Blueberry fields forever

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ashland to Bend – 253 miles 13 days Total: 1989 miles 130 days + 19 zero days

So it’s with a brand new pack that I left Ashland. I also took off with a new pair of hiking poles as well as a new pair of shoes. I bought sturdy boots this time as I wanted them to last the rest of the way and not a mere 600 miles like the last pair, but sturdy meant I had to break them. At 20 miles a day it only took a couple of days to break them but at 20 miles a day your feet have a long time to make it pretty clear that they hate your guts for what you’re putting them through. O boy, they hurt!

Oregon was a thermic shock. We had been warned, we knew Oregon and Washington would be wet and cold, especially as we’re late in the season, but we didn’t expect such a sudden change. Two days out of Ashland, we were hot and sweaty, cursing the weight of the extra warm clothes we now carried, for nothing it seemed. But on the 3rd day, the temperature dropped drastically. While hiking, we enjoyed it a lot, it was a relief from the heat and it was different, finally a taste of fall after the long summer of the last months. But the next morning it wasn’t so much fun as we woke up to frost on the tent and frozen Nutella in its jar! It turned out it was only a cold front and it hasn’t been so bad since. Nights do have become chilly though but days are still warm. Days are getting shorter too, it has become harder to fit all those miles during daylight hours.

The terrain has indeed been gently graded in Oregon but we haven’t quite reached the 25-30 miles days. First, there were my new boots. Then, there were the blueberries, yummy! Isabelle often waited for me as she couldn’t see me anymore down the trail and she was worried my feet were hurting in my new shoes. When I arrived, she would ask me how my feet were and I would answer that they were doing ok and flash her a blue smile. Yes, I had been picking wild berries along the way again.

And then I got sick 10 miles out of Crater Lake National Park. We were in the middle of a 20 miles dry stretch, we carried enough water to go all the way to Mazama Village that night so there was no choice but to keep going. So I hiked when all I felt like was to curl in a ball on the ground. I hiked 10 miles with an empty stomach, feeling like crap. In the last few miles I got so weak that Isabelle carried my backpack. I’m so grateful she was there, I don’t know what I would have done on my own out there. I don’t think neither of us would have made it that far if it wasn’t for the other one, helping you through the hard times, finding the strength for two, pulling you up when it takes all one’s energy to keep one’s own head at the surface. We make a hell of a team! The next morning it was Isabelle’s turn to be sick so we had no choice but to take a zero day and spend it in bed.

And then it rained and snowed, which means we didn’t get views of the volcanoes the Three Sisters. But the volcanic landscape we crossed with its jagged black rocks, red earth, volcanic cone powdered with fresh light snow under drifting clouds in the cold wind had an apocalyptic and savage beauty. We ended this section by sheltering from the rain and cold in the pit toilets on McKenzie Pass while waiting for a ride to come pick us up and get us down into the town of Bend!

We have to give it to Oregonians, they do have a beautiful state. The green and humid forests of Oregon are more enjoyable to walk through than the dry North Californian woods. And it’s been a succession of sweet spots. Crater Lake is gorgeous. Once we recovered from our sickness, we climbed the last miles up to the rim of the lake. You’re close to the top, you can’t see it yet, but you know it’s right there, you have the same feeling of anticipation as you get to the top of a mountain pass and you can’t wait to see what lies beyond and BAM! here it is, huge and magnificently blue. Knowing that you’ve walked about 1800 miles just for that view makes it even better. About 8000 years ago we wouldn’t have been standing next to the deepest lake in the US but at the base of the big volcano Mt Mazama. It blew up and left a giant crater that, once volcanic activity ceased, filled with snow melt and rain water. The colors of the spectrum get absorbed by water at different depths, blue is the last wavelength to go. Crater Lake is so deep that only blue gets reflected, which explains its incredible color. From the rim we got a last view of Mt Shasta (we first spotted it about 500 miles ago!), now tiny in the distance but still towering over its surroundings. Crescent Lake was another great spot. We camped close to the shore with views of Diamond Peak, a loon calling across the waters. An elk crossed our path without even glancing at us, a coyote watched us pass from a distant meadow, colorful skies have ended and started our days.

We spent 2 days in Bend getting the last gear required to survive the potential cold, rainy and snowy times ahead of us and getting around the loss of our bounce box with our maps and guidebook somewhere in the US postal service system. It’s already tough enough to hike all those miles, even more so now, the last thing you need is having to spend more energy and time handling the logistics of the trip. But well… Bend is a nice town and it has no less than 7 breweries… 😉 We stayed at a trail angel’s house. Robin is an amazing person. She let us stay at her place and use her car to get around town. Isabelle was happy to live the oh-so-American experience of using a bank’s drive-thru ATM!

Tomorrow we’ll be skipping 17 miles of trail and getting further than the 2000 miles marker as a small portion of the PCT is closed following a fire. We’ve past the high point of the Oregon-Washington segment of the PCT a few days ago so from now on we won’t go higher than 2300m. Keep your fingers crossed that we won’t run into too much bad and cold weather!

The fall of the bison and the rise of the bird

September 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

O mighty Tatonka,

You have seen the world all over

You have grazed the hills of Corsica

You have galloped the plains of the land Down Under

You have munched the tall grass of South America

O bison of glory,

When you started this adventure

You had had a full life already

Now you are headed for the final pasture

The hardships of the trail took you down without mercy

O fierce buffalo,

Nothing can soothe my grief

Rest in peace wherever you go

You shall not step with me into the land of the maple leaf

Forever through my soul sorrow for your loss will echo

But from your ashes, o mighty Tatonka,

Rose the majestic Osprey

North it flies away

Onward to Canada

For all of you none backpack nerds out there, which probably means everybody except Celine ;-), this is an ode to my old backpack – of the brand Tatonka, whose symbol is a buffalo – that I sadly had to get rid of as the metal frame broke and was poking me in the butt cheek, and another part was threatening to attack me in the kidney. So I bought a new pack – of the brand Osprey, whose symbol is the bird of the same name. We’ve been living with little possessions for the last 5 months, we should know better than to get attached to the material world but even so you love your gear so here’s a last tribute to my faithful Tatonka!

Bye bye California!

September 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Seiad Valley to Ashland, OREGON!!! – 64 miles 3 days Total: 1726 miles 117 days + 16 zero days

Yessss! After about 1700 miles, 4 months and much longing for Oregon, we eventually crossed the state line on the 8th of September. California hasn’t been bad but it was just way too long and, especially with the recent hard times, we were in great need of a milestone to make us feel like we were going somewhere.

Oregonians love their state. If you believe them, their state is the best. But as we can’t take their word for it, we had to go check for ourselves. We haven’t been here for long but we love it already!

We hadn’t walked 20 miles from the border that we stumbled on trail magic. Ashland is lovely. It has parks and greenery, art galleries, great restaurants, theaters, street art, nice shops… It’s the most European town we’ve been to yet, all it’s missing is a pedestrian street. And locals have bought us breakfast the other day!

We have great hopes for Oregon. We’ve been told it’s flat and easy hiking, that you can easily do 25-30 miles a day. So let’s see if Oregon holds its promises. Less than 1000 miles to go!

Do you still choose to hike to Canada?

September 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Mt Shasta to Seiad Valley – 156 miles 9 days Total: 1662 miles 114 days + 16 zero days

I wasn’t quite right in my last post. We weren’t ready to keep on yet. We had checked out of the motel that morning, our town to-do list was fully ticked off, we were having an early dinner and the plan was to get back to the trail that evening. It was already 5pm and by the time we got a ride it would be too late to hike very far. Our reason was telling us to get back to the trail anyway so we could get an early start the next day and do most of the climb in the coolest hours but the idea of another movie night and of sleeping once more with one of those plump motel pillows was really tempting. We were debating what to do, hesitating, no one dared to take a final decision when, to help make a choice, so we wouldn’t be afraid to voice our opinion, Isabelle suggested we wrote on pieces of paper what we really wanted to do. And that was it! “You know what I REALLY want. I want to stay.” I said. So did Busted Magic. I turned to Isabelle: “And you, what do you REALLY want?” “I want to stay too!” So that’s what we did!

“Hang on past 1500 miles and it’ll get better.” a PCT thru-hiker friend of Busted Magic had told her. We hung on and indeed it got better! The last sections were beautiful. We hiked mainly along ridges and got great views of the rocks of Castle Crags, Mt Shasta, yet from another angle as the PCT skirts it, and we could even still distinguish Lassen Peak in the distance. The Trinity Alps, the Russian Wilderness and the Marble Mountains were gorgeous. We also had some encounters that comforted us and boosted our confidence. First, Marie, who helps hikers in Seattle and who was section hiking with her husband, reassured us that it’s possible to finish end of October, hikers have already done it. Another section hiker bowed down on one knee in front of us because we went through the Sierras with all the snow. And it wasn’t just anybody, that section hiker was no less than Strider, the head of kick-off! However, we couldn’t help noticing that him and his friend, who thru-hiked a couple of years ago, were both wearing knee braces. A thru-hike memory?

We got the fastest ride ever going into Etna. As soon as we arrived at the trailhead, we heard a car coming, we ran to the road (it’s a road known to have little traffic) and put our thumbs up. The car stopped and we got picked up by two gold miners. That’s one of the things I love about the trail. You get rides from the most random people and you get to places you would never go to otherwise – under freeways, in small towns like Sierra City, Belden, Etna… From Etna we rode back to the trail in the back of a pick-up truck. We swore never again. The three of us were sick and had to concentrate not to vomit.

“A thru-hiker is a slave to daily mileage.” a hiker wrote in the PCT register in Etna. Miles do become an obsession. You have a high number of miles to do in a limited number of days. If you choose to hike it all the way, there’s no escaping counting the miles. Which leads to the question I’ve been asking myself lately as there has been days when I have felt stressed to do the miles and there has been nice places we couldn’t stop in for a day as we’re running out of time: “Do you still choose to hike to Canada?”

Is this the Pacific Crest Trail you want? Wasn’t the reason you undertook this trip: to take the time? It’s not the destination but the journey that matters. It’s with a reasoning along these lines that you were able to take a decision about the PhD. What do you make of this saying now? You learn a lot from identifying your limits and pushing them further but how far is too far? When does it stop to be worth it?

A section hiker told us we were his heroes, another said we are royalties among hikers. You can often sense a feeling of superiority among thru-hikers. And I’ll admit I have sometimes thought that we were better because what we do is harder. But now I think we’re nuts and section hikers are clever, they do it the smart way. My next backpacking trip will be a 5-days hike that I’ll take 10 days to complete. There is truth in what our dad said: “Sometimes it takes more courage to stop than to keep going no matter what.”

But despite all this, yes, I still choose to hike to Canada. I can’t explain it, I don’t understand it myself but Canada is calling and I feel compelled to answer. It’s the goal we set ourselves. We’ve given too much already not to agree to the little sacrifice required to make it to Canada. We hurt and it’s tough – to give you an idea how tough I’ll quote Isabelle: “Once I’ll have thru-hiked the PCT, I think I’ll be ready to give birth.” – but overall we’re still having an amazing time. We get our kicks from days when we go for the sport, the speed, when we push our bodies as well as from days when we stroll leisurely. It’s just a matter of finding the balance between the two. But again it’s such madness, what pushes you to hike to Canada, whatever that is, feels so strong that you expect something big to explain it and all the reasons you find don’t seem enough. Once more let’s live the question!

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