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Back to the woods and rivers

On August 20, 1905, Oregon wilderness wanderer John Waldo wrote a journal entry from the east slope of Mount Jefferson. In it, he quoted one of his two favorite authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson (the other being Thoreau): “In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.”

After last summer’s hike of the Oregon’s Pacific Crest Trail — my book on it, Hiking Home, is due out in October — someone asked me what surprised me about the trail. Two things, I said. First, that it’s dominated by non-Oregonians, including lots of people from other countries. Second, that it’s dominated by youth.

I expected the latter, but not in such a one-sided ratio. Beyond my brother-in-law, Glenn, and I — both nearly 60 — we hiked with a California couple our age and ran into a 75-year-old guy named Turtle Dan above Highway 20 near Big Lake. Beyond that, hardly anyone on the trail was more than 30.

That said, I seldom felt my age, 57. That’s because Emerson is right: the woods bring out the child in us. Having gone on two elk-hunting trips — as journalist, not hunter — I noted the same thing. The trip wasn’t so much about killing or meat. (OK, some of it was.) It was really about grown men getting to play cowboys again. And good for them for doing so.

A few weeks back, I did some fly-fishing with my brother-in-law, Greg Scandrett, on the McKenzie River and on the north fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. From the minute I slipped into the booth at the Vida Cafe for my traditional pre-trip three-eggs-over-easy-and-hash-browns breakfast to the minute I returned, I felt like a kid again.

In fact, on Sunday evening, after Greg headed back to Hillsboro, I was driving to Eugene with Greg Hatten, a friend, excellent fly fisher and guide who’d taken us down the McKenzie. Earlier, he had lamented, as we pulled out at Helfrich Landing, that we didn’t have time to continue on and do the much-ballyhooed Marten’s Rapids. Greg Scandrett needed to get back home, so we’d pulled out.

We zipped up to Blue River for gas and were headed back to Eugene when it occurred to me that neither of us had — and this is rare for me — any deadlines. No place we needed to be. As if, well, we were kids again. “I’m game if you are,” I said.

“You serious?”

“Yep. Let’s do it.”

And so we put the boat back in and, a little like the two brothers in A River Runs Through It, “shot the chutes.”

It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend of returning to Emerson’s “perpetual youth.”

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