Turning Point

What a sunrise! I was riding an emotional high. My road trip was into its fifth week. Sure, there had been a minor hiccup here and there (the fires in Glacier National Park caused me to replan part of the trip), but there was always a great alternative to take advantage of (e.g., spending the weekend at PCT Days in Cascade Locks). Best Trip Ever!

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First light on Mount Hood from the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain

Best Day Ever! That’s what I thought as the sun shined upon the icy flanks of Mount Hood. My vantage point atop Tom Dick and Harry Mountain couldn’t have been any better. Mirror Lake and last night’s campsite were still in the shadows below me. Next stop: Bend, Oregon.

It was a Wednesday morning as I headed down off the peak. I returned to my camp, packed up and headed out. I planned to stop in town for breakfast before driving to Bend. On the way out I passed a couple of day hikers getting an early start.

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Mirror Lake

All was right with the world as I approached my car. Then I noticed the glass on the asphalt. The window behind the driver’s seat was gone. I opened the door. Broken glass covered the back of the Acura. Numb, I opened the tailgate. My Eagle Creek luggage was gone. In it were all my clothes and toiletries. My Jansport daypack, with all my prescriptions, personal items, books, and tablet, was also missing. I was having problems processing everything. What to do? Call the police. But the local constabulary was not interested enough to visit the crime scene. “Cancel any credit cards and send us a list of the missing items along with serial numbers” was the extent of the useful information they provided.

There was one credit card I had purposely left in the car, just in case I lost my wallet. A call to Ruth was made. (Thankfully there was cell service at the trailhead.) As Ruth was informing the credit card company of the stolen card, the card company saw someone attempting to use the card. They hung up on Ruth to deal with the issue. Happily the card was canceled before any unauthorized charges could be made. Just in time.

Not everything was gone. My gym bag was still there, as was my small ice chest. A yogurt and orange juice provided needed sustenance. The robbers weren’t able to open the hatch, so the thieves didn’t find the items stashed under the sleeping platform. They did abscond with a week’s worth of backpacking food; however, they left a couple of bottles of wine. My trip journal was taken, along with my National Park Passport (with decades worth of memories), but a pair of new earbuds, still in the box, was left behind. It was futile to try to figure out the minds of the miscreants who ransacked the vehicle.

More hikers showed up at the trailhead. All of them, to a person, saw the broken glass, the missing window, and all of walked by as if nothing had happened. If I looked at them they averted their eyes and turned away. No one wanted to try to help or get involved. Maybe it was because it was a popular trailhead, but this was not the ‘brotherhood of the rope’ I was accustomed to.

Other calls followed. My insurance company suggested a few places to have the missing window replaced. I had to decide where to go from here. I needed time to think, to process what had just happened, What did this mean for my trip? In less than three hours I went from ‘Best Day Ever’ to an emotional low. I was confused. What do I do now?

Being an engineer, I made a list: new window, new clothes, warm shower, a place to sleep. It was a start. I had family in Portland, just over an hour away, so I headed west. During the drive back to Portland, I started to process things. Yes, I was angry. There was also a sense of loss. Something things could easily be replaced. Actually, the more expensive the item, the easier it was dealing with. My Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody for instance. Expensive, yes; however, I could go online, and a new one would be waiting for me in a couple of days. Other items had more sentimental value. My National Park Passport had stamps from years of travel around the country. Money couldn’t replace it. The same with my trip journal. Then there were the recently acquired items: Small, but important gifts from family and friends, mementos from the trip and PCT Days. These items weren’t costly, but they were meaningful.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” — Epictetus

My outlook began to change as I made my way to Portland. A service representative from the local Acura Dealer said it would take them a day or two to get a replacement for my window. Instead, she suggested I contact Action Auto Glass. She had used them in the past and recommended them; she gave me their number and I was able to schedule an appointment for that afternoon. I was also able to reach my cousin, Judy, and her husband Ken, and they let me stop by and drop off my backpack, as well as the other remaining items, at their place while I was out running errands. No point in keeping things in a car with a broken window. Judy also gave me a pad of paper and a pen so I could start putting together an inventory of stolen items.

A few days earlier, at PCT Days, I had met Kiah, the manager at the Eddie Bauer Store in Clackamas. I needed new clothes so I called her to let her know I would be stopping by. It turned out her car had also been recently broken into. She was quite sympathetic to my plight and was very kind and helpful with getting me properly attired. Kiah’s kindness touched me, and it turned out to be the second turning point of the day; this time in a good direction.

After leaving Kiah, I drove to Action Auto Glass. While Jimmie installed my window, I made a list of missing items. The list turned out to be lengthier than I had anticipated, and longer than it should have been, but when you’re on an eight-week road trip, a trip which included camping, hiking, backpacking, dressier attire for going an evening out… well, let’s just say I didn’t take a minimalist approach to packing.

It was a hot summer afternoon in Portland, but Next Adventure wasn’t too far a walk from where my car was being repaired, so I ventured out. A few days earlier, at PCT Days, the kind people at Next Adventure gave me a bandana and bumper sticker. These were gone, but maybe Next Adventure had these at their store. It may seem like a small thing, but it was something I could do, here and now, to move forward. I walked into Next Adventure, wearing the clothes I had been hiking in since yesterday, sweaty, and unshaved. The homeless I passed on the street didn’t bother to ask me for anything, to their eyes I was one of them. The staff at Next Adventure were unfazed by my appearance and gifted me with a new bandana and sticker. Awesome! Things were looking up.

Later, with a new window installed, I enjoyed a glass of wine with Judy and Ken. I picked up a couple of more clothing items, took advantage of a local LA Fitness to shower and clean-up, and crashed in the back of the Acura for the night. In the morning I was able to get ahold of my cousin Jo and arranged to spend my last night in Portland at her place. I had come to the realization this part of the trip was over. There were things which needed to be dealt with, especially getting new prescriptions under a new insurance plan, which necessitated being home. My biggest regret was having to call Marsha in Idaho and let her know I wasn’t going to visit her as scheduled.

Before starting the long drive south, I took advantage of Oregon’s lack of a sales tax and replaced several other items. By this time, barely 30 hours since finding my car ransacked, I found myself focused on the generosity of others, people’s helpfulness, and the chance to stop by Blue Star Donuts one more time. The anger and bitterness were quickly fading away. There was nothing to be gained by dwelling on them. It was time to move forward, to put things in context, and not let the entire multi-week adventure be defined by one unfortunate event. Looking back on the totality of that day (exquisite sunrise, car break-in, the kindness of strangers, time with family, etc.), I would rather have experienced what I did, than any day at the office.

An early start on my final morning in the Pacific Northwest, an uneventful drive, another night spent sleeping in the back of the car, and twenty-five hours later, I was home. It felt good to be with my wife and sleeping in my own bed. The following several days flew by. There was time for cuts and bruises to heal, to deal with the mundane tasks of cleaning and sorting gear, paying bills, doing laundry, going grocery shopping, and working with the insurance company. I also started the process of replacing more stolen gear and reaching out to several companies and groups from PCT Days, where I had volunteered, to reacquire a few mementos, memories of a fun-filled gathering.

There was always a plan for me to return home for a week during the extended road trip, though it involved flying home from Salt Lake City, then back. I was home earlier than planned, and my departure was going to be a day later, with lots more driving than the original itinerary. This led me to extend the second part of the trip an extra week. Little did I know at the time what lay ahead, and what a valuable lesson I would gain.

To be continued…