Goodbye Green Tunnel
Done with Oregon! They call it the Green Tunnel, as per the photo above. Some also call Oregon the Moving Walkway because it’s really, really flat. And here I am, staring at Washington across the Columbia River. Feels good.
“What’s a Switchback?” -Oregon
My last day in Oregon was my most difficult day on the PCT thus far. I knew to expect the 4000 ft drop to the Columbia River, which hangs out at sea level, but the reality of doing it was above and beyond. If you’re a hiker and/or mountain lover, your knees probably hurt just reading about that drop. But imagine doing it after a couple of 20 mile days in a row. Ugh.
Usually PCT hikers take an awesome alternate in this section called the Eagle Creek trail, which also drops down into the Gorge but takes you through (and behind!) a series of fantastic waterfalls. The alternate is closed this year due to a fire burning in the area, so us hikers have been forced to make our way east before taking the plunge down to the Gorge. This meant a 26 mile day for me, the last 7 of which were the 4000 ft tumble.
And yeah, it was rough. I had a couple other hikers with me as we groaned our way down the first mile. Absolutely mincing feet and mincing miles. All three of us fell at certain points along the way because apparently Oregon doesn’t know what a switchback is, or doesn’t believe in them. The trail was littered with pine needles, your personal sled guiding you down the mountain, whether you like it or not.
I started running for the last couple miles because it was easier on my knees. When I could hear the river and finally came up on the creek that I knew I’d meet up with at sea level, I saw the trail head sign, dropped my hands to my knees and took juuuust a second to cry. Just a second. When my hiker buds made it down, we all agreed that the experience had bonded us for life. Non-optional.
We worked our way along a bike path to the Bridge of the Gods, the bridge across the Columbia River that connects the PCT between Oregon and Washington, and into a hotel. I shared a room with Rylin, a sweet and beautiful fellow programmer from Santa Monica who was out doing a section as part of a vacation. I’d met her and Tristan that day on the trail and we teamed up for the fated descent to the border. It was her last day on trail, so she gifted me her water filter and all her extra food, which is just the ultimate act of kindness to a thru hiker. Thank you Rylin!
Oh, showers. I don’t think I’d taken a real shower in a couple weeks. I attempted a half-assed deal in a porta-shower in the Timberline Lodge parking lot, complete with glacier water. But there isn’t any soap, guys. That’s one thing a lot of people don’t realize. If you don’t have soap in your resupply box, and there isn’t any in the hiker box (where hikers leave things they don’t want), where’s the soap coming from? It’s coming from nowhere. There is no soap.
So this Cascade Locks shower was for real. The staff at the Best Western were the cat’s meow, and when we checked in they offered us razors, shaving cream, extra shampoo and conditioner. They also offered us deodorant that “actually smells really good,” and I decided not to take that personally. The body wash smelled so amazing that I almost cried. Then comes the actual act of showering. First I bought a Diet Coke, and it came in the shower with me. I peeled off all my smelly, sticky clothes and immediately sat down in the tub, where I almost fell asleep.
When you haven’t taken a shower in a long time, you almost forget how to do it. There are just so many body parts and they’re all important when you haven’t showered in this long. Where are they all? How do you clean them? I figured out pretty quickly that I wouldn’t be able to take a seated shower and actually make any respectable progress, so I creaked my body up off the floor of the tub. The amount of dirt was just incredible. Fingernails, toenails, hair, legs, back, chest, face, arms. That poor, poor washcloth. I scrubbed for a full 30 minutes, and when I got out I said to Rylin, “One shower just isn’t enough.” It wasn’t. I took another shower the next morning and turned a new washcloth brown too. Not going to lie, I’m a little proud.
Somewhere after Timberline, I noticed that my Aquamira had been leaking. Aquamira is a 2 part system that combines droplets from two bottles to create something that’ll make your water drinkable. Science. My Part B was doing okay, but Part A had leaked at some point and was on its last dregs. I’d long since given up on my ceramic MSR filter; the amount of volcanic ash in Oregon’s water kept rendering it useless and/or obnoxious.
The day after Timberline, Part A gave me 3 of the 7 drops I needed before dying as a dramatically huge air bubble. Well. Time to play roulette with Oregon spring water. In other words, I haven’t been filtering my water for the past few days, which was nerve wracking at first but then actually rather convenient. Don’t worry, I had new Aquamira sent to Cascade Locks and I’ll keep using it. In the meantime, let’s all pause to pray to the god of Giardia prevention.
Coming out of Timberline, I ran into some rangers who were beyond excited to talk to me, take down my trail name in their little notebook and chat about my experience on trail thus far. The blowdowns in Southern Oregon had been outrageous, and they said I wouldn’t have anything like that to worry about from there on out. Joke’s on me. Enter Blowdown City.
I came across three sets of blowdowns as I worked my way around Mt. Hood. The first took me off trail down a steep drop off and then a scramble back up through some smaller downs. Fine. Then came the worst kind of blowdowns (or so I thought), where you can get under them if you take your pack off and send it through first. And finally, the blowdown that did me in. It had fallen into the trail, its entire trunk spanning the width of my walking space and extending high above my head. Another tree had fallen directly to the left, and a steep drop off to the right meant the only way was up. I hoisted my pack up onto the tree trunk and climbed up after it, scoping the drop back down to the trail. It wasn’t bad, so I decided to drop my pack onto the trail in front of me and then climb down after it. I dropped my pack and it fell, did a little wobble, and then (in comic slow motion) gravity took it down over the side of the steep drop off, gaining momentum as it went. I watched, helpless, from my spot atop the tree, as my pack rolled down the hill and smacked into a tree, exploding in a cloud of dust. Well.
I climbed off the tree and worked my way down the slope after my pack, clinging to branches as I went. As expected, my one full water bottle had been lost in the scuffle and was nowhere to be found. I dragged my pack back up the hill and threw it up onto the trail before working my way back down to search in earnest for my water bottle. Exactly one second after I’d given up, it decided to show up to the party.
The people who get out and build trails from scratch are saints and you should really get outside and enjoy them. Should you ever find yourself waning in this respect, choose a trail in the Pacific Northwest and wander off it. You’ll see what I mean.
I crossed the Sandy River and lost the trail. Well, I just stopped paying attention. I knew the trail wound along the river, but the river’s edge was really rocky and, uh, sandy, so I followed footprints here and there until there weren’t any to follow anymore. I pulled out my maps and saw I was about 200 ft to the left of the trail. Easy, right?
I started working my way towards the trail, trying to find an open pathway that would fit me and my pack, but I’d always come up on a set of thick shrubbery that I couldn’t get through. I tried to get through these shrubs in three places, out and back, out and back, before letting out a deep sigh and heading back towards the river. I went upstream to try to find a place I could fit through and saw some taller pines, so I gave that a whirl. I worked my way through, moving one branch out of the way so that another could smack me in the face. I tripped over roots and branches of fallen trees, grabbing at other branches to keep me upright as dry pine needles fell all over my pack, into my hair and down my shirt. I’d keep finding pine needles for days afterward. Finally, finally I made it back up to the trail, laughing as I saw the random assortment of plant matter attached to my pack, and surprised by how calm I’d been throughout the whole ordeal. Onward!
The Magic of Town
Laundry! Another thing I’ll let you in on the details of. I wear all my clothes. All of them. This means that when I do laundry, what am I wearing? None of my clothes. Sometimes I’ll wash my sports bra in the shower with me and wear my rain skirt around until my laundry is done. I call that look Laundry Princess. Did I mention my rain skirt is see-through?
Anyways, here in Cascade Locks, they have guest laundry in my hotel, so I wandered the hall in a bath towel looking for the machines. Found them! Wandered back to my room. Casually walking the halls of a hotel, naked, in a bath towel, with yellow crocs. And you have to stay naked for a while because your wool clothes need to air dry, lest you want to shrink to the size of a 10-year-old while the dryer does the same to your clothes.
One other magic thing in town, other than laundry, is that PCT hikers are kind of famous. I went into a brewery and the owner pulled a coaster off of a display on the wall that got me a free beer for being a thru hiker. See, people can come into the brewery and buy a beer for a future hiker who stops in, and they’re given a coaster to write an inspirational or encouraging message on, and voila! Vicarious magic from someone I’ll never even meet. Really, really cool.
The Magic of Hikers
On this last stretch, I ran into Zach, who is the mastermind behind this amazing site. He’s the one who invited me to blog about my journey, encourages me along the way, and is hiking the trail SOBO this year. It was awesome to see him! We high-fived and chatted for a bit – about my experience and his and what each of us would be seeing in the coming miles as we headed in opposite directions. He asked how it’s been so far and I said there’s been a lot to it, a lot happening and a lot changing, and it’s just really, hmm, really
“Tough,” he offered.
Yeah. It’s tough. The trail is of heel and head, and the mental game is just really hard sometimes. What do you think about all day? I’ll need to write about that in a separate blog, but fact remains that when you spend 8 to 12 hours a day walking in the woods, it’s never even a little bit simple. Not that we thought it would be. But in any case, Zach was awesome and before parting ways he told me to tell his hiking partner, when I ran into him down the hill, that he smells. I relayed the message to his partner, Jabba, which prompted a conversation about farts propelling us forward on the trail. We decided that one toot will propel you one tenth of a mile. That’s science. Also, just for the record, this guy is the Hiking Viking, and he’s the one who used the word toot, not me. Just sayin’.
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