Oregon by Starlight

Traversing Oregon has been a slow unfolding of starts and stops.

After taking time off to heal a badly sprained ankle, I was ecstatic to walk across the Bridge of the Gods and into Oregon—my first state completed and my first state border crossed. It was the beginning of September and many hikers were like me: finishing off Oregon because wildfires had caused them to skip ahead. I expected to wrap up by the third or fourth week of September.

But that’s not how it turned out. Within a week of returning to the trail, I found myself sick. I thought I was just reacting to wildfire smoke and feeling run down, but I made it to Santiam Pass and into Sisters only to discover I was covid positive.

The urgent care doctor told me my hiking season was over, but he eventually relented and said I could resume hiking if I took at least two weeks off and then took it easy. I spent a miserable week alone in an Airbnb in Redmond and then flew home for a week before returning to the trail.

I flew back to Redmond in late September and met a trail angel named Carbs (aka Ron) at the airport. He was one of the Portland-based trail angels who had supported me when I sprained my ankle in Washington and has been on-and-off following along to help out with my trail. I was amazed by his generosity in driving out to help me get back on the trail. He drove an SUV with a little travel trailer with a kitchen and bed, and we drove out to Willamette Pass to camp together at the trailhead: him in the travel trailer and me in a tent. I made us burritos and salad for dinner and we talked about life for a few hours before I disappeared into my tent.

When my alarm went off at 5 AM, it was pitch black out. I crawled out into darkness and started walking with the trail lit by my headlamp. I got to experience the gradual pale blue glow of the forest slowly waking up to dawn and the tangerine and peach colors of the Oregon sunrise.

Walking through the dark, it was very cold. With thick mittens, a fleece, and my puffy jacket, I managed the cold well enough—and it was even sort of fun, walking in the dark forest all bundled up for the cold.

Carbs met me a few days later and drove me out to Diamond Lake Resort, where I found my resupply package and bought us dinner. I was glad to see him. During my two weeks recovering from covid, the last of the shoulder season backpackers had seemingly disappeared. I was camping entirely alone and saw almost no one as I hiked during the day.

Late September meant that the fall colors were out in full force, and everything was dry. Oregon is already a dry section of the trail, but coming so late season I was finding all the seasonal streams dried up, campground faucets turned off, and even lakes empty of water. Even sources marked reliable in FarOut were sometimes dry. I found myself carrying as much water as I had back in the desert section.

I hiked from Willamette Pass to Ashland over 10 days. The hardest part of every day was getting out of bed and hiking in the cold and dark before sunrise. It was a contemplative, beautiful section of trail, free of bugs and largely unpopulated. And Crater Lake was even more epic and incredible than I expected.

When I reached Ashland, I stopped and flew home for a week to attend some commitments I’d made outside of the PCT (when making those plans, I never imagined I wouldn’t have finished my trek by October).

Currently I have 168 miles to go: 50 miles south of Santiam Pass that I skipped when I caught covid, plus the 118 miles from Ashland down to Etna that I missed for wildfires at the end of July. There’s an additional 50 miles I’m missing because of the Cedar Creek fire, but that fire crossed the trail and is still raging so I think there’s no chance I’ll make it up this year. And I’m fine with that; I have made up far more than an extra 50 miles along the way.

I am trying to arrange part of my end-of-season trip to meet up with another hiker friend who missed Oregon for the fires and had to take time off to recover from a stress fracture.

I’ve spent so long focused on finishing up Oregon that I’ve joked to my husband that I’m basically an Oregon resident at this point. But today I’m flying back to try to finish off the very last bit of the trail I missed. I’m feeling humbled and grateful for this experience and a little shocked that, after all this time, it might actually be coming to a close.

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