I’ve learned the meaning of the word contrast. A couple weeks ago, I decided to shoot for a 40 mile day. I wasn’t going to do more of that, but the day into the Mt. Hood area, which ends at Timberline Lodge, is supposed to be the easiest on the trail. So I figured, what better time to push it, then when you end it at the bar? And I was right, but boy was it rough.

Most of the day went by just fine, but the end really started catching up to me. My classic lack of research and preparation really had it’s way with me, when I found myself in times of trouble, walking up sinking sand dunes at 9pm, wind whipping sand and cold rain in my eyes, hardly able to see, unforgiving drop offs on either side of me and so much exposure. When I thought ‘Timberline’ I saw a heavily forested wonderland of a log-constructed lodge. With a warm fire place and lots of big pines all around. Turns out that Timberline means tree-line. Also, it turns out that I’m a bit of a moron for not knowing more what’s coming.

Alas, I found myself a cozy tent site just before the big, bright light in the distance that I assumed meant beer. I pitched quickly, and climbed out of the rain and wind to the safe haven of my tent. I was going to be good, and just eat there in the morning, since I’m on a budget. I started preparing my meal, a buttery garlic pasta side, but as I went to pour the water in my pot to boil, I realized I did not have enough. Well, well. What a lovely excuse to stumble in to the bar.

Stumble indeed. I tripped down a minor rock slide, crossed a creek in the dark, and just kept following the big, bright light. ‘Hang in there.’ I told myself, ‘the end is coming soon.’ And as I crested over a ridge, the dream became a reality. There is was, glowing with warmth and welcome. The Timberline Lodge. I snuck in the back door, and this is the moment of contrast more vivid than I’ve known. From raging winds, sand and rain pelting my face, the roar of wild water and weather, came silence and remarkable warmth and peace. I looked around at all of the people reading in comfy chairs. At the families dining all fancy-like together. I beamed heartily at the people who stared curiously at me.

Soon, I understood why. I went into the ladies room, pulled up to the mirror and actually said out loud, “Ha! That’s what I look like?!” My hair frayed in ever direction, my face and teeth speckled with sand, my eyes all squinty and blood shot. “Well then, lets just rinse off a little, shall we.” Warm water pouring out of sinks is a fascinating thing. Next time you go to the bathroom sink to wash your hands or splash warm water on your face before the mirror, be thankful. Think of a cold creek in the rain as your only source and notice how lovely it is that the water is not only warm, but comes without any elements bombarding you. It’s an amazing thing, really.

I asked the front desk where the hiker trash hangs out, and she directed me to the upstairs bar. It was a unique space, a hexagon-shaped balcony with unmatched, vintage furniture tucked in cubbies. I adored it immediately, and noticed the glorious glow of liquor bottles with neon lights behind them on the other side of the circle. I limped up to the bartender and ordered one of the tastiest beers I’ve ever had, a local IPA from Hood River. I made friends with the man next to me at the bar, he had been hiking all of Oregon. He was spending a month doing so, came from Connecticut, and he and I fantasized together about how cool life could be with a simple cabin in the woods, just doing what you love all the time. Poverty with a view, like Montana.

A bread bowl of vegetarian chili and a stumble back to my tent made it a great night. The next morning I slept in, and packed up quickly to hit the trail-famous breakfast buffet. I was approaching the hotel, trying to comfort myself that I knew my bladder could make it, when I saw two familiar faces poke over the stone wall, Chief and Maureen, his wife, some of my favorite trail people. We were all excited to see each other. Hugged, chatted  (after I ran to the toilets quick), and then had an unforgettably delicious breakfast together. It was the bomb! Waffles with every topping, gourmet pastries and cheeses, quiche and tasty red potatoes. I tried to eat slowly, to try to get through the maximum number of plates. It turned out to be a disappointing total of 3. Then they let me come up to their room to shower, and on my way up, I heard “Kiddo!” and turned to see a familiar face, Rum Monkey, whom I hadn’t seen since Agua Dulce, but always enjoyed having around. He was really happy to see me, and we caught up for a while. Like old friends, though we’ve only known each other on this trail, and not for a long section of it, at that. He was with some other I hadn’t seen since back then as well, Doodles, Scones, and Hummingbird, All people I swam with at deep creek hot springs, way back in the day, 1800 miles before this lodge.

What an incredible place. I vowed to come back there someday. Maybe even climb Mt. Hood and enjoy the warmth and good vibes together (someday when we’re not such broke-asses:)) Truthfully, thru-and-thru, Oregon rules! It was so great to me and I look forward to getting back to it!

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