July 21 (~14:15 – ~21:30)
Highway 20 / Santiam Pass (mi 2000.9) – before Little Belknap (11.7 mi / Total: 1989.2 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1564.8
Weather: Hot and sunny.
I wake up to the sun and a warm morning. I can’t remember waking up to warmth since the end of the desert, and it feels great. It’s a big change from Washington. I get up leisurely, and wake up Sunshine so we can visit Sisters for coffee and breakfast and Bend for shoes. Shoes! I’m so excited. A shoe store in Bend has the exact shoes I want in a cool blue colour and I pick them up immediately. Once we’re back at Santiam Pass it’s early afternoon. I say goodbye to my old gear, take some pictures with my old and new shoes, and off we are.
It’s great to walk and chat with Sunshine. I haven’t hike with someone else much at all on the trail, and time goes by so fast. It’s good because the trail isn’t too interesting – a long walk through the sand and burnt trees. Plus I could use the distraction – my backpack is heavier than it’s been in a long time, and I have no idea how I’m going to make it through the first few days. I clearly bought way too much food.
Before we know it we’ve walked for several hours already and we decide to continue to the southern junction to Big Lake Youth Camp, where Sunshine will head back to her car via the PCT alternate that leads through the camp, joining the PCT again after a few miles.
When we say goodbye it’s already 5pm, but I hope to still walk some 10 miles, al least. I’m happy I got to have a relaxed day back on trail, but I also want to do a decent day, mileage wise. Just after I get going I check for water, and notice the nearby seasonal stream has run dry. That’s a first. So far I’ve always been in season for the seasonal streams, but it’s summer now, and I’m going to have to be careful. The first water source is another 12 miles away, and I only have about half a litre left. I decide I can make it, but it won’t be comfortable. I’m already thirsty, and it’s still very sunny.
I get going straight away, but realise I’m too hungry to continue without eating. I find a rock, open my pack and take out my bread when I have a flash of this morning when I was packing away my tent – I didn’t include my stakes. I go through my things immediately, they’re not there. Everything was so different this morning, I left them where we set up our tents at Santiam Pass. I can’t believe it. I’m always so careful not to leave anything, but here I go.
I stuff everything back into my pack and hurry back – I need to find Sunshine. I find the trail towards the camp and try to run down it, exhausting me entirely. I really can’t run with this stupidly heavy pack. I pant, try and call her but can’t get through. I jog small sections and call her name, but she’s too far, there’s no response. Just as I’ve made it to the youth camp, Sunshine returns my call. I messily try and explain what’s happened, confusing her entirely, and then she walks back to meet me along the dirt road, so we can figure out what to do.
We’re lucky we were so close to this youth camp. There’s hardly anyone coming in or out, but we decide it’d be easiest for us both to return to Santiam Pass, grab the stakes and then for Sunshine to drive me back to the youth camp. We manage to get a ride back to the pass from a friendly family, and I immediately find the place where we camped – and find the stakes right there on the ground. What a day.
Sunshine drives me back, and after picking up some essential water from the youth camp, I’m on my way again. I follow the trail back to where it connects to the PCT, and find the same rock as before, resolved to finally make that sandwich, and eat it. But suddenly, I lose my temper. I cut my nail on one of the many stuff sacks stuck in my pack, and snap. Why did I bring so much food? Why is my backpack so ridiculously heavy? Why did I lose all that time with those stakes?
When I hit the trail again, it seems to work against me too. After the level section I did with Sunshine, the path just goes up, and with the mosquitoes, the heat and my monstrous pack, it’s a huge struggle. I feel its weight pushing me into the ground, and my feet are already swelling up with the heat from the sun, making me wonder if I really didn’t need that half size up after all. I can’t get it right today.
I hike up the steady trail but it takes long to reach the top, and once I’m there, it’s going dark already. It’s confusing – it didn’t get dark this early in Washington, and I was counting on having more time.
I hurry down the sandy path, feeling destroyed despite walking such small mileage, and don’t even make it to the tentsite I’ve aimed for. It gets too dark and the shadows creep me out a little, and I find a flat spot next to the trail, just 0.2 miles before the tentsite. I decide to set up, wanting to cowboy camp but then erecting my tent after all. I need some shelter. I notice I’m already running low on water, I’m not used to the heat anymore. The next water source is quite a while away tomorrow. What a start. This was quite an exacting day already. I can’t wait to get my rhythm back and fly through.