Travel Essay: Remembering Quincy

August 16, 2010

in Travel Essays

  • SumoMe

I met Quincy in July of 1984 at a campground just west of the McKenzie Pass on Highway 242 which runs between the Willamette Valley and the town of Sisters on the east side of the Oregon Cascades.  We would spend the next five days together camping out in the wilderness that lies at the foot of the volcanic peaks known as the Three Sisters.

Quincy and I were about the same height at the shoulder, but his head towered over mine due to his much longer neck, and he outweighed me by a hundred pounds or more.  I changed my clothes a few times during the next few days; he always wore the same shaggy coat.

By the end of our mountain trek it was debatable who was the scruffiest even though both of us had bathed at the end of each day’s hike, me by dousing myself with a bucket of cold snowmelt, he by rolling around in the dirt.  Without a doubt, we smelled pretty “fragrant” by the end of the trip.

Fast-forward to 2010 when I entered these mountains with a different and far less mangy looking companion, my wife, Cindy.  After a few leisurely days hanging out at the Metolius River Resort near the town of Sisters, we turned in the key to our cabin, and began the day’s journey westward toward the home of friends, east of the mountains, and just south of Eugene.

The Chevron station where we stopped to top off our gas tank was jammed with cars being refueled, as was the parking lot it shared with McDonald’s. That fast-food eatery’s customers were lined up nearly out the door, waiting to fill up their stomachs with a late breakfast of Egg McMuffins, or an early lunch of Big Macs.

But as we left town heading to the McKenzie Pass, there were few vehicles ahead or behind us. The Three Sisters quickly passed out of view as the highway’s two lanes narrowed to Ford Model “A” width and corkscrewed up the mountains.

IMG_0529

At the first scenic viewpoint along the road we met up with the other westbound traffic:  A few cars and two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  A guy from east of the mountains who owned a Harley with a burnt-orange paint job discussed the finer points of motorcycling with a biker dude and his lady, both dressed in leather vests and chaps. We could see the main peaks that we had spotted earlier in the week— Washington, Jefferson, and Three Fingered Jack, rising up over the miles-long expanse of basaltic boulders that run north to south in this area.

A short while later we reached the pass and the Dee Wright Observatory, a pile of big, black rocks stacked one a top the other, forming a castle-like turret.  We climbed to the top to take in the sweeping view south to the North and Middle Sister, and north toward the other major Cascade Peaks, including the haze-enshrouded summit of Mount Hood east of Portland.

IMG_0532 A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel with cheeks bulging out like helium balloons on either side of his face was eating out of the hand of a backpacker reclining against rocks along the pathway at the base of the observatory.  When I learned that he and his hiking companion had just come off the portion of the trail that traverses the Three Sisters Wilderness, I recalled my journey through the same area with Quincy over a quarter century before.

That summer in 1984, Quincy, his pals, me and the other members of our contingent, met up at the end of a Sunday summer afternoon and enjoyed a campfire dinner together.  Then I climbed into my sleeping bag, zipped up the “door” to my tent, and fell fast asleep. Monday morning we ate a quick breakfast, packed up our gear, and set off across the lava fields on the other side of the highway.

For the first two days we hiked about four to five miles a day, up and down hill, across the flanks of the still snow-clad Sisters looming above us.  We whetted our appetites each IMG_0511evening before dinner with Mai-Tai cocktails made from clumps of soft, summer snow.  We stuffed our faces with all manner of great food.  The Milky Way wheeled above us in the sky as we slept the night away.

The third day we stayed put. We moseyed around taking photos, or sat around the campsite reading.  The next day we resumed hiking toward the peaks.  On the fifth and final day we reversed course, walking seven miles back to our starting point.

Until encountering weekend backpackers coming in as we neared the end of the trail and our waiting cars, we had seen only two other people:  Horseback riders who, like us, were camping out in the wilderness.

Quincy and I stuck close together throughout each day that we hiked.  On our “day off”, though, he hung out with the pals with whom he had arrived on the previous Sunday.  They were a sociable, closely bonded band of buddies.  If one of them would make a “pit stop” along the trail, he would run like hell to catch up with the friends who had walked on ahead of him.  And they always had dinner together, away from the rest of us hikers, eschewing our protein-laden meals for a totally vegetarian repast.

LlamaI hadn’t thought about Quincy in many years, and if our trip in the summer of 2010 hadn’t taken us north into Central Oregon, he probably wouldn’t have come to mind now either.  I don’t know where Quincy and his friends are today, but it’s not likely that they are trekking through the Oregon Cascades any longer.  Their lifespan is only about fifteen to twenty years, so odds are that they are now high above The Three Sisters, looking down upon the wilderness from Llama Heaven.

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