Day Ninety Six

Today's miles: 25
Total miles: 2002

We had a goal for today: to make it to McKenzie Pass (12 miles) by lunchtime so we could meet up with Wocka Wocka and Giddyup. They had gotten off at McKenzie Pass two days ago for Bend and would be getting back on trail today. We hoped we would catch them so we could hike with them again, as they had been behind us for most of Oregon. Sneaks, Mudd and Dingo would be getting back on trail at Santiam Pass today (20 miles further) and promised to hike a little slower so that we could try and catch up with them, too. Katie had gotten back on trail yesterday from Santiam Pass, so she was still a good distance ahead of us, trying to make it closer to Portland so that Bryan could pick her up for a wedding she had to attend in a week. We assumed we would meet up with her again afterward.

Sunshine, Treekiller and I accidentally slept in until 7 this morning and didn't get on trail until 8. There were lots of short, steep climbs this morning over beautiful lava flows, and my dissipating sore throat was still lingering enough to make it hard to breathe as I summited. Still, I found myself hiking faster than both Sunshine and Treekiller, and after our first break Treekiller waved me forward, saying,
"You first, Brambs. We'll follow."
The terrain was stark, rocky and beautiful, and so unlike anything we had been hiking that it was hard not to stop and stare. We traversed over hardened lava flows and paused to admire the rolling mountains in the distance. It was cold and overcast today but thankfully not raining.

We hadn't passed many hikers since leaving Elk Lake, but today I rounded a corner near a water source and heard a distinctive voice carrying over the trail.
"Two Bad Dogs!"  I yelled, running to where they were chatting beside a lake.
"BRAMBLE!" Art yelled back, both he and Lynn giving me big hugs. I hadn't seen them in so long (since Etna?) They were always so excited to see me, and likewise I loved reuniting with my favorite birding couple.
We chatted for a bit, and I was glad that they would again be hiking near us for a while.

We made good time and expected to be at McKenzie Pass just after lunch, hopefully not too late that Wocka and Giddyup would leave without us. Unfortunately, the last couple miles before the pass were surprising: we were walking directly through a lava flow. The trail was completely covered in fist-sized rocks and jagged boulders. We had to slow our pace to carefully pick through the terrain, and though we could hear the traffic from the road ahead, the trail meandered maddeningly back and forth for miles. Finally we crested a hilltop and could see the road below, a short stretch of lava keeping us from getting there any faster. And lo and behold, we could see a parked car and Wocka and Giddyup waiting for us!
"WOOOOOO!" Treekiller and I began whooping down to them, and they hollered back to us. Sunshine rounded the corner behind us and caught sight of our friends, as well.
And so we slowly made our way to them, gave each other big hugs, and enjoyed a little bit of trail magic (in the form of Gatorade!) from the driver of the car.

After a quick lunch break, the five of us hiked out together over another stretch of lava rock. This stretch was much longer and rockier, and to keep myself from going crazy I put in my headphones and listened to some podcasts. For once I was happy that it was overcast, because trying to walk this stretch on a sunny day would be brutally hot: there were no trees, no shade, no soft terrain, only miles and miles of lava rock. It hurt the feet and was slow going, despite the interesting views. To pass the time, as we moved through the miles, we joked that we were also moving through years: 1990, 1991, 1992. Treekiller and I took trips down memory lane at each mile.
"1992. I was eight," I said.
"Eight? I was a freshman in high school," Treekiller groaned.
It was fun to walk through my childhood in this fashion.

After escaping the lava flow, our paces spread us out from each other, and after seventeen miles I found myself walking alone. I was in need of a break, and heard voices in the distance, which made me hopeful that Wocka and Giddyup had stopped for a snack. When I rounded the corner I discovered more than that: there were two hikers playing ukeleles and seven other hikers were sitting around them listening to the impromptu concert.

Dumbfounded, I stopped to stare, and Wocka gestured for me to sit down. I did, soon joined by Treekiller and Sunshine, and learned that our two ukelele players were named Moose and Bandaid and that they were hiking southbound, stopping to give small concerts to hikers who passed. We listened to them play for almost a full hour, requesting songs and cheering loudly at the end of each. I found myself smiling as I listened, for only on the PCT was it possible to have an impromptu ukelele concert in the middle of our hiking day and still manage to hike a marathon.

We reluctantly bid the band goodbye and sent them on their way, soon afterward reaching a very exciting milestone: 2,000 miles! We celebrated with tiny bottles of champagne and a few pictures, besides. We only had one mile left for the day and it was still pretty early. Sunshine and I wanted to visit the Big Lake Youth Camp, which was only a little bit off trail, but Wocka, Giddyup and Treekiller decided they wanted to hike a little further. We promised to catch up with them tomorrow.

Sunshine and I hiked down to the camp, where we heard the staff was very friendly and sometimes fed hikers meals during their camp season. The camp was a Seventh Day Adventist Camp for kids and was very well maintained - it had beautiful cabins, neatly tended grounds, and a lovely lake for boats. When we arrived, though, the camp looked very empty. We wandered into the main hall and went through their hiker box, which had some good meals that Sunshine added to his pack. We bumped into Two Bad Dogs and two hikers named Safety First and Rhymenocerous, who said they had found a staff member who was trying to rustle up some food for them. We joined them in the mess hall - dinner had been served a few hours earlier, but the nice staff member went through her kitchen and brought us out all her leftovers: delicious stir fry, vegetables, breads, and jellies. We were beside ourselves and voiced our thanks over and over.
"Oh my God," I groaned as I gobbled up the stir fry. "I can't believe TK is missing this. He's going to be so jealous."
"Seriously," Sunshine agreed. "This is amazing. I'm totally going to be a born-again-whatever-this-religion-is!"

For a while we contemplated charging our phones, eating dinner and then hiking out to join up with Treekiller, Wocka and Giddyup. But as the night grew later and darker, Sunshine and I decided to stay at the camp. As it turned out, instead of setting up tents, the staff let us stay in one of the cabins since they didn't have any campers this week. Delighted, Sunshine, TwoBadDogs and I took over one of the cabins and enjoyed a hot shower before falling asleep in our own little bunk bed. Heaven.