Day Ninety Eight

Today's miles: 25
Total miles: 2051

Feeling motivated, our original plan this morning was to cover 28 miles, for two reasons: one, Portland was two days off and we were hoping to arrive before lunch, and two, we still wanted to catch up with Wocka and Giddyup. We thought they were still only four or five miles ahead of us, assuming they had been doing 25 mile days, but we also knew that they were trying to catch Mudd, Dingo and Sneaks, who were at least ten miles in front of them.

It was always frustrating trying to catch people on trail with no way to contact them. The only opportunities we had for communication were by leaving notes on trail for each other, but even then, only the people at the front could leave notes for those behind them, and not vice versa. In this way it was easy to spend a whole week trying to chase someone, often to no avail (as Sunshine and Treekiller learned while trying to catch Katie and I from Ashland to Crater Lake).

At any rate, 28 miles turned out to be a highly ambitious goal, but we didn't realize that until later in the afternoon. Sunshine, Treekiller and I woke up at 6:00 in time to see the sunrise over Mt. Jefferson. It was a beautiful way to start the morning. We praised our wonderful campsite and I joked that, "too bad Mt. Jefferson is totally blocking the view."

The first few miles were through old growth forest and very beautiful. We stopped for our second breakfast break near a small pond with another great view of the mountain. We ran into a few weekend backpackers who were fascinated by our story of the PCT. These days, it's fun to see people's reactions when they ask us the usual question: when did you start?
We say, April.
heir eyes get wide as they do mental math and realize that was four months ago!
We smile proudly in reply. And 2,000 miles.

We reached a glacial river early in the afternoon and debated whether or not to take lunch. There was a ten mile climb coming up and we ultimately decided to push on to the next river so that we could get half the climb done before eating. We took a long break, and it was time enough for our friend Tears for Beers to catch up with us. She was usually hiking with Toots Magoots, but said they were a day apart from each other and would meet up again at Timberline. Together the four of us tackled the climb, which turned out to be no piece of cake. The elevation gain was exhausting and seemingly endless. One thing I have noticed about Oregon is that although most of the terrain is flat-ish and rolling, the parts that are uphill do not have switchbacks. California was nothing but switchbacks, which is why it took 500 miles to get from Mexico to barely Los Angeles, but in 500 miles you could do the entire state of Oregon. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. Faster but more tiresome.

After five miles of climbing we reached our second glacial river - Milk Creek - which turned out to be a very difficult ford. It was raging and rocky, and glacial rivers are very silty so it was difficult to distinguish how deep the water was. It took us quite some time to find a good spot to cross, and even longer to carefully rock-hop our way across it. I worried about falling into the whitewater on several different occasions, but safely made it across. We didn't even get back on trail to find a good spot to eat; at that point we were starving and simply plopped down on the rocks and pulled out our food bags.

Sunshine's favorite habit at water sources was to take baths, and after today's hot climb he was more than eager to get wet. He let out his usual call, "GETTING NAKED!" and stripped down to his boxers to rinse off his shirt and shorts. We laughed and cat called like we always did and gobbled down our lunches.

We finished our ten mile climb in the late afternoon, and the trail finally leveled out into Jefferson Park, which was a beautiful stretch of green valleys and budding wildflowers with the snowy north side of the mountain rising stoically in the backdrop. I soaked in the views while mentally calculating hours, miles and distance. It was a constant game I played with myself all day: multiplying, dividing, and calculating miles per hour, distance covered and distance remaining to keep myself on track. Today I could already tell that we were falling behind. But it was hard to be frustrated while walking through such beautiful landscape.

I ran into more dayhikers in this area, and found myself behind a father-son backpacking pair at one point, moving slowly along the trail northward. I was a bit baffled, for I couldn't figure out how they had gotten ahead of me. Before I could announce my presence behind them, I heard the ten year old son sigh heavily and say to his father, "so dad, how long would you say you've been holding the map upside down?"
I couldn't help laughing.

Sunshine, Treekiller, Tears and I stopped at a crystal-clear stream for a break before tackling our final steep climb. I had too much caffeine in my system and was practically running up the slope, which only made me feel hungry and exhausted. I was running low on food and rationing, so by the time I got to the top of the hill I tried to eat a granola bar slathered in peanut butter as slowly as I could. I heard someone catch up to me and thought it was Sunshine, but to my surprise saw Sneaks coming over the ridge.
I was stunned speechless. "What..."
Before I could form a cognitive thought, Mudd, Dingo and Coincidence showed up right behind him. And for days I had thought they were fifteen to twenty miles ahead of us!
"What the hell, Sneaks!" I cried.
He started laughing.
"We ended up taking another zero in Bend after you left," Sneaks explained. "But we haven't told Wocka and Giddyup yet because we want to surprise them. They still think we're ahead, right?"
"Yes," I said. "They're about five miles ahead of us, as best we can figure."
"Five miles!" Dingo looked delighted. "We're totally going to catch them."
Sneaks, Mudd, Dingo and Coincidence had a habit of doing big mileage days and hiked quite fast, so I had no doubt they would catch Wocka and Giddyup faster than we would.
"Keep in mind they're hiking fast trying to catch you, though," I pointed out. "They might be doing higher mileage days than we have."
"True," Sneaks frowned. "I kind of thought we'd catch them sooner than this, too. We're already a few days out of town and haven't gotten much closer."
I rolled my eyes and laughed, enjoying the company of old friends, at least.

When Sunshine and Treekiller caught up, we had a mini-reunion and turned to see where the trail would take us next. We were at the top of a ridge, about to descend the northside into a field of snow. Treekiller peered through the trees across an open expanse of terrain and said, "look, I see Mt. Hood!"
We all scrambled to look in the same direction, and gaped in delighted awe at the mountain towering in the distance. Mt. Hood. I didn't think it would strike me so poignantly, but it did. Here was the mountain that represented home, the mountain I had spent many summers and falls and winters hiking, backpacking, skiing, and gazing upon. And here it was, practically within touching distance. I was almost home. I had almost walked home from Mexico! It was a thrilling thought.

At that point it was already 6:00pm and we had at least five miles to go. Though exhausted, we pushed on and were glad the terrain was mostly downhill from there. Walking through the snow reminded me of crossing the mountain passes of the Sierras, and a strange nostalgia struck me. It seemed so long ago.

My pace slackened and I found myself walking the last few miles behind Treekiller, hugging his heels as the sky darkened to black and it grew more and more difficult to see. We reached Upper Lake at 8:30pm and set up camp in the dark, our small group now a little larger.