Fighting Through the Blues

Welcome to Oregon

The final miles of California come at dusk on the first of July. Blowdowns abound one last time, as if California is trying to slow us down: don’t go, we’ve had so much fun, stay just a few more minutes!

In the near darkness, we cross the state border. The miles into Ashland are a stark contrast to much of northern California, as these are noticeably maintained and manicured. Trail magic seems to be everywhere. Crater Lake at sunset and sunrise was monumental.

JourneyMantis, myself and Head Start at Crater Lake

Being an Oregonian, I feel pride when Head Start and Mini Chimi say “I love Oregon!” It’s nice to be home.

For a moment.

The M Word

After a nice Independence Day stopover in Ashland, we continue north all warm and fuzzy. Journey Man, Mantis (aka JourneyMantis), Head Start and I come across a roadside barbecue spot on the first night out of town, and camp with our good pals Coyote and Catch Up (nee M. and Lizard King). Life is good.

Then it started.

Suddenly walking in mosqito misery over the next week (month? eternity?), we daydream about a grand tale in which the mosquitos are sentient and malicious tricksters.

Surely they had struck a deal with the trail maintenance crews south of Ashland.

Lure them in. Make them think Oregon is amazing with the lack of blowdowns and perfect terrain and beautiful forests and trail magic. They’ll tell their friends to hurry up and get here. Once north of Ashland they will be committed to getting through the state and it will be too late! In exchange, we will promise to stay out of Ashland and south, leaving you and your families in peace from our relentless zinging and blood sucking! Do not stop maintaining that trail or we shall return!

All the way to Shelter Cove, with little reprieve, we walk through clouds of these beasts. We wear rain gear and head nets in the morning and evening, and when it’s too hot midday we walk fast in our civilian clothes, hoping to outrun them.

Mosquito morale is evident

This struggle for sanity in the buzzing is the first of my Oregon woes, and I can’t overstate how overwhelming it is to be in this for days on end.

Burn Zones and Blowdowns

I’ve been inspired in past posts to show life growing in the burn areas. From Ashland to Mt Jefferson, we see such recent devastation that the landscape is otherworldly barren. There are no saplings or even weeds for hours at a time.

Each step kicks up ash that cakes our legs. I don’t want to think about what my lungs look like. Everything is black, brown and gray.

“Do you think fifty per cent of Oregon is a burn zone, or is that hyperbole?” I ask Head Start, somewhere between Olallie Lake and Jefferson Park.

“I don’t think it’s that high, maybe thirty or forty per cent,” she replies. And we return to the somber silence for another several miles.

The black and the brown

Scattered through the Burns and also in some more remote stretches, trees are blown down over the trail. In one section after Santiam Pass, it’s miles of walking more on trees balance-beam style than walking on dirt.

Being over halfway through this trek, walking among the woes, the Blues begin to set in.

The Blue Feeling

It’s more of an ache than anything acute. There is a general soreness in my feet and legs after 1500 miles. There is a general melancholy when everything around me feels like an ashy lifeless wasteland.

I am close to my home town of Portland, and it would be so easy to just be swallowed by its familiarity. No more fourteen hour days of walking to set up camp in the dark in the little green space we can find and wake up at dawn to do it again.

In this spiral, I cling to my mantra. We choose to go to the moon, and do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

The Antidote

As all of this is going on internally, the proverbial sun does its best to poke through my clouds.

I’m close to home, and with that comes meetings with family and friends throughout these weeks in Oregon. So many go out of their way to cross our path, with much appreciated good cheer and generosity.

Near the South Sister, we encounter JD and Kevin, friends from Portland who are out hiking with their boys on a weekend trip. At Shelter Cove and Santiam Pass, we are scooped by my parents who host us at Sunriver. We are greeted again by family at Timberline Lodge, and in a few days at Cascade Locks there will be camping with still more friends.

Friendly encounters

I walk mostly with Head Start, and it’s amazing to have such a kind, caring, hilarious and resilient companion. Our friends JourneyMantis are often within a mile or two, so we spend many lunches and dinners together.

This village of connections lends to the lifting out of the mosquito and burn zone funk. After a brief adventure fording a creek followed by bushwhacking and rock scrambling, we are north of Mt Jefferson and the landscape is again lush and green.

The green of Jefferson Park

I find myself cheerful at this point, reinvigorated and shouting into the woods, “I love hiking!”

What’s Next

Soon we will be into Washington.  The terrain is reportedly steep and grand again, after Oregon’s relatively mellow and wooded slopes. We intend to get through Goat Rocks before returning to California for the 542 miles we skipped when the Sierra melt began.

In September, we’ll return for the final weeks to the Canadian border. Four months down and two to go.  It feels so far away and so close at the same time. I hope the Blues are behind and that the remaining time will be adventurous and rewarding.

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