BRRRRING!!! Goes the alarm at some terribly dark, silent hour. Even the mosquitoes are sleeping. I pack up by feel, getting ready in record time. It’s still too dark to walk; we need more daylight to distinguish the shiny-curvy leaves of danger from regular oak and other shrubs. As we wait for the sun to crawl toward the horizon, I lean against a tree in the tiny safe zone of our campsite, and choke down another bar: even fancy pro-bars are losing their appeal this year.
Despite our evening efforts, almost 7,000 feet of elevation gain remain today, much of it crammed into the first few miles. It’s cooler now but nowhere near cool enough. Slowly I push my way upward, sweating in the near dark. At first Speed calls out the poison oak on “on the left,” on “both sides” until it is simply everywhere and needs no introduction. Switchback after switchback avoiding the green stuff, until we rise above its eco-zone a few more miles in and a few more thousand feet up. The ascent remains relentless, through a burn area where new undergrowth has taken over. I push through head-high brush, barely able to make out the trail buried beneath, branches resisting my progress. At least the slow pace gives me time to appreciate the many mountain lilies flourishing in what seems like too-dry soil, and a miraculous fern-trimmed spring positioned high in the hills saves us from lugging water.Though I’ve made it to the top of the steepest bit, I am feeling rather terrible. Two meals of bars in a row, or the combination with town food, has left my insides unsettled. I urge the others on, and stop to change from my poison oak protection layer of wind pants into my much more comfortable skirt. Then I give in to an inexplicable craving for Thai Kitchen rice noodles, and cook them for second breakfast. In this moment they taste like the most delicious thing in the universe.
Revived, the rest of the day unfolds with relative ease, though again it is hot. The trail oscillates up and down over and around ridge lines, with occasional relief as the trail curls through the forest. Such an early start has bought us time for an extensive lunch break. We regroup at a trailhead, positioned conspicuously with hopes of scoring a soda or some fruit from day hikers and car campers. An offer of a ride from the trail and somewhere to stay near Ashland is forthcoming from two generous locals out mountain biking, but no fresh food. I demonstrate my best tyvek nap, passing out laying in the dusty parking lot, wrapped in my formerly-white plastic sheet, hikertrash burrito-style.
We dry camp on a saddle between the hilltops, dreaming of the border. Tomorrow, we will eat lunch in Oregon, a whole new state! Oregon, where the trail is so flat everyone walks 35 miles a day. Oregon, where the mosquitos are as big as the birds and even hungrier than the mice. Oregon, where the nights will be cool again. Oregon, where there are miles of trail still buried in snow and too many road crossings and thousands of fallen trees blocking the trail. Can this all be true?
July 3, 2016