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 to do a thirty-mile day for quite some time…but only once, for the achievement, and ideally when everything lined up to make it easiest for us: as little uphill as possible, just before a resupply (so we weren’t carrying much food), and so on. While today didn’t line up absolutely perfectly, it seemed pretty clear it was the best chance we were going to get for a while. So we intentionally stopped last night at a point just over thirty miles from Timberline Lodge, our next resupply point, and got up this morning at 4:00 AM. I still have vivid memories of making breakfast, striking camp, and packing up my pack in the pitch-black, hiking by headlamp for about an hour before it got light enough to see well enough to do without.

Doing thirty miles in a single day is, as you might imagine, exhausting, although all in all it actually wasn’t nearly as bad as we’d feared. We split up just after it got light, to maximize our speed. (Any group of hikers sticking together will always go slower than individual hikers, because everybody stops whenever anybody needs to stop, and you go at the pace of whoever’s going slowest at that particular moment.) It helped that the first half of the day was pretty easy terrain, and I started out downhill really cruising, hitting 3½ miles an hour in my first hour — incredibly fast for me. I was determined to get as much done before lunch as I could, since inevitably the miles feel a lot harder in the afternoon than in the morning.

Because I was moving so fast, I also caught up and passed, in relatively short order, to many hikers who’d been ahead of us for a few days: Rob Steady, then Treeman and Hedgehog, then Morningstar and Cookie Monster. It was great seeing everybody, and stopping to chat slowed me down some, but I was pretty determined — “a man on a mission”, as Treeman said. Before lunch, the terrain got harder, climbing a thousand feet and bouncing up and down some, but I managed to make it through. I stopped just after 1:00 PM, having hiked just over twenty miles…and with less than eleven miles remaining, I felt great about where I was. My lunch spot was a picnic table at a trailhead, and I got to watch scads of day and weekend hikers go by, since it was a Sunday. Bucket and I traded text messages — we had lots of cell-phone service in this area — and she told me she was only a few miles behind, and feeling really good about our progress, too.

On my morning hike, I got to see two really cool things. The first was maybe an hour or so after sunrise, when I was cruising along and suddenly saw a bird fly up from the ground to a branch maybe twenty-five feet off the ground. My mind registered one fact: that is a big bird, and so I looked much more carefully as I got closer. It turned out to be an absolutely beautiful owl, easily two feet high as it sat there, that simply watched me with its gigantic dark eyes as I walked along the trail. It clearly knew there was nothing I could possibly do to get to it, and so simply sat there, unafraid, watching me the entire time. It was really beautiful — I wish I could’ve stayed there, just watching it, for hours. Alas, I had to move along.

The second fascinating thing I saw was something called Little Crater Lake. Compared to its big brother, it was easily one-one-thousandth as big across — maybe thirty or forty feet — and probably a millionth, or less, the volume. But it was fascinating: although only thirty or forty feet across, it’s forty-eight feet deep (so the sign says), making an incredibly deep pit shape, and filled with absolutely crystal-clear blue water. (Apparently it’s not volcanic, but still the result of various geological and seismic forces.) Several trees have fallen in the lake/pond and simply sit there, more-or-less upside down, in the middle of the water. It’s an awesome sight, even if my iPhone photo can’t really do it justice due to the reflections. I’m hoping that the photos with my Canon and my circular polarizer eliminated enough reflections to really show it off, although it’ll have to be after I’m done with the PCT that I can show those off.

Back to the trail: hiking in the afternoon was made considerably easier when Treeman caught up to me for an hour or two. Having a conversation with someone you don’t ordinarily see on the trail is one of the quickest ways to pass the time, I’ve found, and our great conversation successfully distracted me from the mounting miles. Eventually, he had to wait for Hedgehog to catch up, and I proceeded on.

I was spurred on by the prospect that not only might I make it to Timberline Lodge before it was pitch black outside, but I actually might make it there in time for a reasonable dinner. As you’ve no doubt noticed if you keep up with this blog, food is one of the biggest motivators of all, and so I kept moving at a good clip.

Soon enough, though, I ran into what I knew was coming: the very end of this day was a two-thousand-foot ascent in just over two miles, making it steep and just when I had the very least energy. As always on this trip, you just sort of keep going even when you really don’t want to, and I slogged my way up.

Just as I got about two-thirds of the way up, everything changed. I rounded a bend and not only was I suddenly out of the woods, but the most incredible view of Mount Hood presented itself — I was on Mount Hood, on the lower foothills, looking up at the summit. Mount Hood is really unlike anything I’ve ever seen in all my backpacking adventures, and breathtaking to look at. Because it’s a volcano, it towers vastly higher than anything else around, and the base of the mountain spreads out for dozens of miles around. Even though the High Sierra are wonderful in their own way, even Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S., looks nowhere near as incredible as Mount Hood — it may be three thousand feet higher, but it’s among many other mountains that are close to it in height, rather than completely standing alone.

I just stood there looking and taking pictures for a while before continuing (and kept taking pictures as new views presented themselves). Unfortunately, the trail at this point had turned to sand — deep, fine grey sand, which I suspect is also volcanic — and sand is about the very last thing you want to hike in, especially uphill, because every step makes you slide backwards some and robs you of your progress.

Slogging away, I kept moving, and then got another spectacular view — this time, of Timberline Lodge, beautiful and grand, sitting on a ridge across from me. Timberline Lodge is an amazing structure. It was built in the mid-1930s by the Works Progress Administration, one of the major New Deal anti-Depression programs, and involved thousands of skilled Oregon craftsmen. The architecture and décor are all beautifully perfect for that period and well-preserved, from the exterior to the signs and lights to even the door handles. It’s one of the most appealing buildings I’ve ever been in in my entire life, and seeing it from a distance on the ridge was incredible.

(Side note: Timberline Lodge is also very famous as the inspiration for the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I have now actually been inside all three hotels associated with that film: the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado, where a solitary, late-season stay inspired Stephen King to write the book; the Timberline Lodge, inspiration for the exterior; and the Ahwahnee, in Yosemite National Park, inspiration for the interiors used in the film. I wouldn’t say that Timberline Lodge is really scary in any real sense when you’re here, but, remembering the film, you really can imagine Jack Nicholson, knife in hand, trying to break out of the window to the outside.)

After crossing a final creek — which looked like runoff from a construction site, it was so full of glacial silt — I finally got here. This is where I had a secret that I hadn’t told Bucket about. Treeman, on the trail, told me that he’d secretly arranged for a room at the hotel without telling Hedgehog…and that they still had a few rooms left. I debated a little, as the rooms are not cheap in the least, but eventually my impulses took over and I got one, too.

As it turns out, any doubts I had about the wisdom of that decision were erased completely as I came to the lodge. Only a few hundred feet away was the camping area that most PCT hikers used, and it was completely packed, cold, and windy. Spending a night there was not going to be pleasant. Once I got up to the lodge, opened the front door, and came inside to see the architecture, any further doubts were completely erased. This place is amazing, and the kind of style I just fall in love with.

After getting our room keys and dropping my pack off, I joined Treeman and Hedgehog in the bar/café upstairs (what views it has!) for a beer as they ate dinner. Bucket came up not long thereafter, only about an hour and a half after I’d arrived, and I brought her upstairs to have dinner with us. When I pulled out the key and showed her that no, we didn’t have to go back outside in the cold and the wind at all…well, she was incredibly happy, too.

So…we fall asleep tonight, having successfully broken the thirty-miles-in-a-day barrier, exhausted but so content, because we’re clean, warm, and inside. Tomorrow morning we get what’s supposed to be the best breakfast buffet on the entire trail, and to stay here until midday. Today…today was a good day.

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One response to “Day 138: Amazing”

  1. […] 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 “Pacific […]

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