PCT Day 113: Oregon is Not Messing Around

August 9, 2022

Campsite by Taylor Lake at mile 1930.3 to Elk Lake Junction at mile 1952.6

22.3 miles

Despite passing out last night before I could write a word, I still feel exhausted this morning. Worse, I can feel the ever-present pain in my arch and achilles and the millions of mosquito bites I’ve acquired over the last week. But it’s not like we’re doing crazy miles right now. So I pull myself up, pack everything away, and reason that I’ll be faster if I eat breakfast after I put my tent away. The problem with this is that there are still zillions of mosquitoes everywhere, so I have to eat my Builder’s Bar while walking around in circles. Oh well. Lesson learned.

The terrain is more of that smooth, easy, gorgeous Oregon PCT today. I walk with Jumbo for a bit, then he gets ahead when I pull over and, weak-willed, scratch all of my bug bites, especially the back of my right knee, which is more bite and bruise than it is skin now. There are some uphills, but nothing crazy. Tits passes me and says hi, then dives into the woods for a cathole, then passes me again a little while later.

Soon I arrive at the water source, a pretty little pond with a few tent sites. Jumbo sees me and waves me over as he’s filtering water. Smiley is there, too, as is Tits and a few girls I haven’t met before. We all complain about the cloud of mosquitoes that never seems to abate. Then I go down to get water, and as I’m standing up and sealing my CNOC shut, there is a monstrously loud clash in the sky. I look up and see a storm cloud I hadn’t noticed before. The thunder totally took me off guard, and from the reactions of the others, it seems like they’re surprised, too. A few more ear-splitting thunderclaps rock the sky, and then it starts raining, but it doesn’t seem too serious yet. Tribute comes up, then Stealth, and everyone who passes by complains about mosquitoes and discusses the storm, which is getting worse. There’s brighter lightning now, and Tribute, Jumbo and I start walking to get down to lower ground.

It’s pretty terrifying. These are no small lightning strikes. The thunder is so loud that I have to cover my ears. What the heck, Oregon? Mosquito clouds, wildfires, AND crazy thunderstorms? This state is not messing around. Tribute says that in an ideal world, we’d be hunkering down right now, but it seems like it might be ending soon, so we just keep walking.

Sure enough, the thunder soon grows quieter and the sun comes out. Just before the Winopee Lake junction, I take a cathole break, and Jumbo follows suit. (Those aligned schedules though.) We decide to have lunch in two miles at Mac Lake, which, if the Guthook comments are true, is virtually mosquitoless.

As we start walking, we hear planes above us. It looks like they’re surveying the area where we saw the lightning strikes. It’s pretty cool watching them fly overhead, although it makes us a little nervous. Is there another fire? Was that rain enough to prevent it and calm down the existing fires? I guess we’ll just walk and see.

We get to the lake, our lunch spot, before too long. It is perfect. There’s a log in the shade, tons of lovely flat tent sites on spongy Oregon earth, and the gentle, clear water we’ve now become accustomed to. Tribute and I opt for wraps (and he donates a tortilla to me), while Jumbo goes for ramen. I have a hot chocolate followed by a tea, then Jumbo and I lay down for a peaceful little nap time while Tribute moseys onward.

I could get used to these lakes. In fact, I think I have. I’m finding myself reminded so much of the northern Appalachian Trail in this section: Vermont with its ponds, Maine with its rich scent of balsam and loons calling across the water. Oregon is its own special beauty, though. These soft carpet-like paths are like nothing you would see on the AT.

Things have changed now. Gone are the rosy early days when everything was possible, gone are the impossible granite monoliths of the Sierras, gone are the long, hot Northern California afternoons. This section has its own challenges, but it is quiet and present in a way I have not yet experienced. Everything seems to be telling me just to listen and be. What’s done is done. What’s ahead is not yet. This moment is everything, and it’s everywhere I want to be. I can just drop everything else. I can lay on the dirt and look at the water and exist quietly with my friends.

It starts to rain, so we pack up and slowly make our way down the trail. Jumbo’s voice still isn’t totally recovered yet from his cold, but he can talk well enough that we spend the next four miles chatting. I think we’re starting to sound like a broken record now; many of our conversations oscillate back to topics we’ve already covered, which we acknowledge and then ignore, proceeding onward, for example, with our never-ending complaints about the education system in our respective countries and music-related discussions. Then we get into an interesting conversation about land acknowledgments and the land back movement. I’ve just listened to a Stuff You Should Know episode about this, and because I’ve now gotten Jumbo hooked on SYSK, I tell him to check it out. (He can never remember the name of the show, calling it “Things You Should Know” or “Interesting Facts,” which cracks me up.)

We arrive at another beautiful lake before long. It’s only five more miles to where we plan to camp and it’s only 3:15, so I take another little power nap while Jumbo filters water. We continue walking together until we reach a stream where Tribute has decided to make dinner. We join him in this, then begin looking for places to stay in Bend. It’s… very expensive. I see our dreams of renting an Airbnb with a hot tub and a kitchen dissipate before my eyes. But hopefully we’ll be able to at least find a hotel with a hot tub. The hot tub is really the key.

After another chill two and a half miles, we arrive at the junction to Elk Lake, which is our planned camp spot. There’s not really a proper tent site, but there are some flat areas not far off trail that we claim. Annoyingly, I have to make another cathole journey. Then, once I’ve come back and set up inside my tent, I go sit on a rock overlooking Mt. Bachelor.

Oregon is making me feel present in a way I haven’t much on this trail. Being with Wiggs yesterday reminded me of how peaceful he is, how calming he can be and how much we used to meditate together. Thinking about that, I realize it’s been ages since I mediated. So I get comfy, take a deep breath, and try to pay attention for five full minutes. I sense my mind wandering, and I bring it back gently. In, out. Here’s what I think about.

This hike won’t last forever, and that’s the whole point. In, out. Let go of what isn’t for you. In, out. Things don’t often work out the way you expect or want them to; often, they work out so much better. In, out. You are completely whole and completely free on your own. In, out. Here is where you are meant to be.

It feels good to be here. Oregon is love in the form of forests and lakes. It is peace and presence and wonder and wildness. I love every moment of its intensity.

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