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One Day on the Pacific Crest Trail

“Let us journey together joyfully, living on catastrophe, eating the pure light.”

— Thomas McGrath

My dear resupply person had forgotten to include dinners in my food box shipped to Crescent Lake, central Oregon. I considered a difficult hitchhike out to Bend, OR to get some supplies, but that would have been a day, maybe two, wasted. I looked at my food supplies. My next resupply location was 140 miles of walking north on the trail. But it was only 80 miles north via the trail to state road 242 at McKenzie Pass, from which it would be an easy hitch into Sisters, OR for supplies. My food looked a little slim, but I figured I could just eat some lunches for dinner if things got rough. I decided to just trust and go for McKenzie pass with what I had.

The trail ahead went through the Three Sisters Wilderness – a fairy-tail land dominated by three beautiful volcanic peaks. I had originally planned to climb the Middle Sister (a 10,020 ft volcano) as I went through this area, but lacking dinners, I didn’t think I had the food to do this extra side-trip before McKenzie pass. I was sad about not being able to climb, but something in me wouldn’t let go of this goal. In my minds eye, I kept seeing myself standing on the summit of Middle Sister. Every time this happened, my small mind brushed it off as impossible. Yet something in me held to the fantasy that magic would swirl and I would be able to do the climb after all.

Day three out of Crescent Lake: I woke up very hungry. It was 25 miles to the base of Middle Sister where I planned to camp for the night, and 12 more miles to McKenzie pass from there. I figured I’d walk out to McKenzie pass tomorrow. I ate some dates and a handful of spirulina tablets and started walking. Three Sisters Wilderness was gorgeous - lots of open meadows with the views of the towering purple volcanoes above. And the flowers were amazing. Fields of pungent blue/purple lupine that you could sometimes smell a 100 ft before you could see the flowers. I made good time and reached the base of Middle Sister by 3PM.

I rounded a ridge-line via the trail and there was a cute little 30 ft waterfall – Obsidian Falls. The rocks on either side of the falls shimmered in the late afternoon light. They shimmered a little too brightly. Something was different here. I walked a bit further and began to notice dark, glass-like rocks all around the trail. It was Obsidian – volcanic glass. Obsidian is formed as lava flows into water and cools quickly into black, translucent rock. I walked above the falls to a little bench by the stream that made a perfect camp. I pitched my tarp and spread out my bag. It was home, for tonight anyways.

I looked longingly up to Middle Sister, 3000ft above. I still had time to do the climb if I left now. It wouldn’t be dark for another 4 ½ hours, and I could take my headlamp just in case. I looked at my food. I’d already walked 25 miles, and I knew I needed a good dinner waiting for me when I got down from the peak to fuel my walk out tomorrow. All I had was dates, a few almonds, some spices and nori wraps. I was really tired of sweets. I’d been eating dates, figs, almonds and spirulina for three days now. I just couldn’t get up the motivation to climb 3000 ft without knowing I had a decent meal waiting for me. If magic was gonna happen, it needed to happen fast. I was running out of daylight. After a few minutes of deliberating, I decided to let the climb go. I didn’t have much of a choice. No angels were showing up with yummies.

I headed back down to Obsidian Falls to take a shower. A group of people had come up behind me on the trail, and were standing right by the waterfall. I asked them to take my picture as I showered. They laughed and took my camera. I walked back over to the group after the picture, and we started to chat. They were a nice group of folks out for the weekend from Bend, OR, and were headed out to their cars that afternoon. Without me even mentioning food, a woman spoke up and said, “Hey, we have a bunch of cut-up fresh veggies with us we didn’t eat. Do you want them?” They proceeded to pull out 4 large zip locks full of broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and zucchini. In disbelief, trying to hold back my enthusiasm, I said “YES!” But I wasn’t sure about the mushrooms. I said, “Let me try one of these mushrooms to see if I want them.” We talked, I ate mushrooms. A few minutes later someone said, “I guess you wanted the mushrooms.” I looked down at the empty bag and laughed, “I guess I did.” I headed back up to my camp in an altered state of bliss. I knew I could piece together an appealing meal with these veggies. I had just been given a gift by a group of angels impersonating humans. I couldn’t believe it. Yet I couldn’t deny it. Trail magic happens. Middle Sister here I come.

Up I went. It was tough climbing. The volcanic rocks had eroded into small pebbles that made walking a ‘two steps up, one step back’ experience. I struggled up to the base of a glacier on the north side of Middle Sister. I sat down for a short rest and looked north. Wow! There were 5 volcanoes visible lined up like pearls on a string – Mt. Washington, Three-fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams – each one higher than the last. My next week of walking was right in front of me. It was a scene I’ll never forget. Yet the summit beckoned and daylight was fading. This day was about motion and limitless possibilities. Smelling the roses would have to wait for another day.

I tore myself away from the view and headed out onto the snow. It was late season so enough snow had melted that it was easy to locate and avoid the few crevasses on this small glacier. Also, it was late afternoon and the heat of the day had melted snow so I could easily kick steps with my tennis shoes and ascend the slope safely without an ice axe. My ski poles were all the support I needed. Up I went to the top of the glacier. The slope above the glacier was steep and rotten, mostly scree. Clearly, this mountain was going to make me pay for the views from its lofty summit. Up and up, and finally I arrived at the top. I gazed south to something otherworldly – South Sister. This volcano had a beauty which was beyond my comprehension. I could see at least three different colors of lakes fed by glacial-melt gracing its slopes. I cloud hovered right around its 10,200 ft summit as if to guard visibility of the place where the angels lived. I understood where my gift of veggies had come from. Such a kaleidoscope of colors – purple and red rocks; white snow; green, blue and gray lakes; brown tundra grasses. I’d never seen anything like it. This scene made the climb so worth-it. It made the whole trail worth-it. “I would have walked 10,000 miles to see this,” I thought. The understanding of the power of intention and focused attention sunk a little bit deeper into my being in that moment. I vowed to never give up on my dreams. It was with immense gratitude to the spirit of Life which animates all and makes all things possible that I headed back down the mountain, back down to eat my dinner of manna from heaven.

“You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true.”

— Richard Bach

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