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PCT day 17: heavy pack, light heart

I wake up at 7ish, which means I’ve missed the first bus back up to Timberline (I kinda planned to miss it) and I’ll catch the next one at 8:43. I pack up my things and eat breakfast on the porch, then head out. At Timberline I wave to Snowman on his way to catch the bus himself (he’s headed to Portland for a trail vacation) and then walk up to the lodge, where I fill my bottles, adjust my socks and shoes, and eventually convince myself to hit the trail. My pack is so much heavier than it was yesterday, with 12 pounds of food to last me the next week. Oof.

I descend some sandy trail I recognize from my Timberline circuit, and then the PCT and the Timberline Trail diverge. I follow the PCT into the woods. At a little seasonal stream, I filter a bunch of water; there’s a dry stretch ahead and I don’t want to run out of water again. Now my pack is even heavier, hurray!

I entertain myself while I hike by trying to figure out the rules that govern Ms. Frizzle’s magic (or her bus’s, I suppose). I spot a sign and blue markers for Yellowjacket Ski Trail and remember trying to use Halfmile to find the PCT — and this, our snowshoe route — earlier this year with Jay’s Mazamas BCEP group. I cross Highway 35. I wonder whether my shoes are in fact too small. J. suggested that as a possible reason for my various aches and pains when I was in Portland, but I wrote it off. Now I’m not so sure. I can feel my toes against the front of my shoes a little bit. I guess my feet are swelling — or, as Ben suggested, beefing up.

I get to the trailhead at Highway 26 right behind another sobo hiker. There’s trail magic!! Squirrel came out to meet her hiking friend Snowflake and brought a cooler full of La Croix, a bunch of chips, and bananas and oranges. Minutes after we arrive, two former AT hikers, Fish and Tex, show up with another cooler full of beer and soda. We sit around and chat and sip and eat for over an hour, me and the other sobo, Superstar, and two nobo thrus, Bird Shit and Himalaya.

I have a bit of signal and I ask J. to pick up a new pair of shoes for me to bring me at Olallie Lake. REI only has a whole size bigger in stock, so hopefully that’ll work okay.

At 3 I tear myself away from the picnic table at Highway 26 and hike on towards Little Crater Lake. I’m feeling pretty good and enjoying hiking… until I start to feel a new pain on the front of my left ankle. I can’t really take the pain too seriously, since I’ve had a bunch of different aches, none of which have lasted more than a day or so before fading away again. I’ll soak my foot in Little Crater Lake, I decide.

By the time I get there, the pain is throbbing halfway up my shin with every step. I follow the pretty boardwalk path to the lake. The lake is stunning and completely surprising — it’s one thing to hear “clear water” and another to see 45 feet down to the bottom of a turquoise lake. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.

I find a spot on the edge of the lake to take off my shoes and dip my feet in. The water is so cold (a sign says 34 degrees!) that I can’t hold them in for longer than 30 seconds at a time. I dunk my foot in a few times, and then get up and continue on — limping (oh shit) down the trail to Timothy Lake.

Camping is only allowed in designated sites around the lake, but there are a bunch of them. The first five or six I pass, though, are occupied — and there’s a bit of distance between sites. It’s a huge lake! My ankle/shin/whatever is killing me. When I finally find an open site, I sigh with relief. It’s even pretty, right on the lake shore.

I pitch my tent and then hobble to the edge of the lake and find a rock to sit on. I soak my feet. The water is much warmer than Little Crater Lake, so it’s not much of an ice bath, but it feels nice anyway. There’s a tender spot on my left shin above the ankle. I can’t tell if it’s swollen. I try not to even think the words “stress fracture.” It’ll probably feel better in the morning. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Timothy Lake has a trail going all the way around it — the PCT on the east side, and another trail on the west side of the lake. A sign I passed earlier said the whole way around is 13 miles. Might be a nice long run sometime — I’m still within a couple hours’ drive of home. And I think that’s a reason this hike is worthwhile, even if it’s not nonstop gorgeous or whatever. It’s showing me things I didn’t know about my home. Places I didn’t know were here, or in any case hadn’t really bothered to investigate (yet).

Once the sun has disappeared behind the hills on the other side of the lake, but before the light has faded, I make dinner. Then I drink some herbal tea and watch the light fade and the fish jump. Except for the occasional distant yell or boat noise, I could be alone at the lake — but there are probably hundreds of people scattered around its shores. Probably a few even walked here from further away than me. Hah!

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