Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Oregon trails. With a surprise ending that is not dysentery.

I'm a slow and steady, consistent effort kind of person. I've never crammed for anything in my life. But I woke up with a sore throat two days before we were catching the three planes to our Oregon adventure. And desperate times call for lots of drugs. I crammed all the fruits, vegetables, proteins, vitamin C, zinc, Mucinex, tumeric and medicinal tea I could find into my body and hoped for the best. It worked because by Saturday morning I was fine.
We flew into Medford, OR on Saturday night, picked up our rental car and checked in at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express in Grants Pass, where they informed us that they serve complimentary pancakes from 6-10pm every night! What more could you ask for in a hotel? We ate dinner at The Haul gastropub. I'm not really sure what a gastropub is, but the building was really cool, the food was decent and if you're in the market for some pigs feet (because who isn't these days?), you can buy them there for $3.
Sunday we went to Oregon Caves National Monument, a marble cave system in the Siskiyou Mountains. It was discovered by Elijah Davidson in 1874. Well, actually it was discovered by his dog Bruno, who chased a bear into the cave, and Elijah followed. You just never know what you're going to find when you go bear hunting. President Taft made the caves a national monument in 1909. Now it's a pretty sweet set-up, with cave tours, a visitors center, café, giftshop and lodging at the Oregon Caves Chateau. We did the 90 minute general cave tour (you're not allowed in the caves without a guide and they don't let you bring any backpacks, purses or food in there). It was warm at the park but the temperature in the caves was only about 44 degrees. It was really neat to walk around in there. My favorite room was the one that looked like it was covered in jellyfish. After the tour, Pete and I walked the No Name Trail, a short little loop that goes into the Siskiyou National Forest.

Monday we embarked on our 3 day running adventure on the Rogue River Trail with Orange Torpedo Trips! OTT has been leading rafting trips since 1969 and 5 years ago they also added raft-supported hiking and running trips. Our guides, Mike and Stich, were both very experienced rafters who have been around almost since the company's inception. Needless to say, we were in good hands. Sunday night I was pretty nervous. I was worried about being slow and holding back the rest of the group. But as it turned out, Pete and I were the only runners and most of the time we had the trails all to ourselves. Rounding out our group was a retired couple from Washington who planned to hike some of the trails and raft other sections. We also met up with some self-supported hikers and a hiking group from another rafting tour company at the lodges. Let me tell you, raft supported running is the best! Pete and I ran the whole 42 miles over the 3 days, but there were plenty of places each day to meet the raft and get a ride if you didn't want to run or hike the whole way.
On Monday at 10am, we met at Orange Torpedo's shop in Merlin, OR and packed our stuff in the dry bags they gave us. Then the van drove us to the start at Grave Creek, which is an ominous sounding trailhead. It starts uphill too. The first day was the shortest at about 10 miles, but it was supposed to be the most difficult because of the steep uphills and downhills. I think my perception of hills may be skewed because I didn't think it was too bad. The hardest part of this day for me was that we didn't start running until 11:30 and it was already pretty warm by then. The trails were beautiful singletrack, with gorgeous views of the river and canyon. We met the raft about 4 miles in and Mike and Stich had lunch all set up for us, then we ran to Black Bar Lodge, where we spent the night.

The cabins were rustic but comfortable. We had a double bed and a single bed, our own bathroom and even an outlet (not all the cabins have outlets because even though they say no hair dryers, some people don't listen and then it overloads the generator, so they have slowly been getting rid of the cabin outlets). The electricity shuts off between 10pm and 7am but there is hot water all the time. Plus it's a built in wake up call - just leave your light switch in the on position and the lights will wake you up when they come on at 7. Black Bar served us a family style dinner at 7pm and breakfast at 8am. That night, we were talking to the hiking couple in our group. They have been married for 49 years and I asked them "What's the secret?" He said "Sense of humor, compromise, and grow together not apart." Some wise words on the Oregon Trail.
Tuesday morning, Mike ferried us across the river back to the trail and Pete and I headed out for 15 miles, stopping to meet up with the raft a few times along the way to get food and water. Getting an earlier start definitely helped and the first 10 miles seemed to fly by. There were some hills but the whole trail was very runnable. We only stopped to walk for safety in a few places where the trail was very narrow, with loose rocks and a steep dropoff down to the river. There were some sections through tall grass and I was really worried about ticks, but it turns out that Pete is the real tick magnet. He got four ticks (luckily we were checking often and found them before they had a chance to burrow into the skin) and I got none. Sometimes it's nice to be unpopular. After lunch, we ran the rest of the way to Marial Lodge, where we spent the night. Both lodges were nice but Marial was my favorite of the two. The food was excellent, the owners were friendly and funny, and sitting out on the back deck with such a sweet view was a great way to relax after a long, hot day of running.

Wednesday morning, we headed back to the trail for our final and longest leg, 16 scenic miles including shady, fairytale-esque forests, spectacular canyon views and beautiful waterfalls. They definitely saved the best for last. I saved my best shirt for last too, representin' TrailsRoc on the Oregon Trails. Pete and I wore our Montrail Rogue Racers all 3 days, perfectly fitting for adventures on the Rogue River Trail. This was my favorite day on the trail, until the last few miles. There was a lot of uphill, which wasn't too bad, but it got very warm and the trail veered away from the river, then went through a long meadow and ended rather anticlimactically in a small parking lot. The meadow part was kind of confusing and we weren't really sure where to go after that. I saw the sign for Foster Bar and thought we had to take the road that way, but Pete disagreed. We had started out down the road and were just about to turn around when the van found us and gave us a ride to the boat ramp at Foster Bar where the rafts were. Let the record show that this one time I actually knew where we were going! We had lunch by the water, then the van drove us the two hours back to Orange Torpedo's store, where we packed our stuff back in our rental car and headed to the hotel. I can't say enough good things about Orange Torpedo. Our guides were very knowledgeable and fun and we had a fantastic time! At 33, I was the youngest person in our group and I was in awe of our guides and the hikers. I can only hope I'm that active and awesome in 30 years.

The rest of this trip is kind of a blur to be honest. Thursday morning Pete and I drove to Northern California to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The trees there are just freaking ginormous. It was an exquisite kind of torture, to be in this giant wood playground and not be able to climb on everything. But I think that sort of thing is frowned upon, it being a preserved national forest and all. Thursday night we went on a Hellgate Jet Boat Tour in the Rogue River. It was a lot of fun and the pilot (he kept calling himself a pilot even thought it was a boat not a plane) did a lot of spins and made sure we all got splashed. The boat tour included dinner, which was ok. I was more interested in the people watching than the food. We were sitting across from a couple who had retired in 2011 and now lived out of their RV, so we asked them a lot of questions about RV life. Their main advice was to buy your last RV first (they were already on their third one) and to make sure you can see the TV from all angles so you don't get a crick in your neck (they were adorably proud to report that their current RV has 4 TVs).

Friday we drove up to Crater Lake. We had asked our guides what we should do with the rest of our time in Southern Oregon and everyone said Crater Lake is the thing to see. It totally is. It's the deepest and clearest lake in the US, formed 7700 years ago when the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed and formed a caldera that, over time, filled with rainwater and snow runoff. I can't even explain how breathtaking the views are there. And I'm not just talking about this guy:
So we were driving around Crater Lake, stopping at the different trails and scenic overlooks, and we walked up the Wizard Island overlook trail. I was thinking about how I always have the best time with Pete no matter what we're doing, and wondering how in the world I got so lucky that this is my life: traveling, running, adventuring and loving every minute of it. I was simultaneously thinking there is nowhere else I'd rather be but also wishing all our friends at home could see this because I know they'd love it too. Pete hugged me and we were just standing there, hugging, enjoying the crazy awesome scenery at this amazingly clear blue lake, with the clouds and mountains perfectly reflected on its surface. Then Pete said something and I heard sounds but my brain, unable to make sense of reality suddenly crashing into the thing it had always deemed impossible, found them incomprehensible. I said "What?" and then Pete asked me to marry him, again. In the most decisive and without-a-doubt moment of my entire life, I said "Yes!" And he said "Well that was easy." As we were walking back to the car to continue on to see the rest of the lake, I started wondering if it had been a dream. I had had a lot of bad dreams earlier in the week. Then the night before they had taken a turn for the better when I found my dream self at a place where you could pet baby bears and I was hugging a soft, white baby polar bear and it was the best ever! Then Pete said something like "So you're my fiancée now, right?" And I said something like "Yes, I guess I am!" And Pete said "That was the hardest thing I ever had to say and you made me say it twice!" Pete said we'd get whatever ring I wanted, but I've never understood the whole ring thing. If you're into that sort of thing, great! But I wouldn't know a karat from a carrot. So we bought Crater Lake T-shirts and bumper stickers at the gift shop.
I was expecting to get a sunburn in Oregon, not a fiancé. But life is nothing if not full of awesome surprises. I mean, we had talked about buying a house together and all that someday stuff. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that someday was starting now. And it was perfectly PEN. No bended knee or ring or other people's traditions that I've never understood. Just us and the trails around this indescribably gorgeous volcanic lake. Just a simple question and answer to commence Pete and Jen's most excellent adventure.

And the captain said, "Engage!"
Lyric of the moment: "To settle for and settle down never really crossed my mind. Oh I’ll be living dangerously with you instead..." ~ Sondre Lerche "Living Dangerously"

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