For four days I backpacked through mountains then emerged with a crotch that smells of an open grave. I made way on foot ’round Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness. The Sisters are a trio of mountains rising from their surrounding valleys, untouched towers of rock and snow. They sit at 10,000 feet or more, a good 3-5,000 over the terrain I traversed. It took four days and over fifty miles of schlepping a pack on my back with all of life’s essentials: tent, water, and thick plugs of moldy beef jerky. They carried me through to the end.
I filtered cool water from springs and streams, deep lakes shimmering a beautiful green at the base of their mountain masters. I poured the water into an old vodka bottle protruding off the back of my pack. Even with the label scraped away its shape betrayed its once held contents. I ate cheese and jerky with bare and unwashed hands. Shit in little holes dug deep in the woods. Made camp at a stream, a lake, and beneath pine trees hidden away from trail.
Come night I ripped off socks and shoes, airing out my achy, dusted, almost blistering but not quite feet. I erected my janky tent whose zippers won’t give and poles are snapping. The first time I ever put that tent together was in a drunken stupor in the same state I now tramped through.
Some friends and I illegally camped on an Oregon ocean beach en route to Crater Lake. Under moonlit sky we burnt driftwood and sucked box wine. We found the remnants of an old hobo camp replete with broken glass and used tampons. We ran hand in hand into the ocean, laughing at the pure joy of having this whole world to ourselves. Then we tried setting up my new tent under the influence of cheap fermented fruit. We almost broke the thing as we forced its poles into place.
For the next three years that tent accompanied me all over the country. It acted as home on my many river trips, erected on muddy, weedy shores. It protected me from wind, storms, and mosquito swarms. Now here I was in the backcountry of southern Oregon, propping the old thing to life despite its last legs: poles broken, zippers busted, mesh tore to shreds from forces unknown. But it still stood. Still kept me safe. Acted as a six foot strip of home in an otherwise unknown land.
By day I’d listen to books and podcasts, come night Funeral from Arcade Fire to complement the unfolding, unending beauty around me. I’d lay in my old tent snacking, sipping water, airing my chaffed genitals which now stunk of death and despair. No matter what I did the stench filled the world around me. My face and feet were dirty. Hiking shirt soaked through with sweat. I was filthy and that was fine. Each night I was ever grateful to be exactly where I was at that moment in time and space.
I had little reception so focused on my podcasts and earth’s scenery. The verdant meadows encircled by pine. The strong scent those trees pumped into the atmosphere. It reminded me of the first time I stepped foot in Alaska, the lovely smell that enriched every breath. Here I had pine but also smoke. The first two days were hazy from wildfire. I woke from my camp among the wildflowers to the scent of far-off fire. Burning wood. Nature’s incense. I knew the destruction it portends but still liked it. I walked through mile after mile of burn area from a previous year’s inferno. Charcoal black trees and ashen ground. The sun cooking down through a now missing canopy of limbs and leaves.
Other places I saw tall, jagged mountains erupting from earth in the distance. Giant fields of old lava flow that proved hard to step over. The loose rock mountain passes of pain inducing elevation gains. The infamous Green Lakes in the shadows of Sisters. Each lady tattooed with pockets of snow. The meadows, the trees, the unending ribbon of dirt that was the trail guiding me forward. It was hard as hell, tough on my feet, and so wonderful to bathe in all this nature.
I had isolation for hours. Every now and then it was disrupted by the friendly hellos of fellow hikers. The admirable efforts of those trekking the whole PCT — people whose path I shared for 25 miles. What monstrous efforts they must exert to do this day in day out for months. To them, to most, what I was doing was little. But to me it was great. I felt no need to compare myself and these efforts to anyone else.
On the fourth day, after fifty some miles of sweat-soaked walking, I completed the loop and wound back at camp. I stripped cruddy clothes and ate the remnants of fresh food. Then I made a bed on the picnic table of my isolated spot. Unscrewed the lid of a $2 bottle of chocolate wine that’d roasted in my trunk for days. I sipped its warmth and thought on what I’d just done. On how I’d wound up here.
I thought of how as a kid I rarely felt driven to step outside. I grew up on a farm with fifty acres of woods and a river. My mother had to force me out there, away from the TV. I didn’t hate it but also held no appreciation for what we had. To me the woods were normal and even boring when compared to media. Now here I was soaking up the outdoors, guided by an inner self that took decades to develop.
I thought of all the moments that brought me here. The years of hiking Oregon’s mountains in the Columbia River Gorge. My month long National Park tours. My paddling for weeks at a time, all alone on the river and woods my mother forced me to engage. These pieces came together without my meaning to. Built my outdoor core. Blazed the trail then brought me to Three Sisters.
As I lay on the table at camp I looked to the darkening sky soon peppered with stars. I sucked and swilled my cheapo inebriant. Sun cooked chocolate wine. To my surprise the stars started dying. Fast streaks of light across the sky. First a few and then several dozen. Each a blaze of infinite power and light. So quick a blink would miss them. They shot above and in the periphery. Hot shots of astral performance. A show only selling tickets to me. It was beautiful.
I snuggled my blankets and accepted what the earth gave me. Nature’s fireworks. I had no idea it was the Perseid meteor shower. That it just happened to occur the night I completed my hike. It seemed a fitting finish. But this wasn’t the end. There were many days to go. Countless places to see. I was just starting a trip through America. A month long bath in the oceanic tub of nature’s beauty.
I’m ambling through America, one state, one National Park at a time. For the next month or so I’ll be hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring America’s National Parks and public lands. If that’s something you’re into you can catch my instagram pics here: instagram.com/gabfrab
If anyone would like a postcard from the road with scribbles about shitting in the woods then send your name and addy to email@example.com