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Cow Patty is her name

I know her as Tresa Finchum, from over Sams Valley way. Once, we shared space in a closely knit and highly eclectic writers’ critique group. Now, fellow hikers of the Goat Rock Wilderness Area, a portion of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, have come to refer to her reverently as Cow Patty.

We recently met up at Agate Ridge Winery to kick back, share a glass of appropriately labeled Ridge Rock Red, and talk about her latest birthday escapade. She’d turned 65, but that didn’t matter. The point was; she spent it trekking a 400-plus mile stretch of trail, over three weeks time, averaging 20 miles per day. She accomplished this alone, but for her faithful and true McNab shepherd, Rudy-Rudy. The closest she came to birthday cake might have been dried prunes, or the bounty of huckleberries she discovered.

She brought her pack to our meeting to demonstrate her streamlined traveling style — a mere seven-and-a-half pounds worth of minimized essentials carried on her back for 21 days. She wore the same outfit for 21 days. The same hiking skirt, woolen tights, cashmere sweater, wool hat and gloves for three weeks. Rudy-Rudy carried his own handmade pack filled with K9 rations.

“People don’t understand how easy it is to do this,” she said.

She was telling this to someone who had to fight her way out of a corn maze.

Cow Patty knows very well how to use a Handi-Wrap-style rain poncho. She employed it when a sudden storm, frequent in higher elevations, took her by surprise and forced her to take shelter under one of few trees. Now what, she thought, knowing there was tougher terrain ahead.

“I had three options — prayer was a part of that.”

She waited out the shower and traveled on. One might have opted for turning 65 in a nice restaurant instead of a freezing downpour, but I doubt CP considered her party any less festive.

It wasn’t necessarily the mountain vistas, solitary reflection or interesting people she met that occupied her thoughts, though later she enjoyed the memories. “I was thinking about food all the time. I lost eight pounds and was eating all the time,” she confessed.

I tried to imagine myself out there in the cold, dark night, feasting on tuna packets, peanuts, dried beans and corn, while wearing the same outfit. Somewhere deep in my soul, I felt the tug of the wild on my primitive self and wondered whether I’d survive. I would need a trail name. Greenhorn? Milquesop? Maybe Whiner.

One thin pad and a flimsy sleeping bag was how she slept, with no gun to keep her warm.

She described how she and Rudy-Rudy picked their way gingerly across an ice field — she on her knees so she wouldn’t slip and go tumbling down the side of the mountain. This was no ordinary sexagenarian. But I knew that. This was no Universal Studios simulated wilderness ride. Cow Patty woke each morning not knowing what the day would demand of her.

I cringed when I asked her what her favorite part of it all was. It sounded trite, as if I were asking her favorite flavor of ice cream.

“It’s different than what people would guess,” she said, finding it hard to articulate an answer.

Was it because she was able to face the challenges, to wonder at the fact of the side of her face being frozen for two hours, to miss her husband, Dale? Her favorite part, if I can chance to name it, must have been the doing of it. What must it be like to think back and picture yourself on an alpine ridge, in the same outfit, and know you made it back unscathed? I would imagine the call to return might be strong in the night. This was her fifth trip. At the end, she met up with her 84-year-old mother to watch her tandem skydive.

I feel privileged to know and relate the stories of those more courageous than I.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.