PCT Day 120: Sand Slog

August 16, 2022

Campsite at mile 2079.1 to Timberline Lodge

18.8 miles

I really like this sleeping in thing. Like, really like it. I hear Tribute moving around before I open my eyes, but he’s not moving with any real conviction. When I finally look at my phone, it’s nearly 6:45. We have a whopping 18 miles today, and it’s cool and pleasant and we do not feel like leaving our sleeping bags.

I expect Jumbo to pop up and start moving any second, but he seems to be fully embracing the snoozing. When he does wake up, he makes random stream-of-consciousness comments like, “Has anyone thought of a way not to have to carry things on trail? Like, wheels.” He thinks for a moment, then adds with more emphasis, “Wheels.” When he finishes all of his in-quilt tasks, he reaches for the nozzle on his sleeping pad.

“NO!” I scold, and move his hands away. He seems to resign himself to this fate easily, pulling his head deeper into his sleeping quilt. There’s just a little tuft of blond hair poking out from the top. I don’t know why this strikes me as being so hilarious, but it does. Tribute, meanwhile, eats one of this epic breakfasts in his zipped-open bivy, joining me in the fight to keep Jumbo from getting up too early and messing up our lazy morning.

Eventually, though, it’s getting pretty late. We all pack up slowly and are on trail by the abysmal time of 8:00. Hahaha. Yolo. Don’t care. Oregon miles are the chillest, and tonight we’ll be at Timberline for a beer and then for breakfast tomorrow morning.

The trail is flat and lovely for a couple of miles. I enjoy the way the light is coming in sideways through the trees and the smell of the pines. Hailey had told us about the Little Crater Lake turnoff, so when we see the sign for it saying that it’s in half a mile, we dump our packs and slack it. However, when we get down to another sign that says “Pacific Crest Trail No. 2000” with the arrows pointing left and right and “Little Crater Lake 1/4” pointing the other way, we realize that we’re totally dumb and can’t read signs, and that the sign where we left our packs was not in fact the turnoff for Little Crater Lake but an indication that the turnoff would be in half a mile.

In any case, the lake is lovely. Despite being named after the much larger Crater Lake, it’s not volcanic. It was formed when the bedrock shifted during an earthquake, forming an artesian well and later a 45-food deep pond full of minerals from dissolving limestone. It’s a deep, lovely blue color, and it’s totally clear all the way to the bottom. It’s really quite cool, even if we did accidentally add a mile to our day.

We walk back to retrieve our packs, trying not to be too hard on ourselves for our mistake, then we continue for the day. The flat, lovely path soon ends, and we trade it in for a series of steep hills followed by flats and then downhills. I finish my book, which has what I think is a decent ending, even if I didn’t love the story. We take a break at one of the only water sources for the day. Lunch is at a trailhead picnic table, and said trailhead conveniently has a pit toilet, which I make use of.

Jumbo walks with me for a bit, nagging me to listen to a Wolf Alice song he sent me at lunch. They’re kind of his thing; they don’t quite tickle me in the feels the way they do for him, but I oblige. It’s pretty good, actually, so I listen to the rest of the album, just a handful of acoustic, slower versions of songs from their album Blue Weekend. Then, since we’re going up a hill, I switch to some more upbeat stuff, which helps me for a while until I reach the top and just start feeling like hot goo again.

Hello, Mt. Hood!

We take one more break at a picnic table by a trailhead. Jumbo and Tribute sit at the table with E and Plants, but I simply cannot be doing anything but laying down, and I put my aching feet up against a sign while I lay on the ground on Jumbo’s tyvek. I feel awful. The pain in my left arch has reached a fever pitch, and the balls of both feet can’t stand to be on the ground anymore. I fall asleep after a while and wake up when Jumbo is about to leave. I take a minute to queue up some audio content. I can’t do this without anything to distract me. We have five more uphill miles to Timberline, and it’s not one of those evenings where I feel like things are coming easy.

I’m exhausted right when I get started. I can’t really pinpoint what’s wrong, other than a deep, bone-weary exhaustion that seems to permeate every part of my body and soul. I just want to lay with my feet in a bucket of ice water. I want a massage. God, I want a massage. I want a hot tub. I’m so tired. Then my stomach starts hurting. I’ve had five ibuprofen today and I can still feel my feet in agony beneath me.

I find Jumbo and Tribute at a water source two and a half miles from TImberline. We sit for a while, but Tribute is in his “I’m this close to beer and I’m not stopping until I get it” mood, so he zooms ahead. Jumbo very optimistically asks me to do that thing where you crack someone’s back by picking them up from behind. I impress myself by being able to lift all six foot two-and-a-half inches of him easily, but it doesn’t crack his back. Ah, well. I tried.

I trudge through the rest of the woods, then the infamous Mount Hood sand starts as I round a corner and the gorgeous, snow-flanked mountain pops into view. I’ve been here before, once when I was a kid, I think, and once when I visited my college boyfriend in Portland one summer, but it’s way cooler to hike in on the PCT. What isn’t cool is this stupid, endless sand. It’s deeper at places than others, but it’s more or less 1.5 straight miles of irritating sandy bullshit. You can’t take a real step; you just sink right in and then slide to the side, no matter what you do.

I try every kind of music I can think of, but I’m spent. I trudge for 100 steps and then stop. I check Guthook, get a drink of water, hike for two minutes, repeat. It’s agony. A woman we met at lunch named Miso passes me, then I see Early Bird coming down southbound and we chat for a bit. Then finally, mercifully, Timberline Lodge passes into view. I have a small creek crossing and then a corner to go around, and then I see Jumbo’s poles in the V shape telling me where to go.

Miso sees me pick the poles up. “You have a lot of poles there!”

“Yeah,” I say, exhausted but smiling. “We always leave our poles or for each other so we know where to go.”

It’s another cowboy night. Jumbo is already set up, and Tribute is getting ready to lay out his bivy setup. They know I like being in the middle. It makes me feel safe. So I lay out my tent and inflate my sleeping pad. When I take my socks off, I let out a horrified noise. The top of my left toe is at least half blister. I set about popping this monster of a thing, trying not to gag. It’s the first blister I’ve had in a long time, and I’m not pleased.

Tribute gets impatient with me because I’m taking a long time to be ready to go for a drink. He goes to the bar in Timberline Lodge while Jumbo lays down and eats Cheetos, winding up with crumbs literally all over his face, including on his eyelid. Then the two of us go join Tribute at the Rams Head bar. Miso joins us, too. The server lets me order a kid’s grilled cheese sandwich, then he brings Jumbo a gourmet hot chocolate when he sees him eying a tray for another table. He doesn’t charge him for it. Trail magic.

There are a ton of other hikers here, and we talk to them and catch up as we pass them. It’s the kind of place where PCTers descend; this is an infamous stop for the buffet, and we’ve been waiting for it for nearly 2,100 miles. Jumbo and Tribute head back to camp, and now here we are. I’m sitting in the lobby next to the massive stone fireplace. I’m remembering the last time I was here in 2012, a decade ago. If you’d told that version of me that ten years later I’d be here on my second thru-hike, I might not have believed you. But I’d be happy. So, so happy. I’m my old self’s wildest dreams.

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