Start: Bend, Oregon
Finish: Jason and Jenn’s house in Reno, Nevada
Total mileage: 1.9 miles
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.
The trip back south and out to my new trailhead involved a series of bus trips – first west to Eugene, then south to Sacramento, then east to Reno, back north to Susanville, and finally back west to the small town of Chester. I planned to be in transit for about 30 hours, so I took my time in the morning when I woke up in Bend to eat a breakfast of bread pudding while sipping coffee at the hostel. Once I was full and caffeinated, I set off to buy a burrito, a cookie, and some pastries – provisions for the long trip ahead. Then I dropped by the Deschutes brewpub for one last hot meal in Bend before boarding my bus.
The first leg of my trip, heading east to Eugene, took me through lush mountains of the Willamette National Forest along the wide McKenzie River. I happened to sit on the side of the bus that overlooked the river, and I spent much of the ride staring at the passing scenery – groups of yellow-helmeted tourists bobbing through rapids on rafts, still water collecting in front of gray stone locks, quaint wooden bridges leading off into thick woods. It seemed that everything we passed that wasn’t man-made was green and growing.
In Eugene, my connecting bus to Sacramento, which ran all the way from Seattle down to Los Angeles, was more than an hour late. I decided to kill some time by walking through the nearby neighborhood and ended up at the Falling Sky Brewery. I wasn’t particularly hungry but knew I should take any opportunity to eat, so I got some pork belly fries, ate as much as I could, then hustled back to the bus station.
My bus to Sacramento arrived soon after I got to the bus station, but something was happening in the bus bay that delayed our boarding. Passengers in line starting grumbling, then complaining more vocally, then – in one case – cursing loudly; this was my first sign that this trip could be unusually problematic. Once we were on board, though, it seemed like things might settle down.
On the road, however, the situation devolved quickly in multiple ways. The bus struggled up hills, topping out at 40 miles per hour, which meant we were falling further and further behind schedule. This made the driver flustered and the passengers frustrated with our progress, especially as darkness started to set in. We made stops about once an hour, but some of these were just to refuel the bus or process paperwork. At the first of these stops, the bus driver asked the passengers to remain in the bus; yet after she was gone for a couple minutes, three young people screamed “Mutiny!” and streamed off the bus to smoke cigarettes outside. About a dozen other people, many older, followed the young trio, smoking cigarettes and joints (marijuana is legal in Oregon but Greyhound prohibits carrying it on the bus). The driver came back fuming but impotent, unable or unwilling to kick the passengers off the bus and sermingly more concerned with getting back on the road.
About an hour later, we had a quick break then the bus driver went off to do more paperwork. Perhaps in reaction to the mayhem that occurred at the last stop, the bus driver locked the door before she went off to do her paperwork. One young woman – part of the mutinous trio from before – had slept through the earlier break and now wanted to get off. She stood in the front of the bus and panicked, yelling that she was claustrophobic and needed to “go potty”, yanking against the door, fiddling with some of the buttons, and even trying to blast the bus horn, which didn’t work because the bus was off. When the driver came back, the woman put on a treacly voice and asked the bus driver to be let out to go to the bathroom, to which the driver relented (even though there was a toilet in the back of the bus). The woman got out and went to the bathroom, but then returned and started to smoke a cigarette while we all sat waiting. The driver promptly got out of the bus and started yelling at the woman, who dumped the cigarette with an annoyed affectation and loaded back into the bus.
We hadn’t been rolling again for more than a minute before the same young woman ran up to the front of the bus, realizing that this was actually her stop. The driver – perhaps in kindness, perhaps just to get this woman off the bus – found a place large enough to pull off and let the woman out. Yet, when we pulled over there was a dog barking audibly, so several passengers and the driver first had to clear the area to make sure it was safe before unloading the young woman and her bag. Finally, after nearly a half an hour, the bus a bit quieter, we were back on the road.
At the next rest stop in Medford, just north of the California border, I got out for some fresh air and chatted with a few fellow passengers. One wiry young man, heavily tattooed on his arms and neck and with close-shorn hair, was heading home after visiting relatives. He had been recuperating after getting shot multiple times, which resulted in him losing custody of his children and now requiring a colostomy bag for at least a short period. He talked quickly, saying that this experience – unlike previous encounters with law enforcement, such as literally being kicked off a gondola by a policeman – had been a wake-up call. Another young guy, with his black hair shaped into a flat top, waxed poetic about a large barbecue he had with his friends last week. This Tucson native, now a resident of the city of Albany in the Bay Area, had particularly liked the venison they cooked up. He came from a large family – six brothers and four sisters – and his Louisiana-born father was a master of the grill, especially with alligator meat, which tasted a bit like a cross between fish and chicken. As we all chatted, perched on a street curb next to the bus, several passengers passed around a one-hitter pipe filled with weed while lightning silently but brilliantly connected cloud to cloud overhead.
Although I slept fairly well curled up across two seats, I woke up several times during the ride as we pulled into each stop and once again when the bus started dying about 3 a.m. The driver (a new person who had taken over about 1 a.m.) pulled the bus over to the side of the road and called someone on the Greyhound engineering staff for support. She also asked questions to no one in particular about whether the previous driver had any similar issues, whether the driver had tried resetting the engine, and whether the bus had trouble climbing hills. Being the person in the front row of the bus, I became the default bus historian and answered as many questions as possible. When I reached the limits of my knowledge, however, I excused myself, put in my headphones, and went back to sleep.
I awoke once again about 5 a.m. as we pulled into Sacramento, where I was supposed to catch my bus to Reno. I had already missed my intended connection, and now I had several hours until the next bus to Reno. I curled up on the floor of the bus station along with about a dozen other passengers who had missed their connections, though with my sleeping mat and quilt I probably had the most comfortable setup.
After a couple hours of sleep and getting my new ticket from the counter, I walked to a Denny’s down the street for breakfast. There, a skinny guy with a ponytail came over and asked me if I was hiking the PCT; my backpack and poles gave me away. The man, a 2012 veteran of the Appalachian Trail in his 30s who went by Boomer was hiking southbound with his girlfriend, Happy Feet. They had done Washington and also been stymied by wildfires, so they were planning to hike north now from Truckee through Northern California in hopes the wildfires would abate by the time they got up there. The two Grand Rapids residents were then hoping to hit the Sierras in September.
My bus to Reno was running late, but even with all my delays I had time to make my connection to a regional bus at 1:30 p.m. In fact, I made it with 30 minutes to spare. But as I was waiting for the regional bus, I discovered it only ran on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and today was Thursday. Thankfully, my friends Jen and Jason lived in Reno and had offered up a place for me to stay, so I texted them to meet up.
The rest of the day was a welcome surprise rest. First Jason took me to a swanky and delicious brewpub in a refurbished train station, then he gave me a quick tour of Reno, and finally we went back to his place for dinner with Jen after she returned from work. Jason was putting the finishing touches on his dissertation, and he was remarkably relaxed given that it was due in the next day. Basking in their hospitality, we caught up over pizza, walked their dogs – Muir and Punch, both rescues with endearing back stories – and watched TV before retiring at the seemingly late hour of 11 p.m. It was exactly what I didn’t know I needed.