“Ahh… Home,” are the words that go through my head as I once again find myself on the thin, familiar strip of dirt, granting me direction and purpose as I take my first few steps of the day. It is a feeling of assurance, knowing, and comfort.
As I walked on, it became apparent that my stomach was in a very different place. It was oddly hurting in the middle of a stretch, days after having eaten any town food. My energy started to diminish as the pain increased. How could my spirit and my insides be in such disparate places? Why wasn’t my body able to overcome the invasion that had been forced upon it and re-find balance?
I struggled as I made my way up the next 1,500 foot climb. Oregon was supposed to be the easiest part of the trail. I had heard that this was where we could do 30 miles a day, but so far, I was finding nothing easy about it.
In just over 5 miles, I reached a sign pointing to a spring. Someone’s shirt was draped over it, airing out. There was a couple bent over, adjusting their packs just ahead of me on the trail. I didn’t recognize them. The woman directed me toward the spring. “You’ll cross a paved road, pass through a gate, then keep following the boardwalk.” This seemed like much father than the 100 yards that my guidebook had indicated! I headed down the path, through tall weeds and across the road, ticking off the landmarks I was supposed to pass through as I walked. At the end of the boardwalk, I found a small black pipe out of which the water was running. I took off my pack, pulled out my filter and collecting bag and balanced on a rock as I waited for the bag to fill. The air was noticeably chillier here in this tree-filled area than it had been on the exposed trail.
As I made my way back up to the trail, another hiker that I did recognize walked by me on his way to collect water. I resumed the climb and then headed downhill, through trees and scrub that offered no views. Before starting the PCT, I had read only one previous hiker’s journal the whole way through (partly due to a lack of time, and partly because I wanted to be surprised by my experience). She often talked about how boring Northern California was and asked her readers to send her e-books to help keep her mind occupied. I was happy that I never found any part of the trail in California to be boring. The wooded sections provided space for me to become introspective and quiet within myself, while noticing the smaller details around me, while the open vistas made me happy and gave me energy.
However, I was finding the Oregon forests to be different and actually felt bored for the first time on the hike, which I felt disappointed about. I had my goal set for the day in terms of where I wanted to get to, mileage-wise, but my progress was not as strong as I had hoped. I kept looking at my watch and calculating the miles I had left to hike, feeling incredibly stressed.
Just before noon, I came across a couple walking their dog. The woman asked me if I was hiking the PCT and asked me about my journey. Unfortunately, my stomach issues and pain were always at the forefront of my mind, and that is what I always mentioned about my journey. After several minutes of chatting, she told me that they were renting a cabin nearby and asked if I wanted to go back with them for a cup of tea. I hesitated, feeling the stress of my schedule. I still wanted to get in 17 more miles today and barely had time to do that. I asked how far off the trail it was and they said it was close by. They thought a little rest and snack might help, but left it up to me. I told them I would think about it as we walked. The man said I could set the pace. It was too fast for the woman, so they told me to go on and wait for them at their truck if I decided I wanted to go to their cabin.
I decided I might as well let go of my expectations for the day and take them up on their kind offer.
We all climbed into the truck and headed down the road for half a mile. I was surprised that their cabin was actually half of a real house! Keith’s brother was watching TV inside and was surprised to find a stranger being welcomed into the space. Evelyn offered me the use of their shower, as well as any food that they had. I opted to shower before I ate. It was the nicest shower I had had on the entire trail! No one was waiting for me to hurry and get out, there were several shampoos and conditioners for me to choose from, and it was a nice, big, luxurious shower! I was given a fluffy towel to dry off with and then Keith cooked me up some scrambled eggs, as Evelyn put out a bowl of yogurt and cup of tea for me. They were watching some old home movies, and I learned a great deal about their family in the small amount of time I was there! They said that it was completely up to me as to when I wanted to get back to the trail. They only had to get ready for some guests coming over for dinner. Evelyn offered me a couple of slices of watermelon after I finished eating and then I knew I would have to get going again.
She drove me back to the trail and gave me a hug before she got back in the truck. This was the first time on any of my three long hikes that someone had invited me into their home and I felt so grateful. I was so glad that I abandoned my stressful plan and allowed for this opportunity to be pampered and recharged.
I headed back into the woods, bypassing the next water source, off the trail, as I had just filled up my bottles with tap water. When I became tired, I sat down on a fallen tree and made myself an ice coffee as a treat. My mood had drastically improved, thanks to the kind offering I had just experienced.
I then entered the rocky lava bed section of trail. My guidebook had listed the comments of many previous hikers warning about how our pace would be drastically slowed through this section and how hard it would be on our feet. I was not looking forward to it! However, I soon came to find out that their warnings were not to be believed! Through the middle of the rock field was a narrow strip of red clay that was perfectly easy to walk on! Sometimes, I really can’t understand people!
My energy did wane, however, and I stopped several times to rest my shoulders and try to refuel. As evening approached, I reached the state highway and crossed it to find a fast-moving creek on the other side. I could have camped there, but it was too noisy, and too unprotected. Instead, I collected and filtered water and then started the next climb.
About halfway up, I saw a small patch of dirt along the right of the trail. Night was falling and I was thankful that I didn’t need to continue climbing. I spread out my groundsheet and sleeping bag, bundled up, and cooked dinner. Ole and Track Meat walked by and seemed envious about my spot. They were still trying to catch up to Veggie!
We could smell the smoke of a forest fire in the distance, but it didn’t concern me.