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PCT day 14: mount hood sneakin’ up on me

I wake up much too early when the sky lightens and the wind picks up. I try to sleep, but it’s windy enough that I’m worried about my tent stakes pulling out. The ground here is soft and sandy in some spots and too rocky to stake in others; I’ve got rocks piled on a couple of my stakes, but I wasn’t counting on a lot of wind when I pitched last night. Eventually I give up and start packing up. I’ll hike to Wahtum Lake and have breakfast there.

I continue through the burn, and finally reach the section I helped log out last month. I eye a few of the cut logs, wondering if I can recognize which ones I helped pull a saw across. It’s easy walking, fairly level, with nice tread.

While I walk I think about how tired I am, how lonely I felt last night, and some cheesy motivational quotation I read somewhere recently: “if you’re not improving yourself or enjoying yourself, you’re wasting your time.” Which am I trying to do with this trip, enjoy myself or improve myself? If I’m trying to improve myself, to challenge myself, to see how fast I can go and how strong and brave I can be, then I need to have a better attitude about being bored, tired, lonely, in pain, or all of the above. If I’m trying to enjoy myself, maybe I should slow down, soak my feet in rivers and lakes, take all the side trails, draw, read. Or just quit and spend the rest of my summer going on dayhikes and short backpacking loops in beautiful places.

I don’t know.

I reach the lake and settle down on a big log near the shore to eat breakfast. I mix a packet of hot chocolate with a packet of instant coffee and sip it slowly. Three people come down the trail from the nearby Wahtum Lake trailhead carrying an inflatable boat. While I filter water, they bring it to the lakeshore, put in the water, wade out after it, and float into the middle of the lake. As I’m walking away, they pull out fishing poles.

I walk through the forest. There are views of Mount Hood from time to time, from rocky ridges or peeking through trees. Throughout the day, Mount Hood will appear for a while, then disappear, and the reappear again much bigger and closer. Like that cute internet cat video in which the cat is closer every time the cameraperson steps out from behind a door frame.

A few miles south of the lake, I reach the last junction with a trail leading to Eagle Creek. There’s a little spring just past the closed signs, where I fill up with plenty of water. Soon after the spring, the forest drops away and the trail traverses a beautiful semi-alpine area, open and rocky. I round a corner and see Mount Adams… and then Mount Rainier… and then Mount Saint Helens, all in a beautiful row along the horizon, Table Mountain in the slightly-less-distant foreground. Wow! I start to have a good time, picking my way along the rocky trail, admiring wildflowers.

I walk through lovely lush forest. I enter the Bull Run watershed, which I’ll hike through for the rest of the day. I keep an eye out for those views of Hood. I meet some nobo thru-hikers and section hikers.

Lolo Pass Road marks about 20 miles for me today. There’s a stream across the trail about a half mile before I reach it, and I fill up with water. The road is an awkward place to stop for the night, but there’s a trailhead with a picnic table and a flat spot to camp. The next tentsite is 3 miles further, at the top of a climb. I don’t think I have it in me. I feel a little nervous camping so close to the road, but I remind myself that I camped at places like this all the time on my bike trip. So, I enjoy the picnic table while I cook and eat dinner, and then I pitch my tent and crawl inside.

At 11pm I hear footsteps coming up the trail from the south, and a bunch of thru-hikers (I assume, based on their hiking nobo in the dark) turn into my little camping area. “Hey there,” I call out. “You guys setting up camp here?” They answer affirmatively. “Cool, there’s plenty of room.” I’ll sleep better now, honestly. I roll over and do just that.

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