cindy offered to help me get wherever I needed to go to get home.

She loaded me and Honey and Ridiculous and Pearl into her mid-size SUV with our gigantic packs, and took us to Shelter Cove.

I collected my resupply that I’d mailed there, and found Turtle long enough to give him a hug. I told him he’d always be my Trail Family and thanked him for everything he’d done for me. He said there were so many blowdowns between the horse camp and Shelter Cove. So many to crawl over.

I knew I’d made the right decision.

Cindy drove me to a neighboring town but we couldn’t find a rental car place. Amtrak couldn’t get me home for a few days. So she drove me all the way to Bend and dropped me off at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I wrote down my address and folded it up with all the cash I had on hand and tucked it into her cup holder.

She hugged me like I was one of her own, and then she was gone. 

The rental car place was a single wide mobile home in a parking lot. Tiny-tiny-tiny. People were in line in front of me.  

Customer Guy: “All you have is a minivan? I’m not driving a minivan. I want a truck!”

Enterprise Dude: “I can work on that for you but yes, we only have a minivan.”

Customer Lady: “Are you serious? A minivan? I don’t want to drive a minivan!”

Me – waving my hand around: “I’ll take the minivan.”

Enterprise Dude waved me over, took me out to the minivan, and even got my pack in there for me. He gave me the lowest rate and just like that I was in a vehicle.

With air-conditioning.

And seats that were comfortable.

And a radio.

And I was so grateful it was my left foot that was injured, so I could still drive.

I drove two blocks to the grocery store and hobbled inside to buy Super Poligrip and birthday candles. The Super Poligrip would cement my permanent retainer back to my tooth until I could get it fixed, and I could cut a birthday candle in half and stick it in my mouth to keep my tongue away from the wire. That part was Honey’s suggestion, and it was a good one.

I stuck a candle in my mouth, and I came to a fork in the road. I could continue straight and drive back down close to the way I’d hiked up. I could revisit all those places in my head as I cruised down the highway.  

All the beauty, all the feelings of the trail, some sort of closure? Did I need closure? Was this over? Would it ever be over?

Or I could turn left and drive through new country. New stuff to see. New air to breathe. New terrain and new valleys and new open sky…

I Turned Left.

The countryside was so beautiful in Eastern Oregon. Neat little bundles of bailed hay. Picturesque rivers and happy little wetlands, and the calm earth that sorted its issues out a long time ago.  

I stopped at every scenic kiosk.

Cute little towns with fun names like Paisley.

The warm glow of the summer evening, sprinkling gold on the tail end of the day.

I got to a funky little town and tried to get a room, but I couldn’t justify the money and I missed my little tent and I didn’t know what to do.

So I found the county fairgrounds, and the caretaker said it was $5 to pitch a tent and $2 to take a shower. I went to the Chevron gas station who wouldn’t give me cash back so I had to pay $2.50 to get a $20 out of the ATM and then the cashier didn’t want to break my $20 unless I bought something.

So I bought some Junior Mints and got the cash to take back to the fairgrounds.

The caretaker guy brought me an ice pack from his house to put on my foot. Another kindness to pay forward.

I turned on the shower and the water ran red for a while. I looked at the old bandaids and balls of hair in the corners and the paint peeling off the walls and the holes in the ceiling and the dead spiders. The water faded to yellow but never got warm.  

Eventually I turned it off.

I could wait one more day to take a shower.

Because then I could shower whenever I wanted. And use conditioner. And the water was hot. And things were clean.  

My home. Tomorrow I would be home.

A calm wrapped itself around me.

Tomorrow.


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Angels In The First Degree

Day 69
PCT Mile Marker 1869.60 – 1875.70 + 10.63 OST

Miles Covered 16.73

Stabbing pains shot through my foot whenever I moved it in my sleeping bag. I gingerly sat up and unwrapped a breakfast bar and brought it to my mouth. My hands still smelled like horses. I breathed it in. I loved horses.

I took a bite of the breakfast bar and the permanent retainer in my mouth broke off of one tooth. The sharp metal wire raked the tender underside of my tongue.

I took three Advil and carefully chewed the rest of my breakfast bar while I touched my foot.

How bad was I injured?

It took me a while to get my sock on, and even longer to get my shoe on. It was really tender.

I packed everything that I could while sitting down, then struggled to my feet and started to load my pack.

I looked at my Sawyer in-line water filter and realized the filter was on incorrectly. With no way to fix it because I’d sent the rest of the pieces home with my Mom. Did it still work upside down? I hadn’t treated any of the water I was drinking yesterday because I thought I was filtering it. Nasty mucky lake water.  

I put Aqua-Mira drops in my water bladder even though it was probably too late. If I got sick from the water, it wouldn’t be for a few days.  

I crossed my fingers.

Turtle took the lead and I fell behind immediately. Every few steps, the pain was so sharp in my foot that it would take my breath away. I paid close attention to the pain. If I could keep from bending my foot any further than ‘x’, I could keep the pain at a minimum. If I used my right foot to step up but my left to step down, and if I used my trekking poles heavily, the pain wasn’t as bad.

But it wasn’t looking good.

I met up with Turtle again about six miles in. He was very busy eating. It looked like he’d probably been eating for a while. Tears welled up in my eyes when he asked how my foot was doing. I shook my head.

I took off my sock and shoe, and Turtle got out some KT tape and wrapped it expertly around my foot.

We looked at maps for options. I told him if I took the Oregon Skyline Trail and he took the official PCT, we could both make it to Shelter Cove around the same time. The OST is 8 miles shorter, and I was definitely slower than him at that point.

He decided to stay with me. We hiked another few miles very slowly and stopped at a Forest Service road. We sat there for a few hours, hoping a car would go by that could give me a ride to a town.   

Any town.

I always heard that after you turn forty, everything starts to fall apart. I just didn’t know it literally meant The Next Day.

A fellow named Ridiculous joined us with his dog Pearl while we sat and waited. He gave me an ace bandage that I wrapped around my foot. Turtle gave me a safety pin to hold it all together.

I had a tiny bit of service if I just held very still, so I put a message on Facebook to see if anyone happened to be coming up this lonely old road that could help me.

Nothing.

Aidan looked up my location on a map and said I was pretty far from just about anywhere.

I decided to try to make it to Crescent Lake. It was 8.58 miles more, and mostly flat.

When I stood up to go, Turtle took my food bag out of my pack and put it in his. He took my tent and handed it to Ridiculous. Then a man named Wayne took my entire pack and started heading up the trail.

“I’ll come back for my pack later,” He said. “This will give you a good head start. I’ve got a wife too, and she’d want me to help.”

I stared. Incredulous.  

Turtle gave me some Aleve, and we were off. Slowly but surely. I sweated and gritted my teeth. My foot screamed, and sores sprung up on my tongue from the probing wire.

Wayne hiked my pack out for 1.5 miles, then turned around to go back for his own. There were no words big enough to thank him. He just smiled and said, “When you get to a place with broken trees on the left, there will be a stand of green trees on the right. Your pack is behind them. Good luck.”

And that was it. And he was gone.

I’d never met him before, and I never saw him again.

And that kind of generosity is amazing, and raw, and human in a way that I’d never experienced before.

Just as he said, I found the broken trees and the living ones, and my pack. 

Turtle stayed with me every step of the way. He stopped with me when I needed it, a smile on his face. He kept it light and happy.

Dwayne and Richard came by with their horses. They looked tired. They scooted by me. I was surprised to even see them, considering how many downed trees they had to navigate in the last day. I couldn’t imagine how difficult their journey had been.

We finally came to a small lake, and Turtle and I went down to the water’s edge.

He crawled out onto some logs that were poking into the water and dipped his dirty water bag into the lake. He brought the water back and we each filtered some of it to drink.  

I wanted to drink as much as I could so that I didn’t have to carry it. Like Turtle always says, “It’s better to carry it in-ya than on-ya.”

My day would have been ten times more difficult if it hadn’t been for Turtle.

We heard horses and looked back toward the trail. Dwayne and Richard were headed back up the trail again.

“Hey guys! Didn’t we already see you going the other way? What are you doing?”

“We’re looking for you,” Dwayne said.

“Me?”

“Yeah, we heard you were injured. Do you want some help?”

“Yes! Yes I do! Thank you!” Tears welled up in my eyes and I hobbled toward them.

I took my food bag back from Turtle and put it in my pack. Dwayne lashed my pack onto Jewel’s back and helped me onto another horse’s back. Sky.

Dwayne gave me Jewel’s lead, and Richard rode behind Jewel with his two horses. Dwayne led the way, holding Sky’s lead rope. My foot dangled, hollering at me, all useless and pathetic.

Dwayne told me great cowboy stories all the way back to their horse camp. About how he’d sold his first horse to buy wedding rings for him and his wife. About his favorite horses ever. About his least favorites. About dogs. About people. About being trail angels for PCT hikers over the years.

When we got back to their camp, I was overwhelmed with their amazing families.  

James, who immediately took me over and sat me down in a chair and brought me coffee. The grandkids who brought me ice for my foot. Cindy, who made me dinner and brought me ice water, and drove me around the camp circle to the restroom so I didn’t have to walk. Carla, who instructed the children to stack wood on top of the cooler so I could elevate my foot, and then kept a fresh beer in my hand all night, and gave me a ziplock bag full of Aleve.

Another hiker, Devilfish, who saw my Facebook post and drove there to make sure I’d made it out okay.

Then Turtle was there too.

They brought me warm water and soap in a basin to wash my hands and face and foot. They wrapped my foot and brought me fresh salad, and when it was time for bed and Ridiculous hadn’t made it, they found a tent for me and put it up. They made signs and had the kids run all over the campground and down to the creek to post them on boards and trees to let Ridiculous know where we were so he could find me and return my tent.

I made one for my loaner tent that read “Here Lies Icebox”.

They offered to take me to a hospital or to Amtrak or wherever I needed to go.

They were Angels In The First Degree.

Their children sang me songs and asked clever questions, were polite and generous and kind. Giving and Respectful.

Dream Children.

One even had the same name as my own brother.

When it was time, I crawled into my loaner tent, lay down in my bag, and stared at the ceiling. My heart swelled up and spilled over with gratitude and good fortune. How does one repay such kindness? How can the news stations report the horror they report when there are good deeds like this that are happening for no reason other than people are good? People are kind. People care and act out of goodwill just because they believe in the goodness of others.

The floodgates finally opened, and I cried and cried and cried.

What was going to happen to me now?


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A Birthday Made To Order

Day 68
PCT Mile Marker 1848.70 – 1869.60 + 2

Miles Hiked 22.9

I didn’t come out of my tent until I’d eaten breakfast, packed my sleeping bag, and put everything away. I didn’t want any skeeters to ruin my morning.

It Was My Birthday!

Turtle handed me a gigantic chocolate bar. “Happy Birthday,” he said.

It was still really early when we hit the trail, and I watched as the sun changed the sky from black to blue. The blue, rich and deep and velvet.

I looked out over glimmery lakes and the earth expanded and breathed. Big and beautiful. Trees aplenty as far as the eye could see.

Mt. Thielsen showed up with the sun, trying to poke a hole in the sky. Jagged and rugged and stunning, with swirly sharp rocks, and fields of boulders that fell off of it a long time ago.  

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

I wore my long-sleeved fleece hoodie for a long time while I hiked. It was cold. But that delicious kind of cold that just makes the world exciting. Puts a little pep in your step without removing digits from your hands.

I stopped at the most beautiful break stop in the world. Thielsen Creek. It made its way through some meadowy places and gurgled and bubbled down some steeper spots. It was clean and clear and cold.  

Turtle took my birthday picture for me, and then humored me by taking about six different shots until I had a good Facebook profile photo that I could use later. I ate cashews and drank clear mountain water, and giggled at how perfect my day was.

The trail went over Oregon’s highest point on the PCT, and then it was peanut butter time. We pulled up a piece of shady ground and spread out lunch stuff.

“The great thing about the PCT is that you get to have a picnic every single day,” Turtle said.

“Yep,” I said through my peanut butter. “Remind me to put salami in my macaroni and cheese tonight. That’s what I want for my birthday dinner.”  

My foot was hurting, so we were taking a little break when two men with four horses caught up to us. Dwayne and Richard are doing sections of the PCT on their horses each summer. They talked about how difficult it can be to do the trail with horses. Often, they have to cut logs out of the way that we can just climb over. Logistics can be difficult.  

I admired them for being out here and going for it! Living the dream.  

They let me take some photos with their horses. Well, correction, Turtle took more photos of me with their horses.

My favorite was named Jewel. She had an orange pack. So since that’s my favorite color, she was by default my favorite horse.

Water was difficult on this section, so we had to go off trail for a mile just to get to a water source. Then we had to carry enough water for the rest of the day and into tomorrow before we’d find water again.  

We hiked down to Lake Maidu. It was beautiful and blue-green and full of fat little tadpoles. They were piled on top of each other, so many that the ground looked black. I tossed a little pinecone and took video of the scurrying all over the place.

So, so cute!

I took off my shoes and tried to stand in the water. I thought it would help my feet, but the bottom was gloppy, slippery mud and I almost fell flat on my butt instead.  

The horses came down to the water, and so did some other hikers, so it was quite the afternoon gathering. We stayed for some time. Turtle walked out over his knees and waited there for mud to settle, then got six liters of water for me and a bunch for himself. I thanked him and connected my in-line water filter, grateful again that I didn’t have to sit and filter all of it.

I tried to get out of the water, but when I picked up my left foot, the mud sucked on it and I gasped with the pain. Man, maybe I’d twisted it harder than I’d thought yesterday.  

I went back to my stuff and cleaned up my feet, poked a hot needle through my toenail on my right foot again to drain it out, and did my best to bandage everything up.

Later in the day, we found ourselves back on an incline with nowhere to pitch a tent. My foot was starting to really bother me, but the only option was to keep going. We came across Dwayne and Richard again, and true to their word, they were hacking away at a gigantic tree in the trail with axes. One horse had tried to go over it and had slipped and almost fell off the side of the super-steep slope when the path gave way under her feet. She had some cuts on her leg. They said they didn’t think they’d get any further by nightfall.  

Richard helped me maneuver around the horses on this tiny slip of trail.

Turtle and I kept climbing over more and more downed trees, imagining how they’d get the horses over or through that mess tomorrow. I was so tired. And my foot made me want to cry, but it was my birthday, so I was determined not to.

Some other hikers were already camped in our spot, but there was plenty of room for our tents too. One lady offered to have a sing-a-long for my birthday.  

Which Sounded Awesome.

But by the time I made my macaroni and cheese and Turtle reminded me to add my salami, and I ate a lot of birthday chocolate, it was getting too late. It was, like, 7:30. Turtle made some hot water and gave me a packet of hot chocolate. I laughed thinking about a recent conversation with my Mom…

Mom: “If you’re having a bad day on trail, you just need a nice cup of hot chocolate.”

Me: “I don’t have any hot chocolate.”

Mom: “If you’re having a bad day on trail, you just need to make a nice cup of hot tea.”

Me: “Mom, I don’t have any tea.”

Mom: “Okay, then have a cup of hot water.”

Me: “Mom, I don’t have a cup!”

I smiled to myself as I stirred my hot water and hot chocolate packet together in my pan and took a sip.

I gingerly took off my shoe and sock on my left foot and took a good look at it. Swollen, but I was sure it would be fine in the morning. I took some more Advil, put on my sleeping clothes, and snuggled into the chilly evening.  

It was such a beautiful day.

A Birthday Made To Order.


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Close Only Counts In Horseshoes and Campsites

Day 67
PCT Mile Marker 1820 – 1836.74+3.36 – 1848.70

Miles Hiked 15.32

“Your pack really stinks. Baaaad.” My nephew pointed out in the back seat as we headed back to Crater Lake to drop me off at the trail.

I laughed. “Yeah. It does.”

We drove past fields of crops of some sort. Clouds of bugs rose high into the sky. Swirling and swirling their way up into oblivion. 

Green Bug Dust Devils.

We located Turtle and loaded him up in the car. We were all smooshed in there pretty good. Five people and two giant backpacks and a cooler and lots of miscellaneous stuff everywhere.

The fire detour was from PCT Mile Marker 1820 to 3.36 miles shy of the PCT reconnect from the Rim Trail at mile 1836.74.

We drove around Crater Lake and got to North Junction where the trail re-opened. Lots of photo ops and hugs and chatting, and then my nephew walked with Turtle and me for about fifty feet on the trail.  

Just so he could say he hiked on the PCT with me. He was part of the journey.

I waved goodbye to my Mom.  

My Amazing Mom.

And then we couldn’t see them anymore.

The trails were flat and fast, and my legs churned under me. After an hour, I had to stop for a peanut butter break, and it was amazing. Then more flatness and fastness.

Turtle and I took turns being in front, so we also took turns eating the other’s dust. It was super fun.

I was going so, so fast! I felt like I was on my bike! Zooming around this bend, and around this little root, and over that rock!

The trail so smooth and happy!

Like a video game!

My feet pounding the trail!

My left foot pounded the trail and a gopher hole opened up under it. My foot turned grotesquely to the left and I started to fall.  

Hard.

I caught myself with my trekking pole. Turtle was behind me.

Good catch! He said. Your pole didn’t break! He said. Now take it easy and walk slow to make sure you’re not injured.

“I’m not injured, I’m just hurt,” I said.

I took it slow for what seemed like a long time. I stopped to wiggle my foot around. It hurt, but not super bad or anything.

Eventually we got back up to regular speed. Not zooming around, but eating the miles nonetheless.

We stopped for a snack break and Turtle pulled out the most smashed Snickers bar I’d ever seen in my life. I laughed and took a picture.

The mosquitos came out to play, and Northbound thru-hikers passed the two of us in droves.

We got a tiny bit of water from a water cache, and hiked uphill. There wasn’t anywhere to stop and it was getting late. Turtle took the lead and shortly found two sort of flat areas on the side of a hill.  

It would have to do.

I pitched my tent on that tiny spit of crookedy earth that barely fit my tent.  

Close Only Counts In Horseshoes And Campsites.

I pulled my sitting pad over near where Turtle was cooking his dinner and set up my stove.

We ate our noodles in happy camaraderie.

I dove in my tent to escape the mosquito birds and took video of the nine million black flies that accumulated between my tent and my rain fly while I was eating dinner.

I snuggled into my sleeping bag, all pleased and happy with myself.


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Everybody Look At Me ‘Cuz I’m Sailing On A Boat!

Day 66

PCT Mile Marker 1820 – 1820

Miles Hiked 0

Smoke billowed into the sky. Huge bubbly grey balloons of it. I thought maybe on our way back to the motel tonight, I should stop and get a dust mask and a handkerchief. I could wet the handkerchief and hold it against my face with the dust mask while I hiked tomorrow.

How many miles would I have to walk in this nasty smoky yuckiness? The PCT official route was closed, but from what we could gather from the Rangers, the Rim Trail was now closed too. All the way to North Junction. If any more of the trail or road closed, Mom would have to drop me off all the way on the northern edge of the park tomorrow. Long drive.

Mom had purchased a boat tour of Crater Lake for my birthday. We had to hike 1.1 miles down 700 vertical feet of trail just to get to the boat!  

Mom and nephew and his other grandma and me. All trekking down into the bowls of the volcano.  

This was our first time inside a caldera, and the first time inside a volcano, if you don’t count Yellowstone. Since that whole thing is a volcano.

I was worried that we’d miss the boat, so my nephew and I raced down the final bit as we saw people boarding a tour boat. But it was the 11:30 boat, not our noon boat. So we all made it with time to spare.

“You were supposed to check in at the parking lot.” The check-in guy said.

“Well, we didn’t.” I said.

“Then you’ll have to use these tickets instead even though they’re the wrong ones.” He drew all over some tickets, crossing out a few words and adding a few others. “There. Sorry that they’re ugly, but you should’ve checked in before you hiked down here.”

“Next time,” I lied. He knew I lied. I knew he knew I lied, and I didn’t care. I didn’t care if my boat tour ticket was ugly. I was going on a boat tour!!! So exciting!!!

We got a close up view of the rock formations as the boat cruised along the edges of Crater Lake. They were jagged and swirly, looming and silent. They were white and orange and black and grey. A dragon’s backbone with tenacious trees sprouting impossibly from rock.

We went around Wizard’s Island, the sapphire water impossibly blue, impossibly deep, impossibly pure.

They took us close to a part of the fire that started yesterday from a falling ember. The trees suffering silently as they burned away, their skin bruising and blistering and finally being carried into the deep blue sky above the crystalline waters.

We came to Phantom Ship Rock and circled it. The water going from thirty feet deep to a thousand feet deep with no in-between. My nephew and I identified every rock that would be a good jumping off spot.  

The boat picked up speed after we saw the brilliant orange Pumice Castle, and waves sent water splashing over us.  

Soaked and screaming with bits of laughter.

I’m On A Boat, I’m On A Boat, Everybody Look At Me ‘Cuz I’m Sailing On A Boat!

Such an amazing birthday present.

We made good time coming back up that hill, and I was super proud of my family. Trucking along with smiles on their faces. 700 feet back up in 1.1 miles.  

That’s pretty steep, in case you didn’t know.

We set out to find Turtle.

We went to the Rim Village but didn’t see him, so we went back down to Mazama Village. In the store, they were telling people that a PCT hiker inadvertently started the fire. I felt sad.

That’s why I haven’t started a single campfire on the PCT. I’m always too worried about not putting it out all the way. It concerns me enough that I just wouldn’t build one. But that’s just me.

We found Turtle at his campsite, and he met my family. We agreed to meet at the restaurant around 9am tomorrow and we would give him a ride around the fire, whatever that meant, come morning.

Back at the motel, I washed my pot and my pan, I filled up my water bladder with clean water. I fiddled with my resupplies and sorted everything I’d need for the next 80-ish miles. I attached my new in-line Sawyer water filter to my water bladder. I was excited that I didn’t have to sit and filter water anymore at any lake or pond or stream. I could just fill up my bladder and it would filter as I drank it. It would save me time and effort, and I was happy.

I loaded my pack up with four different kinds of bug spray. DEET as my final backup. I hate that stuff. I don’t want to use it except as a last, last, double-triple-last resort. But this was Oregon, after all, with mosquitoes the size of birds.

Finally done figuring out what I needed to carry with me, I re-packed all the extras to go back home.

I packed my pack and realized far too late that I didn’t wash the straps of my pack as I’d intended to. They were stink-o-rama.

Well.

Maybe before Washington.