PCT Day 118 : Racing Through The Oregon Desert

July 31 (~07:25 – ~21:15)
After Dead Indian Road – after Lone Pilot Trail (33.2 mi / Total: 1726.4 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1827.7
Weather: Hot and dry.

I wake up to the oddest sounds in the middle of the night. I can’t describe it in any other way than some sort of yelp of song. A group of dog-like animals, singing. I’ve never heard anything like it before. It’s 2:30, my alarm is supposed to go off in an hour, and I promptly decide against trying to reach town that day. I don’t want to walk in the dark for that long – night hiking gets spooky, and I’d never reach the highway early enough to make it all the way into Ashland or Medford anyways. I’m planning to take a proper day off – two nights in some sort of hotel room for myself, so I can really get that sense of not having to get up to check out and be on the move again. Oregon has been dry and dusty, and everything is caked in a layer of dirt. I want to clean everything before going again. Plus I have some new gear to sort out, and some other items to order online.

I change my alarm and decide to aim for a 40 mile day, then a nero into town and still a zero after that. Doing a long day like this won’t save me any time on this section, but it will give me some extra rest in town, and that’s good too.

I get up as it gets light, and pack away my things, trying not to touch all the plants that could very well be poison oak. Then I go, expecting the forest to continue on and on, but it changes soon, and it’s abrupt. First the open views onto veiled mountains afar, layers of fairytale blue. Then I find myself in a desert, the trees interchanged by new ones, not of the evergreen variety, the ground dry and dusty as if I’m in the dunes. Once the sun is out it gets hot, and it sears over the dried grass. I’m not surprised wildfires are common here, one spark would set everything alight.

Today the trail intersects many dirt roads, and I kind of like it for a change, because I constantly feel as though I’m accomplishing something. At one point I pass through a field that smells of camomile and it’s such a beautiful thing, I crave hot tea instantly, despite the heat and despite the fact I don’t actually like camomile tea that much.

I’m not moving particularly fast though, and I underestimated the terrain. The ups and downs are just a little steeper and more constant than I’d thought, and I soon realise I started too late this morning, there’s no way I’m going to reach 40 miles. It’s disappointing – I don’t like committing to something and then giving up halfway through. But I have to be realistic, I’d be walking till midnight if I wanted to hit my goal, and I’m just not comfortable enough with night hiking to do that.

I check the map for an alternative goal, and find the popular Pilot Rock a good match – I could cowboy camp with a nice view. It would give me a 35 mile day, very mediocre compared to my initial plan, even though I shouldn’t see it like that. My views on mileage has warped, evidently.

I push my tired legs on, up the steep inclines, down the short downhills. It’s already late in the afternoon when I enjoy far fetched views over Emigrant Lake, and all the hills are golden with trees dotted sporadically.

After 30 miles I reach my last water source of the day, and it’s beginning to get dark. I see numerous tents erected underneath the trees close to the piped spring, and as I walk on I find more people along the ridge, enjoying the intense haze of the changing sun, first a yellow glow, then an orange and pink sky.

This is when adrenaline sets in. I have two hours left to walk, and the light is diminishing fast. The trail moves through short sections of forest, then open spaces, over and over again. I take out my headlight and turn off my music, walking with Netflix out loud instead, the voices accompanying me and keeping me safe from animals, or so I hope. I’m running now, trying to keep my footing on the dry downhills, the sand loose and dicey, and I try to focus on the path, and not the darkness outside the range of my headlight.

When I reach a small overlook I stop and check my position. It’s gorgeous here. I can see Pilot Rock in the distance, and the valley stretching out below. It’s another two miles to Pilot Rock itself, and now that I’m standing still, I’m not quite sure I want to continue in the dark, through the woods for at least another half hour. I decide to stay instead, and cowboy camp under the stars, the stars that multiply the longer I stare at them.

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