Finishing the PCT journey

After 26 days, 450-plus miles, snow, fire and far too much gorp, I reached the “Entering Washington” sign on the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks this afternoon to complete backpacking the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The scariest part of the journey was, of course, the bridge. It’s one of those metal grate kind where you can see everything below you. Give me Devils Peak in the snow any day.

The saddest part of the trip was finishing alone. My brother-in-law, Dr. Glenn Petersen, awoke Monday morning suffering from vertigo. Though we’d spent the previous day traversing Mount Hood’s lower flanks, the condition, for him, has nothing to do with heights. It hits only every few years and, weirdly, came on with us just two days from completing our up-the-state’s-spine adventure. There’s no “pill” or other quick fix; he just needs to stay still — sleep works — or he’ll get dizzy and throw up, nobody’s idea of a good time.

We were fortunate in some ways, however. Had this happened the previous day, on the flanks of Mount Hood, far from a road, he would have been in more serious trouble. As it was, we were camped along Highway 35 (Hood River to Mount Hood) for the night. What’s more, though I hadn’t been able to find a cell connection the previous night, I kept phoning his wife, Ann, and moving around until I found one of the few spots that worked. She was able to pick him up and get him back to Albany.

Meanwhile, I headed on alone. Weird feeling that, after we’d walked every step from the California border starting July 22, with a thee-week break to get back to work before resuming Aug. 27. Weirder still when I got to Wahtum Lake, which the forest service had designated as on part of the rerouting around the east/north flank of Hood instead of the west/north, only to find it void of human life. The only car there had a sign on its windshield: “Evacuate! Because of nearby fires … ”

Hmmm. I soon headed north, down into the Eagle Creek basin and away from any fire danger, which, by the looks of the smoke from the Dollar Lake fire, was far, far away.

After camping in one of the few flat spots around, I headed for I-84 down Eagle Creek this morning. Besides one of the most beautiful sections of trail — waterfalls seemingly around every bend — it was a sentimental journey. This was where Glenn and I had first met, camping with the Youngberg sisters nearly 40 years ago. (See photo of the four us in 1973; I was 19.)

When, about 2 p.m., I’d skirted along I-84 for a couple of miles and gotten on the bridge at Cascade Locks, most of the emotion, frankly, had gotten played out in my mind on the trail. I had Sally take a photo of me with my arm around nobody, planning to later PhotoShop in Glenn, who was there in spirit. But later, when I talked to him on the phone, he was feeling much better and thankful for, as he put it, “the trip of a lifetime.”

Our plan for next summer? Timberline Lodge to Cascade Locks, to complete the trip that a fire — and a case of vertigo — complicated but didn’t end.

He’s already agreed to spring for the Timberline breakfast buffet before we leave.

Note: Thanks for following me on the trip and for the encouragement some of you sent. My three-part series on Phase II of the PCT hike begins Tuesday, Sept. 13, in The Register-Guard.


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