Sunday, August 28th
I wake up in my bedroom in Bend, OR. My friend, Mandy, had flown in from WA the night before. For the next week, our only job is to hike around the Three Sisters, a trio of volcanoes visible from my bathroom window. But first, we had to get to the trailhead, and we had so much to do!
Jon hands me a coffee as I come down the stairs, making my way to the kitchen. I survey the morning. It is warm and sunny and our home is awash in morning light. Mandy is darting around, getting things into her pack. Jon is busy at the stove, making dog food. The kitchen table is a shrine to the gods of dried food. There are little green compostable sandwich bags everywhere and bits of food, waiting to be bagged. Our chiweenies, Toby and Frieda, pick up on the excitement and bounce around the house, asking for breakfast, to be let outside, or for an extra pet. Jon chats with Mandy, gesturing wildly with a spatula. Even the birds outside seem unnaturally excited. They are out in force at the backyard bird buffet I set up for them a couple weeks ago. I fish out my favorite loose leaf tea, and prepare it for Mandy, who doesn’t drink coffee.
“How long do you steep your tea, typically?” I ask Mandy.
“A really long time, I like it strong.”
Before long, everyone is caffeinated, laughing and talking.
Even though I knew I was going on a backpacking trip, I did not pack my backpack this week. Why?! Why do I leave packing to the last minute? Oh well, no time like the present. I start searching all over the house for my backpacking gear. Where’s my sleeping bag? Garmin? Spoon? Stuff sack? Jon helps me locate all my things. I haven’t touched my backpacking gear since we finished our 6 month hike of the PCT on September 10th, 2021.
Since reaching the northern terminus of the PCT on that beautiful September day, our lives have changed considerably. We moved from Whidbey Is., WA to Bend, OR. Jon started a job as an in-patient dietician at the local hospital, we bought a house, I got a new job, and we lost two loved ones.
Let me tell you a secret: I miss life on the trail every day. I think the joy of long-distance hiking is, in part, because of the necessity for simplicity. My pack holds 15 lbs of everything I could ever need to live happily. The routine was simple, and mollified the overstimulation of the modern world. I would wake up, walk, eat, be immersed in the wilderness and the fellowship of other hikers…oh and try not to die.
After a frantic assembly of random things spread out across our house, I smash them all into my trusty backpack. It’s been my home on straps for countless days and months. It is starting to wear thin, but I feel confident that it can make it through the week. It smells like the desert sand, Sierra granite, and hemlock of the North Cascades. It smells like freedom and adventure and nostalgia. Fuck. Thru hiking will ruin you. It’s a non-stop reminder of how wonderful the world can be, and what we chose instead. I shake off my thoughts, and load it into the van.
We wave goodbye to Jon and dogs, and are on the road! In the van! We stop for gas and snacks, then finally arrive at the trailhead at noon. Fortunately, the trailhead is only 40 minutes from the house. One of the wonders of living in Bend is the convenient access to the backcountry from your front door. Moving here was one of the best decisions Jon and I have made, and today I am reminded of that.
Our first couple of miles is on the Mirror lakes trail. It is shaded with good tread and we walk quickly, our trekking poles stabbing the forest floor. Before going north at the PCT junction, we take a quick detour south to see Mirror Lake. It is large and serene. Mirror Lake is part of a collection of lakes in a flat, green valley, flanked by Koosah Mountain and Sphinx Butte. We eat a snack and look out over the water.
“Is that guy skinny dipping over there?”
“hmmm, oh my, yes. He certainly is”
We say goodbye to the lake and the naked man, and start making our way north on the PCT. We will walk the PCT for the duration of the western half of the loop. I didn’t actually get to walk this part of the PCT last year, due to fire closures, so I am excited to be back on a path I once called home, in a part I haven’t seen yet.
The day warms, and we walk through a mix of live and burned forests. It’s late summer, so the trails are dusty but we don’t mind. At least the bugs aren’t bad. Mandy and I catch up on everything, as old friends tend to do. At around 5PM, we leave the trees and cross a huge meadow under the South Sister. Her top is quite domed from the west, with red rock giving her a dramatic look.
We arrive at Rese Lake under the South Sister. There is no one else here. The mountain is brilliant red in the alpenglow.
I unpack my sleeping gear and cringe. It’s filthy. Of course it is, I used it every night for 6 months, and then promptly stuffed it into a closet. My pillow and sleeping pad are tinted brown. Note to self: clean the gear when I get home.
Perched on volcanic rock still warm from the day’s sunshine, I eat a meal of lentils and chocolate and ibuprofen. With the last of the daylight fading, we settle into the tent. Sleep comes fast and hard.