Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Walking from California to Bend-Day 10-PCT mile 1913-1932

Ahhhh, resort living...After a pretty remote stretch of trail, it's nice to get a respite.

Odell Lake is located in the Willamette Pass
At the end of day 9 I have very strange feeling walking into an area filled with people after being alone for several days on the trail. On the trail, I would see some people every few hours, but it was just in passing. The Australian hiker headed south excited to get to Crater Lake to finish a section of the PCT that finalizes his entire journey from Mexico to Canada he couldn't complete last year. The group of women and men from Portland hiking 60 miles telling jokes and having a blast near a spring. Moments of interaction. With such a long journey and time alone, the trail interactions are surprisingly brief. It's as if you were in the middle of a conversation with yourself in your head. Now by chance, you've come across another person and while you are interested in their journey and it's fun to learn about all the different peeps on the trail, your conversation with yourself has been interrupted.

Shelter Cove at Odell Lake has many charms-beer, chips, electricity, water, showers, people. The first four suit me fine at the moment. A six of Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, a can of Pringles, all cameras and phones charging, and a swim.

Trucks sit idling, waiting to pull boats out of the lake. People scurry around. They all smell fresh. I have been bathing daily, but there's no substitute for the scent of laundered clothes and a shower. At Shelter Cove the showers cost a few bucks and frankly it just doesn't seem worth it. You'd think after 9 days without a hot shower I'd be jumping at the chance to take one, but the lake seems so much more appealing.

Like an outcast I sit under a large fir tree, 50 feet away from the hustle and bustle of campers, fishermen, and chatter. It's hard to process the scene after so many days alone. It's not that people feel repugnant, just being among them now feels weird. Perhaps I have experienced some type of social de-evolution. My normally outgoing and curious self seems to not be around and now it's all I can do but enjoy the porter and chips.

After an hour of people watching and a beer buzz, I shuffle over to the store under light rain. My joints have tightened up considerably. It's pretty hard to walk. Even though this was again a relatively easy day (under 20 miles), I'm stiff and ready to rest.

The resorts along the PCT are all pretty welcoming to backpackers. They have plugs for us to charge our gadgets, areas for us to camp (usually the lamest spots at the campground where we are relegated to a hiker ghetto), and the hiker box. The hiker box is a GREAT system that exists at most every resort along the PCT. Off to the side, away from the car campers-in a place behind the store where they keep the recycling, trash, and firewood-you find the box of hidden gems. At Shelter Cover this year, it's two large Rubbermaid tubs filled with cast offs from other hikers. Bags of dinners, bars, shoelaces, a compass, clothing, batteries, instant coffee-if a hiker thought they needed it at some point and then realized how ridiculous it was to carry a tin of tuna 75 miles-then it's in the hiker box. You give and take from the hiker box. It's an honor thing. I walk away with a belt and some tasty food  after putting a few things from my pack into the box. I'm nearing the end of the hike calculating the meals I have left. The box gets filled with a bunch of food I thought I'd need. My pack, under 30 lbs already, is now even lighter.

This whole idea of actually talking to people now seems doable. Stumbling over to the hiker picnic table, I meet three others who are hiking alone: Katherine-a young 20 something from Florida. She seems self assured and determined to do something. Her hiking companions bailed on her over a 100 miles ago and she thinks she is still going to Canada, but she also says she could go get a ride off the trail and go somewhere else, maybe anywhere. Thomas-a 30 something from Portland who admits he feels very over matched by the Oregon section of the trail he is trying to complete. Nikki-a 20 something from California who is calm and quiet and working her way on an organized schedule. Hike your own hike is the mantra on the trail and it's always interesting to hear others' stories without judgement. I give away the rest of my beers and walk the opposite direction from the hiker ghetto to find a quiet place to camp alone.

Morning of Day 10 and I'm climbing out of the Willamette Pass.

Morning along the trail just north of Odell Lake
Odell Lake, Odell Butte (7,032 ft) in the distance
Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a strong fondness for trees-always have. As a kid, I used to walk out into the woods of New England alone and just gaze at the trees. I felt some type of communication from them. And yes, anyone who knows me well, knows I'm a bit bizarre.

Well, I pay attention to the trees around me. After walking 160 miles thru' the trees in two states, I know which types I've seen and which I haven't. Northern California had Coast Live Oaks, Southern Oregon some White Firs and Knobcone Pines. By far, my favorite is the Ponderosa Pine. The tree has all these attributes to which humans aspire-they live long and get wise in the old age, are resilient, tolerate, tall, do well in groups or alone, and set deep roots. 

The bark has over a dozen layers that flake off like jigsaw pieces. The Ponderosa produces a chemical in between each layer as fire protection-each bark layer is meant to be sacrificial in a forest fire protecting the tree core beneath. With the natural cycle of wildfire, this means a tree can survive over a dozen fires which could occur over hundreds of years.

Middle aged Ponderosas, usually over 150 years old, get a distinct orange color to them. The beautiful, subtle, and unusual hue is unique in the forest and seems to cry out-'hey, respect me, I've been standing here for a while'. Pondos don't like it wet so they grow in the west in particular areas that have just right amount of dryness. The trees remind me of home as they are all over the place in my hometown. 

Like I said, I pay attention to trees and particularly notice when a Ponderosa is or is not around. I haven't seen one for 160 miles until today. Right along the trail I see a beauty, probably around 400 years old, just towering over me. Even though I've walked a long way and still have a long way to go, seeing the first Ponderosa along the trail is a milestone that I've crossed into the eco-region that is my home.
Gorgeous Ponderosa

Lakeview Mountain, 7,066 feet in the distance over Odell Lake
I climb out of Willamette Pass and reach the Rosary Lakes, a set of three lakes in elevated steps. Quiet and perfect on this day. The mirror reflection in the moment is amazing.
Lower Rosary Lake reflecting on itself

At the middle lake, I stop to filter water. Nikki walks up to hydrate as well. We are about 6 miles out of Odell Lake and appear to be hiking at about the same pace. Nikki is mellow, matter of fact, and easy going-a good person to interact with after you've been alone in your head for hours. A group of three weekend hikers are already sprawled out lakeside. Weekend hikers look, present themselves, and just give off a different vibe than section or thru' hikers. Their packs often have this ridiculous amount of gear they are convinced they'll need to survive a one summer night in the wild. They are also chatty. They really want to talk to Nikki and me.

"You can't believe how good these bars are!", says the woman dressed in gear that looks like it had been in an REI box an hour ago.

One of her male companions says "I'm amazed how filling it is! Want some?" He gestures toward us. Immediately demonstrating some type of unspoken solidarity of resistance that hung in the air to not take 'candy' from strangers Nikki and I both say 'no' at the same time.

"Well let us know if you want some," the third guy enthuses. I feel like a pigeon in the park, pitied by the onlookers who are compelled to cast off food. Often people are convinced that long distance hikers must be dying of starvation. 'You must not have enough food in that tiny pack' seems to be the implication 'so let me help you'. The gesture is always appreciated, but we wouldn't have made it hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles if we didn't have the food dialed. French fries, pizza and potato chips are exempt from that rule, but that's not what usually gets offered on the trail.

Nikki gives me a grin, packs up and heads north. The trio of happy energy bar salesmen depart soon after. After gathering my water I'm saddled up a few minutes later. Ten minutes up a steep section of the trail, I come upon the energy bar people, laying on their backs and panting. So much for the miracle energy food giving you, well I don't know, energy.

"Hey again!" shouts the woman. "So we got a ton of these bars for free from this guy in California that makes them. We are supposed to get people to try 'em and take their picture as research." Holy shit! I haven't been near a computer in 10 days and I'm still getting spammed. These cheese bags are out on the trail specifically to promote these bars to hikers. I'm suddenly wishing I was back at my computer where I could click 'skip this ad' and get back to the content I was watching-the trail. Taking advantage of their inability to get up, I mumble a quick and cheerful 'no thanks-have a great hike guys!' barely slowing down as I step over them.

Ferns start to appear after a particularly dry reach
You have to constantly watch for spider webs so you don't destroy their work across the trail
Hours later, surprisingly, I'm still alive despite rejecting the life-giving bars from the prophets I had encountered in the morning. A storm is brewing as I lunch at Bobby Lake. Nikki walks up and we lunch together talking quietly about the trail behind us and ahead. Nothing big and philosophical. No talk about ourselves and our mental journey. No small talk. We are just immersed in the moment of the trail. Unceremoniously, we leave separately.
Bobby Lake

Day 10 is waning and I arrive at Charlton Lake. I know that I'm about 25 miles due west of LaPine. I've arrived in my local National Forest area-The Deschutes National Forest. There is NO ONE anywhere near this giant lake. It is blissful to be alone again and away from the chatter of the trail. I set up camp alone alongside the lake. Being so close to home, a faint feeling of loneliness flutters in. Ironic I'd go to hike from California to Bend, Oregon through 270 miles of forest alone and end up feeling alone. The attention of the details of the hike, the daily regiments, and the terrain have kept me fully involved in the moment-loneliness wasn't even a thought. Proximity to the end has now put it right next to me. It's not a negative feeling, but it is a bit haunting.

Nikki walks up! While I 'wanted' the lake to myself, it's great to see her. We quietly cook dinner, get cleaned up, take a swim, and retreat to our tents pretty quickly as darkness falls.
Charlton Lake at sunset
Gerdine Butte at 6,591 feet helping bring on the night over Charlton Lake

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