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>
Last night was slightly interesting. I had just nodded off, aided and abetted by my trusty melatonin, when I heard thunder. I tried stuffing my fingers in my ears…la la fuzzy bunnies…but I had to admit defeat. It was time to put the rain fly on. Ever tried to do that when you’ve got melatonin in your bloodstream? For me, it’s problematic. Nevertheless, I managed to stand upright, figure out which way was which on the fly, attach the fly, and hammer in a few stakes. And I didn’t even fall over! Victory was mine!
I needed to get to Diamond Lake by early-mid afternoon. So I hustled through my camp chores, got water, filtered the water, and got more, and then I trotted off towards my destination.
Once I got to the day’s high point, the Thielsen Creek Trail junction at 7300 feet, I called the resort to see a) if they could pick me up at the highway at 1:30, and b) if they had a room. So I was scheduled for a pickup, at “whenever the maintenance man has time in the early afternoon,” and put on a waiting list for a room. I crossed every finger and toe. Which made for difficult hiking, but such is life.
It was six miles of unabated downhill, it was fast, and it was fun. There’s something good about increasing your speed, when you’ve been struggling. So switch on the music, insert the headphones, because I have a date with real food.
I knew I was getting closer, because the highway is also the northern boundary of Crater Lake National Park. Hence, the sign. Plus, it had other cool information.
Around 1:00, I reached the trailhead. It’s about half a mile off of the highway, so I couldn’t linger. There were three hikers there, one of whom was Old School (who I met later in my trip), and I had a delightful surprise. I’d seen pictures of Taylor, aka Yachti, online, and what caught my eye was her traveling companion…a four month old kitten! Manzanita, also known as Trail Bait, was adopted by Yachti in California. She was trained to ride on top of a pack, and would happily sit there all day long. By night, she had become a world class mouser, so much so that she hardly ate any kibble. Yachti and Trail Bait were hiking with a friend, whose name I didn’t catch, but who clearly liked giving the kitty a ride.
I had to catch the van, so I headed south. Old School was headed that way too. His plan was to do Section C, but on the East Rim Road, rather than either the (West) Rim Trail or the PCT. As it was still very smoky, I was comfortable, if frustrated, with my plan.
Fifteen minutes after I reached the highway, the Diamond Lake van pulled up onto the shoulder. The driver, accompanied by two grandsons who bounced all over the back of the van, loaded up my pack and I was on my way. It was about a fifteen minute ride downhill to the lake, and I thanked him profusely.
I went into the lodge, introduced myself, and asked if there was a room. YES! It wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours, but I was happy to wait. In the meantime, I had a gigantic sandwich, and prepared to do my laundry.
Laundry, for a long distance hiker, is a bit unusual. Naturally you need to wash everything that is washable. Yes, all of your socks, all of your underwear, and so on. The one drawback to this plan is the dearth of other clothes. So you can either go full commando, or you can wear your raingear. My shell is fine, but my rain skirt is just a wrap. How to keep from getting too…umm…drafty? I have diaper pins (they don’t rust) on the back of my pack, and I use them for drying clothes on the trail. So I use those baby blue diaper pins to keep my rain skirt together. Hiker trash style.
Once I got the laundry back to the room, it was shower time. Nobody leaves a ring in the tub like hiker trash. Then I exploded my pack. This is exactly what it sounds like, except perhaps for the dynamite. Gear was everywhere, to be sorted, cleaned, and repacked. I got through a good chunk of it, and then headed down to the restaurant…
where I had PRIME RIB.
Stuffed beyond hope, I staggered back to my room, went face-first on the bed, and slept for twelve hours.
I dragged myself out of the (very comfy) motel bed, far too soon. But I had to finish sorting and loading, plus I had a breakfast to eat! Around ten, I turned in my key, and sat down to a lingering French toast breakfast. I like this “spoiling myself” deal!
Ginger and her husband Bill showed up at noon, with their behemoth truck (yes, I have truck envy). They took a day off from their family reunion, just to schlep me around the fires. They totally rock! We spent a couple of hours driving east and south around Crater Lake. The smoke was pretty obvious, and I was glad to not be breathing it!
It was really weird, skipping over an entire section. In this case, it’s 75 trail miles. I was mighty disappointed to miss Crater Lake, although from the pictures there wasn’t much to see (nor much to breathe). Hopefully next year.
Once we got to Fish Lake, I claimed my resupply box, plus ice cream all around. Yum! And then we opened up the box, plus my Diamond Lake resupply, on the tailgate of the truck.
At Ginger’s request, I walked through my resupply process. Basically, food is divided into four types: breakfast, dinner, midday, and beverages. I plan for n anticipated days, based on terrain, mileage, and current hiking speed. Then I add ½ day, just in case. I then put n breakfasts into the breakfast bag, n dinners into the dinner bag, and n+1 sets of midday snacks into their own bag. For midday, I’ll have a protein bar, a meal bar (I like ProBar), banana chips, Snickers and/or peanut M&Ms, and maybe something else. For my beverages, I have a Starbucks Via, plus a variety of electrolyte drinks.
Because I wasn’t doing Section C, I had a full resupply box that needed a new home. Ginger was heading out to do a six day section, the following week, so this was perfect. She cherrypicked, and then we took the leftovers to the hiker box inside. A hiker box is a place for hikers to leave extras. It could be extra food, like I was doing, or maps for somebody heading in the opposite direction, or a bottle of bug repellent, etc. I put my stuff in there, including a few items from PackIt Gourmet (a backpacking food company with really tasty, non-chemically food). The vultures descended, and I had a satisfied grin.
Ginger and Bill had to head back to the reunion, so we hugged goodbye. What a blessing, to have good, selfless friends.
Fish Lake is a much smaller, more hiker friendly resort than Diamond Lake. They have a small restaurant, with a limited but excellent menu. There are lots of tables and other places for hikers to hang out, sort boxes, etc. And there’s a PCT hiker area, maybe a tenth of a mile around the lake. I had a big cheeseburger for dinner, and talked with Steve for awhile. Then I got my pack situated, loaded up with five liters of water, for tonight and tomorrow, and headed to the campsite.
The only other hiker in the site was a guy named Randy, of about my age, from my neck of the woods. He had been hiking with his wife, but she had to get off the trail with severe foot pain. He was continuing on. We talked for awhile, while setting up camp, and I hit the rack early. Tomorrow, Section B.
Got up this morning, and headed for the bushes, just uphill from the campsite. I took a trekking pole, because it was just steep enough to want one. When I had just finished, I felt a sharp pain. I flung my pole in surprise, and realized that yes, while in the bushes, I had been stung by a bee, in the…ankle. Sorry, not too interesting 😉 . I immediately headed back to camp, and administered some AfterBite and hydrocortisone.
Fast forward half an hour, and I was ready to go. Except that I was missing a pole. Uh oh. So I went up the hill, and aided by a Swiss couple, I eventually found it. Near a nest of ground bees, one of which nailed the Swiss guy. I almost walked into the nest, but he got my attention, and I very carefully backed away.
I was dragging for the first hour or so, even through the nearly flat stroll up to the trail. Par for the course, I guess. It’s still really frustrating, and is almost guaranteed to trigger self doubt. What do I think I’m even doing here? It’s pretty hard to beat back. But I put on my music, and that helped.
Today’s stretch was a reminder of some of last year’s hike. Pumice! Lava! But it was much easier tread, and it wasn’t nearly as hot and exposed as the stuff in central Oregon. I actually spent some time taking pictures.
I needed to load up on water, again five liters. I knew that I’d reach a cache at the end of the day; while you *never* rely on caches, multiple hikers saying there were multiple gallons is a pretty good indicator. There was supposed to be a spring near that, a few hundred yards off of the trail, but even with some decent bushwhacking I wasn’t able to find it. Oh well, I tried.
Just before the shelter, I found the cache and loaded up. I didn’t want to retrace my steps in the morning, so I filled up with everything I’d need through midday the next day.
At the shelter trail junction, I found an awesome sign!
South Brown Mountain Shelter has a few bunks, and a trail register. And, it appeared, a zillion mice and a few rats. So I signed the register, and beat a retreat.
There were a lot of tentsites, and an infamous pump. Apparently the pump handle has been broken all year, and the USFS hasn’t had time to come fix it. This is a pretty critical junction for water, at least for slower hikers, and the lack of handle has been mighty frustrating. Thank God for angels and their gift of a water cache!
So remember Old School? We met at the Diamond Lake trailhead four days ago. Turns out he made it through Section C, on the East Rim Drive, just as he planned. As a SOBO thru, he’s mighty fast, so he did 75 miles while I was having a zero and meandering down the trail. We talked about his hike, and found that both of us had been to Philmont. That’s always a great conversation topic!
We were joined by Josh (Just Josh, no trail name), and a kilt-wearing guy named Naked Ninja. I didn’t pursue that one, other than to say “nice kilt”. One other guy showed up just as I was crawling into the tent. It was a full house, so I skipped recording my blog entry…it gets a little awkward talking to myself. I’ll take care of that tomorrow.