August 1, 2022
Ashland to Mt. Ashland Road at mile 1710 to campsite at mile 1717.6
I wake up at 7 and dink around on my phone for a bit. Machine is in town, and I tell him we’re going to breakfast at the Morning Glory Cafe soon. Then I immediately fall back asleep and don’t wake up again until 10. My lord. I haven’t slept in that late in ages. It feels so amazing. We really needed that after the emotional upheaval yesterday and the stress of trying to figure out our plans.
We pack up and then check out, then hop in our Uber to the aforementioned cafe. It takes us a while to get a seat because we see Jive Turkey and talk to him for a while, then my mom calls and I give her an update. When I finally go inside and sit down, I order a comically large amount of food. Then Machine, who has been eating breakfast with Feather Blue and Lost and Found, pops around the corner. I give him a huge hug and we start catching up since I haven’t seen him in a long time. He’s not walking out until tomorrow, and he doesn’t know what his plan is yet, so it’s another one of those “hello, goodbye” moments that suck. But I’m glad I have the chance to at least see him before we leave.
I want to see the main part of town and Jumbo and Tribute need the post office, so we head down the main road. Outside the Safeway we run into Liz and Tikka, some folks I met way back at the beginning. We chat about our plans—they’re going to the coast—and then run into Safeway to see if we can find any N95 masks, which Morgan of Blaze Physio recommended for those hiking out of Ashland. We don’t find any there, but we do see Jack Rabbit, and of course, we compare fire experiences and what our plans are. It’s really fun to keep running into people we haven’t seen in a while, especially considering how we were all so spread out on the trail. It’s kind of reminding me of the early moments of the pandemic, when there was a huge sense of being all in this together, weathering a storm as one. It sucks about the fires, and it really sucks to have to say goodbye to friends, but there’s also something cool about everyone going through one big difficulty together.
I split up with Jumbo and Tribute when we get to the main part of town. It is an adorable little city, and I start feeling a regret that I won’t have more time to enjoy it. I browse a record shop before making my way to Bloomsbury Books. I look around for a while, reading poetry and adding some novel titles to my Goodreads “want to read” list. Then I go upstairs to the cafe, order an iced coffee, and spend the rest of the hour writing. I don’t know what it is about a bookstore, but it makes me feel so comfortable in my skin. There are two places in the world where I feel completely at home, completely at peace, and completely myself. One is the trail, and the other is a bookstore. I could spend so much longer here. But we have a ride lined up to take us all the way back to mile 1710 at Mt. Ashland, which feels way too convenient to pass up.
I walk to the Growler Guys tap house where Jumbo and Tribute are hanging out. The whole walk there, I debate staying in town another night. I feel like I want to actually enjoy Ashland, maybe have a drink and hang out with Machine and that crew, maybe do a little more writing, but after all the goodbyes and separations I’ve dealt with in the last 24 hours, I don’t want to part from Jumbo and Tribute, even if I know I can eventually catch up. I’m so close to deciding to stay in Ashland when Annie, our ride, comes to get us. But ultimately I get in the car and head up to the mountains with the boys.
I’m feeling really uncertain about the smoke. Most reports we’ve heard say it’s not bad, but Wiggs has just gone to Crater Lake, where it looks like the air quality is getting a lot worse. We get to the trailhead and thank Annie, then take photos with her. Jumbo asks me one last time if I’m okay with walking. No, I want to say. No, I’m not okay with this. I’m so uncertain, it feels weird to get back on at a different place, I don’t want lung disease from smoke inhalation, and I want to go back to the bookstore and live there for a few more hours. But I also do want to walk. I do want to be back on trail among the soft mossy trees of Oregon. I want to just give this section a go and see how it is before blindly bailing.
So we start walking. And it’s lovely. The ground is soft and springy and the air smells like Vermont, pine and fir and hemlock. It’s not very smoky yet, but as we hike farther down towards the valley, it gets worse. It’s still not as bad as I was expecting, but it’s hazy and it smells like fire. I let the boys get ahead of me and take it slow, regretting not staying in town. Why didn’t I just stay when I knew that was what I wanted to do? Why is it so hard for me to make my own decisions and not get pulled along with what others want to do? Why is it so hard for me to separate what I actually want from what is convenient? I know it doesn’t really matter, but I’m so angry at myself for not choosing my own path and for being afraid to stay behind.
I meet up with Jumbo and Tribute at a campsite near a dirt road. It’s pretty late. I set up my tent and eat dinner, which is the packed-out remainders of my massive breakfast this morning. I brush my teeth and then crawl into my quilt, trying not to think about how I could be in a real bed right now if I’d been braver.