August 5th, Tuesday
1677 to 1703
Once again, I woke up in the night to smell smoke, its acrid smell creeping through the tent. But, as I had done every night before, I willed myself to ignore it and fell back to sleep.
When I woke up, the trees above our heads were wrapped in a ghostly shroud of smoke. I groaned and sat up, looking over to see Stumbles and Alex packing up. Would we never get free of this blasted smoke?
Still, we had our eyes on the prize today: we were going to reach Oregon. Oregon. It was almost a holy name in my mind. Even though it made no actual difference, it was going to be so psychologically helpful to be in a different state. We’d heard that Oregon was the shortest and easiest section of trail. I kind of knew what to expect, having hiked in Oregon before. I was incredibly excited to see Crater Lake for the first time, and even more excited to meet up with some of Zach’s family when we got near Portland. Oregon was full of promise, and we wanted to get there as soon as possible.
We were hiking through forest now, and we paused to gather water at a spring and ended up talking with Stumbles. We learned that she loved music, especially piano and voice. We sang songs from Les Miserables together and watched the cows peering at us through the brush.
Stumbles had lunch at the spring, but we hiked on, eager to reach Oregon in good time. The trail wound through woods and open fields full of cattle. We were getting down to the last mile of the state, mile 1688.
White diamonds blazed the trail, as they always did in northern California. On one of the diamonds, someone had written in Sharpie, “Bye, California” with a heart. Upon seeing that, I got a sudden flood of nostalgia. California flashed before my eyes in a moment: the surreal first steps, the sand, the wide sky, the speckled white mountains, the acorn woodpeckers, the tall trees, the dappled sunlight, the twisted conifers, the moraines and scree fields and peaks and ridges and valleys and rivers and creeklets and barren hills and stark beauty and sights that I would never, ever forget. I now knew California more intimately than I know my own state. I had a new perspective on its people and its land.
All at once, I realized that I was going to miss it.
Then I set my eyes forward and hiked faster.
We wound through a grassy valley, then climbed a small hill, and we saw it. There was nothing fancy— a metal box on a podium holding a trail register, and a simple wooden sign nailed to a tree that said, “OREGON/CALIFORNIA.”
We hustled up to it. We paused, looking at the sign. Then, side by side, we stepped over the border into Oregon.
“We’re in Oregon!” I hollered. My voice fell dead in the hazy woodland.
“We made it!”
We just stood and looked at each other.
“We probably should’ve bought something special to celebrate,” I said. “Wine or something.”
“Do we have anything special?”
“Uh, we have Snickers.”
Snickers were our staple, but we weren’t sick of them yet. We sat down, on the Oregon side, and each ate a Snickers to celebrate. The woods were quiet all around us. We both felt exhausted and subdued. The trail register wasn’t even a book, but a crumpled mass of loose papers. We saw almost no names we knew. So many people had skipped these miles for one reason or another.
Our spirits lifted a bit when Stumbles came hiking up. We cheered and clapped her in, then cheered and clapped for Alex a minute later. We laughed and joked and took each other’s photos in front of the sign. It wasn’t as climactic as I had hoped, but at least we had good people to share the moment.
We all lingered for a little while, feeling like we had to savor the moment even though it wasn’t a particularly sparkling one. But after about twenty minutes, we all decided to hike on. Stumbles pointed out a place several miles away that allegedly had several campsites, and suggested that we all head for it. Zach and I didn’t mind keeping company with them, so we aimed for it as well.
We hiked into Oregon, winding along green ridges as a wind picked up. The sky was blue above our heads, but in a burnt, faded way, like an old photograph— we weren’t out of the fire danger yet. Still, it was nice to walk along in the sharp wind with fresh air (though still slightly tinged with the smell of smoke) blowing over our faces.
The campsite was on an old jeep road, and the wind was whipping fiercely here. Still, there was nothing to do but bundle up and set up. We could see the rows of mountains marching into the distance from here, with light refracting through the smoky clouds.
With the whipping wind, I was actually cold! That hadn’t happened in a while. Stumbles and Alex shared a tent to keep warm, and Zach and I found a nook behind a pine tree to shield us from some of the wind.
We were out of the worst of the smoke and fire. We had taken a risk in hiking this section of trail, and it had paid off. After 1700 miles of toil and determination, we had finally walked from the Mexican border to Oregon.