Friday, July 13, 2012

Old Trail, New Friends

Being a blogger, I've "met" many people, through comments on my blog and others.  But rarely do I get the opportunity to meet any of my online friends in person.

Back in May, a woman named Sue left a comment on one of my posts about the Barlow Trail.  I hiked this trail almost two years ago and blogged about my experience.  You can read the full story here

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger view.

At the trailhead

In her comment, Sue mentioned she'd be visiting Oregon in July and asked for the directions to this trail. She wanted to hike a portion of the Barlow trail, and my blog post was one of the few sources of information she could find on the web. We ended up exchanging emails, and I sent her a copy of the hike description from my Sullivan book. Knowing how difficult it can be to find your way in a new town, I offered to accompany Sue on the hike. She responded back with an enthusiastic "yes" and said she'd be in touch closer to her trip date.

Manny and Sue enjoying the trail

Some background info: The Barlow Trail was established as an overland route of the Oregon Trail. This road, traveling up and over Mt. Hood, gave pioneers an alternative to braving the Columbia River's rapids in order to reach Oregon City. Parts of the Barlow Trail are still visible today, and have been turned into a hiking path. (Refer to my earlier blog post for more facts about this historic route).

Three happy hikers

About a week before Sue's arrival, we nailed down a hike date via email.  Sue also mentioned she'd be meeting a friend in Portland who would like to join us.  I started to think "hmmm I don't know these people, maybe I shouldn't go off in the woods with them by myself."  So I recruited my friend Debbie to come along by asking her "How would you like to go hiking with me and someone I met on the internet?"  Like the good friend that she is, Debbie agreed to accompany me on my latest adventure.

Fallen rhodie petals

The agreed-upon hiking day arrived.  Debbie and I met Sue and her friend Manny on the outskirts of Portland.  Sue and Manny had their own vehicle, so we took separate cars to the trailhead.

There were still a few rhodies blooming

Since my inaugural hike two years ago, I haven't been back to this trail.  But I still remembered how to get there.  It's very easy to find - the trailhead is located on a large gravel shoulder of US Hwy 26 as it begins its climb up to Mt. Hood.  We piled out of our vehicles, and got acquainted heading down the forested path.

Group photo at the old highway tunnel

Sue makes her home in Chicago, and Manny hails from LA.  Both of them are volunteers with the Habitat for Humanity, and met during a build in Thailand.  Sue and Manny have traveled to many countries and the US, building homes with this organization.  Habitat for Humanity was the reason for Sue's visit to Portland.  The following week she was scheduled to assist with a home building project in nearby Corvallis.

Manny was a very intelligent and handy person (and a very good photographer with his iphone!).  From our conversations, I could tell he was very good at fixing up or building anything.  Habitat for Humanity had sent him all over the world to participate in numerous home building projects.  He'd been to the Gulf Coast alone a total of three times after Hurricane Katrina.

Manny checks out the creek

Sue and Manny were fascinating people.  They had so many stories of places they'd visited building homes.  Such amazing experiences!  Sue said the desire to do something meaningful for her 50th birthday was how she came to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

Group photo No. 2 at Little Zig Zag Falls

Our hiking companions absolutely loved this forested trail.  Although the day was sunny (yes we finally got summer in Portland!) the thick tree canopy made for a nice shady, cool hike.  Sue and Manny loved the large Douglas fir trees, the forest floor carpeted with huge ferns, and the old rotting "nurse logs" with plants sprouting out their tops.  Debbie and I realized that we hike here so much, we take the beauty of the northwestern forest for granted.  Seeing it through the eyes of visitors makes me appreciate living in Oregon even more.

Sue and Debbie in the woods

I was delighted to discover that, like myself, my companions also loved to take pictures.  Our progress was slow, due to many photo stops, but I didn't mind in the least.  It's nice to have hiking buddies that don't mind taking "Kodak moments."

Manny strikes a hiker's pose

We climbed up the Barlow Trail, which is the very same road the pioneers used to travel over Mt. Hood to the "promised land."  The rocky, rutted trail is rough in places, and it's hard to imagine a car driving over it, let alone a Conestoga wagon.  It does however appear to be a perfect trail for mountain bikes.  We encountered a couple groups of bikers.  Luckily all of them were able to slow down before encountering us, except for one young kid who stopped inches short of taking out poor Debbie.

Roadside sign to the wagon chute

A portion of the old Barlow Trail was converted into a highway back in the 1920s.  Some of this old road has become part of the hiking trail.  My group came upon an old highway tunnel, preserved for hikers to pass through.  Above the tunnel, some of the original pavement still in existence, leads hikers to picturesque Little Zig Zag River, and Little Zig Zag Falls.

Pioneer wagon chute at Laurel Hill

Manny and Sue loved the river and waterfall.  It is a very lovely place, and Little Zig Zag Falls rivals any of the Gorge waterfalls.  Although the temperatures were getting warm, sitting beside the gushing cascade was quite refreshing.  Gazing at the base of these beautiful falls, I wondered to myself why I didn't come here more often.

Photo ops at the top of the chute

After visiting the falls, my group turned around and headed back down the trail, returning to our cars.  But our adventure wasn't over yet.  I still had one more short trail to show Manny and Sue - the wagon chute at Laurel Hill.

My hiking party at an Oregon Trail sign

Laurel Hill is a large, steep dropoff.  The grade is so extreme that some pioneers actually winched their wagons down the slope on ropes.  Others tied enormous fir trees to the back of their wagons, the weight of which to act as brakes as they slid down.  The scoured, rocky wagon chute is still visible today, and an interpretive trail leads people to the very top of this abyss to see it for themselves.  It is very chilling to stand at the top of this chute and realize that people in wagons somehow made it down alive. 

Sue becomes a tree hugger!

We closed our wonderful day with dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant.  The conversation was so good, we sat and chatted for a long time, almost closing down the place.  I could've talked with Manny and Sue for hours, they were such interesting and selfless people.  And to think I was worried about meeting these guys!

As I'd hoped, Manny and Sue loved the hike. Sue was very happy to be able to set foot on the actual Oregon Trail.   Debbie and I enjoyed the great company and the opportunity to show off our beautiful state.  

What a great experience!  Who would've thought that a blog post about an old trail would bring me together with two amazing people, who I now call my friends.

Happy travels, Manny and Sue! 


  1. I still am amazed at the number of real-life friendships I have made through my blog! This sounds like such a wonderful adventure. And your words, "seeing the trail through Sue's eyes" were exactly what I experienced when a blog friend from northern California visited me here in Tennessee last spring. I took her hiking on one of "my" trails in the Smoky Mountains and wrote an entire post called, "Through the Eyes of Another."

  2. Isn't it fun to meet blogger friends? And how awesome to get to hike a portion of the Oregon Trail. That's another bit of history that fascinates me.

  3. You are like one of Oregon's best travel resources. They should be paying you. When they finished the Lewis and Clark trail through Hermiston we were visiting my brother and his wife was a reporter and took my daughter to a luncheon where she met the artists involved and even got her picture in the paper. This was about 9 years ago.

  4. What a great treat to meet some new in person friends that you met through the blog. I have met some great people through the Internet some have been friends now for over 16 years and we plan trips together all the time.

  5. What a great treat to meet some new in person friends that you met through the blog. I have met some great people through the Internet some have been friends now for over 16 years and we plan trips together all the time.

  6. wow, looks like a great hike. what gorgeous views. (:

  7. Beautiful pictures and such an interesting article! :)

  8. I just love the area- how nice to be able to spend time there.

  9. It is interesting how these things work. I have been following the blog of a ranger at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; so when we were there earlier this year, of course we went and said hello!

    My coworker thinks blogging is silly - but I love it. It brings together people with similar interests.

  10. What a great blog-inspired experience. And the forest is really beautiful. I've met a fellow Scottish blogger in real life and we've become friends - funnily it was our respective daughters who were wary of us meeting 'random people from the internet'!


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