Our time in Salem was positively splendid and I have that feeling that I often have on trail, when someone has shown us an unmeasurable act of kindness, that the kindness of humanity really knows no bounds. It is a welcome feeling after working in a restaurant for yet another season and wondering if everyone is really just a jerk underneath it all. Staying with Conor and Larkin was truly a treat and their wonderful home proved to be a perfect oasis for an unplanned zero day. Or maybe it’s extreme comfort was the cause of a zero day, either way. The night we got in we had actually planned a Q&A about thruhiking at Salem Summit Co., the gear shop where Conor works. It was really wonderful to step into such a well stocked thoughtfully curated gear store and meet with so many curious and interested people. We laid out our gear, answered questions, and chatted with locals. For anyone in the area, I highly recommend hitting up the shop, Kyle and I had to walk away from a number of intriguing items knowing we couldn’t carry them down the trail with us
After that we hit up a great restaurant called the Taproom, enjoyed a PB&J with bacon and blue cheese on it (a combo I would never have dreamed up but that was delightful) and headed home for a restful night sleep. The next day Kyle and I had planned on getting back on trail, but like I said, we just didn’t want to leave quite yet, so we did some number crunching and communicating with my mom who was coming down to slack pack us (much more on that later) and figured out how to stay another day. Conor and Larkin headed off to work and we headed back to bed to nap all day long. When they returned we played an incredibly close came of Settlers of Catan and ordered pizza and ate our weight in skittles and M&Ms. Really I just wanted to stay in Salem forever but the next day we begrudgingly climbed in the car and headed back to Santiam Pass.
A recommendation to anyone thinking they want to sections of the trail in Oregon, do not day hike or section hike south of Santiam Pass. First of all, after you go through the Big Youth Camp about five miles into your day there isn’t any water for around twenty miles. Next, after you leave the camp you walk straight into a burn area that basically continues all day. Then the lava fields begins. For us it was like a nightmare, we were walking through shadeless fields of burned trees when we rounded a bed and exclaimed: “What is that?!?” Ahead of us was a mountain that was devoid of life, no trees, no bushes, no shade graced its black slopes. It was the color of coal, baking under the hot Oregon sun. We said a silent prayer to the trail gods that we wouldn’t have to walk up it, so of course we found ourselves at the base of it, looking at a steep trail that ascended through hot lava scree. It was not a pleasant day. We were walking through an oven of lava rocks and it never ended. Frequently we would see wooded slopes to the sides of us, but the trail continued bravely through the piles of lava rock that lay ahead. Underneath our feet the rocks rolled and shied away, causing us to be constantly unstable and slipping. We cursed a lot, and the loud crunching of rocks and whistling wind made it impossible to even hear our podcast.
This was also the point at which I confirmed that I had definitely bought shoes that were too big. It was a stupid conundrum that I won’t go into great detail on, but basically I thought my Superiors were getting too small, so I wanted a size eight and a half, but the only running store in Salem that had Altra’s only had Lone Peaks in an eight and a half so I decided to go with that. The Lone Peaks were the shoes that gave me blisters all through the desert, so I don’t know why I thought going back to them would be a great choice, and now they were also too big. I texted my mom to bring a pair of seven and a half Lone Peaks that I had sent home along with her, maybe they would be better?
Good things that day: We ran into Coppertone (an infamous trail angel who serves root beer floats) at a road crossing and our dinner was mac and cheese and our campsite was blessedly flat. Those were the good things.