PCT Days 125 and 126: Double Zero in Portland

August 21 and 22 

0 miles 

After the slug debacle, we sleep surprisingly well. Jumbo is feeling a little rough in the morning, but nothing compared to me the day before. We call Tribute asking him what his plan is. He says we have probably about an hour before he comes to town with his friends Kevin and Janette and scoops us up to take us to Portland for our first of two zeros. We pack our stuff up as quickly as we can, grab a quick breakfast at the Eastwind Drive-In in town, and bid adieu to Trail Days. 

The drive is much shorter than I’m expecting, following the Columbia River on the right and passing Multnomah Falls on the left. We can’t check into our place until 3, so Kevin and Janette drop us off near Powell’s so we can hang out for a bit. This is perfectly fine with me. We get there right as they open, and while Jumbo and Tribute make a quick loop and then dip out to REI, I happily stay there for a very long time reading the first couple of chapters of a book and browsing the extensive collection. 

I wind up reading the beginning of Tender is the Flesh, a horrifying dystopian novel about a future of state-sanctioned cannibalism, and then purchasing it because I think I can finish it before we leave tomorrow. I make my own trip to REI for new shoes and insoles, then meet he boys at 10 Barrel before Kevin and Janette come back to meet us. We then visit the tasting room of Cascade Brewing, which is known for its sours. I can see why after just a couple of tastes. (Apparently, my post-first night of Trail Days vow that I will never drink beer again lasts approximately twelve hours.)

We’re dropped off at our Airbnb after that. It’s in a really nice, futuristic sort of building that you have to access with an app. The apartment is gloriously clean, with a really nice kitchen, a lovely sitting area, a comfy bed, and, excitingly, a rope swing seat that Jumbo immediately makes himself at home in. We take showers, then go back out to meat Kevin and Janette. First we go to a Mexican birria food truck, then Apex Brewing, then Beer Mongers across the street, before finally winding up at Ground Kontrol, a really cool old-school arcade with games like pinball and Pac-Man. We chill there for a while before Kevin and Janette drop us back off at the apartment.

The next morning is so deliciously chill. We wake up slowly. Jumbo lies in bed watching a replay of a Leeds United game, trying to get me to understand the offside rule, which I could never quite wrap my head around. Then I pick up my book and read straight through it. It’s horrifying. It’s disgusting and awful, but also amazingly well written and so compelling. I’ve never read anything quite like it. While I’m reading, I have several cups of coffee and my leftover half of a burrito, which feels weird to eat while reading a book about cannibalism, but here we are. 

Our first task of the day is Safeway for resupply. I already have a few boxes scheduled to be shipped to Washington, so I just have to get a few things for my Stevens Pass box. But Tribute and Jumbo are sending themselves boxes from here, so I sit and read while they finish up. Then we go back to the apartment, dragging our heavy, clunky paper bags. I finish my book, and then I sit there in stunned, horrified silence and process it for a minute. I feel like I need to brush my teeth and wash my hands. But like, it was such a well written and interesting book. I think I recommend it? Maybe? But it needs to come with several paragraphs of content warnings.

We find some Lime scooters and go a few blocks over to legendary Voodoo Doughnuts after that. I ask for three doughnuts but end up with four, which I’m not quite sure how I’m going to eat. There’s no shade right near the shop, so we walk over to the park by the river, which I remember as being quite nice, to eat them. But walking there, just like every other block we’ve walked past in the last twenty-four hours, shows us just how bad things in Portland have gotten since the last time I was here. So many businesses have gone out, and everywhere you look, there is a tent or two, occasionally an RV, with unhoused folks living in them. 

It’s a problem that I’ve heard about, but haven’t really understood in scope until now. People we know from the trail who have visited Portland have said over and over, in response to our questions about how the city was, “Good, but there are a lot of homeless people.” I wrote this off as drama, as people who haven’t spent much time in major cities, until now. Maybe there were this many people living in tents the last time I was here, maybe I was just naive and 19 and focusing on the weird kitschy aura that Portland likes to portray about itself, but I really don’t remember it being this bad. Besides this, it feels like a ghost town. There are hardly any people walking around, and things just seem dead. It’s really shocking.

I wanted to try to find some cute little shops to browse, but after seeing the sharply visible disparity in this city, it feels false and stupid to want to do this. On our way back to the Airbnb we wander into a few places, but I don’t have a whole lot of conviction about it. What’s the point in me buying some overpriced handcrafted earrings when there are people barely surviving on this city’s streets? I should have given them my extra doughnut. I should have spent that money on an organization that’s trying to actually do something. It feels so hopeless. It’s such a massive, complicated, compounding stew of rising housing prices, a stagnant minimum wage, lack of mental health and healthcare resources, and drugs. It’s so many things that are so beyond me. I feel useless here in this hurting city.

At the apartment, we silently pack all of our resupplies into boxes. It’s so expensive to thru hike. There’s this idea that what we’re doing is a pure endeavor, the way we “should” live, some kind of escape. But it costs so much money. There’s so much privilege bound up in it. The food, the accommodation, the little celebrations on zero days that add up so quickly. You can’t do this if you don’t have money. Suddenly, the way some hikers describe themselves as “homeless” feels crass and insensitive. We know exactly where our home is. Almost all of us have a place, at least one place, to go back to. We aren’t homeless. We aren’t addicted to heroin. Life has dealt us a lucky hand that we didn’t come by based on merit. We are not poor. We are privileged as fuck to be doing this stupid thing we’re doing. So we pack up our silly little boxes and march them down to the silly little post office so we can finish this silly, beautiful, absurd adventure. Welcome to a world of contradictions. The trail is everything, but it is not the only reality. This adventure is my favorite way to live, but I am not special for doing it. I’m just lucky that I can even step foot on such a path and step out of this city.

We wander around the area after finally getting our boxes mailed and end up at a restaurant called Brix, where we order salads and calamari and drinks. It’s actually a lovely little spot. There’s that contradiction again.

We sit outside and make plans for getting back to trail tomorrow. I’m ready. I’m still hurting, I’m not quite sure I know how to hike after four days off, but I’m ready. Put me back in the woods where everything is sweet and nice and simple and I can go back to my complete unawareness of the world’s issues. Yeah, let me hide a little while longer. Put me back in the woods where I belong.

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