Start: Eagle Creek CG
Camp: Eagle Creek
Existing in perfect harmony with the universe or being blissfully unaware that you’re not can feel about the same, but it’s easy to tell the difference if you take the time to stop and think about it. I didn’t feel like stopping, so today the universe sent me on a little detour to put me back in sync.
I camped at the mouth of Eagle Creek in the ruckus Eagle Creek Campground. The caretaker, Polly, saw me sitting at a table writing and invited me to stay for free. She even offered me shower in the super secret hidden shower that’s sandwiched in between the men’s and women’s restrooms in the utility closet, which I accepted just so that I could experience of sliding into my freshly fluffed sleeping bag without sticking to the thin nylon interior. It was heavenly and I dosed off without finishing my blog entry about the two days I’d just spent in Portland.
In the morning I realized that if I wrote postcard instead of blogging I could probably leave the 8 oz in postcards that I was carrying with Polly instead of carrying them another 48 miles to Timberline Lodge, or further if I didn’t happen upon a nice place to write. Here I had a table in the shade, and there didn’t seem to be any flies or mosquitoes. That, I can tell you, is a rare combination.
Polly obligingly took the postcards off my hands, but now, two days later, I still haven’t gotten back to Portland. I’m thoughtful and neat with my postcards, and there were five of them, so I didn’t get started up the Eagle Creek trail until late morning. In fact, I sat at the trailhead taking advantage of my last bar of cell service by ordering from Amazon while day hikers chattily strode past. When I finally headed up the trail I was reminded how slow day hikers are as I passed everyone I had seen, even though they’re had a headstart equivalent to the time it took me to order trekking poles, a #10 can of freeze dried beef, a backup Sawyer Mini and a 2.0l Evernew bag, and 3.5 lbs of Nido. All the essentials, though it took me nearly 600 miles without them to learn that.
We all convened at Punchbowl Falls. What a spectacular canyon. Naturally, I wished I had 200′ of rope and a wetsuit to do the canyon properly as a canyoneer: from top to bottom in the watercourse. I flipped off the lower falls and swam into the punchbowl to see the upper, but I passed on an invitation to experience the waterslide that dumps you off the 30′ upper falls. I didn’t want to get my feet wet. I also didn’t want to fill my uber-sensitive sinuses with the unequivocally dirty water; Eagle Creek sees a lot of day abs overnight use, and there are no restrooms, not even a pit toilet. I also passed on rope-swinging off the cliff or jumping the tallest 50′ jump there, telling myself I’d come back expressly to shoot cliff jumping video. Besides, I had miles to hike yet today.
The universe didn’t expect that. By all accounts I should have stayed – I had a gorgeous and excessively hot day at one of the best cliff jumping spots I’ve seen and I even had a couple of locals my age to show me the proper way to break the cliff jumping ordinance. There were even a couple of cute girls lolling about. I began the 13 mile climb up the canyon in the heat of the day.
Tunnel Falls is spectacular, I’ve never seen anything like it.
The scenery was spectacular and the frequent exposure (to falling off a cliff) kept my adrenaline pumping. I made excellent time as I jaunted up the canyon, passing campsites and side trails along the way. Around 5:00 p.m. I finally came upon Chris and his nephew Adam who had stopped to make dinner. “Hi!” I said with an over friendly smile. I continued before they could respond: “Do you know where we are?” Chris had the map in his lap.
“Yes, we’re right here.” Chris is from Hood River, a gentle older fellow with the similitude of a through hiker, though I would learn that his gear was all borrowed and he was only out for three days.
“Is the PCT on there?” With his map upside down for me and three feet away I couldn’t recognize the section of the PCT that the green line on his map represented.
“Well yea, but it’s back the way you came.” I sighed in resignation. Chris looked up at me, matter of factly through his thin wire spectacles.
“How far?”
He answered, but I didn’t listen. I had spun around and was already busy venting my frustration with expletives, because I hadn’t passed a junction in over two hours.
“Son of a b*tch!” I said loudly with emphasis on the final word.
“Do you have a map?” Chris ignored my childishness and continued.
“No.” Which was a silly answer because of course I had a map, I was familiar from looking at it that morning and it was four inches from my right hand, folded into ninths in my right hipbelt pocket like it always was. What I meant is I didn’t feel like getting it out.
“Well yea.”
“It doesn’t show this trail very well.” We were on the Eagle-Tanner Trail that loops around and eventually goes back down to the Columbia gorge. “Is there any water here?”
I sat down and started making lunch while I tried to figure what had compelled me to hike so far on a trail that I knew was going the wrong direction. I brought a pot of water to a boil and added the red quinoa that I had started soaking that morning and had been carefully transporting in two ziplock bags. I was much more interested in the ‘new’ food I was snacking on, Frito’s, while I resisted opening the Milano’s.
Chris and Adam were using a JetBoil for the first time.
“Once the quinoa is cooked,” I explained to Chris, “I add another cup of water, return it to a boil, then add the Knorr Side for flavoring, and turn it off. It’s ready in about 10 minutes.” I added one of my lesser favorites, Mexican Rice, abhorring the overfull feeling I knew was coming. I had made twice as much food as I could eat, and four times what I wanted after snacking. Why did I pack so much food? I had even returned a box of crackers.
I had set out from Portland in new shoes, with ear buds and a memory card from Fred Meyer loaded with music I’d downloaded while I lounged on my friends’ couch in Portland. I had yummy new food. I had eaten ice cream three days in a row and slept as late as I wanted to for two of them. I was rested and feeling strong. To top it all off I was only going 48 miles before my next resupply, so I was traveling much lighter than my muscles were used to. And I had been cliff jumping! I was excited and I was practically skipping up the trail, although my pack wasn’t quite light enough for that, yet… That’s why I had ignored the feeling of being in the wrong place.
“Shit!” I yelled. Boiling water was draining through the airy white mesh on top of my shoe and burning the tops of my toes.
I had been struggling with getting the pot cozy back on with my tinfoil windscreen safely tucked beneath it when I toppled the whole pot and stove into the brush. Filled to the brim, it landed with a dull thud and I swooped beneath it and righted it, flinging its bubbling contents onto my arms and feet. I looked down at my white shoes.
Just like the marshmallow burn, it had taken me a second to realize what was happening. I flung my right shoe off but the damage was done. I had searing blisters across the tops of three toes.
I scooped what I could back into my pot and repacked. Chris said an apologetic goodbye and that they’d see me up ahead. They’d been repacking since I got there; they wouldn’t be able to catch up to me.
I ate as I retraced the boring switchbacks I’d just climbed. Along the way I found a small ziplock with four silicone ear bud sleeves and a memory card containing all of my trips pictures. Now I knew how patently oblivious I really was to what was happening around me. I felt like such an idiot. I wished I could have spent the time and energy of getting lost cliff jumping instead. I found the right trail, climbed a couple of miles, rinsed away the quinoa and frustrations in a cool stream, but not the burns, and laid out beneath the tall pines. The irony was that had I direct the day cliff jumping off have ended up camping in this same spot. I feel like life is like that – like there are multiple paths you can take but there are certain stops like this campsite that are, perhaps, predestined, and, no matter how severely you depart from your nature, you will airways be back on your path after one of these stops. I stretched and feel asleep, frustrated that I’d missed out and accepting that it didn’t make any difference.