Portland to Cascade Locks
Three days to do my chores just means a mad scrabble on the fourth morning to finish them all. J and I precariously load our bicycles with boxes and make one last ride together, to the post office. Resupply: mailed. We pack up our backpacks, and weigh them and ourselves, just because there’s a scale in the house. Both our packs, with our gear, five days of food, and a liter of water, ring in at exactly 30lbs. Not bad. As for myself, I’ve gained back seven of the pounds I lost in the Sierras, and I think all of it is in my thighs. Bike muscles. It’s a relief to not be on the edge of emaciation anymore.
I ride across town by myself to Metropolis Cycles to have my bicycle packed and mailed back to Tucson. J has a nicer bike at home, so he’s just going to leave his PCT bike here in Portland with his brother. My bike at home is a college leftover – a ten-speed Schwinn that I bought for twenty bucks from a guy living in a trailer park on Miracle Mile (yeah, it’s as shady as it sounds). It got me to all my classes, and my little sister to hers after that. It’s only been hit by a car once that I know of, and it’s been a faithful companion… but I’m going to keep this new bicycle. Mailing it is expensive, but cheaper than a new bike altogether.
I catch a bus to the other side of town to meet up with 3D. 3D! It’s so good to see her – but it’s something more too. A sense of completion? A sense of return? All I know is, I’m back on the PCT now, somehow. “Gizmo!”, 3D calls out. We sit down at the diner where 3D is working on her second piece of pie. “Check it out,” she says gesturing to her legs. “I had them waxed.”
“Awesome,” I reply. “I’ve been shaving since Idyllwild. I spend all day looking down at my feet, shouldn’t I at least get to admire my new hiker muscles?”
“Right??” agrees 3D.
“It’s sort of embarrassing, but I’ve been walking around Portland admiring my legs all week in the reflective store-front windows. They’ve never been this strong before.”
“And probably never will be again…”
3D regales me with Oregon PCT tales – resort stops and lakes and big miles and trail angels. Sounds like everyone was crushing 30-milers in Oregon. I tell her in turn about Humboldt county and acid-trippers and beet-hoeing and the ocean and coffee shops. And here we both are.
J catches a bus over and meets us, and we hop on yet another bus to the Hiker House. Inhabited by a little tribe of repeat thru-hikers/photographers/climbers/videographers, it’s a cheap looking townhouse in the ugly part of Portland. Inside it is immaculately clean, with virtually no furniture, huge, fabulous prints of outdoor photography, and tasteful Bob Marley posters. VirGo, a 2x PCT-hiker and 1x Continental Divide Trail hiker, is leading a session on outdoor filmwork at PCT Days, and is going to give us a ride to Cascade Locks. “So VirGo, which trail is your favorite?” I ask.
“The PCT is amazing, but I’m going to have to go with the CDT. It’s more choose your own adventure.”
We finally leave for Cascade Locks around four, VirGo driving us there in another thru-hiker’s van. 3D rides up front, J and I lie on the twin bed that fills up the back. It’s an hour to Cascade Locks and it floats by in a dream. I’ve done this drive before, in what feels like another life, back when my heart got broken for the very first time. I haven’t been back since, not till now, where the trees slide past the windows in bright green blurs, and J’s back presses reassuringly against my legs, and VirGo is playing folk music heart-break songs on the radio, songs I haven’t heard in months, songs designed to hit every nostalgia heartstring that exists in a twenty-something’s body. The old hurt disappears.
We emerge from the van into a brilliant, windy, sunny afternoon. PCT days is taking place on Thunder Island, a sliver of land inside the Columbia River. Ringed with trees and carpeted with immaculately groomed, immaculately green grass, it looks like a miniature cirus encampment, festooned with hiker shelters. Blue, yellow, purple, green, tents, tarps, tarp-tents, ‘mids of all kinds – we walk around and find ourself surrounded with friends. Waterbug! Dimples! Pacman is here! Guy on a Buffalo, Hornsbee, Happy Feet, PigPen, Blox, Kentucky, Biscuit, Testament! There are hikers I’ve heard of for months, but never met, hikers who’ve heard of me. Pacman has been spreading the word about the bicycle trip, and we are very, very minor celebrities. It seems like the fire closures were a tough thing for everyone to get around – not physically, but mentally. It’s a hard thing to have a pilgrimage interrupted.
We set up our tarp next to Happy Feet and Guy on a Buffalo, then wander over to microbrewery just off-shore looking for some dinner. I’m expecting the place to be full of hikers, but we’re the only ones. Instead, it is full of all the vendors who will be manning the booths at PCT Days tomorrow: people from Salomon, Sierra Designs, Gossamer Gear. We end up in the middle of the Gossamer Gear and ALDHA (American Long-Distance Hiking Association) crowd, who we join. We’re chatting with the CEO of Gossamer Gear, who goes by the trail name Gorilla, when J pipes up: “Gizmo here carried a Gossamer Gear pack for a while.”
“Oh yeah?” asks Gorilla. “What do you think?”
“I, uh, swapped it out after 400 miles,” I reply, embarrassed at the situation and irritated with J for bringing it up.
“How come?” Gorilla follows-up, interested.
“It didn’t fit,” I answer. Looking at Gorilla, it now makes sense why. “The straps were too wide, didn’t fit my shoulders. It sort of seemed like the pack would have been a great fit if I was a big burly man, but…”
“Yeah, that’s what a lot of people told us. Especially women. You should come check out our new re-design tomorrow. Our biggest goal was to make sure the pack worked for women this time. It turns out if you design a pack for women, it will also work well for men, but not the other way around. Come by tomorrow.”
“Sure,” I tell him.
We get to talk about gear, and hiking philosophies, and different trails, and all the other things I can wax poetic on for hours right now. Back on the island, we tuck ourselves into bed underneath our blue tarp. It’s nice to be home again. “Are you going to go check out the new Gossamer Gear packs tomorrow?” asks J.
“Yeah, I’d like to see what changes they’ve made.”
“Do you think there’s any chance you’d switch back to a Gossamer Gear pack?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, I’m really happy with the pack I have now. The my Ohm 2.0 has been great. Plus, I’m not going to buy one.”
“Well what if they offer you one?”
“PCT hikers, always out for the freebies, huh? Ha, ok, let’s say they do offer me one. I still don’t think I’d take it.”
“Really?” J shoots back, incredulous. I love freebies.
“Ok, so maybe I would. But only if it was definitely an improvement on the Ohm. It’s not really the time to go around experimenting with new gear, you know? If I have something I know I like, why would I swap it out for something I don’t know?”
And with visions of backpacks dancing in our heads, we go to bed.