This trip was not planned. This trip was not logical. This was a trip of the truly spontaneous nature. Jess and I needed a break from the city and we decided the best way to get that break would be by driving for three hours to camp in a car and then wake up at the crack of dawn to hit up Cougar hot springs- a place neither of us had been before. We basically were driving to Bend and back for a just-barely-24-hour break from the city. Rational? I think not. Wonderful? I say yes.
Over the years that I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve come up with a very scientific and official rule-of-thumb to ensure my personal positive mental health levels and overall feelings of satisfaction with life. That rule is to go no longer than two weeks without leaving the city limits. Once I cross the threshold of that second week, my mind starts to go wild- I get anxious, upset, depressed and hopeless. I’m not kidding, I really do have these problems! Then, as soon as I escape from the confines of the city for a day or more, my mind feels at ease. Everything is easy and life is good again- it’s a very vital rule to follow.
And so this brings me back to Jess and I’s spontaneous, illogical, no bad, very good trip. We both needed a break. A break from the city, a break from life, a break from everything. Soaking away our worries in a natural forest hot spring sounded like the perfect fix.
As we wound our way closer and closer along shady wooded roads, the sun dipped lower and lower on the horizon. After one missed turn-off, we found ourselves traveling along the upper ridges of a deep yet very low reservoir and had the chance to catch some amazing views of the sunset as it slipped behind the reservoir’s cliffs.
We finally crept into our campsite after dark.
As our (now giant) fire blazed next to us, Jess and I turned our faces star-ward to admire the diamond-studded sky above us. You forget how many stars there are until you escape the reaches of modern light pollution. I grew up in a small backwoods town, and one of my favorite things to do on a clear night was stare at the billions of beautiful stars up above me. I used to stand outside with my dad and sister as he told us that a single beam from our flashlight sent out towards space wouldn’t hit anything for thousands of year. It’s something that simultaneously causes you to feel very, very small and fill you with a huge sense of wonder.
The next morning we woke early. Since we’d camped in the car, there was nothing to break down and we quickly left the campsite behind and found the trail-head to the hot spring.
After 10 minutes of walking along a well-maintained path we came to a rough-hewn open shelter and crudely built steps that lead down to the rock-ringed thermal pools. We disrobed quietly, not wanting to disturb the peace of the place we’d just arrived at.
There are five cascading pools that make up the Cougar Hot Springs, with the hottest pools being at the top and each successive pool below getting slightly cooler than the rest. Jess and I got lucky and snagged the third pool down. As we sat and soaked in the volcanic thermal waters, we quietly observed the forest around us. Time slipped by and the morning sunlight streamed through the high branches to dapple across moss-covered rocks. It was heavenly.
We soaked for the better part of almost two hours and finally had to call it quits when we both found our water bottles to be empty. As we emerged from our soaking pool, we looked at the one above us and wondered… just how hot was the hot pool? But instead of testing our mettle in the hottest of hot pools, we snuck into the one just below it to test the waters. And the waters were HOT. I have no idea how anyone manages the top pool. I saw some people in it while we were there and decided it must be something basic within their DNA that allowed them to handle those temperatures; like how some people are taller than me or have a bigger nose. Its just something they’re born with.
Feeling fully warmed inside and out, Jess and I made our final departure. We walked quietly up to our belongings and dressed in blissful silence as we watched the steam rising and curling through outstretched evergreen branches. We didn’t talk again until we had started making our way back down the trail to the car, and even then conversation was unhurried and relaxed.
Once we got back to the car, we broke out the Jetboil to brew some tea and have some breakfast. We found a great place to sit at the edge of the cliffs leading down into the reservoir below us. A family of ducks swam thousands of feet below us, and we amused ourselves by watching their progress as they zigzagged from one place to another.
By the time we loaded the car back up, Jess and I felt refreshed, invigorated and ready to take the city on once more. Well, at least for another two weeks that is.