Thursday, August 13, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 114: In Which a Bad Day Becomes an Awesome Day

Stumbles, Ranger Jim, Happy Nomad, and Trinket.
DAY 114
August 16th, Saturday
Nip and Tuck Lakes to 1904.1

We woke up to a gray sky above our tent. My feet were already aching, and Zach was grumpy. One of his toenails was starting to in-grow, and both of us had tendon issues in our feet. There was nothing to do but keep walking forward, though.

We packed up and trudged along on throbbing feet, hoping that the allegedly gorgeous scenery would distract us from the pain. Unfortunately, we began to realize that the sobos who had raved about the Oregon Skyline Alternate were probably just trying to justify taking the shorter route (which, to be fair, we were doing as well). The woods were comprised of thin trees with scraggly underbrush, hardly a breathtaking sight after all we’d been through. We also had a hard time following the trail, because there was a maze of trails in this tourist area, and our GPS track wasn’t very accurate, making us get off-trail and have to backtrack a bit. We ran into a sobo who helped us navigate the route, and at last found ourselves at a horse camp where the path from here was clear.

We stopped here to eat lunch, taking advantage of the picnic tables and potable water. Trailers were parked all around— this was certainly a popular destination for horseback riders. Zach and I weren’t overly fond of horses on the trail. The PCT is technically an equestrian trail as well, but hikers as a rule dislike horses: their hooves turn the trail to mud, and their manure is everywhere. Still, we were holding out for the gorgeous scenery we’d been promised.

Zach and I finished lunch and took off on the trail, noting with dismay the powdery dust on the dry stretches (again, caused by horses), and mires of horse-trodden muddy manure in the wet spots. We labored over this ground for a while, then stepped off-trail for a moment to have a snack. 

As we stood up and donned our packs, we saw a couple women on horseback approaching. I stepped out of the way to let them by.

“Hi,” Zach said.

With a violence lurch, the horse in front reared up and spun 180, almost throwing its rider. The other rider screamed at us, “Talk to the horses! Don’t move! Talk to them!”

“Hi horse!” we said, freezing. “We’re not scary. It’s okay. We’re just people.”

The horses snorted and backed up, pawing the ground, ears laid back, eyes bulging so you could see the whites.

“Talk more!” the lady yelled at us. “Don’t move!”

“Sorry we scared you, horse. It’s okay. We’re not going to hurt you.” I felt tense as a bowstring, trying to keep this thousand-pound animal from throwing its rider or trampling me.

By now the women had their horses under control, but the animals were still terrified of us— I guess with our hats and backpacks and trekking poles, we looked like monsters. 

The woman who had nearly been thrown gave a flustered sigh. “Why on earth were you hiding off-trail like that?”

Zach and I stared at her, dumbfounded. We hadn’t been hiding— we were just snacking on the side of the trail instead of the middle! But we just said, “Sorry.”

“All right, stand still and keep talking,” the lady snapped. “We’re going to go ahead of you.”

“Okay. Nice horse, it’s okay. It’s all right.” We stood absolutely frozen.

The women tried to get their horses to walk by us, but the horses, after some terrified resistance, bolted past us. Once we were gone, Zach and I cautiously stepped back on trail, avoiding the manure, and looked both ways before continuing on.

Not five minutes later, we turned a sudden bend in the trail and came up on a chain of horses riding toward us. The horses freaked out and bolted sideways off the trail, causing their owners to cry aloud and then yell at us, “Talk to them! Talk to my horse!” 

Once again we found ourselves standing dead-still off the trail, trying to think of something to say to a bunch of crazed horses. With a disgusted glare at us, the riders managed to get their animals back on trail and continue on.

By this time, Zach and I were feeling downright curmudgeonly. It wasn’t our fault that these people didn’t know how to control their horses! Not only that, but we kept on catching up to the two women on the horses we’d scared in the first place. The ground here was flat, so Zach and I were, apparently, walking faster than a horse’s walk. My adrenaline was on high alert, eyes and ears straining to catch a sign of horses approaching from in front or behind. I didn’t want to get trampled.

At last the women in front of us turned around (their horses were still terrified of us). She was calmer now, and told us that she was actually a PCT volunteer who helped maintain the trail. We thanked her for her hard work, but I was still a bit mad at her.

At last we seemed to leave the horses behind, and climbed a hill further into the same scraggly, nondescript woodland as we’d been walking through all day.

After several miles, we came across a lake off to our left— Diamond View Lake, the one the sobos had raved about. We had planned to stop here and have lunch, but I felt a jolt of terror as I saw three horses hitched up nearby.

The people who owned the horses— a couple with two little kids and some Australian shepherds— were having a picnic by the lake shore in the shade of the trees. We said hello to them, nervously eyeing the horses. They said hi back and said to come over and sit with them. We approached, nervously looking over at their animals. 

“Hi horses!” I said in a gentle voice. “We’re not predators, it’s okay, we’re not going to hurt you.”

The father chuckled a little. “It’s okay, they’re used to hikers.” 

I swung off my pack, and the horses didn’t even flinch. “We’ve just had some bad experiences today.”

Zach and I told them about all the scared horses we’d dealt with today, and the mother and father rolled their eyes. “People are taking out horses that aren’t used to hikers,” the father said. “It’s a terrible idea. No horse should bolt just seeing you.”

Feeling more relaxed, Zach and I ate a snack and chatted with them, telling them about our trip so far. They were on a weekend camping trip, and gave us some gourmet protein bars, which was nice.

In the meantime, we saw Diamond View Lake, and it was definitely beautiful. But it certainly didn’t hold a candle to anything we’d seen in the Sierra or northern California or anything else in Oregon. The Oregon Skyline Trail was simply a lazy person’s route to shave off miles. We admitted this to ourselves, and tried to justify it by saying that at least we had thought it was going to be more beautiful! I suppose our encounters with the horses were expressions the just wrath of the trail gods, punishing us for our sin.

I felt grumpy in the cluttered, thin-treed woods as we continued on, but at last the woods deepened into a beautiful Oregon forest, run through with streams and drenched in moss. Finally!

Not long after that, we popped out onto a road and followed some signs to Shelter Cove Resort, positioned on the edge of a wide grayish-blue cove. There was some sort of massive barbecue going on, and the sheer amount of people dizzied me as we walked up.

There was a site with picnic tables just for the hikers, and a note that we could all camp at one of the campsites further into the pine woods for a small fee. We set our packs down, said hi to the other hikers, and walked inside the camp store.

Our maps said there was a pizza place nearby, but someone informed us that it had shut down. And we had to pay an unexpected fee for our box. And my feet were still aching a worrisome amount. And when a curious tourist asked where I was from and I said St. Louis, he gave me a grave look and said, “Oh, man. Did you hear the latest about Ferguson? The riots just keep going. I heard they were bringing in tanks. I’ll bet you’re so glad not to be over there in that war zone.”

All told, none of this put me in a very good mood. I sulked outside at a picnic table, trying not to spread my bad mood around. I wished I was in St. Louis. I wished I could be there to… do something. See what was really happening, not just what random people said the news said was happening. Be there for my friends who lived in the Ferguson area. And I also wanted pizza.

In the midst of my pity party, a random older tourist walked up to me and plopped a full-sized watermelon down on the picnic table. “Would you like a watermelon?”

When you haven’t had fresh fruit in weeks upon weeks (other than huckleberries) and someone offers you a watermelon, you can’t feel too sorry for yourself. “Holy cow would I like a watermelon!”

“Here, I’ll cut it up for you,” the man said, which was considerate of him because the only knife we had was a multitool with an inch-long blade. He cut the melon into slices, wished me luck, and walked off. I laid into the melon— it was perfectly ripe— and announced to any hikers who walked by that it was up for grabs. It was definitely a bright spot in my afternoon.

Zach also bought some chips, which we bladed through like woodchucks. It was kind of terrifying the volume of food we could eat now without feeling sick.

As we sat licking salty crumbs off our fingers, Zach sighed. “Well.”


“You want to head back to trail?”

“Yeah. No sense in paying for camping here.”

He nodded. We sat side by side for a minute, listless. Then, with great force of will, we got up. 

Just then, “our crew” walked up. They were all together— Stumbles, Happy Nomad, Butterfly, Lobby, and Trinket. My spirits instantly lifted as we saw them, and waved as they walked in, glad that we hadn’t left before they arrived!

Trinket dropped her pack, grinning ear to ear. “All right, I’m buying pizza and beer for everyone!” (That’s always a good thing to hear when you’re on trail.) “You guys are staying, right?”

Ten minutes later, we (“our crew,” plus an older fellow named Ranger Jim) were crowded around the picnic table in front of the camp store with piles of beverages heaped around. Trinket had bought Zach a beer, and me a soda since I don’t like beer, and everyone else had bought six-packs so there’d be plenty of alcohol to go around, and there were chips and two pizzas and hot dogs and watermelon and frozen margaritas. Lobby poured wine into her metal camp bowl and drank it like a flagon. Happy Nomad passed around a fancy microbrew he’d bought. We laid into the food like we’d never eaten before. 

Soon I felt so full and relaxed and grateful that I was almost crying. We laughed and joked— I can’t even remember what was so funny or what on earth we were talking about, but I remember laughing so hard I felt like I couldn’t breathe. We swapped stories  and goofed off and enjoyed each other’s company over good food and drink late into the evening.

Now it was almost hiker midnight (9:00), and everyone said they were staying at the campground. Stumbles said, “Look, guys, I will pay for you to stay. You’re coming with us!” We didn’t even try to protest. We all walked through the maze of camp trails, past tents and huge RVs with barbecue grills and twinkling lights, to the PCT campsite. It was a bit secluded, with plenty of places to camp under the fir trees. We all set up our tents. Then Ranger Jim said goodnight, but the rest of us scoured the forest for wood and piled it in a heap.

Now a fire sprang to life under Happy Nomad’s hands, and we gathered around it. I sat on the ground with my back against a log, next to Zach’s legs. We laughed and talked and shared stories and drank beer and laughed and talked some more. Zach dutifully paced his drinks, but I had never seen him drink so much beer in one sitting. Trinket was downright loopy, and we laughingly admonished her, saying that as the oldest person present, and Lobby’s mom to boot, she should be the responsible one! But she was the one who kept on throwing fuel on the fire, even when it blazed up into an inferno.

We talked about anything and everything— weird people we’d met on trail, incredible people we’d met on trail, drugs and relationships and past heartbreaks and future dreams and everything in between. All the while, through laughter and seriousness, the sparks danced off the fire, flying into the stars.

At last Happy Nomad wouldn’t let Trinket put any more fuel on the fire, and the flames died slowly. Finally we all agreed it was time for bed— it was almost 2 in the morning, hours later than I had stayed up since we started the trail! Everyone was a little tipsy at this point, and I was no exception, even though I hadn’t had any alcohol— I felt more relaxed now than I had since we started the trail. We all laughed and wished each other goodnight and stumbled to our tents. 

I felt happy. So did Zach. It was incredible to feel this happy for this long. We both couldn’t stop giggling as we crawled into the tent, and I secretly wondered if someone had spiked my soda. Or maybe this is what not being uptight felt like. I had almost forgotten.

Zach and I curled up into our nice warm sleeping bag, with a cool breeze on our faces and the shining stars above, and fell into a deep sleep.



  1. Sounds like an absolutely lovely time, which you both so needed!!!! LOL

  2. I'm glad you had a great time relaxing and laughing. An attitude of gratitude makes for a happy person.