We stood on the side of the trail in disbelief. I can’t imagine what Ray Jardine would have said if he saw our packs. We had a bag of fresh strawberries, a full pound of grated parmesan cheese in the large cylindrical container, several bananas, trash that we were now apparently packing in, and I had a book that we had both already finished. I would call my pack off balanced and extremely poorly packed. For all the weight we were carrying our water bottles were not full. The only person in the entire world who knew where we were just drove off with our extra fuel and toilet paper. We were surrounded on all sides by lava beds. There was no cell reception. I had to pee. We looked at each other and burst into uncontrollable giggles. This was how my mom and I began our PCT section hike from McKenzie Pass to Timberline Lodge. This was not the plan.
In all fairness there hadn’t been a particularly concrete plan. We had a flight into Eugene, Oregon, we had a hotel in town for that night, and we knew where the trailhead was. The vague plan was to somehow get to Bend where we could get fuel and some perishable food items that we hadn’t brought on the plane from NJ (mostly cheese). Then somehow get from Bend to Lava Camp Lake, .5 miles off the PCT where we could stock up on water, sort out our extra fuel and organize all of our food and effectively pack our packs. If we considered the morning we woke up in Eugene as Day 1 of the trip, we would be on the trail mid-morning on Day 2. We did have a much more concrete plan for getting off of the trail. My dad was flying out to Portland and would be picking us up at Barlow Pass at a prearranged time. That also did not go to plan, but in the best possible way, and we ended up hiking all the way to Timberline Lodge, where we had a luxurious all you can eat brunch buffet and slept in a real room before he picked us up and brought us to Portland for days of vineyards and food.
All the reasons hiking to Timberline is worth it.
A fun fact about Eugene, Oregon; it was home to the Olympic Track and Field Trials last summer. We hadn’t realized this but it helped to explain why it had been so hard to find a hotel room. In fact the motel that we stayed in was the only reasonably priced option my mom could find. We arrived just after the night shift began at the motel, and the woman working at the desk was very nice, explaining when there would be a continental breakfast and strongly recommending that we deadbolt the door to our room, which isn’t what you want to hear. We slept well nonetheless and hit the road running the next morning, charged everything up and started trying to figure out how to get to the trail. My first thought, uber (yes I’m a millennial) would cost around $180 to the trailhead so we nixed that. But then my mom found the Greyhound Station. Right next to our motel. “Make sure you deadbolt your door” suddenly made more sense. But how lucky is that? The next bus to Bend was leaving around 11 am, which gave us time to take our last showers, grab breakfast and stop by the post office to mail home some extra clothes we’d used on the plane. We relayed the plan to my dad: “We’ll be arriving in Bend this afternoon, get our supplies together, camp at Lava Camp Lake, and start hiking tomorrow morning. We’ll call you when we get to camp!” That would be the last thing he heard from us until 2 days and 17 miles later when we hit Highway 20, Santiam Pass and one bar of reception, which we used to tell him we were safe at the pass and could he please send us a weather report so we would know when the freezing rain was going to stop? Fortunately the pass had a rest stop that included a trashcan. We were able to dump all of our excess food and I left my book in the portapotty, but that was days away as we sat in the Greyhound Station.
I spent the bus ride out of Eugene reading Me Before You, the book that, unfortunately, I would not be able to unload before we hit the trail. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, and I mean no offense if you enjoyed it, it’s just the kind of book that made me furious at everyone who made a decision in it. As we rode through the gently rising mountain range, I was immersed in the tragic tale of a girl with green tights who was desperate for attention, and wasn’t very aware of our surroundings as we started rolling past lava beds. The bus driver called out “Hey, is anyone getting off in Sisters?” I looked at my mom. Sisters? We didn’t know that was an option. I pulled out my phone and got on google maps as fast as I could with minimal reception. Sisters was 22 miles closer to the PCT than Bend was, and we had definitely driven by a major grocery store. We looked at each other. “Should we do it?” “I think so” Mom went up to ask the bus driver how far the PCT was and he had no idea. By the time we decided to get off the bus we were more than a mile outside of town and the bus driver was extremely skeptical about dropping us on the side of the road but he did. And there we stood, holding the plastic bag full of snacks from our motel continental breakfast including 2 bananas, about to begin our grand hike by walking down a busy road. I pulled up the town of Sisters on my iPhone and we began to walk. Not on a smooth trail with pine trees gently shielding us overhead as we had been looking forward to, but on the side of a highway with no actual shoulder. It took about 100 feet for me to realize I hadn’t even tied my shoes yet. We were exhausted when we got into town, but figured we could get our groceries, grab a motel room and find a way to the trail in the morning. The first lodge we passed, No Vacancy. Reasonable, it was a nice lodge and a nice weekend in July. The hotel, No Vacancy. A bed and breakfast, No Vacancy. What was going on? Then we saw the banner: “Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show 2016.” Here I quote from their website: “Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show™(SOQS) is internationally recognized as the world’s largest outdoor quilt show and quilt sale displaying more than 1300 quilts. . . . More than 10,000 visitors from all 50 states and 27 foreign countries flock to Sisters on the second Saturday in July.” The next thing we knew we were battling our way down a charming main street, accidentally whacking old white people with our backpacks, holding our trekking poles close in case we accidentally tripped a quilt enthusiast. Generally I do appreciate the artistry and attention to detail that goes into quilting, but in this particular moment I thought some very uncharitable things about the whole quilting industry, if industry is the right word.
Then on the left, in a gravel parking lot, we saw a farm stand. “Fresh Strawberries.” We beelined for it, clearing a path with our packs and almost knocking down quite a bit of produce in the stand itself. We walked away with a pint of fresh strawberries and a pint of fresh Oregon blueberries. And there across the street was the grocery store. Mom waited outside the store with the packs while I went in. There I began my own personal trials and travails. I won’t get into it but it ended with an employee following me around the store because I was so clearly incompetent that this was easier than him checking in on me every two minutes. The important thing is that I found a two pound block of cheese. As I walked towards the exit I saw a strange woman standing with her back to me talking to my mother. My mother made eye contact with me and gave me a smile that either meant “I’m very excited about this situation,” or, “Let’s get out of here I think this woman is going to murder me.” It’s a fine line. In the end I had no choice but to walk through that door with my two pound block of cheese (not including the additional pound of parmesan cheese in a large green cylinder, you know the container I’m talking about) to meet whatever stranger my mom had befriended.
“And this is my daughter!” cried my mother, with more excitement than fear of murder I thought, “Becca this is Blanche, she’s a trail angel and she’s going to take us to the PCT!” Several ‘Oh my god’s fell out of my mouth, and we began throwing everything into the packs. We poured fuel into our canisters, and offered Blanche the extra for future hikers, we rolled off enough toilet paper for 10 days (it’s a science), offered Blanche the extra for future hikers, and stuffed everything haphazardly into our packs. Blanche chatted away while we did this, remarking on our food and how fascinated she was by what different hikers carried. She told me how excited she was to have found us, how she saw my mother and knew she was a PCT hiker right away because she “can spot them a mile away.” I thought it would be tactful to not mention that the two full size packs were a bit of a give away. We piled into the car and we were off! My mom and Blanche kept up a cheerful conversation in the front seat while I snacked on blueberries. Blanche hikes the Oregon PCT pretty frequently, even though she’s getting to 70, her husband passed a few years ago but she still goes to bed with a great guy every night, can we guess who it is? Her dog, she gets people all the time with that, no he doesn’t hike with her he’s not in the best shape. Oh and there’s Three Fingered Jack, you’ll go over that today or tomorrow, and then that’s Mount Jefferson behind it, here take these cards to give to other hikers they get a discount at this Mexican restaurant. Yes during the high season she just drives up and down the road picking up hikers and bringing them into town, oh and here we are, are you sure you don’t want to stop by the observatory and see the exhibit on the different types of lava? No, well you’ll be walking on them anyway I suppose. Well, enjoy your hike!
2:00 PM on Day 1. Almost 24 hours earlier than expected. Cheese, strawberries, bananas, Me Before You. Blanche waved as she drove away, happy to give our extra toilet paper to the next hiker she picked up. Days later I would find the Mexican restaurant business cards in a wet mush in my pocket. But we were on the PCT. It was like magic. Trail Magic. The giggles started rolling, and man did I have to pee.