Project Ashland: Friend or Foe?

It’s been a while but we’re at it again. Sat in the comfortable surroundings of Quincy, a cute little town just shy of mile 1300, we decided to get to Ashland (at mile 1727) by August 2nd.

Excluding the day we chose to get out of town (July 14th) because that day was spent eating burgers and playing in the river, we had 18 days to hike 430 miles and arrive in time for birthday brunch. For hardcore hikers this is no problem, but for fools who like to laze around and eat ice cream, we were facing uphill into a mudslide.

The reason for the target date is that it’s Grace’s birthday, her 21st birthday no less, and Ashland has breweries. Beer gardens were our dream and Grace’s adulthood was our destination. Project Ashland was born.

We pushed strong out of Myrtle Flat, buoyed by our semi ambitious plans and the promise of a cold one in three weeks. The fact that none of us have really drank or craved any beer in the last three months is neither here nor there.

Our high spirits lightened our feet and spread our wings wide, meaning we could start catching the guys that have left us in the dust because of our World Cup and (slight) injury zeroes. We cruised to the half way point on the trail, just shy of Chester.

Henley and I popped in to town quickly to pick up some replacement socks, receive a letter saturated with romance (I haven’t read it and Henley won’t tell, so we can conject) and devour some burgers. Chester was nice but I’m definitely glad we zeroed in Quincy instead, it’s just a sweeter little town with everything you need.

The key to Project Ashland is not necessarily to hike at speed but to keep time in town to a minimum. As keen subscribers to our strategy, Henley and I were in and out faster than sneaky gluten free products in my shopping basket.

As the days and miles piled up, Project Ashland turned in to a mental game that wasn’t the most comfortable. The many hours on the trail, unbroken by zeroes, give you time to think and rethink the same life fantasies, which, depending on your mood, can be wondrous or deforming.

I wondered just why the hell I should be hiking so far and so fast. Am I not on holiday? Should I not be enjoying these views? Supping on the fine vintage of freedom in the wilderness? Bathing in the glory of the physical and the metaphysical?

More than once I got too deep in my head, seeing the trail as my life, racing towards the end of something linear rather than enjoying the sphere in which I reside. I wasn’t bitter, but I needed a whole load of Mars bars to sweeten my mood.

It wasn’t until the last few days when I decided to bitch and moan. Ever positive Elie saw the delight in the challenge, quite rightly refusing to indulge me. Ladypants is an endurance athlete, Project Ashland is his bread and butter, he bathes and sups on this, he politely listened and nodded but is an apple from a different tree. Grace and I continue to argue about snoozing, guilt and tofu, and I like it.

Grace drinking her first legal beer

Grace drinking her first legal beer

Ashland arrived; our free beer at Callahans was delicious and Grace dealt with the pressure of turning 21 with aplomb. No vomit, no throwing fists and no shouting at road signs raised the already stratospheric level of respect people have for her.

Being able to look at Project Ashland from the comfort of a bed or poolside lounger has coloured it rosey. First off, we did it and we did it well. High five and fist bumps all round. Hiking with each other makes the mental challenge easier to handle, life is peachy when you got a friend.

Too close to the fire

Too close to the fire

We’ve luckily managed to stay one step ahead of the fires that are hitting Northern California right now. Ashland has been flooded with hikers hitching from earlier points on the trail, scared to attempt the hike in case they get burned out or have to turn around.

About to venture in to Oregon, we might not be so fortunate, every lightning strike from angry looking storm clouds lights up the kindling ridden hillsides. Resources are being stretched and it could get dangerous. Hiker rumors are that they’re out of control and everything is terrible; we know this isn’t the case but need to enter this area fully aware that our safety is our responsibility. Accurate and up to date information will be our guide.

The appropriate adage for Project Ashland involves cat skinning. You can take it slow and enjoy every minute, but leave yourself open to risks as your timeline gets longer. Alternatively, you can bust your balls, smashing out the miles as you roll triumphantly towards your destination, missing some fine lake swimming and town events (such as the Etna Rodeo). Either way you end up with a creepy looking cat, you’ve just got to hope you’ve done it in a way that makes you happy.

In hindsight, hiking this section any way would have made me happy, making Ashland a fun filled town stop. I guess we’ll have to ask the same question in Portland, 430 miles and 18 days away.

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