PCT day 21 – Cascade Locks

August 13
Miles hiked: 24.5
Total trip mileage: 406.9

In the wee hours of the morning, I peek out of our tiny tent window and see the departing backs of Monique, Bert and Todd. How do they manage to get up and out so early and so silently? (I later learn they eat their oatmeal cold). We get ourselves going as quietly as possible. During the night, another hiker has set his bivvy up in a tiny spot nearby. This is a record number of people in a single campsite for us.

It’s a beautiful morning, promising a hot day. We hike along, the trail easy as it meanders along the ridge, eventually joining up with the Eagle Creek alternate just after a rocky, alpine-like patch on the flank of Indian Mountain. In the distance we can see a couple of snow-topped extinct volcanoes. I wonder if it’s Rainier? Maybe Mount Adams or Mount St Helens? I’m not sure. It’s not important to me to name everything.

Actually, I should digress on that a bit, because identifying things by name —mountains, birds, plants, animals — is a major deal in my family. My big sis, a plant taxonomist, knows the name of pretty much everything in the flora world, in both Latin and English, and if she doesn’t, she’ll find it out. Growing up, we never, ever went for a hike without a copy of a plant guide. Every flower was identified. Every bird noted. The rare ones were particularly prized and celebrated. As a result, when I travel through a landscape I tend to constantly name things in my head as I go. Oh look at that Stellar’s Jay! And the Columbine. The Amanita musroom. That’s an aster. That over there, that’s Indian Mountain. It’s in my DNA.

It’s a very normal and useful thing to do. The OCD in all of us loves to put things into pigeonholes. Sorting the familiar from the unfamiliar is important when making your way in a foreign environment. It’s also helpful when communicating. Bear left at Raven’s Ridge. Don’t eat the amanita. So why am I conflicted? Because I also think it’s important to let go of our metadata from time to time and just allow ourselves to experience the totality of our surroundings, without any labels at all. Now, I just look out onto those volcanoes and it doesn’t matter what their names are. I imprint the view in my memory, the feeling of the day getting hotter, the knowledge that this is our last day on the trail, and let it sink slowly in. I let go of the need to categorize.

At the turnoff we take a break, sitting in the shade at a picnic table in an old campground. Our supply of snacks is dwindling to almost nothing, which is perfect. On this hike we never arrived at a resupply with lots of extra food. Good planning, Gydle!

We find the trail and it plunges downhill precipitously. I cannot imagine hiking up this steep a trail, particularly on a hot day like this. I hike faster than Marc on the downhill so I’m soon out ahead, down down down down.

It seems like forever, but we finally reach the main Eagle Creek Trail which is much wider and much less steep. We hike and hike —why does it seem so far today? Is it because it’s our last day? — and finally reach Eagle Creek, which is beautiful, lush green forest and waterfalls and pools of sparkling water. Water water everywhere!

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As we approach Tunnel Falls, we start to run into the Dreaded Dayhikers. It’s a weekend, and the Portland hordes are out in force. People are hiking in flip flops, I kid you not, carrying water bottles in their hands. At Tunnel Falls there’s a girl posing in front of the waterfall for her boyfriend to photograph her. She does pose after pose. Finally I just include her in my shot of the amazing waterfall because I’m tired of waiting for her to leave.

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Marc has definitely got a bee in his bonnet today. It’s so hot out, and all I want to do is take my shoes off and wade around in all this wonderful water. There are gorgeous campsites all over the place. Deep pools where you could take a lovely swim. Why didn’t we spend the night on this stretch of the trail? It would have been so much nicer than that crowded little swampy spring we stayed at last night! But Marc is focused. I feel like his head is already back in the office. Grrr.

Finally I put my foot down, or rather, my pack, and say we’re taking a break. I’m exhausted! It is so frigging hot. I take off my shoes and the water feels heavenly on my feet. It’s so beautiful here. I want to go swimming so badly.

As we get farther and farther down the canyon, crossing bridges over the creek, we encounter more and more people. Crowds of people. There’s a waterhole, apparently, where the swimming is good. I wouldn’t know, because Marc powers on down, past the turnoff, and I scramble in his wake. I cannot fathom why all these people are hiking up here in flipflops. The trail is rocky and uneven. Whole families, troops of college kids, couples holding hands pass us in the opposite direction.

Looking down off a bridge to the creek far below:

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Finally we hit the parking lot. We take another break at a picnic table, and I look at the app to determine the best way to get into Cascade Locks. It’s not far now! Only a couple more miles. Four, at most. We are soon walking on blacktop.

Why is it so hard to hike on blacktop? I hate it. It makes my legs hurt. My feet hurt. I keep pulling my app out to see how much farther I have to hike on this. It doesn’t seem to matter to Marc, he hikes blissfully on ahead of me. Pauses to take a photo of me struggling up the last section, alongside the freeway.

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And then we’re there! The Bridge of the Gods! Thank god we made it!

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It’s just a few more minutes’ walk and we’re in town. I spy the Alehouse on the right, and we head there. I’d heard it was hiker-friendly. We come in and are directed to the hiker room in the back where we can stow our packs, sign the register and check out the hiker boxes. There are picnic tables out back, and we opt to park our stuff and ourselves out there, joining some other hikers who have also just arrived.

One IPA and I am horizontal on the bench, my head spinning. It’s just so hot, I’m so tired, and …

Marc buys pizza and beer for everyone. The young hikers are beside themselves with gratitude. I actually think a lot of them are low on cash at this point, and god knows they need the calories. It’s the least we can do as the rich old farts on the trail. We exchange stories, ask them about Washington. Monique, Bert and Todd show up, and we are glad to see them. When we first met them back in Ollalie Lake, I thought Bert was unfriendly and they were way too intense, but now I know he’s just quiet, and getting a lot of miles in is just the way they do the trail. Marc gives them our number and tells them to look us up when they get to Vancouver (which they do!)

We’re just getting the sharpies out to make a sign “PCT Hikers – PORTLAND” when a customer and his girlfriend pass us walking into the restaurant and strike up a conversation with Marc. Yes, they’re going into Portland after they eat dinner. Sure, they can give us a ride. No problem! Well that was a lot easier than we thought it would be!

Only one thing is left on my agenda here, and that’s ice cream. We walk across the street and get a double scoop while we wait for our ride to finish his dinner.

A couple of hours later, we’re dropped off at Ellen’s doorstep. We let ourselves in and hit the shower. Ellen and Jay are not in town, and their house and dog sitter are not here, either. We’re not sure she knows we’re coming a day early, so I leave a note on the kitchen table warning her that we’re here, we’re not burglars, and that we hope to meet her in the morning. We raid Ellen’s freezer for even more ice cream, and collapse.

Our adventure is over. Fin. Until next summer, that is…

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