Category Archives: Robohiker diaries

Oregon Coast: Old Growth and Darlingtonia

August 1, 2010.

I awoke several times during the night for some strange reason. It was fitting that I got up and at ’em earlier than usual on this, the last day of my week-long adventure. There was one short hiking loop 2 miles up the road from where I was camped; this was the real benefit of camping here. I had no idea that I was in for such a treat.

I arrived at the Pawn Old Growth trail head before 7am and ate breakfast there. Taking heed of the “No Shooting” sign I left my weapon in the car and began my hike (kidding). The trail crosses a bridge over a lazy stream, passes by a large, mossy rock face and switchbacks up to an incredibly diverse parcel of old growth forest. The understory consisted of hundreds of plants, only a few that I was familiar with, and many interesting ones worth photographing. I had seen many of these new plants along other hikes that week, so they were starting to look familiar. But I noticed many other flowers and herbaceous plants that I had not noticed before. Many spring flowers were blooming late; I couldn’t believe that there were Bleeding Heart flowers along the trail! There were also pink and white foxgloves, maidenhair fern, lady fern, monkeyflower, manroot (with spiky green pods!), hedge nettle, Solomon’s seal, and on and on… There were also loads of massive trees as well as a charming little river down a steep embankment that paralleled part of the route. The forest was pleasantly quiet, with the occasional chirping chipmunk in distress, and I greatly enjoyed my walk through it. I took my time, taking pictures everywhere, and being mindful of my sore and tired knee. The friction of the crutch and the scar line on my knee was just too much. I would be happy to have some days of rest when I returned home.

Next, I returned to the main highway and stopped at the Darlingtonia Viewpoint. I had seen these unique carnivorous plants in Northern California years before, but now I was about to see them at the northern end of their range. These plants are gorgeous, even when they are dying, because they start developing speckles of red and taking on more twisted and convoluted shapes. I ogled the plants for several minutes and chatted with a Corvallis-to-San Francisco cyclist before hobbling back to the car and driving off.

My next hiking stop was the Trail of Restless Waters in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. A 0.5 mile loop led to a viewpoint of Devil’s Churn, connected with a spur to a beach, then returned to the parking lot. I got some funny looks from the unhealthy group of people milling about at the top of the trail before ambling down to see what Devil’s Churn was all about. According to my guidebook, this was a narrow, rocky inlet that funneled seawater into it, causing dramatic crashes of waves and picturesque views. It turned out being a little less impressive than advertised, but it was worth the walk nonetheless. From the dead end I continued along the entire half mile trek, which most visitors apparently do not do, seeing lots of wind-sculpted trees, flowers, dense thickets of coast vegetation, and a wide, sandy beach.

The drive along 101 offers countless opportunities to stop and pull off the road to see one sight or another, but I hadn’t even come close to seeing all there was to see. I was beginning to feel really tired, and consulted my book to choose one last stop before heading east. Sullivan describes Ona Beach State Park as “rank[ing] among the most scenic spots on the Central Oregon coast” so I thought that would make a nice ending to my coastal explorations.

At the park, I walked down a paved path, crossed a bridge, and reached the beach. It was nothing special. Actually, it was one of the uglier and more boring walks and viewpoints I’ve experienced throughout my entire trip. Sullivan has never let me down before; he must have been paid under the table to endorse this little piece of non-paradise. Defeated, I returned to the car ready to get back to Portland, stop driving, learn about the wildflowers I’d seen, and eat some fresh produce.

In summary, my week on the road turned out to exceed all my expectations. I was able to walk further and longer than I anticipated. I found excellent spots to camp away from crowds of tourists, even near the coast. I saw beautiful birds and wildflowers. I balanced driving time, walking time, and resting time in a way that kept me happy, fulfilled and refreshed. A great sense of hope pervaded my sometimes glass-half-empty brain; broken foot or not, I can still accomplish more than what most people with two solid feet do in a day. And when I got back, I started to think: “well, where do I go next?”

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Oregon Coast: Port Orford to Florence

July 31, 2010.

I awoke eager to begin another day of coastal exploration. My outdoor breakfast experience took me to the parking area at Cape Blanco, where I enjoyed another simple cup of granola and milk. The Cape was totally enshrouded in fog and the air was very cool. When I arrived there was only another car or two sitting in the lot. But as I worked through my granola, loaded RVs and cars pulled in, dumping their obnoxious human cargo out onto the land. It was then I decided to leave.

My plan was to drive towards Coos Bay, stopping first at Shore Acres State Park. I walked out in front of the Observation building where I soaked in astounding views of the offshore rocks and undulating coastline. From there I walked over to the Botanical Gardens. This was a neatly manicured place with hedges and benches and carefully arranged flowers. It all felt so civilized. There were some really beautiful flowers there but the feeling wasn’t the same as coming across wildflowers unexpectedly along the trail. I found the shortest way out and hopped back in the car.

From there I followed the sounds of sea lions up the road about a mile where a marine wildlife organization had set up their viewing scopes at a roadside pullout. I checked out the marine mammals in an up-close-and-personal way, much like watching a David Attenborough documentary. Sea lions and seals were heaped up on top of each other, flopping around and making a fuss. As more people arrived I ducked out of there and continued to Cape Arago.

The trail I chose at Cape Arago quickly became too steep and muddy for my and my aluminum leg so all I could do was hang out at the paved viewing deck and look at the water. I had a long conversation with a physical therapist about my iWALKFree, which she hadn’t seen before. Sigh. My injury is making me into a minor trail celebrity.

Back on route 101 I drove angrily, stuck behind idiot RVs and speed changers. Sigh, it was the weekend for sure. I managed to get a couple of good high speed passes, otherwise I still would be driving home today.

I wanted to stop somewhere in the Oregon Dunes that was new to me, didn’t allow ATV access, and would be easy enough for the peg-leg to handle. That left me with pulling off the road at the Oregon Dunes Overlook, according to the Sullivan guide. I took off down (of course) a paved path that led to the dunes. Ahead lay a large, gently rolling surface of sand. I crossed it smoothly and methodically, just as if climbing a long snowfield. Next I traveled across the “deflation plain,” a place where the forest is taking over the dunes. To think that the dunes here would be gone in 100 years was baffling to my brain. I walked along slowly, with surprisingly few people crossing my path, until I reached my first glimpse of the beach. Hooray! I had made it one mile and was rewarded appropriately, with a huge beach and big ocean views. There were a number of people here relaxing, playing frisbee, and testing the water, but it was nothing like being on the beach on the East Coast. I found a little plot of sand for myself, took off my crutch, lay flat on the sand, and enjoyed this small respite from my hike.

As I lay on the sand I noticed the breeze and chill in the air disappear. Heat radiating from the sand warmed my resting body. The granules of sand felt comforting against my skin. Before leaving I did a little light stretching, strapped on my crutch and returned to the trail.

The trip back was slow and relatively uneventful, save for a few conversations with folks heading out. One particular little boy totally made my day. The interchange went something like this:

“What happened to your leg?”

“I broke my foot.”

“How?”

“Rock climbing.”

“I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks!”

“Welcome.”

He was so cute. No other kids spoke to me the whole trip; they only stared.

I reached the car exhausted and searched my map for the nearest camping options. Free, of course, I wouldn’t dream of paying the out of control State Park camping fees to camp next to 70 families and their RVs at the beach. So, I ended up at the North Fork Siuslaw Dispersed Camping spot off rt. 126 outside of Florence. I had to drive a ways down a road to nowhere to get there. It was almost exactly what I was looking for. There was one other family there but for the most part they were quiet; although, they did spy on me when I was trying to get to sleep. The site had a fire pit but no picnic table and there was some trash strewn about the site and down the little trail leading towards the river. Is it really that hard to pack out your trash when CAR camping? Geez.

I was too lazy to put my tent up, and so with no threat of rain I decided to just sleep out. The mosquitoes were back, but I found that by wearing a hooded sweatshirt and swearing at them, they didn’t really bite.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Oregon Coast: from the southern border to Port Orford

July 30, 2010.

I had pretty low expectations for this leg of the trip. Miles upon miles of dealing with miserable tourons, stopping at a billion little waysides, and choking on sopping wet air did not seem very appealing to me. I could not have been more wrong.

I drove straight from camp to Brookings, where I stopped at a cheesy 24-hour “Family Restaurant” for breakfast. It smelled like old people in there. I had a plate full of refined carbohydrates and grease, plus I ate the raw kale garnish just to get a fresh vegetable in my system. Dipped in extra maple syrup (more likely, corn syrup) it didn’t taste that bad.

The sky was overcast and dripping with moisture as low clouds clung to the treetops. It was chilly–in the 60’s– and I even had to use my window wipers. My first stop of the day was Harris Beach State Park. This was an impromptu stop not highlighted in my book, so I just took off down the little paved path that appeared to be going towards the beach. What at first seemed to be an ordinary access path turned out to be a collage of colorful wildflowers. I whipped out my camera every thirty seconds to take pictures of each new flower I encountered. My minimal knowledge of forest plants and flowers helped me identify just a small percent of the flora along the path. I studied each and every new plant, committing details to memory so I could look them up later. It was an exciting romp down the trail.

I exchanged pleasantries with a few people coming and going on the path. As I was still descending, a woman coming up from the other direction said something like “OMIGOD it’s sooooo far down;’ at which point I knew that I couldn’t be far. Sure enough, I was soon in view of the beach. The pavement turned to sand, and lots of downed trees and rocks blocked me from going any further. Of course, I’d left my poles in the car. No problem, there were lots of gorgeous flowers right there.

I ambled slowly back up to the car and made a few other short visits to waysides before stumbling across the real gem of the day: Indian Sands. From a large, circular parking area with only two other cars, I walked steeply down a wide, soft trail into the woods. The trees were tall and widely spaced apart. The forest floor was blanketed with salal, sword ferns and mushrooms. Ten minutes of walking brought me to an abrupt change from coniferous forest to sandy scrubland. I picked my way around various user paths to find the best way to move towards the beach on my robohiker peg-leg. After crossing the sand I was treated with breathtaking views of of the sand, meadows, and rugged coastline. No one else was in sight. Lupine and paintbrush, familiar friends from the alpine, colored the sand. Lots of unfamiliar plants clung to the sand and rock as well, their twisted, low-profile forms evolved to withstand the harsh conditions of the Oregon coast. Waves crashed violently on the rocky shore, leaving streams of water to trickle down the uneven, igneous surfaces into the pulsing sea.

I took off my crutch and found a relatively comfortable perch with a killer view. I didn’t bring any food or water so I wasn’t able to stay long. Reluctantly, I returned towards the woods, taking a slightly different route, then prepared to face the seemingly immense uphill push at the end. It was a major workout getting up there on one good leg.

For lunch, I stopped at the Arch Rock viewpoint, where I crafted a one-of-a-kind peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich on Shasta whole-grain bread. I had to defend my prize from a curious gull, but it was well worth the effort. The sun had finally made an appearance, and it was time to move on to the next stop.

My final attempt at a hike began at the Pistol River State Park Viewpoint. I put on my sunglasses, loaded some water and a book into my backpack, then started out across the sand. The wind was blowing in a fierce way. Pellets of sand hit the side of my face at warp speed, threatening to exfoliate inches off my skin. I kept going, thinking maybe I could find a sheltered spot up and over the next dune. That didn’t happen. The wind seemed to get worse, and the sand grains being driven into my skin seemed to be purposeful in their action. Defeated, I turned back and jumped back in my car.

I dreamed up a new mission for the afternoon: find who’s selling the catch of the day, load up on fresh produce, and go make a slammin’ meal for dinner. I did just this, buying supplies in Gold Beach and Port Orford, then traveling 20 miles east to set up camp at the Butter Bar Campground, yet another free, primitive, Forest Service operated camp. I proceeded to get some good coals going in the fire ring and orchestrated an exquisite feast: snapper with lemon, shallots and bell pepper on a bed of wilted spinach and pistachios plus grilled corn on the cob. I washed it all down with a bottle of Southern Oregon red wine. It was the perfect conclusion to a good day on the Coast.

Redwoods

July 29, 2010.

After a quick foot soak in the very cold river, I packed up and made the non-interesting drive into Northern California. I stopped at the Madrona Day Use Area on Rt. 199 where I accessed yet another river, this one lined with blackberry bushes. About a handful were ripe enough to eat, which was good enough for me.

But my goal for the day was a visit to the Redwood Forest. I arrived at the Stout Grove trailhead a little before noon. The parking area at this popular hike, in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, was already full. I sneaked my little car into a small space on the side of the pavement and walked to the trail. During this 0.5 mile loop I saw lots of people, enormous trees, ferns, and tiny flowers. The redwood bark formed unusual patterns, making every tree a unique discovery. The tree cuts on the sides of the trail and fallen trees helped me grasp the scale a little bit easier. The last time I visited the redwoods I thought, “Big trees. Wow. I get it…who cares?” But for some reason, now the trees seemed much more impressive. Small sprouts branching low on the tree gave a clue as to what the redwood leaves look like. Most of them are so far up the tree that I bet the average person would not be able to ID a redwood’s leaves (myself included)!

The ground was fabulously soft, making the walk rather pleasant. Also, it was cold here; I had a thermal shirt on and others were in heavy coats. I was loving it.

When I returned to my car, I found the lot was overrun with cars parked in every imaginable configuration, plus the entire road back to the South Fork Road had cars parked on either side of it. Nasty. I was glad that I arrived when I did, otherwise I would have missed out on this amazing little hike.

Wanting to give my knee a rest, I made only two more stops: lunch and campsite. I had a cold bowl of so-so chili at the Hiouchi Cafe, then continued to Winchuck Road to look for a tent spot. I drove towards Ludlum House until I noticed fire rings and cleared spots on the right side of the road. An RV occupied one and I claimed the next one. I had a picnic table, lots of flat ground, and river access. The cool, beautiful river lay past a short, steep, and barely-accessible trail. I had to drop my crutches at one point and slide down on my good foot to get past the worst spot. But it was worth it to enjoy another bath and foot soak in the water.

My friends, the mosquitoes, were back in moderate quantity. I decided to make a fire so I could stay and enjoy the outdoors all evening. I dived back into my book, cooked dinner, and rested my legs.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Oregon Caves

July 28, 2010.

I woke up this morning with an enormous blister on my knee from hiking with the crutch yesterday. Bummer. I couldn’t avoid using it today, since I’d need to transport my camp up the hill to the car. So in the process of packing up I popped it. I stopped at a drugstore in Medford to pick up blister pads and bandages to try and find a solution that could keep me hiking. My journey wasn’t even half over!

So, with a blister pad secured in place I kept on driving towards the Oregon Caves.

Visitors can only see the caves if they go on an official tour ($8.50). These leave every 15 minutes, so it’s pretty easy to just show up and get on the next one. They do not allow backpacks or hiking poles so I had to leave both of these behind. The tour covers 0.6 miles of walking, including 500 (?) stairs, in the course of 90 minutes. I figured this would be do-able for me without causing the group’s pace to slow down considerably. The tour guide let me know that he would be keeping an eye on me for the first half to see if I would be able to complete the whole tour.

Our group of about 12 started out on our tour with an older, totally smart-ass tour guide. This was going to be fun. For the most part I was flanked by two other group members who were concerned with my safety: grandma in the front and retired cyclist in the back. Grandma was there with her family and did a great job of letting me know when to expect low ceilings, stairs, slick spots, etc. She was awesome. Retired cyclist was there by himself, and just seemed to always be right behind me monitoring my progress. We didn’t really talk in the cave but had a nice chat on the walk back to the Visitor Center. I was really grateful that these two warm-hearted people had my back if I needed any help.

The Oregon Caves are beautiful, marble caves that are still being sculpted by water. Each room had distinct features, which our guide talked about. There were huge, cathedral like rooms, small passageways, and openings leading in every direction. We saw tiny tubular ceiling projections called soda straws, cave popcorn, a lava dike with a visible faultline running through it, graffiti from the 1800’s and gorgeous crystals. The tour guide talked about the cave’s human history, geology, and general cave factoids. It was very interesting and well worth the trip. I was a little surprised there were so few stairways with hand-rails, however. I had a hard time keeping my balance on uneven stairs with nothing to hold on to. I occasionally had to touch the cave walls to keep from falling over. It was the hardest 0.6 miles I’d done on this crutch, but I made it. The guide did a great job of accommodating me as well.

When I retrieved my backpack I was finally able to have some water and lunch. There would be no more hiking for me today. I stopped at the Grayback Campground on the road back to Cave Junction for my first and only night of fee-camping. For $10 I got a spot right on the river, and had only two neighbors. I bought a huge bundle of firewood for $5 (three times as much as the grocery store sells for that price), which the camp host delivered right to my site.

Immediately I “iced” my foot in the cool river water, then got around to setting up camp for the night. With the exception of my idiot neighbors screaming at their dogs for a couple hours, the site was relatively peaceful. My campfire kept the mosquitoes at bay, too.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Brown Mountain Lava Flow

July 27, 2010.

This morning, I decided to make up for my lack of calories last night with a greasy small town breakfast. I stopped in the soon-to-be ghost town of Chiloquin and located the only place serving hot food. There were four middle-to old- aged, burly working men seated at the counter when I arrived. They were chatting up a storm about all sorts of stuff, including stories of other folks’ stupid attempts at robbery, farm animals, and funny anecdotes. I had a huge, but mediocre, breakfast burrito and went on my way.

Following Sullivan’s directions in the Southern Oregon hiking book I pulled off rt. 140 and parked on the side of the road near milepost 32. Here, the PCT nonchalantly crosses the road; this became my starting point for the hike. I walked south along the nicely groomed trail, crossing a few other trails that appeared to be maintained for winter travel, enjoying the smell of the forest. After about a quarter mile, I crossed the rocky lava field for the first time. The path is extremely well built through this section; I had no trouble walking with my crutch along the trail. Just as it was getting too hot to handle, the trail re-entered the woods. It kept doing this, alternating between wide open lava and shady woods, for the duration of my hike. I only encountered two other parties on this quiet, peaceful afternoon. I spent about 3.5 hours on the trail, including a couple of short breaks and a nice long rest at the mid-way point. Over the past few days I had been traveling at about 1 mile per hour so I estimate I traveled approximately 2.5-3 miles on this hike. That was by far the longest hike I’ve done with my broken foot!

All the way back I brainstormed about how to get into the water without having to go to one of the foolish “resort” lakes up the road. I was hot and caked with filth from the last few days of being in the woods with no amenities and really wanted to wash up. As I approached the car I first heard, then saw, running water. It was pouring over a short drop just under the road’s bridge to my left. It seemed accessible only by a nimble, two footed person so I searched for other ideas. Looking across the street I saw a portion of the river that paralleled the road, which was accessible via a wide gravel pullout set just enough off the road to not be obviously visible.

I grabbed the Dr. Brommer’s out of my car, dashed across the road and stuck my feet in the water. Aaaah. I scrubbed as much as I could without being indecent and dried off in the sun before continuing on my journey.

This night’s accommodations were provided by the Siskiyou National Forest. The Mt. Ashland Campground is located just a couple of miles past the ski area, has a handful of sites with picnic tables and fire rings, and is free. I pulled into the camp just as a short burst of hail exploded from the sky so I waited a little bit before unloading my gear. The only downside was that I had to carry my things down a short, steep, narrow path to get to the closest campsite. After giving my knee a real workout today, this was mildly unpleasant.

I amused myself by scrambling around the boulders, looking at the lovely alpine plants, scoping the view of Mt. Shasta and trying out a little picnic table-top yoga. It was a relaxing evening.

The thunderstorms finally caught up to me here, though. The wind blasted through the camp all night and rain fell in spurts from late evening on. I lay, reading in my tent as the weather blew through, enjoying the dichotomy of peace and violence that makes up nature.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Mosquitoes and a lava tube

July 26, 2010.

I got out of the tent at a lazy 8am. The mosquitoes had arranged themselves in a tactical formation around my tent so as to help me welcome in the new day. I hurried to break camp, stopping only to douse my bare skin with some insect repellent, which the bugs seemed to enjoy very much.

After driving away, hunger pangs soon distracted me and so I pulled off at a viewpoint of Mt. Washington to eat breakfast. I sat on a rock wall, legs dangling above the lava, as I happily ate some granola with reconstituted powdered milk and freshly picked blueberries. The sun shone warmly over the awesome scene, making my humble breakfast seem awfully grand.


I drove on to the Lava Lands Visitor Center for some hike suggestions and to refill my water supply. The ranger recommended a short walk starting at the Benton Falls Trailhead. I arrived, packed a small bag and started down the trail. About three seconds later the mosquito welcoming committee arrived; I had inadvertantly signed up for a blood drive. They were so persistent that I hoofed it back to the car, sprayed the most toxic DEET product I had in my stockpile (you know, the stuff in the little orange bottle that will melt plastic) and tried again. This time I managed to eke out 10 feet of walking before they again stopped me dead in my tracks. Not willing to endure a constant assault of proboscises penetrating my skin, I decided to bag the hike and travel elsewhere.

Next I tried my luck at the Lava River Cave. For $4 I was able to rent a propane lantern and head down into the heavenly, frigid and bug-free resort, er, lava tube. This sucker is a mile long! I took my time descending the stairs and traveling over sometimes uneven footing. After what was probably less than a half a mile, I got the point of it all and decided to turn around. Lava tubes aren’t all that exciting to walk through but the concept is really interesting.

Re-entering the heat of the midday was less interesting so I made a sandwich and sat under the shade of a Ponderosa Pine in the picnic area outside the cave. It felt really good to stretch out my left leg after having it strapped in a 90 degree bend for the last hour or so. I was glad that it didn’t come down to fists to defend my lunch from the aggressive and obviously well-fed (but not well-mannered) chipmunks lurking in the grass.


Feeling like today was a lounge-around-reading-under-a-tree day, I got in the car with the intention of securing a nice, free campsite off the main road. I made several unsuccessful attempts in this pursuit, requiring miles of extra driving, until I finally settled on some long-forgotten campground a few miles down a lonely forest road. Again, I made haste in setting up my tent and diving inside. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The forest was in a state of “extreme” fire danger; I was not too excited to be camping in such a lonely place inside a giant tinderbox with lit matches threatening to fall from the sky. Swarms of mosquitoes flew in clouds around my tent, dreaming about my blood. I was really hungry, but I couldn’t build a fire and I didn’t want to fumble around with my camp stove while being eaten alive by insects. It was too hot to wear long sleeves for long; I was melting after just setting up my tent wearing long pants and a hooded jacket. Plus, all this whining makes for a better story.

I had the foresight to bring a bag of potato chips into the tent with me so that became my dinner. I nervously listened to the booms of thunder and buzz of mosquito wingbeats, wondering which monster would take me down tonight.

It was a long, no, a VERY long night of being cooped up, anxious, in the tent. But the storms never came and I lived to tell my tale. It was time to pack up and continue my trip.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Robohiker hits the road: A slice of Central Oregon

July 25, 2010.

Freedom.

I got in my car on a hot, beautiful Sunday afternoon and drove down I-5, music blaring, headed for the woods of Central Oregon. This part of the state is one of my favorite places; it is sculpted so clearly by volcanic activity, presents a constant stream of showstopping views and has many wild places to explore. I have done a fair amount of hiking here and I feel there is much more to uncover in the years to come. With a limited range, my choices were whittled down to a few. But, dealing with a broken foot has brought new priorities to light and with that new trails to explore.

My first stop was the Hackleman Old Growth Trail on rt. 20 west of Santiam Pass. For my first “hike” on my own after breaking my foot, this was a real treat. The area is braided with trails so I tried to follow the intended loop as much as possible by staying left at most junctions. According to Sullivan’s guide, there is an interpretive brochure to accompany the loop but this is no longer. Old, numbered posts still exist in several places that must have indicated points of interest in the brochure. I wished that I would have had that to enhance my slow-moving experience.

I saw some familiar flowers and ferns, including some Indian Paintbrush. It reminded me of being in a subalpine meadow on some northwest peak; I didn’t realize they grew at lower elevations, in the forest no less. In my 40 minute walk I only encountered a few people, although road noise was always there.

The iWalkFree crutch seemed to work out okay for me. I wrapped my knee in an ACE bandage to keep it from getting excessively sweaty and sticky on the foam pad. I also used hiking poles for extra balance and weight distribution. I was really slow moving, but at least I could walk. And how many people with a shattered bone in their foot can say that?

From there I turned south on 126 and east on scenic route 242. This road absolutely blew me away. I never got stuck behind anyone (there weren’t too many folks driving this way) and the scenery was stunning. The road was just wide enough for one lane of travel in each direction. The forest threw up a dense wall on either side of the pavement. The road twisted and turned dramatically as it wove a path through this wild and unforgiving environment.

I stopped again at the trailhead for Proxy Falls. This one mile loop travels across lava rock and through fairly open forest to two viewpoints: upper and lower Proxy Falls. Two short spur paths from the main loop reach the best views. I made the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. This was a very challenging hike for me. First, it was incredibly hot. The ground was uneven, and it was difficult to negotiate the rocky lava flow sections. I had to make some interesting moves to get my crutch up and over the rock. Fortunately, I quickly learned that the traction on the iWalkFree was better than the traction on my running shoe, so I was able to trust the stability of the crutch 99% of the time. The rounded “foot” pad allowed for amazingly good purchase in areas with awkward foot placements and lots of jagged edges.

Several people asked me about my crutch and my injury along the way. All were nice, and friendly. The first guy I saw asked me “do you know how long this trail is?!” incredulously. I said yes, and I’d be fine. He seemed surprised that I would be out there. And this concern from a guy with a little green bird sitting on his shoulder. Yeah, I’m the weird one, dude.

I got to the junction with the first waterfall view and an older couple stopped me, saying that the view didn’t get any better but the trail got much steeper and looser. They recommended I stop at the viewpoint in front of me, which I did. That was good advice.

I continued back to the main loop, and decided to follow the other spur all the way to its end. I appreciated that decision because, to get there, I passed through a random, cold air mass that felt really good on my hot skin. At the terminus, the upper falls pours into a wide, shallow pool. I dipped my hands into the cool water and doused my head and neck a bit before moving on.

On the way back to the car I stopped to watch a slew of ants as they went about their business building a home in a fallen log. A huge pile of sawdust lay beneath a hole in the log. One by one, an ant would dutifully emerge from the hole with a particle of wood in its mandible. It dropped the wood outside the hole, where it rested atop the growing pile. The ant retreated and another soon emerged. Ants loitering about the pile would take pieces of wood from its apex and relocate them to the perimeter of the sawdust mound. It was absolutely fascinating. I certainly would have missed this engaging drama had I been walking at normal speed.

Exhausted and thrilled with my accomplishments today, I arrived at the car excited to seek out some free camping. I’d done my research ahead of time, so I continued driving along 242 to the second PCT crossing at the edge of the lava field to Lava Camp Lake (not to be confused with Lava Lake Campground). I stopped a few times along the way to take some photos and gawk at the immense piles of lava. Several spots were available at the camp, although all of the ones right on the lake were occupied. This was just fine for me since I soon learned that the mosquitoes had the last laugh here, and I am sure they were most concentrated at lake’s edge.

I spent a warm, peaceful evening with a bug-deterring fire, listening to the echoing ribbits of frogs and watching the sun set. It was a blissful way to begin my adventure.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa. Stay tuned for more stories on this blog.