BEND — With a name such as Sage, it's easy to imagine that a 33-year-old woman from Bend was destined to be the first to hike the 800-mile Oregon Desert Trail. Sage Clegg is now hiking the trail from Bend to Idaho. She left in the past few weeks and hopes to finish by July 20, before the desert gets too broiling.
The idea for the Oregon Desert Trail was cooked up by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, a Bend-based desert protection advocate.
ONDA staff envisioned a three-year process to scout and map the route, which wanders widely as it passes through Oregon's desert jewels, including the Badlands, Hart Mountain, Steens Mountain and the Owyhee canyonlands.
After two years of fieldwork by the staff, Clegg appeared on the scene. One of the world's fastest ultralight female backpackers, she wanted to be the first to travel the entire trail solo this year, before planning was complete.
Realizing the golden opportunity, the staff rushed to put together the trail maps and agreed to help her with logistics.
Clegg will bicycle the flatter, most boring sections of trail, but will walk about 600 miles. Her support team will mail food packages to spots along the way (Frenchglen, Fields, McDermitt, Rome), just as it did during the 18 months it took her to hike 8,000 miles of the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Appalachian national scenic trails.
Clegg carries about 12 pounds, plus food and water. Her tent weighs 3.5 ounces. This is the perfect time for the wildlife biologist to go hiking because her work as a desert tortoise researcher in California's Mojave Desert goes on hiatus while the reptiles spend summer underground.
"Once I met these two incredible redneck dudes out in the middle of nowhere," she says of one of her long treks. "They couldn't believe what I was doing, but they reached into their cooler and pulled out some fresh blueberries. They were so wonderful."
Clegg comes from Mendocino County, Calif., and moved to Bend several years ago. Follow her Oregon Desert Trail journey online at onda.org.