Day 22: Horses! 41 horses!

22 miles
PCT mile 2055.5 – PCT mile 2076.3 (+ side trail to/from Little Crater Lake)
Total miles so far: 395.4

The main topic of conversation in our campsite last night was the brunch at Timberline Lodge. I have never been to Timberline Lodge, but apparently there is a gourmet all-you-can-eat buffet brunch that people talk about up and down the entire PCT. By the time a northbound thru-hiker reaches this brunch they have hiked almost 2100 miles, and I marvel at the thought of how much one could eat at an all-you-can-eat brunch after hiking 2100 miles.

Chipotle, who camped with us last night, is about to find out. I hear him leave at 4:45am this morning, and his plan is to hike the 38.9 miles to Timberline Lodge today, camp there tonight, and be the first one in line for brunch in the morning.

38.9 miles! I cannot even imagine.

Feather and Sprout are the next to leave camp, and I finally drag myself to the trail about 20 minutes after them. I didn’t sleep well last night (again) and my feet are killing me (still, again, always), so I hobble along until the ibuprofen kicks in. But just like Dragon said: drugs work, and the rest of the morning passes easily.

I hike to Warm Springs River by myself, the trail staying mostly in the woods, and I think about life after this hike. I haven’t even been gone for that long, but it feels like everything is different, like I am different. I think about the future of my podcast, Real Talk Radio, and about my writing and my decade-long dream to go to pastry school. Do they even have vegan pastry schools? Is that a thing?

I filter one liter of ice cold water at the river, shivering as my fingertips go numb, and hike on as soon as I can toward Oak Grove Fork, 9.5 miles away, which is where I plan to stop for lunch.

The trail climbs 1,000 feet, which means it’s time for my iPod. I listen to music, and then to Twilight, and with another two miles to go I start to feel awful, weak and shaky and desperately tired. I sit off to the side of the trail and make lunch; why am I pushing myself so hard to reach an arbitrary stopping point? I can eat whenever I want! Who cares that it’s only 11:45am? Lunch time isn’t a real time!

So I sit, and I eat my nut butter and jam tortilla, and I take more ibuprofen. 22 days into this hike and I still haven’t been able to let go of my addiction to schedules and plans and productivity. I wonder how long of a hike it would take for that to happen. Would it ever happen?

At Oak Grove Fork I take a long break with Feather and Sprout and another hiker named Rome. I wash my socks, filter water, and eat Chex Mix with my grubby little hands. The minutes tick by but we’re all hesitant to move. It just feels so good to lay down. So so good to lay down.

When we finally hike out we decide to aim for Little Crater Lake, which is supposed to be deep and blue like the real Crater Lake, only much smaller. It’s five miles away, but the miles pass quickly now that I have new people to talk to. Hiking buddies! How incredible these young women are, doing this hard thing at only 18 and 21 years old. This is most certainly not what I was doing at that age. Wow, but what if, you know? How different would my life be now?

We step to the side of the trail to let a few people pass on horseback, only it isn’t a few people or a few horses. It’s 41 horses. 41 horses! From the snippets of conversation we overhear we’re pretty sure it’s a boy scout type trip. 41 horses!

We reach the junction to Little Crater Lake at 4:30pm, excited to see what awaits us down this side trail. A half mile later and we have our answer: it is indeed a tiny Crater Lake!

We head over to the campground to refill our water bottles and dump our trash, using the pit toilets and picnic tables, but it’s $20 to camp here and that is just way too much money for a patch of dirt. We eat dinner by the small deep lake and discuss our options. There really isn’t anywhere good to camp around here, but we’re all too beat to keep hiking. Someone suggests that we just camp right at the trail junction, just right off the PCT on the side of this other trail, and we all agree. It’s not great etiquette to do this, to just camp basically on the trail, but we’re completely worn out and this is the best we can do tonight.

We set our tents up end-to-end, blocking as little of the trail as possible, and tell ourselves and each other that it’s fine, it’ll be fine. And anyway tomorrow we’ll arrive at Timberline Lodge (!) where we have all splurged on hotel rooms (!!) and where we’ll be able to do laundry and shower and hang out inside and eat a thousand million servings of brunch (!!!!!)

We lay together on the hard ground, using a sign post to do legs-up-the-wall pose, and say over and over again how we absolutely cannot wait for brunch.