Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The other day we just crossed our 2,000 mile mark! That was very exciting! After walking 2,000 mile you'd think there might be a couple of trumpets and a cheering crowd. Sure, we've got 660 miles of the trail left and all of Washington, but walking a distance 5 times as long as most European countries seems like a notable event to me. Yet the only cheer we heard was that of the birds as they chirped out their usual songs and the only banner we got was a small rock pile and a couple of stones layed out on the ground that read out "2000". We knew what those stones meant. They didn't have to say anymore. They didn't have to be written on an official forest service sign, or be carved into a plaque. Someone had just spelled out 2,000 with a couple of rocks. But that's how things are out here. No billboards or banners. No neon or flashing arrows. At best someone may put a few sticks together to make a makeshift arrow to show us where to go when the trail diverges. And when we left California, after 1,700 miles of walking through a gigantic state, we got a simple wooden sign posted on a tree that read "Oregon/California" marking the state line. But the woods don't often go by the rules of modern man. They are their own reward. And they remind you that state lines and round numbers are just a thing made up by man. Long before Americans ventured west, the birds were still singing and the trees were still waving in the wind, praising their creator. So, I suppose that we should be happy to be part of something larger and longer than the couple of years we've been around these parts.That's kinda what you feel in Oregon. You spend the first couple hundred miles from Ahland to Sisters walking through ancient mossy forests. Giant trees surround you and off each tree hangs decorations of faded moss as it flaps in the faint breezes. Through the thick wall of trees and the layers of green fern you can peep through and gaze upon either blue sky or misty gray hovering clouds. The sky seems to alternate. For a couple of days it will spit from overcast skies, then it will clear up and we'll put away our rain coats and dry our tents under the sun's welcome rays.For the first few hundred miles of the 450 miles of Oregon, the trail tread is pretty flat and easy going. Most thru-hikers are wlaking 25-30 miles a day here so they can get a little closer to their goal before the snows. Rose and I have consistently been doing 25 miles a day and walking from 8 am to 9 pm, using almost hour of daylight we can afford. Somewhere in the middle of all that, we'll take a lng lunch and laze around a placid lake and maybe even take a dip if it's warm. Once in awhile we'll even take a nap under the summer sun.Highlights of Oregon thus far:1. Crater Lake - this is the bluest blue lake I've ver seen. It is the deepest lake in America and the 7th deepest in the whole world. It was formed as a volcano exploded and then collapsed upon itself to form a 5 mile long crater that soon would be filled from form the purest snowmelt from its towering 8,000 feet high walls. There is even a little "mini-volcano" peak in the middle of the lake called Wizard Island and there is a ferry that takes a tour of the lake and drops you off to explore the island for a day. Crater Lake is so popular as a destination, and has such a draw as a natural wonder that it dons the Oregon license plate. We took the Pacific Crest trail around the lake as it traverses the rim of the lake and circles nearby Wizard Island. Just parallel to the trail, circling the whole perimeter of the lake is Rim Drive where tourists seeking views of the lake will drive around and stop off at one of many outlooks upon the stretches of marvelous blue. Rose and I were fortunate enough to have our friend from the Mercy Ship in Africa drive up from Grant's Pass, OR (a week before his wedding no less with a very hectic schedule). He picked us up at Crater Lake, took us in and let us use his showers and a nice comfy bed and then returned us to the trail the next day where we got to gaze upon the the sunset as it swirled and blazed over the Rim of the expansive lake. And with that we were off to see Rose's mom at Shelter Cove Resort on Crescent Lake...2. Seeing Rose's mom was also a highlight. Since she works 1 week on and one week off as a nurse in Portland, she has been able to drive down and see us a couple of times. This has enabled us to get a little cottage both times and spend some quality time together as a new family. Both times it has been super cool to conk out in a bed with comfy cotton sheets and eat real food that isn't Ramen or Snickers. It was even better to catch up with our mom and see what has she has been upto as well!3. The Sisters - these are some BIG volcanoes! Three of them loom at 10,000 feet in the distance and dominate the landscape for 50 miles of the PCT. Each of them is covered with snow and is massive, but each also has its very unique features. One is made of bright red rock and is quite obtuse with broad, spreading lines, while the other two are black and seem to have a more pointed, acute angle that gives them more of a "typical volcano" shape. The PCT never goes over these behemoths, but it does wind around them which makes for some very spectacular walking. After 200 miles of being surounded by lush green forest and being enveloped by mist on relatively flat grades, sudddenly we were transported to land of giants and we we were traipsing between their feet! The walking here is on and over several lava fields. The PCT carries you through lots of sharp lava rocks which make a consistent clacking noise as you traverse them and them rub against each other under the pressure of your foot. It is neat that someone took the time to make a level trail of rocks and pebbles where once their were only miles of sharp, broken rocks that would be hard to navigate becuae of their size and sharpness. After McKenzie Pass, we walked for miles over such a lava field. This felt like we were walking on the moon! Solid red and and black rocks littering the lanscape as far as the eye could see! Occasionally there was a small shrubby fir tree making it's intrepid way out of the piles of moon rock debris. One could only wonder at how such a tree put down roots and found nutrition in such a place where there wasn't anything remotely soft or soil-like for miles!At the edge of the field, when our feet were well ready to get back to the cushy tread of the dirt and conifer-needle trail, we finally stepped back into the woods and left the harsh but intriguing surface of the moon... (to be continued....)

Oregon (Continued)

The last higlight of Oregon thus far:

4. Breitenbush Hot Springs - Yesterday was August 27th. We have just a few days left in Oregon and we've been banging out the miles. But just as we were one third the way done one of our many 25 mile days, we started to ascend to a ridge at 7,000 feet on the crest of Oregon. Since we woke up yesterday norning, things had been hairy. We woke up to fog and drizzle and it showed no signs of stopping. This was a consistent Oregon rain. So we pakced everything up, folded up our wet tent, and through on our rain gear, hoping to make the best of the rain and heat up a bit from the chill by walking. our bodies got a little bit warmer, but we also got a lot wetter. The rain wasn't particularly fierce but walking against all the wet shrubs that covered the trail completely soaked our cloths in minutes. Everything was wet and the only thing we could do was just walk on! So we walked for a couple hours in the incessant rain and fog. It made for an interesting mood around us as w! e passed through the alpine bogs on the side of mighty Mt. Jefferson, which had upto today been very clearly visible as we scrmbled under its high rocky ledges. So we climbed a bit, and as we got higher the weather got worse. What had been a gentle rain before as we traversed the rivers full of milky snow melt now was a pretty cold, blustery wind as we climbed to an exposed ridge.

That's when we saw our fellow thru-hikers Spaceman Spiff and Nick. The only thing was that they were walking the other way toward us. We were a bit confused as to why they were walking the wrong direction sout back to Mexico, when they explained that they had climbed to the ridge and reached an impassable part of the trail and had thus turned around to bail off the dangerous ridge. In any other weather this ridge would probably have been just another snow field that hadn't melted yet in late summer. Though the trail might be covered for a couple hundred yards in snow, one could easily see the other side where the trail came out with the light of the sun. But this day - everything was whited out. There were no tracks or sign of trail on the snow beneath and here were no visible markers that could be seen through the fog, rain, and driving hail of the storm. So, finding themselves unable to locate the trail, a bit lost on a high, steep, snowy slope, and freezing cold, t! hey did the logical thing and turned back to descend to more cover down from the ridge. It had been a record snow year - more snow than this area had received in 50 years. And because of that there was still snow on top of the mountain where it usually wouldn't be at this time of year. Small creeks that would usually take a few hops across a few rocks to cross were still totally covered in banks of snow. And as you crossed the snow, you could hear the water rush underneath your feet from the large volume of snow that was melting and now rapidly cascading don the mountain. So we had seen the effects of the unusually large amounts of snow at lower elevations and we weren't too keen on finding out what was going to happen as we kept on going up.

This was the decision we were presented with: We could either climb the 1,000 feet to the windy, icy ridge and check it out for ourselves (probably meaning we would have had to wait out the storm so we could actually see where the trail went without getting lost) or we could take their word for it and bail with them. After a little debate, we figured they had good cause to turn around and there was probably no way we'd be any better or more well off than they were on top of the treeless mountain with visibilty of a couple of meters in front of you. So, we turned with them. Our minds wanted to go on, but our bodies said, "Get me warm! There's no way I'm gonna freeze on top of a mountain while lost today!" So we walked south a bit, cancelled our plans for the day and took a side trail about six miles off the PCT.

It turned out that Spaceman Spiff's parents were meeting her in the area, so we gave them a phone call, and explained to them that we were at a different trailhead on our satelite phone, hoping they would get the message and be able to rescue us from the middle of nowhere as we were soaking wet and ready for a change of scenery.A change of scenery, indeed! They drove us a couple of miles down the road to Breitenbush Hot Springs! This is a hippie resort that exists in the middle of the woods and is totally off the grid. It is a coop and a retreat center with several pools of natural hot springs, yoga classes, and all natural vegetarian food. It is entirely run off hydroelectric power and generators and has cabins, tent sites, and a lodge for its guests - who generally are sorta new agey people who are into Buddhist prayer flags, crystals, and dips in the clothing optional hot spring pools.

This is definitely hippies living in the woods in Oregon. Lots of tie dye and dreadlocks and people sitting around playing banjos and tin whistles. But it was also the perfect palce for a couple of wet hikers to get dry. Despite the hoaky sense of spirituality around this place, it had a charm and the people were very friendly. And the meals! Wow, the meals! They made our trek off the trail and our littld detour worthwhile. Hours earlier we were shivering in the miserable rain - now we were eating wholesome food all made whole made by the members of the coop. Picture a wedding - complete with the stainless steel serving trays placed out on perfectly white linen clothes with piping hot food in them. But all the food is organic and locally grown. In fact, there is no coffee or chocalate or alcohol allowd here. Just a giant pot of home brewed ginger tea. And thatks what everyone drinks for breakfast lunch and dinner. This is the total opposite of our usual fast-food culture. No microwaves, no greasy french fries - just natural home cooked foods with LOTS of veggies. There isn't even a phone here. They are too! far away from reception and they don't have a single pay phone.This is all part of the spontanaeity of the adventure. One minute you are in the middle of the rain, the next you are in a hippie-dippie hot spring resort. We love this trail and we love these crazy places it takes us!

Timberline Lodge

On the side of Mt. Hood is Timberline Lodge. Mt. Hood dominates the northern Oregon skyline at 11,245 and Timberline Lodge sits just halfway up the mountain at 6,000 feet, just 3.6 miles from the summit. In the blustery winter months the average snow depth around the lodge and Mount Hood is somewhere around 21 feet. Now it's the end of August, Labor day weekend, so the signs of winter weather were just starting to begin as we walked into the Lodge on this chilly last day of August. We got up at 4:30 AM this morning and took down our tent in the pitch black as the gentle winds around us pushed and pulled the treetops of Douglas Firs and made them sway in the wind. Occasionally you could hear their creaking sound against the quiet of the morning like a rusty hinge on an old abandoned farmhouse door. Sometimes the creaking of the trees even sounded a bit birdlike, but we knew there weren't any birds up at this early hour. It felt like we may have been the only things up ! and about in the forest for miles. So we strapped on our headlamps and walked through the darkness and the chill of the morning, hoping for those first rays of sunlight to warm our bones.This was a very unusual departure for us. Recently we had been sleeping in because it was just so hard to get out of our tent into the chilly hands of the Oregon mornings. Our norm had become waking up at about 7 or 8 making a cup of coffee and some warm oatmeal, and then heading out at 9 or 10 am. The flatter terrain of OR allowed us to stride out 25 miles by about 9 pm, almost keeping a solid 3 mph pace the whole way. But today was different. Today ws the day we were heading into Timberline Lodge. That meant we'd gain 2,000 feet, and pop out above treeline and into the giant Lodge where "The Shining" had been filmed. More importantly, it meant we were camped near Highway 26 at Wipinitia Pass, just 10 miles from one of the greatest breakfast opportunities a hiker could imagine. An all you can eat gourmet breakfast buffet consisting of Belgium Waffles, fruit, granola, eggs, and the best, saltiest bacon I've ever had (It might even make you proud to be a pig cause it! tasted so good!) The only thing was that the buffet ended at 10. So today our usual 10 o'clock departure wouldn't cut it. Instead we found ourselves getting up before most farmers do to walk 10 miles to eat a breakfast complete with Spiced Cider, fresh squeezed O.J, and scones. After the dark cleared and the first peeps of light came in, we woke up a bit and cruised along the misty trail, now glad we could see where we were going. But even under the welcome morning sun, it was hard to shake the chill off. As we walked higher and higher, the air got dryer, but colder. Eventually we popped out above the trees and saw a perfect view of Mt. Hood hovering above our heads, the snow glistening on the side of the mountain against the crisp blue morning sky. Anyone whoever even thought about climbing this mountain to its summit, had to start before daylight just to avoid running into deep unexpected snow crevasses melted under the summer sun. Fortunately, we didn't need crampons or ice axe as we walked on the sandy trail below this giant.But the ground was still hard with frost and the fog we had just popped out of was now frozen and blowing at us like tiny sharp crystals being driven into us by the wind. Above treeline we were no longer protected by the shelter of the firs and now the wind was blowing harder. But through the driving fog we could see our beacon of hope drawing closer and closer. We came around the ridge, small icy-crystal patches of snow staring to accumulate in the frozen footprints of those who had walked before us, and we saw we were so close to the lodge. The wind made a couple last attempts to harass us and blew Rosie's jacket off the top of her pack. I caught it from blowing away and tucked my head back down so the wind wasn't blowing crystalline snow in my eyes and continued to trudge up to the lodge. We traipsed into the back of the lodge (probably where the kitchen staff walked in and out the back door) and threw our backpacks down and took in the warm fireplace glow of the ca! stle-like lodge and dashed into the all wooden dining room and took a seat among finely pressed tablecloth linens, tall crystal glasses shimmering with ice water and a buffet spread fit for a king. Whenever we slip quietly into these places we never fit in. I'm wearing a dirty red plaid kilt and have a giant untrimmed beard with unkept greasy matted hair. Rose is often looking a little better, but still wearing spandex and clothes with mud and dirt stains rubbed well into the fabrics. Our shoes and socks alone are enough drive everyone who doesn't have a head cold away from the room. And we smell like rotten skunk as as our bodies have been pouring out sweat and salt all over our clothes for 12 hours a day for a week. And the closest we'd gotten to a shower was walking through the chilled morning mist. Amongst a crowd of men in khakis and polo shirts and women in their fine Sunday dresses, we look like a bunch of homeless vagrants who have somehow manged to wander u! p this mountain into a fine dining establishment. Our lack of manners probably doesn't help any. I'll just paw the sausage right out of he stainless steel catering serving trays (The really nice ones with a handle wrapped neatly with a linen napkin so the handle isn't too hot to touch - the kind you see at a wedding buffet) and plop into my mouth right in line. It's like a wild savage who hasn't eaten in days just grabbing and slopping food into his mouth like he might never get to eat again. There is no casual conversation, no light and dainty bites and not talking with your mouth full, no sense of propriety in taking "healthy portions". My plate was chock full and all the foods had been slopped together in one big mountain mush of steaming goodness. Emily Post would probably have fainted to see it all. Living in the wilderness for four straight months we had lost all sense of dignity. We expelled gases without a bat of an eyelash and shoved food in our mouth as if a fork and knife were an idle combination that had! n't yet been invented. Everyone would shoot us glances from across the dining room as if to say, "What are THOSE two doing in here?" But we were oblivious. All the stares and appalled faces in the world couldn't take away from our enjoyment of our meal. We were like kids unleashed upon expectant Chrisrmas packages - wrapping paper flying everywhere, as the kids' anxious hands ripped and tore through in seconds what had taken months to put together.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Celebration at the Oregon, California border

Millions of pancakes, pancakes for me.

Mom's fine doughboy sculpture.