PCT OR Section F

Days 78 and 79: Final Return to the PCT

Day 78: Eugene

In the past 5 months, I haven’t been home for more than a week at a time. Within 5 days of heading back home from Albuquerque, I was on a plane to Southern Africa, where I spent nearly a month. While I was there, the PCTA reported that the Lionshead fire closure–the only piece of the PCT I was missing–had reopened. I got back and started putting together videos and photos to make a documentary of that whirlwind tour, but before I had a chance to make a lick of progress on that, I was swept off to the lakehouse to work for two weeks. While I was there, I booked a flight to Oregon, and three days after I returned home, I was already leaving again. By the time you read this, I’m home again, but who knows for how long?

The first day of this final stretch was a brutally long one. I got up at 6am with only 6 hours of sleep behind me for a 10am flight. Why so early? Friday morning rush hour. All I had to eat was basically a bit of candy and a half cup of coffee, and then I was loading up into my dad’s truck at 6:30, hoping I hadn’t forgotten anything.

It was a good thing we left so early. An accident on the south side Perimeter had us pinned in place for a solid half hour just shy of the airport exit. But once inside the terminal, checking my bag was only a fifteen minute wait and thanks to TSA precheck and digital ID, I skipped straight to the front of the security line, so I had time to buy a full grits and eggs and sausage and biscuit and coffee breakfast (at only a mildly exorbitant price), head to the gate, eat it, and still have an hour left before boarding time.

Maybe it was all the coffee, but my bladder was extremely overactive this day. The first call was in that morning traffic jam, and then on the five hour flight to Seattle, I had to get up three different times, so thank goodness I had an aisle seat. The people next to me appreciated it as well–they only had to get up when I was already up. I actually talked to the older gentleman next to me a bit, both about the Tokyo fire bombings (the subject of the book he was reading) and the wild itinerary he was hoping to fit in between Vancouver and the Olympics.

At SEA, I had a 3 hour layover at lunchtime. I stopped into a terminal restaurant for meal of hot wings and beer at an outrageously exorbitant price. I also bought a fairly expensive bag of chocolates here as a gift on the way to my gate. I plugged in my phone at a standing counter and passed the time until the tiny plane to Eugene boarded. It was so small that my original seat assignment in row 35 got changed to row 10 because the plane didn’t even have 35 rows.

An hour and a half later I touched down in Eugene, home of the Ducks. The concourse art exhibit consisted mainly of scientific photos, such as those taken by microscope. There was a kiosk that dispensed free short stories at the top of the escalator, although what it printed me was more of a classic poem (Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar). I guess because it’s now in the public domain.

Internet friend Habib picked me up outside the door once I picked up my backpack in his brand new electric Mercedes. This was our first meeting, but he seemed as excited to meet me as me him. It’s lucky I know someone who just bought a house and car in the town containing the nearest airport to the part of the trail I’m missing. Luckier still that he’s super friendly and easy to get along with. He’s a doctor who moved to Eugene from Tennessee just before the pandemic hit, is obviously way smarter and more learned than me, and has just started getting into running and gardening.

Anyway, we stopped at the Winco Foods on the way into town, and I bought all the food I had not had on hand at home at discount prices. In other words, with inflation as it is, I paid what I would pay at a normal grocery store a couple of years ago. Habib had never been there before because it was a bit far from his house, but he got some good deals on a whole bunch of avocados and plantains, then wondered if he was going to be able to eat them all before his vacation in a week.

Our next stop was downtown–you can’t have a reasonably sized city in Oregon without an REI. In less than five minutes, I had bought the can of fuel I needed and headed up the bathroom. Habib followed me up as far as the shoe section and then spontaneously decided he wanted to buy a new pair. Apparently, he regularly buys shoes because his feet are very particular, and the idea that he could become an REI member and have as long as he wanted to test out a pair pushed him over the edge. He tried a few different pairs and tested them by jumping around and dancing and seeing how the shock absorption worked. He spent the rest of the night in his beautiful new and comfortable shoes, as genuinely happy as I always am when leaving an REI.

We decided it was time for supper by the time we finished up there and headed over to the cool part of town to try to get into Habib’s favorite restaurant Marché. There was a 45 minute wait, so we got on the list, but went to see if the other place at the other end of the shopping area had more availability. We slow walked through the shopping street, looking at the shops, poking into a winery store, and by the time we reached the hotel at the back, the wait at their restaurant was over an hour. So we went back to the winery to sample a Bellini and Merlot respectively, our stomachs padded by a snack tray of pita and hummus, nuts, pickled onions, and apricots.

About the time we were finishing up, we got a call from Marché and told them we’d be there in five. After paying, I couldn’t resist grabbing the last pita slice on the way out even though we were headed to eat some more.

Marché was superb. I had a soup and the steak fries, a steak rare with salad and fries, all perfect. We both started with the summer squash soup and split a plate of minced, roasted mixed greens. We left no room for dessert.

We drove past the U of O by night, and the place was swarming with college kids just heading out to enjoy a Saturday night. The line at the oldest ice cream joint just around the corner from the stadium was out the door all the way to the road. They all looked the opposite of how I felt.

Habib’s house was just up the hill across from the park. He showed me to a downstairs bedroom where I dropped my pack and groceries not to be messed with again that night. I spent the next hour in the bathroom and got my last shower for a week. I went to bed and had no trouble getting to sleep by 11:30. All told, I had been awake for 20.5 hours, which seemed an awful lot for just 6 hours of sleep.

Day 79: Minto Pass

I woke up at 6 and started getting ready by packing up the groceries I had bought and repacking everything else to where it goes for hiking. Habib came down a couple of hours later and started folding laundry in the adjacent bedroom.

I had meant to plug in my mobile battery to make sure it was full, but I forgot. I also forgot to bring my long-handled spoon, so I was going to have to make another REI run.

But first Habib thought we should have a walk in the park, so we did that. We found a few flowers in bloom and a lot of happy people people. I played Pikmin Bloom the whole time, thinking I would have time to recharge my phone later. This turned out to be mistaken.

On the way back, we passed the neighbor who wanted to advertise his landscaping services and the old man desperately searching for his lost ferret Melanie and arrived back at Habib’s house before I even knew it. I loaded my bag into the car and we drove to REI to get me a spoon. On the way out, I decided I might as well give talking to the bus driver a try. The bus company that drives over Santiam Pass had responded by email that they couldn’t legally stop at the PCT, but I thought the actual driver might be willing anyway. After all, they’d dropped me there in 2020. So we went over to the Amtrak station.

Habib had seemed utterly uninterested in breakfast, but I had only had a few cereal bars while packing and was feeling very low. I started in on eating from my packed food while we waited for the driver to show up, but it wasn’t enough. I still didn’t feel great. The driver arrived 10 minutes before the bus was to leave and agreed to drop me at the trail, so I went inside to by a ticket. All at once, I was saying goodbye to Habib, grabbing all my stuff and loading it on the bus, last to get on before we left.

The whole drive out, my head was hurting from lack of food. I ate several more bars, but it wasn’t enough. Perhaps it was a nascent caffeine addiction withdrawal. I have been drinking a lot more coffee and other caffeine beverages of late.

A couple of hours later, I let the driver know we were approaching the trail. She pulled us all the way to the parking area at the trailhead right next to the privy and picnic table.

Finally, I had my opportunity to eat something substantial. I spent the next half hour on lunch, and mixed my breakfast drink as well since it contained coffee. I felt a lot better by the time I hit the trail.

But at the trailhead I was hit with a shock. I had hiked all the sections of the PCT north and south of this stretch without a permit, but this part required a permit for overnight trips. I didn’t even think to check on that. But I was already stranded at the trailhead, so my only good option was to move forward.

It was a popular bit of trail on a Saturday. I passed a lot of people and their dogs coming down. Some were hunters. Very few were backpackers. Finally I met some obvious long distance PCT hikers whose names I never got. I brought up the permit and they said they had actually had their permits checked on multiple occasions. But they also said there was Verizon service available right there at that spot. So with my cell battery much lower than I would like to start a section with, I turned the radio on and bought a permit starting the next day. Availability was wide open. I couldn’t print it out, but hoped a pdf on my phone would be enough to satisfy the rangers.

I continued climbing up toward the side of Three-Fingered Jack. The trail wasn’t too bad even when it entered an old burn zone over the top of a hill. That just made the views clearer. I stopped for supper around six in a random spot that was nowhere special, and the sun was already low enough as I headed into the forest again that I packed up my sunglasses and hat and traded them for a headlamp with had gotten covered with some mosquito lotion that had leaked into my pack at the end of the last trip. I hadn’t gone a mile before I had to turn it on.

I went on another 3 miles in the dark, down one ridge and up another. Finally, I arrived at a nice level clearing with a lot more live trees than dead about (as compared to the burn zone I was leaving). It was a little after 9 and I was ready to stop. So that is where my tent went up. While working on this post, I noticed my mobile battery was only 3/4 full, so power will really have to be conserved on this section. After an hour or so of trying to sleep, I realized it was too cold even in the sleeping bag, so I got up and put on my coat. Asleep by 11.

Trail miles: 11.6

Distance to Frog Lake: 74.9 miles

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