A Vacation State

As Fire Ant, Braids, Miguel, and I make our way through Oregon, we tend to have the same conversation with fellow hikers at every spring and shady lunch spot we find.

Us: We’re really loving Oregon.

Them: Oh yeah. It’s great. I can’t believe it’s gonna be over so soon.

Us: Yeah, crazy how time flies.

Them: I know! I’ve got four days of food in my pack and then I’ll be in Cascade Locks.

Us: Yes…four…

Them: I mean, you can do 30, 35 miles a day here, easy.

Us: Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Them: Well, see you up trail.

Us: Yeah, see ya.

Them: *walks away*

Us: We’re definitely never seeing them again.

Going roughly half the speed of many hikers, though, we’ve come to accept the mantra, “Last one to Canada wins.” The trail angel Legend gave us this saying a few days ago: “When I hiked in 2013, I set two records: I took the longest to get to Canada, and I had the most fun.”

We met Legend and another trail angel, Coppertone, just after crossing highway 242, North of the Three Sisters. We had had a late start to the day, so we hiked 2 miles across lava fields in the gathering darkness, my headlamp and high-top boots sparing my ankles some nasty turns.

As we reached the first available campsite, we noticed a group of other hikers sitting in lawn chairs. “Welcome!” Coppertone said. “Would you like a root beer float?”

The correct answer to that is always yes, so we stayed up a few more minutes to drink our floats before finding a spot to throw down our stuff. I cowboy camped for the first time, not so much because I wanted to, but because I was too lazy at that point to set up my tent. I slept well, though.

The next day we woke up to Legend cooking pancakes, and we had a delicious breakfast before setting off again. Backpacking is no picnic. But, in this case it actually was.

Bad at math, too

I used to be decent at math. However, in the first week on trail, I managed to mess up some fairly simple equations, resulting in us all arriving at Shelter Cove with practically enough food to make it to Cascade Locks.

The miscalculation began at Fish Lake Resort. Just as Miguel, Fire Ant and I were about to leave, some Australian people eating breakfast informed us that they’d heard we would probably be turned back from Crater Lake due to the spread of the Bybee Creek Fire. That sucked. None of us wanted to miss Crater, and we really didn’t want to be turned back and have to walk two days with only half a day of food left.

A call to the ranger station didn’t help. All I learned was that fires are unpredictable by nature, and they could neither confirm nor deny the possibility that somebody might be turned around in the next few days. I hung up slightly discouraged.

We rapidly formed a new plan, though: the three of us, along with another hiker we’d met named Shakespeare, would go into Klamath Falls, stay the night at my dear friend’s house, and catch the 9am shuttle to Crater Lake on Saturday.

Best trail Angel ever!

On the shuttle, we met Mike, Mike, Michelle, and Joe. They had just flown in from across the country and were heading out for their first section hike. “Do you guys need some food? We packed way too much.” It so happened that their food was really great, so even though we had 3 days of food in our packs and another 5 waiting for us at Crater Lake, we took it.

The shuttle dropped us off at the Rim Village. We really wanted to go to Cleetwood Cove on the opposite side of the lake, but there was no bus service to get us there. All day long, as we ate a fancy meal in the lodge restaurant and filmed a lip sync video near all the other tourists, we would casual-loudly say, “Man, I wish I could get to Cleetwood Cove. If only we had a ride there so we could fulfill our lifelong dreams of taking a boat ride and jumping in the lake. Ah, to have a ride there.”

Me, Fire Ant, Shakespeare, and Airlift

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Around 3, though, someone did offer to take us to Mazama Village, where we were to camp and pick up our food. He was a former thru-hiker, having done the trail in ’86 and again in ’01. His first time, they only had 9 resupply points, and had one stretch with 21 days of food. I’m real glad I live now and not then.

The moment we arrived at Mazama, we heard some astounding news: far from planning to turn people back, the forest rangers had come into camp and told the backlog of 28 hikers that they planned to open the Rim Trail at 8am the next morning.

This was fantastic news, except that we had spent most of our lunch trying to figure out exactly how much food we would need to go from Highway 138 to Shelter Cove–4 days, we guessed. We hastily redid the calculations, adding in about 45 miles and concluding that we were now 6 days from Shelter Cove and our next resupply.ย 

No matter; we had the food. I even gave away a few Snickers bars and tuna packets because I had so many. The next day we took the trolley back to the Rim, so as to skip a 4-mile uphill hike. We arrived at the Rim at the same time as the purists, who were loudly praising themselves for not being like those cheating trolley-riders. Considering I already skipped 3 months of the trail, I don’t think hiking up Mazama would have won me cool points with them, anyways. We left the Rim with 5 liters of water each, for a 16-mile dry stretch.ย 

The view of Crater Lake

“Anything from the trolley, dear?” Fire Ant, me, and Steven, who was in the greyhound to Ashland with me.

The hike was gorgeous. We unfortunately lost Shakespeare to a bum knee a couple miles in, but apart from that it went well. A cold breeze kept us cool as we hiked and forced us into our puffies when we stopped to eat. We circled the lake for about 5 miles before the trail dropped into a long flat stretch, on which we did 3 miles in 49 minutes. Yes, I did feel like a bit of a badass after that.

Mount Thielsen

It was only when we reached Highway 138 that evening, as opposed to the next, that we realized how bad my calculations had been. When I had said we needed 6 days of food, I was goingย off the mileage for the official PCT. However, the Rim Trail is about 9 miles shorter than the PCT section it bypasses. Furthermore, the 4 miles we cut with the trolley, plus another 8 later in the hike as we took the Oregon Skyline Trail instead of the official PCT, meant we rolled into Shelter Cove after only 4 days, with approximately enough food in our packs to get us to Canada.

Standing at the highest point on the PCT (in Oregon and Washington…we don’t count those darn Sierras.)

Ah well. We met Mike, Joe, and Michelle again, who had lost 4 toenails and the other Mike, and were battling shin splints. They had decided to cut out early. They offered us the rest of their food, which we gladly picked through despite our plenty. Swedish fish and beef jerky–I guess there’s always room for more.

Diamond View Lake. Beautiful campsites ๐Ÿ™‚