We hung out at Cascade Locks for the morning, fresh and excited to tackle Oregon. Dad had just finished up his section with us and was waiting for his Aunt and Uncle in Vancouver to come take him to the train station. He was sad to go, he gave me a couple hugs and I knew he wished he was continuing on with us. After a final goodbye O’Well and I wandered around town a little, we got ice cream, sat by the locks and enjoyed the last of our time in town, there was no rush.
11 miles out of town at the top of the ridge we camped. That night we had a major encounter with the mosquitos; they were numerous, big, and aggressive. They swarmed around your tent as if they knew you were in there and were just waiting for you to emerge and become dinner.
We hiked 27 miles that day. The terrain was rolling, not too much elevation gain or loss and the trail itself was level and flat. This was a big change from how rocky the terrain tended toward in Washington. Everyone uses Oregon as a catch-up for miles for this reason, people will pull 35 mile days consistently through the whole state. I don’t think they are there to enjoy the trail, just “crushing miles.” But there’s no prize to win, 2,650 miles is not a race, it’s an experience. We were happy with a 25 mile a day average.
That day marked the beginning of the blister problems that would plague me for the entire state, starting with a huge one on my right heel. I had a little bit of pain pain in that arch but not too bad, I assumed I was just walking oddly due to the blister. The rest of my body felt great at the end of the day, like I could keep hiking if I wanted to. But my feet were my limiting factor, and every hiker will tell you that foot care is the single most important thing on trail. Maybe apart from calories, it’s a close second though.
We got to camp at dusk, there was just enough light to set up our tents and crash. We had stopped for dinner a couple miles back with Blueberry, a South African hiker I met back at the Dinsmore’s, and Drifter, a thru hiker who had now passed us twice, once at Trout Lake then again a day out of Cascade Locks (he had gotten off until Portland to “party with a friend” which I took to mean cocaine.) He was hiking 35 mile days and entertained us with his stories about his many thru hikes and misadventures. Drifter would become our reference point for people who don’t enjoy the trail after that.
Nevertheless, O’Well and I had just been talking about how nice it is to eat with other people when we came across the two men setting up to cook. It felt like a family dinner, all of us gathered around a rare picnic table with our ultralight stoves, potato flakes, and ramen packets. The last 5 miles of the day didn’t feel so hard after that meal.
That night a mouse chewed a hole in my tent. I woke up and chased him out the door, a process that took probably 15 minutes since he wouldn’t stop hiding in the corner like a coward. I was just falling asleep when I heard him scurrying around in the corner, the bastard crawled back in the same hole in my mosquito netting. I chased him out again and left the flashlight on my phone on all night, hoping it would deter him. Maybe he had been traumatized enough for one night because he didn’t come back. I slept hard the rest of the night and woke up to a puddle of drool on my sleeping pad.
We hiked 10 miles up a huge hill to Timberline Lodge, going from about 2,500 foot of elevation up to almost 6,000 in that 10 miles. I was spent by the time we reached the top. The closer we got to the lodge the more day hikers we saw, it was the weekend and Timberline is a big tourist spot it turned out. It was like a highway trying to get up the mountain, but they provided excellent entertainment during a truly brutal climb. We saw a cute Chinese family who all looked thrulled to be out in nature, and a Mexican mom was trying to calm the screaming child she held in her arms like a sack of potatoes, “¡Mira, mira Las sillas!” She pointed the kid towards the ski lifts to distract him. There was a moment where you had to cross the a small creek and there was only one descent route across, creating something of a traffic jam. The tourists wobbled across the rocks precariously in a way that would have been comical if they weren’t blocking the way to the buffet waiting for us at the Lodge.
O’Well and I both had resupply boxes mailed to us at the lodge. We rolled into town and wandered around, feeling supremely Hiker Trash among the clean cut, wealthy vacationers. O’Well had a huge hole in his shirt and my unshaven legs were caked in layers of dirt, my hair wild. I felt giddy, to be so flagrantly filthy, unkempt, and exhausted. “Hiker Trash” is not a slur, it’s a title hikers claim with pride, but I hadn’t felt like I really owned it until that moment.
We got the 25 dollar buffet and I was excited to see how many vegan options there were, I hadn’t been getting my hopes up about town food so far. I walked out after two huge plates immensely satisfied.
Our friends Bullet, Almonds (soon to be rechristened as Kicks,) and Kanga arrived a little while later along with a new comrade, Ghetto Spoon. We hung out in the bar and shared our stories from the last section over pizza and beer. There was a lot of laughter. Everyone camped up above the lodge that night.
That day was Kanga’s birthday and we all had the breakfast buffet at the lodge to celebrate, and we enjoyed a friendly debate about food security and sourcing. The diversity of backgrounds at the table provided fresh perspectives and insights.
O’Well and I were feeling good about our pace for the next section, we decided we wanted to do it in one less day than we originally thought. We left a bunch of our food in the hiker box to lighten our packs and hiked out around 10 am. Somehow we still managed to hike 25 miles with a couple long breaks. One for a nap and one to do some minor trail surgery.
I had a blister on my heel and arch of my right foot, and one forming on the heel of my left. I taped them up before leaving Timberline, but it didn’t seem to be helping much. I didn’t want to try to drain them until we got to camp but the pain became intolerable around mile 8 so we stopped by the side of the trail at a fire road crossing. O’Well made some food and fed me spoonfuls while I sterilized a needle, cleaned as much of the dirt off my feet as I could, and punctured the blisters on my right foot to let the fluid drain out. I taped them back over with leukotape, that was the only blister care I had, and we hiked the last 8 miles into camp. We were both a little delirious by the time we got there. We talked about getting a two person tent to share instead of both packing our own. It was a big decision to make and we didn’t want to rush it, but the convenience of lightening our packs was a big draw. We had only known each other for a week and a half, dating for just a few days though. We had already been through so much together, it felt like much longer. Every day on trail feels like about a week in normal life. I’ve since been told by multiple people that trail relationships are basically just one long first date and I can see what they mean, we spend 99% of the day together, but somehow we haven’t gotten sick of each other yet. (*This is still true as I write this over a month later.) O’Well had me at, “D’you wanna cuddle by the creek?” spoken in his soft North Carolinian accent with a nervous grin. There was something hopeful about it, something final, decisive. My fears about getting into a relationship dissolved early on.
When we got to camp there was trail magic, which we were beyond excited for after the time we had trying to get there. Connie, a trail angel who brings her horse and giant dog up to do trail magic for a couple weeks every summer had an excellent spread for dinner. Sandwiches with lots of veggie options and red vines for dessert. I got the chance to catch up with Bullet for a bit. He hiked out earlier than us from Timberline and was saying he was going to do 30 miles. But he had a bad day and stopped at 25 miles at the trail magic. I let him vent for a while, some days on trail things are just hard. I asked him in a roundabout way what he thought about O’Well and I, the three of us had been together for a section before my dad came out to hike.
“I guess I’m a trail hoe now,” I joked, borrowing his own phrase. I was seeking reassurance. As much as I wanted to do what I felt like doing and not worry what anyone thought, my goal coming out on trail was not to get a boyfriend. I didn’t know if people knew that, or if it mattered, but I was insecure.
“Naw, you would be a trail hoe if it was a different guy every section. You and O’Well, you’re both…” Bullet struggled to find words for longer than was flattering, “interesting people.” He puffed on his vape.
“You’re a sweetheart,” mildly sarcastic.
“And that’s not the worst thing anyone has ever called me.” He grinned.
I ate two big sandwiches and a handful of red vines, then set up my tent before looking at my blister. It had felt much better after draining it but it filled back up with fluid and blood in that last 8 mile stretch. I was too tired to puncture it again, the experience had been emotionally draining earlier. O’Well stabbed my foot for me with a sterile needle and I had him thread a string through so it would hopefully continue to drain overnight, a popular strategy for some hikers. I was ready to try anything. Without any sort of sterile bandage on hand I cut a feminine pad in half and duct taped it to my foot so I wouldn’t get blister juice all over my sleeping bag. It was late by the time we went to bed, after 10. 9 o’clock is considered “hiker midnight.” I passed out hard.
In the morning I asked around about first aid supplies, there were several hikers hanging around. The blister on my arch filled back up overnight so I let it drain again, the thread did not work. Connie, our trail angel, gave me a tub to wash my foot in and some triple antibiotic packets, sterile gauze pads and an ace bandage she found in her horse first aid kit. It was enormous but it did the job. The generosity and hospitality was overwhelming, I don’t know that my feet would have made it to the next town in one piece otherwise. Kicks gave me a couple more gauze patches so I could rebandage my blister which was now an open wound the next day.
Hiking with it all wrapped up felt much better than the day before, the extra layer of protection kept the friction down as well as keeping most of the dirt out of my wound. My right foot was on its way to healing. My left foot would be a different story, but for that day anyway my feet felt much better.
The rest of the day was a challenge mentally. We were hiking through a green tunnel all day, just mile after mile of forest. After the mountain top views in Washington it was a big transition. The terrain was also very flat, not much to engage you mentally. It was an emotional day for me, hormonally speaking (periods on trail are always a good time) and I just wanted to curl up in the middle of the trail and sleep most of the day.
I asked O’Well if he ever had mentally challenging days on trail.
“No I don’t have those.”
“Oh…” I looked up to see the incredulous face he was making at me,
“I can’t believe you believed that. If someone told me that I would tell them they were crazy.” I laughed, feeling a little better, and we agreed to camp short of our 28 mile goal at a site at 25 miles for the day. It was enough.
It turned out to be a very good choice. We arrived at our campsite and found a group of maybe 7 female hikers there already. We ate dinner with them, it turned out they were a guided group, out for their first ever backpacking trip. They were awed by our stories, incredulous that people actually attempted to hike 2,650 miles in one shot. They were on the last day of their trip and had a bunch of extra food, they gave us 7 Backpacker Pantry meals in total, each lady was excited to add to the donation pile growing on the ground, eager to participate in the trail culture. It was a nice surplus to our dwindling food bags, and those meals are not cheap. They also gave me some extra bandages for my feet, one lady worked in healthcare and was able to give me some advice on protecting my blisters. She also told me a story about a guy who had a blister go septic and she saw his foot get chopped off. It was a pleasant evening.
We ended up hiking a 27 mile day, I felt really good all day, mentally. We didn’t get to camp until 9:30 pm, night hiking for a good hour. It was worth it to push to that site, and we got some excellent views of the sunset. After dark things got a little weird. The sounds in the forest are different, the dark pressing in around you. That last mile there was much silly rambling and banter, my thoughts were a jumbled mess and all I could think about was my cozy sleeping bag. It was a relief to get to camp, a million stars twinkling overhead.
I had both my feet wrapped in ace bandages by that point and it seemed to be working. The newer blisters on my left foot I hadn’t popped yet but I had leukotape layered in a circle around them to take off the pressure. The ones on my right foot I had drained I was doing my best to keep clean, applying antibiotic and keeping covered with sterile gauze pads. They felt good, and when I finally took the bandages off at the end of the day they looked much better.
We did a 20 mile day, taking lots of long breaks and eating a lot of food throughout the day. We got a nice sunset that night. It was nice to do a shorter day, slow down and rest a little. In hindsight I don’t have much to say about it, just a beautiful day. We were rolling on through Oregon, one blistered foot in front of the other.
We hiked 11 miles into Big Lake Youth Camp. This was a wonderful stop, although not a full resupply point for us. The camp is run by a local Seventh Day Adventist Church as a summer camp for kids, but being located right along the PCT they also take in hungry hikers. They had a hikers hut with laundry and showers and outlets to charge devices, a mess hall where we had lunch (veggie yakisoba that I died for) and dinner (veggie dogs) and a nurse’s station.
The ace bandages were being held together with duct tape by that point, my feet still seemed to be improving, though the irritation of hiking on open wounds every day was growing. I stopped by the clinic to have them take a look, since we were there. The place was empty when I arrived, and the staff smiled when I said I was dealing with some “pretty gnarly blisters.” They’ve seen many a hiker blister and I knew I was in good hands. After showing the nurse both my feet (getting dirt all over the clean floor in the process) she had the doctor come over to look at the one on my right heel. It did look a bit yellowish, I hadn’t been worried about it as I thought the yellow was just built up callus and not an infection. But her demeanor changed just slightly when she saw it and I held my breath until the doctor gave me the all clear.
“How many miles do you have on your shoes?” The nurse asked as I wiggled my toes back into my crusty socks.
“Um, maybe 500?”
“Sometimes blisters are a sign that your shoes are going out. Some of the camp counselors might be driving into Sisters, there’s an outfitter there. If you ask at the front office they would probably take you.”
I had a new pair of liner socks waiting at the post office in Sisters as well, but it was only about 11 miles to hike from the Youth Camp to the highway where we were going to hitch, so I declined the ride. Later I saw the nurse at dinner again, sitting with the chef who had just gone out of her way to get me some vegan mayonnaise from the kitchen to go with my veggie dog. The nurse asked again about finding a ride, “If I wasn’t the only nurse on site I would just take you myself.” By this point I was just overwhelmed with the hospitality, I thanked both the ladies as humbly as I could and scurried off to scarf down three veggie dogs, a big pile of baked beans, and as much watermelon as I could.
After dinner we hiked out in high spirits. It was dark again when we got to our campsite, the stars were glorious. We slept well with full bellies, and I was happy knowing for sure I wasn’t going to have to chop off my foot.
We hiked 8 miles over a lava flow with no water that morning. We packed out just enough from the Youth Camp for breakfast and had maybe a liter to share between us to drink. It was hot and exposed, and the lava rock was hard to walk on, shifting under your feet with every step, slowing progress. It was just starting to get really hot when we arrived at the highway to find a guy in an SUV doing trail magic. He gave us Gatorade, watermelon, and filled up our bottles for us, I had been ranting to O’Well about all the watermelon I was going to eat when we got to town – the trail provides.
We got a hitch into Sisters and went first to the gear store. We ran into another hiker who also talked about swapping out shoes helping with blisters, but the store in town didn’t have the kind of shoes I needed. They did have free beer for hikers though, and we downed them too quickly, eager to get out of there and get some food. We stumbled out to the front porch and decided to sit for a while before trying to cross the road.
“Look at that jetstream,” I pointed listlessly up at the sky.
“That’s how I feel about you,” O’Well deadpanned without missing a beat. I almost spit the big mouth full of water I had just taken back in his face. We’re still laughing about that one. If you’ve ever seen me when I’m drinking, you know that I’m a lightweight. O’Well makes me look like a regular alcoholic.
I ate a huge wrap and a whole pint of mint ice cream, and some seaweed crackers and hummus. We walked over a mile to the post office to pick up my liner socks. Town walking is the worst. While O’Well napped on the bench out front (thru hiking is the closest I have ever felt to a homeless person) I contemplated my blister situation. I came to terms at that point with the fact that I needed to get new shoes. The problem wasn’t going away. I had my liner socks but the consensus seemed to be that shoes would help. I was approaching 600 miles on my shoes, and they are really only rated for 300-500 miles. There was an REI in Bend, a 30 minute hitch, and I really didn’t want to go, it would mean staying in Sisters overnight instead of getting back on trail that day. I didn’t seem to have much choice. We caught a hitch around 3 pm and were on our way further from the trail.
I got a new pair of Altra’s at REI, going from the Lone Peaks to the Timps which had a bit more cushion. I got a new pair of insoles this time with the right amount of arch support. It was an expensive stop, but well worth it.
We tried to get a hitch back to Sisters, but the shopping center was not a good place for it. We ended up walking about 3 miles to a Safeway, there was a bus stop right by it. It was hot, noisy, and smelly, and the road we walked down was far too busy, we were both feeling a little worn thin at that point. We missed the last bus to Sisters by about 5 minutes. After using the bathroom in Safeway we wandered around for a minute, hungry and lost. I got stuck in the oatmeal aisle, looking at all the options, thinking how we had no food, no resupply, and no way to get back to the trail. There were a million kinds of oatmeal. Why were there so many oatmeals? It’s all one kind of food anyway, marketing is such bullshit, why do they put so many chemicals in this crap, that creep over there is checking me out, God the lights are so bright in here, there’s words everywhere you look, too many straight lines, why are there so many loud colors? I was confused and overwhelmed. O’Well steered me out of the store.
We tried to hitch for a while but it was going to get dark soon and it became too sketchy. A homeless man was slurring at me near the bus stop and a guy had just yelled a “compliment” at me from a passing car when O’Well called it off. Neither of us wanted to pay for a hotel in Bend, we would still have to figure out how to get back on trail the next day.
“Why don’t we just get a Lyft back?”
Sometimes O’Well has the best ideas. It was a $45 ride, but we didn’t care. I watched the countryside slip by and didn’t try too hard to make conversation, I was more exhausted than I had been after hiking 27 miles. Our driver dropped us off at the campground in Sisters right at sunset. We set up our tent, and sat under a tree, watching The Princess Bride on my phone while we cooked one of my Mom’s DIY freeze dried meals for dinner. The campsite was full of RV’s, but after the chaos of Bend it was a relief to be there. I could hear the sound of a creek and smell the pine trees again, I could feel the dirt under my bare feet instead of concrete, and there were other hikers about.
Sisters was almost exactly the quarter way mark for a SOBO thru hike. It struck me for the first time that night how hard it was going to be when I got off trail. Post-trail depression is something people talk about as inevitable, and I got a taste of it that day. It was a reality check, to realize how much my perception of the world had shifted. Even a city like Bend, Oregon, which I was told is considered a small, artsy community, where there is one traffic jam in town, was a nightmare after living in the woods for a just over a month. What would happen 4 months from then when I had to go back to that world?
I consciously decided not to worry about what would happen after the trail. I had new shoes and my feet were on the mend. All I had to do right then was eat, sleep, and get ready to hike again tomorrow.