The final forming of a person’s character lies in his own hands. – Anne Frank
I wake to find no one disturbed my food bag. Also, no one disturbed my drying undies hanging in a tree.
The air is cool; the sky crystal clear and that means the mosquitos are still asleep. I make chococoffee and eat a big tuna pack when ‘Froggy’ walks by telling me she wants to go far and fast. I’ve already decided I need to cool it today and not push as hard so I don’t damage myself.
But I catch up to the fast duo of Froggy and Bat Girl collecting berries. We see none here, but she tells me that beautiful golden raspberry I found outside Cascade Locks is called a salmon berry. What bliss it is to graze in these forests! We pass a whole ridge brimming with berries on our first uphill.
The first miles always speed by, maybe because these are easy. I stay in the now of easy miles, climbing to an open area where I catch a glimpse of Hood. I realize thru-hiking offers a chance to renew yourself. No matter what happens, every day is a fresh start and unknown terrain. I cross an avalanche path of giant boulders, beautifully cleared to make an absolutely flat path. Then I lean down to pick up a FRK. (fucking (w)rapper corner) Easy to misplace when opening a snack on-the-go, but does muck up the wilderness.
There’s a fresh lake smell here and I happily carry no water, rather ‘camel up’ drinking a liter at each water source. It’s helping my right leg, which has a twinge of tightness. Mostly just distracting at the moment, but I need to make sure I attend to it by carrying less weight and babying the downhills.
Thru-hiking allows me to renew and it also teaches me patience. I can’t go much faster than I go, maybe three miles per hour? And I have about 10 hours total – walking plus breaks – in me each day. I’m very unscientific about the whole thing, usually picking a spot around 20+ miles away and seeing if it’s doable, has water, and has camping. I look for alternatives, never being rigid about my decision, and then I break the day into small chunks, usually focused on water sources or places I might want to spend more time. I figure all the pieces will fit together, and eventually I’ll end up where I need to be before it starts snowing.
I realize it’s a bit disorganized, but it works better for me than creating a spreadsheet and sticking to precise miles per day. For one thing, I often go further than I think I can. But it also doesn’t allow for the serendipity of the moment to dictate how I’ll move.
Back to my original statement about patience. Walking every day is weird because you need to concentrate to a degree, but you often forget that you are actually propelling yourself. There’s sometimes a desire to get somewhere sooner – like to food or a camp spot – but all I can do is keep walking each step, each mile, each day and string them together. I often have to simply tell myself to relax into the moment I am in, and as Broken Toe said, make the step I’m taking now the priority.
I pass Bat right on the border of the Mount Hood Wilderness – which seems odd since we are headed away from Hood and towards Jefferson. She says she is going to stop at Ollalie Lake Resort because “sometimes it’s good to insert some reality into the walk.”
Also, she wants a coke.
I make my point exactly when I see a sign for the lake telling me it’s 3 1/2 miles and it feels like an eternity to get there. I almost skip a stop since I had sodas yesterday. But the good people of the resort alert us with a sign on the trail that it’s only a tenth of a mile to junk food and I have my wallet in hand.
The general store is a happy place with loads of candy, sodas, chips and cookies, but also real food for resupply. I give them my business and hang out on the porch with a spectacular view of Jefferson right above a dock leading far out into the lake and flanked by green row boats.
I meet two Portlanders section-hiking. One shares his spectacular night time photographs, the milky way lighting up the sky. He has young children and takes them backpacking, the littlest at six already taking her own clothes in a pack. It warms my heart even if this trip is with a guy friend. They plan to camp on the ridge and I might join them, though he says he feels embarrassed around us since he’s only section hiking. I tell him that’s nonsense. He still has to walk each step. Besides, the disadvantage of a thru-hike is you really do have to keep moving; it’s not always prudent to linger if you want to finish.
On that note, off I go on the big ascent of the day. The mountain is visible for a long way and helps set a target. It’s beautiful here, and open. A rocky trail leads up to heavenly ponds, where I camel up again. Just as I’m packing up, here comes ‘Avocado Man!’ He’s the young man I met on day two who came out of the woods at a high pass while I was pausing and handed me half his fresh, organic, avocado. He’s very fast, so after a break, he is continuing, his girlfriend only joining him to the ridge.
He mentions that Bobby O is just ahead. I’m so pleased. He’s the friend who saw me a mess still on day three. I hope he notices things are looking up, though I doubt I’ll catch Bobby with a half day head start.
I continue up and the trail heads deep into the woods. A man is sitting with his two young sons. Their reward for the hard hill? Candy. They hide behind him when I take a picture, but peek out when I say, “There’s a bear!”
The trail winds through a burned area with many blowdowns and two overly tan, humorless hikers who seem aggrieved I need to pass them. At the top of this climb is a large group mostly dressed in fatigues and carrying walkie-talkies and all speaking Russian, even the kids. They greet me and tell me they are from Portland. East Portland, it would seem. One buries his face in a turtleneck to avoid mosquitos, the large sheathed dagger on his belt used as a last resort.
We walk on smooth and Swiss cheese style pumice, then look like a pack of big-foots shuffling across the slippery snow fields.
I follow them straight up before realizing they are going to the top for photos and my trail is far below. So I head back down and carefully cross to the narrow ridge, affording views of Hood to my left and Jefferson to my right behind a curtain of gnarly gray tree trunks.
I give up looking for a site on the ridge and head all the way down on little stones that hurt my feet into the lovely green valley inside a park. Coming towards me on the trail is a ranger named Chase. He asks to see my PCT permit. The first check of the hike! I dig it out of my pack, sealed away with my cash and extra credit cards, then proudly hand it to him – and make him pose for a picture.
It’s a good thing I ran into Chase because hikers must camp in designated sites, which I somehow overlooked. He suggest Bays Lake because “the swimming is so good.” He is spot on. I set the alicoop in spot #8, then head to the thin beach for an incredibly refreshing dip, not too cold even as Jefferson’s glaciers loom over me.
The mosquitos, of course, are relentless, so it’s a quick dinner before I escape into the alicoop and watch the sunset turn my mountain first yellow, then orange, pink, and now a deep mauve as I close my eyes on this magnificent day.