Finishing the PCT journey

Posted By on September 6, 2011

After 26 days, 450-plus miles, snow, fire and far too much gorp, I reached the “Entering Washington” sign on the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks this afternoon to complete backpacking the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The scariest part of the journey was, of course, the bridge. It’s one of those metal grate kind where you can see everything below you. Give me Devils Peak in the snow any day.

The saddest part of the trip was finishing alone. My brother-in-law, Dr. Glenn Petersen, awoke Monday morning suffering from vertigo. Though we’d spent the previous day traversing Mount Hood’s lower flanks, the condition, for him, has nothing to do with heights. It hits only every few years and, weirdly, came on with us just two days from completing our up-the-state’s-spine adventure. There’s no “pill” or other quick fix; he just needs to stay still — sleep works — or he’ll get dizzy and throw up, nobody’s idea of a good time.

We were fortunate in some ways, however. Had this happened the previous day, on the flanks of Mount Hood, far from a road, he would have been in more serious trouble. As it was, we were camped along Highway 35 (Hood River to Mount Hood) for the night. What’s more, though I hadn’t been able to find a cell connection the previous night, I kept phoning his wife, Ann, and moving around until I found one of the few spots that worked. She was able to pick him up and get him back to Albany.

Meanwhile, I headed on alone. Weird feeling that, after we’d walked every step from the California border starting July 22, with a thee-week break to get back to work before resuming Aug. 27. Weirder still when I got to Wahtum Lake, which the forest service had designated as on part of the rerouting around the east/north flank of Hood instead of the west/north, only to find it void of human life. The only car there had a sign on its windshield: “Evacuate! Because of nearby fires … ”

Hmmm. I soon headed north, down into the Eagle Creek basin and away from any fire danger, which, by the looks of the smoke from the Dollar Lake fire, was far, far away.

After camping in one of the few flat spots around, I headed for I-84 down Eagle Creek this morning. Besides one of the most beautiful sections of trail — waterfalls seemingly around every bend — it was a sentimental journey. This was where Glenn and I had first met, camping with the Youngberg sisters nearly 40 years ago. (See photo of the four us in 1973; I was 19.)

When, about 2 p.m., I’d skirted along I-84 for a couple of miles and gotten on the bridge at Cascade Locks, most of the emotion, frankly, had gotten played out in my mind on the trail. I had Sally take a photo of me with my arm around nobody, planning to later PhotoShop in Glenn, who was there in spirit. But later, when I talked to him on the phone, he was feeling much better and thankful for, as he put it, “the trip of a lifetime.”

Our plan for next summer? Timberline Lodge to Cascade Locks, to complete the trip that a fire — and a case of vertigo — complicated but didn’t end.

He’s already agreed to spring for the Timberline breakfast buffet before we leave.

Note: Thanks for following me on the trip and for the encouragement some of you sent. My three-part series on Phase II of the PCT hike begins Tuesday, Sept. 13, in The Register-Guard.

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About The Author

Bob Welch is a writer and speaker who crafts stories of heart, humor reminding audiences that we're all pebbles in the water, our ripple speading far beyond what we might think. The author of 12 books, he has been honored six times by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for his columns in The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard.

Comments

8 Responses to “Finishing the PCT journey”

  1. Jeff says:

    Great, great effort, Bob. A joy to read.

  2. Mary says:

    I’m amazed and envious of the determination that it took to keep slogging onward in this journey. Let’s hear about your new fitness level, shall we? :)

  3. Peri says:

    Congrats Bob on finishing and thanks for sharing your adventure with us. I looked forward to and enjoyed your updates along the trail.

  4. John says:

    Great job Bob! A real joy to follow along on your journey!

  5. Glenn Klein says:

    Enjoyed you reports of the “trek”. Great to hear you and Glenn plan to finish it
    together next year. Really enjoyed the pictures. Uncle Glenn

  6. jay-zzzz says:

    WOW, you really did it. Amazing. Congratulations. It has been an absolute ball keeping up with you two on your travels on the PCT. Thank you so much for sharing your life with all of us in your books, your talks and adventures like what you just completed. JZ

  7. Pam Otley says:

    Terrific, Bob! I have so enjoyed following along on your adventure! I’m sorry that Glen was not able to finish with you but it sounds like you guys have good plan for closure on the section of the PCT you were unable to access. Congratulations!

  8. Theresa O'Brien says:

    I have Enjoyed reading your blog and having a sense of companionship in my hiking adventures. We met you on the trail before you went thru the Jefferson Park snow fields – Theresa(Mom) & Lana (daughter) O’Brien. We continued to hike south to the Santian Pass where we pulled out due to the fires, needing my asthma medicine, and Lana wanting to watch the UO game. Taking a shower was also a good reason. Lana restarted her trek at McKenzie Pass with Uncle Brian and then with brother Stephen at Willamette Pass. Today, Sept 12, My husband & I picked Lana & Stephen up at Crater Lake. They had a great trip. I am so envious of those who get/can walk the distance. The call of the trail is heard in your blog for those of us who can’t take that long continuous hike and it encourages me to take bits & pieces when I can. With Joy!

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