If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hiking Oregon: on-foot journey through memories and miracles. This is MY story.

“People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.”
Thich Nhat Hahn

p.s. of sorts: this post's length is not for a faint of heart, but neither was the length of my journey. I tried to shorten it, I truly did. For s shortcut, see photos here.

I've been planning this hike for a good 4 months, not to mention I had dreamt it up all the way back, as soon as I finished my Tahoe Rim Trail solo backpacking trip in August of last year. I read the book, twice, studied the maps, allocated the better camping spots and water resources, as well as resupply options, based on said Tahoe trip - you know, if 28 miles a day for 6 days was quite alright, then 30 miles a day for 15 days sounds good too, right? Same backpack, same 50 lbs starting weight, some more experience...In a retrospect, that Tahoe hike was a walk in a park that lulled me into The Plan to do 450 Oregon miles in 15 days, but at the same time, I wouldn't have changed it for a minute...

The journey of 450-some miles in 15 days hiking through Oregon has come to an end. A lot to say, and not easy to put into words. It's been a walk on the most beautiful trails in the most amazing place. 30 miles a day is a lot to walk, and in the morning hours it felt like I could go on forever, and in the late afternoon - like I can't make another step. It's been a snow blizzard in July, an all-out rain, and a gorgeous sunshine. A soft pine-needle covered trails, red sandy dirt, lava, rock, long snow drifts with nowhere to go, and blow downed trees like an obstacle course on steroids. Cold sleepless nights and sore feet in agony. Ramen noodles for breakfast and dinner, and 7 granola bars to last for 12 hours days. The miles got faster as the days went by, but the miles never got easier. It's been a story of miracles, amazing people, and faith in kindness. It's a story of being totally in place in the middle of nowhere and completely"hopelessly lost" anywhere civilization came. It's a journey of thoughts, plans, and being in the now like never before. The first steps with the grey light hitting horizon at 5 am, and stunning sunrises - the mountain tops, the golden rays over the trees, the birds waking up. It's about the people, people you meet on the trails, and people who help you when you are off them. It's a trail magic in life, not only as a through-hiker term. Its about their stories as much as mine. It's about being close to something, and letting go. It's has little to do with endurance, yet without it it wouldn't have been completed. It is all I wanted it to be, yet so different. It's a journey I will never forget. 

That was written on (yet another countless) sleepless night after I finally stopped walking. But the story began long before that...

It's the morning of Tuesday, July 5th, 3:30 am, and I am anxiously awaiting for Larry to throw some clothes on and take me to the airport for my Portland flight. All the days leading to that I've been excited, eager, happy - but now, in the dark of our house, I suddenly got washed with a feeling of...what, a freight, a fear? What is the best English term to describe what I felt?
- Larry, I think I am scared.
- I am pretty nervous too.
I quietly walked over the bookshelf in our office, and looked at the top shelf, where I keep a few small Russian Orthodox icons. I turned my face to them, and tried to remember a single prayer. I didn't know any - having grown up in time of Soviet era, while Russia is a country where religion is simply a part of the culture and so interweaved it's inseparable, going to church, especially as a daughter of big-shot Soviet Air-force commander and a communist, was frowned upon, and schools provided no education. So, I simply whispered, as I crossed over, top to bottom right to left: "Dear God, please lead me on a safe journey". It was time to go...

I had a connection in LAX, and as the flight took off and crossed the CA border into OR, I laughed quietly: I was given a private tour of my course, a fly-over, and I stared into those big green mountains and white peaks with intent: how will it go? And without a delay, as soon as a snow-capped peak of Mt. Hood showed up, tears welled up in my eyes - why, oh, why do I always cry when I see this mountain???

We landed, and my friend Lori Jensen picked me up and drove me to my Portland's "family home", to Monika and Stan. This couple (and their combined 4 adult children) are forever the only family I got here in US (outside Larry). They've been there for me in good times, and in times of my ugly separation and divorce, and near-poverty and loneliness, fed me, hugged me, clothed me, and encouraged and listened. They are my-always stop on my twice-a-year trips back "home-state". Portland, OR. It is home, no matter where I move and how long I am no longer there. May be part of me wanted to finally get the separation...

Backpack all packed, I checked my trail running shoes, and it dawned on me: these shoes had hiked and run over 500 miles already, and it shows. Holes almost poked through the sides of the mesh, no cushion left, and no time to replace. As I stared at them, a text from Meredith Terranova, my Austin friend, suddenly comes: "I have shoes and socks for you, come and get them!". Miracle? Almost, as I was in Portland, but on a fascinating note, Mer and I don't talk daily, and her message was like see-through magic. We had arranged that she will send them to Pam Smith, who was to come and "crew" for me somewhere on day 10. For now, my ol' shoes will have to do. I set in the backyard, knitting, trying to see the Big Picture...and it was still daunting. But part of me was getting calmer. This is it. Tomorrow is the day I will begin my journey.

The early bird Greyhound bus threw a ranch into my peacefulness - with over an hour delay in departure (the bus driver didn't wake up) and the people who ride it. I shouldn't care, but it was unsettling. I used up quiet a lot of my cell phone charge trying to express my feelings to Larry - and to accommodate the pick-up on the South Side of Oregon by my old-time friends from an ultrarunning community, Marilyn Bailey and Tom Pelsor. Nervous waves got to me again, as that phone, with no extra batteries or a charger, was to last me for emergency only for the whole 15 days. And the first miracle, the first Trail Magic, was presented - a woman on the bus overheard me mentioning it and extended her charger cord. Simultaneously, on the left side of a highway, a newly-building Russian Orthodox church appeared. I exhaled. "Dear God, please lead me on a safe journey".

And into the forest I go, to loose my mind, and find my soul. (Unknown)

Marilyn and Tom picked me up, and we drove for an hour on some dirt roads more South, until we stopped. Here, the PCT crossed, and the tail of CA border was only 0.25 miles away. Three of us walked over down and touched the sign. Here we go. PCT mile 1689. 455 miles to go. I signed my name in the registry: "Olga, The Russian". I didn't have a trail name yet...

They let me go, and soon I got into my own rhythm. My plan called for only 4.6 miles that first night (I began my walk at 4:30 pm on Wednesday, July 6th), but I knew I will push more. The days in July are long, and what can be better than making your way as you leave the civilized life behind...

A couple of miles in I got on a snow drift, and bushwhacked some sideways, away from the trail. Standing on top of the pass (instead of a saddle), I checked the maps out, looked around, figured it all out - and told myself: breathe, you can do it. Your first "lost", and your first "found". How many more to come?

I made it 7 miles that first evening, and stooped at the Wrangler Gap, right next to some dirt road crossing, but set the camp inside the canopy of a wide fur tree, that even though it was merely 20 feet away from the road, you wouldn't see it. It was time to "eat your pack's weight" and lighten the load...and watch my first sunset of the journey.

I wasn't sleeping well, anxiously waking up for good almost an hour before alarm's set (which was already set for an early 4:10 am). Quickly packing in, as soon as the grey light hit horizon and the need in a headlamp diminished, at 5 am, I set my foot on a trail. This is my official Day 1. This is the beginning of My Journey through Oregon.

Day 1. Wrangler Gap, PCT mile 1696. As the sun rose, I, as always, was amazed at the colors that lit the mountains, and as I passed a couple of sleeping tents, as always, was bewildered why people are not watching this most majestic moment. I love dawn hours, it's cool crisp air, it's sharp colors of gold and red, the huge circle showing up over something and breathing life into all that surrounds you...The feet are light, the belly still full of breakfast, and the shoulders are OK with the pack's weight. You can put some very decent miles, almost easy ones, between 5 am and 11 am, and I use it fully. But mostly, I love feeling that I am the only one in the whole world, and everything - everything around me - belongs to me. It's only I, mountains, trees, rising sun, and the sounds of waking up birds.

And so it was, walking up and down the trail, checking on the map's marks, mentally "crossing them over", and slowly detaching from the life left behind...when suddenly I come upon 2 beach chairs and 2 coolers with a sign: "PCT magic". And as I consider to sit and simply touch this part of the experience, as I hear a car behind the trees, and the voice yells out: "Olga! We are here!". What do you think? Another couple of my ultrarunning friends from the past, Ben and Mark, who tend to this spot from time to time, had heard that I started the hike - and what if not miracle had brought them exactly at the time I made a decision (also not often made when I walk) to stop and sit down? I began to believe I will have lots of miracles following me. We chatted for some time, and parted ways smiling.

The day grew hotter, the climbs provided, and the pack (with an extra sack hanging off it for the first day as it simply did not fit inside) was pulling my shoulders, thirsty, my feet getting sand and dirt inside my 500 miles shoes, and all I could think about: could I, and why?

Finally, the Interstate-5 showed, and I set on a rock to call Larry, our first scheduled check-in. It was so good to hear his voice! I was couple of hours ahead - between longer Day 0 and some good walk, it gave me time to be still for a moment. And, of course, as soon as I put down the phone and went to cross under highway to pick up the trail on the other side - I got "lost" for good 30 min, running back and forward and looking for signs. Why, oh, why do I always loose "the trail" in civilization???

But all bad things end, too, and I did find a trailhead, and thank God I carried all those liters of water - the creeks on the "other side" were all dry. The parched mouth and the burden of Day 1 were settling in: "hiking yourself in hiking shape" is never an easy task.

And there is really not much to add but that I kept looking at the map and hoping the place I decided I'd stop for the night (as my "plan" has already been over-written) and that had water (piped spring)would come closer. It took me until 7 pm, all of 14 hours total since my first steps in the morning, to make 30 miles. But the campsite didn't disappoint: while the "spring" was but a little trickle and a paddle (which I used to wash my clothes and my feet), there was a fire ring I used, lots of fire wood around, and a nice tree to tuck my tent under. Day 1 was over, at PCT mile 1726, 30 miles in.

Day 2. Piped spring at PCT mile 1726.
I overslept! I woke up 20 min past my alarm, and frantically began heating up food, packing my backpack and putting my tent away. The small victory was that everything - everything! - now fit into my backpack, no sack hanging off it! The reality was that it still weighted 50 lbs with water, and it was supposed to rain. I quickly set out at 5:30 am - towards my second sunrise - to enjoy it while it lasted.

The rain broke off around 6:30 am, a mist at first, a drizzle, and eventually forcing me to put my windbreaker on. 7 miles into my morning I come across Hwy 66, where I was to text Larry, but the rain was steady, and I was slightly moody - so I called. "How long will it last" was my only question. A quick check on the phone weather app - and the response was: today and the next 2 days, non-stop. Well, that was a downer. I finished talking as I was getting cold and wet standing, and looked around for the trailhead on the other side of the road. None to be found. I got out pages of the book describing PCT, read, looked again - nothing. Looked at the map (which is NOT half-mile app, mind you, but National Geographic 5-mile segments printed on regular paper!) - still zero. Came to a hanging map at the road's parking lot (for PCT trailhead nevertheless!), studied it for 5 min, walked around for 5 min - no luck. I got angry. Is it how it's going to be? Looked at the map again, saw that there is a dirt road that is going to Hyatt lake where the trail goes, and this road should soon cross over trail - and with a little prayer, set out on the road. Indeed, a quarter mile later, I found a trail, and duck into wet bushes and grass under a steady rain.
From this day a couple of positive things are worth mentioning: a couple of post-college guys leap-frogging with me that day (being younger and faster but taking lots of long breaks to sit down) who were first to talk to me on trail, and a real water faucet put on specifically for PCT through-hikers by Hyatt lake resort (nice touch!).

But the rain surely dampened my spirit, and I laughed at myself: welcome "home", honey, this IS Oregon, after all! Shoes slouching like crazy and legs getting cold from brushing against all the wetness trail dished out, I had one agenda only: find a spot where I can tuck under a tree on a more or less dry spot, AND do it when the rain lifts off even for a few minutes. When the opportunity came, even though I was only a mile away from "designated" (and as it turned out in the morning, much better) camp, I dropped my gear and set out the camp. End point - 7 pm, in the middle of Rogue River National Forest Boundary, approximately PCT mile 1756, 30 miles for the day, another 13.5 hrs on my feet.
As it turned out, the rain never returned for the night, but I wasn't taking chances. I stuffed all my gear - yes, including all my food sacks too! - inside my tent and tried to sleep. It was chilly, and the night #3 didn't give me more than 3 hrs total, just like the previous two. This will be repeated every night after, in more or less expressed fashion.

Day 3. PCT mile 1756, 3 miles prior Dead Indian Memorial Road. I didn't oversleep! As I packed my gear in, I closed my backpack without much force - and celebrated a little. And as every morning before that, and every morning after, as I put my first steps on the trail, I touch my cross on a little thread hanging on my chest and say: "Dear God, please lead me on a safe journey".

It began drizzling a couple hours later, but never got heavy that day, and it really didn't have much in terms of the views either. I was alone for the most of the day, aiming to Christi's Spring at mile 1782 - it has become a trend that I only carry 1 liter of water, drink little to nothing in the hours before 8 am (and don't start biting into my granola bars until 7 am either), then hope to find a spring, fill to the top what I drank - and carry that liter until the end of the day therefore making a 30 mile trek on approximately 1.2 L of water. It was a sign of not wanting to bother with stopping, taking pack off, filtering or simply filling up - and eventually body got trained into this pattern and din't ask much either.
Water pump at the ski hut 0.3 M off PCT 
Lots of miles prior Hwy 140 walking on rock quarry.
The weather got more pleasant, and there was another road crossing - Hwy 140, and I did call Larry, what was one of the smarter decisions I made on my trip. he gave me a fair warning - get as far as you can today, tomorrow, the temperatures drop in the middle of the night to low 30's and in the mountains, the heavy rain will become snow. I didn't quite believe him - snow in July? - but just in case, decided to push harder. Just in time to enter my first "blow-down trees in obstacle course on steroids" section around Mt McLoughlin. Oh, my, that was an intro into that AND it's been Sky Lake Wilderness, into mosquitoes too! All wrapped in one! You climb over, under, between, walk around, just to figure out the trail turned the other direction, repeat, bang your head, squeeze in, get your legs stuck, bruise, hit, poke holes...all the while swapping arms and poles around to try and keep sane. And one intersection my brain got damaged, but a couple of ladies (of European descend judging for the accent) with an i-Phone and an App (!!!) pointed the way. I charged on, but as soon as I got on a more or less "clear" trail on the other side of that mountains, I realized I better get my bug spray out. Hello, chemicals, save me, please!

The ladies passed me (as a side note, they both wore headphones, and I couldn't understand why would anybody want to listen to anything while on trails hiking, especially with a company), and I was just focusing on getting one foot in front of another to get "as far as I can for tomorrow". This was also the day I miscalculated my daily calorie - I tried to set 9 bars and 2 gels (roughly 2000 cal) for my "walking" hours, but with 2 hrs to go, found out I had just finished my 7th bar - and that was all I had in front pocket. The rest of the food neatly packed inside the backpack, and the water at the bottom of the bottle, I hurried up to Christi's Spring, got filled up, and kept on walking. Lots of tents were set up around there, rightfully so. I was sort of planning on a campsite 5 miles later - and as I came to it, slightly dizzy from the lack of food and water (I didn't filter what I picked up at the Spring, leaving that task for the evening), those 2 ladies got the spot. I had nothing more but walk another mile, past Red Lake trail junction, and stop with another "under tree" non-designated slot at PCT mile 1787. Miles for the day - 31, hours hiking - almost 15 (ending time 8 pm).
It was time to prepare for the Scary Day. While I was still not convinced on the reality of the snow, the temperatures were surely dropping, and I put every single item of my clothes on, stuffed my gear inside, and even learned to cook under the flap of the tent - which what I used for the reminder of the trip. It was bitter cold soon, and that night I didn't sleep a wink, trying to bundle up, curl into a ball, zipping a sleeping bag over my head - nothing helped. I was NOT equipped for the 30F weather. At 1:30 am the rain started pounding in all its might...
Day 4. PCT mile 1787. Waking up was easy - I wasn't sleeping anyway. Lets get on with it, I thought, trying to be cheerful! Putting down my Ramen noodles (turned out I really didn't like oatmeal with protein powder I planned for breakfasts and I decided to stick with Ramen both for dinner and morning meals), I was bracing myself for a heavy rain day - and just that. I still had all my clothes on, which wasn't much: a short-sleeve shirt, a long-sleeve shirt (thin, taken for the weight, sort of see-through), Moeben sleeves, Patagonia light windbreaker Houdini, Marmot rain shell, bandanna over my head, cotton gloves (??!! but better than nothing), Prana capri pants (another ??!! for the weight). The only two items remained in my pack were running shorts and an extra short sleeve shirt. 5 am. It was time to step outside into the dark wet world and hit sprawling downed trees...

I passed many a camps of others still sleeping and wondered how many people will take a "Zero" day today. Soon, the rain turned into something white, like sleet, and I thought "Oh-oh". The white stuff has become more prominent, the wind picked up, and as I rounded a ridge's corner to enter the side of Devil's peak range - the snowstorm began in its full blow. Soon, it was a whiteout, with gusty winds, heavy snow falling, and no trail in sight, the previous snow-covered side of the mountains blanketed by fresh white as far as I could see. No App, small wet maps, non-working fingers in completely soaked gloves, no way to operate the water bottle to drink (yet a stern order to myself to nibble on ANY kind of food every 30 min, however little, to keep calorie supply to the brain and to keep moving) - and same order to KEEP MOVING! Stopping was freezing, immediate. I became an army solder, with short directives to myself: scout the horizon, find what may look like a trail, or where it would potentially go, walk. Wet, sticky, soggy everything stuck to my body, squeeze my hands - and ounces of water runs out. Not even a thought about trying to pee - peeling those pants off and on is nearly impossible, not to mention exposing my rear. Not taking pack off, nowhere to put it - and it kept me warm. I slid a number of time, and even went off trail twice, once quite far. I vividly remember, as I couldn't see the next move, to step off the snow into some forest, sliding down on wet dirt pretty far, getting up, and thinking at first: well, might as well look around if the trail is here, logistically. After a number of minutes of nothing, another thought came: I don't want to die here, alone, in the woods, where nobody would come across me even when the storm stops. So I remained calm, and found my way back to the slope, diagonally, looked up - saw my previous steps, looked down - saw a shade of a possible trail. I guess it was a successful detour after all. And I prayed. I prayed in two languages - and if I knew any more, I would use those too. "Dear God, please lead me on a safe journey".

Thankfully, 10 long arduous miles later, I was on the other side of the mountain, where snow turned back to sleet and freezing rain, even though the temperatures never went above 35F. Was I safe? That was my thinking, yet the wet cold kept digging into me, and so I kept moving, adjusting my plan and realizing there is NO WAY I am camping tonight - with wet tent, sleeping bag and no clothes to change into. Crater Lake Rim Village had become my slowly-freezing brain's destination.
I pushed as hard as I could, calculating and re-calculating possible arrival to the Road junction, Hwy 62. It will be 32 miles, and then 2.5 miles on Dutton Creek trail to the Lodge, but I already decided: no way am I doing it, I am hitching a ride. There were some small portions I almost ran, I wanted time to move faster - and it did. Surprisingly to me, I got to the road, all 32 miles of my day (PCT mile 1819) in exactly 13 hrs and 20 min. A new record of sorts. And I survived.

But the day was not over yet. As I walked on the road towards the turn to Crater Lake access road, I heard a car, and literally stood in the middle of the highway with my arms up in the air. The minivan slowed down, came to a stop, the window rolled down - and a woman looked out.
- Please, I am desperate. I am hypothermic and I need to get to the Lodge?
With a tiny hesitation I almost didn't notice, she jumped out of the car and I was in, my pack shoved into the back (along with the woman herself), and the family of 5 (Cathy, Michael and their 3 adult children) intently starring at me.
- We really don't stop for hitch-hikers, but something spoke to us.
As I began to shiver, from some thawing and from the nerves of what I had lived through, I sobbed.
- I am normal, I promise. I have a degree, a job, a family. I am just caught in a situation, and this is my first time flagging a car as well.

Some (what seemed like forever) time later we arrived at the Lodge (where they stayed), and to my total let-down, there were no rooms available! All my dreams that kept me moving that day about shower and bed were crashed - but more importantly, I was at square 1, nowhere to go, still wet, and it was still cold and raining outside. I set at the fire place in the lobby, crying, and yes - praying...

And I hear a Russian language, 2 ladies talking. I got up, barefoot (my shoes were drying by the fire along with my jackets), walked towards them and quietly said:
- Please, I am desperate. Here is my story. I will pay for a room if you let me crash on the bathroom floor.

Turned out, the younger woman (Vita) was from Ukraine, so was her mother Victoria, and Vita's fiancee Jim was local, Oregonian. They exchanged a short conversation, and in a matter of minutes Victoria offered her room to share, and Jim declined any payments. Was it a miracle? A trail magic? A prayer in work? Or just a coincidence? I didn't know, and I didn't need to. All I knew - I was safe, able to dry out, re-pack, and even take a shower and sleep on the floor with a pillow. It was pure paradise..
Day 5. PCT mile 1819 (plus 2.5 skipped mile) at the Crater Lake Rim Lodge, alternative route "Hiker's PCT".
Despite all the nice stuff, my trip was just beginning, and I had miles to go. I allowed myself to pack slowly (and quietly, to not wake up Victoria), and I hoped for a hot breakfast, but alas, it wasn't served till 7 am, way late. So, a cup of coffee and 2 bags of chips from the vending machine later, I walked out of the Lodge at 6 am with hopes the worst is behind.

I walked a couple miles on Discovery Point Trail to Rim trail, until I figured that much snow on steep slopes is slow and dangerous, and book says 5 miles of Rim Access Road is an acceptable alternative having gone right alongside, I walked on that - uninspiring, but surely an option I (and everybody I met) took.
It took me to a connector to Rim trail, which, in four miles, quickly connected me to a desired PCT - and I kissed the sign. At last, I was back on the trail I belonged, 10 miles later.
Normally, it takes 3 days for me to get myself into a hiking rhythm, to disconnect from the outside "normal" life, and be present "on the trail". Due to all the locomotion in those first days, that day had become my 5th day of the hike. I was finally "getting it". Besides meeting the fallen trees and making my rounds of "up, under, over and 'round" plus fighting mosquitoes, the groove came in, and I was "grooving it".

Suddenly, I heard voices behind. What? Nobody had caught up with me yet! I hardly see a single soul a day of someone going Southbound (and on The Day Of Snow saw no-one!), and here are people coming onto me like a freight train! I turned my head back - two guys, tall and not-so-much, young, happy. I gave way, we exchanged "how was the snow, which route did you take from the Rim?". They started below the Devil's Peak ridge, so their day was mostly sleet, and shorter, as they hit the road, walked 1.2 miles to Mazama village and somebody gave up their own reservation at the cabin once saw them (trail magic, anyone? not just for me!), then, as myself, opted for Rim Access Road instead of snow-ridden nasty steep Rim trail (I heard later people equipped with ice axes and crampons fell off that trail. Wonder where, to the lake??). Anyway, I let them go, just to bump into them a couple miles later, at their break just passed Hwy 138. I stopped for a short break myself, put bug spray and empty the shoes. What started as a few words had developed into my longest "trail relationship" - and the boys (mid-20's? hard to say with the beards!) who have been hiking OR and WA for fun and doing same miles a day as I was (low 30's), faster but with more stops (even coking meals while at it, young bodies needing fuel) have become my personal "trail angels" of sorts. But more on that later. They introduced themselves as Monty and Nips, and it took me 4 tries (a.k.a. four future meet-ups) to memorize Nips, so I labeled them "my M&M boys". And in true trail spirit, they didn't mind. :)

I moved on, they passed me soon after as we all began the climb on and around Thielsen mountain. From Larry's reports (which he gathered from the blog he dug out on internet of a British couple hiking OR/WA just ahead of me) I was forewarned there WILL be snow, and the route finding will be difficult. My M&M boys - of course, my trail angels - had an App on their phone, as they were moving ahead of me now, I simply followed their steps...and that I am forever grateful for!

We eventually dropped to Thielsen creek, which allowed me to fill both 1-L bottles and hike up further up for a head-start in the morning, while majority of through-hikers around me settled in either right at the creek's campsite, or 2 miles up the hill. I aimed at that latter one as well, but there was already 3 tents and 6 people there (including The Boys), so I moved ahead for another couple of miles, until I came upon an awesome spot - high above, on a plateau, with a fire ring, and nobody anywhere. Ah, well deserved paradise, finally!

I cooked up my dinner, re-assembled my stuff, and pulled the clothes on. This has become my nightly routine - put all the clothes on, as the nights were cold, and even with that and a fully-zippered above the head sleeping bag, I could never get warm enough to sleep ok. But mountain air wwas fresh, and body was grateful for the rest it could get. That day, probably due to all the snow side-sliding both on Day 4 and 5, I developed a huge painful knot on my right calf - it was growing in front of my eyes, and by evening it was almost bigger than my gastroc itself. As a medical professional, I knew the possible negative outcomes that could stop my hike, and as a massage therapist, I had skills to figure it out - what I did while in the camp, and even while asleep (literally, every time I laid awake, I'd find a trigger point and press, and do all kinds of other stuff, then drift off - and repeat through the night).

That was my first beautiful and blissful night, ending at PCT mile 1856, for total of 30 miles and just under 13 hours. Yes, indeed, I was getting my "hike on".
Day 6. PCT mile 1856, just 2 miles below Highest Point of OR/WA section on PCT at 7560 feet.
Waking up in this "high to the end of Earth" place was amazing! I was rejuvenated, my calf felt better, and while I was aware of another 3-4 miles of snow route finding ahead of me, I kept my calm. Another sunrise to greet me! I am on trails, I am in the groove!
 I followed some steps, and from time to time used the navigational skills I had from my previous various snow-traveling, and yet, certain enough, I did get off course for some 20-plus minutes, but to my defense, seems that everyone and their brother did, too! The trail did a U-turn (literally), and in front of you was a field - and steps into it - and we all, like cows, including all the hikers with the App, got off, wandered in, found our way back (I took completely different route then getting lost, and still returned to the spot, so that was a win for me), regrouped, looked over the shoulder - and yes, found the trail.
So, consumed with NOT getting lost anymore, please! - I missed the Highest Point Marker! And right after that, The M&M boys caught up to me - and I was like "where were you, my trail angels, when I wandered off", and we laughed, and marched on, now on a soft downhill, free of all that white stuff, with a spring in our steps, them pulling away, me - simply happy.
Some miles later there was a mark on the map for the only water source for a while - a side-trail to Six Horse Creek, and it was a 0.3 mile steep downhill spur at that! Prayers answered, The Boys were there, warned me about the steep and long part of it, so I dropped my pack, and ran down with one water bottle. Again, they saved me time and hassle.
We all took a break by the spur, and they took off in their youthful fashion, inviting me to tag along. Why? Both them and myself had decided to take an alternative to PCT coming soon - and Oregon Skyline Trail, and we all already determined how "wonderfully" I can orient myself if I need to switch from a well-traveled PCT to anything else. You know what they offered? To leave me a trail sign. And you know what? They delivered! Never had I been more touched on a trail but by these two young men who took their time, while backpacking, to do so for me, a weird older lady trying to keep up...

And so it went, I turned to the "new" trail and followed the arrows for the next 10 miles. Mosquitoes magnified, just like the warning was for this section (and the next 2 days), and I pulled out my secret weapon, best purchase prior the hike - The Net!
The section was open, sun heating up sandy trails, my shoes finally tore the wholes in the mesh with dirt and grit freely filing in, my socks (which, too, had a few hundred miles on them) got holes on the bottom as well, mosquitoes, damn as they can be, were eating me alive - and I was grumpy, indeed. The Boys - and I - planned to stop at Diamond lake, some 5 miles past Crescent lake. But as the trail dropped me to some dirt road, and the map showed it should have pick up right there to get back into the woods - I couldn't find neither the trails, no the arrows...

My steps quickened and I opened up on this dirt road, almost running up it. After a mile and half I came to a halt - dead end at the horse camp. I ran back, feet pain forgotten, to the end of the trail I got off - no turn in back. Ran up. Down, past the trail. Up again, onto trail, backwards...after an hour and half of that and 5 miles extra of going nowhere, I tried to calm myself down and made a decision - at this point, I am camping at Crescent lake. Now to find the official camp with water spigot I knew existed! It took me another 20 min to get that squared out, but all the campsites were taken by a large party of people - so I filled my 2 1 liter bottles, and bushwhacked to set a tent, literally, next to a dirt road with a toilet on it. At least I could use a morning bathroom like a human! Morning will come, and it all will be ok...

This was the first night when my feet throbbed for real, not "I hiked long day" throb, but "OMG, something is going on". At the same time, this was the first night I utilized a pair of flip-flops I picked up while climbing over some downed tree - must have fallen out of somebody's pack, and I did pick up garbage, as little as I could see (PCT hikers are REALLY good, I counted less then 10 items in the whole span of 450 miles, ziploc baggies, a few power bar wrappers, and yes, flip-flops). That was a great find, and I could eat my dinner without shoes on.
Total count for the day - 30 miles of forward progress plus 5 miles of running in place. It was a little crazy, but with a new daily record, unintentionally.

Day 7. PCT mile?? Off the trail. I woke up with renewed energy, certain I will find that darn trailhead today. How hard can it be?? Ate and packed quickly, threw my pack on - and went back on a trail, retrieved my steps to a drop to the dirt road - and, dumbfounded, didn't see the U-turn back on trails. WTF?? I ran up the road...and back down. And up again. Then I stared at the map, thought to myself the trail looks like was going pretty parallel to that road not far off, so took on bushwhacking across from 3 (three!) different points. The forest was dense with overgrown greens and downed trees, and each time, after 10 min of not finding a trail, I would bushwhack back to road, afraid I'd get myself into more trouble. That continued for over an hour, which put me, yet again, at at least 4 aimless useless miles - and an anxiety attack. How do I get out???

I started walking back to that campground, thinking may be I can wake up one of those hang-over visitors and pay them to get me out (I doubt it), when I heard a car engine behind. It's Wednesday, and it is middle of nowhere. I took my chance and stepped into the middle of that road. The car stopped, and a gentleman looked out. "Please, I am stranded, and I can't find a trail back into the forest. Can you take me to Odell lake, please? I will pay all I have in cash, just please get me out of here!". The man thought for a few seconds and answered: "I don't need your money. Let me just drop of this kid at a boy scout camp down the road, and we can go." Oh, the miracles of kindness of the strangers met on a trail, you never seize to amaze me! His name was Butch, he was one of the leaders of a Mormon group of a boy-scout troop (and an Indian by blood), and all the kids (including his own grandson) were at the camp since days before - this neighbor's kid was late. And that was my trail magic.

We drove to another campground, and after 20 minutes, were back on a dirt road. Turned out, dirt road eventually became an asphalt, and in a few miles ran into Hwy 58, where, with a left turn, you could get to Odell lake in, literally, another 5-6 miles. If I knew a detour, I would have walked it myself. But this is where all the App could have come handy - which I had none of. My printed map showed ONLY the trail section. To this date, I have no clue how could I spent 2.5 hrs running around looking for the re-entrance to the trail from that dirt road at Crescent lake. But sometimes I think Universe simply gave me a lesson - you can't find what's under your nose, turn to people for help. In the time of a 15 min drive we talked a lot, about life in Indian reservation, faith, health, and reasons to live...

I got dropped off at the Shelter Cove resort at the West side of Odell lake, my first official resupply point. And who do I see sitting on the bench in front of it - but M&M boys! As I got out of the car, I could only exhale: oh, the story I will tell you...All in all, I ended up being where I had to be at the time I was supposed to - but cutting 11 miles off the forward trail motion, yet putting 9 miles of crazy pacing in place.

I was starving by then, having eaten nothing in my frantic state, and happily ordered a large coffee with lots of cream and a frozen burrito to microwave. I still had my daily bars, but lucky for me, I had a sense to buy 10 Kashi bars and 4 Snickers bars - yes, that WAS the selection, and let me tell you, if you ever decide to hike PCT in OR - that was the BEST selection of all the stories (wish I knew that). There is a reason normal through-hikers ship packages for their use. Eating food other than Ramen (I also bought a strudel-like thing I devoured) felt great, and after a half an hour of recuperating from my weird morning, I signed the PCT log book for the first time with my newly developed trail name: "Olga, Hopelessly Lost".

Getting out of Shelter Cove, you had 2 options: take a connecting trail that would turn twice more and hook you up to PCT and lead over Hwy 58, or...take an Odell Access Road, which, after the disaster I had, I jumped at. 2 miles later, I crossed the highway, and stood there: trailhead, anyone? And as in a fairy tail I heard voices: "Olga, over here!" - the M&M boys showed up from there (official PCT) route and we all turned North. At last, PCT, again!
Right after that road crossing, my notes had a huge label "Waldo course!". Oh, the memories. I was entering the forest section where Waldo 100k race was run, which I volunteered at, crewed at, and ran. I am not going to get lost, and I love these soft pine-needle covered trails going by a dozen of lakes! Which, of course, also meant mosquitoes came with vengeance. Let me tell you, those ain't your normal mosquitoes - and people who hiked PCT describe this 100 mile section exactly as "mosquitoes-ridden" - those are angry monsters who are genetically modified to not give a hoot about what kind of chemicals you spray onto yourself. They bite so hard and so painful, and buzz so loud, it will drive you insane. And don't even think about stopping - a cloud will descend on you in a split second to the point you will not see a bare skin on your body. So you move one.

I was debating between stopping at Charlton lake and Taylor lake (5 miles later) as I walked, leap-frogging with the boys, again, and figured I'd let my day come to where it needs to be. I passed the Rosary lakes - Lower, Middle and North - admiring the views, climbed up to Maiden peak (almost) and thought of my times there, and in general, was living in the past.

 I think the morning got to me, and having now being a few hours (and about 12 miles or so) ahead of my "scheduled plan", I decided on a short day, Charlton lake it is, besides, it's a great place to camp at, my aid station I volunteered at one year was there, and I needed a break from 30+ daily miles. I walked into the lake's shore at 5 pm, with only 24 miles total on my feet (4 of which were useless, so 20 miles of forward progress). PCT mile 1923 (back on count).

Before long, a pair of girls rolled in (Stephanie and Christie) and a couple in their early 50's (Tori "Lavender Oak" and Neil "Dead man Walking"). We quickly set up tents, ate our dinners, did our laundry and washed off - and I started a huge bonfire. the benefits of official campsite - you have a fire ring, and it is always fun to do that at the end of the day. We shared stories and laughter for the next couple of hours.

 Day 8. PCT mile 1923. I got up with my usual early start and tried to make least amount of noise as I packed and left. It's going to be a great day, no side-trails, no navigational issues expected, just walk...and ah, yes, deal with mosquitoes. I knew it was to be the last section where these creatures really get you, so I braced myself, face net on and DEED in hand.

Another beautiful sunrise came, and as I crawled over and under some downed trees (nothing like before-Devil's peak section to me!), I was peaceful. Even being bitten didn't bother me as much as the day before. I figured, today would be another good day to cut it sub-30 and stop at the Elk lake campground, just over a mile off PCT, which was not my planned stop. But by then my socks had big holes, and my feet were developing Morton's neuroma, as they ached more with each step. I was hoping for a store with a pair of socks - and a cell phone reception.

A few people are worth mentioning I ran into going towards me: a Chinese woman by the name of Energizer Bunny, who developed an eye infection and on top of it was bitten into the same eye by a mosquito (sorry I didn't have a medical help, I only carried blister kit and wound stuff!) - she sprayed me with a good repellent as mine was near the end, and was very chatty despite her pain - and an older guy who was day-hiking in search of his wife and 2 friends - a group through-hiking Oregon as he was supporting them from the road access where he could - his name was Jack the Camelback. And then I set at the lake with a gal Wendy, a Forest Ranger from Bend, one of the many who got turned around by my infamous snow storm hiking North, and now she was flipping the through-hike and going South instead. She was simply beautiful, almost weird in the woods.

 I also decided to do self-examination of all the now-healing cuts and wounds from the obstacle course of the trees days prior - for the history.:)

And so it went, nothing much for the day, as I took the turn and dropped down to Elk lake, walked to the store/cafe - and found out a) the store's options are NONE, neither for socks, nor for tourist food or gas cans, and b) my cell phone has no reception!!! Disaster! I was suddenly panicking. I paid for the campsite, and turned to a man at the table having dinner with his family, to borrow his phone, and left a number of frantic messages - to Pam, Gail, and Larry - how I desperately need socks, and how I am coming to McKenzie pass earlier, on Saturday, instead of 2 pm - at 6 am. And nobody called back. My glycogen-deprived (by now I realized I need to stretch my supplies, and my calorie intake dropped dramatically during a day) and dehydrated state, magnified by feet pain, left me in a really ugly state. How hungry was I? While sitting at the cafe trying to wrap my brain around I may not get help, I start eating french fries of the plates left by people who had dinner there - yes, somebody's left-overs before it got put away, and I had no shame whatsoever. I walked to my campsite, set up (have to admit, it was nice to have a large spot and a table to sit at!) and turned my cell phone on just in case - and there was a connection there! Yay! For the first time in a week, I was talking to Larry on my own phone with no time limit, nowhere to hurry!

After trying to reach folks who were offering to help, I dug deep into my memory - and Helen's name showed up. Yes, we have an option! I gave Larry ways to contact her, and began my food assessment: I picked up some different soups at the Hiker's Box, and mixed and matched my Ramen with it, threw away what wasn't going (some cocoa mix and the remainder of oatmeal), organized the maps (now so far off the plan!), and walked to the next campsite and asked a nice man for "please a spare pair of socks he could share?". I got a pair of white socks, which was awesome, as I was able to wear them under my torn Drymax. Life was getting more optimistic.

Day's stats: PCT mile 1950 plus a mile hike-out for 28 miles that day, 12 hrs on trail.

Day 9. I jumped off and called Larry - was he able to reach Helen? Yes, he was, and she eager and ready to help! Celebration! With that relief, I hiked out 2 miles (at a different angle) back to PCT mile 1951, and began my day. And it was beautiful. Three Sisters Wilderness was in front of me, with vast meadows, great views, and a spring in my step.

Shortly after, may be 3 hrs, I hear a chat and fast-approaching steps. What??? That couldn't be anybody but M&M Boys, yet they should be far ahead by now! Turned, indeed, they took half a day at the Elk lake, where their friends came from Bend, and now the four of them together were making their way to McKenzie Pass for a Zero Day at Bend. That made me think. Hmm, McKenzie pass tonight? A chance at a shower, bed, new socks AND possibly shoes??? I turned on the gas.

Miles were clicking by at insane speed, even I was surprised every time I looked at the map to compare. The only part that slowed me down was the Lava Field - but it was fascinating to see things starting to grow on this bare rock.

This Lava also brought feet pain with strength that made me tear up - and strengthen my decision to get out to Bend tonight with a full stop. And as I wandered off the Lava field, loosing patience and wincing every time the ball of my foot hits the ground - who do I meet but Jack the Camelback! Oh, the miracles on trails. It was reaffirming, and he assured me it's a 4 miles downhill to the road (I actually despised downhill by then as this was when the feet hurt the most, but alas, it was a way out). Eventually, I came to Hwy 242 - and started walking towards Sisters/Bend (East) with my hand up. And every car - EVERY one of them - would make an effort to get around me and go into opposite line - but NOT stop! Where was my previous luck??? I started crying, calculating 18 miles to Bend, 5 pm time and my possible arrival (yes, I had no cell signal, again). Finally, a car stops, and a young couple open their doors for me - Tyler and Yuko, Mormon missionaries, yet again (one more incident like that, and I am switching faith!). Great people, I am forever thankful. Not only did they get a stinky hiker in, they drove me to wherever I arranged - which, by then I got a hold of Helen, and was set to make a stop at the Footzone running store in Bend for a new pair of shoes. 800 miles, my PI's had enough of life - and surely not enough of cushioning!

Helen's husband Chris picked me up as I was paying for a pair of Saucony - the cheapest pair on sale they had, since this purchase was unplanned (and I am as frugal as they go). In retrospect, that was another dumb decision I made (I never liked Saucony, their hard sole was brutal on my agonizing Morton's and general soreness of the feet), but here I was, in the house of my friends, eating pasta with meatballs and ice-cream after a shower!

I unloaded a few more items off my backpack for Helen to ship it back, got the newly prepared by them socks on (oh, the feeling of new socks!), and rolled into a bed. At the end of it, I had at least 7 friends living in Bend, and all of them happened to be out of town (and Pam, who lived a full 2.5 hrs away, happened to be on-call doctor that day since I was now almost a full day ahead of the schedule), and Helen, whom I've met only once - at the same race Larry and I sort of fell in love, nevertheless, Jemez 50 in 2008, and ran parts of it chatting together - was the one to come to the rescue. I found it a great story, and just like that, I was gifted great friends in this couple.

Total rally for the day - 32 miles on PCT (ending at McKenzie mile 1981) plus a mile on the road.

Day 10. PCT mile 1981. Dark and early, Helen had to drop off Chris and his father Mark at the mountain bike race - and then take me back to McKenzie pass. What seemed to have been an easy plan before the hike - first that Pam would have come on Saturday at 2 pm, then that Helen would show up at 6 am - turned to be an awesome adjustment with my walk-out to Bend the night before - because for the life of us we couldn't find the trail entrance off highway, and it was a narrow 2-lane road with no parking, and finally, we pulled into a parking lot - and it was a daylight by then, 6:15 am! Disaster averted, another providence and a miracle. Helen set me off on a 3-mile Lava stretch as we hugged goodbye, and there was I, back on a trail...

And in about 10 minutes the shoes got a new name: my Spanish Inquisition Boots. The rocks didn't help the case, but even when the trail smoothed out, I was in excruciating pain. Whether the damage was already done, or the shoes were a bad choice, or the combination of both - I'll never know. But that day marked my different perspective on walking and pain management (and a lack of Ibuprofen, which I only took enough to consume 2 a day). I would last until 12 pm, then inhale the pain pills, have some relief for a couple of hours, and agonize until I stop thereafter. The stretch itself was boring, too. Looking back, there was a view at Three Sisters, looking forward - Mt Jefferson, and I had to go around Three Fingered Jack, which to many seems to be "the thing", but it wasn't my thing. More rocks, dead forests (and blow downs that come along with it) and open sun.

Despite late (for me) start and achy steps, as well as (you guessed it!) getting lost for 40 min in the morning hours when taking side trail to Big Lake and a Youth Camp for water re-supply, which was a tradegy, because in my upset state I didn't peruse their hospitality and food offering, trying to get out), I came to Santiam pass (another road crossing) good 30 min ahead of a (new) prediction, and stopped to take the shoes off at the parking lot. And who shows up but Jack the Camelback! He also sent me inside the parking lot to meet a Trail Angel Mike, who was about to cook burgers, but it being 12:30 pm, he didn't expect people, so we just chatted, and I ate some home-made baked goodies. Random people, random acts of kindness - to spend your weekend and money to set up a trailer in the parking lot and cook food for through-hikers. Melts my heart thinking about it.

Mike the Trail Angel
So I moved on, up and around Three Fingered Jack, trying to put the thought of the feet pain away and focusing on people. I had time now, and I could spend it on talking to people - which I did.

My destination was Rockpile lake, and what seemed so do-able now that I had my hike on, with the heat and the "agony of the feet" was if not slow, then not fast either going. Last section had another steroid-ridden dead-forest blow-down, which really set me off. All in all, I'd say it was my least favorite section for a number of reasons.

I finally arrived at the lake, and without even walking to the other end where people camped (including, as it turned out, that British couple Larry used for info and I finally caught up with), set the tent up at 7 pm, crawled in - and never got out.
Daily stats - 31 mile, ending at PCT mile 2012.

Day 11. Rockpile lake at PCT mile 2012. Mornings are wiser than nights - we have a saying in Russian. Exactly at 5 am I was walking my first steps, with the same prayer intact, and same gaze at the another beautiful sunrise.

Mt Jefferson was my next destination, and I walked above the clouds, feeling good (and relatively painless for now, soft trails and rested feet). Literally, above the clouds.

At some point, 2 hrs into my lonely hike, I hear running steps towards me, and slightly freak out. Running? At this hour? Tens of miles away from the nearest drive-in trailhead? I come onto a guy, and ask: "Are you an ultrarunner?". "Well, I run ultradistances, but never ran a race" - says Derek. Turns out, he came to something I am just finally realizing, having stepped aside from all the racing hoopla for 3 years now - why pay the fees and be stranded to the courses, time lines, weather conditions you can't choose, when you can wake up at 2:30 am, drive up to a trailhead, and set out for a 30 mile run? Who would have that noble idea? :)
There was a Russel creek ahead of me, crossing of which has been considered very hairy and recommended before 11 am, and I was pushing it - and while I really was moving well, with my camping all being in different places than anticipated, there was no way. I arrived at 12 pm, to confirm other people's saying: there is a snow bridge on top of the crossing, and while it is thinning out, it is still passable. With a heart that skipped a beat, I walked over - and exhaled. Another obstacle survived!
Soon after I encountered a Ranger (it was a Jefferson Wilderness) checking on permits. I swear, I filled up the permit...only I had come up with a ceremony every night to burn the paper maps I had hiked through - and with those, last night I burned the permit as well! But Eric was the nicest person, first of all, he believed me I had it (deep inside my pack), secondly, he offered me his cell phone to call Larry (who needed to hear from me and that creek passing), and thirdly, we chatted for good 30 min about life in the woods. Yay for more amazing people on the trails!

Jefferson Park was very pretty with wild flowers and rushing waters, even with the "other side" of it snow-covered for about half a mile and me walking slightly extra before I got on the right path. It was nothing comparing to what I lived through!

I walked fast enough that the bad weather averted me - I saw all the clouds and rain over the peak, but I was on the safe side, never having a drop on me. However, this is also when the rocky terrain began, and so did the shooting nerve pain every time I hit it.

As I was dropping to Breithenbush lake, I remembered a conversation with Larry where he mentioned there is a dirt road going parallel the PCT, approximately same distance (5 miles), but it might be easier to hike out there. Considering the state of my feet, I decided to take that option. As I exited the trail, and started my walk, uphill at first, in a few minutes I had to tighten every nerve and muscle in my body as God laughed at me. You wanted an easy way out? Well, this road is ALL ROCK, ALL DOWN, and with it being snaking between the lakes, welcome back MOSQUITOES (while out of bug repellent)!!! That was a very, very cruel lesson. I swore loudly, and cried, and screamed a lot - yet I had to walk. An hour later, and with about a mile left - a car engine from behind comes, and I flag my 4th hitchhiking vehicle for the trip. I am really getting it nailed, damn it! I ask for a ride, and as always, in the haste of lack of food and water at the end of the day and increasing pain, I sound like I would die if you don't help me. I feel that I would die - even though I know I wouldn't.

I walked into a store - to a full disappointment. They sold NOTHING in terms of hiker's food! And the mosquito spray was in a huge bottle (which I bought anyway). And hiker's box only had a couple of soups - which I took - along with some jacket, just for the night (I left it back next morning). But the lady was nice, and she lets through-hikers camp right next to the store and lake in day-use area, with a toilet and a table and a fire ring, and there is a water faucet, and it's 5 pm, so all was good with 3 dinners I cooked up myself to catch up on calorie deficit - and that was the first night I took my knitting out. (On a separate note, this was the one and only time I used that huge bug spray, as mosquitoes died off, and whenever someone on the trail traveling South would tell me "mosquitoes up ahead", and I would get there - I'd laugh: these? These are harmless lil' babies, there are only a couple of them, and their biting hasn't grown yet!)

The stats - 25 miles on PCT plus 5 miles road walk to end where I would have if I taken PCT all the way, mile 2043, for 30 miles and 12 hrs total. And I got to see my friend Camelback one last time that night, waiting for his friends to arrive next day!

Day 12. Ollalie lake at PCT mile 2043. Dark and early, rested well, I was off, on the familiar territory - the course of Hundred in the Hood, a 100 miler I once directed back in 2009. It was misty and drizzly in the early hours, but nothing worth worrying about. There was a girl, Fixie, walking towards me, and we stopped to chat - she flipped the direction due to that freak storm, and as we discussed it, she lit up and squeezed me into a hug "I swore I would give a biggest hug to a person who saved me!". Apparently, she was the next person walking behind me in that blinding cold white-out with no trails, following my footsteps (and there were 5 more people after that who all talked about lil' brave ol' me", and their phones with Apps eventually died of weather (not that anyone even wanted to take them out), and I was a hero, just like that...and I thought: "Wow, God had a reason to guide me there. It wasn't just for me. It was for so many others". And I was proud of my undertaking, navigation and survival skills, really proud. And really glad somebody pointed it to me. And she gave me a snack, and the Autumn Leaves came up next - and gave me Ibuprofen (which he JUST bought, something he normally doesn't even carry, the seal wasn't broken yet - like a providence, for my own use) - and the trail magic continued to live on. (and according to Fixie, I now have a new trail name! Storm Angel!)
Fixie and Autumn Leaves

And I was walking, despite all the pain, fast and furious, and thinking, about life, about friends, family, and what's important. There were no views the whole way, and a lot of time to think. So I did.

I passed by the Clackamas lake, where we had our start/finish line for both Hood 100 and PCT 50 (another race I co-directed with Monika for 4 years), and I thought I'd stop by, but the feet pain kept me moving, and I finally arrived at Timothy lake, PCT mile 2073, for a 30 mile day in another 12 hr walk. The campsite was to die for, all to myself, and for the first and only night I was able to sleep without jackets on.

There was a full moon when I got out to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the reflection of it on the lake was breathtaking.

Day 13. Timothy lake at PCT mile 2073. So here I was, the day I climbed to Mt Hood, the pinnacle of my love. The trail took me inside the forest (with a brief stop at Little Crater Lake), and I was reminiscing on the past life in Oregon and how much do I have tied to Mt Hood - but also being in the present, listening to my footsteps, looking around - and keeping tightening all the belts on my clothes and backpack. because no matter what I did, it all kept falling off.:)

And when I suddenly looked at the side opening - I gasped, and tears ran over my face. Why, oh, why, every time I see Mt Hood unexpectedly, I cry? But I did, this gorgeous monument of my former life looking far away.

Of course, not surprisingly (but still very, very mood-dampening), I got lost crossing Barlow Pass trailhead and put on an extra mile on some old logging road, before retracing my steps back and finding how to cross the road and bump into trail on the other side. I met a girl with a dog - Indigo - and she recommended me to camp at Paradise park, which is off-PCT and made me anxious, but set me off to push the pace. Because, of course I also knew I'd get lost at Timberline lodge...

Last 2 miles of a climb were uninspiring to say the least - sandy, steep and open. I was day-dreaming about hot food, but as I walked into the area at 2:30 pm - I learned it had closed at 2 pm. And the hiker's box? 2 tea bags and a pair of socks (where were they 5 days ago?).

I spotted a guy who had a huge backpack, and turned to him: "Do you have an App? Can you hike me out of here?" I had tears in my voice as anxiety of being lost around civilization overwhelmed me. But he did take me to the trail (and then returned), and he was Polish with a perfect Russian (Thomas), and it was unexpected and funny and reassuring.

Daily stats: ending at PCT mile 2099 plus 2 miles to Paradise for a 28 mile day. I am taking it slow now:)
And so I took off, and soon managed to get right into the Paradise Park, no adventures, and set a camp near the other 2 parties. Ah, all worth the pain...

Day 13. I had to hike out in the morning for a mile to get back to PCT at the junction mile 2101, and I didn't get lost! But I spoke too early, as I side-trekked to some weird place - a sandy cliff right above Sandy river, scary to look down or step aside. Eventually, I bushwhacked into PCT, and swore that I will never - EVER - set off my foot anywhere where PCT is not!

There were two more hairy (last for the journey) river crossings, one of Sandy - I decided against using random logs hikers put across, and hiked up 150 yards to make a few jumps, but that meant I lost connection with where the trailhead was in those rocks, and spent another 20 min running around. Finally found it with the help of 2 campers yelling me over the roar of the river from the other side and pointing fingers (embarrassing, I know), and didn't even venture to take a look at Ramona Falls. Nope, my feet will never leave PCT!

Last was Muddy creek with 2 logs across, and a narrow foot placing. But I managed that one too.
And so I was, hiking steep switchbacks up to The Gorge, My Gorge, Columbia River Gorge that is, My Church of 5 years, the place that has my heart. Whatum lake being my camp for the night, I made it (PCT mile 2128) for another 28 mile day, and by 5 pm was enjoying the amazing site I was at.

Some 2.5 hrs later who rolls in but Thomas! He was only the other person (besides M&M boys) who was doing 30-plus mile days, and considering he was also my kids' age (26), I, this old lady, was a hiker #4 in my time frame who did this crazy mileage. And suddenly the enormity of what I had done swapped me over. Wow, have I really done that??

Thomas was a Trail Angel. He gave me quite a lot of extra food I woofed in one inhale, and after we talked about his growing up and reasons for such a perfect Russian (in Russian!), we both went to our tents for the last night on the trail. Somehow, I really had no revelations. Part of the reason I went on the hike was to detach, to let go - and I imagined it being this huge cloud lifting, or a lot of emotions. But I had none of that. It was a lot of hard work, in a beautiful place - and besides tears as I glanced at the Mt Hood, I was calm and peaceful. It was detachment, in a different kind of way.

Day 13. I had planned to get lost getting out of Wahtum lake (civilization, you know?) - and I did. Didn't phase me. Only 16 miles to go to Cascade Locks, and the Bridge of the Gods, my final point. What could go wrong? I ran these trails hundreds of times, it is marked immaculate (as it often was in the middle of the wilderness versus where "people in cars" come by), and I had memories to trust.

The bear grass I tripped over oh, so many times!

I got to the tip of Benson plateau, a place where we stopped our 3-mile hill repeats oh, so many times, with Ronda and Black Saturday group, or where Mike Burke, my trusted running partner, and I would venture off into bushwhacking adventures and exploring new trails and routes, and I set out my last coffee pot there.

I could smell the end of it, I just needed to let it go slower - because my Larry was flying in to pick me up, and it was important to me that he sees me to the Bridge. So I sat for some time, then slowly put hiking poles away and walked down. I passed the turn off to the trailhead we used to park at - and walked on the last of PCT, which I only been on once - when, in 2005, David Horton went for the PCT overall record and I paced him on the section in and out of Cascade Locks. And as I walked, instead of getting calmer and happier, I was growing more anxious - suddenly, as with "civilization" close everywhere, the trail marking disappeared, and while I didn't cross any trails, I was a nerve wreck. "I don't want it to end like that!" I cried out loud. 2 miles later I ran into a couple - and with tears asked: "Please tell me I am still on PCT??!!". They assured me, as did the other 7 people I asked, and everyone hugged me - I probably looked like I needed it badly. And so I walked, until suddenly, the view opened up, and the Bridge of the Gods was there.

I didn't walk close, I laid down by the restrooms in the park and waited for Larry. That was the tightest hug we've had since we met...At times, may be even most of the times, this hike was harder on him than on me, and it would not have happened without his full support and understanding.

We took the final picture, and then got into a hotel room right next to the Bridge, followed by a bath, and a huge meal. I won't go into all the other happenings in the few days of our stay in Portland - Larry turned 50, we stayed with my best friends Stan and Monika, played golf, I got to see my kids for two days, we drove to Larch mountain, our first date, and Canon beach, our second date, and I ate, ate, ate...but I will mention of the trail miracles continuing as we drove off Cascade Locks the morning after and who was walking by highway but my friend Thomas! We hugged and wished him best on the WA hike out.

Life is full of miracles. I can write a closing statement about what I would have done differently, what I learned from the hike, how I feel. But that was not why I set out on this journey. And it doesn't matter if I'll do something like this again, or not - and how would I change it. My feet still ache and cramp from time to time, and body weight is down. My driving is rusty, and I keep forgetting that I have to go to work. Which reminds me that my fingers are dry and scratchy - which with my work is not the best thing...And I could really use a massage!

On the trail, you learn to go with the flow and turn into the bend of it. Somewhere mid-way, I came up with these thoughts:

I walked forward, sideways and back-ways a lot, I stopped dead in my tracks, leapfrogged, skipped a bit, yet the continuous journey forward was always there, one foot in front of another. Like in life's years, first part of it you try and rush it, accelerate a lot, make a progress ahead - and the first days on the trail you are in a hurry to make miles fly. Mid-way, you sense that you made some head-way, and may be should stop, but that force keeps pulling you. You plan to "stop and smell the roses", but you still don't, not much, anyway. And then as the golden years come closer, you begin to rip the benefits of those rushing years (and miles), with a lot in the bag, you exhale deeper, and inhale slower. You really live - and you really recognize what you live for.

At the end, in a weirdest way, I had achieved what I was looking for, without knowing what exactly was that and that I was looking for it. It was perfect just the way it was.

The journey of 450-some miles in 15 days hiking through Oregon has come to an end. A lot to say, and not easy to put into words. It's been a walk on the most beautiful trails in the most amazing place. 30 miles a day is a lot to walk, and in the morning hours it felt like I could go on forever, and in the late afternoon - like I can't make another step. It's been a snow blizzard in July, an all-out rain, and a gorgeous sunshine. A soft pine-needle covered trails, red sandy dirt, lava, rock, long snow drifts with nowhere to go, and blow downed trees like an obstacle course on steroids. Cold sleepless nights and sore feet in agony. Ramen noodles for breakfast and dinner, and 7 granola bars to last for 12 hours days. The miles got faster as the days went by, but the miles never got easier. It's been a story of miracles, amazing people, and faith in kindness. It's a story of being totally in place in the middle of nowhere and completely"hopelessly lost" anywhere civilization came. It's a journey of thoughts, plans, and being in the now like never before. The first steps with the grey light hitting horizon at 5 am, and stunning sunrises - the mountain tops, the golden rays over the trees, the birds waking up. It's about the people, people you meet on the trails, and people who help you when you are off them. It's a trail magic in life, not only as a through-hiker term. Its about their stories as much as mine. It's about being close to something, and letting go. It's has little to do with endurance, yet without it it wouldn't have been completed. It is all I wanted it to be, yet so different. It's a journey I will never forget. 

Signed - Olga, Hopelessly Lost, but Found.



Helen Scotch said...

Perfect. In every way.

Mo Schwartz said...

Wonderful read, Olga. Bravo for doing all you do and for sharing it with us. Maura

Mo Schwartz said...

Bravo Olga. Thanks for sharing this epic with all of us.

Steve Ansell said...

Thank you SO much for sharing this Olga. Though it pretty much killed my morning "working from home", I read every word. I am in a similar place in terms of how I feel about races, organized events and seeking out more meaningful adventures.

Lori said...

You know I took a very long pause at that spot at the edge of the Benson plateau on Sunday and thought of you! We are privileged to share in your story, thank you for being so raw and honest in the telling. "Life is full of miracles." ...sure is!

Thomas said...

Well, THAT was epic. I don't know how you managed to write that report in such detail but it was so worth it, and the photos just put you right into it. Well done! You've always been my hero but you've cranked it up another notch now!

Steve Pero said...

Thanks for a really good write up of a fantastic journey!
Steve and Deb

Alicia Hudelson said...

I can't believe how much snow!! And the route-finding sounds seriously challenging. Congratulations on getting it done exactly how you wanted. Also, no fair that you got to see Helen:)

William @ Runnerlight said...

Nice post! Everything looks great. Actually, there is an interesting journey. I like...

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