Day 146: Slightly Drier (Not That That’s Saying Much)

It might be taken as a sign of our attitude towards the rain that waking up this morning to “only” a great deal of water dripping off the trees all around us, rather than actual rain, seemed like a relief. We still had to get ready while being careful not to let any important gear get wet, but it was a whole lot better than yesterday.

As it turns out, the rest of the day held true to that pattern:

Day 145: A Soggy Slog

As I mentioned yesterday, Washington is known as a wet state. As if yesterday afternoon’s rains weren’t enough to prove it to us, last night and today made the point in earnest. Not long after we fell asleep last night, it started absolutely pouring, and continued pouring for hours and hours in the middle of the night. (I know this because every time I’d wake up a little bit to roll over, I could hear the rain coming down on the tarp.) And today it basically never stopped raining, aside from maybe thirty minutes here or an hour there — sometimes a light drizzle, usually a steady rain, sometimes a true downpour.

We have really good raingear with us, but, as anybody who’s hiked in much rain knows, this does not mean you stay completely dry. You know those labels that brag “Waterproof and Breathable”?

Day 144: Washington is…Wet.

I knew Washington was well-known for being a wet state, but I didn’t actually expect the difference to be this dramatic. After literally not feeling a single drop of rain our entire time in Oregon, it started to rain about an hour before we crossed the border into Washington…and kept raining on and off for our entire afternoon’s hiking here. I know it’s just coincidence, but it’s certainly a dramatic introduction to the state. We’ve even heard that we could get as much as two inches of rain overnight tonight, which is a huge amount, so we’re prepared to face whatever comes down. Honestly, as much as it isn’t very fun to hike in rain, it’s more than worth it if it helps put out all the forest fires burning across the state, so I’m just going to try to appreciate it in that context rather than complaining about it or feeling unhappy.

This morning, we hitchhiked from Hood River to Cascade Locks…and got picked up by

Day 143: Heading to Washington!

It sometimes seems hard to believe that we’re about to start Washington, the final state on our hike. I think it’s that, most of the time, I’ve mentally treated the PCT as if it were infinitely long — I mean, obviously I knew there is an end to it, but it’s so far that trying to actually think about getting there will just frustrate you. And yet suddenly here we are, poised on our last state border with only (“only”) a little over five hundred miles to go. It still seems a bit unreal.

Having said that, Washington is decidedly not for the faint of heart. The terrain is much steeper, the days much harder, and the weather quite a bit more serious. We didn’t get rained on for a single moment in all of Oregon, but I don’t expect that to continue in Washington whatsoever. It’s a famously wet state, of course, and so we’re prepared for rain; there’s also a chance we’ll have to contend with snow, too, particularly as we make our way close to the Canadian border and it gets later and later in the season.

There is, however, a beautiful tradeoff for all of that: Washington is also supposed to have some of the most spectacular scenery on the entire trip, along with the High Sierra. I’ve never backpacked, sightseen, or really even been, in any serious way, to Washington. I’m looking forward a great deal to seeing what everyone says is so beautiful, and so different, from all of the hiking we’ve done so far.

This year, it seems like half of Washington is

Day 142: Hangin’ Out and Doing Nothing

Ahhhh…it feels so good to be in town on a double zero. This is undoubtedly our last double zero on the whole trip, and likely our second-to-last zero, and somehow this only makes me appreciate it all the more.

Cascade Locks is a pretty small town, and everything you want and need everything they have is within easy walking distance of our hotel. This means both restaurants open for breakfast, all four open for dinner, the post office, grocery store, and so on.

During the day today, we

Day 141: A Precipitous Drop and a Beautiful Canyon

Today, we took one of several alternate trails we’ve done instead of the PCT at times — this one called the Eagle Creek Alternate. Many of these alternates, like this one, are much more popular than the official PCT, to the point where almost nobody actually hikes the official trail in these sections. The Eagle Creek Alternate is so popular because of what you get to see as you descend it: a gorgeous canyon with Eagle Creek tumbling down it…and multiple really incredible waterfalls along the way. (It also doesn’t hurt that the alternate saves you four miles compared to the official PCT.)

Starting off, we immediately recognized one big advantage the PCT often has over these alternates:

Day 140: Last Days in Oregon

Today was our last full day of hiking in Oregon. Tomorrow, we hike into Cascade Locks, where we’re going to take two full zeroes before heading across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington. This transition, as you might expect, leaves me reflecting on what Oregon has been like — and on my hopes for the next, and final, chapter of this massive undertaking.

In the last few days — I really noticed it two mornings ago, as we started our thirty-mile day — there have been more and more sections of trail that have practically screamed

Day 139: Leaving Timberline

Staying at Timberline Lodge last night felt so good, and this morning, as you might imagine, we were in no hurry at all to leave. We woke up in a warm bed in a beautiful room in an incredible lodge, instead of a cold tent on a really windy mountainside outside. Perhaps best of all, we were prepared for what we’d heard many people describe as the “best breakfast on the PCT”, the famous Timberline breakfast buffet.

And…you know what?

Day 138: Amazing

Today, I: hiked twenty miles…before lunch; did my first “thirty”, hiking almost 31 miles in a single day; got spectacular views of Mount Hood, which is absolutely breathtaking in person; saw the strangest, coolest little pond ever; watched a huge, beautiful owl watching me as I hiked down the trail; and ended the day at Timberline Lodge, one of the single coolest buildings I’ve been in in my entire life — and the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Bucket and I had both wanted

Day 137: Back Into the Smoke

There may have been some great views out there today, but, if there were, we certainly didn’t see them. The smoke blew back in last night at about 4:00 AM — I actually woke up and stayed awake for an hour, the smell was so strong — and stayed with us all day long. So, once again, any distant mountains that were out there were completely invisible, and most of what we saw was just blurry outlines of nearby ridges.

I should clarify: the smoke out here is never so bad that

Day 135: Two Thousand!

Mid-morning today, we hit the 2,000 mile mark of the PCT. This is a number that, in many ways, doesn’t even seem real: who hikes two thousand miles? A plane trip of two thousand miles is significant, and doing the same by car is a really major expedition. To hike it…well, that’s just crazy. Apparently the kind of crazy that we suffer from.

This also means, of course, that it’s

Day 133: These Sisters Are Serious Volcanoes

We’d heard about the Sisters several hundred miles ago, a set of three striking mountains in relatively close proximity somewhere in Oregon. I wasn’t quite sure exactly where they were until today, when we came around a corner and suddenly it was obvious that that’s exactly what we were seeing — the first of the Sisters. The funny thing is that I didn’t necessarily recognize them from pictures per se; rather, they’re by far the biggest and most impressive mountains around here, and I was pretty sure that was what we were looking at.

The Sisters are a very popular area to hike in, which means that

Day 132: The Beautiful Oregon

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say here — at least in this part of our hike, some days just aren’t that different from the day before. We’re fortunate to still be in the part of Oregon that’s packed chock-full of lakes, relatively flat, and heavily forested; this means we’re spending our days cruising right along in the shade, and have water easily accessible at almost all times.

It’s gotten to be fairly warm outside during the days — up to the lower 80s — which means that

Day 131: Lake to Lake in Oregon

To my delight, we’ve continued meandering from one lake to another in this part of Oregon. We easily passed half a dozen large lakes today, and just as many smaller ponds, most of them ranging anywhere from “pretty” to “truly beautiful”. It’s as if someone flipped a switch, and suddenly Oregon has gone from dry hillsides to lake-dappled landscapes. The fact that the trail through here is largely flat just makes it all the better; the going’s easy and we can cruise right along. (This doesn’t make twenty-three miles in a day easy, exactly, just…easier than it otherwise would be.)

We continue to bounce right along with

Day 130: The Day We Saw the Fishing Tournament on the PCT

Just like the Wienermobile, a fishing tournament is not exactly something I expected to see on this trail. Yet there we were this afternoon, sitting in the grass in Shelter Cove, Oregon, watching a crowd of a couple hundred people listen intently to the announcer as the results of the contest started to roll in. Given my interest in fishing (to those who don’t know me: zero or even less), this was quite a cultural experience for me. (And, even more so, to Treeman and Hedgehog, who are from Berlin — a place where I somehow doubt they have many fishing tournaments.)

Shelter Cove was our resupply point for this leg of the PCT, and it’s really just

Day 129: Skyline? What Skyline?

We’ve been hiking in forest-fire smoke for so long now that it’s come to seem almost ordinary to us. Yesterday, we thought we’d perhaps finally started to come out of it as it disappeared in the late afternoon and evening. But, then, almost everybody we camped with yesterday described the same thing: waking up at about 1 AM, smelling smoke all around them, and having a hard time falling back asleep. I suppose that’s evolved deeply into humans: if you smell smoke, don’t go to sleep. The smell of this smoke is interesting, too — it really does smell exactly like the world’s biggest campfire. If we didn’t know that vast amounts of forest were on fire out there somewhere, it might even be pleasant, in its own way. It certainly isn’t anything like smelling smoke from a factory or power plant, thankfully.

Don’t get me wrong:

Day 128: Back Among Friends

We’re camped tonight just a few feet away from Treeman and Hedgehog, and got to eat dinner out here with them. Physio and Cashmere are just a short ways down the trail, as are Morningstar, Cookie Monster, and Rob Steady. We spent all day long bouncing back and forth with them on the trail — getting passed by them when we took a break, passing them when they took a break — and I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. The entire day felt better, passed more quickly, and I was just in a great mood all day long. It’s so good to be among friends again!

Treeman and Hedgehog actually caught up with us last night, as did

Day 127: Sunrise Over Crater Lake

Our alarm went off at 3:00 AM this morning, insanely early even by hiker standards. It was painful getting out of bed, but we had a mission: we were headed up to the rim of Crater Lake to see two things — the Perseid meteor shower, and sunrise over the lake. As bad as you know you’ll feel on only five hours of sleep, sometimes it’s more than worth it to have an experience out here that you probably could never have any other time of your life. So…up we went, and headed up the trail.

It turns out that, so early in the morning, you sometimes see things you probably never would’ve seen any other time.