Big Lake Youth Camp to Cascade Locks

Day 121: BLYC (1995.1) to Lonely Clearing (2023.6)

August 8 // 28.5 miles

And again woke to a headache, it was so bad that I really struggled to sleep at all last night woke up feeling grumpy and disheartened. It’s been the third morning straight and I feel like I can’t deal with it any more. My friends were packed up to go to town, they wished me luck and set out, which made me feel even grumpier and I could only manage the most perfunctory of goodbyes, even though I won’t see them for four days.

Tried to sleep in but I couldn’t do it, so packed up and made my way to the camp clinic to visit the doctor(?) who didn’t have much more advice than to drink water and consider going to town to rest. As I was leaving, one of the counselors from the clinic slipped me a couple of T3s they had on hand for emergencies. I took them with breakfast, round two at the buffet, and sorted my resupply package which thankfully arrived in the morning mail with my new shorts and saves me from going into Sisters. The Shady Shasta boys showed up off the trail for breakfast shortly after my friends left, it was nice to see familiar faces so soon after splitting from the group.

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In order to keep pace with everyone else’s upcoming 64 mile day, I had to get going and put in a few big days myself, but before went, I remembered to use the wifi to order new shoes to Timberline lodge. Mine are completely fucked, the instep of each shoe is torn open and the sole of the right one has split away from toe to arch and flaps annoyingly with each step no matter how much tape I put on. After this next section there won’t be anything left of them.

Got going at 10am, thanks BYLC. There was a short road walk back to trail, and then flat though the woods for a few miles. The painkillers really started to kick in and it was a huge relief to walk without feeling the throbbing in my head, I nearly cried in relief when I realized the sharp shooting had faded to nothing more than a dull ache. I had been so focused on my head that I forgot that the two thousand mile marker was coming up, but then there were the Shasta boys lounging in the shade beside the stones spelling out ‘2000’ in the dirt. I stopped for a break with them even though I’d only done a whopping three miles, they celebrated by smoking two joints each as thick as my index finger.

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Thinking became a little hazy from the painkillers but in a good way- I almost felt like my pack was lifting up away from my shoulders, helping me float up the trail. It was incredibly hot and I drank as much water as I could, not risking dehydration at this point, and managed to get the whole climb done in one long go. Great views of Three Fingered Jack, it’s an aptly named peak topped with jagged spikes. The trail climbed up and around it, and over the ridge I could just make out Mt Jefferson in the distance-the next volcano we walk towards in the Cascade range.

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Saw a hiker coming down the trail in a SOBO direction, and I recognized the beard and short shorts that exposed some high placed thigh tattoos… it was One 11, my friend  from last year’s desert trail fam. We stopped to chat, it was sometimes a struggle to pick the right words to say through the T3 haze. He advised that some of the best views were coming up shortly when the trail got closer to Jefferson. I told him to expect lava.

Stopped at the only water source of the afternoon, a small pond surrounded by burnt trees that gave zero shade. Shasta boys were already sitting there having lunch. They hike just as fast as my friends and we overlap on breaks, where they all immediately drop to add to their daily pushup challenge. I ate my peanut butter wrap with spicy fritos and made myself drink two and a half litres of the lukewarm pond water. There were a couple brazen chipmunks circling our packs but they seemed appeased with the offering of a couple stale almonds and left my bag alone.

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Another four miles to Rock Pile lake where I had promised myself a swim after the hot uphill. There were campsites scattered around the edge and an Eagle Scout troupe was already set up for the night and splashing around in the water. Dropped my stuff and got into the lake right away, it was chilly but just what I needed after the hot day. The Shasta boys joined me for a swim and we ate dinner in the woods beside the lake while drying off, I’m happy they’ve adopted me for at least the break times, I was worried how lonely I would be without PC, Bagels, Cream, Honeybee and Eli. I was tempted to stay and camp in such a nice spot, but it was too early in the day and I hadn’t gotten in enough miles to justify it.

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Zoned out for the last evening uphill and there was no sign of the headache returning, even though the drugs had worn off, I’ve never felt so grateful in my entire life to just feel normal.

Jefferson had been growing on the horizon all day and the views were incredible as promised by One-11. Such a good-looking mountain, it stands alone which makes it look more prominent then the last couple volcanoes we’ve passed. The area where the trail went through (Shale Lake) was a designated no-camping zone, which is a bummer because it was so beautiful, a long ridge walk led to a sheltered still pond that reflected Jefferson perfectly in the twilight. One of my favourite evenings of walking after a string of downer days.

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I got water for camp at the pond and headed for the next site since it was getting dark. When I got there I could see through the dim light that it was completely full, at least 6-7 tents crammed into the spaces lining the trail. Odd since I’ve seen no other NOBOs today except for the Shasta Boys. I broke out the headlamp and checked guthooks, there was nothing on the map for another five miles, but one comment mentioned a little clearing a couple tenths of a mile ahead. I set off in the dark and hoped that it was empty, otherwise I was in for a long haul of night hiking. The spot was hard to find in the dark but after backtracking a couple times I found it-just enough space for my little tent, hidden in a small clearing about fifty feet off the trail. I know my camp routine well enough to be able to set up in the dark but I left my headlight on to feel a little more at ease in the darkness in the deep woods.

I’m camping completely alone for the first time since Southern California, although I know that the large group of hikers are only a quarter mile back down trail. I’m a little lonely for my friends, but I can’t deny that I’m enjoying being by myself for a night again, the tradeoff of hiking with a consistent group is that you give up the total freedom of when to start/stop walking. I’m looking forward to the next couple days alone but I know I’ll be happy to see them at Timberline. Through the group text I learned that PC decided not to do the 64 mile day and left Sisters early today. I have a feeling he’ll catch up with me tomorrow night or the next morning, kid’s a bullet when he wants to be.

Feeling a little jumpy in my pitch black tent but mostly just tired and happy that my headache is barely noticeable, even after the long hot day. Hopefully with a good sleep tonight it will finally be gone.

Day 122: Lonely Clearing (2023.6) To Campsite (kind of) (2056.0)

August 9 // 32.4 miles

Up at 6, earlier than usual for me. I thought I’d sleep lightly being alone in the dark, but all manner of creatures or forest ghosts could’ve been creeping around last night for how knocked out I was. Since I was alone and wanted to do a 30+ day, packed up right away and hit the trail before the sun was up. The long, easy downhill through the woods to Milk Creek was just what I needed to get warmed up, and best of all I had no headache whatsoever, which is great to say because I’m sick of writing about it every night.

I made cold maple oatmeal for breakfast at the creek, but it was swarming with wasps that grew in number the longer I stayed, which sucked since it was a nice break spot in the rising sun. I swatted them when they got too close to my face and picked up another sting on my hand for my troubles. I think this is number seven this summer, I’ve gotten so used to stings that it hardly bothered me other than a little tenderness in my fingers.

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Leaving the creek was the start of a long, 8 mile uphill covering almost three thousand feet of elevation gain, the best climb we’ve had in all of Oregon. There were some serious burn zones, not as intensely fried as the area before Crater Lake, but huge swaths of trees were affected, sometimes stretching as far as I could see across the hills. I feel bad saying the burnt forest has become my favourite smell of the summer but I’ve come to love breathing in the scent of toasted sap.

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Crossed Russell Creek which was the subject of much buzz on my Guthook app, since apparently there was a dead horse down stream and passing hikers had been debating in the comments which moss-covered “rock” was actually the remnants of the corpse. We don’t get a lot of things to talk about on Guthook other than the status of water sources or abundance of campsites and it was fun to scroll through the dozens of contradictory comments, it doesn’t take much to amuse hikers. I looked for the dead horse but saw nothing. (Bagels later pointed out to me in a picture that it had been the white boulder covered in green. I had looked at the exact same rock and saw nothing at the time to indicate that it was a horse bum. We followed the comments with some interest through the rest of Oregon, but the horse washed away a days later, ending the fun for those travelling behind us.)

More pressing than dead animals in the water was the water itself, the creek was swollen and flowing faster than anything since the Sierra. It was tumbling steep and fast over the rocks and completely opaque, which made the depth difficult to gauge. I detoured way uphill, scrambling up the rocks to find somewhere I felt comfortable crossing, and when I finally stepped in I found it was hardly more than ankle deep. Crossed without issue, irritated about all the extra work, but the climbing had saved me some of the trail switchbacks going up the other side.

A few miles past Russell Creek, the rocky terrain turned to meadow and I caught a glimpse of some sparkling water through the trees off-trail. Shortly after, came to a side path marked with a faded wooden sign reading ‘Scout Lake’. I don’t know what made me detour off since I pass signs with lake names all the time, but I had a good feeling about this one and I was right.

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Scout Lake was perfect, hidden away and sheltered with a ring of thick pine forest, with a beach encircling half the shoreline. Light turquoise water around the shallow edges turning to a deeper blue in the middle. Jefferson was pointing up above it all, reflecting perfectly when the wind died down and the surface was calm. I couldn’t believe how pretty it was and immediately I knew I’d be spending some time here. Dropped my pack and shoes on the sand and walked all the way down the beach until it turned to rock, but the sand continued under water and I was able to get around almost half the lake before turning back. Went for a long swim, the water was warm where it was shallow and perfectly clear. I swam across the lake twice and then sat on the sand to dry off and eat my lunch. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt possessive of a place on trail and was happy to have it to myself today.

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The rest at Scout Lake was a perfect way to break up the climb, and after one more quick swim I packed up and regretfully set off to finish the last couple miles of uphill. There was 1800 feet of gain in the last 2 miles and I worked harder than I have in all of Oregon, but it felt amazing to get to the top. “Be sure to look behind you!” said the Guthook comments, and so I did, and there was the best view of Jefferson yet. I figured it was the last time (wrong) I’d see it after having the mountain be a constant presence on the horizon for the past couple days, it has been by far my favourite of the Cascade volcanoes.

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The end of the climb marked the cross into Mt Hood wilderness. Our next resupply at Timberline lodge is on the lower slopes of Hood, which I had the first views of up ahead while saying good bye to Jefferson behind. There’s an epic breakfast buffet on that mountain…I just have to walk there first.

The descent down the other side was a sketchy, Sierra-esque pass covered with large snow fields and rocky slopes dropping away into bright blue alpine lakes. Forgot how to walk on snow and bailed on my first snow field crossing, but after that I reverted to my half slide/half step technique from the Sierras and was fine. I saw the first other people all day, a couple coming up the opposite direction with a dog trailing behind, panting heavily on the steep climb.

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Booked it down hill towards Ollalie Lake resort. I ran into the Shasta boys at the turnoff, Stache and Breezy drinking beer on a patch of ground beside the trail, while Baby Blanket and Wink were jumping off rocks into a small lake nearby. Their beer grabbed my attention and I was directed down a side path in the trees, which led through a campground and opened up at Ollalie Lake resort.

The resort was pretty much just a camp store beside a dirt road, with a couple pit toilets, and a dock with a few fishing boats, no internet. I sat down at the picnic table to fish my wallet out of the depths of my pack and check out the lake. Of course there was Mt. Jefferson once again, looking much smaller than it had this morning. The whole place was empty except for a couple kayakers on the dock, a sleeping PCT hiker lying on the bench of a table at one of the campsites, and the two ladies running the store.

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I did a little resupply, but I’d be at Timberline the day after tomorrow latest so I had to fight the urge to buy everything I wanted to eat. I got a six pack of blueberry bagels and a tub of cream cheese to get me through tonight and tomorrow and freshened up my dwindling frito supply. I also bought myself a popsicle, a can of mountain dew, a capri sun and a beer. Ate my popsicle at the picnic table and wandered back to the lake with my drinks to kick it with the Shasta boys. On the way, a lady was putting up a sign advertising trail magic from 6-8pm. I had been planning to leave right after my drink break but time slipped away until I heard the same woman hollering through the trees that food was ready.

Very well worth it, the trail angels lived in a little camper-turned-permanent residence in the woods near the resort. There was a tarp set up over a picnic table and camp chairs, and the woman was at a grill flipping huge pancakes onto plates, while the man was serving mimosas from plastic cups faster than we could drink them. PCT hikers seemed to materialize out of nowhere, there were maybe ten of us sitting around in camp chairs eating round after round of pancakes and playing cornhole, a pretty even mix of NOBOs and SOBOs together in a rare harmony. (Never trust a SOBO.)

While I was caught up with my third mimosa and wondering when Oregon had gotten so good, out of the trees came PC! I was so happy to see him, the solo hiking is fun but I’ve missed my crew. The rest of them start their 24 hour challenge tomorrow morning and then we should all be reunited at Timberline.

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Hit trail but a little late and a little tipsy, A++ trail magic… I was supposed to do more miles today but oh well.  PC stuck around Ollalie a little longer after gunning it all day so I set off alone into the woods. Timberline is 40 miles away which is doable for tomorrow, but I’m going to sacrifice my planned zero day and split the 40 into two smaller days instead.

It was dark when I reached the first campsite and for the second night in a row there was no space. I hiked another hour swinging my headlamp across either side of the trail, scanning for somewhere to set up my tent and found nothing. I am not a night-hiker and around 10:30 I was getting exhausted and feeling a little desperate to find anything that resembled a campsite. Ended up pitching my tent in a sandy little nook a few feet off the trail. There is no way it could be described as a campsite but I figure I can get up early and be on my way before too many people see the pathetic attempt at getting off trail. I set up to cowboy camp but that felt even weirder being so close to trail, so moved everything out of the way and set up my tent. Sleeping alone for the second night in a row.

Day 123: Kinda a Campsite (2056.0) to Barlow Road (2091.5)

August 10 // 35.5 miles

Woke up to the early bird hikers passing uncomfortably close to my trailside tent. It’s not my best stop and I felt a little embarrassed, so I got up earlier than I normally would. The Shasta boys came traipsing by in their duckling line while I was halfway out of my tent, lightly heckling my attempt at a campsite.  Woke up to absolutely no headache today thank god, which already makes it my best day on trail.

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Through a quick burn zone and then 8 easy miles to the morning water source, where there was a small group of hikers sitting on logs in a clearing having breakfast. There was some mocking again about my tent being so close to trail, (“oh that was yo” with a smirk) but everyone conceded that their campsite had been too crowded and loud last night.

I stopped there for a breakfast of cream cheese and two of my bagels. PC caught up while I was collecting water under a nearby bridge covered entirely with moss. We all planned to stop for lunch at Timothy Lake on PC’s recommendation, he’d spent summers there as a kid and said it was a great spot for camping and swimming. A couple uphills and then flat most of the way to the lake, PC was absolutely right. There were lots of day campers around, but we found an open site right on the water with soft dirt and plenty of trees for shade. It was windy and the waves on the lake were pretty choppy, but the temperature was perfect and I swam out from shore until I felt clean again and let the waves drift me back. Sat around eating lunch and waiting for my socks to dry after a quick wash in the lake. The Shasta boys were goofing off, while Baby Blanket napped facing away from his pack, Breezy snuck rock after rock inside the unattended bag.

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After getting going again it was only a mile until the short off-trail spur to get to Little Crater Lake, named because the water is apparently the same colour as Crater Lake, not that I would know....saw nothing more than smoke there.

This mini version made up for the disappointment at Big Crater Lake. The bluest water I’ve ever seen, in an almost perfectly round pond that goes 45 feet down. Despite the depth, the water was clear and I could still see the fallen trees that lined the bottom perfectly. It’s created  from spring water filtering up through a fault crack. A sign mentioned that the water was always 34 degrees F/ 1 degree C. The Shasta boys went for a swim and PC and I weren’t to be outdone so in we went-it was icy, icy, cold that knocked my breath away and I had to get out right away to be able to breathe again. It was impossible to stay in longer than a few seconds, but I jumped in one more time because it felt so refreshing, and I got the shivers for the next twenty minutes leaving the lake to get back on trail.

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Thanks to Breezy/ Dylan for the photo!

Thanks to Breezy/ Dylan for the photo!

Despite wanting to do a big day today we were distracted yet again by trail magic, a truck with a PCT decal over the words “PCT Trail Angel. Madd Baker.” Madd Baker was obviously a pro angel, with sodas, apples, cookies and candy. A small group of unfamiliar PCT hikers were sitting around on the road side munching cookies. It was obvious we weren’t going go make it to camp until late again with all the breaks but oh well, it’s been an enjoyably eventful day with two swims and then the magic. PC and I decided not to go all the way to Timberline tonight, I think our jealous sides wanted to beat the rest of the group there, but instead we’ll just wake up early and finish the last five miles just in time for the breakfast buffet to open tomorrow and have a reunion there.

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After the trail magic, we stopped one more time as it started to get dark to take advantage of pit toilets at a trailhead parking lot. I was feeling pretty stiff after already doing 30 miles, but we set off together for the last few miles to camp. It was dark pretty shortly after we left and got the headlights out, but conversation with PC made things go by a little quicker. I remembered why I don’t much care for night hiking-the forest felt spooky with ghostly white trees in headlight and branches from old dead snags kept scraping my face. Finally reached Barlow road at about 10pm, but it felt so much later. Set up in a daze and crashed hard in my tent. The last couple big days are starting to stack up and I’ve never looked forward to a day off ever on trail. The others should pass us sometime after midnight tonight, we can all meet for breakfast tomorrow at the lodge. I’m very excited to see them again.  

Day 124: Barlow Road (2091.5) to Timberline Lodge (2096.9)

August 11 // 5.4 miles

My alarm went off at the same time as PC’s at 5:15, I could see his red head light glowing in the dark across the clearing. We packed up quietly although our campsite neighbours were already stirring inside their own tent. Feeling a little fuzzy-headed from a shorter sleep, hopefully Eli, Honeybee, Cream and Bagels made it through okay, they’d now be at 22 hours without sleep.

PC and I wondered if they had even passed by our campsite yet, neither of us had heard anyone come through during the night, although I’d been out in one of the deep sleeps where I don’t even dream. The answer to that was made clear soon after- I  found a tiny bouquet of white flowers that had been left in my smelly shoe. Stealthy trail romance at its finest.

We’d decided to save our appetites for Timberline’s trail-famous breakfast buffet, so didn’t eat and hit the trail hungry. It was cold and very windy, we crossed the highway and couldn’t see more than 50 feet down the road since the mist was so thick. Started climbing, and the wind cleared a little of the mist while going up, but it felt colder the higher we went.

It was a steep uphill climb the whole way up Mt Hood to the lodge, and the profile looked terrible on Guthook, with so many negative comments saying how difficult it was. Actually not too bad and we made good time. PC hung back to match my slower speed so we could chat and pass the time faster, he’s young and enthusiastic at 21, and full of plans for the next big adventure. I like listening to his stories that always spiral off on tangents and I’m not expected to hold up any conversation on my end which is good because I can’t walk and talk without gasping for breath like a loser. The wind really picked up and my face and hands were feeling numb. We were placing bets on when it would start properly raining since the clouds and mist were thick and grey overhead and all around us, but it never did. We broke through most of the mist and the rest of the cloud started to clear as the wind picked up. When we reached the last mile or so, emerged from the trees to the best view of Mt Hood’s summit just as the sun came out fully and the last wisps of clouds went racing across the trail and momentarily disappeared.

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Hood itself is beautiful, the mountain top far above us was still covered in snow but there were a ton of wildflowers covering the chilly, wind battered lower slopes. Last year there had been snowboarders here in August. We could see the roof tops of the lodge ahead, but we weren’t done yet, the trail became straight sand on the steep uphill and I figured that’s what people had been complaining about, it took hard work to make normal progress in the thick, loose, sand. The last mile felt like it took forever and I couldn’t feel my fingers but then we were onto pavement and making our way through the huge parking lot and up the stone steps of the lodge.

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It’a beautiful wooden building, cozy and warm. The cavernous open space outside the main dining hall was filled with sofas and armchairs around a fireplace in a central stone column, and that’s where we found Bagels, Honeybee, Eli and Cream. They were dozing off while sitting upright (“Please do not sleep on the sofas” said a sign) and waiting for breakfast to open. Everyone looked a little shell shocked from their long night and freezing morning, but they successfully did their 64 miles in under 24 hours. I’m jealous of their accomplishment, but I’m feeling better for it today seeing how wiped out they are, and the last few days were great for swimming and hiking on my own time, and getting to experience what’s so far been the best of Oregon.

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PC and I coaxed stories from their night, and they were excited to share their highest and lowest moments during the long stretch, but they mostly just needed get some food and go to sleep. Thankfully the Timberline buffet is the most impressive breakfast on trail, and we posted up for course after course of fruit and waffles and six different types of meat. The staff treated us just like we were hotel guests instead of dirty trash hikers, making sure the coffee stayed full and bringing fresh squeezed orange juice. The buffet is 30 bucks a head but so, so worth it.

We’re taking the entire rest of the day off here for the others to rest after not sleeping last night. I know they need it, but I wish we could just leave after lunch, there’s not a whole lot to do here other than spend 30 dollars on the next buffet (still worth it for round two) and I’m starting to get nervous about our weather window in the fall, September up north is supposed to be very cold and the chances of hitting snow increases the more time we take off.

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I helped Bagels set up his tent in the trees behind the parking lot where the hikers stay, he was out cold as soon as he lay down. I went to get my resupply box with PC (new shoes!! feels like walking on cloud!!), browsed through the gift shop and got lost on my phone the way hikers always do when we’ve been away from wifi for days. After the others had finished a long afternoon nap we had a drink at the bar upstairs, but called it an early night. It’s so cold this high up, and it started raining after we were snugly into our tent so then I was happy we had stayed here instead of hiking into the evening. Bagels got out our poop shovels and we dug a little trench in the sand in front of the tent, if rainwater starts pooling it’s all going to flow downhill into our spot. Hopefully tomorrow it clears up and for now I’m happy to be back with my space-heater snuggle buddy for the cold night.

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Day 125: Timberline Lodge (2096.9) to Spring (2118.7)

August 12 // 21.8 miles 

After a very cold and windy night, the rain stopped sometime around midnight and the morning was nice and clear. Finally got the panorama view of Jefferson and three Sisters in the distance, I love looking at them as tiny bumps on the horizon and knowing my feet brought me all the way here.

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Packed up our tents and had one last stint at the lodge, downloading podcasts and audiobooks and ordering a round of spiked hot chocolates that cost six dollars each but were a meal themselves. Finally left around 10:30, my wallet needed me to get back on the trail after the thirty dollar buffets.

Started hiking down the other side of Mt Hood, Timberline is the base for a ton of dayhikes and the trail was so crowded when we left, huge groups moving slowly up and down trail which filtered out to the more ambitious weekend hikers with packs and dogs and little kids trailing behind. I would get stuck behind slow hikers chatting away to each other, oblivious that there might be anyone behind them and tried my best to stay patient and enjoy the huckleberries that were lining the trail, perfectly ripe and easy to grab on the go while moving at the slower pace.

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The trail dropped steeply down to a river and I managed to ditch everyone on the equally steep uphill climbing back up the other side. I detoured off trail to go visit Ramona falls, but it was crowded with tourists and no one from my group was there so I didn’t bother stopping. The detour trail was as nice as the falls themselves, deep green and luscious with a stream paralleling the trail.

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Another steep uphill through the woods (Oregon is flat??) and didn’t see anyone until near the top, where I found Bagels and Eli. We were just settling in for a mid-afternoon lunch, but PC texted the group that some family friends were set up with trail magic a few miles further at a dirt road so we re-packed and booked it down the trail.

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The family friends had done it properly, carrying in barbecues for hot dogs, with potato salad, fruit, chairs, tons of coolers with pop and beer. One friend (who hiked the PCT in the seventies…can you imagine?) had brought ICE CREAM carried on dry ice. That’s how you do it. Split a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with Bagels wondering if life could get any better. Haven’t had a trace of headache in three days and I’m praying that they’re behind me for good.

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We hung around the trail magic for too long, chatting with PC’s friends and the couple of SOBO hikers that were passing through, but quickly on their way for the dinner buffet. We didn’t get much further after saying goodbye and helping pack up the trail magic. Hiker trained our way for the rest of the evening, mostly through the woods but sometimes getting a break in the trees to get an epic view back at Hood.

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Stopped at a little spring below the trail for the night, it’s a crowded spot for all six of us with a couple other tents already set up there, but we managed to squish. Discussed plans for going to trail days, a big PCT party which is in Cascade Locks. It’s not for another few days so we’re too early, but decided that we’d push on a few days and then get a ride backwards to Cascade Locks from PC’s parents, before taking another day to visit Portland.

I can tell I’m going to sleep hard tonight. Tomorrow is Cascade Locks, the end of familiar trail for me and the end of Oregon for all of us. Washington here we come!

Day 126: Spring (2118.7) to Cascade Locks (2146.7)

August 13 // 28 miles 

Up at seven. Breakfast was a handful of peanut M&Ms, the only thing left in my resupply that I’ve been putting off eating until absolutely necessary, my favourite snacks from the beginning of trail have become repulsive after four months without too much variation. I felt strange packing up and leaving, since last year I had camped with my friends in this same site and hit the trail with zero idea that it would be my last day before calling it quits at Cascade Locks. This year the fires haven’t been as bad and I feel way more motivated to finish. Last year was a vacation while getting used to the thru-hiking lifestyle, my priorities were spending time with friends and goofing off on side trips whenever the opportunity presented itself. I wouldn’t change the way I spent my summer last year for anything, but now my primary goal is all about finishing this trail in one go and I can feel deep down that I’m going to get it done no matter what it takes now. It helps that my trail fam now are all just as driven to achieve the same thing.

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I had 28 miles to cover before town and was hoping to get in early but it was slow going the first couple miles as huckleberries (the usual suspects) were growing in abundance alongside the trail and tasted like heaven after my stale M&Ms. A couple elevation bumps but nothing crazy, not a cloud in the sky but the wind picked up when the trail climbed out of the woods and followed a ridgeline for a few miles. All my friends had left far earlier than I had which meant I wasn’t likely to see them until town but I didn’t stop at all and managed to catch PC finishing his break at Wahtum lake, 12 miles in.

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Saw the burn zones from the Eagle Creek fire that I watched rip across the ridgelines from the safety of the brewery in Cascade Locks. I spent most of the afternoon reminiscing about last year’s hike, memories from that last day on trail are so vivid I could match up what I had been thinking on this or that stretch of trail from a whole year ago. I missed my friends from last year a little extra today, Lukas’s unwavering positivity, Sara’s frankness. Cy’s stories and riddles to keep us entertained on dull days, Jade’s good night hugs. Q’s infectious laugh.

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My melancholy cleared up completely when I caught up to Bagels taking a break on the side of the trail just before the big drop into Cascade Locks, we sat around eating the rest of the M&Ms and putting off the steep drop ahead. Eli came tearing by on a mission to get to town, practically running. I always think that he’s ahead of me but he’ll disappear off into the woods to poop and then come out of nowhere from behind like a plaid-clad ghost and usually scare the shit out of me.

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The last drop to town was long and steep and my knees were complaining by the end of it. There was magic just before the trail merged with the road into town, a cooler full of soda and chocolate bars. I grabbed a mountain dew to celebrate the last stretch of familiar trail that I’ll see this year and made my way under the bridge and into Cascade Locks. The very first place I went was the ice cream shop for a huckleberry milkshake, I’ve been thinking about it for a full year and it was very worth the wait. I sat in a plastic deck chair in front of the ice cream shop wondering if I could be any more content with my life.

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The others had already checked into our motel, and they joined me, wandering down the street with arms full of their post office boxes. Oregon and it’s smoke and headaches and lakes and volcanoes is behind me now, and there’s only new trail between me and Canada. Had a celebration burger and ice cream at the little drive in, and we made fun of Bagels when he accidentally threw away his wallet and had to go digging through the trash. At the hotel, I had my first shower since Big Lake Youth Camp. My feet were pure black on the bottom and it took a good fifteen minutes to get clean, the washcloth probably will not recover.

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We went to the brewery for a quick drink but everyone was tired and sleepy so we only managed a beer or two before going back to the hotel and crashing. I can feel the beginnings of a familiar migraine beginning behind my right eyebrow but downed a couple advils early enough that it seems to be holding off. Eli put on ‘Wild’ which seemed appropriate since Cheryl Strayed ended her Oprah Book club-famous hike here, but I kept falling asleep and someone turned it off halfway through. Tomorrow we get to cross Bridge of the Gods and it’s into Washington.

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