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August 29th, Friday
2131 to 2155 via Eagle Creek Alternate
Today was the day that we’d be leaving Oregon. Granted, we wouldn’t start hiking in Washington until Monday, but still! We were hiking to the border, crossing Bridge of the Gods, and then spending the weekend at Xfest music festival in Stevens, Washington, which, by a bizarre coincidence, we had reached just in time.
We had decided to take an alternate called the Eagle Creek Trail, which was supposed to be really beautiful, and also had one of the most iconic landmarks near the PCT route: Tunnel Falls, a waterfall that you could walk under. We were excited for the detour. Gary was going to hike up Eagle Creek to meet us somewhere along the way.
We were both aching from every joint this morning, but we still got packed up quickly and made an early start. We pressed on through the woods, soon emerging onto a ridge. Clouds hung low over the mountains, and we had a great view of the verdant woods that rose into peaks off to our left. Before long we hiked up into the clouds, walking in a misty wonderland with volcanic rock and weathered wooden trail signs lending an eerie feel. We saw some people ahead in the mist and felt vaguely unsettled until they said hi and proved they were real.
Soon we hiked down out of the clouds, and the sky began to clear. We paused at Indian Spring Trail, which would lead us down to the Eagle Creek alternate, and sat at a picnic table at the trailhead. A regular posse of hikers were hanging out there. There were a few thru-hikers, two girls who had massive blisters (we offered them bandages), and a couple middle-aged guys who were finishing up hiking the Oregon section.
“So where are you guys from?” the section-hikers, both Oregon natives, asked.
“I’m from Portland and she’s from St. Louis,” Zach said.
“So you guys live in Portland, then?”
I smiled. “Actually, we live in St. Louis.”
The first guy’s face contorted in disbelief. “Why?”
I bristled a little, remembering the reason that Oregonians often rub me the wrong way.
“We like St. Louis,” Zach said evenly. I’m very attached to my home city (and home state), and Zach mostly just likes being in one place, regardless of where it might be.
“But Oregon is the most beautiful place on earth!” the guy insisted. “Nothing compares to Oregon!”
“It is beautiful,” I said, and I meant it, although I was tempted to say that Washington was prettier, just to rile him up. “But St. Louis is my home.”
“Psh,” the guy said, shaking his head in disbelief. Then he turned to Zach, trying to appeal to his fellow Oregonian instead of the poor delusional Midwesterner. “I’m sure you guys will move back to Oregon someday.” He shook his head again. “St. Louis.” He spoke the name with the most depressing inflection I’d ever heard.
I bit my tongue. This wasn’t the first time we’d heard comments like this, especially since we’d gotten to Oregon. No one could understand why someone from Portland would move to Missouri (especially with all the white cops killing all the black people all the time as riots burn the city to the ground, as is commonplace in St. Louis, obviously), and often expressed this idea with a rather innocent rudeness.
Zach and I filled our water bottles and took off down the Eagle Creek Trail. Once we were out of earshot, I blurted out, “Oregonians drive me nuts! They think that Oregon is the garden of Eden and everything else is a hellhole! I mean, Oregon’s beautiful, but still! If we lived in Portland, we’d be poor the rest of our lives. And I like St. Louis! It’s my home!”
Zach tried to pacify me, and at last I calmed down. Zach wanted to live in St. Louis, and that should be good enough for me.
The trail here, since it wasn’t an equestrian route, didn’t have to follow the switchbacking guidelines that the PCT adhered to. Ergo, the trail was extremely steep, so much so that I was afraid of tumbling down it face-forward. After a while it leveled out into more reasonable switchbacks, and we hiked through the drier pine forests, across volcanic scree fields, and into a forest that I can only describe as prehistoric.
All the plants were huge: huge ferns, huge drapes of moss, huge firs, huge-leafed undergrowth, huge boulders covered in a carpet of moss and ferns. The air was moist but cool. Soon the train ran alongside Eagle Creek, a clear brook that shimmered in the green-filtered light of the forest. It was flanked by smooth brown banks of rock, sometimes overshadowed by porous rock sprouting with ferns and shaggy moss. It was magical.
As we walked down the mountain, Eagle Creek kept falling into a waterfall, pooling up, rushing along, and falling down again. It was like walking next to a narrow giant’s staircase, with the ground unexpectedly falling away beneath the water at every turn. One moment, we’d be walking on flat ground with the creek babbling beside us, the next moment we were on a sheer cliff with the waters of the creek nearly forty feet below us, and the trail cut a gradual path alongside the cliff to meet the waters on flat ground again. Sometimes the trail had a metal cable attached to the cliffside so we could keep our balance on the slippery rock.
At last we turned a corner, and ahead of us saw Tunnel Falls. I had always seen videos of the falls in the PCT class video, and this was one of the few places on trail that looked just how I imagined it. The falls were narrow but incredibly tall, pouring in from a hundred feet above and plunging down sixty-five feet below. A tunnel had been blasted out behind it, with a narrow cliff-side trail hung with cables leading up to it.
Zach ventured out first on the slippery stones, and I said I’d film him, though he made me promise not to try to walk and film at the same time. He edged along the trail and walked under the falls, then I followed. I felt the cold spray of the falls on my skin as I walked along the wet sharp stones on the path. Just before I got to the falls, my hand caught a frayed edge of the metal cable, and it slit into my palm. I ducked through the dripping tunnel, emerged on the other side, and looked at the four neat cuts that ran across the inside of my right hand’s fingers. “I cut myself,” I said, watching the blood start to ooze.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I really hope this scars!” (Sadly, it didn’t.)
I rubbed some antibiotic cream on it and called it good enough. Taking one last look at the breathtaking falls, we continued down the trail.
Not too long after, we saw Gary hiking up the trail toward us. He had jogged most of the way to meet us as early as he did. Soon the three of us were plodding down the steep trail, admiring the continuing cascade of Eagle Creek and chatting. My feet were burning like fire today, for no particular reason, and I began to wonder if I shouldn’t get new shoes. I’d gotten these shoes at Old Station and put almost 800 miles’ worth of wear on them, and they were getting pretty thin. Since my boots hadn’t worked out, I needed new shoes for the Washington segment.
We had a nice talk with Gary as we hiked, crossing some impressive bridges that spanned dizzying narrow deep gorges. Before long we saw lots of day-hiking tourists.
The trail wound us through several impressive features, including a massive clear pool where some people went swimming. We shouldered our way through hordes of tourists, and at last emerged at the trailhead.
The trail technically continued another mile along a greenway to get to Cascade Locks, but we had to get to the post office before 5:00 and we were cutting it close as it was. We had long ago let go of any purism, so we all hopped into his car. Gary gave us ice-cold Cokes from the cooler and drove down the road to the small town of Cascade Locks. Zach jumped out and ran into the post office to pick up our box.
Gary drove us to the nearest restaurant, called Ale House. We ordered pizza and Greek salad, then sat and tried to figure out our paperwork for entry into Canada. We needed some color copies of our IDs but didn’t know where in town to get them.
As we were discussing some ridiculously complicated possibilities, our waitress overhead our dilemma and spoke up. She worked at a printing shop right across the street and actually took us over there so we could make the copies! We thanked her profusely, but she said she was happy to help. “You’re not the first hikers who’ve had this problem,” she said.
Now we gave all our paperwork to Gary, and he said that he would put it all together and send it to Canada. We only hoped that it would get there in time for us to get our permits.
Gary offered to drive us across the river, but we said that we wanted to hike across the border, so he dropped us off at the Bridge of the Gods and drove over to meet us on the other side. Zach and I pulled on our backpacks (even though we didn’t have to) and walked up to the toll booth for Bridge of the Gods.
“PCT hikers?” the woman at the toll booth asked with a smile. “There’s no toll for you. Just walk against traffic and be careful.”
Thanking her, we stepped out onto the bridge, hugging the left side.
The Bridge of the Gods is iconic. And narrow. And instead of pavement, it has metal grating. And the side rails are very wide apart.
Whereas Zach has a fear of falling, I have a fear of heights, regardless of whether or not it’s likely I’ll fall. He strode ahead with confidence, and I trembled behind him, my knees feeling weak and my head dizzy. The metal grating under my feet rumbled and rattled as cars drove over. The Columbia River, huge as only the great rivers can be, stretched out far below us. A lone osprey wheeled over the water. We were on a slender metal stretch over a huge river with massive mountains rising up on either side. We were at the place that my parents had wanted to hike to but couldn’t, the place where Cheryl Strayed concluded her hike, the place where we so badly wanted to quit and pretend that we had succeeded. Getting here was an incredible accomplishment— but getting here wasn’t what we had set out to do.
We were headed to Canada, and I felt like nothing could stop us now.
Legs trembling, cars inching by us, I realized that we were almost back on solid ground. We were almost to Washington. My legs sped up and I saw Zach on the other side, waving at me and laughing at how terrified I looked. Laughing too, I raced toward him, hopping off the bridge back onto dry land.
Gary took us into the tiny town of Stevenson for an ATM, then dropped us off at the town fairgrounds, where Zach and I checked into the festival. We said goodbye to Gary— he promised to come hike one more little section of trail with us on Monday when we set out.
Now Zach and I walked into the fairgrounds, looking out at a wide field dotted with cars, with a lake off to the right, a complex of buildings to the left, the Columbia River ahead with looming mountains, where we’d come from. Behind us stood the continuing Cascades, which we would tackle on Monday, and all the rest of Washington.
But in the meantime, we walked across the mown grass, looking for our friends that we had planned to meet here. We had a weekend of relaxing and music ahead of us— and then we would be off to hike the final leg of the trail.