It seemed like a good idea at the time, hiking into the woods with my love in September and emerging in October. Goodbye summer, hello fall, like a dream borne of a Robert Frost poem. And it would have been lovely if it weren’t that hunting season opened October 1st.
Our drive into central Oregon was full of optimism. As we wound higher and farther on those gravel roads, it quickly turned to dismay. This was no sparsely populated wilderness but a growing village of trucks, ATVs, RVs, generators, and barbecues. So when we finally arrived at the upper trailhead and stuffed the top sheet of our wilderness permit into the small brown box, we quickly pulled it out again. We rolled back past the long caravan of overgrown vehicles, their passengers lounging about, boring holes into us with their eyes through the window glass, or so it seemed to me. These weren’t hikers, but hunters.
We returned to the lower trailhead, which we had to ourselves. Switching made our planned hike shorter, but this way we could spend more time enjoying the prettier sections. We were getting a very late start, so we didn’t mind.
We talked as we walked about what morning would bring. Would we would be woken at daybreak by gunshots? What could we do to make ourselves more visible? His pack is orange and I had an orange tarp, but they weren’t bright enough. We were enjoying the beginning of the trail, but were not at ease. Today we were safe, but what about tomorrow?
Horses! I love meeting horses on the trail. I got to stroke one of the two while we chatted with their riders. Did we know hunting season opened tomorrow? The woman looked at us as if she’d be the last person to see us alive. Her troubled stare battled with the comforting effect of the animals.
After crossing Mill Creek, we could see human shapes moving along the ridges. We saw them on the wooded hillsides with our peripheral vision. The wilderness was crawling with hunters and we came face to face with a man the shape of a thumb dressed in thick layers of camouflage. He was sitting on a log beside his gun while waiting for his buddy. He shared a friendly warning, but didn’t tell us what to do, which I appreciated.
I knew what was about to happen. We hiked on and made a new plan to shorten our stay from two nights to one, camp right beside the trail, then head back in the morning so we could spend at least a little time in the wild. It was ten silent minutes before Stoic came to an abrupt stop, five minutes longer than I’d thought it would be. I’d had time to prepare for this and grinned behind his back despite myself before he spun around to face me. I was instantly relieved! We were turning around. Our backpacking time would total two hours. I would have made the same decision in the next thirty minutes, but it takes me longer to let things go. We won’t risk each other’s lives.
Our packs back in the truck, we made for the nearest town to find a hotel. After stopping at several from respectable to questionable (all full of hunters, of course), we were too hungry to go on. We had the blandest meal we’d ever shared at a boring local restaurant before driving toward the next town at dusk. It wouldn’t have been the first night we’d spent in the truck, but luck found us and we happily hauled our packs into an elevator toward luxury. Best campsite ever! This was now the best backpacking trip that never was. (Man, I had a lot of stuff strapped to the outside. Silly me.)
Comfortable bed? Yes! Hot shower? Yes! Free breakfast? Yes! Now what? Smith Rock! Whomever called it the Misery Ridge trail must not be a hiker. The tourists lamented that it’s aptly named indeed. The trail was awesome! Go.
Looking down at the Crooked River during the climb.
Oregon the beautiful.
Up the steep front, snack at the top, and down the back side. I watched the many climbing groups with fascination. At the base was a pockmarked section where people have stacked hundreds of small, fallen rocks. I picked up two from the ground and handed one to Stoic. We placed them wordlessly.
Satisfied, we ate the best chocolate bars ever made while still sitting in the parking lot overlooking the grandeur. The best water in Oregon wasn’t far away, so we drove back into the green toward the Metolius River.
We don’t usually stay in campgrounds, but we had this one to ourselves. Comically, someone came and turned off our potable water, but seeing as we hung our hammocks beside the cleanest source I’ve ever tasted, we didn’t care. We collected wood together in the dark , something that struck us as a new shared experience, and enjoyed the elements. No hunters, no gunshots. Sometimes the best plans are the ones you have to change.
I was all bundled up for the cold night, but had to pee. I had to laugh at myself for taking ten minutes to unzip, climb out, unbundle, wander off to pee in the freezing dark, then get myself all put together again. Men have more convenient plumbing.
We started up the fire again in the morning, as much to keep warm as because we could. At the last, he surprised me with an invitation back into his hammock after everything else was packed up, because he knows I hate to leave.