Sunday, January 22, 2006

They took a hike!

For six months last year, major decisions for Scheitrum and McKenrick centered on basic needs — food, water and shelter.

Extreme heat or deep snow hampered their progress. The couple reached the scorching Mojave Desert in early June. Hiking by day was out of the question. McKenrick wrote: We night-hiked with some friends and made up scary stories as we walked through the desert. In the story, all of us start to disappear into the desert night. What happens to us? No one knows.

Donna and I camp in a colony of large Kangaroo rats. We sleep out under the stars and fifty miles per hour winds.

A week later, approaching the still snowbound Sierra Nevadas, the couple decided to hitchike north to Ashland, Ore., and head south, hoping to cross the Sierras in late July when high elevation trails would be open.

Without help from outside, the long-distance hike would have been more challenging. Burdens were lifted with the occasional appearance of "trail angels," hikers' jargon for people who offer unexpected aid.

"We've met the most wonderful people who are still not afraid to be a neighbor," said McKenrick. "If you walk down to a trail crossing, it's not uncommon for people to drive you to town. My parents (who live near the Appalachian Trail crossing at Caledonia State Park) do it all the time."
During their hike, the couple were offered such "trail magic" as a lift to town, a hearty meal, hot showers, cold drinks and fresh fruit. One of McKenrick's grateful references to trail angels was: "Don't talk to strangers." What a crock.

For the second half of their trip, the couple hiked alone much of the time, just the opposite, McKenrick said, of his 2004 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, when he was usually among fellow hikers.

Yet they felt at home in the Oregon rainforests.

"The forested areas were easier, more beautiful," Scheitrum said. "A lot of green. They reminded me more of the east."

As much as she wanted to say this was her favorite part, she was in continual pain from stress fractures in her feet. As early as June 9 she wrote:

After 2 days of large mileage and sand walking, my tendon in my foot feels like it's being pierced by a knife and (it) blew up after taking my shoe off. . .

And the following day:

We made it about seven miles before my tendon started bothering me again. I have no real concerns about my foot, but knew it needed rest or to take it slow.

Still, she was aware of her surroundings, and was impressed.

"There are a lot of volcanos around the northern mountains," she said. "I didn't realize it would impact me so much."

The scenery affected her companion as well.

He wrote:

There are glaciers above our cowboy camp. The melt of the ice sheets fill the streams. They flow with volcanic silt of Mt. Hood's birth. I drink the cold water full of grit and am completely satisfied. I will never forget the majesty of Romana Falls.

Snowstorms continued to plague the pair, but they were fortunate on every occasion to prevail against the elements. The mountains came to represent their own strength.

On Sept. 11, two days after Scheitrum experienced disorientation from hypothermia, McKenrick paused to write:

The storm has passed. All that remains is fresh snow, like dandruff on the shoulders of Mt. Jefferson. Why do they name mountains after dead guys? Why not name men after mountains? I would be honored to be named after a mountain.

This summer, the couple are making plans to hike the Continental Divide Trail.

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