The Trail Provides: PCT Days 101-106
Day 101. Miles: 8.9 Total: 1728.1
In the morning, we take an Uber to the REI, and I buy new shoes, my fourth and possibly last pair. In the parking lot, a man asks if we need a ride to Ashland. It was our plan to hitch, but we didn’t even need to stick out a thumb before he offered. They say “the trail provides,” and even though I’m tiring of some of the trail maxims, this one proves true over and over.
In Ashland, we have pizza. I know Rookie and Jackrabbit are in town, so I invite them. It’s the first time I’ve seen either one since Truckee. Jackrabbit decides to hitch back to trail with us.
The fires are still raging. McKinney is 50,000 acres, and PCT hikers from Shasta to the border were all dumped here, so we’re worried it’s going to be a huge bubble back on trail. Dolphin decided to skip up to Washington. Wild Card and Leaky took a bus west to hike the Oregon Coast Trail instead of the PCT. I was tempted by the prospect of beaches, but Crater Lake was one of the landmarks I was most excited about for the whole PCT. I decide to stay with Rolls, Royce, and Smiley for the stretch from Ashland to CLNP and decide after that whether I want to stay inland or bail to the coast.
Back on trail, the air is hazy with smoke. We make camp on a disused forest road. In the middle of the night, I sit up straight in my tent. A sound woke me up, a steady patter on my rain fly.
I have never felt so grateful to camp in bad weather. There’s thunder and lightning, but only briefly. The rain lasts a few hours, a steady, drenching, beautiful rain.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, I think, not sure whom I’m grateful to. I fall back asleep to the hypnotic sound of the raindrops.
Day 102. Miles: 29.1 Total: 1757.2
The next day dawns cool and clear. I pack up my wet tent and start hiking. I encounter a rattlesnake in a wide, prickly meadow. He slithers into the shade among some rocks, and I continue on my way.
It storms again at lunch time. Thunder, lightning, and sweet, sweet rain. In the evening, the woods are thick with clouds of mosquitoes and I go to bed early.
Day 103. Miles: 27.7 Total: 1784.9
The Oregon woods are green, and the trail is easier than the last few days in NorCal, but it is not flat. It’s Jackrabbit’s birthday, and he passes by mid-morning on his 24-hour challenge bid. He’s aiming for 100 kilometers, getting to Mazama Village by 9am tomorrow.
The skies are clear and blue. All evidence of the nearby fires is gone.
Day 104. Miles: 27.2 Total: 1812.1
We hit 1800 miles today. Oregon is a mix of cruisy woods, inconvenient blow downs, and scenic ridge-walking. We hike through a burn in the afternoon. I listen to audiobooks to pass the time.
Late in the day, as I’m scrambling over a blow down, I scrape against a second fallen tree leaning into the trail. I hear fabric tear. The stretchy side pocket of my pack has a huge gash. I swear in annoyance. I adore this pack, and this is the second avoidable mistake I’ve made, resulting in damage. Last week, I left a wrapper in the other side pocket, and a mouse chewed a hole through it to reach the crumbs. Now it’s difficult to store my water bottles on the outside of my pack.
For now, I plug the hole with my polycro ground sheet, crumpled in a ball. Hiker trash, indeed.
Day 105. Miles: 10.9 Total: 1823
The mosquitos this morning came straight from hell, I decide, as I hike toward Crater Lake. The bugs were bad in the Sierra, but only when you stopped moving. By donning my rain gear and head net at camp, I was mostly able to avoid bites. These Oregon mosquitos, on the other hand, are happy to eat on the go.
I hustle up the trail, sweating with exertion, but even half-jogging, the mosquitos follow me in a dense cloud. I am relieved to reach the park boundary and the road down to Mazama Village.
At Mazama I pick up my package and eat ice cream. The trail is closed for the Windigo Fire north of the park, and while we rest from three big days in a row, Smiley and Royce hatch a scheme to hike around the closure. Their plan involves a 30-mile water carry and walking along a railroad track, so Rolls and I decide to stick to the more typical course of action: hike to the highway and hitch to Shelter Cove, where the trail reopens.
While the boys hustle up to walk the Rim trail for sunset, she and I make camp near the PCT junction and drink canned wine to celebrate our more relaxing plan.
Day 106. Miles: 20.7 Total: 1908
Crater Lake is stunning. It’s one of the deepest lakes in the world, and its water is impossibly blue. The Rim Alt is steep and challenging, but one of my favorite parts of the PCT so far.
Technically, it’s not actually the PCT. Which, I’ve realized, is okay. If there’s any silver lining to the smoke cloud of the wildfires, it’s that I’ve been forced to relinquish my AT white-blaze purism. Until Seiad Valley, I had hiked every inch of open PCT, even when it meant forgoing interesting alternates. Now that my continuous journey from Mexico to Canada has been interrupted, the thought of taking the less scenic “red line” trail marked on Far Out feels laughable compared to this incredible alternate.
I can see how once you skip any trail, it might become a slippery slope into lots of yellow blazing. For this reason, I don’t regret my early purism, but I also don’t regret my decisions now. Taking the Rim Alt and hitching from the highway to Shelter Cove both feel right for me, without any uncertainty or second thoughts. I admire the boys for their sense of adventure in seeking out a road walk, but I’m also confident that the way Rolls and I are handling the Windigo closure still fits well within my definition of a PCT thru-hike in 2022.
Once we leave the Rim, the trail flattens out, and it is the easiest stretch of PCT so far. We reach the highway that marks the Windigo closure by mid afternoon. A man has parked his van there, and he is socializing with the other hikers already there. He immediately gives me a strange vibe, and this only deepens when Rolls and I approach the road to hitch.
“You’d have better luck topless,” he calls, as we stick out our thumbs. There are two male hikers still there. I don’t know them well, but we’ve leapfrogged throughout the last few days. One of them makes eye contact with me after the strange man’s inappropriate comment. It’s brief, but the unspoken “Yikes, this guy is weird” exchanged in that moment is somehow reassuring. It’s clear just from a glance that our fellow hikers have our backs.
Luckily, it’s only a few minutes before a much nicer gentleman pulls over. He has lots of room in his truck, and all four of us are able to leave the strange man behind with his van. A true trail angel, the man drives us the full hour to Shelter Cove, well out of his way. Initially he agreed to just get us halfway, but after we chat about the fire situation, he takes us the remaining distance to the resort and refuses the gas money we try to give him.
As a result of his generosity, we reach Shelter Cove just minutes before the shop closes, and we’re able to purchase a resupply to get us to Bend. While we sit on the porch and eat chicken fingers and ice cream, more hikers arrive. They’re friends of Rolls, Royce, and Smiley from their Sierra tramily: more Germans, a young Bavarian couple named Cloud Whisperer and Undecided. The restaurant has closed by now, but the young woman reopens for them. Everyone we meet at Shelter Cove is unbelievably kind to us, even though we’re making them stay late.
There are more fires nearby. The PCTA has posted a warning that this section of trail could close imminently due to heavy smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire. Smiley and Royce are a day behind on their detour. We considered waiting for them here, but we want to sprint through the upcoming section before it closes. We’ll zero in Bend and wait for them there.
For now, we just cross our fingers that our good Oregon luck will continue. The trail provides, I remind myself. I’ll probably write a whole future post about why I’m sick of hearing “Hike your own hike,” but for now, this adage remains true. The trail provides. After all, even when the McKinney fire robbed us of our CA/OR border crossing, it resulted in one of my favorite nights on trail, our big family dinner and game night in Medford.
Even if Cedar Creek grows, the trail will provide… something. What it will provide? Who knows.
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