2080 Blueberry Miles of My Dreams. And a Thunderstorm.

I spot the first ripe huckleberries just after leaving camp, and then blueberries too. Sweet spheres of temptation dotting the bushes all along the trail within easy reach. They are the color of distant ridges just after sunset and they taste like summer. My early morning start is stalled first for this breakfast desert, and then for Little Crater Lake. A wondrous puddle of coldest, clearest blue just off trail; an artesian well with aspirations of lakehood. Or, less poetically, water pouring through a crack in the earth, eroding away soft rock and forming a pool in the process.

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IMG_7179Berry stained and content, after 20 miles waking southbound, I somewhat prematurely decide I am now an expert on being SOBO (as well as on berries of the color blue) and hold Q&A in my head on the subject:

Q: Is the trail as well marked in the other direction?
A: So far, yes. And there are tons of vintage PCT markers up here covered in amber sap and bits of rusts; representations of trees on trees, slowing becoming part of the forest.

Q: Is the sun really in your face all day?
A: Sun? Does Oregon even have sun?

Q: Does heading south feel like walking downhill the whole way?
A: Yes but this might be an effect of getting dropped off on top of mount Hood instead of at Cascade Locks.IMG_7437

But even conversations with my SOBO self get a bit lonely  after a while, so when I see a solo woman headed north I stop to chat. She asks my name, and says she heard of me last year. Then we put the pieces together: it’s Ice Bath!!! Who joined my trail family after I left for work last August. I’ve seen many photos of her hiking Washington and finishing the trail with Soccer Mom and the gang. But we’d never met until now.IMG_7195For three miles or so the trail, so flat and soft and wide now, follows Timothy Lake, which I see Pacific Northwest-style, cobbled together from glimpses through the trees: boats and canoes and stand up paddle boarders; campsites with Costco-sized tents and battalions of coolers. I imagine all the food these campers are harboring just off trail, but have no excuse to investigate further this early in the day.

Then who do I see but Jon, one of the three NOBO thru hikers I met on my first day this year at Burney Falls. “Fixie! What are you doing!?!” he asks, with a giant grin. We stand in the woods and tell tales of our respective adventures; me and the snowstorm, Jon getting to don a hardhat and hang a PCT sign in a trail crew cameo. I give him a big handful of the jolly ranchers (the first trial magic I was ever given, back on the JMT), that I am carrying to hand out to NOBO friends.

Q: Is SOBO hiking lonely?
A: Yes! It’s all miraculous but always fleeting meetings, intense two-minute friendships and reluctant good byes.

Dark clouds have congregated while I was chatting, and by late afternoon they erupt in storm. I ignore the first odd drops until the thunder is unmistakably thunder and rain and even some hail is tumbling down (though nothing like last year’s sky-marbles). This is no Pacific Northwest drizzle. Water pours from the sky, runs in impromptu rivulets down hillsides until trail becomes river and my feet are soaked from splashing through miles of pine needle topped puddles.

At least I am warm and thunderstorms always have breaks. I can even see the blue sky ahead. The rain and thunder keeps up for a few hours, still pouring down summer storm style for thirty minutes after the sun comes. So I walk through a glittering, soaked forest, through bright curtains of illuminated raindrops. The sun and rain so incongruous it feels like a movie set, or very damp fairy dust.IMG_7469A section hiker warns me a of a campfire left smoldering and now spreading up in a saddle where I was planning to camp. [PLEASE, people, do not leave fires burning in the forest. And if you don’t know how to put a fire out, then you probably have no business starting one especially on dry hilltops miles from water sources].

So I push on past the still smoke-smelling campsite, where thanks to quick thinking by PCT-hiker Mouse who found phone service and called it in and to hard working forest service employees the damage has been contained. I make a big day of it, wet feet and all, by biggest day ever at 28+miles, though even with the train it was not the hardest day by far. Though all morning I was conscious of going SOBO, the last miles of the day are like any others: drawn out despite my efforts to hurry. By the time I reach camp, sky firing out a sunset apology for the storm, I am not worried at all about having flipped direction.IMG_7222

July 17, 2016
Miles: 28 (new record!)
Trip: 446
PCT: 1,862

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