I suppose something is really to be said about doing what you love and finding your tribe while doing it. I want to share a bit about some of the amazing people I’ve met on this trail. The two best parts about meeting people out here are that they’re your tribe and they’re often fleeting. Having common ground means you can create connections quickly and easily, and the fact that they’re fleeting means that you’re fully present in every moment you spend with them, likely more so than ever in your life. There’s a real appreciation for the bonds formed out here.
On the trail, people don’t operate on excuses. Excuses don’t exist. Everyone I’ve met out here is an opportunist, even when a fire closes 11 miles of trail and it’s a 45 mile road walk to get around it. We don’t have a victim mentality because we’re out here making our own magic, and even while we’re hiking our own hikes, the arc of hiker culture bends toward reliability and accountability, not only for ourselves but for those around us as well. We lean on each other, communicate, contribute, grow and foster the growth of those we meet along the way. Even when we have no idea that it’s happening.
Hopefully this is the last time I’ll have to talk about shoes. I hiked in to pick up the pair of shoes that Zappos had overnighted, and wouldn’t you know it, they were too small. I thought about carrying them forward until I got thinner socks, I thought about taping my feet and wearing no socks at all. And then I thought about ice cream so I went and got one.
In the end, I decided to contact a trail angel. Trail angels are wonderful people in thru hiker culture who do everything they can to support you on trail. I reached out to one and within 15 minutes he’d sent an email to the local angels asking if any of them could give me a ride to Bend the next morning, and within 15 minutes Angel Gaye had responded that she was willing to give me a ride.
Gaye picked me up right on time and whisked me an hour east to Bend, offering to give me a ride back to the trail the next day and not accepting my offer of gas money. She took me to the post office, where she waited as I mailed my shoes and ice axe, then drove me to REI to find new shoes. Angels, I tell ya.
Toe Socks or No Socks
I think I mentioned previously that the trail has a habit of smacking you in the face, but then she finds a way to make it up to you tenfold. Enter the Bend experience. I checked into a motel and dropped off my pack before heading out to a local brewery, Crux Fermentation Project. I’m hanging out there at the bar when this guy Nick shows up and starts talking about how his car broke down on the coast so he rented one and had come out to Bend unexpectedly to get a ride with a friend back to Idaho.
Turns out Nick was my saving grace, up there with Gaye. We talked about the PCT and he offered some REI perks, seeing as he’s a manager there and all. Yeah, really. His motto is ‘toe socks or no socks,’ so we bopped over to REI and he found me some to help with my blisters, then bought my new trail shoes at a heck of a discount. Where do these incredible people come from?!
We spent the rest of the day hanging around Bend, sampling breweries and having dinner before listening to live music in some grass along the Deschutes. He didn’t have a place to stay so he came back to my motel, where we swam in the pool in our underwear and tried to figure out which planets we could see. In the morning we woke up complaining about how hard the mattress was. I missed my tent. I live in the woods now.
It was a pretty unforgettable 24 hours. Nick took my Altras back to Idaho with him, where he said they’d sit on a shelf in memory of our bizzare experience – until I needed them back. And now with my toe socks and Hokas, I feel like I’m walking on biscuits. Toe socks or no socks indeed.
I twisted my ankles about 40 times walking through the lava fields to my next resupply at Big Lake Youth Camp, a Seventh Day Adventist camp right off the PCT. This place was spectacular. They did laundry and offered showers and meals to hikers – all donation based. I hiked up in the morning to make the breakfast hour, and actually ended up running towards the end because there were so many beautiful things to take pictures of that I almost missed it.
Now I knew that I’d meet incredible people on the trail, or at least I’d been told I would, but I didn’t have any expectations. I was too preoccupied with, like, where my next water source was. But I come back from breakfast and here’s this thru hiker called Moonshine Pete and he’ll be the first Bulgarian to hike the PCT (that we know of). He’s sitting there in his underwear waiting for his laundry and so we struck up a conversation. He’d hiked everything up to that point and would hit 2000 miles soon (I’d recently hit 200), pushing 35 mile days and going solo. We stayed for lunch and then decided to just stay the rest of the day because…why not?
Moonshine exploded my mind with his happiness and simplicity and kindness. When I think back to what exactly we talked about or what we did, there isn’t anything noticeably substantive. I came back from the shower and he said “Wow, you’re like a totally new person.” I flicked my hair off my shoulder and replied, “So fresh, so clean, so 2017.” He laughed and told me about a time a deer came up and ate a hole in the dirt where he’d just peed. That’s just how relationships work out here, so simple. Boom, instant bond. We laughed about how my laundry would take a solid minute to smell bad again once I got it back (as I sit here with sweat rolling down my back beneath my shirt). Hottest week of the year in Oregon, I tell ya.
More hikers trickled in throughout the day and we made a plan to hike at a pond a few miles up, but Moonshine would continue past there. He was the first to take off and we wished him well, then I left about 15 minutes behind him. When I pulled up at the campsite, who was there but Moonshine Pete! “I thought you were hiking on!” I said. He said the company had been too good and he wanted to spend more time together. Simpático. So we passed around a bag of trail mix from the hiker box and he showed me a video from one of his favorite hitchhikes. He pressed play and his bearded face filled the screen, a loud whirring and rushing sound was all you could hear. “Are you in a speedboat? Are you on water?” I asked. He started to laugh in the video, one of those highly contagious laughs. He could barely get words out and his smile lit the screen. “I’m hitchhiking…” he breathed through his laughter, “I’m hitchhiking…” the video panned around to his left to a big, giant…horse. “I’m hitchhiking in a horse barn!” He erupted into a fit of laughter as his friend behind him had to keep sticking his arm out to keep the horse from swaying into him. I just about fell off my log laughing and asked to watch it again. We told stories until the last rays of light disappeared behind Hayrick Butte and the next morning he’d continue on and we’d likely never see each other again. See? Fleeting. Relationships are precious in these parts.
Heading into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, the Whitewater Fire loomed ahead. 11 miles of the PCT had been shut down and the forest service reroute was a 45 mile roundabout road walk. Bummin, especially because the closure was through one of the most scenic parts of Oregon. Another hiker called Bones had asked his brother to come pick him up and drive him beyond the closure. They offered me a ride and I was quick to take it, so we set off to hike the 30 miles to where his brother would pick us up.
Leaving the Mt. Washington Wilderness, I stopped and looked back at the mountains I’d been circling over the past few days. Broken Top, two of the Sisters and Mt. Washington dominated the skyline from my perch at second breakfast. I walked the ridge of Three Fingered Jack and headed up trail thinking to myself ‘hmm, I bet soon I’m going to see…’ Ah! Mt. Jefferson. There it was. It’s so fun to hop from one mountain to the next, spotting your next one way off in the distance and coming right up on it the next day, then just as quickly skirting around it. Everything seems so far away, but then it’s suddenly upon you.
We sat at a lake waiting for this guy to come pick us up and the fire was raging in full force on the other side of the ridge. I have a theory that all of the PCT in Oregon will eventually be charred. So much of it is already burned, seemingly from natural causes. It’s good in some respects because it gives the forest a chance to regenerate, but also crazy to imagine what this land would look like without humans to mitigate these things. The smoke continued to billow out over the lake, seeming to get worse every hour. A helicopter flew in low over the lake, circled around and came back through. I figured they were either going to use the lake for water, or they were trying to tell us something. When they didn’t grab any water, I knew it was time to get out of there.
We hiked the last couple miles out to the forest road, the sun an eerie red behind the smoke above us. The light that flooded through the trees painted the understory an orange hue and smoke wafted through the trees above us, getting thicker as we walked. Ash started to fall in the last quarter mile before we came up to the road, and a fireman was there to meet us. I’d been right, the helicopter was signaling us to get out of there. The fire had turned in the last couple hours and was burning its way south, which will likely lead to more closures on the PCT. He gave us a ride out to the highway, where we waited no more than 5 minutes before hitching a ride with a woman into town.
We waited for Bones’s brother at a convenience store. I wandered under the fluorescent lights feeling bewildered. I didn’t want any of this stuff. I wanted to eat dirt. But I was so hungry, it was almost 9pm, so I grabbed some donuts and popcorn and a Snapple. His brother showed up and I forced a 20 in his hand; he didn’t understand the magnitude of the favor he was doing by driving the 2.5 hours after work to come out and get us. We took a long forest road out to the PCT that was riddled with potholes and just a huge pain to drive. We were in Bones’s ’97 Mazda pickup, a two wheel drive with the entire interior panel ripped out of the front. Bones and I gritted our teeth and winced with each clunk over the road, circling the blood red moon. We arrived at the PCT at 10:30, completely wired from the ordeal, apologizing profusely to his brother that he’d have to drive it back. We quickly found a campsite, drank a beer and passed out. No breaks on this trail, tomorrow would be yet another day of walking.
Next up is Timberline Lodge, and then just about done with Oregon! Timberline is renowned on the PCT for having the best breakfast buffet, and I’m so excited about it that it’s hard for me to even type these words. Lately I’ve been thinking about all the food I threw away back in the regular world and wanting it back. The second half of the caramel macchiato that I hated and threw away under my desk at work. All the times I ordered bean and cheese burritos and Mikhail made fun of me because I’d dump out half the beans and cheese. Too many beans and cheese! The broth from my favorite ramen place in Seattle. The half tub of peanut butter cup ice cream that I got rid of before moving out. All of my cheese sticks that Julia ate. Or a sandwich from Bakery Nouveau. Or a cheeseburger from Skillet. Or, like, a pizza. I don’t know why I’m writing this, it’s just making me upset. If I could get all those things droned to me, that would be great.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.