To the border . . . or bust!

by Gillian Larson | posted: July 27, 2014

When I finished that first section in Washington, I drove back to Oregon, where I had left Takoda in the competent hands of the Bend Equine medical center, as I was especially concerned about some scratches on his hind legs that resulted from the fall we took on July 2nd that had been slow to heal. He was looking much better, and I left Shyla at Future Road Farm and with the help of the husband of one of my mom's friends that she grew up with in Topanga, who moved to Bend years ago, I went back once more to the Mt. Jefferson area in another attempt to complete that section. Last time I had come through here, I had stopped at Olallie Lake due to snow, but since then lightning had started some fires, and now much of the trail north of Santiam Pass (in fact, all the way to Timothy Lake at this time) was closed due to fire. There was a PCT detour which involved a lot of road walking, and I had also identified what I hoped might be an alternate trail, and Jim dropped Takoda and me off at a trailhead a little south of Olallie Lake, as close as we could get to where we left off earlier. We started out down the alternate trail, but after a few miles there were signs that said it was no longer maintained, and eventually the trail died out into the brush and was no longer identifiable. So reluctantly I had to backtrack to the trailhead, and then I headed out on a long road walk. Takoda and I walked down small, narrow highway 46 to highway 22 at Detroit and camped overnight, and then we tried to walk the rest of the way along the highway to the next place where I might be able to get back to a trail to Santiam Pass, but the highway was so busy, with logging trucks and motorcycles and cars passing at high speeds, that I finally gave up out of concerns for our safety. I hitchhiked back to my truck and then picked up Takoda and headed once more to Future Road Farms, having decided that between the snow and now the fire, Mother Nature had won this round and I was going to have to concede defeat. I think altogether I covered more miles on the road and detour and backtrack along the trail than I would have if the PCT had been passable, and I was only missing a little bit of distance on both sides to "connect the dots" between Santiam Pass and Olallie Lake, and this was as good as I could do, in the interest of safety.

After that, things got better when I headed back to Washington with both horses. We were going to make a base camp with Carol Johnson at Pinebar Ranch in Ellensburg, and she graciously welcomed us with open arms despite being in recuperation from back surgery. I had contacted Carol on the suggestion of Alina, who was also on her way to Ellensburg, and Alina and I plan to ride a lot of Washington together. But I had a couple days before Alina would arrive, and I used those days to get to the Canadian border! I had already come reluctantly to the decision that I was going to look for an alternate route to the last sixty mile stretch of the PCT, again due to issues over safety. I had been repeatedly warned, most recently by Bob Woods of the PCTA, that the last sixty miles had some serious obstacles to stock as the result of several landslides, the northern-most one of which was deemed impassable for stock. There was a suggested detour, but Bob admitted that no one had been on that detour recently, especially since the recent catastrophic wildfires in Washington had diverted all man-power away from trail maintenance and into fire-fighting. The elevation in that area is also fairly high, so it was possible that snow would still present difficulties as well, and in addition to all that, there are no roads from the U.S. side, so after getting to Canada I would either have to return on the same dangerous trail for many miles or somehow arrange to be picked up in Canada (and get an export pass for the horse, which meant another vet visit). All those many things--landslides, detour, elevation, possible snow, poor maintenance, export pass, transportation problems--made it finally overwhelmingly difficult to imagine completing it successfully within the timeframe that I have to work with, so I found another trail that would take me to Canada and allow me to complete the border-to-border ride, even if not all of it was on the PCT.

So on Sunday I drove north from Ellensburg with Takoda to Ross Lake, which stretches north to Canada slightly west of the PCT, and we started our ride up the East Bank trail. I covered the first 13 miles and camped that night, then set out in the morning to ride the rest of the way to the border. I was going to make it to Canada, one way or another!


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