PCT 12: Breaks From the Trail and Bonus Miles

After having completed my personal challenge day of 50 miles my feet felt like they had been through a tenderizer. Waking up the next morning at my parents house in a bed felt surreal after having pushed myself so hard the previous day and sleeping in a tent for the last several months, but I couldn’t wait to go pick up my trail family and show them around Bend.

After resting a bit I borrowed my parents Westy and grabbed some beer and snacks to offer as trail magic to my trail family and anyone else that decided to hike out to Elk Lake from the PCT.

Once at the trail head Town and I met up, since he had already made it to Elk Lake, and we hung out waiting for the rest of the trail family to arrive. Several other hikers came through and were stoked to get a little trail magic. It felt good to be giving back a bit after having received so much from other trail angels and intermittent rain gave everyone a good excuse to cram in the Westy and share trail stories. Eventually Bolo and Bunyon arrived right when the rain started coming down heavily and we took off to explore Bend and rest up.

Meanwhile, While I was shuttling people from Elk Lake, Happy Feet had experienced some kind of nasty stomach bug and ended up backtracking to Shelter Cove to try to hitch a ride to Bend so he could catch up with us. He was miraculously able to get a ride all the way to Bend with another PCT hiker who was section hiking and was leaving Shelter Cove in a vehicle at the exact same time! Happy Feet actually beat us back to my parents house and was waiting for us when I returned with everyone else.

Bunyon of course had already been to Bend while visiting my family in the past and we were all excited to cook up some real meals and show everyone else around. Over the next several days we all went brewery hoping, river floating and had an awesome burrito night. It was nice to see my brother as well who joined us for some of the pct hiker outings and was also extremely nice in gifting us some trail cheer!

My parents were extremely gracious in hosting us and other hikers looking for a place to rest and resupply from. In one night they even hosted over 25 hikers when a big group was passing through and looking for a place to stay.

Burrito night in Bend

There were also several hikers who had experienced some nasty trail injuries and my parents were able to give them a place to heal up and go to the hospital. One of these hikers was Snowcat, who I had hiked with on and off again over a week in Northern California. He had sadly broken his foot and would have to get off trail from Bend, but he promised himself to try and complete the whole PCT in a single season in the next year or two.

Just a few of the hikers and bike tourers hosted by my parents!

It was fantastic to be home but I was excited to get back on trail, the weather was beautiful and we were just entering the part of Oregon I was truly excited to hike through. We were about to start in the Three Sisters wilderness, my outdoor backyard per say from growing up, and I got to work trying to talk my trail family into joining me on a bonus side hike from the PCT. I wanted to spend the night on top of South Sister before continuing on the PCT northwards.

It didn’t take too much convincing before everyone was looking forwards to the PCT alternative and spending the night on top of a volcano. I had already done this on several occasions but hadn’t returned to South Sister for a few years; and Bunyon had only hiked South Sister once when it was extremely cloudy so the view would be new for everyone except me.

Hiking off of the PCT felt funny and we didn’t run into any other PCT hikers during our side excursion. Most other hikers had rushed hard through this area to get to PCT Days but we made plans to head back to Bend after the Three Sisters Wilderness and carpool to PCT days. There were many multi day backpackers roaming around and the hike up to the summit was beautiful with clear views all around.

Cooling off a little at Morain Lake on our way up South Sister
Having a quick snack break partway up South Sister with Bolo, Town, Happy Feet and Bunyon
Birds eye view on the last ascent with Mt Bachelor in the background

Once at the top we quickly set up camp in the improvised wind shelters and then wandered over to the true summit to enjoy the view and relax in our awesome camp spot. Town, being the mechanical engineer that he was, re-engineered his wind shelter while Happy feet wandered around trying to get his kite to fly (he had recently acquired it from a hiker box) while Bunyon practiced her ukulele and befriended another summit camper who also happened to be a musician.

Happy Feets wind fortress. Many of these smelled strongly of pee because people summiting South Sister would rather pee in a shelter than walk 20 feet down slope….
Town watching the Happy Feet Summit Show
The best Ukulele practice spot

The views were some of the best since the Sierras and watching the sunset and pyramid shadow of the mountain growing out was a magical moment. Knowing that there were so many beautiful spots just off of the PCT made me want to slow down and take my time even more, but I knew that completing the rest of the PCT was going to take priority for me before the fall weather turned.

Town’s camp spot and re-engineered wind shelter
Watching the shadow of South Sister grow as the sun sets
That glow though!

The following morning we descended South Sister to return to the PCT and to hike through the rest of the Three Sisters Wilderness. We met many more day hikers and even one woman who had hiked the PCT in the previous year. Hiking around the base of the three sisters was beautiful as always with meadows, cool streams and massive lava flows breaking up the landscape. I had backpacked this section with my dad and our neighbor Peter when I was in middle school, many years before, and I hadn’t been back to this section of trail since. It was sad to see several burns had gone through since my time there but it was still exciting to be on a section of trail I had hiked before. This was the first time I was on a section of the PCT I had already been.

South Sister from the base, fun to think we had just been sleeping up there.

At one lake we enjoyed a little swimming and befriended two back packers who were out for a shorter trip. Town elected to hang out with them while the rest of us continued on to camp just north of the Obsidian Falls area near the base of North Sister. The obsidian was beautiful and I even had a wonderful photography moment capturing the reflection of the sun setting on North Sister in a particularly massive slab of obsidian.

The sun setting on Obsidian Falls
Reflections of North Sister with the glow of a setting sun
Looking north at Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack and Mt Jefferson

Town caught up to us the next morning and we continued into the largest lava flow we had hiked through yet We were making good progress on our way towards the McKenzie pass and the observatory where we planned on hitching back to Bend and then carpooling to PCT days. At the road we ran into several trail angels giving out trail magic and despite there being five of us we got a ride rather quickly.

Bunyon entering the lava flow at the base of North Sister

We spent one more night in Bend and we met back up with Bird who had just arrived in Bend after hitching from Crater Lake! We hadn’t seen her since saying goodbye at the miserably cold cut off point for Bishop pass, months ago in the Sierras, so it was great to see her. She had pushed hard to try and catch up after taking time off of the trail and had timed it perfectly to join us for trail days.

We all crammed into Bunyons Subaru before heading out to PCT trail days at Cascade Locks not knowing what to expect. Happy Feet had attended the Appalachian trail days when he hiked the AT but they sounded like two very different events. During the drive it felt strange to be driving parallel to the PCT knowing we would be hiking in this direction again taking days to do what took us less than three hours to drive. Town and Happy Feet almost had a mutiny so we would stop at a McDonald’s and I finally folded when we arrived at Hood River, 20 minutes from Cascade Locks.

Once at trail days we headed to the campsite designated on Thunder Island in the Columbia river. It was a beautiful spot to camp with the gorge rising up around us and the massive river flowing past. There were hundreds of other through hikers already there and many venues set up advertising outdoor gear. We immediately began seeing familiar faces from other hikers who we hadn’t seen for months and after setting up our camp I enjoyed the family reunion vibes while wandering around.

Everyone setting up camp on Thunder Island in the Columbia River Gorge

While at PCT days I found that I enjoyed seeing familiar hiker faces more than anything. There were many raffle events and Bunyon even won a backpack!

Bunyon and I also discussed how she wanted to best appreciate the trail from here on out and that would involve going at a slower pace. I wanted to enjoy hiking the trail with her but we were both on different missions with what we wanted to get out of through hiking. While I was enjoying it greatly I also was comfortable with pushing for bigger days and completing the rest of the trail through to the Canadian border. Bunyon wanted to go slower and was excited for the Washington section more than anything. With this in mind Bunyon decided she wanted to hike her own hike and start from PCT days and jump ahead by 200 miles from where we had left trail in Central Oregon. I was very proud of her for making this choice and although it meant she would be heading out alone it also meant she could go at the exact speed she wanted to. She could truly slow down and enjoy as much of what the trail had to offer as possible with every side hike and bonus lake.

On the last day at PCT days Bolo, Happy Feet, Town, Bunyon, Bird and I gathered in front of the Cascade Locks grocery store for one last goodbye with Bunyon. I would miss her but couldn’t be more proud for her heading out on her own to hike to her own tune and not compromise her happiness on trail. And with that we had a long hug and she was off to cross the Bridge of the Gods and enter a whole new state, solo on the PCT for the first time. We all knew this would be the last time we would be together as a trail family unless we could all push hard to catch up to her before the Canadian border but there were many miles to go and more places in Oregon we all wanted to explore before returning to this point.

The trail family together with Bunyon one last time at the grocery store of Cascade Locks. (From left, Bolo, Happy Feet [milk], Town, Bunyon, Cro-Magnon and Bird)

We all piled back into Bunyons car, short a Bunyon, so I could drive the rest of us back to Bend to get back onto the PCT from where we had left off. While driving back south I couldn’t help but think about how the first few days alone would be intense for her, but solo time on any adventure was paramount sometimes to come to a fuller understanding of ones self and what we each want to get out of the journey individually.

Once back in Bend, Bird gathered her things and we dropped her off at the bus station so she could head back to her jump off point at Crater Lake, vowing to catch up with us somewhere north.

With one last night in Bend I said goodbye to both of my parents having come to Bend now a total of three times from the PCT. I couldn’t have asked for more amazing support in this journey from them and I know for them they gained allot from the experience of hosting backpackers. I had been looking forwards to visiting them in Bend from day one on the PCT and had talked to many of my trail family members about staying there as well.

With this highly anticipated part of the PCT over, and having said goodbye to Bunyon, so she could enjoy the trail in her own way, what lay north felt like a new and intense adventure. We had to make it to Canada in time before the weather turned, I wanted to stop over in Portland to visit old friends of mine and after hiking through the Jefferson wilderness I was going to, again, be back in unknown territory.

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