August 17, 2022
Timberline to campsite at Lolo Pass, mile 2115.2
Technically, 17.3 PCT miles, but with my detour, who knows
I think I do a pretty good job of being honest about the thru-hike experience, its highs and lows and positives and negatives. But in case I haven’t made it clear enough, sometimes this thing we’re doing really sucks. Sometimes you don’t sleep because it’s windy and your gear gets sand all over it, sometimes your huge-ass toe blister refills in the night, sometimes you have arch pain so bad that your feet literally pulse when you lie down, and sometimes you feel so exhausted that you can’t fathom hiking a single step. And sometimes when you’re really lucky, that all happens at once!
Yeah. Today was a bit shit in the physical and emotional wellness department. I really didn’t feel like hiking. I was not on my A game. But I still love this life. There’s still nowhere else I’d rather be. Especially when the morning involves breakfast at one of the most infamous stops along the PCT.
The Timberline Lodge breakfast buffet is one of those things that thru-hikers talk about in reverent, hushed tones all the way from Campo. I can’t believe today was already our turn to experience it.
Our reservation is at 8:30, and we immediately go ham. And salmon. And yogurt and eggs and sausage. The parfait station is probably my favorite. I load the yogurt high with berries and granola and absolutely die in pleasure over and over again. Jumbo doesn’t even finish his second round, but I go back for thirds and pack some out in my handy dandy quart bag that I slipped into my thru pack just for this reason.
After breakfast, I sit for a while using the hotel’s wifi and enjoy being in Timberline. It’s such a beautiful building, with its massive central fireplace and windows overlooking the mountain. I think I’d like to stay here some day, just to see what the rooms are like.
Tribute messages us saying he’s heading out, and soon Jumbo comes to tell me that he’s leaving, too. I finish up my phone-based nonsense and go back up the hill to my pack, slash open the blister I worked so hard on last night, and change into my sun hoodie. J and T are probably significantly ahead by now, but I just can’t muster the will to hike. My feet hurt so bad and I just want to sleep. But that’s not how this works, I remind myself. And I get going.
A message from Tribute in the group chat says he just met a local who reads this blog and that she was very excited to see him. Then Jumbo texts saying the same thing, and that she really wants to meet me. So I keep hiking down the trail bopping along to the new Mt. Joy album until I come upon a woman who says, “Hi, Passport!”
“Are you Linda?” I ask, and she nods. We proceed to stand there having a nice chat for a few minutes. It’s so wild to me still that people, like, actually read this blog and like it. It really lifts my spirits to talk to a reader, especially on a day like today when I am not really feeling my best. It was so great to meet you, Linda!
The trail hugs the sandy shoulder of Mt. Hood for most of the day, going around little canyons and opening up into frequent mindbending views of the mountain. I cross the silty Zigzag River and then turn uphill. Tribute texts us saying he’s taking an alternate route, and when I get there I look at the map and decide to just keep going on the PCT. There are huckleberries all over the side of the trail, and I get totally absorbed in looking for the juiciest, purplest berries I can find.
The nice thing about the fact that the trail opens up and enters a meadow is that it’s wildflowers galore. The awful thing about it is that it’s in full sun, it’s steeper than it seems like it’s supposed to be, and that I eventually notice, in a fit of panic, that I am not on the PCT. I pass a trail junction that doesn’t even have “Pacific Crest Trail” as one of the options. Shit.
A pair of backpackers passes me.
“Did I lose the PCT?” I ask.
“You did,” one of them replies, “but not by much. If you keep going this way, you’ll get back to the trail.”
I follow his finger and nod, and they continue along the path. Now I’m alone, tired, aching, dirty, hot, and lost. I feel the tears welling up. Dammit. I’m such an idiot. I should have paid more attention. I was trying to catch Jumbo because today I don’t really feel like being alone. I feel like being with someone who feels comfortable like a favorite old sweatshirt. I think about calling him, but I think he’s out of service now and I’m not sure what he’d do anyway. “James,” I would wail. “I’m fucking lost. I don’t know where I am.” And he would go into Jumbo Planing Mode, trying to figure out my coordinates to get me back onto the red line, but ultimately, I’d just have to walk back on this mystery trail anyway. So that’s what I do.
And it’s really a stunning trail. I think this is part of the alternate that Tribute took, because it’s absolutely bursting with wildflowers in gentle meadows with clear views of Mt. Hood towering glacial over the world. My crying goes down to mild sobbing and then hiccuping and then it’s gone as I get closer and closer to rejoining the PCT. I might not have planned this particular side quest, but it is really not a bad trail. It’s hot, and I’m sweating like a cow in a plastic tracksuit on the surface of the sun, but it’s a gorgeous little section that might even be better than the official trail, if you can believe the comments.
When I make it back to the PCT, I consider kissing the sign. I’m home! I made it! … And we’re back in sand land. There’s a viewpoint where you can see a few waterfalls tumbling from Hood’s glaciers down to the sandy valley. Dilly Dally, who I haven’t seen since the desert, is taking a break there. We chat for a while, comparing her experiences on the coast to mine on the PCT in Oregon, then about trail days. Everyone’s super excited for trail days.
For the next few miles I play this fun game with myself called Imaginary Therapy, where I ask myself questions and answer them, trying to figure out why I react like I do to things and what informs my behaviors. I don’t have any particular breakthroughs, but I feel oddly calmer afterwards. By that point I’m at the bottom of a hill and approaching a ford of what looks to be a pretty major river. It’s nestled in a sweeping, rocky riverbed much like that of the Whitewater back in the desert. At the crossing, there are two thin logs placed side-by-side over a pair of rocks. Water gushes below. Oh. This is pretty serious. I’m suddenly really unhappy that I’m alone. I miss the days in the Sierras when Jumbo would wait for me at every major water crossing to make sure I got across okay. I’m not sure what anyone would do if I fell in, but it’s nice to have someone there all the same. But this one turns out to be not that bad.
I finally take a break a little while longer at a campsite. The moment I stop, the flies descend. I haven’t noticed any mosquitoes today, but these flies bite and they are relentless. Would you rather be constantly swarmed by skeeters or eaten alive by biting flies? Welcome to the PCT in Oregon, which is occasionally insect hell.
Checking FarOut, I estimate that Tribute is going to try to go to a tent site that will put us in good shape to get to Cascade Locks tomorrow night. This means 14 more miles, and it’s 4:00 already. I don’t know if I can make it all the way there, but I can probably do the next closest one at 11 miles away. I resign myself to the fact that I will have to night hike for hours. Whatever. I’ll get there. At least I’m fueled up from breakfast still.
There’s another crossing on a huge log. If I fell from this thing, I would be messed up. Again, I find myself wishing I wasn’t hiking alone today. But I cross without a problem. It gives me a little thrill, actually. There’s a massive, vertical ass of a hill after that, and it takes me forever to get to the top. But when I do, there’s another stunning view of Hood in the distance that takes my breath away.
I start down the hill, listening to my new audiobook, The Cat Who Saved Books. It is adorable so far, but it’s only five hours long, so I’m trying to savor it. I turn on my data then and see that Tribute has no idea where anyone is and that he’s stopping at the road at the bottom of this hill. Oh, sweet! If we all stop there it means I only have 1.8 miles left, not 6 like I was planning. Heck yeah.
I run into both Tribute and Jumbo a little while later, sitting on a log next to the trail. They both seem pretty beat. At the road we find semi-decent spots. The bugs don’t seem too bad, at least not yet, and we decide to be optimistic about the 20% chance of rain in the forecast. Jumbo and I sard it (as in, sardines, like cowboy camping) while Tribute sets up his tarp and bivy. (But J sets up his tent just in case we need to dive in.) We make our dinners quickly and then get horizontal as fast as humanly possible.