July 31, 2022
We wake up late. Deliciously late. We’re in a comfy house away from the fires and we all had so much wine last night and the sleep was fantastic, apart from getting kicked in the head. I finally begrudgingly start moving when I hear everyone talking upstairs. I pull myself vertical and go to join them.
Tribute makes me a coffee, Jen gets me a breakfast hot pocket, and between the two of these, I start to feel a little more human. Then we start looking at our options for continuing our hike. We have a few friends out on trail right now—8 Bucks and Toothpaste, Veto, and Captain Something, among others—who say that the smoke really isn’t that bad. But then we have Andy and Beetle and crew who say it was awful in Ashland last night and that they really don’t want to hike in it. Then there are some people who are completely going off the rails and driving to the Oregon Coast Trail to walk north along the shore instead of the PCT.
My inclination is to just walk out of Ashland and see how it is, although I’m tempted by the coast. I love the Oregon coast, and it sounds amazing to be by the water again. But I think the OCT deserves a little more planning and research in its own right, and that seems like a logistical nightmare. I am certain that I do not want to skip up to Timberline. I don’t see why people are skipping so much of Oregon when there are still hundreds of miles of open trail between here and there. So for me, it comes down to the coast or walking out, and walking out is what I really want to try, even if we have to turn around or bail at some point.
Tribute and Jumbo seem to be in agreement, though we’re all pretty worried about air quality. But we’ll just have to try and see how it goes. This is the decision we come to as I finish my coffee, manage the argument that’s blowing up our original tramily group chat re: walking out versus flipping north, and catch up on writing. Then, once we’re all packed up, we say goodbye to Oscar and the cats, load into Jen’s truck, and head to REI so Jumbo can get new shoes.
Every single hiker is there. We see Moon and his crew, Leia, Brainstorm and Manners, and a few others we know by sight. It’s amazing to catch up with everyone, exchange stories about getting out of the fire, and discuss our plans. I pick up some fuel, new tent stakes (to replace the ones I beat to a useless angle and so that Jumbo can have the one he lent me ages ago back), and a splurge meal of Peak Refuel chicken coconut curry. Then, just as I’m about to check out, I notice a rack of really cute animal keychains. One of them is a possum that just calls to me. I feel like I deserve some happiness, so I add her to my pile.
I run into the Trader Joe’s next door for some clif bars and coffee, then Jen takes us to the delightful greasy spoon Jasper’s for lunch. They all get burgers, but I opt for the teriyaki chicken sandwich, which is a nice change of pace. Then Jen takes us to our hotel in Ashland, the Scottish Inn. We unload, give her hugs and thank her for hosting us, and then we’re on our own once again. Thanks for everything, Jen!
We check in, then see Power Plant talking on the phone near our room. Once he’s finished, we catch up with him and Topo. They, along with Knuckles, Andy, Beetle, and Zelda, are renting a car and driving to Portland today, where they will catch a bus in a few days’ time to Timberline. I’m incredibly depressed by this. Andy was so close to catching up, and I had so been looking forward to hiking with the rest of these guys again. Knuckles and Power Plant just have amazing energy, and I really wanted to get to know them more. The same goes for Topo and Zelda. There is just a huge sense of loss there, like I could have become really good friends with them, but now we have to part.
And don’t even get me started on Andy and Beetle. Andy was my first friend on this trail, literally from moment one. I met him at Scout and Frodo’s the morning I started the PCT, and we just started walking together and didn’t stop until Baden-Powell, and even then it was just a few days before we were reunited. He and I were thick as thieves through those early days when we were figuring out how to be PCT hikers, how much water to carry, what this crazy world was going to be like. Then we met Beetle, wacky, weird, sweetheart Beetle, who got a bug up his ass on day three and came careening around the corner to tell us about it. His was the first trail name bestowed on trail, by Andy, right before Mount Laguna. I’ve loved how Beetle has just continued to pop up all over the place, like a little bizarre spirit. But I won’t see him pop up anywhere now that they’re going so far north.
We visit with the two of them for half an hour or so when they get back from lunch. It’s so, so good to see Andy again after his sojourn to Guatemala and successful return to the states. He and Beetle try to persuade us to join them in flipping north, but we’ve got our minds made up. When it’s time for them to go, we walk out to the parking lot and have a hug session with everyone that quickly turns tearful. We have no idea when or if we’ll see these people again. I squeeze Knuckles tight and say I really wish I could have walked more with her. She agrees, saying how she wanted to have a little more girl time. Then I see Andy, Beetle, Jumbo, and Tribute in a group hug and squeeze my way in. All we need now is Petra—she’s still a couple hundred miles ahead and had to be rescued out of another burn up north.
I watch, sobbing, as they drive away. We wave until we can’t see the car anymore, then go back to our room. We go across the street to the Albertson’s for resupply, then return to the hotel. Our mood isn’t great for the rest of the day. Tribute watches YouTube on his phone and I sit on the bed and try to write, but Jumbo just immediately falls asleep. Later we get dinner and margaritas at a sports bar near the hotel, then come back and drink craft beer from Portland while Tribute and I play a silly little wind-up fishing game that his mom sent in his resupply box. We finish out the night by watching John Oliver, but I don’t see much before I fall asleep.
It’s a fun night, but none of us feels excited or particularly enthusiastic about anything right now. We miss our friends and how easy it used to be to just follow that line of the PCT. Now, in 24 hours, so much has changed. There’s not just one way now, and people are bound to split up.
But not us, though. Tribute, Jumbo, and I are still a team. I might occasionally take a day or two to myself or hang back while they go ahead, but I’m grateful to have them by my side on this long thin fiery ribbon.