Day 129 Cascade Locks, OR Mile 2155
After two glorious rest days on the banks of the Columbia River, I’m ready to walk across the Bridge of the Gods for one more state: Washington. My time in Cascade Locks happened to coincide with “PCT Days,” a now annual gathering of current and former hikers to celebrate the trail, catch up, check out the latest gear, and relax on an island in the middle of the Columbia-Lewis and Clark style. My push through Oregon had left me a bit worn thin, and the break was welcome not just for my feet, but also because the event gave hikers a place to gather and reminisce before embarking on the last stretch. With the wind whipping through the Gorge, we all hung out on the island drinking good beer, trading stories from Oregon, and snagging free food from the event. I was also treated to a visit by Fish, Michelle, and her brother Sam, who were out from the midwest for a music festival. Combine that with meeting Ben DiPardo who is newly located in Portland for dinner, and the whole weekend was a great reunion with friends. I got almost nothing done that was productive, but days like these are some of the fondest on the whole trip. Thanks to all who visited thus far and those I still have yet to see!
I ended up one day short on the “Oregon Challenge”, but never mind the day counting, what a spectacular state. At every corner where a view unfolded, I happily reminded myself that this will be my new backyard. From Crater Lake to Mt Theilsen, the Three Sisters mountains to Mt Jefferson, and Mt Hood, they will all be waiting. I may be soon forced to relinquish thru-hiker status and become a meager weekender, but I vow to make the most of the incredible setting that is the Oregon Cascades. At a pace of roughly 30 miles/day, these peaks zoomed by as I headed north up the crest. It was fascinating to watch the scenery change so rapidly; I could approach a new volcano, skirt its flanks, and be aimed for the next one all within a single day. And while there was plenty of meandering through viewless forest and a few nasty stretches of mosquito territory, when the views opened up, they were spectacular. Any climb to the top of a ridge on a clear day left you with a near bird’s eye view of the Cascade crest. The perfect volcanic cones of Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St Helens, and even Rainier came into view, lining up like sentinels all the way to Canada. I can only imagine being on the summit of one; I can’t wait to see that for real.
Plenty of trail magic helped the journey through Oregon too, and while that might have slowed me down a notch, lingering at such spots really makes you see and appreciate what the trail is all about. The mountains will be there, but the people along the way complete the trail. There was Chris and his wife at Shelter Cove Resort, where I meant to stay for an hour and ended up for the night as they graciously fed myself, Radio, and Tickette a hot dinner and root beer floats. I just can’t say no to that last one. Before McKenzie Pass I stopped in at Lava Lake Camp, where Lost and Found had set up a magic stop-fresh chicken salad to ward off the scurvy and cold soda on a hot day. That night I landed at the Big Lake Youth Camp, and thought I was out of luck with every building darkened. But when the Director came by and found Yankee, Wetsmoke, Gangsta Rap, Colin, and I, he made a call to the chef, opened up the kitchen, and treated us to free range of the place and all you can eat. While some of the first rain of the trip came down outside, we were snug in their cabins, bellies full, hardly believing our good luck. Occasions like this remind you how unexpected even a single day can be, and how many good people there really are in this world.
Pressing north to Cascade Locks, I knew I would be able to reunite with many friends on the Columbia, but I worried I would miss two very good ones, Rocklocks and Mr Fox, as they would jump off the trail for a wedding and get back on after I had passed by. Wanting to share one more meal with them, who I had met way back at the end of the desert, I decided to push the pace all the way to Timberline Lodge on the side of Mt Hood in hopes of catching them for breakfast. For much of the trip, I had dreamed of doing a really big day, maybe a forty, or even a fifty, just to say I had. When I woke up with Yankee and Steve at Olallie Lake one Tuesday morning, I decided I might give such a day a go. The terrain proved perfect thoughout the day, and cool conditions were ripe for a PR. I kept ratcheting up the pace and blowing through miles, though unsure whether I could hold up all the way to Timberline. But I just felt good, dang good. By noon I’d done 21, took a lunch break and kept cruising. I cracked my previous best of 36 in the late afternoon, and was stunned when I looked at my watch. As the trail stayed flat and soft with pine needles, I kept hiking along a pace that seemed too good to be true. By dusk I hit a highway and had belted out 44. I toyed with stopping there, but then again, it was time to go big or go home. So on came the headlamp and the itunes, forging into the night woods. I hit another road at mile 49, the wind now whipping and chilling me fast. Only one cure for that: hike faster. My headlamp was dimming, my music was dying, but somehow my legs felt like I was just getting started. Second wind, third wind, I don’t know which one I was at, but it was time for a final push up the flanks of Mt Hood. With one mile to go before the lodge, suddenly the pine needled trail turned to churning sand, wind throwing it in my face, the temperature dropping, and the mountain didn’t look like it wanted me to go all the way. Ahhhhh!!!! Out of the swirling clouds the summit was visible, and above a steely sky of stars. The lodge came into view, its lights shining brightly through the night, its turret gleaming like a Hogwarts castle, an outpost where no human was meant to linger. Victory!!! As I climbed into my sleeping bag beneath a tree, the wind slicing through every meager layer I had, it seemed all too crazy. 7am to 11pm, and I had just knocked down 54 miles. A PR day indeed. The effort was rewarded the next morning in the cozy 1930’s lodge as I surprised Rocklocks and Fox and we shared a delicious breakfast buffet beneath the slopes of the mountain. Needless to say, it was really nice to be inside. Hard work and reward, and just another day on the PCT.
With only one state left, I’m trying to crystallize moments like that in my mind, not let them go, and not forget. PCT Days has had the air of a last dance, a final hurrah before what will likely be an unassuming end to such an incredible journey. In many ways I am ready to be done hiking, done with the long days, the tingling toes, the dirty, tired everything. But in so many other ways I don’t want it to end, and wish this life could float on forever. The simplicity, the camaraderie and friendship, the raw appreciation for the smallest of comforts, the freedom of life on the trail; I hope it hasn’t all been too good to be true. Someone told me Washington is the state of denial, and so while I look forward to discovering its beauty and mystery, it’s hard to fathom all this ending at a clear cut in the north woods. I’ll be holding on to these memories for as long as I can.