A 40-mile day

PCT miles 2067 to 2107.2 – Saddle near Chinquapin Viewpoint to Timberline Lodge – Total PCT miles 2107.2

If there was going to be a day to hike 40 miles, today was the day. We’d be covering the most continuous level trail tread of the entire PCT. Looking at the Erik the Black elevation gradients suggested near flat as a pancake conditions. We had incentive to motivate us to walk the distance: Brunch and Family at Timberline Lodge on Sunday morning.  Plus, we knew (or thought we knew) that we’d take it easy the next two days into Cascade Locks; taking a partial zero at Timberline and then following the PCT through scenic wonders down to Eagle Creek and the Columbia River Gorge.

We were up and ready to hike by 6:15. The sun had yet to rise. As we were about to start down the trail, Zm and Goodness rounded the bend. These early birders were also starting their day and were already zipping along. I at least needed a little time to warm up and neither one of us wanted to jinx our goal by talking about it too soon. We let our friends walk by and passed them later after we had breakfast.

Ten miles down we marked 25% completion by listening to “I Wanna Rock” by Twisted Sister. Gabriel held his Droid on his shoulder like a mini-Ghettoblaster and the music definitely had motivational effect. Our pace quickened to the beat. Not having head phones, we weren’t used to hiking with music. Onward we hiked through hemlock forests interspersed with logging operations on the borders of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

By noon we’d hiked 20 miles and were skirting around Timothy Lake. The Saturday of Labor Day weekend had many campers and recreationists on the trail. These holiday weekenders looked leisurely to us who were on a mission. One person who Gabriel helped with directions told us he didn’t want to hike the long way around the lake, which would have been 12 miles. We smiled and kept walking.

Per my request and embracing Sourdough’s philosophy of if it takes less than 15 minutes to check out something you’d otherwise never see, take a look: we took one detour off the trail to Little Crater Lake. A delightful, worthwhile side trip to see a deep blue spring-fed pool. Lovely clear, cold waters. A treat to refill our water bottles. Then we were back on the PCT to wend our way through yew trees, Douglas-fir groves and the occasional stand of lodgepole pine.

Early afternoon turned to mid-afternoon and we still had a ways to go. We drank Gatorade, Kool Aid, and Carnation instant breakfasts and ate Jelly Belly Sport Beans, pretzels and other trail treats that had been carefully selected to fuel this day. With every calorie consumed, the legs would get the extra zip back for a mile or so and then it would be time to top off the tank (or perhaps get it just above empty) once again.

By mid-afternoon we had views of Mt. Hood and Salmon River Meadows. So pretty, but still not close enough.  To keep us pumped up, Gabriel played DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat.” We danced on to Highway 26. Sunset Highway was a road of significance to me growing up, life vein to the Oregon Coast, to Portland, to Bend. Now it has significance as marking mile 30 of our 40-mile day.

Soon we came around a bend and saw Pepe Lopez, Chili Dog and Seahorse. We’d caught up to them at last (since seeing them near Mt. Jefferson and McKenzie Highway respectively). With about 5 miles to finish our goal we felt it was okay to spill the beans. They cheered us onward. But soon caught up to us as we’d been slowed down by the Barlow Pass trail magic that Stagg’s parents had provided. Many thanks to Stagg’s mom and dad! Beers, root beers, and tooth brushes. We enjoyed a root beer apiece and Gabriel tried his first sip of PBR-thanks to Seahorse. We could have happily sat there the rest of the evening and talked with our friends but we had less than 5 miles to go.

We crossed Barlow Pass around 6:30 pm and I called my mom to confirm that she, Mike and Cheryl (family friends/my other parents) would be able to join us around 8:30 am. They would see us in the morning. They also warned us of forest fires near Mt. Hood, confirmed by the smell of smoke and the richly hued sunset. We kept walking, less than 4 miles to go.

We powered up for the last few miles with Michael Jackson’s “Bad“. The song ended just as we reached a lovely spot where Breeze was camped for the night. He had a fire going and invited us to stay. We told him of our crazy plan and he told us how he’d just finished his 24-hour hike-a-thon. Awesome! So good to charge one another’s energy with the personal feats and challenges we aspire to; something fellow hikers often do for one another.

While we talked with Breeze the light faded and it became difficult to see in the darkening woods. Gone were the days of hiking until 9:00 pm-in the light. The long summer days were transitioning into lingering late summer nights. Tonight, this was most inconvenient as my headlamp came out of my pack turned on and dimly lit. And because it didn’t take the same batteries as my old head lamp and was brand new, I hadn’t bothered to seek out replacement batteries, knowing we could get them from our resupply box in Vancouver…a few days away. We had the dim light of Gabriel’s Petzel e-lite as its battery was also fading out. Inconvenient but enough to feel our way up the trail.

Walking in darkness makes miles seem longer. And it certainly doesn’t help when it’s mile 38, 39 and 40 of the day that you’re trying to cover 40 miles. We started to climb up hill in soft volcanic soil. Sinking ankle deep into soft soils felt like we were going up a sand dune, our leg muscles and our joints told us they wanted to be done. Despite the challenge, the sandy soil was promise that we were approaching Timberline Lodge. Gabriel was familiar with this stretch of trail as he and his dad hiked it previously (while completing the circumnavigation of the Mt. Hood Round the Mountain Trail). The night was warm and in the distance we could see the glow of fires from various camps So welcoming, but they were not our place to stop.

We crossed the Upper Salmon River and it was time for our last song of the night: “We Are The Champions” by Queen. Two tenths of mile later we’d made it to the trail junction in the copse of trees that overlooks Timberline Lodge. We could hear guests in the lodge laughing and clinking glasses.

8:30 pm. We’d done it! Hiking 40 miles had taken us ~14.25 hours, our own personal record.

Quietly we laid out our sleeping bags as nearby hikers had just turned in for the night. Soon our bodies cooled off and stiffened up with the realization that the accumulation of miles had ended for the day. I ate a few spoonfuls of semi-re-hydrated black beans and went to bed. Gabriel sat on the trail in the dark, looked at the lights of the lodge and ate some cold cereal. We’d established a pattern: after finishing our big trail days we ate rather puny meals. We’d make up for it tomorrow morning.

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