Today’s Miles: 16.2
Total Miles: 459.5
Wahtum Lake to Cascade Locks – Finish Line
I woke up at 6:15 a.m. ready to greet my final day hiking the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I retrieved my food bag for the very last time, made my morning tea for the very last time, and enjoyed a beautiful, quiet, and peaceful morning by the lake.
Sitting on a rock near the lakeshore drinking my tea, I thought about my PCT journey. I wondered what it would feel like to be home later that day, and how I will feel when it’s all over. Life’s adventures are so bittersweet.
It was a beautiful morning. The light on the lake was pretty, creating perfect reflections in the stillness that came with zero wind.
Knowing we had a big day today, Carl and I were on the trail by 8:30 a.m. after topping off water bottles in preparation for the 12.5 waterless miles ahead.
Burn sections blanketed this final day, but also brought beautiful wildflowers. Mt. Hood popped into view behind us several times, while Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier provided the scenery in front.
These mountains would be the showstoppers if I continued into Washington, which still caused me to pang just a little. Plus, I knew this would be the perfect time to tackle the far more challenging state of Washington, now that I have my hiking legs. Starting at Cascade Locks on day one next year will be much harder. But, I was grateful I had the opportunity to hike all of Oregon, my home state I absolutely love.
I was so giddy to see signs pointing toward “Cascade Locks” and “Columbia River.” The reality of being almost home was sinking in – the end was really happening! The Washington mountains drawing closer and closer was further proof.
My book described a “haunted forest” – and it really was a bit spooky, but in a cool way.
Taking a break on a ledge with a view of Mt. Hood (I love a good rest with a view), we snacked and talked about back-home logistics.
I saw trail workers today for the very first time through Oregon. I’m sure this was Covid related. Before I started my hike, I did consider the trail might be extra challenging this year, because of the minimal trail maintenance, but it never got too bad. We enjoyed seeing them out there working, and said a gracious “thank you” as we passed.
Growing closer to Cascade Locks, I started recognizing trail names from my day hiking books. We were getting closer to home! Passing TeaKettle spring brought a smile to my face. Isn’t that the cutest name?
Carl and I hiked in silence for a while, and I spent this time reliving every single day of my PCT adventure in my mind. I could recall moments of each day; where I slept each night, the few people I met, what I ate for dinner, where I got water, sunsets and sunrises, and how many miles roughly I hiked.
I imagine it’s harder to do that when you hike the entire trail, but I was easily able to remember the details of every single day. I thought about the mishaps, the pain, frustration, soreness, mistakes, and fear. I thought about the joy, beauty, peace, quiet, solitude, thoughtful pondering, and all the amazing things I saw through my home state.
Over the next 4 miles, the PCT drops nearly 3,000 feet!
My book likened the descent down to the Columbia River to the Grand Canyon descent to the Colorado River, explaining it’s equal distance. Before I started heading down, I didn’t think it was possible, but now I know it is! It was truly one of the toughest sections in the entire state.
Seeing my first glimpse of the Columbia River was emotional. The finish line was now in sight! I felt giddy, sad, overwhelmed, and proud all at once, and it was a LONG way down.
It was tough on the knees, but when we passed some hikers going up, I was grateful for my northerly direction. I can’t imagine hiking up! I played around with using my trekking poles, but they made me feel clumsy and slow. It’s hard to switch to using them after not for 5 weeks.
Carl and I both went into, “We just gotta get there mode.” That descent was no joke! We did get many more glimpses of the river, and the small towns below, thanks, in part, to the Eagle Creek fire.
At a point that felt like halfway, we stopped for a proper break on a grassy knoll. It seemed like a spot where everyone took a break.
I got a tad grumpy toward the end of the descent. My knees hurt going downhill on a simple day hike with no pack, so adding the weight of a pack was serious business! The views were our saving grace, as well as discussing what kind of beer we would order at the brewery later in the day.
Very ready to be in a flat zone, it did come eventually. We crossed a couple of cute creeks and finally arrived at a familiar-looking wooden bridge over Dry Creek, (which is not appropriately named, since it always has water).
Carl and I recognized it immediately as a day hike to Dry Falls we did a couple of years ago. We reminisced about how we let Hux hike barefoot for a while as a toddler, and we had both our dogs still at the time. (One of them has since passed.)
Although we were only 2 miles from Bridge of the Gods, my finish line, I was starving and told Carl I wanted one final tuna wrap on the trail. We hunkered down right next to the creek where I enjoyed my very last break on this Oregon PCT adventure.
I took my boots off to soak my tired feet in the cold stream. We were both exhausted and sore – we rocked these past three days to make up for my itinerary mistake. (Missed it? Read all about it here.)
My tuna wrap was tasty, but I didn’t need to eat another one for a LONG time. Wanting a celebration at the finish line, I was in communication with a few people. It’s hard to celebrate too hard with Covid though, so we had a small welcoming crew planning to meet us.
The final 2 miles felt really long, and I looked at my PCT Halfmile’s app continuously, but at least they were flat, and the trail was lined with blackberries. Seeing the road that leads to Cascade Locks my smile was big. Someone left a trail magic box, but it was full of weird stuff, and I wouldn’t be needing trail magic for a while. It didn’t take long to have Bridge of the Gods pop into view, and my finish line was right in front of me.
The plan was to hike to the halfway point of the bridge, but we only went 20-30 feet for photo ops and called it good. The bridge was not created for foot traffic in mind, even though it’s the official PCT trail. You hike with the cars on a very narrow and grated bridge, and Carl doesn’t love heights. I figured I would walk across the whole thing when I hike Washington.
And just like that, I was done! I hiked the entire state of Oregon (except for those darn 2 miles out of Odell Lake.)
This moment is such a blur. I think I cried a little, I think I laughed a little, and I hugged Carl. I was so thankful he book-ended this adventure with me. He was by my side at mile one, and by my side at mile 455, and by my side every step of the way taking care of the homefront, our child, and making sure I had everything I needed. I couldn’t ask for a greater partner to share this crazy adventurous life with.
Our friend met us at the Bridge of the Gods and drove us to Thunder Island Brewery for our celebration beer and meal. I pictured us walking there, but our feet would have ached on that pavement, so I was very thankful for the ride.
I learned how to order and pay on my phone (Covid – things changed a little while I was in the wilderness).
I grinned thinking about all the moments I doubted myself. I remembered telling day hikers, “I’m trying to hike all of Oregon,” that first week, and how it turned to, “I’m hiking all of Oregon!” I had moments of wanting to quit, moments of wondering if the pain, fear, and loneliness were worth it. I had many moments wondering, why am I doing this? I had happy tears and sad tears throughout the journey.
Driving home was strange, being home was strange, and assimilating back into the “real” world was strange. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hike for 4-6 months if one is doing the entire trail, because it was tough to do just Oregon. I went from only thinking about where I was going, where I was sleeping, what I would be eating, and where the next water source is, to thinking about all the hundreds of things our modern lives bring to us.
The first few weeks back were a little tough. I was sad my journey was over. There is something transforming about only thinking about survival for 40 days, and I missed it. I pacified my hiking heart by buying all the other PCT section hiking books, planning my next adventures.
I want to send out a GIANT thank you to my support crew. My parents, who helped in many ways. My hiking partners who kept me company; Carl, Hadlie, and Michelle. Carl, for holding down the fort in my absence, and supporting me every step of the way. The lodges, restaurants, and stores that remained open during these crazy Covid times. Trail maintenance crews! And, all my fellow hikers who were safe on the trail, wearing masks, keeping distance, and learning to navigate this new pandemic reality. And finally, the PCT association for keeping the dream alive for all the backpackers out there.
Did you miss the beginning of my 2020 Oregon PCT journey? Begin with Day 1: Here