Monday, February 28, 2011

HCRHST: Day 5 - PCT to Eagle Creek

HCRHST stands for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. My son and I are attempting his first end-to-end which turned out to be about 90 miles. For pictures and back story check out these links: Getting Ready, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Pictures, and Progress.

Each morning I awoke about an hour before The Barracuda and would begin packing up. This way he could sleep as long as possible and I didn't have to think about his needs while getting everything packed. The night before we would set aside our morning Clif Bar (or Luna, or Odwalla, or Mojo bar) selection and oatmeal flavor for the next day. It was placed in my Wet Rib and meant no food had to be even thought about until backpacks were reopened to set up camp. The stove was always placed into The Barracuda's backpack along with the pot and all cooking supplies. I traded him for his clothes after the first day when it was frustrating to unpack so much just to eat. Our clothing for the next day was either slept in (when it was so cold) or placed in the bottom of the sleeping bag to heat up for morning.

When I awoke on Day 5, my mind was feeling better than the previous evening, but still reeling a bit. I'd hit the "What am I doing!?" point of being a parent. You know that feeling in the hospital when they hand you the baby to take home and all the nurses who have been taking care of things seem to feel that you are competent enough to take over? Jules likens it to when he taught his first day of classes as an actual teacher. It is that feeling of "Are you crazy!? I can't be responsible for this! Don't know know me?!" After our day coming from Wyeth my fearlessness was fading. There was a 6 year old I was in charge of who had no clue how dangerous some of yesterday was.

The greatness of sleep is that with dawn a whole new day begins again. We had no choice but to keep on walking. Today we were going to meet up with Jules and Guadie at Cascade Locks for our resupply and charging my cell phone. Due to the cold my phone would only stay charged for about a day and a half. As a result, it was off all day and only turned on at night so the alarm would wake me in the morning or for snow checks.

We got to sleep in a bit and awoke to quite a different feel in the air. You can smell the rain coming around here and it was definitely moving in. The once vibrant expanse of the Gorge, had become quite grey with all the clouds moving in.

The dingy day didn't damper our spirits too much. We had a date with Jules and Guadie in about 3.5 miles. That meant a resupply and restaurant food! Plus, even when grey, looking out at snow capped Cascades and the Columbia River is pretty incredible.

As we hiked on, the fog followed us. We were dropping in elevation down to the town of Cascade Locks and the bulk of the Cascades had been crossed. Being a major stop on the PCT, this town knows quite a lot about stinky hiker trash and welcomes them much more fondly than Hood River did for us. Though it had only been two days since I had had a shower, my clothing had been worn hard and was still unwashed. My son was not shy in letting me know that I stank. Later, Jules was just a generous with his comment, "You smell like a dirty thru hiker!" Why thank you, Honey!

We were walking briskly and covering the trail fast when a lanky gentleman in screaming blue capiliene and knickers appeared in the distance along with a very wiggly, backpack wearing dog. The dog burst into a sprint at the call of her name from The Barracuda. Guadie is already a wiggly dog, but when excited she goes completely overboard. Her hind quarters were gyrating back and forth, she was throwing herself at The Barracuda, she was licking me, her tail was whapping erratically; she was ecstatic. Not only were her people all back together, but she got to hike. Doggy life just doesn't get much better than that!

I don't think she left his side the entire time.

The rain began before we could even cover the 1.5 miles down to Cascade Locks. The drizzle slowly turned into a constant moisture, rain gear was donned and we slogged on. Once in town, we hit the nearest decent looking restaurant, plugged in my cell phone, and tried to take off any stuff which had wet-out. When the waitress came to our table and threw out the general question, "What would you like?" the Barracuda promptly blurted out his order of a dinner sized steak sandwich, french fries, cocoa, a salad with ranch, and a giant blueberry muffin. The waitress stared down at him with wide eyes, then saw our backpacks out the window and smiled. The food was brought, and the gusto with which my 45 pound child inhaled his lunch was quite impressive. He even helped finish off Jules' left over french fries.

As we ate the rain continued to fall. It wasn't going to reach more than 35 degrees, but wasn't projected to freeze either. We warmed up in the restaurant while we could, but knew a very damp day lay ahead. When leaving town, a horn honked and the nice gentlemen who had helped us the day before waved out the window of his truck. He said he was glad to see we made it, told Jules he had a pretty incredible son, and wished us luck. Throughout the trip, we would encounter wonderful people with kind hearts willing to help strangers. It is a very pleasant reminder of the world's goodness which is so often forgotten.

On the way from Cascade Locks to Eagle Creek, The Barracuda played trail games with his father, skipped along with a very full belly, and generally was happy as all get out. Jules coming meant that we could all sleep together, he got to be with his dog, he could relay all the previous hiking adventures to his dad, and (most importantly) there would be an iPod to listen to and sing along with. I was happy for a fresh supply of energy bars and some adult conversation, but let him have all of Jules' attention.

I preferred to marvel at the sheer amount of green which had begun to appear. Even as the clouds covered the entire sky and rain was coming down forcefully now, the entire expanse in front of us was carpeted in green. It covered the trees. It swelled over the ground in a dozen different shades, taking over even the rocks. With the falling rain, the color seemed even more vibrant against the downed red cedar trees and fallen leaves. It was a whole new other-worldly quality now that we were crossing out of the mountains and back into the rainy side of the Gorge.

The summers are nothing like this. Evergreens still stand and ferns poke out from anywhere possible, but the technicolor appearance fades without any rain.

As the rains continued, the cold began to seep in. It became very apparent that Eagle Creek was going to be a place to hole up and attempt to stay dry. Unlike other places in the nation where rain tends to come down in furious torrents and then move on quickly, here it lingers. The entire experience is much less aggressive. The rain creeps in, steadily falls for days, and then will ease away. Unfortunately, the temperature often hovers and the wind whips through causing disgusting hiking conditions. You can literally feel it as the city begins to hunker down and wait out the water.

Cascade Locks is the place where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses from Oregon to Washington. If you are a north-bounder, you are basically home free if you can beat out the snow. They close down the 2 lane bridge (The Bridge of the Gods) to all traffic and allow PCT hikers to cross in groups during the busy season. It is a nod to the work and effort of those who are fronting only the essentials and have traveled over 2,000 miles on foot. Looking back at The Bridge of the Gods, I realized we had now made it past the bulk of the Cascade Mountains from highly unknown terrain to places I have hiked since I was a child.

There is a level of satisfaction when you realize you've surprised yourself. My son and I had covered over 53 miles by ourselves, walked into unknown and now stood on familiar soil. It wasn't until now that I realized we'd really accomplished something.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February Wasn't Fun

I apologize for being out most of February. Sick has blown through our house infesting everyone from the pet, to the laptop, to the people. After a rather eventful late night emergency room visit, I have also been informed: 1) I am not pregnant WAHOO! 2) I do not have appendicitis, gall stones, liver failure, kidney disease, or a bladder infection 3) my medical insurance is RAD and 4) I have a medium to large sized ulcer. Yay! At the point they were giving me this information I couldn't have cared less, because I was so drugged up I couldn't keep the world from spinning. (Apparently when anyone asked me a question, I would respond "I'm really high right now.") On the plus side, I was no longer doubled over in crippling pain. All in all, a good trade off. Jules took a very flattering picture on his phone, but I will spare you from all the gorgeous details of the 2:30 am extravaganza.

At least I now know why my stomach is so touchy. Jules and I both believe I have had the ulcer for quite some time and just didn't realize. With how healthy our diet is, we figure it never really had a chance to "flare up." The end of January and February have been rather stressful, however, and I have never dealt with stress well.

So I'm now on meds and have been instructed to actively manage my stress. Hopefully March will be a bit more normal. The rest of our hike will be posted in the next day or so.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Scarecrow Alert

My son has just informed me there are soul sucking, crazed, teleporting scarecrows coming in from Idaho. I clarified that perhaps they would be coming from Iowa instead because that is where all the corn is. Nope, The Barracuda was very sure. Idaho. Mr. H, he wanted you to be aware of this and asked that if you did perhaps see any frightening scarecrows coming to life and beginning the process of teleportation, could you please send them to the East Coast. Apparently, you have some control over these things. Just in case, he is sleeping with his pocket knife and the dog.

Where does he get this stuff?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

HCRHST: Day 4 - Wyeth to the PCT

HCRHST stands for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. My son and I are attempting his first end-to-end which turned out to be about 90 miles. For pictures and back story check out these links: Getting Ready, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Pictures, and Progress.

The day away from Wyeth began quite well. We were up before the sun, had camp taken down before dawn and the snow had all but melted. Things were looking great other than a few rather water logged pools inside the tent which we hadn't seen before. I attributed this to the entire night of rain and large amounts of snow melt, but kept an eye on it. After another couple nights I began to watch where the water was coming in and it appears the undercoating on our tent has finally decided to bite the dust. After this trip, it is now relegated to backyard usage.

The majority of the morning from Wyeth was on flat-ish terrain and with no rainy weather, so we were pounding miles fast. We were paralleling the Columbia with relatively no elevation change in weather that was down right balmy feeling in the high forties. The pine trees had left us and we could actually see evergreens.

Wind mountain across the Columbia River. The foothills of the Cascades are outcroppings of small rounded mountains. Rather than a gradual ascent, they are more like small training runs before actually getting to the big stuff.

The ascent started to hit, and with it the scree slopes began to become the norm. Most of the snow had melted off by this point, but that only meant large quantities of water blowing out footbridges. The Barracuda hadn't had much experience with river crossings before this and quickly began to learn how to be confident, but swift of foot with the current.

The Barracuda's first river crossing. The bridge was completely blown and all we could see of it were a few 2x4's sticking up out of the water. He did well, and only fell into the water once the entire trip.

Due to the anabatic and katabatic winds of the Gorge, around early to mid morning you begin to walk through significant cloudline a bit lower than one would expect. The eerie cold air and decreased visibility bother some as they are not used to the fog sweeping in so quickly. The Barracuda and I personally find them quite enchanting and he commented that they reminded him of something out of The Chronicals of Narnia. I personally find them of the feel more like Tolkien's books, but either way, they give quite a mystical edge to any hike.

The Barracuda really liked watching the ecosystems change, first from the dry arid climate of the rainshadow to the damp evergreens, and then as we climbed to the barren scree slopes and towering basalt monoliths.

As we climbed, the spotty patches of snow became much more frequent and I took over the lead. The rocks seems to be mainly clear, but the trail was a great bench to collect any snow which had fallen from the above slopes. Crampons weren't needed (yet), but several times we were cautious and I was kicking steps. About three slopes in, the trail became completely obscured with icy snow and any steps which were kicked were significantly shallower than before. I ventured across, instructing The Barracuda to smash his heels down as hard as possible before planting his toes. Almost the entire way across I hear a scream from behind me and realize he has slipped. Up until this point, I hadn't properly known parental panic.

I quickly leaped out of the snow, ditched my pack and turned only to find him breathing heavily with a stick plunged into the ground. He had self arrested with the stick he was carrying and saved himself from a very disastrous and nasty slope. Sometimes all I can do is stare in awe of my child. He continues to be cooler than I have ever been. He had correctly flipped, rolled and plunged the stick he was carrying into the snow and then clung to it successfully all in a matter of seconds. We had discussed self arresting at home, as well as had him handle his father's ice axe, but we have never actually practiced figuring he was too young.

His face accurately illustrates the level of panic both of us were feeling. This was quickly shifted to excitement at his ability to keep his head and self arrest successfully. The picture was taken as he was calming down so I could come back out and drag him by his pack to safety.

After this eventful happening, it was all pretty smooth sailing. We covered ground quickly, but carefully and after a series of rise, fall and plateaus we found ourselves above cloudline and walking ridges before heading back down to sea level.

This hike showed me just how much I love The Gorge and the Cascades in the winter. My hiking experience was very limited this time of year as much of the hiking is rather unpredictable. However, it is far more beautiful.

Once the trail went back down, miles began flying even faster. We were getting hungry and had put in a good 7 miles on only our Luna bar breakfast. We couldn't stop yet, though. Not only was the trail not level enough to cook, but we had preset a trail intersection to be our break point and we weren't there yet. Occasionally when hiking we will take 2 or 3 minute breaks to have a drink and rest packs for a bit, but the only actual stopping place we have during our day is lunch. We eat for somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes and then hit the trail again until camp and dinner. Until we hit our stopping point we don't break, period.

The Barracuda is very keen on the fact that he doesn't get to whine and he doesn't get to stop. He has flat out been told he can, but that we are not going to. If he wants to stop, okay, but then he has to hike double fast to move the miles he has lost. This is not as preferable as keeping up. He has also found incredibly great ways to navigate distance through this. As we were descending, he realized he could see the exit signs on the Interstate if he used his monocule and this would give him an exact location that we were in. From that, he could see how much farther we had to go. Food is my son's best motivator.

Sometimes this investigating took him a bit off trail and up a rise or two, but he considered it worth it.

The map we had was chosen for a couple of reasons: 1) it was waterproof and a weird form of synthetic rip resistant plastic, 2) it seemed to contain a lot of good information quite well, and 3)it most importantly had both sides of the Cascades and covered the entire distance. I, for some reason, did not think about the fact that if it covered a long distance it wouldn't be as accurate in the specifics. At our trail intersection, there were supposed to be 5 trails which came together, and then a short jaunt till we hit our alternate connecting trail to the PCT. That didn't exactly happen. We ate and tried to orient ourselves. That should read, I tried to orient myself and failed a bit miserably. My visual spacial skills leave quite a bit to be desired. A trail was picked, and we headed off.

The connecting trail was supposed to be less than a mile by the look of things, but the map had been off by as much as a mile and a half in the past. We kept walking, kept talking, kept seeing great things.
This unnamed waterfall just plunged off the trail. It wasn't on the map, it just was there and HUGE. Water was filtered and The Barracuda threw in a few rocks.

The trail seemed to be taking forever and it was getting to be around 3 o'clock. We had maybe an hour or so of decent daylight left. Where was this stinking connector trail, or any trail. Then came the sign. Mark O Hatfield Wilderness, it read. Then came the cussing. Lots and lots of cussing. We had hiked a good 2 miles the wrong way. With darkness approaching we began to run back. I took The Barracuda's pack because he was having trouble and we raced to get back to the intersection. Once arrived, he took over the navigating. Unfortunately, the map was just plain unclear. We knew the trail we had come from, the wrong turn we had taken, but no other trail seemed to make sense. Time was clicking down.

We chose another likely candidate and headed off. No dice, the road split twice with no signs telling you what was going on. We turned back and tried another. Still not right. This one headed up hill and the topo specifically told us we needed to be loosing elevation. Back again. At this point I began to get a bit freaked out. We were lost.

There was more cussing. I cussed the map, and the trail. I cussed the time of year, and the sun, and the darkness, and my complete lack of ability to fix the situation. Then I became worried that dark was approaching and we couldn't locate where to go.

Trail magic is a funny thing. It speaks to the occurrence of extreme happenstance exactly when you need it. As trail magic would have it, two older gentlemen came up a bizarre side trail walking their dogs. Who walks their dogs in the middle of a National Forest off some weird side trail in the late afternoon as things are getting dark?!? They were locals and had never heard of the trail we were trying to find, but knew of the footbridge and how to get to the PCT. When they started to give me directions and I looked at them in complete bewilderment (I was so turned around at that point) they decided to take us their themselves. We went back down one of the places we came to previously, across a small unmarked jaunt, up three switchbacks and connected us to the sign pointing 1 mile to the PCT. The trail on my map was 405 E, the actual trail is 406 E. I honestly would never have found this connection in a million years, with all the daylight in the world. At this point I thanked Buddha, and Christ, and God, and Allah, and the Universe, any other deity which might exist somewhere that I had forgotten.

With darkness falling fast, we began walking double time. One mile seemed endless. The Barracuda was getting worried, I was getting a bit frantic. There was no where to put a tent if we wanted to. There was no way we could stop. Finally, it ended and we both squealed with delight. Headlamps were dawned and the tent was staked in the middle of the trail. At that point, anyone who was walking the PCT in January was just going to have to deal with it. We ate tortillas and cheese for dinner, read Call of the Wild and were so unbelievably thankful we didn't care that we were sleeping on rocks.

I have never been so thankful to see a sign in my entire life! The Barracuda put it best when he said, "I'm so thankful we have a place to sleep."

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

HCRHST: Day 3 - Hood River to Wyeth

HCRHST stands for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. My son and I are attempting his first end-to-end which turned out to be about 90 miles. For pictures and back story check out these links: Getting Ready, Day 1, Day 2, Pictures, Progress.

Day 3 in Hood River was our zero day. We didn't cover any miles, lazed around the hotel until 10:30 am and then headed to the library to spend some time out of the frigid air. Things were supposedly melting off, but someone forgot to tell that to Hood River. We were still on the west side of the Cascades and it just plain doesn't get warm there in January. However, the library was closed, permanently. Due to complete loss of funding, the building was no longer occupied and didn't look to reopen for at least another year while private funds were being located. I was shocked. It was quite the wake up call of what a bad economy can mean for a small community. There was quite a nice list of places in town one could make copies, use the Internet, and generally enjoy some time indoors. We picked a close coffee shop and went down there instead.

I'd like to throw a giant shout out to Dog River Coffee Company of Hood River. These guys have become a pillar of the community. They provide Internet access along with a computer to use, serve up tasty food, and now have a book swap since the library closed. What is more, after entering we saw the nice young teacher who gave us a ride. Dog River now allows her to tutor expelled students (who used to use the library) to get their GED's or get into the local community college. She was working with three or four kids when we came in. We said hi, warmed up, and used the Internet to check in. After a quick glance at the map and a discussion of where we were headed over the next couple days, it was off to some hot destinations. The toy store was first on The Barracuda's list. Next came the Taco del Mar. Finally it was off to the kid's playground.
Leave it to my kid to be completely undaunted by almost not having somewhere to stay the night before, a playground completely covered in snow, and freezing temperatures for the last 3 days.

As I watched my son play with complete carefree abandon, it became apparent I'd never fully actualized a zero day before. My previously, zero days had been spent sleeping in, resupplying, gorging myself on food, letting gear dry out and muscles relax. They were never spent playing, or wandering the town, or looking in bookstores. They were spent in sheer physical gluttony. The Barracuda spent his zero day enjoying everything he found wonderful - toys, coffee shop smoothies, snow, tacos, and the playground. He was completely unaffected by what had passed in the days before, the weight of his pack, the miles we had walked and the many ahead of us. When I got over marveling at his Zen level, I momentarily became disgusted by it, and then joined in and helped him build a snow castle/fort which we destroyed like Godzilla after it had been erected.

We headed back down to the coffee shop since we were completely frozen and I needed to more thoroughly plan our next couple days. We were almost out of the snow and entering warmer weather. Crossing the Cascades was two days ahead of us and we were going to begin our climb slowly over the next little bit. I knew that Rowena Crest, Mt. Defiance, and Starvation Creek lay before us and those were going to be some considerable obstacles for someone under 4 feet tall. However, when we got back to Dog River Coffee Company, we were informed there was no way we were going to be able to continue. Rowena Crest had been completely taken out by a large boulder and the road didn't exist unless we had technical climbing gear, Mt. Defiance had a major mudslide and had been closed, and Starvation Creek was flooded and washed out. Well....okay then.

A quick call to Jules, our Trail Angel. He would come up after work to bring us waterproof clothing and jump us to Wyeth (only 4 miles away). So we sat down, read Call of the Wild and The Barracuda enjoyed some toys they had. I was a bit discouraged at how choppy and crazed this trip was becoming. Nothing seemed to be going right. The Barracuda was quick to remind me that it was probably just as weird for Lewis and Clark since they didn't know where they were going to be either. They couldn't predict the weather. They had tons of stuff go wrong. They were at the mercy of circumstance as well. "But they made it," he assured me.

Dang Zen...It Gets Me Every Time