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A visit with Doug and Lil on the PCT

With COVID-19 gnawing on the American psyche, my wife and I gave in to a yearning to hang out with Lil and Doug — and we didn’t violate any social-distancing guidelines to do it.

We drove to the Pacific Crest Trail to see the pair — who, by the way, aren’t related. Specifically, we hiked a stretch of the PCT accessed about a mile off the Mount Ashland exit on I-5.

Lil, you see, is our code name for trillium, as in, “I wonder if the Lil are blooming yet.” Five minutes into our hike, the tri-petaled wildflower of pearly white answered with a resounding yes. Several hugged the ground, while others swayed on long, skinny stalks leaning toward the sunlight.

“It looks like it’s sitting on a barstool,” Charlotte remarked of one.

Its beauty aside, I’m drawn to this forest bloomer because it’s a wildflower whose identity I can remember. We passed at least a dozen other species on our hike, including ones I’ve admired for years. Probably even looked them up and learned their identities once — or thrice.

My brain has stored a jumble of flower names without sure images to attach them to: monkshood, gentian, monkey flower, lady’s slipper. I can’t even remember what a forget-me-not looks like.

Moving at a leisurely pace, it took us about 30 minutes to reach Doug. He, unlike Lil, is a specific individual — an old, massive, grumpy-looking Douglas fir, whose branches droop over the trail. I’ve sat under Doug many times, no easy feat, as the ground is sloped around him. The only place to rest one’s fanny is on a gnarly, uneven “bench” formed by the bottom part of the tree.

Doug discourages company.

After nearly losing my footing to find a place to sit, I swear I heard him grumble, “Get off me.”

Clearly, I needed Doug more than he needed me, because I’d just passed a few rough days, battling the pandemic blues.

For the first weeks of the COVID shutdown, Charlotte and I had been doing remarkably well. We retired from teaching a few years ago, and it didn’t alter our lives significantly to hunker down.

We could still take walks around the neighborhood and ride bikes. I could still play my guitar, and Charlotte her piano. We could still prepare delicious meals from food delivered to our door, rather than collected from the supermarket.

Was it OK to feel this good when others were losing their jobs, getting sick — dying? Our only loss to the virus was canceling a trip to Ohio to see our daughter. Sad, but not tragic.

Then, one morning, we heard from the first COVID victim of our acquaintance. She, now living in New York, called and described three harrowing weeks of fever and painful breathing, utter listlessness and fear for her life.

Two days later, something hit me. My entire upper body felt like a huge pulled muscle, and when my temperature rose to 100.1, I contacted my doctor’s office, seeking guidance. Should I get tested for COVID? If so, where? I spent that entire Thursday in bed, Charlotte and I trading choruses of “Let’s stay calm, let’s not freak out.”

I have yet to hear back from the doctor’s office — but that’s another story. Within 24 hours, my temperature had dipped back to normal, and the body aches had vanished.

Turning on my laptop to catch up on emails, I got hit by a whammy of a different kind: I discovered my computer had been hacked.

Those were the events leading up to needing some Doug and Lil time. To needing some PCT comfort. To needing the reminder that nature is always there to soothe.

We hiked about seven miles roundtrip that day, yielding sharply to the few people we encountered. We were entertained by nonstop, melodious bird chatter, and an intense demonstration of bark banging, courtesy of a downy woodpecker.

I’m hoping the worst of our pandemic experience will be my 24-hour scare. And what, by the way, was that all about?

So, while some local parks and campgrounds have reopened, we’re staying away for now. We know of five access points to the PCT within 35 minutes from our driveway, and we’ve reacquainted ourselves with just one during this health crisis.

I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of the PCT this spring and summer.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer who lives in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.

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SHARE YOUR ADVENTURE

The Mail Tribune wants to share your adventure. We’re looking for accounts of hikes, climbs, river runs, fishing trips, bike rides, ocean outings, camping trips, wildlife encounters and anything else you’ve done outdoors. Email your story and pictures to Mail Tribune features editor Dave Smigelski at dsmigelski@rosebudmedia.com.

Paul Hadella spends some quality time on the PCT with his buddy Doug. Photo by Charlotte Hadella
Sometimes spending time with a trillium is just what the doctor ordered. Photo by Paul Hadella