With wildfires burning near the trail in northern Oregon and several weeks before I needed to get to Seattle, I decided to hop back down to Northern California so I could do a couple sections that I had skipped earlier in the summer. It wasn't the most efficient route, but it wasn't too expensive and would also put me in a position where I could meet up with Alissa, her sisters, and our friends to spend a weekend in Yosemite. I could then do the remaining 150 miles in northern Oregon – which could be broken into three 50-mile sections accessible from Bend and Portland – on weekends later this year or next summer.
I had food on my mind from before I even got up today. I could tell I was ready to get to town – it had been eight days since I started back on the trail outside Ashland and had a full day off – because I awoke several times during the night (though the full moon probably also had something to do with that). The Big Lake Youth Camp, where I could get breakfast, was just 12 miles ahead, and just seven miles after that was a highway where I could hitch a ride to Bend, Oregon, a city with many restaurants. Anticipating this, I got up at 4:30 a.m. after just over six hours of sleep, and packed up in the dark.
Yesterday felt like a slog, pushing myself through a repetitive landscape on tired feet. Today was the antidote, with long stretches in the open air ogling at high-altitude mountains. The landscape was varied and rich, so much so that even just staring at the ground beneath my feet might have been entertaining enough at times. And while my feet still ached late in the day, the views along the day made it all worthwhile.
Today I confirmed that I don’t get nearly the same satisfaction from looking at lakes as I do from peering over hills and mountains. I can find lakes beautiful, peer down through their clear waters to appreciate the rich wildlife in the shallows. But lakes don’t stun me with the same sense of grandeur and wonder that I get from being on top of a mountain looking at the tiny trees and people below. Lakes give me solitude, but mountains give me an addictive sense of humility, of reducing all my seemingly important concerns to insignificance. Today was all about lakes.
The Pacific Crest Trail has taught me to plan meticulously but also be ready to abandon those plans when circumstances change. It’s a deceptively simple and intuitive lesson, summed up by dozens of different truisms, my favorite of which was always, “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.” But the distinction between sunk cost and active investment that might seem so obvious in hindsight is rarely clear in the moment. There’s a real skill in quitting, in knowing when to cut and run rather than pour more effort and money into something that is already is doomed. Today gave me another chance to practice discerning that blurry line.
I woke up about 6 a.m. to the sight out my tent door of purple light bathing Mt. Thielsen, a bank of pink clouds floating behind it. It was chilly, even in my long underwear, but I took my time breaking camp, distracted by the beauty around me. The mountain went from purple to pink to yellow to dark gray as the sun rose. On the other side, beams of light cut through dark forested valleys. I’m not prone to interpret weather metaphorically, but I couldn’t help but feel like this scene augured good things for the day.
I rarely feel my days are governed by moods now. When I get up in the morning, I don’t think about whether it will be a good day or a bad day, whether I’m excited or forlorn. My days are so long and straightforward – nearly 12 hours of putting one foot in front of the other – and so devoid of any intellectual decision-making that it’s hard to feed any illusion that my mood has anything to do with the outcome of the day. My attitude will not overcome altitude, will not shorten mileage. All I can do is keep my expectations open and shape my plans according to the elevation and mileage in front of me, hoping that the information I have is accurate and reliable. Today, even that was too much to ask.
I was hounded by mosquitoes from the moment I awoke this morning about 6 a.m. I had gotten a good night’s sleep, but even that couldn’t keep me from getting annoyed at the vacillating and unpredictable buzz in my ear. I had covered nearly every inch of my body with clothing, putting on long underwear despite the heat, and donned a head net but the bugs sought out my unprotected hands and stuck their long proboscises through the fibers of my shirt and pants to get their blood meal.
Today felt like my first real day in Oregon, surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells that I normally associate with this state. There was plentiful moisture, sufficient water, abundant red volcanic rocks, mosquitoes galore, and forest – endless forest. Pines and oaks gave way to more pines. Ferns abated, high grass grew in density, then ferns came back. People have referred to sections of Oregon as a “green tunnel,” and today I viscerally understood why.
As much as I had enjoyed my time in San Francisco, I was missing the outdoors. I had felt like I had gotten into a rhythm on the trail, pounding out about 25 miles daily, catching spectacular sights day after day. In addition, I had heard people talk about the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon with hushed breath, some saying it was their favorite stretch. All this made it easier to rouse myself at 3:45 a.m., the orange glow of streetlights still dominant throughout San Francisco, and start the six-hour drive back north to Medford.