Blueberry fields forever

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ashland to Bend – 253 miles 13 days Total: 1989 miles 130 days + 19 zero days

So it’s with a brand new pack that I left Ashland. I also took off with a new pair of hiking poles as well as a new pair of shoes. I bought sturdy boots this time as I wanted them to last the rest of the way and not a mere 600 miles like the last pair, but sturdy meant I had to break them. At 20 miles a day it only took a couple of days to break them but at 20 miles a day your feet have a long time to make it pretty clear that they hate your guts for what you’re putting them through. O boy, they hurt!

Oregon was a thermic shock. We had been warned, we knew Oregon and Washington would be wet and cold, especially as we’re late in the season, but we didn’t expect such a sudden change. Two days out of Ashland, we were hot and sweaty, cursing the weight of the extra warm clothes we now carried, for nothing it seemed. But on the 3rd day, the temperature dropped drastically. While hiking, we enjoyed it a lot, it was a relief from the heat and it was different, finally a taste of fall after the long summer of the last months. But the next morning it wasn’t so much fun as we woke up to frost on the tent and frozen Nutella in its jar! It turned out it was only a cold front and it hasn’t been so bad since. Nights do have become chilly though but days are still warm. Days are getting shorter too, it has become harder to fit all those miles during daylight hours.

The terrain has indeed been gently graded in Oregon but we haven’t quite reached the 25-30 miles days. First, there were my new boots. Then, there were the blueberries, yummy! Isabelle often waited for me as she couldn’t see me anymore down the trail and she was worried my feet were hurting in my new shoes. When I arrived, she would ask me how my feet were and I would answer that they were doing ok and flash her a blue smile. Yes, I had been picking wild berries along the way again.

And then I got sick 10 miles out of Crater Lake National Park. We were in the middle of a 20 miles dry stretch, we carried enough water to go all the way to Mazama Village that night so there was no choice but to keep going. So I hiked when all I felt like was to curl in a ball on the ground. I hiked 10 miles with an empty stomach, feeling like crap. In the last few miles I got so weak that Isabelle carried my backpack. I’m so grateful she was there, I don’t know what I would have done on my own out there. I don’t think neither of us would have made it that far if it wasn’t for the other one, helping you through the hard times, finding the strength for two, pulling you up when it takes all one’s energy to keep one’s own head at the surface. We make a hell of a team! The next morning it was Isabelle’s turn to be sick so we had no choice but to take a zero day and spend it in bed.

And then it rained and snowed, which means we didn’t get views of the volcanoes the Three Sisters. But the volcanic landscape we crossed with its jagged black rocks, red earth, volcanic cone powdered with fresh light snow under drifting clouds in the cold wind had an apocalyptic and savage beauty. We ended this section by sheltering from the rain and cold in the pit toilets on McKenzie Pass while waiting for a ride to come pick us up and get us down into the town of Bend!

We have to give it to Oregonians, they do have a beautiful state. The green and humid forests of Oregon are more enjoyable to walk through than the dry North Californian woods. And it’s been a succession of sweet spots. Crater Lake is gorgeous. Once we recovered from our sickness, we climbed the last miles up to the rim of the lake. You’re close to the top, you can’t see it yet, but you know it’s right there, you have the same feeling of anticipation as you get to the top of a mountain pass and you can’t wait to see what lies beyond and BAM! here it is, huge and magnificently blue. Knowing that you’ve walked about 1800 miles just for that view makes it even better. About 8000 years ago we wouldn’t have been standing next to the deepest lake in the US but at the base of the big volcano Mt Mazama. It blew up and left a giant crater that, once volcanic activity ceased, filled with snow melt and rain water. The colors of the spectrum get absorbed by water at different depths, blue is the last wavelength to go. Crater Lake is so deep that only blue gets reflected, which explains its incredible color. From the rim we got a last view of Mt Shasta (we first spotted it about 500 miles ago!), now tiny in the distance but still towering over its surroundings. Crescent Lake was another great spot. We camped close to the shore with views of Diamond Peak, a loon calling across the waters. An elk crossed our path without even glancing at us, a coyote watched us pass from a distant meadow, colorful skies have ended and started our days.

We spent 2 days in Bend getting the last gear required to survive the potential cold, rainy and snowy times ahead of us and getting around the loss of our bounce box with our maps and guidebook somewhere in the US postal service system. It’s already tough enough to hike all those miles, even more so now, the last thing you need is having to spend more energy and time handling the logistics of the trip. But well… Bend is a nice town and it has no less than 7 breweries… 😉 We stayed at a trail angel’s house. Robin is an amazing person. She let us stay at her place and use her car to get around town. Isabelle was happy to live the oh-so-American experience of using a bank’s drive-thru ATM!

Tomorrow we’ll be skipping 17 miles of trail and getting further than the 2000 miles marker as a small portion of the PCT is closed following a fire. We’ve past the high point of the Oregon-Washington segment of the PCT a few days ago so from now on we won’t go higher than 2300m. Keep your fingers crossed that we won’t run into too much bad and cold weather!

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