Today's miles: 19 miles
Total miles: 2097
I woke up this morning to the sound of rain. When you live outside, this is one sound you dread hearing, for there's nothing worse than packing up soggy gear and walking in the rain all day.
I could soon hear the rustling of everyone else waking up, but it seemed we all were loathe to start hiking, because no one moved to pack up tents just yet. Instead, I began hearing the stirrings of morning rituals: Sunshine cooking breakfast beneath his rainfly, Treekiller deflating his sleeping pad, Sneaks loudly listening to Taylor Swift on his iPod speakers.
"So funny story," I heard Dingo say aloud from her tent, "when we were in Bend, I borrowed Sneaks' phone to look up something. You know how the search bar in Google likes to auto fill things when you start to type, based on what you've typed last? Well, when I started to type 'what', it auto filled to 'what is Taylor Swift's address?'"
We all cracked up, and Sneaks interrupted loudly, saying, "in my defense, I was looking up her e-mail address. I was trying to get tickets to her show." When we all laughed harder, he added grumpily, "there's nothing wrong with liking Tay-Tay, guys."
Shortly afterward, we heard him humming to himself and asked aloud, "did everyone remember to comb his beard this morning?" Sneaks carried a small pocket comb and prided himself on combing out his bushy thru-hiker beard every morning and night.
"Is having a beard a prerequisite?" I called back.
I was the first to venture outside my tent. I made myself a warm breakfast and packed up my gear as fast as possible. Sneaks, still inside his tent, began playing his iPod louder, this time an Aretha Franklin tune.
It's raining men! Hallelujah it's raining men!
We laughed, and Sunshine poked his head out of his tent, calling back to Sneaks, "Hey! There are no men out here!"
Eventually everyone began emerging from tents and packing up gear. Sunshine showed off his skills like a magician: "I packed up my whole pack without ever getting out of my tent!!" Considering how small backpacking tents are, it was an impressive feat. Pretty soon the rain was coming down harder, and everyone was shaking out sopping wet rain flys and trying to get all our gear stowed before it got soaked.
Sunshine was the first to be ready, and as he darted out of camp he called back to us in glee, "I want this recorded!! Four months on trail and I'm finally the first one out of camp!"
The rain slowed in the early afternoon, and we spent our time walking through delightfully lush forests and entered the Mt. Hood Wilderness. We passed by Timothy Lake at second breakfast, taking a few moments to shake out rainy gear and pause to enjoy the view. We were getting closer and closer to Portland, and I couldn't help but get excited about going home.
At lunchtime we came upon Little Crater Lake, which everyone passed by the side trail at first, but Sunshine was adamant to see it, telling us, "guys, it's only four tenths of a mile off the trail! Four tenths!!"
Here's the thing about thru-hikers and side trails. I know this will sound ridiculous, but we hate walking extra miles. (I know, I know, we're hiking 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, and how is that not extra miles, right?) But unless we can legitimately count every PCT mile in our running total for the day, we will not stray off the path. Side trips to get to town are a hassle (remember the eight mile Kearsarge Pass we had to take in the Sierras to get to the town of Bishop to resupply? That 16 mile round trip didn't count in our mileage totals, and that's just annoying) and any campsite, water source, or road that is more than 0.4 miles off trail is not worth the hassle. This sounds even more ridiculous when you think back to the desert and remember how difficult it was to find water. We would literally walk an extra 15 miles on the PCT rather than take a 0.6 mile side trail to a water source. Crazy, right? But 0.6 miles is 1.2 miles round trip, and if it's not mileage on the PCT, it's not worth it.
I'm not saying this logic makes any sense, I'm just saying this is how thru-hikers think. We're slaves to walking every mile of the Trail, but anything off trail.... it's a hard, hard sell.
So when Sunshine said Little Crater Lake was "only" 0.4 miles off trail, we still had to stop and think for a while about whether it was worth it. Almost a mile detour... that would slow down our progress, make us backtrack to the PCT, etc. etc. But after much convincing from Sunshine that it's totally worth it, we turned off trail and followed a small wooden boardwalk to the lake.
In the end, it was worth it. Little Crater Lake is just like it sounds: a small, clear, 34 degree, 45 foot deep pool of water that was so blue and clear that you could see straight to the bottom as if it were only two feet deep. It was a lovely spot to take a lunch break, and it turned out we weren't the only ones to think so. Three other thru-hikers named Grumpy, Wagon Wheel and Sting were also sharing the spot. (Sunshine always mixed up their names and called them Grouchy, Wheelbarrow and Spike, to much hilarity.)
There was a small lookout bridge beside the lake which offered a dry spot to eat, and most of us sat beside it while our tents were strung up in nearby trees to dry. Sunshine, however, found his own little spot across the lake beneath a tree. Pretty soon his gear was sprawled out all around him and we could hear his stove firing up for lunch. A few minutes later he called his usual, "GETTING NAKED!" and dunked his clothes in the lake.
"That has to be freezing," Grumpy said, looking at the water.
"Thirty four degrees year round," Giddyup read off the info plaque.
Sting gave Grumpy a look and said, "I dare you to jump in."
"What will you give me?" he asked.
She thought about it a moment. "I'll buy your buffet at Timberline."
There was a collective "ooooooo" from all of us. A buffet meal to thru-hikers is no joke, and we had been hearing wonderful things about the one at Timberline for hundreds of miles. If there's one thing hikers love, it's rumors of a good meal. We'll walk hundreds of miles to town and all we can remember later are the restaurants we visited. (Case in point: the last town stop on the trail is in a small lake-side community called Stehekin, Washington, and the bakery there is so renowned to long distance hikers that we have been hearing about it since Southern California.)
Plus, the buffet at Timberline wasn't cheap. About $17 a plate, last we heard.
"Now, wait," said Sneaks, "what are the perimeters of the bet, here? Are we talking full submersion, head under, or would something less count?"
"And how long do I need to stay in?" Grumpy asked, "in and out? A full minute? A paddle around the lake?"
This went on for another few minutes, everyone getting in the game and trying to figure out exactly what constituted a deal-breaker for this buffet bet.
In the meantime, Sunshine, who had been quietly sitting on his own across the lake, got tired of the back-and-forth betting and suddenly, unexpectedly, launched himself into the lake.
Jaws dropped, all chatter ceased as we watched in amazement Sunshine jump back out of the freezing lake, fully wet and dripping from head to toe. We cheered and clapped, and though Grumpy did fulfill his bet a while later by jumping in, it had lost some of its appeal by that point.
After lunch we hiked on and reached our major destination of the day by 4:00pm: Highway 26. This was the highway that led straight from Portland to Mt. Hood ski area, and I had traveled it so many times in the past few years coming and going to the mountain that it felt practically normal to be standing by its side. Sneaks, Coincidence, Mudd, Dingo and Treekiller decided they wanted to catch a hitch to the small mountain town of Government Camp to get a beer before continuing their hike to Timberline Lodge at the top of the mountain. By the time Wocka, Giddyup, Sunshine and I caught them, they had already caught a ride and we sat beside the highway, trying to decide whether we wanted to join them.
Wocka and Giddyup tried hitching for a while, but I decided I wanted to call Tanner and get a ride into town, ideally to spend the night in my own bed. I could get back on trail in the morning and meet everyone at Timberline for breakfast. From the highway it was only an eleven mile walk to the lodge. Sunshine decided he wanted to go into Portland with me, and when Wocka and Giddyup couldn't find a ride, they decided to come, too.
Wocka and Giddyup trying to hitch
We waited for Tanner to get off work and drive up to the mountain, and by 6:30pm we were in the car and racing back toward town. We stopped at one of my favorite local dinner spots - Burgerville - and took advantage of their seasonal side, the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Rings. I may have talked them up a little too much to the others, but damn, they were delicious. Totally worth it.
My friend Elizabeth joined us for dinner and then she and my friend Jason came back to the house with us to hang out while we hikers did our usual town chores: shower, laundry, resupply. Except this time we did them in a scant four hours, went to bed, and prepared to go back out hiking tomorrow morning. I would have been loathe to leave so quickly if I didn't know that I would be close to Portland again in another three days when we reached the town of Cascade Locks. From Cascade Locks, we were hoping to take a true zero in Portland before heading north to Washington for our final stretch of trail.
Otherwise, today's home visit was quite a whirlwind tour. But whirlwind or no, I had walked from the border of Mexico to my home in Portland, Oregon, and how befitting that I should arrive on my hundredth day on trail!