July 23 (~07:40 – ~19:20)
Mesa Creek – before Stormy Lake (25.1 mi / Total: 1937.9 mi) (+2.0 bonus miles to Elk Lake Resort)
Total PCT miles: 1616.1
Weather: As yesterday. Sunny and very warm, with some wind here and there.
The mosquitoes haven’t gone overnight. They’re stationed right outside my tent, and when they realise I’m about to come out, they bring reinforcements and swarm the area. I decide to try the insect repellent serviettes I got from Whole Foods, and wipe myself with two of them. My expectations aren’t high – when the mosquitoes are this bloodthirsty, nothing really helps, but I’m surprised they remain at a distance for a short time. They are in full attack again by the time I’ve packed up my things, so I rush out the moment I can. When I cross the large grassy meadow, I realise that in the madness of it all, I’ve forgotten to take a picture of my campsite. That hardly ever happens.
Despite the mosquitoes, today starts amazingly. The trail traverses through a sweeping, undulating area, with views back onto South Sister, and a hill of volcanic rock. I love how different this section is, and the spaciousness and simplicity. If it hadn’t been for the monstrous mosquitoes attacking me from all sides, it would’ve been a perfect place to spend some time.
After a few miles I delve into the forest again, and the bugs continue to chase me. It’s absolutely maddening, I am constantly battering myself, my face, my neck, my legs, and they bite right through my top and gloves. It stings everywhere, the mosquitoes are omnipresent and I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. It goes on for miles, and in my helplessness I throw out all my former resolves: give me the full body mosquito netting, give me the 100% deet. I don’t care anymore. I’m in hell.
In that moment I decide to detour to Elk Lake Resort. It’s just over a mile off trail, and I wasn’t planning on going there at all, but apparently there’s a restaurant and a tiny store with medical supplies and camping equipment. I’ll risk the extra miles for a chance to get a head net, or those silly net pants, or some deet. I’ll take anything, really.
Luckily the mosquitoes lessen before I reach the side trail to the resort, and the lake itself is mosquito free as well. It’s a busy place. Full of daytrippers, but I quite enjoy the quick visit. I like being amongst people, but being the odd one out, the one thruhiker. The store unfortunately, is even less well-stocked than I’d imagined. They sell Cliff bars and some chocolate bars, the medical supplies are a box of pills and the camping equipment are fuel canisters. There is one spray can of deet that is so large it looks like a family sized year-supply, which I wouldn’t even bring car camping. I am desperate, but that’s pushing it.
Instead I dig through the hiker box and find an oversized stuff sack from a Big Agnes sleeping bag. It’s made of thick netting, and it smells clean, as though someone has just ordered a new bag and had it send here. I take it. It’s large and heavy but it fits over my head, and it means that when the mosquito attack again, there’s at least one body part I’ll be slapping less.
I stay at the restaurant until it gets busy. The coffee comes with free refills, and before I leave I get a strawberry ice cream. It’s my dad’s birthday today, so it’s a small celebration for him.
Although I didn’t quite find what I came here for, I’m happy when I return to the PCT, and the trail takes me back up to the mountain, bright and sunny and cheerful despite the downed trees, with views onto the snowy peaks around, until I’m back in the forest, for good.
The rest of the day remains the same. Oregon appears the state of forests and small lakes and ponds, and the PCT passes all of them. The trail is a little sandy but mostly covered in forest pine needles, comfortable underfoot, and the trail is relatively level. It’s easy to walk, and it’s pleasant in the shade, especially when there’s a little bit of wind coming through. The sun is hot though, making me long for the fresher Washington days again. I’ll never be happy with what I have.
It’s not until later in the afternoon that the mosquitoes return. I pull the sleeping bag headnet over my head, and while I feel a little bit silly, my relief for having this shield is greater than my shame. It works well, although it’s a little odd to be separated from my surroundings like this. I douse my legs in more bug repellent, which works a little and I try to walk as far as I can. I’m exhausted though, and have to force myself when the trail goes uphill, and I can’t wait to reach my next water source so I can finally camp.
I take water from a pond, and unfortunately all the tentsites around it are taken, so I continue through the forest, until I see a good flat site on the dirt ground, and set up while the mosquitoes attack.