PCT 2019: Day 89, Cascade Locks to Wahtum Lake

Now I've got that feeling once again

I have known John, Erik, and Ryan for several years. We normally only see each other once or twice a year at work-related events. It was enjoyable to not only spend time with them but to do so outside of the hectic schedule of a conference.

They were generous, helpful hosts, and I was glad to have a zero day to spend with them.

DateSunday, August 4, 2019
WeatherClear and warm, with a high temperature near 80
Trail ConditionsLong and often steep climb, then a series of moderate ups and downs
Today's Miles16.5
Trip Miles1258.8

I also appreciated how fortunate I was to reach Cascade Locks with Dave. Because he lived near Portland he was able to meet his family and go home for a day, dropping me off at John and Erik's house on the way.

Dave is planning to go home again after reaching Timberline Lodge, so we'll get separated in a few days. I’m hoping he can catch up to me later on the trail.

Though we lost track of Bluejay and Sunkist going into Cascade Locks two days ago, I think we'll be hiking with them again. They also took a couple days off in Portland, where Sunkist got to spend some time with her husband. Their pace won’t be far off ours, so I hope they catch up to us.

With Navy precision, Dave and family arrived on time at 8 a.m. to pick me up. I said goodbye to Erik and John, and we were soon on our way back to the trail.

When we arrived at Cascade Locks, we met two of Dave’s friends, Dane and Austin. They will hike with us to Timberline Lodge.

When we began hiking shortly after 9 a.m., the trail made a quick, short climb of 1.5 miles before leveling off.

We hadn't walked far from Cascade Locks before we began seeing trees that had been blackened by fire. This gave an idea of how close the Eagle Creek fire came to the river and the town.

The fire started on September 2, 2017, and before it was contained three months later, 50,000 acres had been burned. The fire was so intense that it sent hot embers across the river and set fires on the Washington side. Cascade Locks had to be evacuated, but firefighters were able to contain the fire enough to prevent the town from being burned.

Authorities later determined the destructive fire was started by a 15-year-old boy playing with fireworks at Eagle Creek.

The trail wasn’t difficult, but we took it easy because Dane and Austin didn’t have trail legs like Dave and I did.

We hadn’t walked more than 30 minutes and already my feet were beginning to hurt. I tried to ignore this, thinking it was only because my shoes were new.

After about an hour of walking the trail crossed Dry Creek. Despite its name, there was water flowing in the creek, but not enough to warrant the large wooden bridge that crossed it. I’m sure the creek gets a lot more water in the spring when snow begins to melt in the mountains.

After another thirty minutes of hiking on easy trail, we began to make a long and sometimes steep climb. For the next six miles, the trail climbed 3,500 feet.

On the way up, the river, the towns of Cascade Locks and Stevenson, and mountains in Washington came into view between gaps in the trees. Many day hikers were also making the climb for the views.

The farther I went up the trail, the more my feet hurt. The pain was on the outer side of each foot, which was troubling because I thought for sure they were wide enough for my wide feet. I fell behind Dave, Dane and Austin and soon lost sight of them.

Farther still, I began to feel like I needed to make an immediate detour from the trail. There’s no need for a detailed explanation, except to say I suspected the reason for this was the same as when I had to quickly pull off the trail one day in the desert. I had eaten Mexican food while in town.

I like Mexican food and don’t usually have problems with it, so I don’t know why it has hit me twice that way.

After taking some Imodium, I removed my shoes to figure out why they were hurting me. I discovered inside each one was a strip of webbing that held the shoe’s tongue in place. It was placed right where my feet were hurting, so I guessed this was tight enough to restrict the width of the shoe. I pulled out my pocket knife and performed a little trail surgery on the shoes by cutting out the fabric. There was an immediate, noticeable difference when I put the shoes back on.

Feeling better now, I ate some lunch and resumed hiking.

The day was becoming warm, making the long climb more difficult. I tried to drink as much water as I could, hoping that would also help to settle my digestive system.

I refilled my water bottles when I reached Teakettle Spring at 3:25 p.m. I also guzzled more water while I was there. One hiker trick I learned a long time ago is to drink as much as possible while stopping for water. This helps to extend the distance that can be walked between water stops.

Near the top of the climb the trail entered a badly burned section. This was in an area called Benson Plateau. On the other side of the plateau was Eagle Creek, where the 2017 fire had begun.

The rest of the trail wasn’t entirely burnt. Once it left the plateau it followed a ridge before making a gradual descent to Wahtum Lake.

In one stretch I saw a type of plant I hadn’t yet seen much of on the PCT, rhododendron. It is abundant on the Appalachian Trail, so seeing it reminded me of that trail.

From the ridge, an opening across burnt timber revealed the day's first view of Mt. Hood. The peak was covered in clouds.

Walking through the burnt trees was eery. They stood straight and tall, though completely stripped of any foliage.

This area is sure to be a trail maintenance problem for many years to come because the dead trees won’t remain standing forever.

I was grateful to find the trees around the lake were not burnt.

The trail continued on a long, semi-circular path around the lake. As I followed it I kept my eyes open for where Dave and his friends had camped. I found them at the far end of the lake, near where the trail began a climb away from it.

The time was 7:25 p.m., and though I hadn’t hiked especially far today, I was feeling worn out. The climb, the heat, and my intestinal troubles took a lot of energy out of me.

But I didn't just lose energy today. Gradually and barely noticeable at first, I also began to lose enthusiasm for the hike. An emotional weariness was taking over, allowing unproductive thoughts about how much of the trail lay ahead to creep in. I wasn’t yet halfway done and I’d been hiking for three months. This caused me to question if I wanted to continue for another three months. I can usually find an answer for that, but right now I didn't have one.

I should have recognized my emotions for what they were, a reaction to a tiring day and feeling sick. Coming back to the trail after being with my friends likely added to it. Crossing into a new state could have been another trigger.

I’ve experienced emotions like these before. Most thru-hikers probably do question from time to time why they are hiking.

Instead of understanding what was happening and dealing with these thoughts, I set them aside. But as I should have known, negative emotions in the middle of a thru-hike can’t be ignored for long.

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying
When I was a child, I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb

From "Comfortably Numb” by David Gilmour and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.