ONTARIO — Sage Clegg of Bend this month became the first person to traverse the entire Oregon Desert Trail — hiking and biking nearly 800 miles from Bend to this town near the Idaho border in 37 days.
The trip was not without rough moments, the worst of which Clegg said happened two days before finishing the journey.
"I started out in the morning and I was not a minute out of camp when I almost stepped on a huge rattlesnake," said the 33-year-old.
Clegg walked just over 600 miles of the trail and biked about 200 miles.
The nonmotorized trail is being developed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association. It passes through Diablo Peak, Fremont National Forest, Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Steens Mountain, the Pueblo Mountains, the Trout Creek Mountains and the Owyhee River Wilderness.
"I think the importance for ONDA is that we're trying to develop an awareness of the high desert," said Dan Morse, conservation director for ONDA, which is based in Bend. "For us, there is an opportunity to talk with folks about how we can permanently protect some of the places and match the conservation steps some other places have taken."
According to ONDA, Clegg holds the women's record for hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail in less than 18 months. An 8,000-mile commitment, the three trails are called the Triple Crown of hiking. Clegg accomplished the feat in 2010.
"I didn't set out to break any records," Clegg said. "I just started hiking and I liked it."
Through mutual friends, Clegg was discovered by ONDA and invited to give feedback on the fledgling Oregon Desert Trail while she hiked it from end-to-end. Clegg has been giving information to ONDA, such as where hikers should camp, find water and resupply.
"I'm really glad ONDA created this hiking trail. It's a great way to get people to parts of Eastern Oregon they may never visit," said Clegg. "They're exposing people to new places to fall in love with. There's a lot of beauty to be found out here."
Clegg carried a GPS, which she used to keep a track log that other hikers will be able to use as a guide. She also had a spot beacon, which she activated every night to send a message to ONDA and friends and family to let them know where she was.
"She's able to see these places and talk about their beauty and the wildlife that's out there — in some places, about people that she's met along the way," Morse said. "That's one of the true hiker experiences, the ability to come out of the forest, check in a bit and have a milkshake."
Clegg said it was comforting to know the organization had inventoried the trail and had been where she was walking. ONDA did not pay Clegg for the hike; they did aid her with money for food and gas.
"Most people won't hike an 800-mile trail in one session. But there are many segments that can be done in one day, and that's something that many people are attracted to," Morse said. "This gives people the understanding that they can go out there and see these incredible places in the high desert."
Clegg was able to stay in touch with ONDA via cellphone when she encountered towns along the trail, which she said happened about every four to six days.
"It's like a long series of four-day backpacking trips," Clegg said.
Clegg carried supplies to charge her iPhone in her backpack, along with a tarp, poles, sleeping bag, camping mattress, clothing and rain gear. When filled with food and water, Clegg said her pack weighed 30 to 35 pounds.
Clegg grew up in Northern California in a rural town called Willits. When she was 14, she applied for a scholarship to hike with Outward Bound, an international outdoor education organization. After a two-week backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Clegg knew she wanted to be an Outward Bound instructor.
After graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with degrees in environmental studies and earth science in 2001, Clegg joined Outward Bound, leading trips in Montana and Texas.
"I loved it. I got to share the outdoors with other people," Clegg said. "It was an awesome job."
However, Outward Bound shut down their bases in Montana and Texas in 2009. After six years with the organization, Clegg had to move on.
Now a desert tortoise biologist in the Mojave Desert, Clegg splits her time between Nevada and spending time in Bend with her boyfriend, Adam Drummer.
Clegg began hiking on her own in 2008.
"I was really poor and I was scrounging," Clegg said. "A friend said I should just go out on a trail."
Clegg traveled to Albuquerque, where she hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail to Phoenix.
"A few days into it was my 29th birthday. I was eating a cake I had brought with me and I decided my goal was to hike 3,000 miles before I hit 30," Clegg said. "Hiking keeps you young."
Clegg said the most unexpected part of hiking the Oregon Desert Trail was meeting residents of the towns along the way.
"I met a rancher at Cottonwood Canyon. I had just hiked the creek, which was really congested," Clegg said. "He said, 'Oh, somebody paid me to take a message to a miner there in the '50s, and it was horrible.' These interactions were surprising and wonderful."
Clegg said the hot weather was a hardship during her journey.
"I always underestimate my abilities; that's why I hike," Clegg said. "It's hard to believe you can do something like that.
"I'm constantly surprising myself. It doesn't feel like me who did it until I see my shins are beaten up and my feet feel like they might fall off because they're so sore," she said.