I returned from the trail in September, having just tagged the Canadian border. It was the highlight of my hiking life, so far. Never mind the shin splints. Those went away within a few weeks.
What hit me upside the head was rapidly increasing cardiopulmonary symptoms, and stunning levels of fatigue. We spent eight months trying to figure this out. Steve was a champ, going to every appointment, and keeping track of every detail. And during all of this, the fear of not hiking again played incessantly in the back of my mind.
One hospital stay, and a couple of dozen doctor visits later, I had a diagnosis; a messed up autonomic nervous system, primarily manifestating as chronic fatigue syndrome, plus a handful of other issues.
With a diagnosis, we could start treating symptoms. I have to have tons of fluid and salt, wear compression tights, get lots of sleep, and not push myself.
With all that in mind, I started training again. My first walk, in late April, was under a mile. But I was thrilled. I gradually increased distance, and slowly added weight. By mid June, I could start thinking about hiking again. It wouldn’t look like last year; I’d be going low and slow. But at least I’d be on the trail.
Fast forward to today. I’m on a train in Seattle, getting ready to head south to Eugene. Just like last year, my wonderful friends are taking me up to Willamette Pass…and this year I’ll be heading south.
I don’t know how far my body will take me. I don’t know if I’ll be rerouted due to wildfire. But what I do know is that I’ve been given another chance, and I plan to soak up every minute of it.
And here I am, thanks be to God. I’m at Shelter Cove, mile 1903, and I’m on the trail. For whatever value of “on the trail” means this year, I’m on the trail.
Just like last year, I took the train from Seattle to Eugene. My longtime friend Robin picked me up, and we spent a great evening together, catching up like good friends do. Then in the morning, my longtime friend Mary Beth, and her daughter Kezzie, chauffered me up to Willamette Pass. Robin and MB are members of the September Moms; we’ve been together since 1996, and we all have kiddos the same age. Hard to believe it, but they’re all turning 21!
MB took a picture, we hugged, I tagged the trailhead, crossed the highway, and I was on the trail!
I wound my way down to Shelter Cove, just a couple of miles and a handful of trail junctions later. I had to cross the train tracks, which are slightly south and much east of the Eugene station. The goal is to get to a train depot and catch a ride back north, when all is said and done.
Anyway, this was two miles of shaking the cobwebs off. I’m definitely not in as good of condition as last year! I need to carry electrolytes (heavy), extra water (very heavy), and wear heat-trapping compression socks and tights. But it is what it is. Better than sitting on the couch.
I got a tent spot at the PCT Hiker site. It was just me and Hamlet, a thru of about my age. Bonus point for a proximate picnic table. It’s always easier to sort things with a picnic table.
Once I was set up, I headed back down to the store/restaurant area. The restaurant is new this year, and is a great improvement over the frozen pizza from last year. It’s all outdoors, and they sell (real) pizza, burgers, and decent breakfasts.
Most of the hikers were NOBO (northbound). Most of the remaining hikers were sectioners (like me). The SOBOs were just starting to hit central Oregon.
I hung out with Electro, a NOBO from the Bay Area, Carefree, from Germany, sectioning SOBO through OR, and Snotdress (long story), a thru from Omak, WA.
When I asked a woman if she would take a picture of Carefree, Snotdress, and I, she asked our trail names. I said, “Rest Step,” and she said, “Rest Step? Liz?” and introduced herself, and her sister: Misty and Heather. They are both members of the Women of the PCT group! I love making these sorts of connections!
I had a long day today, so I decided to let myself sleep in and get a solid breakfast before I hit the trail.
It’s very good to be back. Rest Step is in the house!
From Shelter Cove south, there are two options. The “official” PCT heads up and over Diamond Peak, and runs about 30 very dry miles. The Oregon Skyline Trail was part of the original PCT. This section of it runs 20 miles, past several lakes. It also has 2000 ft less elevation gain. I chose the OST. Miles are numbered south to north, just like the regular PCT.
Slow today. Slow, slow, slow. Par for the course, I suppose, but I don’t like it. I didn’t sleep well last night, so that played into the fatigue. Meh.
After a hearty breakfast at Shelter Cove, I talked with a handful of NOBOs regarding the Blanket Creek and Spruce Lake fires in the Crater Lake area. The bottom line is that I’ll be skipping Section C for this year. As of today, the PCT (west of the Rim) and the Rim Trail and Rim Road are all closed. The smoke is dark grey and solid, according to the CL web cam.
I have a resupply waiting for me at Mazama Village, south of the lake. Another hiker, who had Verizon, loaned me his phone, so that I could have the resupply forwarded to Seiad Valley. With the box there, I could either a) have it sent home, b) take it on the train, or c) use it to get to Etna.
Anyway, I headed out a little before noon. Today’s destination was Diamond View Lake, just five miles up the trail. The lake is lovely, with a great view of Diamond Peak.
An amusing note: I don’t *look* like a section hiker, because my shirt is too damned white. Even yesterday at Shelter Cove, when I was sitting with the other hikers, somebody asked me if I worked there. I grinned and said no, it’s just a new shirt. Maybe I should roll in the dirt or something.
Didn’t sleep well last night. I think it’s apnea, which I’m more prone to as the elevation increases. It should shake itself out if I sleep on my side. And I got a couple of hours before I got up at 6. Nevertheless, it was *really* hard to get going, and to beat back despair. I had to make myself go south, instead of retreating north.
I’ve given up caring whether I make it in or out of camp in decent time. Not this year. So it was 8:30 before I hit the trail. I put on my favorite “start the day” playlist, and headed out.
I stopped for lunch at Whitefish Horse Camp, OST Mile 10.2. There were picnic tables and outhouses. I spent a bit of time organizing gear, and a bit more time enjoying a leisurely lunch.
The afternoon run to Oldenburg Lake involved a couple of jogs on different trails. Naturally, I took a wrong turn, and added a quarter mile before I realized what I was doing. One of the ways you can keep track of the trail is to follow the tracks of popular trail runners. So I was following tread that looked just like Altra Lone Peaks, until I figured out that it was the track of a mountain bike! About face, forward march. It was slightly maddening, and pretty amusing.
Another wonderful goof was thinking that this section ended at 1835. Wrong! All day I’d been tormenting myself with “how will I have enough food?” and when I finally looked at my map tonight I realized that the section ends at 1845. Ten miles fewer! I was thinking I’d need to end today at Windigo Pass (1876, an additional 4.3 miles). But there was no way I could physically get there.
So Oldenburg was my destination. I was the only one there when I arrived, and I promptly began such yummy camp chores as rinsing out my socks.
I heard another hiker, and I looked up to see a young Chinese woman, wearing a complete mosquito netting suit. I looked at her, and said, “You’re Optimistic Turtle!” She gave me a puzzled look, and I said, “I recognize the bug pants.”
I told her I’d been following her on the class page, because she had the best trail name ever. She was as nice as she seemed online. She got her name because she always sets goals, but doesn’t quite make it that far. I understand that!
Anyway, she said she’d be getting up early, and I said I’d be sleeping in a bit longer. Her response? “Of course! You’re on vacation. I’m on a mission.” That was the best thing I’d heard in quite awhile.
Tomorrow’s plan is to rejoin the PCT at Windigo Pass 1876, where there is ostensibly a 30 gallon cache. From there, I’ll head up the hill in the direction of Six Horse Spring.
I didn’t put the rain fly up tonight. I’m lying in my tent, looking up at the stars, and a few wispy clouds. Lodgepole pines are all around. Life is good.
I’m a couple of miles shy of Six Horse Spring, which was my goal for tonight. Tomorrow, I’m aiming for Maidu Lake, the next realistic source of water. I’ve got three liters, so while it’s a stretch, it should be fine.
I really dragged this morning, but I did get to say happy trails to Optimistic Turtle, before she headed north. There were just shy of five miles left on the OST, plus another half mile uphill on a forest road, to Windigo Pass 1876. And not only did I find a decent water cache, I found Magic!
Trail magic is basically surprising long distance hikers with good things. It could be soda, beer, cookies, fruit, even a pop-up barbecue. It could be a ride into or out of town, or a place to stay. Magic is proffered by Trail Angels, that rare breed of individual who takes joy in helping tired, grubby hikers. Magic can happen spur of the moment, or full-time by a handful of uber-Angels, who share their homes in trail towns.
This day, a couple of thrus, off the trail temporarily due to injury, brought a large cooler full of cold drinks and treats. Naturally, a vortex occurred…when a group of hikers find magic, they gather round to swap tales and hang out. I ended up spending 90 minutes there, instead of a grab-and-go at the cache. Lots of fun!
The cache was critical, because without it I would have had to a) go fifteen miles between water sources, or b) fetch water up a risky side trail. Neither of these were good options for me, at least this year. As it stood, I still had to schlep five liters uphill, to last an afternoon, overnight, and eight more miles. I really don’t like my need for extra water.
Those five liters played havoc with my outlook. Two or three times I came close to just turning around and hitching a ride from Windigo down to Diamond Lake, my next resupply. Uphills are far more difficult than I’m used to. But I met a handful of hikers along the way, who, when I was honest about “how are you doing?”, gave me good encouragement. People like this probably never realize how they help others, but for me at least, it was a Godsend.
I reached my campsite, which wasn’t as far as I would have liked, but which had a wonderful retired couple one site over. We had a good chat, in which I came clean about my CFS diagnosis. And the woman said that she had had multiple surgeries, which slowed her down. She gets it.
Anyway, I said that my slow pace was playing havoc with my food rations. And all of a suddent, they were plying me with goodies. I totally wasn’t trying to yogi, but they had extra. Magic, part two!
I set up camp, and had a dry dinner (where you don’t add any water). Shortly thereafter, we heard thunder, so I found a sheltered place to secure my Ursack (food storage bag), staked out my guylines, and climbed into my tent.
Today’s story was discouragement, and I kept playing the “what was I doing this time last year” game. But that’s not helping anything. I think I’ll keep playing my music, to keep me out of my head. Three more days until Diamond Lake.
Rough night last night. My knee was hurting and spasming so badly I was almost in tears. And of course it kept me awake. But after I got up and walked around, it was fine. I have no explanation for this little miracle, but I’ll take it.
I was ready to hit the trail at 8:30. And here’s the honesty part. I wanted *so* badly to turn left, go north, go downhill, and head back to Windigo Pass. I almost had to grab myself by the shoulders, turn myself right, and push myself uphill. The more days I’m out here, the harder this gets. But after today, it will be easier to go southbound. And that knowledge really helped. I kept going. I kept walking.
Mid-morning, I reached Six Horse Spring. The steep side trail was everything it was advertised to be, and I was suddenly more grateful for schlepping that extra water. Many of the 20-something year old thrus were skipping the trail as well. I sat down, had a bite of lunch, and chatted with a NOBO.
As the day continued, I found I had signal! This might not seem to be a big deal, but Washington sections K and L (Stevens Pass to Canada) has zero signal. It’s far more remote, and rugged, than anything I’m seeing here. At any rate, I took time to call Steve, and to text with the boys. That was a wonderful thing.
The trail junction to Maidu Lake and Miller Lake is at mile 1863. Miller Lake is on a road, and features car camping and boating. I hung a right, and went down a mile to the more remote Maidu.
I had only a few ounces of water left, so I dropped my pack, got water, filtered, and slurped liquid goodness. Then I looked up to meet my fellow travelers.
Two thrus were just leaving, and headed to a campsite around the lake. Prodigal Wife and Bear Bells had the large campsite next to me. And while I was setting up camp, Orion showed up…with his two horses!
There are only a couple of equestrians on trail this year. Orion had two wild mustangs, purchased from a BLM auction. Minaret was his riding horse, and Gary was his packhorse. He trained them for six months after their purchase, and then took them on the trail. He is riding for the Ataxia Foundation; his father lost his life to ataxia, and Orion hopes to raise both awareness and funds.
Once his horses were hobbled and set loose in a large grassy patch near the lake, Orion joined us for a couple hours of just hanging out.
In the course of things, Prodigal Wife said that it was her birthday. I said, “Oh my gosh, wait here.” And just like what happened to me in 2015, I was able to pull out a dessert and share it all around, with a chorus of Happy Birthday!
Orion and his horses were gone when I woke up. But Prodigal Wife and Bear Bells were there. During breakfast, she gave me a funny look and asked me what my real name was. Long story short, she’s also on Women of the PCT, and thought my online advice was spot on <blush>. Before we headed our merry ways, I gave her a hug, and Bear Bells took a picture of us together. Turns out she’s done a huge amount of the trail, including a stint in Washington last year.
I headed out, with a better pace today, and started up the hill toward Tipsoo Pass 1858. This is the highest point on the PCT, in Oregon and Washington, at 7560 feet.
At the intersection of the PCT and the Maidu Lake trail, I met a couple of NOBO thrus. One of them asked me if I was SOBO. I said, why yes I am. She asked if I’d take a scrap of paper, with a poem. It’s for a NOBO friend of hers, who was behind the group for a number of reasons. I said, sure! and put it in my pocket. So my mission was to look for a woman in a purple shirt, whose name is Pilot, and who is hiking with a new hiking buddy named Ellie.
A couple of miles and maybe 500 feet of elevation shy of the ridge, I heard two claps of thunder, immediately followed by heavy rain. Given that thunderstorms and ridge climbing don’t mix, I put up my tent and tossed my pack inside, in about two minutes. Then I tossed myself inside, and settled in to wait out the storm.
Some 90 minutes later, I packed up and headed for the pass. On the way, I met a hiker named Cow Patty, a woman in her late 60s, who wears whatever she finds in the thrift store, and hikes with her dog. She probably has a heck of a backstory.
And then I reached Tipsoo Pass! There were several thrus, taking a break, passing by, and all sorts of things. One of them took my picture by the sign.
I love chatting with people along the trail. You never know who’ll you meet, where they’re going, and so on. This community brings me great joy.
A couple of miles down from the pass, I met two young women. One of them had been off the trail for a bit, and her friend joined her. The friend introduced herself as Ellie, and the other said her name was Pilot. I looked at her, and said, “Wait a second, you’re supposed to be wearing a purple shirt, aren’t you?”
Pilot gave a holler, and threw her trekking poles up in the air! I dug out the scrap of paper, and there was rejoicing all around as she read the poem 😊
And then Pilot asked my name. I told her, “Rest Step,” and she said “I know what that is! I’m a member of the Mazamas!” This is the oldest trail group in the West, based out of Portland. I told her my backstory with The Mountaineers, and with my trail name, and they thought that was wonderful.
With the thunderstorm, photo op, and socializing, I was rather behind schedule. I needed to camp by Thielsen Creek, as that was my last water source before Diamond Lake. So I put the afterburners on, arrived at my campsite at 7:30, pounded an energy shake for dinner, and was in bed by 9:00.
As the sun set, I saw Mt. Thielsen catching the alpenglow in all its craggy glory. It was through the trees, but still lovely. There’s a reason it’s called the Lightning Rod of Oregon.
My campsite is a wide open space, surrounded by trees and the trail, and I’m the only one here, lying on my back. The creek is a titch down the trail, and I can hear it from my tent. And there goes the Space Station overhead. How cool is that? <waves at astronauts>