You are currently viewing Chapter 9 The Bridge of the Gods

The bus arrives to return us to the trailhead. It’s a utility vehicle. Calling the ute, a bus is a bit of a stretch. I sit in the tray at the back and get my grey hair tossed every which way. I’m alive and loving it regardless of my age. I’m enjoying being makeup-free except for my non-negotiable Infinite Raspberry lipstick with its secondary morale booster role. I have never felt so liberated and comfortable with myself. So nice not having to prove myself. The brief break has done its job and I look forward to completing Washington State in six days.

Out we jump. Load our heavy packs onto our backs and away we go. I head south.

“Hey, this way,” calls Shepherd, pointing in the opposite direction.

“No, it’s not. This way is the right direction. We came from there yesterday.”

“Did we?”

“Yeh, pretty sure we did.”

“Okay.”

“Let’s walk up this hill and find a spot for lunch. That’ll help you recalibrate.”

“Yes, you know me well. I need to eat.” I certainly do know her well.

In our first days on trail, we often talked of our food likes and dislikes. The English and Australian diet is similar. For toast spread they have Marmite, we Vegemite, a salty yeast extract paste every American just doesn’t get. Our sponge cakes and buns are also alike, although Shepherd has never heard of fairy bread and Neenish tarts.

When I returned home, I had to look up their origin to see if they were Australian fare or Shepherd just unaware. Fairy Bread is triangles of white bread spread with butter, then topped with round multi-coloured ‘hundreds and thousands’, the Australian term for sprinkles. It’s a staple inclusion at every young Aussie kid’s birthday party. So yummy!

The Neenish Tart is a round and sweet pastry, topped with a distinctive half-and-half icing of chocolate brown and pink, or chocolate brown and white. I love foodie Annabel Crabb’s description of it. “Once you’ve had a Neenish tart, they’re tricky to forget. It’s got that reckless combination of too much of everything. There’s sweet pastry or cake, then there’s the mock cream, then there’s the jam, and as if you needed it, icing of a sweetness that makes your teeth rattle in your skull.”

Describing these delicacies is great for diabetics. It satisfies the urge for sweetness without the diabetic complications of eating them. I excuse Shepherd for not knowing these two Aussie treats. I’ll introduce her to them when she visits Australia. I remember them well from my childhood when I didn’t have diabetes.

And on we continue. What is it with Americans and cinnamon? For the time being, we must put up with America’s love of the enormous cinnamon bun. Shepherd is not a fan of this spice, especially in the cereal aisle. When selecting a brand of granola to share I commented,

“How good is that Shepherd? It includes cinnamon.” You can imagine her reaction.

When not obsessed with food discussions, as we battle hiker hunger, our thoughts drift back to the trail. The temperature has dropped a good 18°F (10°C) since yesterday. We managed 10.3 miles (16.5 km) today before setting up camp at Mosquito Creek, with the bonus of no mosquitoes. There’s an unoccupied tent beside us, but I retreat to my tent and say good night.

Later Shepherd opens her vestibule and says hello when its owner, a middle-aged woman from the sound of her voice, returns to the campsite. Her trail name is Interviewer. I call out “Hello” but never see her face. I’m too tired to open my vestibules which I have just battened shut for the night. I hope she understands.

“Sure. No worries,” she responds. Undeterred she then proceeds to interview me through my flimsy tent wall with a jovial, booming, and enquiring voice. The perfect trail name. As for Shepherd and me, we’re walking, eating, and camping in increasing silence.  

I wonder what Shepherd is thinking at this moment.

The exception is when Shepherd is listening to her podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno by British comedian Jamie Morton. He reads a chapter each week and discovers more about his father than he ever bargained for. An uproarious chuckle comes from her tent most nights. I smile each time. A glimmer of hope for us both. For a moment everything is wonderful with the world deep in the forest with little extraneous sound to mask Shepherd’s listening pleasure.

By day, the joviality of the evening’s entertainment has abated. We wake, prep ourselves for the day, eat breakfast, disassemble our campsite, and are off by 6.30 am. But I’m beaten. I spent the entire night trying to send a small video of myself to Australia as a foreword to a movie night in my honour to help raise funds for Diabetes Australia. I cut it in two with my limited iMovie app knowledge, zip the files, and somehow send them with minimal cell reception. Falling asleep at 3.30 am, I sleep through my 5.30 am alarm.

Without Shepherd, I’d still be sleeping. Fundraising is tough work, but worth it. I thought I was undertaking the PCT to get away from everything and bond with nature. Not forcing myself to learn new IT skills which I’ve happily avoided until now. The PCT has taught me more than I ever envisaged. It’s an exceptional journey for those willing to undertake it, in so many ways.  

Where to next? Plenty of time to ponder my future.

Today is not a highlight day. There’s a light shower in the morning with deep fog. Atmospheric photos though. After God’s fingers emerge the sun pops out at 10 am but it remains hazy until late afternoon. Saw Rory today. We met this Brit, living in LA, way back in Mount Laguna in the desert. He’s clean-shaven–unusual for male hikers in the latter stages of the trail. What is not unusual is his alarming weight loss. Rory hiked the entire High Sierra; only just, by the look of him. Both he and Shepherd comment on their skeletal frames. And Kit Kat, who wants to be thin, is told she looks the same. Goddamn it!

I announce we’re not continuing because Shepherd needs to get home. I should have said we’re aiming to see the best PCT sights with our remaining time. But I’m still upset with Shepherd’s decision. Regardless, I’ve hurt her feelings by disclosing this information to another hiker. She’s right. There’s nothing wrong with Shepherd cutting her PCT short. The fact I want to hike further and am not ready to return home is no reason to blame her. We’re having a barney, but still discussing our feelings and making progress.

I’ll try harder not to let my personal feelings intervene. This is not judgement day. I need to respect my walking partner’s decision. I can’t always get my way. She’s agreed to continue walking with me, and we need to focus on achieving our revised target. It’s a blessing to reach the 1,200-mile (1,931 km) marker today. We rally for our best StickPic moment, smiles aplenty on the outside but more introspective inside. My “Yeh team!” sounds hollow and lacklustre.

I’m woken by Shepherd again the next day. I can’t survive without my eight hours of sleep. I’m still catching up on the other night’s shortage. Overnight it storms. This morning I awake to a sodden tent. It’s sitting in a decent pond of water, but I’m dry inside. It’s made from ultralight Dyneema (or Cuben Fibre) material which is impressively waterproof. There’s just some condensation on the ceiling to put up with which is a common occurrence with tents of single-wall construction. With a quick wipe-down and burst of sun later in the day its exterior will be fully dry in no time. I am stoked with this tent’s performance.

Today is easy and we get through the intended mileage. It involves walking a Green Corridor. Few views but I adore capturing the shards of light when the sun emerges from the mist and illuminates the trees. The surrounding silence makes it a surreal, fantastical, and magical experience. But I’m bored.

With my self-imposed ban on earbuds for listening pleasure I need to find other forms of entertainment or interest. Shepherd could be entertainment, but we’ve drained every topic of discussion. We know each other’s preferences. We’re tired and sore. Truth be told, at this point in the journey, we’re having enough trouble keeping ourselves focused to care much about what the other is thinking, saying, or doing.

With the recent hot weather, the fungi I enjoyed photographing have taken a sorry turn for the worse. They melt where they stand, emitting a rancid pong. Until I see a ravishing red mushroom that has survived in the cooler protected forest. I focus on red being the new green and I devote my time to photographing the best of the reds. There are low-lying green bushes with red autumnal leaves and an abundance of berries–huckle, thimble, salmon, and bane. The forest is full of brilliant reds.

Emerging from the forest the heat returns for the last gruelling ascents before a final descent into town on the ugliest, exposed, ankle-breaking terrain. We see a brief glimpse of the Columbia River before reaching The Bridge of the Gods, an impressive steel truss cantilever bridge that will lead us to Cascade Locks, Oregon.

“Shep, we’ve just walked Washington State, a whopping 545 miles. This is an awesome moment. Yes?”

So worthy of a StickPic moment. I can’t take the smile off my face. Shepherd helps me secure the StickPic to my trekking pole and runs with me into the middle of the road, in front of oncoming traffic. We need several takes before I’m satisfied.

“It must be in the middle, Shep. Balances the picture. Oh, Shep, being at the iconic Bridge of the Gods sign is momentous. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Hard to draw out, but a satisfied smile emerges from my walking partner.

We’re not at the finish yet. We need to walk over this metal bridge into oncoming traffic. There’s no pedestrian path, and the bridge is only two cars wide. Even skinnier if a truck is passing. It’s 1,858 feet long. I estimate it will take us 10 minutes to cross. The steel construction means you can look through the bridge to the river. At 140ft (42.6m) above the river, its height shouldn’t be an issue. But it triggers vertigo the moment I step onto the bridge. I lift my head and focus on a distant point determined to get to the other side in one piece, as the cars and trucks drive past us. A strong breeze picks up. I remove my treasured orange hat for safekeeping. This crossing is a doozy, far harder than I imagined.

We head to the designated campsite where they’ll hold PCT Days in a few days. For a little more excitement, we must cross a well-used railway line to get there. My feet can barely move, let alone sprint across a working railway line, but we arrive unscathed. We hang out with the other thru-hikers, including Medicine Man, before departing for food. Our nine-day resupply can wait until tomorrow.

Condensation in your tent often occurs when you camp near a river. Not always, but the next morning mine is damp. I wipe it with a micro fleece cloth. It should dry out when the sun comes out. There are 20 or more tents pitched in this campsite. Silence reigns this morning. There is one shower for the whole site. Best grab one now while I can. As soon as Shepherd wakes, we head out for breakfast to a new hip-looking café with proper coffee.

After we pack up camp, we head over to The Bridge of the Gods Motel where we’re shouting ourselves the comfort of a bed for the remaining days. Check-in is later in the day but no harm in asking if we can store our packs there before we head off to start our food resupply. The reception is six feet by two feet.

“I’m sorry. This is the only space I have. I haven’t anywhere else you can stow your packs. I must keep this area free of clutter.” We agree with her assessment.

The room rate is expensive, but never a guarantee of good value.

“You can’t check in until 2 pm but your room is ready. For $25 each you can have it now.”

Un-be-lieve-able! “We’ll do that.”

We accept we’re hiker trash–people not deserving of any discounts or concessions. Trail angels are different. They go to great lengths to put our achievements on a pedestal, but I suspect business proprietors prefer clean tourists.

Where do I start? I need to work out the details for completing half of Oregon and book hotels and transportation, with Shepherd’s consent. We must resupply for nine days, carry three days’ worth, and then mail a six-day food resupply to Timberline Lodge which receives mail only. Shepherd has bounce boxes to contend with too so this could prove cumbersome. She needs specialist sunscreen and contact lenses but not everything in her bounce box.

We either share the excess between us and take on unwanted pack weight or make a bus journey to Government Camp, a town near the Lodge, with a USPS. There are more bounce boxes to post to Bend but we must be conscious of opening times. My first version of our revised itinerary has us arriving in Bend on a Saturday, but the USPS is closed on weekends. We need to get to Bend by 5 pm on Friday.

Sisters must be a day trip only, not an overnighter. Shepherd and I sit on our beds and bounce the hurdles back and forth. When removed, a workable plan emerges.

Cascade Locks has good local breweries. Some offer free ales if you can prove you are a PCT hiker. Being clean won’t help your cause unless you have your PCT Permit on you. They reckon they can pick a PCT hiker a mile away. I reckon I can too. Yesterday we checked out the local Grocery store for resupply. Slim pickings. Not even cinnamon-coated granola is available. We leave with a replacement gas canister for our stoves. We need to go further afield.

Portland, the state’s largest city is 44 miles to our west, and Hood River is 18 miles to our east. There are bus services to both. We choose Hood River. It’s a hip town with a thriving sports and brewery culture along the river frontage. A bit of a trek to the town proper but we can’t resist visiting their local outdoor outfitter for lightweight must-haves and a few dehydrated meals. Next, lunch at a nice organic establishment focusing on healthy locally sourced produce. It’s important to eat well in towns or that pesky threat of scurvy may rear its ugly head.

We could continue eating but grocery shopping beckons. The supermarkets are beyond our reach. Our poor feet can only manage a quarter of a mile. Shepherd looks up Ubers. No Ubers. Two taxi services only. One is a 45-minute wait. The other can come straight away in an e-bike rickshaw or car. I select the car. Rickshaw? What next?  

“When you finish your shopping girls, call me. I’ll pick you up in the rickshaw for the return to the bus stop.”

“We’ll have a lot of bags,”

“No problem, I have plenty of storage under the seat.” And he’s right. He takes a nice photo of us. We could be in Hong Kong.

The ride back is fun through sleepy backstreets full of renovated wooden homes with manicured gardens. Then along the foreshore past the holidaymakers. We’re dropped back at the bus stop with a minute to spare. Tip in hand we thank him for this unique tourist ride. In no time we’re back in Cascade Locks relaxing at the Thunder Island Brewery beneath the Bridge basking in the warm breeze and delightful sunset.

We made it Shep! Walked all of Washington State. Who’d of thunk it were possible?

We bid a third farewell to Medicine Man as he catches a trail angel ride to Timberline Lodge before heading back to Cascade Locks. Why? In a similar vein to us, he wants to walk for as long as he can on fatigued feet. PCT Days will conclude his hike. Someone has suggested he get a hitch to Timberline Lodge so he can walk three days downhill, unlike us, who will have a very steep lengthy ascent the following day.

Is his approach clever, cunning, or plain cheating? Each to their own. You can “Hike your own hike” and he’s not cutting the distance. They’re still trail miles regardless of direction.  

We dedicate our last day in Cascade Locks to preparing our meals. In the morning we post our food resupplies to Timberline Lodge. In the afternoon, after more washing, Shepherd posts her bounce box there too. I send a card to my mother for her birthday and a card to Mike for our 34th wedding anniversary. I’m thinking more of loved ones back home as our trip nears its conclusion.

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