6am is the new 5am – between the days getting shorter and the seemingly ever-present cloud cover, it’s basically still dark. But by the time I deflate my sleeping pad and evaluate the day’s water and elevation and mileage, it’s light enough to see by. I touch the things I’d hoped would be dry – my wind shirt, my socks, my gaiters – and find them all still damp, and in the case of the last two, that were cozied up under my sleeping pad all evening, more damp than they were before. The magic of the Cascades.
If not for my dilly-dallying weird-ass pitch, I could’ve been out by 7:15, but 7:25’s not bad. Plus, it gives me the chance to chat with the father and son duo, wish them luck before I make my way up trail.
Just up the trail, there’s a bunch of rocks all a-tumbled about, and ferreted among them, heard but not seen, is my pika cheer squad! There are so many pikas just a-pipping away Pika cheer squad! So many! All over the place! I see none of their fluff, but my heart feels warmer and cozier anyway.
I’m barely 100 yards away before I have to stop for a bathroom break; of course, that’s the time when another hiker comes around the corner, lingers to talk. It’s awkward for a brief moment when I say I’ll catch up in a minute – I stop just short of saying I have to pee, and I realize it sounds a bit presumptuous to think I’ll actually catch up. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but this profile isn’t gonna flatten any time soon, and I have to pee. Bad. So shoo.
It turns out I actually am faster than he is, but I keep a generous distance between the two of us – I’ve only got 29-odd miles to do today, so there’s no real need to rush. He stops to talk to someone camped trailside, and instead of letting me pass, he rushes through his conversation as I approach and awkwardly blocks the trail as I arrive, stopping me in my tracks. I try to go around, but he pulls out ahead of me, looks like he’s stressing himself out by trying to walk faster than is natural for him. Oooooookay.
I’m annoyed at having been stopped for no reason, sure – I’ve only ever come across one other hiker like this, and both were hypercompetitive section hikers – but he’s young. Whatever. I war with myself for a little while – that excuse sounds awfully like “boys will be boys”, which is some bullshit. I’m pulled out of my back and forth when I get stung again, on my left calf this time, and my curse echoes loudly through the cloudy forest. These wasps do not like this damp weather. He’s within hearing, comes back, asks me if I’m alright. Well, that was nice of him. I’m fine, now that I know the sensation.
And it is a shitty sensation – it’s a steady anger in my left calf that is alternately a lancing fire or a dull weight, depending on how I step or how my leggings shift over the wound. I’m on high alert for any creepy-crawly feelings on my legs for the next few miles.
The clouds come and wander amongst the trees, and while the walk isn’t particularly easy or difficult, it is precisely what I need, and the quiet gives me time to think.
Everything’s muted, muffled in a pristine way today, and the last five miles to the Eagle Creek junction seem full of possibility.
The trail dumps me out into a parking area with a picnic table – there are two hikers there, eating and swapping stories. One’s going south – his time in Oregon has just begun – but the other is going north, and we all talk of Washington and Oregon and other entertainment-related things. I don’t mean to stay long, but I don’t think I’m ready to leave Oregon yet. It feels too much like saying goodbye. So I stay an hour and then flounder around for a few minutes making sure I’m on the right trail to take the Eagle Creek alternate.
When the trail goes down – pretty much straight down – I know I’m in the right place. It’s harder than I think it will be, to fight gravity and momentum simultaneously, resist the leg cramps and the knee aches and and and. But once the first stage of down is done, I’m rewarded with some of the most magical trail I’ve ever had the privilege to walk.
The sounds of Eagle Creek are constant, soothing, meditative, and I’m in out inside my head, overwhelmed. Humbled.
It’s all so heartbreakingly beautiful that I regret every step I have to take, afraid I’ll miss something even more stunning.
And then, I hit Tunnel Falls.
And I get to walk reverently under a waterfall.
It’s so hard to walk further, move away from this majestic natural wonder, but suddenly, I know how I’m going to explain the PCT to those who have never hiked.
“You stand at the edge of all these beautiful moments like precipices, knife fine and knife sharp, that needle you to the quick, leaving you with holes you’re not sure weren’t always there. You have the urge to merge with these moments, melt into them until you are them and they are you, but time is merciless, dragging you onward, ever onward. You will always and forever be separate, individual; your experiences mean nothing to nature, and everything to you. What a shame to be cursed to a mere meeting of moments; what a gift to be in a place, in a time, on a trail where there are so many of them. They’re not enough – and you don’t think they ever will be – but in that knowledge, in that insatiability, you eventually find some measure of peace. Comfort with discomfort. That’s what thruhiking is.”
Or maybe I’m just talking about life.
A pika pips, interrupting my reverie and I can’t stifle my natural inner squeeing – or a small outward smirk, in response. Thruhiking isn’t just about reverence, it’s also about fun! And I’m having a helluva time today. Time to enjoy these last few miles.
And then the sun reaches into the gorge and touches my face, and I am well and truly drunk with happiness, with thankfulness.
The Creek retreats further and further from my feet, and I cross it a couple of times before it’s gone from my sight, traded for the asphalt of the parking lot where a few hikers are drying their things and MAGA is cooking himself dinner. I sit to be social for a moment, turn on my phone – my friend Seamus is coming to Cascade Locks to pick me up, since tomorrow is Labor Day and I won’t be able to pick up my package of food, shoes, socks, and my 3F sleeping bag from a closed post office. I make sure he’s got my ETA, and then it’s up and out on paths near roads. Up, up – one last challenge, one last goodbye from Oregon.
It’s just showing off, wants me to see it before I get there properly: the Columbia River, and on the other side, Washington.
I chatter excitedly to Daddio on the phone all the way to town.
On arriving at the grocery store, I’m strangely aware of being watched, in a way that I’m not usually watched in towns. Close on that feeling’s heels, as always, is awareness of my brownness – I escape into the store, questioning myself. Maybe it’s just because I’m a hiker? Are there tensions between hikers and townies here that I don’t know about? But as I grab a bag of chips and a container of hummus for second dinner – Seamus will probably want to go out – the rad cashier lady allays a lot of my fears by being chill. Well that’s nice.
I get a text from Seamus saying he’s here as I’m checking out; the text also mentions hooligans outside the store. Of course it’s a bunch of hikertrash, and OMG SUDS. I haven’t seen him since Tahoe, I don’t think. I chat with him quickly, before Seamus and his wife Alice are making their way out of the car; he’s gotta stay until the post office opens Tuesday, too, so I’ll probably see him again soon.
Then it’s hugs for Seamus and Alice who whisk me off to suburban Portland, where they challenge me to see how many cheeseburgers I can eat at Red Robin. I hang out, grinning like an idiot, until I literally cannot keep my eyes open; I stumble upstairs to bed, and fall asleep in my dirty hiker clothes without thinking twice about it.
Date: September 4 • Start: 2112.1 • End: 2144.2 • Day: 32.1 – 3.6 less for Eagle Creek alternate = 28.5
Notable Accomplishments: Leisurely day • Eagle Creek! • Cascade Locks and almost Washington!