PCT Update 11: Wonder and Woe

Posted on Categories Pacific Crest Trail

Our speed continued to be fast and when we couldn’t up the pace any further we pushed the time instead. Most mornings we would be hiking around 6:30AM, and we would go until 8, sometimes even 9 at night. It took over 100 days to hike through California and we were determined to do Oregon in just around twenty. Although our mindset was that we were near the end, we still had over 700 miles and a month of continuous hiking to go. We had to just keep taking it one day at a time, the rest we needed we would come soon enough.

   
This sign looks as beaten as we feel.

Mountains and Magic

The smoke finally cleared up right as we were reaching a section marked with lush forests interspersed with beautiful ponds. With the haze of the smoke gone it brought about a crispness to the woods that had me feeling rejuvenated. After so many days hiking through the smog and burned trees, this crisp green forest of life helped restore my energy and morale.

   
Green and alive.

One evening the trail found itself wandering out of the woods and into a wide open meadow. As I looked upwards I saw a massive volcano towering above me, making me feel like a small and insignificant speck. For the next couple of hours the trail would meander between forests and volcanoes, lush life and dramatic views. All the while I was listening to my Pensive PCT playlist, a playlist my girlfriend made for me with songs that accentuate emotions and wonder. As the music flowed and the sun set through trees and behind mountains, I felt the magic of northern Oregon.

   
One of the Three Sisters. Finally some mountains sort of named after women.

These uplifting sections wouldn’t last forever unfortunately. We would find ourselves weaving in and out of burn zones under the heat of the sun at least every other day. I barely slept several nights in a row at one point. The first because it was so cold the condensation from my breath froze the inside of my tent, the next because of strong winds blowing sand through my tent and onto my face all night, and then because a family of deer decided the bush 6 inches from tent was the tastiest of all and spent the entire night chomping and stomping about.

   
We also hiked for several miles in exposed lava fields. A hard section but very cool.

After all that we finally reached our next “resort” only to find the staff was on a two day retreat, their only one of the entire summer, and no food was being served or sold. But even through all the difficulty, the beauty in between always made the slog worth it, even if we were cursing the skies in our moments of pain.

   
This beautiful view was earned by hiking through one of the worst burn zones we’ve been in followed by a calf-deep river crossing in which a dead horse was rotting a little ways downstream. But these meadows were worth it all.

All hike and no play makes Kyle a dull boy

We made our way to our next destination, one that I had been looking forward to since the start of the trip. After a day of hiking through the woods, the trees suddenly cleared out revealing dramatic views of Mount Hood, the volcano we had spent the day climbing without even knowing it. Right on the mountain sat the historic Timberline Lodge, the place I had been interested in for quite some time.

   
It literally felt like climbing a steep sand dune for a mile and a half.

The lodge was one of the inspirations for The Shining, and the exterior of the building had been used as the outside of the hotel in the film. The Shining‘s influence on me was during my time as a Graphic Design undergrad. I had been tasked with creating a poster and an opening title sequence for a movie, and Stephen King’s big screen horror film was the one I chose.

   
Buhm buhm buhmmmm.

That project ended up being a turning point for me. It was the first time that the skills I had been learning really came together to create a body of work that I am still proud of today. It was the first time where I really started to feel a passion for the field of graphic design. Those skills and passions would later propel me to success with my senior project, Reconnect. Years later that senior project would evolve into the very blog you are reading right now, Reconnect.life.

   
The poster way back from Junior year.

It feels very meta to be writing about visiting the Timberline Lodge on this blog- a lodge that inspired a film that influenced my early design passion that drove me to create a project that would evolve into this very blog on which I would be writing about a huge journey that would take me to that very lodge. Also, the food was fantastic, all you can eat breakfast for $18.

   
Evening thunder storms around Mount Hood felt very appropriate for the location of a horror film hotel.

Uncertain End

The weather turned brisk and cool, and it felt like the fall as we hiked the last days in Oregon. The weather was reminiscent of a New England autumn. The slight chilliness on the outside brought me warmth on the inside as it triggered feelings of nostalgia for home.

   
Plus some sweet waterfalls in what was described as a ‘jungle like’ section.

Dennis’s niece, Kelsey, and her boyfriend, Mike, met us at the last town of Oregon. They live near Portland and wanted to meet up with us along this journey. After catching up in the town of Cascade Locks, they drove us back to their apartment where we would take what may have been our last day off for the rest of the trip.

   
Amazing views through the forest as we made our descent out of Oregon.

As we spent our time split between checking out Portland and lying on the couch, my excitement for the end was not where it should have been. A series of forest fires had sprung up in Northern Washington and Southern Canada, forcing the Forest Service to close the northern section of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as all other trails in the area. After months of planning followed by months of hiking, after pushing my body to it’s limits every single day, after all the money spent on gear and expenses, after putting my relationship on hold, saying goodbye to family, quitting my job, I had just learned that I might not even be able to reach the end. It felt like a punch to the stomach.

   
And sadness that with the rate of these fires the whole trail could look like this one day.

Bridge of the Gods

After a nice and relaxing visit, Kelsey dropped us back off at Cascade Locks. We got together the food we would need for the next section and began our way towards The Bridge of the Gods.

   
The name comes from a Native American legend. It is believed the original Bridge of the Gods was a land bridge that eventually eroded away.

The name is fittingly epic, as it stretches over the Colombia River connecting the state of Oregon to Washington. Right in the center stand signs noting which state you are entering, depending on the direction you are traveling. This massive bridge is the portal in which PCT hikers make their first steps into the final state of their journey.

   
Someone on the PCT app commented about doing the Washless Washington Challenge. Hike all of Washington without showering or doing laundry. I will be staying as far away from that hiker as possible.

I made those steps with a feeling of both excitement and sadness. I was ready for the end, the drive to complete this challenge is what kept me motivated in the hard parts and what enhanced my excitement throughout the good times. But as much as I was looking forward to the completion of this journey and everything that came with that, it saddened me that this huge, once in a lifetime trip was coming to an end. I was in the process of realizing a life long dream and pretty soon it would just be a memory.

   
Soon I would once again spend my days following tail lights instead of trail signs.

The prospect that I might not be able to reach the official end only added to my mixed emotions. Finishing on some random highway did not have the same climatic appeal as a huge monument sitting on the Canadian border. As I made my way across the bridge the views were obstructed by thick smoke, a continuous reminder of the fires wrecking havock throughout the state.

   
It would only get smokier over the next couple days.

The Journey

Making my way into the forests of Washington helped me feel a little bit better. They were absolutely beautiful and healthy. Some sections were so green there was moss covering every bit of brown bark and gray rocks. I felt like I was on a safari through a jungle. It was some of the lushest forests I had ever been in. With the smoke obscuring the views above, I couldn’t have asked for a better section to spend several days hiking through.

   
The Monkey on my pack was in his natural habitat.

The next few nights would have us competing for tent sites. “Trail Days” had just ended at Cascade Locks – a huge, multiday PCT festival that many hikers congregate too, some even straight up skipping sections to make it for the parties. Dennis and I had been able to avoid the event as neither of us had any interest in the festivities scene, but now the aftermath was hitting us. Dozens of hikers who wouldn’t have normally been at the same point as us now flooded the trail. Every day and every night was filled with so many more people. We hoped as time went on the bubble would disperse and we could get back to the more solitary experience.

   
The only ones I want to interact with are Dennis, Monkey, and this dog that I found.

We finally closed in on our first town in Washington – Trout Lake. The morning of hiking into town we woke up to a thick, cold fog. It was wonderful, the cold front had eliminated the smoke and the air was chilly and refreshing. Still no views, but I would take fog over smoke any day.

   
It made for some really cool and eerie woods.

Once in Trout Lake, the fog cleared up enough to give us views of the huge Mount Adams that loomed over the town. It was a spectacular sight to be held and complimented a nice and relaxing evening hanging out in hot tubs and eating until our stomachs burst.

   
The cows are on a farm instead of roaming the trail for once!

While within WiFi range, we were able to learn the latest on the fires closing the end of the trail. The bad news was the fire hadn’t gotten any smaller and the trail was still closed. The good news was there was an alternate that could at least get us to the Canadian border. We were still several weeks away so our hope was still there that we could finish on the official trail, but if all else failed we could at least complete our trek from Mexico to Canada.

   
Canada was just over 400 miles away now.

The next day we got on trail with weather even colder and cloudier than the day before. I spent most of the day hiking with my down jacket on, and it was honestly wonderful. Hiking through steep, hot, sun exposed burn zones filled with smoke had been draining my morale and this chilliness was exactly the weather I needed to boost my spirits.

   
Nice and warm with my puffy and my non removable face warmer.

We spent the day meandering through beautiful northern subalpine forests over some of the most gradual terrain we’ve had in awhile. The clouds semicleared for a few hours to give us some amazing and dramatic views of the volcano we had been circling before closing back up as we reentered the forests. We got to our campsite earlier than usual and my legs weren’t throbbing like usual.

   
It felt like a mix of New Hampshire and the Sierra Nevada.

It had been one of the nicest days on the trail in awhile and had me really enjoying the hiking again. A day like that was exactly what I needed as it helped me feel better about the uncertain end we were fast approaching. This trip had never been about the destination, reaching the border will just be another moment. The experiences had in the five and a half month journey leading up to that moment are what this trip is about. Whether we end at the official monument or another spot on the border or just some random highway, its the stuff that happened leading up to that point that will have made the memories and influenced my character. I am still hoping for a proper end, but it’s days like this that help remind me why I am out here in the first place. There is truth in the saying that the journey is more important than the destination.

   
I may complain from time to time but it has been an amazing journey so far.

4 thoughts on “PCT Update 11: Wonder and Woe”

  1. “Wonder and Woe”, another fitting title for this part of your trip. Congrats on being within 400 miles of the finish line! Your “dog friend” looks more like a cross between a fox and a wolf. There have been such a variety of switchbacks between fog and smoke filled skies, expansive views vs socked in trails, solitary days vs unexpected folks on the trail. And those 3 sleepless nights in a row! Wonder and Woe…very much so! So good that you got to see Kelsey and Mike along the way, too!

    I wonder if you have had your “puffy” for much of the trip once you were out of the desert of CA. Will these be your last pair of boots until the end of the PCT? I love how you caught them in the pic at the 2200 mile mark…dirty ankles and uneven shoestrings. And finally, I think it is so cool what you explained about the “meta” and the origins of your Reconnect.life blog. It is pretty amazing that you encountered the Timberline Lodge, the subject of your graphic design project back in school and the meaning it holds for you as you make this trip and have created this blog!

    You ended by saying you “may complain from time to time”, but I cannot imagine how you have not complained more! It is so amazing what you guys are doing…and you have been so faithful to walking the whole thing every step of the way! I hope the fires come to an end with the rain and that you guys remain safe on your trails, wherever they may be. Peace and LOVE!!! Thank you for this wonderful post, Kyle!!! Following tail lights instead of trail signs is probably likely, but that journey will have its rewards, hopefully in some unforeseen and meaningful ways. Plus you can hike New England again! Love you!!!!

  2. Wow Kyle!! Again, your writing is exquisite! You bring us right along with you on your AMAZING ADVENTURE and I love it! Thank you! By the way, that is a wonderful pic (they all are!) of a very handsome coyote! WOW!!

  3. Great post Kyle and the pictures are phenomenal ! We miss you but know you are having the trip of a lifetime. You are looking more like a mountain man with that growing beard! Hang in there and enjoy the final weeks. Xo xo

  4. LOVE that shot of the coyote … and I now want to hug some trees. Glad to see you adjusting your mindset to accept a different ending … and the hike isn’t truly over until there’s nowhere else to go. In every end, a beginning … May those beautiful trees help bring you peace and fulfillment. Love you, Kyle!

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