6 comes both earlier than I want it to and precisely when it means to, and for all my pouting when Spesh’s alarm goes off, I actually feel pretty good. It’s quick as a wink, up and out, so Daniel can get to work. We pick up his work buddy on the way, and he drops us off in an abandoned parking lot near the highway so we can walk to where we need to hitch.
The intersection out of town is situated near a Starbucks, and we decide to delay the inevitable by going to get coffee first. Walking down the four-lane almost-highway, I’m struck by how strange this should be to me – just a few years ago, I’d never have imagined myself just nonchalantly walking on the tiny shoulder of a busy road, following a tiny trail that tells me people have done this before. I’d certainly never have imagined myself mostly unconcerned by the prospect of hitchhiking. Never say never, I guess.
It’s too early for most of the stores in the shopping center to be open at the moment, so there’s a weird, zombie-movie feel to the place. It takes us a minute to suss out the location of the Starbucks, but we find it surrounded by cars, bustling on the inside. I order coffee and food and wince at the price, but it’s nice to have a place to sit with Spesh for a while, reflect on our time together, before I or he or both of us have to go.
We’re interrupted by a beard that clearly belongs to a thruhiker, though no one I’ve seen in person before. Spesh’s friend Condor, who lives in Bend, throws a welcome smile at me, and after he introduces his soon-to-be-wife, we’re all chattering away about the trail. I voice my concern about the coming weather; he tells me about the time he started with the intent to finish, but only made it as far as Etna before the snows came. It’s comforting, in a way, but it also makes me nervous – I really want to make it. It’d be hard, after pushing miles and stressing out and leaving friends behind to get north, not to make it.
Finally, I should go – I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to get back up to McKenzie, and I’d like to be walking by noon. So it’s last hugs with Spesh and finding a place to stand by the highway, tyvek groundsheet turned PCT sign in hand.
I’m picked up pretty quickly by a gent with some errands to run in Sisters, who’ll take me that far; he tells me that his business should take about an hour, but if I’m still there when he gets back, he’ll take me all the way up. His company is nice, but I hope I’m not standing there awkwardly for an hour.
A nice older gentleman offers to take me to the trail, but we sort out just past the McKenzie turnoff that he thought I was going to Santiam Pass. He’s kind, but I don’t want to skip miles – particularly since that would mean skipping a box – so he drops me off at the turnoff for McKenzie.
I’m not going to get a hitch where he’s dropped me – it’s a backwoods highway and people are going way too fast – so I walk to the nearby intersection with the road that actually goes to the pass. I’m concerned – there is way, way less traffic on this road – but I’m not there ten minutes before another older gentleman agrees to take me all the way up to the correct pass. Mission accomplished! Woo! He even offers Starburst and Hamburglar a ride down, after I say I know them, and they’re alright.
Then it’s walking down to the trail from the Dee Wright Observatory, and facing my trail nemesis once again.
Faster than I think, though, I’m to the trailhead proper, where a thruhiker is whipping up some meals from his dehydrated collection for hikers to try. It’s early still, though – not quite 11am – so he’s not quite ready to feed folk. He shows me his card – Featherweight Foods1, vegan, organic, the whole shebang – and I’m a little disappointed that I’ve got a crapton of food waiting for me at Big Lake Youth Camp.
Onward, onward across the lava.
Just over the ridge, I run into Bear Sweats and Tuff Broad again! It’s good to see them. I spend most of the rest of the morning leapfrogging with them, chatting whenever we meet.
Oh, if only it were sunny today! These strange near-wasteland views would be even more spectacular. Then again, the lava would make things hot hot hot, sooo maybe that’s not what I want.
As the morning turns into afternoon, I wander into a burn area, get tired, sit down. It’s a fairly nice view of the trail, so I decide to pester Pineapple with a picture of the pineapple.
I can hear her say the “omg” she’s written as a response. Two! Two missions accomplished today! Ah Ah Ah.
The burn recedes; the trees begin, and the walk becomes much nicer. Plus, the sun seems to have held off until I got out of the lava. Rad.
Then it’s down, down the hill to the turnoff to Big Lake Youth Camp.
Big Lake Youth Camp – a Seventh Day Adventist camp – is about a mile off trail, but it’s worth the stop. They hold hiker packages, let hikers sleep and shower there, even feed us, for a nominal fee. By the time I arrive, I’ve missed lunch, and having started at 10, I’m not about to stay for dinner – gotta make those miles. But at least there are oreos in my resupply, which I break into as soon as I break into my box2. Several hikers are holed up in the partially-constructed cabin they’ve set aside for our use, and I hear Moses before I see him. I remain confused as to how he’s caught me when he “didn’t skip” and the last time I saw him, he was hurting something fierce, but ultimately, it’s none of my business. Plus, it’s nice to catch up with someone who feels like family.
Moses knows all the trail gossip somehow, briefs me on where everyone is. Yoda is apparently just ahead of me – she left BLYC this morning – and Sprinkles and Homegrown aren’t too far behind. Pineapple wasn’t here long ago, either – I’m about a day behind her. So close, and yet so far.
I make good time on my resupply, packing and repackaging and the like. I even get a chance to talk with some humans of the non-hiking variety, get to thank them for letting us hikers invade their space in the summer. Their bathroom, when I use it, is white and clean, and I feel bad about washing my dirty hands in their pristine sink. I try to clean it out as best I can afterwards, but thruhiker dirt don’t run.
Then it’s off towards Santiam, the relative flat allowing for three miles an hour at a pace. It’s not as flat as I’d like, but hey, I’m making good time. “They” weren’t entirely wrong, I guess – Oregon is pretty flat.
I cross the road at Santiam Pass, get pumped as I enter the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. I’m approaching mile 2000. Um. What.
I’m putting my camera away when Moses catches me. No. Fucking. Way. He wasn’t even remotely ready to go when I walked out, and it seems unlikely he made more than three miles an hour to get here. He admits he got a ride to the pass out of Big Lake Youth Camp, but he swears up and down that he’s done all his miles to here. Suuuuuure. Still, we’re climbing, and his company is a nice distraction from the uphill.
I cross mile 2000, and I’m not alone3.
I’ve walked over 2000 miles. I’m a bit numb to the realization. It doesn’t feel like I’ve gone that far – but then again, it really, really does. I’m thankful, oh-so-thankful, in that moment: for my knees trees lack of injury. For the company. I’ve met some really rad people on trail, and I’m looking forward to getting to know Moses a little better since we’re planning on camping together tonight.
I take back everything I said about Oregon being flat as we climb, although really, it’s not that bad – Moses falls behind, though, leaves me to enjoy the sunset by myself.
I can see for miles and miles, the burn with the mountainous backdrop hinting something about permanence and impermanence.
Finally, the climb starts to take its toll, and what with the sun quickly disappearing, it’s time to find a place to sleep. I check the camp I told Moses I’d stop at, but there’s only room for one – womp womp. So it’s further up I go, to a space that’s supposed to hold many; sure enough, it does hold many, including two hikers I don’t know and Butterscotch and Vertigo! There’s more comfy space by the two now-known hikers, and while I set up and eat, Blink regales me with tales of mountain lions. I know I’m in good company as I crawl into my bag with only 650 miles left to go.
Date: August 30 • Start: 1981.2 • End: 2002.4 • Day: 21.2
Notable Accomplishments: Caught Moses • Chilled at Big Lake Youth Camp • Holy shit I’ve walked 2000 miles
 Has anyone gotten a chance to try his food?
 If you’re sending yourself boxes, I highly, highly recommend you put something in there that is both delicious and intended for immediate consumption. It makes the damage you do to your trail food stash significantly smaller.
 This is the only hundred-mile marker that I did not get a picture by myself at. Of all the mile markers to do that at…