Day 90, July 22nd
Start: stormy lake, mile 1,942
End: camp in pine grove, mile 1,968
Miles hiked: 26
There’s a soft buzz as I wake from a beautiful sleep, and when I open my eyes, I realize it’s hundreds (literally) of Mosquitos hovering over my bug net, waiting for my body to emerge from this force field. I pack everything in the cloak of my bug net, and it’s extremely satisfying. I see woody running around packing his stuff, swinging his hands around wildly.
“Son of a bitch!!” As he slaps the back of his neck. He catches a mosquito on his arm, and makes sure it’s alive before tearing off all it’s legs and both wings. “Now I feed you to the ants!” He yells as he puts the head and torso next to some local ants for a meal. I think he hates Mosquitos more than anyone. They will feel my pain, he tells me as I laugh. I guess everyone has their way of dealing.
The whole gang is out besides Guthrie as I pack up the bug net, spraying DEET on my legs like it’s going out of style.
“You alright in there, Guth?” I ask.
“I hate Mosquitos.” He calls out from inside his tent. It’s that bad. They are terrible, and I hike with my bug net top and head net. It’s stuffy on my head, and tints my vision badly, but I would rather have that than battle the little guys flying into my face! Today, I win!
It’s 18 miles to elk lake resort. Some have boxes here. I do not, but I do have a pulled pork sandwich and some sodas calling my name. So I hustle on the trail past small ponds breeding airborne armies.
We all get there around 12:30. It was a cruiser trail, with no real gains or losses. Everyone sits at a big table as the clouds build outside. Carrot, not a chance, woody, Guthrie, 10k, Mac, JrSr and I get beers, sodas, milk shakes, burgers. We’re all pretty tired and lethargic, and need this boost in morale. We gorge on the food that is brought to us like the animals we’ve become. People all look at us, dirty, smelly, hungry. We’re a gnarly bunch. I notice two college aged guys. Pretty boys with polos on, hair combed nice, clean shaven. Their girlfriends at their arms. One girl points at our table and asks who we are to her boyfriend. “Hikers, you can tell by the smell.” He says to her. “It’s awful!” She responds. They’re only half wrong.
The group lingers, drinking, more milk shakes, loitering. Hours pass before we decide to head back to the trail. 10k is already out, he only stayed one hour, we stayed 4. Those older guys! Some of the fastest on the trail are the 50+ dudes. They’re steady, they don’t break often, and they hardly ever take zeros. They’re machines. 10k is a machine!
As we reach the pct after a 2 mile side trail, a hiker approaches us heading north. A female, looks to be in her 20’s with some rocking calves. She has that thru-hiker look. Tough, gritty, and filthy. “I’m rice crispy” she says. She’s heard of sheriff woody, as tales of him catching rattlers have been traveling down the trail. As we talk the normal questions are asked; where are you from? What do you do back home? Why are you out here? When did you start? May 5th. “MAY 5th?!” woody responds. “and I thought we were hiking fast!”
“I’ve only taken four zeros,” she says, “need to finish in 100 days, so I started the trail doing 30’s.”
Talk about a badass! This hiker is for real, the first person to start a good amount after us and catch us. There will surely be many more, but this is the first, and it’s mighty impressive. We hike with her for a bit to mirror lake, learning more about her experiences getting here.
It’s at mirror lake that I take some pictures… And a wrong turn. I don’t notice until I’m a mile down some side trail. Shoot! I turn around and hike back, knowing I just wasted a lot of time. As I head north, I hear thunder. It’s been overcast and drizzly all day, but no thunder, until now. It gets louder and louder, until it’s very close. Lightning flashes across the valley near the sisters (giant mountains in central Oregon) to the east. It must just be building near the peaks, I tell myself. I continue hiking, lightning flashing all around, loud thunder cracking, and it soon becomes evident that the storm is coming up from behind me. Has been this whole time. It starts to drizzle, and a large gust of wind nearly knocks me over. The storm front has reached me, and I’m in the middle of an open field, a hundred yards from trees on either side, no trees ahead near the trail. It has to be the first open area like this that we’ve hiked in for days, and it just so happens to be when a giant electrical storm is chasing me down. A large bolt hits a peak not more than a mile from me, and there’s an immediate crack of thunder that shakes the ground. I can’t help but smile, I absolutely love storms, love being in them, especially in the mountains.
It’s time to run for cover, for real. I put my poles in me hand and start booking it across the open plains, thunder and lightning shooting all around me. I take a video with my phone as I run, laughing and talking my thoughts about what to do if it starts really coming down, which I know it will soon. I’ve got some outs here and there to the sides of the trail. The rain starts to come down harder, the lightning closer. I put away the phone and start sprinting for some trees a quarter mile away. At this point it’s a downpour. I rush into the small pine grove. It protects me some from the big rain. I find Guthrie’s tent set up there.
“This is insane dude!” He yells, “how do we always catch the storms in the worst locations?”
He ran here as well, and offers me to get in his tent. But I want to feel this storm. It’s energy has already rushed into me. I struggle to set up my tarp between two large pines as the wind sends it flapping all over. My hands start to go numb as the temperature drops. I’ve got one side staked into the ground when it starts to hail, pea size. I’m getting pelted as I’m setting up, laughing. Guthrie yells something, but I can’t hear him over the storm. It’s so loud. Wind is rushing through the trees as they sway back and forth violently, ice is being shot out of the clouds, and lightning is striking all over.
I get the last stakes in the ground, and as get under the tarp, the hail grows in size. It’s large, roughly the diameter of a dime. I’m glad I have my tarp up now, as it’s big enough to really hurt. I put my hands between my legs for a few minutes as I walk circles under the tarp to stay warm. After this I set up the ground cloth/bug net and throw everything in. I blow up my neo-air and lay my quilt over my legs to get warm as the storm continues to rage all around me.
“This is so awesome!” I yell to Guthrie.
“I’m glad someone’s enjoying it.” He yells back.
I lay there and look out of the tarp at the lightning flashing all around. The joys of having a tarp. I can stay dry, and still be able to see all that’s happening around me! I’ll never go back to a tent, ever. Not even if there’s a fire!!!
After 30 minutes of spectating, the storm passes. Guthrie tells me he could see the group ahead as he ducked into this patch of trees. “They were about to get stuck in it.” I hope they’re ok. It was by far the worst lightning storm we’ve seen out here. Maybe the worst I’ve been in while backpacking, due mostly to the large hail, and the fact that I was fully exposed, no forest to shelter me. I’m thankful for that, thankful to be in it, feel it’s power, and tap into it’s energy. I feel a part of what’s going on, not sheltered by the protective walls and roof of a home. It rejuvenates me; makes me feel alive; it’s so empowering.
This is what I came to the wilderness for. I’m going to be a part of this wild world world out here, wether I like it or not; And let me tell you, I absolutely love it.