Pacific Crest Trail - Oregon Section
Editor's Note: In late July 2019, friend of PRC Gleb Velikanov will hike the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the California border to the Columbia River. He's taking PRC Race Team member Christian Igielinski with him. Gleb is writing before-and-after posts for portlandrunning.com.
Beforehand – July 25, 2019
I have not really been experiencing synchronicity lately. Sure, there are familiar experiences: completing a shorter thru-hike, experiencing a flare up of an old injury—the fabulous plantar fasciitis, or running a strong half marathon. There is, however, always a new twist on things. There is always a reason for being present in all things and thankful for all things, as the Maya Angelou quote goes…. Makes me wonder if a particularly zesty moment from the past could be relived, enjoyed in the same way it happened years ago?
The Pacific Crest Trail will be the subject of my experiment this time. I thru-hiked the entire 2650 miles from the border with Mexico to Canada in 2010 (above). The 129 days I spent on the trail made me the person I am today, ready to take on any new endurance challenge, capable of making do with very little, hungry for experiences, not luxury.
Also, hungry for food.
I have calculated that I burn through around 10,000 calories every day on the trail. It is practically impossible to carry enough food on your back to avoid a caloric deficit. Maybe I can once again enjoy crushing trail miles on the PCT, while being able to eat whatever I desire while in towns adjacent to the trail.
This year, I only have about two weeks to dedicate to this project, so I will be tackling the Oregon section of the PCT, 450 miles from the border with California to the Bridge of the Gods in the Columbia River Gorge. It will not be a thru-hike, but rather a section hike, a shorter portion of a long trail.
My buddy Christian Igielinski (above) is joining me for the duration of the Oregon section. An avid runner with plenty of vigorous energy, Christian is eager to sink his teeth into light-and-fast backpacking.
We will try to maintain a fairly quick pace, attempting to average about 35 miles per day, give or take, considering the circumstances. We are going stoveless, ready to eat crackers, cheese, dried fruit, nuts, and jerky. In my experience, when you add a multivitamin, the resulting diet ends up being slightly superior to what an average person shovels down the hatch on a given day.
We will need energy from simple and complex carbohydrates and fat, along with some protein to rebuild our muscles. The dried fruit and nuts should provide sufficient micronutrients such as potassium, magnesium, manganese and selenium. We will be happy to skip meal preparation and pot and pan cleanup, in favor of more time spent moving towards our goal. It seems that no backcountry meal will ever match a meal bought or cooked in town, so why bother cooking as you go?
I am looking forward to the literal feast and famine this hike will throw us into.
There are a few definitions and scales of pack weight that bounce around the thru-hiking blogosphere, with “ultralight” being the darling buzzword. To be frank, I have lost track of the exact weight the world considers to be the threshold between “ultralight” and “lightweight." I feel as if in the past, that number was twelve pounds base weight. Base weight is the weight of everything you carry on your back, minus food, water, and the clothes you are wearing on your back at the moment.
On a personal level, not being extremely curious about the precise numbers, I have never calculated my base weight. The good ol’ “eyeball test" is good enough for yours truly. I try to use common sense, for example, not bringing a stove and fuel as a way of saving weight, or trying to plan the stretches between resupply points in order to make certain I do not have to carry over four days of food at any given moment.
Usually, this approach results in about 25 pounds on my back, including two liters of water. I feel as if I could be happy with that any day. One piece of gear I am thrilled to have is my Hoka One One Speedgoat 3s; these shoes proved to be bulletproof on the Arizona Trail.
Christian and I plan to receive resupply boxes mailed in advance at Callahan’s Lodge near Interstate 5 in Southern Oregon, at Crater Lake, at the Shelter Cove resort near Willamete Pass, and at Big Lake Youth Camp as we make our way north towards Mount Jefferson. We will treat water with chlorine drops and charge our phones, used for navigation and taking photos, from portable power banks.
I feel as if I know the drill by now, and Christian’s youthful vigor should carry him through the Oregon miles just fine. We will see you folks on the other side—stay tuned for the recap!
Conclusion: So Much for the Afterglow – Aug. 5, 2019
This is a song about the girl next door
This is a song about the everyday occurrences that make me feel like letting go
Yes I think we've got a problem
So much for the afterglow
-Everclear, “So Much for the Afterglow”
“This is not synchronicity; this was new. I have never hurt so much physically and emotionally on a trail.”
Thoughts like that ran though my head, as I laid in my tent, perched atop of a hill overlooking Elk Lake and Mount Bachelor in Central Oregon.
I lost my hiking partner Christian to injury already, and now I was afraid that my plantar fasciitis, having come back in full force, was causing posterior tibial tendonitis. My left ankle and foot were swollen, my spirits were down in the dumps. I had to weigh my options. The dreaded "Q-word" (quitting, of course) entered the back of my mind.
Christian and I started the Pacific Crest Trail’s Oregon section at the border with California bearing high hopes, bright eyes, and bushy tails. Everything was lined up and ready to go.
We made certain our food resupply boxes arrived at their destinations along the way at Callahan’s Lodge, Crater Lake National Park, Shelter Cove resort near Willamette Pass, and Big Lake Youth Camp near Santiam Pass. We crunched the numbers, finding our “magic” number, about 35 miles per day. We felt full of energy and optimism, champing at the bit, ready to crush some miles.
Our route started in the east-to-west oriented Klamath Mountains, as they run roughly parallel to the state line. After crossing Interstate 5, we would enter the Cascade Range, which the PCT follows all the way to our goal of Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge.
The first two days went off without a hitch. We hiked 10 miles on the first day, after the long car ride to the border between Oregon and California, which we accessed by logging roads south of Ashland.
On the second day, we put in a respectable 30-mile effort, a little short of our goal average, but understandable, since our first resupply stop was at Callahan’s Lodge 25 miles in. That evening, we went to bed prepared to start hiking longer, 35-mile days on average. We were fully stocked with food, prepared to coast comfortably to our next resupply about 120 miles north.
Next morning brought an unpleasant surprise. Christian woke up with a funny sensation in his Achilles tendon. Back in college, he sustained an injury there, so naturally, any unpleasant feeling was a cause for concern.
Nevertheless, he felt that we should continue with the hike, as the sensation was only slight. We proceeded north. A few hours in, Christian’s Achilles was getting worse, to the point of him having to take ibuprofen and stopping to rest and stretch.
We both decided to monitor his condition, while I crunched the numbers for the possibility of an evacuation to civilization to seek medical care if needed. That day, we covered 23 miles.
The fourth day was even worse, yielding only 18 miles, with more Achilles discomfort for Christian, along with other leg aches and pains resulting from favoring his injured leg. Now we were getting short on food, since we were not covering as much ground as originally anticipated, with the next resupply stop being quite far away.
During a stop at Fish Lake resort for an ad-hoc resupply, Christian made the tough decision to get off the trail. I completely agreed, seeing as hiking this trail would not be worth the risk of an injury. He was able to get a ride into Medford from a resort employee, getting him back on a bus home in no time.
I remained on the trail solo. Never mind the thru hikers, present in what seemed like record numbers, compared to my PCT journey nine years ago. A friendly bunch, possessing a curious energy and will to go forward to Canada. It was fun to be a part of that dynamic, if for a brief time.
I was trying to make up some miles, busting out a 35-mile day out of Fish Lake, followed by a 40-mile day, to get within 10 miles of Crater Lake National Park. Now, I would have double the food, since Christian’s share was still in our resupply boxes. I was set.
And then it happened. The vicious bite of plantar fasciitis. There is no mistaking it. Most runners know it. Most runners want to never experience it. It sucks.
I still carried on, trying to maintain a 35-mile-per-day average one way or another. But my left foot would not cooperate. Twelve to fourteen hours of walking per day was just too much.
I found myself cursing under my breath, with every searing jolt I felt, as my foot touched the ground. Worse yet, some inflammation started to develop in the posterior tibial tendon of the same foot. I could feel the “bubbles” characteristic of such injuries.
I made it though to Crater Lake, trying to figure out my course of action. I still felt like I “owned” this trail, having completed the entire thing in a little over four months, having done other thru hikes, possessing experience.
I arrived at Shelter Cove resort, collecting our third resupply box, hiking out about 10 miles north of Willamette Pass, determined to test my body’s limits.
“I don’t care, I have enough ibuprofen on me, I’ll git ’er done!” I thought in the evening of the seventh day on the trail.
The eighth day turned out to be a painful experience. Despite the ibuprofen, I had to stop and stretch, sometimes every 30 minutes, in order to get some plantar fascia and tibial tendon relief. I noticed that stretching my hamstring and calf had that effect.
That day, I still hiked for about 35 miles, having found a campsite within a mile of Elk Lake, another possible bailout and resupply spot. I weighed my options, poking and prodding my left foot. Luckily, I had cell service, so doing some injury research on the internet, and contacting friends and loved ones for their opinion was possible. And right there, in my tent, I decided to quit.
No point in risking further injury, I thought. In the morning, after sleeping in until eight o’clock, compared to the usual 5:30 AM wake up call, I hiked out to Elk Lake. Lo and behold, the first person I saw was none other than Mark Hayes of PRC Race Team and Sasquatch Track Club!
He was running the Cascade Lakes Relay, with Elk Lake being one of the exchange points.
I was able to get a ride from Mark’s team into Bend, making it back to Portland that evening.
I cannot say that I enjoy quitting anything, but given the circumstances, I am happy to avoid severe injury, come home, and lick my wounds, living to fight another day.
I covered about 260 miles in 8 days, averaging about 33 miles per day. I can live with not achieving this particular goal. So much for the afterglow.
Gleb Velikanov is a friend of PRC and frequenter of our group runs. Read about his many thru-hiking adventures at poindexterendurance.com.