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PCT day 23: moonwalking

(Day 22 was a zero in Sisters and Bend. Coffee, pastries, burritos, paletas, beer, shave ice, Thai food! I borrowed a pair of running shorts from J. and bought a t shirt for 50 cents at a thrift store so I could wash everything else at a laundromat. In the evening we intended to drive back to the trailhead but we didn’t finish dinner till 10 — oops. So we treated ourselves to another glorious night’s rest in real beds.)

In the morning I tell J. I want to be at the trailhead by 10. We get coffee and pastries again and pull up at the trailhead at 10:02. Pretty good! He’s also let me borrow his running shorts for the rest of my hike (it turns out they’re really comfy, and I want to see how they do on trail — men’s running shorts; who knew? My merino shorts have been slowly disintegrating, and it seems like a good idea to explore my options) and helped me tape some medical gauze pads over my heat rash to hopefully absorb some sweat and protect it from rubbing.

I cross the highway and walk through more sandy burn, then a little bit of more established forest. The first few miles pass quickly, and then I reach the dirt road turn off for Big Lake Youth Camp, a summer camp that offers very generous hospitality to PCT hikers — a cabin with laundry and showers, and donation-based meals three times a day. I want to stop by to fill up my water bottles — and maybe stay for lunch.

The dirt road leads past a logging operation. I can hear heavy equipment and the workers’ music playing. I follow other hikers’ footprints in the dust. A deer has gone this way, too.

At the camp, a cheerful staff member makes me a name tag and points me towards the hiker cabin, which is full of nobos. I fill my water bottles and loiter until lunch — burritos, fresh fruit, and one very tasty cookie per person. After lunch, I head out along the trail that leads back to the PCT southbound.

More sandy burn — but eventually the trees get greener and taller — at least briefly, and then I’m back in the burn. There are views of Mount Washington and, increasingly, North and Middle Sister. I call Ben and we chat while I hike about what we’ve been up to and about meeting at Odell Lake at the end of the week. I’ll go that far, I’ve decided. Today is a decision point — McKenzie Pass was my original goal destination, but I’ve got a box at Shelter Cove (Odell Lake) that I’d like to go get. J. is doing some runs out of McKenzie Pass today, so I’ll see him there tonight. I could just get a ride home from him. But I’m having a great time on trail lately.

Soon the trail leads past big lava flows, black piles of rock here and there. In the distance I see the big lava field I know I’ll be crossing; the trail winds it’s way there slowly, but for now the tread is soft and sandy with occasional bits of pumice.

Then it leads up into the lava, a path cut into the rock. The trail tread is rocky and uneven, made of loose pieces of pumice and leading up and over and around and through all kinds of lava formations. It’s beautiful and alien and stark and so, so cool. I timed it exactly right, somehow — it’s getting to be evening, and the light is beautiful. It’s not too hot and there’s a nice breeze.

I look up from my umpteenth photo and there’s J. running up the trail towards me. I’m just a couple miles from the trailhead now; he gives me his car key in case I need or want it when I get there. I beat him there by ten minutes or so (he ran up to Belknap Crater) and am glad to be able to sit in a seat while I wait for him to finish his run.

We pitch our tents at the trailhead and walk up to the road to watch the sunset and admire the glowing Sisters, then cook dinner and go to sleep.

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