PCT Days 123 and 124: Trail Days

August 19-20, 2022

August 19: 7.3 non-PCT miles, 0 PCT miles

August 20: 0 miles

Tribute is abnormally energetic this morning. “It’s TOWN DAY!” he roars, packed up long before Jumbo or I are even out of our tents. It takes us a minute to get moving, and we’re slow when we do. It feels like it takes ages to get down to the road that will take us into Cascade Locks. But it has its perks: Smiley catches up with us, and we wind up walking with him for a few miles. There are also waterfalls, including one that flows through a narrow channel and into a deep cauldron that I believe is called the Punch Bowl.

Tribute goes into full Town Day mode, blazing ahead before Jumbo and me. We lose him for good when we stop at the restroom at the trailhead, and we walk more or less together on the Gorge Trail, then along the little paved path that follows I-84 into town. There are blackberries everywhere.

“I can’t stop picking them!” I say, hunting for the juiciest, darkest berries I can find.

“Passport!” Jumbo admonishes. “Let’s get into town so we can get some real food.”

I ignore him. There are some really good ones that I pick and hold in my hand as I speed walk to catch up with him. It’s such a little treat to find the berries all over the place. Like a gift from the trail.

We start to get close to town, and the excitement builds. Cascade Locks is the last town in Oregon, situated just east of the Bridge of the Gods. It’s one of the more famous structures on the PCT, a symbol of having walked Really Far, being almost there. We see the sign welcoming us to the town, then the bridge itself. We have four days off, so we’re not going over it yet, but just seeing it makes it feel so real that we are actually this far.

Our first stop is Thirsty Cafe, a lovely little coffee shop across from the post office. This is apparently the same idea that everyone else has, too, because when we walk in, we’re met with so many hikers we know, some we haven’t seen in a long time. There’s Shorty, who hiked the AT the same year as me and who I’ve been communicating with on Instagram since the start of the trail. There’s Gus and Cathole and Frankie, the latter of whom came back from being off trail to visit. There’s Clash, who sits and talks with us for a long time. Apparently she’s headed to New Zealand right after this to hike Te Araroa, and she might just stay there for a few years depending on how she likes it. Liz and Tikka walk in, tell us they’re done for now and getting off trail here. It’s the start of what I know will be a really exciting few days of socializing, and I’m here for it.

Once we’re caffeinated, I make a stop at the post office to pick up my box, then go to Gorges Brewing to meet the boys. It’s an absolutely gorgeous (hah) building, brand new, very white and clean and hipster feeling with cool couches and funky lighting. I order a tasty hazy IPA and a salad with fried chicken that honestly tastes miraculous. It’s basically just spring mix and chicken, but I’m at that stage now where I am just ready to eat normal, healthy food again.

We get a call from Beetle, who is already here in town. Not long after, his head pops up behind the banister at the brewery. He makes his weird little creepy Beetle sound that makes me crack up. It’s so, so good to see him! He gives me a huge hug, then I get excited all over again when I see Topo and Power Plant. They came back from further up in Washington for the festival. I thought I would never see them again! They sit down and we chat about our experiences since we parted ways in Ashland. It sounds like Knuckles has been feeling pretty good and doing bigger days, so she’s a little ahead of them. I end up seeing her later, which feels so lovely.

We go down to the festivities after that. Camping is on Thunder Island, and we pay our entrance fee and set up on the surprisingly lovely grass near Beetle and crew. Then we go to check out some of the booths in the expo area. I start off at the Sawyer tent because they’re giving out free ice cream sandwiches and bandanas while doing a round of trivia. I don’t get any of the questions, but my ice cream sandwich tastes like heaven on this hot, sunny day.

I remember this thrill over gear and free stuff from AT trail days. Hikers are such easily excitable cheapskates. Hot dog sticker? I want it. Shirt from a store I’ve never heard of? Hell yeah. Free reusable straw that I’ll send home and forget about immediately? Hand it over. My inner environmentalist commie is dying. I’m a ruthless capitalist automaton today and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Jumbo and I make a run to the gas station for beer before it runs out, then we take it back to the island and sip for a while while chatting with Beetle and Topo. Then we go back over to the expo and start systematically going through the booths that interest us. Every once in a while we’ll run into someone we know: Ishay, Veto, Captain Something, Upgrade. I love the mixture of seeking free gear while taking to other people we know from the trail.

I get hungry after a while and order fried cheese and cherry empanadas at a food cart. Then we head back to the island and hang out for a while with Beetle and Topo, then Miso, who gives us the code for the shower at the campsite across the water. I run over there quickly before we go out. The water pressure is absolute heaven, like nothing else I’ve experienced on trail. It’s the perfect temperature, too. I suddenly feel so much more human, even though my clothes aren’t clean yet. That’s a Portland task.

We try to go over to Thunder Island Brewing because that’s where the apparently amazing party was last night, but it turns out that they close at 9 and nothing is happening tonight. On the way, though, we run into Beetle in a gas station parking lot and he tells us that there might be something going on back on the island.

What follows is a wild journey making our way over to what might or might not be a drum circle back on the island, talking to Spice and Pinch and apparently Bofa, another English guy we met in the Sierras, Tribute disappearing somewhere on some sort of side quest like he always does, and then Jumbo eventually helping me safely get back to the tent and to sleep well before midnight, which I don’t recall, but which apparently happens because I wake up at 4 with Jumbo’s name tag plastered to my right arm and an almighty headache that has just begun.

Trail Days. Am I right?

The next day is agony until well through the afternoon. Tribute and I can’t do much besides lie in the grass and wait until our brains process what we did to them. Around 2 I get up and drag myself to the Hyperlite raffle, which I do not win. Jumbo feels fine and gets me a BLT from the diner, accompanied by Rainbow and the rest of the Belgians.

Rainbow is in a similar position as Tribute and me, although she’s apparently well enough to move, which is wild. She sends me hilariously miserable selfies, which I laugh at before lying back down, nauseous. It takes me several hours to eat half of the BLT after Jumbo delivers it, and I can’t stand up for longer than a few minutes.

Later, we run into Platypus, who’s here representing the PCTA. I play a round of PCT trivia with Jack Rabbit as my partner. He takes one look at me and says, “You look really bad. Are you okay?”

“No,” I say, laughing. “I’m fucked.”

“Do you want to sit down?”

“Yes. Very much.”

Somehow, though, we manage to score high enough to win! He snags a PCTA shirt while I go for a little Granite Gear wallet. Looks like my brain is coming back online.

I lie down in some more shade for a while, drinking water while Jumbo looks on. Then four of Tribute’s friends pick us up and take us over to a town on the Washington side. Our destination is Backwoods Brewing, where I order water and try not to gag from the smell of beer. The kids’ hummus plate is unironically delicious, and the people are so cool.

Two of Tribute’s friends drop Jumbo and me off at the expo while Tribute goes back with two of the others to camp with them for the night. Jumbo and I make a beeline for the main PCTA raffle, where tons of hikers are gathered on the grass waiting to see if they won big. Every time a number close to one of ours gets called, Jumbo makes an anticipatory sound and sits up a little bit. Then, every time it turns out to be a different number, he says “No” in the same matter of fact dejected tone as the other morning’s “Wheels.”

Jumbo does win a prize, but it’s a rather underwhelming water bottle and book of trails in one of Oregon’s deserts, which he, as a person who cannot even fathom the idea of existing in a space that’s over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, would never even consider hiking in.

By the end of the raffle, I’m feeling mostly well again. I’m still hungry, so I order some tacos and a fruit cup from a truck. Atlas, a hiker we met a couple of days ago, tells us that there’s going to be a rave across the street in someone’s backyard tonight. It sounds fun, but I groan. Of course I picked the wrong night to party.

Later, after the raffle and a little rest in our tents, Jumbo and I decide to go over and check out Thunder Island Brewing since we haven’t actually made it there yet. We sit, he with his beer and me with my unsweet iced tea, eating chips and salsa. It’s a cool place, but I’m still so disappointed that we didn’t get to see it the night of the pre-party. Sensei comes up and chats with us for a while, asking if we’re going to this “rave.” He leaves, we finish our drinks, then we walk over to this party to see what it’s about.

It’s simultaneously terrible and awesome, not unlike a high school dance. There are some speakers that someone found from somewhere, but the music is so low that you have to strain to hear it. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone. People are dancing like crazy, wielding glow sticks and any kind of flashing light-up thing they can find. Jumbo and I turn our headlamps to flashing red mode and join in. We see oodles of people we know. Shaggy, another English guy we met the day we left Timberline. Veto, Bofa, Atlas, the Belgians. It’s awesome. There’s a group of people tossing a light-up disc around a circle, and I go over and join them. It’s fun to flex the old ultimate muscles.

We leave not much after that, heading back across the bridge or the island. The air whips around us like it has every time we’ve gone over this bridge. Despite the self-inflicted pain of earlier today, this trail is still such a treat.

I’m in my Duplex, getting settled in for the night, when I hear a horrified strangling noise from Jumbo’s tent.

“Ugh!” he exclaims, as though he’s just witnessed a beheading. “Oh my god. Passport? Can you do me a huge solid?”

I sigh. He did take care of me last night, after all. Even when I apparently spilled beer on him twice. “What is it?”

“Have you ever seen on nature documentaries when slugs mate?”

“What?”

“It’s happening. In the vestibule of my tent. There are two slugs fucking. They’re hanging there and it’s…” he retches. “It’s bloody disgusting. Can you come take them away?”

“… What?”

“I hate it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I want them gone. No.”

I assume he’s being dramatic. I sigh again, annoyed, and get out of my tent, putting my Tevas on. I walk over to his vestibule and look at the ground, expecting to see two tiny little slugs doing their thing on the grass. Seeing nothing, though, I look up and recoil.

“Oh my god!”

“Yes.”

“Oh my god! That’s…” I freak out. Two massive slugs are dangling from a gooey string, wrapped around each other, with what is apparently their genitalia just out in the air, going at it. 

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, I just want them gone.”

“Oh my god!” I’m seriously freaking out. These things are huge, just unashamedly hanging there writhing. All I can think to do is to grab the open PBR carton and try to get the slugs into it, but when I pick it up I see that there are more slugs inside. 

“Oh my god! There are more slugs in the box!”

Jumbo gags. In an act of desperation, I hold the open side of the box up to the gooey slug rope and move it until they fall in. There’s still some leftover goo on the inside of Jumbo’s vestibule, so I tear off a piece of cardboard from the box and scrape the inside of the tent door until it’s clean, trying not to gag.

I can’t stop saying “Oh my god” and freaking out as I toss the box of empty beer cans and poor cockblocked slugs into the space where Tribute’s tent used to be. I crawl back into my tent. 

“Do you realize what I just did for you?” I ask, my skin still crawling.

“Thank you, Passport,” Jumbo says sweetly, then adds, “That’s true friendship.”

Somehow, I manage to get to sleep eventually. I’m sober and I don’t dream of slugs. I consider both a major blessing. 

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