Business Time and I had only a few miles to hike before reaching US 20, the point at which we had to hitchhike around a fire closure. $50 included a 150-mile ride in a van, a stop at Wal-Mart to resupply, and a truck stop for shower and laundry. Not a bad deal!
In the few miles before US 20, we crossed the 2,000-mile mark, where a Trail Angel had left a cooler. Like the one discovered by Sherpa and myself at the Oregon border, this cooler had only one beer remaining, and once again, we split it. At 8:00 AM. Why not?
Since we’d just had a shower and laundry the day before, Business Time and I both passed on those options and simply hung around at the truck stop. I took the opportunity to call my parents for the first time in weeks. I didn’t even make much use of the Wal-Mart, since I still had too much food in my pack, acquired for free from a bunch of hiker boxes. The only things I bought were fruit and yogurt, in an attempt to round out my food groups at least a little. I consumed them immediately.
It wasn’t until late afternoon that Business Time and I got back on the trail, but we were able to crank out a fair amount of mileage anyway. Once we set up camp, I ran the numbers and realized I only had three days of hiking left.
“How do you feel about that?” asked Business Time.
“I dunno. It seems to be ending abruptly. Especially since this wasn’t the intended finish line. But I’ve done this kind of thing before, and I’ve gotten used to it.”
As usual, I was both excited to be done and a little sad that it’d be over. I was looking forward to once again having access to things like showers, air conditioning, toilets, chairs, and eating whatever I want. At some point, you start to grow sick of the trail, but I knew that within a week of leaving, I'd miss it.
Mount Hood was the signature landscape feature of the area. The PCT doesn’t go anywhere near the summit, but at 11,000+ feet, anything involving such a mountain means climbing. Oregon is known as one of the easiest sections of the PCT, and Washington one of the most challenging, and in keeping with that, many hikers believe the challenging terrain of Washington “begins” with Mount Hood.
In the interest of making Mount Hood an easier day, Business Time and I did as many miles as possible the day before, including over terrain that wasn’t much easier. We were repeatedly leapfrogging two young hikers named Gravity and Bondi, one from Australia and the other from Iowa.
The climb up to Mount Hood wasn’t as bad as we’d imagined, with the exception of the trail surface: sand. Despite that, we managed to get to the high point of the trail with less trouble than expected. Even in late July, there were people skiing up there. As it turns out, the lodge was the same building used for exterior shots in The Shining.
I’d previously been to the same spot, on my one and only relay race. The first leg starts at the same lodge and runs straight downhill for six miles, steep enough that no one likes running it. As such, they gave it to me, the new guy. Little did they know I was a trail runner, used to steep inclines and declines, and I was able to run through it without tapping the brakes.
There’s a trail system that goes all the way around Mount Hood, and we saw plenty of hikers either taking a lap of the mountain or doing some section of the trail. It occurred to us that we may have to fight for a campsite.
Late in the day, we decided to take the alternative trail along Eagle Creek, which meant more miles, but less steep and more waterfalls. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
We’d expected the miles to be difficult and slow around Mount Hood, but late in the day, we had to slow down, because we were getting too close to Cascade Locks.
The small town of Cascade Locks is where the PCT crosses the Columbia River, from Oregon into Washington. By car, Portland is only 45 minutes away. That represented the end of my summer. Business Time knew a friend in Portland, who was picking her up for a few days off-trail, including a Portland Timbers game, which had me jealous. Her friend also agreed to give me a ride into town.
Business Time’s friend wouldn’t be able to pick us up until midday, so we aimed to stop 8-10 miles shy of Cascade Locks. In late afternoon, we needed to slow down, but the waterfalls did that for us. We couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.
Tunnel Falls, in particular, might be the coolest single spot on the entire PCT, especially considering the way the trail is a part of the waterfall.
Despite the popularity of the area, we managed to find a near-perfect campsite along the creek. Business Time walked down to the creek first to fill up water, while I set up my tent. She was down there a while. I’d not only finished the tent, but also had blown up my sleeping pad by the time she got back.
“Hey, you remember that hiker we saw this morning, with the yellow rain cover on her pack?” she casually asked.
“Yeah, I remember her. She was a cutie!”
“I had to wait to get water because she was bathing in the creek.”
“Oh. Well, you could’ve gone upstream of her, that’d probably be fine.”
“No, I mean I had to turn around and wait. She was completely naked!”
Dammit, why didn’t I get water first??
The following morning, Business Time and I encountered more people on the trail than I’d seen all summer, even more than at Crater Lake and Ashland. This was a popular hike (and not hard to see why), since it was close to a large city and it was Saturday morning.
Once we got to Cascade Locks, we took a few pictures, then sat on a curb and waited for Business Time’s friend. I still had nowhere to stay in Portland, and my flight wasn’t for two more days. I desperately contacted people on WarmShowers, which is meant for touring cyclists, in hopes they’d see hiking in a similar spirit and would take me in anyway. After contacting at least a dozen hosts, I got one yes! I considered myself lucky.
Business Time and I hugged firmly, twice, as I was dropped off in Portland. I hope we see each other again. At some point, Business Time expressed an interest in taking up biking and doing RAGBRAI, a supported bike tour across the state of Iowa. Most people join RAGBRAI as a team. If she does it, I’m in.
Karla and Scott, my hosts in Portland, were a retired couple that hasn’t done much touring, but are enthusiastic cyclists. Scott has also taken up painting, somewhat of an unusual choice for a former engineer. Not only were they kind enough to give me a place to stay and whip up some delicious food (I especially liked the gallette), but also took me sightseeing around Portland, including the famous rose gardens and a visit to a few berry farms on nearby Sauvie Island. You wouldn’t expect such a large, tranquil farming community only a few minutes from a large downtown.
I normally create a unique journal entry for the conclusion of something like this, but this time, I won’t. I don’t have as much to say, and what I do have, I’ve probably said before. By now, I’ve gotten used to this kind of thing.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish the PCT as intended, but at the same time, I’m glad I got to a definitive stopping point by finishing all of Oregon and flying home from Portland. It shouldn’t be hard to get back to the trail from the same point, and it gives a sense of completeness to the summer. There were times I thought about calling it off for the summer and going home early. I’m glad I didn’t. As for Washington, I’ll finish it another summer. The trail will still be there.
As predicted, I was jealous of Business Time within a week. I had to go back to the land of noisy cars and people, while she got to continue hiking. Her photos alone had me looking forward to Washington already. I’ll have to pick a year that has unusually low snowfall, then hike Washington as late as possible, in July and early August.
After a redeye from Portland, my friend Daron picked me up at the airport, with a sandwich and a beer waiting for me in the car. This guy knows hospitality.
Instead of sitting at home, alone, in an empty apartment for two weeks before school began, I drove up to the Dallas area to visit my parents for a week. Didn’t do much other than ride bikes and eat, which is all I really wanted.
As usual, an anticlimactic finish. Nothing truly changes when you do these things, and then you go back to work. And if you’re like me, you start planning the next adventure. Next summer, what I’d like to do is ride from Wimberley, TX to Abilene, KS, retracing the Chisholm Trail cattle drive, then ride from there to St. Joseph, MO and ride the new Pony Express Bikepacking Route.
The whole ride will have a wild west theme, so I get to pretend to be a cowboy all summer; I’m thinking I ought to attach a brim to my helmet so it looks like a cowboy hat. To the best of my knowledge, this’ll be the first time anyone’s stitched together these two particular western-themed routes in a single bike tour.
I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth repeating: It’s not what you have to do that makes it hard, it’s what you have to give up.
from PCT North