Pride and Pain

Friday, August 15th
Mile 2098.82

Timberline was a scant 9 miles from where I’d set camp in the rain the night before, so I thought I’d stroll up, clean myself up a little and hit the lunch buffet hard right when it opened. It was a nice easy walk until about a mile out when the grade steepened sharply, crossed the timberline (appropriately), and went up to the shoulder of towering Mt Hood.

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Terrain this steep on the PCT is rare, given that it’s technically an equestrian trail, and I hadn’t put my shin splints to the test on anything like it before. And it hurt. I was beginning to grow more alarmed about the state of my leg, but I had a relaxing afternoon ahead of me so I pushed through.  I could rest later.

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Won't you take me to... creepy town.

Arriving at the lodge, I inquired about a rumored outdoor shower available to hikers and was directed to the overflow parking lot. There, next to an abandoned, but elaborately designed shed, was a grey port-a-potty type enclosure with a hose running into the back. I had no experience with outdoor showers so I approached it dubiously, but sure enough, on the door was posted a laminated sign announcing it as a shower, specifically for the use of PCT hikers. How considerate! To best make use of my time, I splayed my tent, poncho and an assortment of other soggy items out to dry as I got myself deliberately wet for the first time in 10 days.  The water was freezing, and I gasped as I did a quick initial rinse. I washed my clothes first and threw them out the door onto the pavement to dry slightly while I cleaned myself up. It took quite a while because of the layers of dirt, but I stepped out into the brisk mountain air at 6000 feet elevation feeling like a new man. The lunch buffet wouldn’t be open for another hour yet, so I moved slowly and deliberately as I repacked my things in nothing but boxers while I allowed my clothes to dry a bit more. I drew some strange glances, naturally, but at this point in the trek I was used to it. In fact, I quite like the fact that I’ve become immune to the looks and judgments of passersby who assume me homeless and possibly mentally ill.

So, cleaned up and feeling less like a wild animal, I wandered into the lodge to try to blend in with the normal people. There were a few other thru-hikers there, namely Day Glow and her friend Maria. The pair had done the breakfast buffet, and Day Glow was feeling a little ill from possibly having consumed too much. I heeded her words of caution as the lunch buffet opened and I went for my first round. By round 3 she was feeling well enough to be in the presence of food again, so she joined me at the table for a bit. Afterwards, we wandered around the complex for a bit, taking care of little tasks, but I had a goal to hit and forced myself to leave, still with a full belly.

I lumbered up and over the ski hill and under the lifts, passing numerous day hikers out for a stroll. The crowds thinned, the terrain started to drop sharply, and it wasn’t long before my leg was impolitely asking me to stop walking. There were numerous glacial streams to hop across, and with every tippy-toed crossing I exacerbated the problem. Around 6:00 I came to the Sandy River, which I later learned had taken a life earlier in the week when a surge caused by heavy rains washed away a little wooden bridge, and a man along with it. He was found a mile downstream. Had I known this, I may have taken a different approach, but ignorant of the risk and anxious to make more miles, I sought out the safest way to cross. Upstream about 200 feet I found a little island that broke up the width a bit. Still, it was a big jump across fast moving water with a bad leg. I hesitated for a while, but finally just went for it. I made sure to land on my right leg, bit quickly had to plant my afflicted left leg to stabilize myself which hurt like hell. And there was still one more jump ahead of me. I used the same tactic, landing on my right and bringing the left around to steady myself, and received the same result. But this time, upon trying to walk away, I experienced tremendous pain.

I hobbled over the large rocks that were strewn over 40 feet on either side of the river, wincing in pain with each step. Once back on solid ground I stopped to think about my options. There was no way I could do the 12 more miles I had intended, but I could maybe manage a few. More than that, I was worried about the following day. I was still a solid 38 miles from the Washington border, and I knew my leg was getting steadily worse. But I couldn’t go back. Crossing the river again would be too brutal, and the lodge was 9.5 miles back. There was a road 7 miles ahead, but no guarantee of cars for a hitch or cell service to beg for a ride from a friend. But still it seemed the better option. Hiking on, I passed beautiful Ramona Falls and its accompanying creek. I could barely care about my amazing surroundings for how much pain I was in.

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Still, I managed a picture.

Three miles later I had another creek to cross, but this time I had a bridge in the form of a massive fallen tree with a guide rope tied along the length of it. Dismounting on the other side, I decided I had had enough. With this glacial creek I could ice my leg a bit and have water for the morning. So I made camp right there on the creekside below a tree and went down to the water and plunged my leg in up to my knee and sat for a good 20 minutes thinking about my choices. My friend Sandra had offered to pick me up at Cascade Locks or to extract me if I had any problems. I think this qualified. But getting ahold of her would be dependent on cell service which is rare on trail. And would she be able to find me on this off-the-beaten-path forest road? Was it even paved? Would I be able to even make it the 4 miles, all uphill? I went to bed with injured pride, knowing that the smart thing would be to get myself out at that road, any way I could.

Saturday, August 16th
Mile 2119.22

I woke around 6:00am, per usual, but laid in “bed” for about an hour to allow my leg more time to heal, however minimal. When I finally got around to packing up, I did so slowly, dejectedly. I popped a few ibuprofen, tied my bandanas around my shin, and slowly made my way up the hill. The whole 4 miles to the road I played out the possibilities in my head: I’d get to the road and there would be cars there, dayhikers willing to give an injured hiker a ride back to town. There would be no cars, and nothing but a quiet dirt road. I’d have cell service and Sandra would come retrieve me, tail between my legs.

A couple miles in I met another thru-hiker named Dirt Wolf. We walked and talked for a while, and I embarrassed myself time and again by tripping and grunting through clenched teeth. I was stuck in a downward spiral: the tendon in my shin at this point was so painful I couldn’t even raise my toes so was more or less shuffling down trail, which caused me to trip more, which worsened my situation more still. But overall it was much less painful than the night before, so when I came to the road and saw cars parked at a trailhead I hesitated for a moment, but walked right on. I’m nothing if not stubborn.

I was doing OK until we came to the Eagle Creek alternate. This alternate is supposedly the people’s choice, despite not being the official PCT, and is supposed to be incredibly beautiful. It shaves a mile off the distance, but is significantly steeper, with a 2000 foot drop in 2 miles. To say the least, I was not looking forward to it. I handled it fairly well, but was still hurting when it leveled off, respectively. The terrain along this trail was much more difficult, however; this was no equestrian trail, and it showed. Large, chunky, jagged slate paved the way the entirety of the 13 miles to the trailhead, and I was gritting my teeth the whole way, tipping and swaying on the uneven ground. But it was definitely pretty.
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It took about an hour longer than I had expected, but I made it to the Eagle Creek trailhead just a little behind Dirt Wolf. I got ahold of Sandra and secured DW and myself a ride, but we still had 3 miles of pavement to walk to get to Cascade Locks from where we were. The hard surface made for a gruelling end to the day, but Dirt Wolf and I crossed the Bridge of the Gods into Washington just before sunset with perfect weather and amazing views down the Columbia River Gorge in both directions. There are no pedestrian walkways, so we walked in the lane of oncoming traffic, darting out into the center to take pictures whenever there were no cars. It was a great end to one of my worst days on trail. Sandra showed up shortly after we did with cheeseburgers for Dirt Wolf and I.

Pride and stubbornness won out over reason, as it usually does with me, but I’d done it! A couple days later than my hopeful 10-day run, but not bad considering the circumstances. I was content. The official count was 416 miles in 11 days, 10 hours, 43 minutes. But we’ll call it 12 days. And now for a few days of doing absolutely nothing.

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Comments
One Response to “Pride and Pain”
  1. Keep my number around in WA if you’re ever stuck in a similar jam, I’ll come get you and drag you back to the road if need-be!

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