120 Miles Done: Through the Smoke and Fire to Crater Lake
I just woke up in my little one-person progressively-worse-smelling tent, wandered to the actual bathroom! with actual running water! at this crater lake campsite, rubbed layer one of dirt off my legs (there must be at least seven more layers – but there’s a rumor I might actually get to shower today?!), started eating a pack Oreos for breakfast and finally – finally have time to blog.
It’s been ten days, 120 miles and we have reached our first resupply and are taking a zero (a day off). My brother joined me five days in and his handful of blisters are bigger each day and maybe I need a break, too.
But oh what a trip it’s been! Endorphin-filled, that’s for sure. Hunger, too. And hot hot hot. There’s smoke in the air all over southern Oregon and fire in the trees, so I had to start ten miles north of the border and give up a bit of my perfectionism in the process. My parents dropped me off and within five minutes I’d lost a pole basket and a jar of peanut butter. That evening and night everything felt like an experiment – had I remembered everything? was I really set-up to do this? was this all for real? And falling asleep felt more like impossible with the dark and it’s noises spreading around me. Especially when a deer came right up outside my tent. And when my rain fly kept rustling. I’ve definitely come to appreciate sunrise. Light. Company.
And then, really, it’s just walking, glorified walking. First through tall grass and meadows near Ashland, then down bird-filled dry forest to i5 and almost on a highway for twenty miles because of fires but they opened the trail again in time, thankfully. Then a huge lava field like being on mars, endless black and red stones up and down and all around and underfoot. My bum ankle is actually doing okay, though, thanks for asking. And finally to this last bit of sky lakes, craggy peaks with smoke blowing through them and their blackened burnt empty hot hot HOT drought forests left ravaged by the fires last summer. Huge white tree trunks snapped off, charcoal black ash underfoot, the sun burning down on us all day. No water source for twenty miles. Dry, dead forest. And my feet now have taken me to here, crater lake, this place of water and people and electricity. Phew.
Every day it’s: wake up early with sunrise, limbs still aching a bit. Check and drain blisters, eat a huge bowl of oats and sugar and still feel hungry, pack up tent and all into my backpack (an art I’m perfecting), filter water from the nearby stream/spring/piped in water source, boot up, walk. Continue until hungry, eat, repeat. Sweat a lot. Hit mosquitos (we must be at nearly 100 bites apiece). Complain. Hum. Do math in my head to pass the time. Daydream about couches and pools and what the people I love are up to. Devise systems to get there faster (huge catapult. horses. drones?). Walk until my feet are sore and complaining and the day gets quieter and the sun turns that dayglo red of smoke-filled sunset skies. Then, walk a bit farther. And, eventually, make camp, eat, stretch a bit, lay in the dark listening to that night’s particular dangers (nearby fire? breathing in all this smoke? large animal cracking branches nearby!?), and with enough exhaustion, slip into deep deep heavy hard-ground sleep.
So my feet are bruised and hips sore and IT band so tight but after eating French fries and a veggie burger last night and stumbling back to camp in the haziest food comas of our lives, Alex and I were laughing, that’s for sure. And my muscles are coming in and I’m proud. I’ve learned real quick what items are essential (at least four liters water storage capacity!) and what I need to ship home ASAP (why am I carrying the weight of a portable keyboard and pocket guide to yoga every day? do i really need a raincoat yet in the land of fire and drought?). My expectations change daily – I shouldn’t try to keep up with the thru-hikers who started at Mexico, no, and that means section hiking is a little less trail family and trail name filled than the whole Real Deal. Also it’s not all beauty and scenery, not in the classic sense, we walk through dense dead forest and near logging zones and houses and highways. And there’s cell service often, enough to sometimes leave me confused about my desire to log onto Facebook while on trail. And while often it’s solitude, it can also be a veritable highway out there, hiker after hiker after tent after tent.
So I’m alive, yes, and living. The pure focus and intensity and pay-off of this thing has already kicked the post-grad blues. Sometimes in the moment I hate it, for sure, but I’m learning to watch my emotions pass almost comically – every day there’s a worry or all-consuming problem, the next day (or hour) it’s usually gone. And today with a lake and candy and water and rest and new people – all goofy nature-loving endurance-athlete types – let me tell you, this feels like a place where I fit.
So I’ll get off my phone now, and go buy more sugar and update you as soon as I can. Enjoy your couches and running water and shade for me! Your beds! Soap! Grocery stores! Ok — talk later,
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