Everything is dominated by the mosquitoes today. Everything. They determine my pace, limit my breaks and keep me from swimming in the many, many shallow warm lakes. I cruise right past lake after turquoise lake, which I see instead as mosquito hatcheries, as danger zones where blood-suckers spawn. Oh Oregon, one day you are the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, the next your are the worst.
I take only the most cautious brief breaks in random places that offer some respite: a dry sunny rock pile, a sunny campsite with a hint of breeze. But mostly I keep walking head net on, speeding ahead to get away, all the while knowing I am only speeding deeper into the mosquito zone. I try so hard to keep my cool, but I am flustered by the winged menace. I am so distracted that one rushed attempt at a bathroom break ends with a shoe full of my own warm pee. Such is the glory of long-distance hiking.
It is cruiser trail at least, the soft flat trail of Oregon rumors so the miles come easily and there are some interesting humans headed north, breaking the monotony of the never-ending previously logged forest. There’s a group of 13 from South Korea out section hiking. I pass them spread out over several miles, some stop to ask questions. A man in an orange shirt, struggling near the end of the pack, South Korean flag obvious on his pack, stops. He pauses for a moment to gather his words and asks, rather hilariously, “Have you seen Asian people?” I do my best to keep a straight face, and reply through my grin, that if he is looking for the team from South Korea, they are just a few minutes up ahead. A few minutes later another man stops: “Is your boyfriend up ahead?” he asks. Seriously, here I am trying to crush miles and out-hike the mosquitoes, and you stop just to ask me about my “boyfriend?” My potential rage-turns to total amusement as I spend the next few miles wondering who my “boyfriend” is and if I will get to meet him.
My blister-wound is feeling off, the one that filled with volcanic dust a few days back, so I stop to investigate. The tape has shifted, open wound with dirt in it, red at the edges, tender at the bottom, and most worrisome, it’s emitting a kind of fishy smell, which I confirm is not just my feet in general. It is definitely nowhere near healing and it has been five days. I will try to find Neosporin at the lake where others will be on a weekend. But I might be ending my hike at Shelter Cove if it’s not looking better tomorrow.
Charlton Lake is everything it is supposed to be. Just big enough, not too cold, sandy-rocky bottom. It’s only 6:30. I could easily push on, try to make the 30 mile day I keep talking about, but this lake. And what am I out here for anyway? I set up my tent right near the shore as refuge from the bugs and dive right in. The cool water washes away three days of stickiness, rescuing my day from being all bugs and drudgery.
Revived, I meet Drew, a PCT hiker doing a giant section south to Whitney. He’s a solo-hiking twenty-something white dude, who was just ahead of me this afternoon. “You’re my boyfriend!!!” I exclaim, laughing, and then explain away his confusion. Then I head over to another site, where car campers have walked in a massive amount of gear – coolers, tents, chairs – to set up by the lake. Their dogs have been barking, so I introduce myself to see if it will help them calm down. Apparently, the dog in distress is not theirs, they offered to take care of it for the day after learning that their camp neighbors had planned to leave it alone in the tent all day (!). Seriously, who does that? It’s near dark now, but the dog’s owners are still not back. The kind humans offer me beer, which I accept. And I head back to my tent, eating behind the safely of bug mesh, watching as the setting sun tints the world a gentle pink: even the mosquitoes cannot ruin this view, this swim, this perfect evening at the lake.
July 23, 2016
Miles: 27 + 1 from Elk Lake