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.

2 thoughts:

Mr. H. said...

That is an amazing accomplishment.:)

Mel said...

I've loved reading about your trip. It's such an inspiration as I dream about long hikes with my boys one day.

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