There were still some occasional patches of snow as I drifted further away from the Sierras, but once I left the Tahoe Rim section of trail I was on bare ground at least 90% of each day. With high temperatures, clear skies, slightly easier grades on the trail, and five pounds dropped from my baseweight by getting rid of my snow gear, I was ready to move. Right away I started hiking between 25 and 30 miles per day. I was right in the middle of the big crowd of PCT hikers, but I wanted to catch up with the group that was far ahead of me. In retrospect, that may not have been the best idea. I wound up getting horrible blisters on the bottoms of my feet for several hundred miles, making the progress painful and somewhat less enjoyable than it should have been.
In the planning stages of the hike, I’d heard so much about the Southern California desert and the Sierras, but almost nothing about the northern part of the trail. In fact, the only thing I’d heard about Northern California and Oregon was that they were much easier and less interesting than the rest of the trail, so hikers tended to cruise through them quickly. With the scenery I saw as the Sierra Nevada range petered out and the Cascades began, I found this assessment to be entirely untrue. There were some dull spots, but for the most part the mountains throughout were enjoyable and beautiful, in some cases rivaling the Sierras for sheer awe-inspiring grandeur.
Because I was trying so hard to catch up with people ahead of me, I stuck with other hikers for only a day or two at a time, either passing them or being passed, mostly hiking alone during the day and feeling pretty fantastic. Aside from the blisters, which eventually toughened into calluses, I was finally feeling like a hiking machine, able to keep going all day from sunrise to sunset. I walked through miles of coniferous forests, over dozens of rocky passes and by countless alpine lakes. Everything was gorgeous, even the Hat Creek Rim, which has the reputation for being a worthless stretch of trail. I could see why people thought that about it, since it’s so dry and barren, but even that long, hot section had amazing views of two giant volcanoes (Lassen and Shasta), a huge river valley, and rolling hills across the way.
Eventually the craggy and jagged mountains of Northern California gave way to the slightly more eroded volcanoes of Oregon. The trail became flatter in many sections through Oregon, and most hikers went with the common advice that thirty miles a day in Oregon is pretty easy. I slowed down a little at this point, partially to hike with a friend for a few weeks, but also because I was feeling pretty tired after a long, hard push through the last two hundred miles of California. I had gotten to the point where I realized I wasn’t enjoying the trail as much as I should have, so slowing down to a more reasonable pace turned out to be a great idea. I was able to take long breaks at beautiful lakes, stop early when a perfect campsite presented itself, and sit down to a nice meal at one of the few lakeside resorts near the trail. And with the easier trail through the state, I felt pretty relaxed, even at the end of a 25 mile day.
Oregon was a mixed bag, but in all I found it to be a welcome break from California. The long stretches of trail under a dense coniferous canopy and along small lakes (ponds, really, but named lakes), with occasional stretches above tree line or through dry, alpine meadows reminded me of home, hiking through New England forest. The biggest difference was just how dry the trail in Oregon was, emphasized by the forest fires that popped up after a tremendous lightning storm halfway through the state. As I headed out from Bend, the sky began to fill with smoke and news of trail closures began to circulate in the trail’s rumor mill. Indeed, soon enough I had to skip a thirty-six mile stretch of trail due to a section near Olallie Lake being closed. But by the time that happened I didn’t mind too much. It was probably a gorgeous section of trail, but I was getting a little lonely, having hiked almost seven hundred miles alone. My friend who came out to hike Oregon with me had stopped in Bend, suffering from the same nasty blisters that I had in California, and now I was in a bubble, separated from the rest of the PCT community.
When I finally walked into the town of Cascade Locks at the tail end of the Pacific Crest Trail Days mini-festival, it was like a small reunion with many friends I hadn’t seen in either weeks or months. Everyone was camped out at the town park, waiting for the end of the festival before tackling Washington and the last five hundred miles of trail. But I would not be going with them. Walking into town, my feet ached, my legs were tired, and I was tired of rushing through areas that I wanted to see more of. I knew that if I left Cascade Locks with old friends who had been ahead of me for so long, I would have no time to rest, and I would become more and more fatigued as the next state went by. So I decided to take three days off in Cascade Locks before crossing into Washington and hoped that some of my other friends would catch up in that time.
During those three days it began to rain steadily, but I didn’t mind too much. There had been almost no rain during the entire summer, so a little wetness was just a little reminder of hiking at home. And while I waited, several of my friends from days past began to arrive in town. A few continued on, wanting to finish the trail quickly, since the summer was drawing to a close, but a few others decided to stick around for just long enough that I would hike out with them. I finished my time in Oregon optimistic about my prospects for the last state, despite the rain that continued to fall over the Columbia River.