I arrived at Callahan’s/Ashland on August 9th, just after we passed from California into Oregon, and just after the 1700 mile marker.
Arriving at Callahan’s, the air was busy and heavy, as it was time to resupply and get all the “chores” done but looming somewhere in a dark closet was the knowing that it was time to say goodbye to Prince. It was his last day on trail, time to go back to Mexico, oops, I mean Colorado, for the start of the fall semester. It was very powerful and emotional to part ways so swiftly. For just as quickly as we became so close on the trail, over 1,000 miles ago, so soon was it time to say goodbye.
Prince was warmly met by his good friend who lives in Medford, OR and she swooped him into her arms and off to get burgers that evening. I considered tagging along, delaying the inevitable parting of ways, but I knew it would be more practical to just stay put, and I also felt that I needed some time and space to myself that night, I just felt like being quiet and taking care of myself, honoring the emotions and being still with it all. Mama Lion and Boone headed back to the trail that night, and we figured we would catch each other again soon.
I decided to stay and camp on the lawn at Callahan’s, and treat myself to a nice Salmon dinner, and enjoy the musician who was playing there, he sang beautifully, and I deeply listened while slowly eating my meal. Even in the buzz of being near a highway as we were, I slept very well that night. I rise early in the morning, packed up and soon I got a ride with a few other hikers into Ashland. I was, for the first time since the beginning of April, flying solo. I had forgotten what that felt like. If Prince and I had ended up hiking all the way to Canada together, I would have welcomed the opportunity, but ever since I started this journey (alone) I knew that it would be important to spend a chunk of time hiking alone. So, now’s my chance. “I hope when one door closes, one more door will open”, to quote the Country Western song by Leanne Womack.
I took a zero day in Ashland, but it really was not restful. It included, first and foremost, getting the most amazing cup of coffee I’ve had on this journey. It was a pour over, dark roast, my favorite. Then, talking with my Dad on the phone to discuss plans to rendevous in Sisters, OR in the coming weeks. I cruised around town with my swollen, aching feet, carrying my heavy pack filled with my resupply food plus groceries for that evening, and it was hot, I was sweaty, and there were so many ways to get distracted. Nevertheless, I got all my needs met. The Universe provided for me in so may ways. I was able to get ahold of some KT Tape, I bought a new pair of shoes that were different than the ones I had been wearing, and I ate some wonderful vegan food from the local co-op while chatting with Pika and Pebble, two hikers who I met on the trail and we’re also finishing their hike in Ashland. “I hope you get your fill but always feel the hunger”.
I was further blessed with a suggestion, and a ride, to the local hot springs resort, where I could camp and soak in the therapeutic waters for only $25. I decided that was the place for me, and I headed out just a couple miles from town to Jackson Wellsprings. It was awesome! I pitched my tent in a grassy area under a large tree amongst a plethora of dreaded hippes, kids and dogs. I made myself a lovely picnic dinner, and enjoyed the healing waters that evening.
I lucked out again the following morning, getting a ride back to the trail from a local who was from, of all places, Anaheim, CA. Small world. Back on trail, it was hot, dry, and not flat as promised. However, I pushed on, embracing my first day of hiking alone since the desert. Within a few days, I reached the 1800 mile marker. It was August 15th and then reached Crater Lake the following day. By that time, I had hiked solo for a week, getting the feel for Oregon, and healing myself on many levels.
What I could conclude about Oregon up to that point, was that the people were great, but the trail was not my favorite (sorry trail, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings). Why? Well, for one, everyone had been saying “oh, you will fly through Oregon, you will be doing like 30miles a day, it’s so easy, and you will be going swimming all the time”. Well, not with any easy terrain would I be doing anything close to 30’s with my foot problems. Not only that, Oregon was HOT, DRY, there were long stretches without water, necessetating a heavy load to carry, and to boot did I mention it was HOT? There were NO swimming opportunities, what were people talking about, this Oregon?
Upon my arrival to Crater Lake at Mazama Village, I was starting to enjoy some easier, flatter hiking, and could zoom along with more ease. I arrived at the village by 10am, along with a friend named Stretch, and we enjoyed a fantadtic breakfast there. I then collected my resupply box, took a shower, did laundry and charged my stuff and got out by 5:30 that evening. We hiked up to the Rim Village, arriving just in time for the last bit of sunset light, then found a semi stealth place to camp in the nearby trees.
The next morning, I situated myself along a ledge on the rim to enjoy my coffee and breakfast, while Stretch got on trail. The Lake really is so beautiful, the bluest Lake I have ever seen, bluer than Tahoe, sorry Tahoe. It is quite pristine, and not very accessible to get to the shoreline, so fairly untouched by humans, which adds to it’s beauty. I enjoyed the walk around the rim trail, an alternate to the official PCT, which is not flat by the way. I enjoyed it as much as I could, as it was still incredibly hot, I had to carry a lot of water, and there was a lot of road traffic, construction, tourists, just noise. It was a great place to visit, but I was glad when I made it back into the silent forest and back on the PCT, my “home” space.
It occured to me this week, that the PCT, the trail itself, is a vessel. It is a space which is being held for all of us who hike it. I had been looking at it as a living, breathing entity, but now see it as a conduit for transformation. The trail becomes our safety ground, literaly and figuratively. The trail holds the space for us to have our experiences of growth and discovery within ourselves. I thought a lot this past week about the darkness I encountered a few weeks back. It was nothing to do with the trail itself. It was all about me and my own need to come face to face with my own limitations, physically, emotionally and mentally. Every PCT thru-hiker faces this at some point in their journey, some sooner, some later, but I think we all go through it in some way at some point. I had not experienced self doubt up until my feet started hurting so bad. I had not experienced wanting to get off trail, and I mean quitting early, up until that point. There were days when I was in so much pain, I thought I would not be able to physically make it to Canada, and that made me want to, emotionally, not have the desire to keep going. “When you come close to selling out, reconsider”.
But then, things just got a little lighter every day. My pack got lighter, there was water more frequently, and the heat finally broke. It appeared I was having success with my stretching and massaging of my feet, and suddenly there was greenery in the forest, and what was that sound? A creek? Running water? Yes, finally! Things really started looking up. ” I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, never settle for the path of least resistance”.
I had been able to keep about a 20-22 mile pace per day going, and on one day I made 24, and then another day I made 27 miles. Yes, I did. That’s not so bad, I must be getting better, I thought. On August 19th I made it to Crescent Lake to camp for the night by way of the wrong campground, which ended up taking me around the lake and walking on the shore, on the rocks and sand during the sunset, not good on the ankle, but it was beautiful. I had visions all day of camping on the beach, so when I got to the Spring Camp, I just found a little place nestled amongst some pine trees, yet on the sand, and I cowboy camped there. I loved it, and felt very happy and proud that I had made it there, and I was stealth camping for free, to boot. Not a soul knew I was there.
The next day I made it to Shelter Cove, a small recreational lake open to the public, and very hiker friendly. They had a small store there and a place in the shade for us tired, weary folks to rest up and relax together. I ate lunch and bought some snacks for the trail, washed my socks in the bathroom sink, which did not get them clean at all, but rather got the sink all dirty, and I was back on trail by 5:30. I got up to Wilamette Pass by 7:00 and wandered up the highway to the pass to see what was going on over there. It turned out there was a race, a 100K trail run going on and that was the finish line right there by the ski lifts. There were all kinds of people cheering and ringing cowbells, and one at a time, a superhero runner would emerge out of the trees and cross the tape, claiming victory for themselves. It gave me goosebumps to witness this. These people just ran 62 miles, on the trails, over three mountains, for more than 13 hours straight. I was so impressed, and inspired. It was just what I needed. I clapped and cheered them on, and absorbed the positive tingling energy that surrounded me, and let that propel me up the mountain that evening. I planned on hiking well into the night, and had set a goal to get to a ski shelter, where I read it was ok so sleep and that it was well maintained and really cool. Well, after passing up so many beautiful campsites along pristine lakes that reflected the sunset light, and passing up weekend backpackers who had all kinds of things like chairs, food, beer, campfires, dogs and all, I sported my headlamp and kept walking, leaving that all behind. I needed to make miles every day so that I could make it on time to meet my Dad at Mckenzie Pass on Tuesday, just a few days out. I don’t enjoy night hiking these days. I can’t see the scenery, and I tend to stumble more, making me nervous about injuring my ankle further. I was ready to keep pushing though, until I crested the hill and turned my head to glance over at what seemed like a void to my right. That void turned out to be a beautiful vista overlooking the lake I had just hiked up from, along with an open view of the starlit sky and a few lights from buildings way off in the distance, making me feel cozy and calm. There was also a prefect flat spot right out in a rock outcropping, probably typically a lunch spot, but I decided it was where I would rest my head for the night. I decided to cowboy again, spreading my sleeping bag out and tucking into it as the full moon rose over the ridge, and the milky way emerged above. This is freedom, I thought, this is freedom. “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance”.