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 Physio and Cashmere, after I finished writing. One of the things that may not be obvious is that almost nobody out here, outside of long-established couples (and sometimes not even they), actually hikes together in the sense of staying within sight of each other all day. Hiking speeds, patterns, and desires are just too different for that to actually work out for almost anybody at all. This makes it all the better when people do catch up, and you get to spend a short break, or a lunchtime, or even overnight with people you know and like a great deal.

The end of our trip, while still a long ways off, is just close enough that it lets me think about the times when we won’t be on the trail any more, and thus won’t have a chance to see these people again — at least, not easily or frequently — and it makes me really sad. Bonding with fellow hikers here feels a little bit like summer camp, where you make fast and strong friendships…except that it’s the world’s most grueling summer camp, and six months long. I hope to keep in touch with a number of these people for a long time to come, and even get a chance to visit them at times.

Our hiking today was relatively easy, if fairly long; even the uphills in Oregon are noticeably gentler and shorter than they were in California, and there really are fairly long stretches of relatively flat trail, which is great. We climbed a bit in the beginning of the day as we passed Mount Thielsen, which is a jagged, sharp peak jutting straight into the sky. Water out here is still very scarce; the stream coming off of Mt. Thielsen’s snowfields was the only water we had for sixteen more miles and the end of our day. (Needless to say, we’re sure looking forward to Washington and not having to carry so much water ever again!)

Speaking of scarce water, we also saw yet more wildfire in the distance — great fields of smoke rising in a line, sometimes creating enormous clouds of smoke over whole swaths of the mountain range in the distance. This isn’t even a particularly bad fire, and is very far from threatening to close any of the trail, let alone threatening us, but it sure is visually impressive and a little intimidating. It gives me new respect for all of the people who fight wildfires, and a whole lot of gratitude for all that they do.

Midday, we stopped for lunch just past the Highest Point of the PCT in Oregon and Washington. This is actually kind of funny, because, unlike the highest point of the PCT in California (Forester Pass, 13,100′), this point isn’t remotely impressive or outstanding in and of itself — it’s just a ridge you happen to climb at one point. And there are actually many, many places in Oregon where you get within five hundred feet of elevation of this high point, too…it just happens to be a smidgen higher than the rest of them. Still, it’s certainly a milestone to be passed, and it does feel good to know we don’t ever have to climb higher than that on this trip again.

In the late afternoon, we also came across Treeman and Hedgehog, taking a break on the side of a mountain…right down the slope from where they’d created a trail marker: “3000 KM”. This trail sounds even more impressive when measured in kilometers, and 3,000 kilometers sure is a crazily long ways, anyway. Apparently the entire thing is 4,200 km — perhaps I’ll start telling people that, just to have a larger number.

Oregon around here is not just easy hiking, though; it’s also really beautiful hiking, with lots of sunlit woods, light-green moss crawling up the trees, pine forests dappled with sunshine, and soft forest floors coated with pine needles. I like it quite a lot — it’s not as spectacular as the High Sierra, but a lot more hikeable and livable in many ways. It feels comfortable and good, in other words.

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