And this is where the story ends. The last day, just four miles from becoming a Triple Crown.
As I understood it at the time, Jordan could come pick me up, but not until late afternoon. So I waited until it was fully light out to start getting ready, primarily because there were a couple of videos that I wanted to shoot. Jake was already gone down the trail by the time I came outside. It only took a couple of minutes to pack up after that (see video), and I was hiking by 8:30.
Moments after I turned the lights out the previous night, a headlamp light came darting across my tent. The wearer wandered around the area for a while but was very quiet and respectful, and I ended up getting quiet, peaceful night’s sleep. When I came out of my tent the following morning, I found out that that headlamp belonged to Shitshow, who was camped the other side of the trail. He was another sobo putting in 25 mile days, looking to head all the way past Breitenbush Lake that morning. I took a selfie and headed on to let him get to his busy day.
The first couple of miles was a climb, and while it wasn’t a particularly difficult climb, it did get the heart pumping. I started walking a bit after 8, and once I was at the highest point along Summit Butte an hour later, I knew I had an easy day ahead. The trail was mostly clear and rock-free. It was either downhill or level for the next 12 miles.
I woke up at 3 something, but managed to get back to sleep until my 6am alarm went off. I tried to pick up my watch to silence it, but something about the way I was sleeping made me lose all sensation in my hand.
While I was packing up in the dark in my tent, I heard someone walk around and start a truck and drive off. I was worried someone was going to come around at any time upset that I was camping there. After packing up completely, I learned that I was indeed in the area where they let PCT hikers camp when I saw “Day Use” written on the TP bar in the toilet. The day use area is the where hikers p for free. The toilet itself, while clean and kept in good repair, featured engraved graffiti from hiker trash going back as far as the early 90s. Dozens and dozens of hikers who just couldn’t bear to Leave No Trace and formed a little bit of history.
I woke at 4, went back to sleep, and started getting up and eating in the dark around 5:30, including a little blog work. I was working by headlamp until past 6:30, and I decided to stitch a couple more holes in my gloves. Found the ear tip for my headphones in my tent while packing, but probably won’t be using them much anyway to save battery. Since there weren’t any random people or deer in my campsite this time, I got started hiking by 7:30. It was light out, but just barely. The sun was on the other side of the mountain and I was in the shade all morning.
I woke up around 5:30 or so on my own. I’m still vaguely on East Coast time circadian rhythmically speaking. I woke up pretty sleepy and wanted to go back to sleep, yet I could not. I realized I hadn’t put the cap on my mattress air valve and the pain from lying there was because it had leaked down overnight. I reinflated it then kind of laid awake but sleepy until I could hear the muffled sound of my 6:30 alarm. There were vague hints of the outside world maybe eventually getting lighter, but I wanted a bit more light before I started. So I had breakfast, worked on this blog until 7, then spent another half-hour sewing up a couple of seams on my gloves and getting myself ready for the outside. The sun was actually up by the time I emerged.
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?
Up well before dawn this morning, and the fog was still hovering. Tent was wet, but not as wet as the others’ because they had opted to camp under the trees, which have a habit of gathering fog and dripping it down like rain.
I was packed up as quickly as anyone and the first to leave camp as the sun started coming into view. I set out into the midst of the lava field. Someone in there, Owl caught me up, but he hadn’t taken off his warm pants before starting out, so I left him behind as he changed out of them.
I stopped for my mid-morning break after a little under five miles, eager to take advantage of a tree-covered in the sea of lava. All four of the others passed me during those fifteen minutes and I didn’t catch them again until the end of the day.
When I finally came to the end of the sea of lava and worked my way up the side of a partially burned ridge to Scott Pass, I stopped next to South Mathieu Lake for lunch. A chill wind poured over the pass, so I couldn’t stay sitting still for long. I packed up and got moving.
Soon, the wind brought a light dusting of snow. I stopped for a snack and pulled on my jacket and snow pants and put my Packa on my pack. I also filled up on water at the next creek I crossed. My hands were freezing as I filtered it, but it sure beat having to do the same after the sun went down.
With the last of the afternoon, I entered to the two mile stretch of the trail through the Obsidian Limited Entry Area, a section of trail through and on actual obsidian. Chunks of it underfoot. Obsidian Falls flowed over it. Very cool. But the rules for the area are no camping and stay on the trail, so I got out the other side as quickly as possible.
I had to pull out my headlamp to do the last couple of miles over cold, snowy hillsides. Finally, I came to the Linton Meadows Trail junction, where comments indicated there were tentsites to be found around. In fact, Owl and Phoenix’s Duplex was just a little past it down by the edge of the trees. I shouldn’t have let them pass me because I couldn’t see anything else level and large enough, and it was getting late. I went on maybe another half mile past them until I came across a just barely big enough shelf of snow above the trail. Looked pretty flat.
I haven’t mentioned this, but for the last five miles I had been desperately holding my bowels. I was done. Couldn’t hold it anymore. This little spot was going to have to be enough.
The second thing I did upon arriving was set up my tent and pull all my stuff under the vestibule. I put on another layer of clothes, climbed into my sleeping bag, and only then started cooking in the vestibule. It was pretty dang late by the time I was ready to go to sleep.
So, I took a zero in Bend. Bend is a great place, but it is certainly not on trail, which means it’s time for another AmAzInG DoUbLe DaY PoSt!!!!…
Honestly, my zero wasn’t very fun. I spent the vast majority of it in a coin laundromat a 20 minute walk from my motel. That is, I got one load going and ran it all the way through until done. Solid two hours. Then I changed into the clean clothes and washed the ones I was wearing, then went out for a meal of fast tacos and a trip to the grocery to pick up some limes. Then, back at my room, I realized I had forgotten to wash a critical item and walked all the way back out to wash a third load. Finally, it was so late that I had to skip drying it and go.
Why? Because I needed to get to REI, a 30 minute walk in the other direction, with enough time to try on clothes and so forth. I bought some waterproof gaiters, snow pants, a snow jacket, new trekking poles. I had meant to exchange some busted items, but I had been in such a hurry I’d forgotten to grab them. I don’t think I remembered to check whether they had canister fuel, though I expect the shortage was affecting them as well. I would end up starting the next section with only the fuel I had on hand.
Finally, after a day that was nothing but work, I set out carrying my busted, overflowing REI bag to do one fun thing in Bend. (The only bags they had were busted by default.)
I let Google route me to Crux Fermentation Project, the brewery halfway between REI and my motel that looked like it had some good stuff online. But I didn’t trust Google enough once the brewery came into site and tried to take a shortcut. I circled around a jumbled pile of stuff in the middle of a field with the sound of a generator running inside and realized I had stumbled on a homeless camp. On the other side was an impassable drop onto a railroad track. I worked my way back to the Google approved route.
Anyway, it was a nice restaurant and brewery with multiple places to order and a big field and tent beside it with a giant fire and a lot of chill people enjoying their evenings. It was the most normal social event I had seen in a town in a long time. Aside from the masks and distance between groups, of course.
I ate a bowl of something vaguely mex inspired and drank two of their favorite beers, which brought me right to closing time, then started back to the motel, which surprised me by how close it was.
I got up quite early and repacked my pack to incorporate the new items to get out of my room by 8:20. I turned in my key and set out down the road to my first destination…
Then I realized I didn’t have my phone and ran back to the motel to get the key back. The manager laughed heartily at my forgetfulness. But by 8:30 I was on my way again. Luckily, everything I needed was only a couple of minutes away.
My first stop was the UPS Store, where I sent home the clothes my recent purchases had obsoleted. Right across the street was Bend’s only (yet controversial) transit center. I was to meet a shuttle here that would leave me at Santiam Pass. To confirm this, I asked a stranger. “Unfortunately, yes,” he quipped, in a way that a native might have understood. He then wanted to continue talking about being careful of all the dangerous animals. Frankly, he creeped me out, so I went to sit far from him.
I didn’t have to wait long. The shuttle showed up on time and the driver was super nice and chill. An hour later, I was at the PCT Trailhead, right at the southern end of the closed section I had had to skip.
The terrain I faced once I crossed the highway was some of the dullest I had seen to date. I can’t even describe how uninteresting it was. It was flat and relatively easy to move through, but there was also someone not far away using machinery that sounded like an industrial strength vacuum. I stopped at a pond to get some water because I had forgotten to get enough from my motel room, and then bypassed the side trip to Big Lake Youth Camp, though I could see Big Lake just fine from the trail.
The trail followed the edge of a lava field and I stopped early at the foot of it in a sandy, flat area that was the last marked campsite in Guthook for ten miles.
I set up camp close to the edge of the lava and climbed inside my tent to do some maintenance. Soon, I heard some activity outside.
Owl and Phoenix had arrived following two consecutive zeroes in Bend. And they had friends with them: Firefly and her partner who was entirely new to long distance hiking but would receive the trail name Grommet that very night. Not after the claymation dog character but for the way he liked to manufacture useful gear for the trail and incorporate grommets into them.
Owl and I rearranged an area next to the lava so we could have a campfire to celebrate the beginning of Grommet’s adventure. We all sat near the fire cooking and eating our own suppers until the sun was gone and a thick fog was rolling in. At that point, we all started getting the urge to turn in led by Phoenix. I was second to hit the sack, hoping to get an early start the next morning.