An Amble of any other name, smells

My daughter Olivia is an adventurer. Several months ago, she proposed a backpacking trip to Gary and me; approximately twenty-seven miles in three days. I am an athletic human, and although it seemed like a big trip, I thought, “I’m in.” I wanted to give it a shot.

I found a shop where Gary and I could rent backpacks. Mountain Shop. I found a site; Mom Goes Camping, that included a printable camping checklist; bingo! I proceeded to collect the necessities. Our family has done a lot of long-distance cross-country type, racing together. Our last foray was The Cascade Lakes Relay as the Van Tramp Family Runners, so I was up on spraying my clothing with repellant and a sunscreen shirt. Coinciding with the mid-August heat wave, we departed, our older daughter, Kate and her boyfriend dropping us off at the Eagle Creek Trailhead. We walked with them and their dogs for about two and a half miles, then off we went, with my little red cowbell tied to my backpack — bears you know — with each step and subsequent ring of the bell, I felt comforted, as though I was spending time walking along on a friendly farm.

On our first day we hiked to the stunning Tunnel Falls. It’s just as you might imagine, the trail snakes behind a fall, and by the time we arrived we were thrilled at the prospect of a cool spray. I understand that the trail here was completed before 1920 and has remained virtually unchanged since! After Tunnel Falls we continued toward Wahtum Lake and stopped a while to swim near Punchbowl Falls in a couple of natural pools where fellow hikers were also dunking their bods.

By this time, I was pushing my physical envelope and we decided to find a camping spot sooner rather than later. All in all, that first day we hiked about nine miles, and with a pack on my back that I was certain weighed 87 pounds — probably more like 22 — I was pooped!


An inelegant segue, yet important, something I have taken for granted for my entire life. Chairs. There are no chairs in backpacking. And chairs are nice. You don’t know how nice until you don’t have one and want to play cards. Long logs look good from afar, but sitting on them, for an extended period? Nope. And crisscross applesauce? That is only meant for teeny gumby-bodied kindergartners, and Gary has a very bony butt. So next time I’ll find a chair or a backrest thingy. This time we sat as comfortably as we could for as long as we could in our tents and played a card game Olivia taught us, which was hilarious. The tired factor set in at around 8:30 p.m., and once I laid my head down, I was OUT.

We awoke and Olivia made us our instant oatmeal. We sat on our log, ate, packed up and off we went to Wahtum Lake.

We met various folks along the way, the personalities of these backpackers … varied. Some folks were so proprietary … not interested in sharing a best route or camping spot. Others are lovely. Two women were hiking in the opposite direction that we were to Tunnel Falls. We stopped and chatted. It felt as though we were old neighbors! Many of the folks we encountered were heading south to complete the PCT. WOW. The latest New Yorker magazine strapped to my bedroll caught one young woman’s eye. She was from Michigan and had just met her dad in Portland the day before. They visited Fifty Licks, one of my older daughter’s favorite spots. She said “I haven’t seen a New Yorker in a month! She walked up next to me, and we chatted as we walked. She was a paralegal in New York after graduation from college and wasn’t sure of her next steps—pun intended—so she was hiking the PCT to breathe in and decide her best future. Oh, my heart!

That day the mileage and terrain were even more challenging for me than the first, and we ended, again, exhausted, playing cards until 8:30, then night-night.

The phoenix

It was then we began to hike the PCT all the way to The Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks.

Eventually, this is a punishing downhill, but right before that switchback hell was one of the most stunning and resonant sites I’ve seen.

A crowded stand of bare tree trunks denuded of branches and needles by fire. Their usually brown bark is in various shades of brown and dark black. Some bark is peeling revealing white beneath. At ground level, the sun shines on rich green lupine leaves with variegating blossoms of purple.

A ghost forest recovering from the horrific fires of 2017. This may seem like another strange segue, but recently, my dear Artists Rep paused programming for the 2023/2024 season. I’m devastated, as is our community of artists. And yet, like so many sites I observed on our backpacking trip, they were potent reminders of the beauty that will return. Ecosystems cycle. This forest was devastated by fire and the lupine returned. Artists Rep is pausing, and once ready will blossom into the full beauty it’s meant to return to. It was heartening to me, and when I returned home, I visited the site of the new Artists Rep building, amid the construction of Phase 1.  I stood there and took the space in. Tears came to my eyes. I felt the thousands of artists and patrons that once filled that space. I recalled cross-country skiers making it to a show on a snow day. I remembered the many performances I had there. The memories are legion and now we wait.