In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. – Eleanor Roosevelt
The men are awake and out by 3:15. True to their word, they are absolutely quiet packing up. They’re heading north to ‘meet their wives,’ they tell me from a very snug two man tent. I sleep beautifully in my tiny spot under their clothes line, especially happy they warned me about mice and I hung my food and garbage on a mossy branch.
Everyone marches out early and I find it difficult not to succumb to the peer pressure to move faster. My body is only tired, not injured, though I have two small infections to attend to – a bear-grass slice on my pinky and an ingrown toenail. Sounds small, but out here it’s nearly impossible to stay clean.
I pack up and push off on the last big climb in Washington. The sun is orange in the forest and I get right into my rhythm. I feel stronger and I realize that having soaked my legs in the ice cold stream last night must have made the difference.
Soon, I’m out in the open with views back to Adams, Helen and Rainier far in the distance. It boggles the mind how far I’ve walked. This beautiful ridge is full of huckleberry bushes – and blueberries, too. I feast on them, my fingers turning purple. If you get just the right bush in the sun, the berries are huge and succulent.
I see Zach finishing breakfast at the last stream for many miles. An Englishman is carrying an entire bag of hotdog buns in his pack. He tells me his trail name is ‘Call Me Daddy.’ I say no name has stuck yet and he suggests I do something interesting. “Middle-aged female solo hiker walks two long trails in one year” might qualify.
Zach races up faster than me with his ‘uphill music’ in his ear buds. He says more than sings the words in a loud monotone as he disappears. I get stopped every few feet by berries.
The trail winds up and down through some very thick foliage thrashing at my legs – and making me happy to be in long pants. I come to a logged area completely stripped to the bare ground. It’s hot and that makes this area perfect for blackberries – huge, succulent fruit with the antioxidants needed just now. I stop for a feast as hikers pass, too focused on miles to stop. The Rush makes no sense to me. We’re here, now in this spectacular place with free food.
But I’m ignored.
Ah, well. More for me. Three young women pass me with the last in line attached by a string, “to keep me motivated!’ she says. They definitely feast on the berries.
At the ridge, I call Richard. I miss him a lot. He’s doing well as his map business is hitting its stride. I tell him I’m killing myself hiking and he says the same meeting deadlines. But he takes a break to talk and reserve me a room at the Rodeway Inn in Stevenson. Good to have that taken care of as I descend into very hot and rocky terrain. I meet a hiker named ‘Zero Blister’ with doritos strapped to his pack and I immediately like him.
As I get closer to the Columbia River, things are overgrown, almost like the New Zealand bush with large ferns. OK, not as large as the bush, sort of a wannabe, but definitely a jungle.
It always feels further than the miles say as I go up and down, into forest, out in the blazing sun, along a highway and then finally to the Bridge of the Gods, an ancient girder that cautions motorists to not exceed 15 mph.
There is no pedestrian walkway, so I hug the left, wave and say thank you to passing cats, many folks offering a thumbs up. I can see straight through the metal hundreds of feet below my feet, and very carefully snap a photo willing myself not to drop the phone.
And then, I am in Oregon!
Cascade Locks is a lovely, tourist town where I head straight to the Thunder Island Brewery for a ‘trail magic’ beer. The line is long, but I shuffle forward and discover it’s not the brewery giving out beer, but customers buying a coaster and supplying a beer to some unknown future hiker. I am deeply touched.
The food line is impossible, so I choose the drink line and ask if the server might break the rules and sell me a bowl of chips, which she does with a smile. I am still filthy, smelly, hair up in my balaclava, but I take a seat at a picnic table with a gorgeous shaded view and make fast friends with Shannon and Chad from Missouri who allow me to pick at their nachos, hungry little scavenger that I am.
Tom and Jim join us, and we have more beers and cider and good laughs. It feels so nice. The men take me back to Stevenson in their rental convertible and I promptly eat a large loaded fries, burger and chocolate peanut butter shake before walking through this lovely village, talking with Sam at the used car lot and relaxing on the dock with the wind off the water, sailboat gliding past.
I still haven’t bathed or changed at this point. When I get into hot water, it’s primal moans of being clean and soothed. Yes, sleeping in a bed is better than a tent, my limbs sprawled out, recovering.