2098 Thirty + One

Spoiler: I did it!

My alarm goes off early, too early. It’s August now, and I have forgotten how much the days are shortening toward fall. I wake up all ambitious, but it’s still dark out, darker than I enjoy wandering alone in the woods. I wait a bit for things to brighten, but eventually anticipation overcomes fear and I wander into the barest dawn light to fetch my ursack from a nearby tree.IMG_7926I am off to a clunky start, all stiff in the cool air, slow on the downhill and there’s a lot of it today – almost 11,000 feet. But the views are plentiful, waterfalls crashing into steep ravines, sky rosy with sunrise. Eventually I make it down the first big hill, not feeling super optimistic about my mileage goal. There are several creeks to cross, cloudy brown and swift with glacial melt. Sandy Creek on a slapdash pile of branches that somehow support my weight, and Muddy Creek on a sketchy double log situation where you can’t see your feet and everything gets narrower as you go. At Ramona Falls, I take a break I wasn’t meaning to take, because I had them all to myself. For the next few miles, repeated from yesterday, I half expect to see my dog leading the way. But she’s home safe in Portland and it’s just me vs. the miles.IMG_7654After the creek obstacles, there’s a massive hill of switchbacks, unusual for Oregon. But at least they are lined with berries – ripe excuses for pauses on the way up. Over the next few miles, I gorge Hungry caterpillar style: blue huckleberries, blueberries, red huckleberries, salmon berries, thimble berries. I even score a trail magic banana to add to the fruit salad accumulating in my belly. But miles! I am supposed to be making miles… Luckily I can go a very long way on a bit of caffeine and some good tunes. Also, voodoo donuts help. I made a detour to add them to my resupply on the way to the trail.IMG_7540On I push, trees opening up here and there to reveal ever-shrinking views of Mount Hood, until my feet force a break. I peel off the tape and inspect my feet. Small blisters have sprouted on heels and toes; worse than they ever were even in the desert PCT last year. But at least not swollen and tender on the bottom like those first weeks back on trail in NorCal this year.IMG_7662These last miles before the gorge are like a mini-review of Oregon: forested ridges, distant lakes, paths through lava. And the volcanic peaks, those in Washington now looming closer as Hood shrinks in the distance.IMG_7929I stop for dinner at a picnic table, just where the Eagle Creek alternate, the path almost everyone not on a horse or chasing a record takes, branches off. The sun is sinking below the hills, but I decide to bravely go on. The trail careens downhill, like some daredevil mountain bike track. It makes no pretense of easing you into the terrain. There are no switchbacks, no campsites, no water sources. Up or down are the only options. To my relief its not especially slippery either, a relief considering the angle. Make short work of it all the while glad to not be going up, particularly after 26 other miles.

The rewarded is an Eagle Creek trail so blissfully flat, soft and well maintained. The last lingering rays of sunlight filter through the trees, warming all the greenery, Oregon grape drooping with bunches of ripe purple berries. I think about Elk Lakes a few weeks back, where one of the section hikers who I joined for dinner asked me, upon learning that I was doing 25+mile days, what the last few miles felt like each evening. While (gasp!) I don’t love every mile I do (maybe less than half are smiling in the moment type fun), I responded that the last miles were not necessarily the most tedious or painful, it really depended on the circumstances. Today is an excellent example, where the hardest miles terrain wise were followed by three most pleasant last miles, and the worst of the day was somewhere in the middle, when the trail turned rocky and I realized I was sprouting all kinds of unexpected blisters.IMG_7930Three more miles to a beautiful creek side campsites (there’s one dry camp option a mile or so sooner), and I arrive just before dark. So I make my 30 plus one and change. Despite the 6,000 feet of elevation gain and 11,000 feet of loss. Despite all my waterfall gazing and berry grazing. I collapse in my tent, so happy to claim my first 30, after 10 days off trail. And unbelievably, my knees still appear to be working, without much pain at all.

August 5, 2016
Miles: 31.5 (New Record!)
Trip: 635
PCT: 2030 (ish) hard to say because alternate.

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