Low clouds on the horizon as the storm passed on

I dedicate the post to Dale Gerber, who I know had been faithfully enjoying these posts and waiting for this final entry on the ODT

At 4:00 in the morning I awoke to the sound of rain pounding down on the thin layer of Dyneema fabric that makes up my shelter.  “Salty it’s raining”, I said.

“I’ll just pack up and we can hike she called back”

“I’d get in with Swept Away It’s only 4am and neither of us are even close to being ready to go” I replied.

With that I herd Salty grab her gear and jump into Swept Away’s tent.  I looked at the radar and it looked like the storm would pass in a little while.  We all dozed off for a while and then woke up, had some coffee and like every day since we started we packed up and started walking into the darkness waiting for the sun to rise and meet us as we made our miles.

Our final ridge line with trees and rocks to break up the scenery

The trail was pretty straight forward in the morning, we walked some OHV tacks and dirt roads and then we headed up what would be our last big climb of the trip.  We walked up the dirt road until it crested a small pass, from there we headed cross-country to a ridge that held some small trees and winding deer paths.  The air was cold but we all had smiles on our faces dreaming of the hike coming to its end and the showers and food we would enjoy this day.

We stopped on the ridge for a snack and rest, it was about 8am and I decided to finally drink the beer that She-da had left us at the water cache the day before.  It was early, but as they say, “you can’t drink all day if you don’t start early.”  Swept Away and I passed the cold beer back and forth savoring it’s hoppy goodness and enjoying that feeling of a slight beer buzz early in the day.

“I like a good beer buzz early in the morning”-Sheryl Crow

We threw on our packs and carried on down a dirt road towards the Badlands.  As we walked Salty and Swept Away asked me, “what’s the last 9 miles of trail like?”  A few years back when Tomato headed out to be one of the first people to hike the ODT I had dropped him off and we had hiked the first 9 miles of his hike with him, that was a few years back and as I reflected on that day I remembered chatting with She-ra and Speedstick more than the trail.  I thought back to that day and how I thought someday I’m hiking this route but first I need to refine my Desert skills and refresh my compass skills too.”sandy, oh and some cool rocks…that’s what I remember,” was all I could reply as I was lost in a memory.

We dropped down to the valley that makes up the Oregon Badlands.  The track was easy mostly following along some dirt roads and then came our last stretch of cross country.  Under the barbed wire we crawled and then a slosh through the sand.  It turned out this was Nature Conservancy land and you could tell how healthy the land was because there were no cows.  The soil was soft and not compacted, the sage and various plants were healthy and there was no cow pies to step in.

The unspoiled land of the Oregon Badlands. Thanks Nature Conservancy for protecting our land

We came to the end of the area and then crossed the highway to the trailhead parking lot.  I joked with the girls that I had now completed the ODT since I already hiked this section and would meet them at the end since I’d just hitch a ride down the road.  They didn’t believe me though, so we took a little break, to freshen up for our last 9 miles.  We knew that Ron, Big John, and Mosey (Swept’s mom) would be waiting for us at the end.  

We sat on rocks, brushed our teeth, enjoyed a snack and greeted the Sunday morning day hikers who were out for a hike looking all clean and shiny like they had stepped out of an REI add.  We wondered what these people must of thought as they passed these three ragged and smelly hikers with million mile stares that all hikers get on a thru-hike when the final miles are closing in.

Tiny making sure our breath is fresh to great our friends at the end of the trail
Nothing but smiles as the final miles present themselves

We set off for the final push the three of us walking in unison down the wide sandy trails.  It was sandy and slow going, each step was an effort and our standard pace was off.  Oh well they’ll have to wait for us was all we could think.  At one point we missed a turn and wound up at a fence line posted no trespassing, damn it!  We decided to have one more snack and plot our course back to the route.   In less than a mile we were back on track and slogging our way through the sand.

We each got lost In our own thoughts as we reflected on the hike, the sites we had seen, the challenges we took in-stride early on, and how much we had bonded and walked together.  I must say personally these two were some of the best hiking partners I have ever had and I would go anywhere with them to hike in the future.  

Still getting along after 750 miles is a rare treat on a hike

Finally we came to a water way, “hey I know this spot this is the irrigation canals that are right where you start.”  We started to get excited and then in a tree we saw a fleece vest hanging on a branch, we walked over to explore and there in the tree were some custom made signs for us congratulating us on the end of our hike.  We were looking around when running towards us was Mosey.

The Lost Children of the ODT are finally found!

We all gave each other a hug, stopped for a few photos and the walked the last 150 yards to our final terminus.  At a non descriptive spot next to an irrigation canal, 20 miles east of Bend lies the end of the ODT, such a fitting spot an indescribable trailhead for an under appreciated trail and region of the US.

Ron greated is with a firm hand shake and slap on the back for a job well done.  Big John was there too, he is pretty much family to me as I first met him 1996 at a hiking gathering and spent 2 summers in college with him as the care taker at the base of operations when I was a ridge runner.  He gave me a giant hug and lifted me off the ground.  It was so awesome to have people waiting at the end of the hike to celebrate the moment with us.

We crawled in Ron’s van, ate a carrot cake and chips and then headed to Bend for beers and food.  We stopped at a brewery and my friends Tree Hugger and Blister Free showed up to visit us.  I hiked on the AT with Blister Free way-back in 1996 so it’s always fun to catch up with him.  We enjoyed some beers, a pile of food and then headed down the road to my friend Christie’s house for much-needed showers, fresh food and a hot tub soak. After checking off all the required items of filthying up  Christie’s lovely shower and hot tub we loaded up into Big John’s Rv and headed back home, like dust devils on the desert we swirled up and away and scattered back to our lives off trail…

Our homage to all those early pioneers who blazed the Oregon Trail and walked the same desolate country as us, but with way heavier gear