Being a tourist for a few days is a great way to transition back to your front country life….
With a sense of “we can go anywhere!” that having a rental car has instilled, Hemlock and I contemplate our options.
After doing some morning shopping at the Bend REI (totally overwhelming at times – so many choices!) for some new hiking tights to replace the ripped up pair I threw out, along with area maps (yay!) and a cheap used duffle to get my pack home a bit more protected, also an extra 25% off during REI’s garage sale, we want to see some nature that we wouldn’t get to see along the PCT corridor.
We headed down to Newberry Volcanic National Monument and I’m blown away by the high quality of the exhibits in the Visitors Center and the awesome campy interpretative signs on the short trails. The “Trail of the Molten Land”, ingeniously constructed through the lava flows, was particularly enjoyable.
It was a cloudy day, with hints of sun peaking through at times, and my favorite new phrase is “ominous clouds to the (insert direction)”. We saw both ominous clouds to the west (look at the new snow on Mt Bachelor!) and to the south, near the Caldera of Newberry Volcano at over 7000 feet. Our plan was to find someplace to camp either in the Caldera area or at La Pine State Park the rangers at the visitor’s center had told us about. We went up to the Caldera first, and low and behold, just as we found a free FS campground, it started to hail. The point forecast stated up to half an inch of snow by morning, and all I could think was “driving down that long gravel road in snow in a vehicle I don’t know? I don’t think so!”. I had our trusty vehicle on and in reverse so fast I made Hemlock jump out to grab her poles before they were left in the dust.
In deference to my still healing allergic reaction, we continued day hiking on extremely short trails as we made our way west to Eugene. In La Pine we visited the biggest (in circumference) Ponderosa Pine tree, which was truly massive.
The awesome Dee Wright Observatory (where I had been picked up at McKenzie Pass before going to Sisters the first time before flipping up to Portland to meet with Hemlock), made of lava rocks with clever view ports pointing out the nearby views, looked very different than less than 2 weeks ago – the nearby peaks snow covered when they were visible at all.
Descending into the western side of the cascades after McKenzie Pass was like entering a whole new world – lush and green and still autumn. We hiked 2 short waterfall trails – Proxy Falls and Sahalie Falls – both of which Hemlock remembered from coming here as a kid. It was so neat to hear her stories and watch her remember back through the years – which way and how long to the falls?
My knee was feeling a bit weird (maybe some left over water retention or inflammation?) so we didn’t do the full waterfalls trail loop. Still, it felt good to walk a little in between the stretches of driving.
Mark “SlowBro” PCT Class of 2014 and Nancy graciously opened their home and lives to us for 2 nights, and introduced us to the city living and great walkability of Eugene. We talked gear (though I bowed out of the giddy hammocking demonstrations, ground tent dweller that I am), trail stories, and where life has taken all of us. So incredible, what a wonderful stay. They knew exactly how to spoil us rotten, with wonderful meals, homemade cherry pie, day hiking, showers and laundry. Thank you Mark & Nancy!!
My trip home was a bit more circuitous than originally planned – I was originally supposed to fly from Eugene to San Francisco and then home to Cleveland. I can now say I’ve been on a delayed/cancelled flight due to maintenance problems – you know it’s serious if they drive in a needed part from nearly 3 hours away. Scary to think the plane had been ok’d to fly twice before earlier in the day. The people watching was A+ with so many stressed out travelers where I felt laid back and “well, I’ll get home somehow!”. I wasn’t having a scary allergic reaction in the middle of the wilderness after all. I waited until the first rush of folks overwhelmed the poor United employees, and then waited in line. In the meantime, Hemlock arrived for her flight to Denver to meet wth her folks, and I thought – perfect! I’ll just invite myself along and fly home from Denver tomorrow rather than spend all night in an airport somewhere or take a red eye. Hemlock was immediately supportive and enthusiastic, so I got rebooked quickly enough. I’ll just be getting home 24 hrs later than I thought but hey – this is what having a flexible schedule is all about. Less stress and “it’s the end of the world” syndrome when something goes wrong in a super busy life. I like this slower, more relaxed and enjoying life experience I’ve got going on! My only regret is that I didn’t have it scheduled like this from the get go – I missed the day hiking this morning. Oh well, can’t win ’em all ;).
United was great and put me up for free in a Marriott near the Denver airport, and it was almost too posh for 2 semi-dirty hikers. Hemlock’s parents were wonderful – they grabbed my pack at baggage claim before it could be locked away somewhere while I waited in an interminable customer service line, and then drove us to the Marriott. Thank you Neil & Nancy!! We got take-out for dinner, and then it was far past hiker midnight.
Wrangling in my hiker appetite seems to be the big challenge coming off the trail once again – especially when airline meal vouchers allow me to happily consume many calories without even paying for them. I know it’ll take my body a while to realize that no, I’m not just on a zero day.
Finally arrived home, I marvel at wearing cotton clothing and the still summer-like hot weather in Ohio — wasn’t I just in autumn and even winter?? It’s like I’ve gone back in time. The trees are just starting to turn, and the mums are vivid. Time to start planning my next hike 😉.