Day 141: Stehekin

September 1, 2015

Despite my state of complete exhaustion, sleep escapes me. Even here, on an actual bed that is dry and warm and designed to induce sleep, I have a fitful night.

Maybe it’s too dry and warm in here.

As soon as the digital bed side clock beams a reasonable morning hour, I abandon the effort altogether and start organizing. I check in on all the items I have hung around the room. Mostly dry, except for the corners of my pack.

After an hour of puttering, I recognize that I am ravenous. Usually towns days confuse my appetite. But this time there is no confusion, I need a third consecutive greasy spoon feast immediately. Weekend and I head back to the same diner as last night. The rancheros omelette is as richly cheesed and generously portioned as I need it to be. The coffee is as weak and disappointing as expected. 

We look at the clock; it’s time to make a break for the ferry. I go to pay for my meal but my debit card is 100% not in my wallet. Classic Koopkat. In a few days,  I’ll find out that the card is locked in the diner manager’s office for safe keeping.

At the ferry terminal, Weekend can’t find his wallet either. But he eventually finds it. We’re scattered.

Soon we board the Lady of The Lake and begin the long, slow ride to Stehekin. This time of year tickets are usually in high demand. But because of the fires, there are only a handful of passengers. Most of which are hikers. Weekend, DirtyBowl and I claim our own rows in the movie theater style indoor seating onboard. It is eerily empty. I spend the four hour ride swiping through photos, writing and watching the black, burnt hills float past. It’s a bleak scene.

But then we are in Stehekin! Wherein north bound hikers find a renewed lease on their adventure.

Stehekin is as charming as the hype has led me to expect. Though also empty. The lady running the craft shop tells DirtyBowl that the resort, which usually books out months in advance, is only at 5% capacity. Fires, man. All kinds of hurt because of them.

The day is overcast and mild so we opt to walk down the one road past a farm (DirtyBowl buys goat cheese and kale) and onto the bakery. The Bakery! The Stehekin Bakery of northwest lore. I order a cheesecakey berry square and then a sandwich that finally scratches the itch of my month long sandwich fantasy. I won’t apologize for dwelling so much on the topic of food.


The Bakery closes and we are displaced to the picnic bench outside. I meet three new hikers. I talk the most with a compact hiker named OneOfUs. We swap stories of Piute Mama and Legend. He has a spritghtly energy and humor about him that I get a kick out of. Another thing I’ll miss about this trail: the constant stream of mountain friends.

Instead of spending the night in Stehekin, DirtyBowl, Weekend and I decide to take the bus to the High Bridge Ranger Station. We should have reservations to camp here, but it’s getting dark and the spots are empty so we roll the dice and set up anyways.
The rain comes and goes, at will. I boil a pot of water and add grey goose and Kool Aid fruit punch powder. You’re welcome. Meanwhile DirtyBowl plays songs off her iPod through the mini speaker that make me think of college and feel feels.

When dark has settled, the rain picks up and we all get quiet in our respective tents.

I lay on my back and listen to the thrumming.

This is ending soon, isn’t it. 

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Day 140: Bail Out on Suiattle River RoadΒ 

August 31, 2015

Mom & Pops, our saviors from the rain storm, agreed to materialize at the Suiattle River Trailhead at 10am. We arranged this meeting time at Stevens Pass, before I know the conditions would put such a literal damper on pace and progress. Now we’re left with twelve miles till the Suiattle River, which is surely do-able by 10am. Especially when you’re desperate for an escape.

I open my food bag and realize the food is all gone. Alls I have left is milk powder, cocoa and coffee. I shake together a frothy beverage in my waterbottle. It’ll do.

Weekend, DirtyBowl and I set out of camp together. We walk with purpose this morning, moving fast and staying warm. The day is very much the same as the two preceding it: grey skies, steady rain and wind, and wet, overgrown foliage that turns the trail into a car wash. The air is twinged with the sweet scent of rot. Fallen tree trunks are so softened by constant Washington moisture that when I stab them with my trekking pole, their rings fall open and apart like slow cooked pork.

Mmmm slow cooked pork.

Five miles out from camp, we spot some orange flagging. Beside it, the trail closure notice. Sigh. We turn left where the PCT heads right and start our alternate. 

We crush the next 8 miles and meet our ride at the Suiattle River Trailhead on schedule. Deliverance! There are towels, snacks and dry clothes for us in the car. No words. Thank you, parents! I hold my weather beaten face a centimeter from the heat vents. Heat! From a car wall! What sorcery. We barrel towards Chelan, making stops for food along highway 20. First at a diner and then for ice cream in Winthrop. DirtyBowl reckons she could live in a town like Winthrop.

Spirits are high until our energy crashes. The deluge of heavy food and heat thrusts us into a collective coma. I am wholly drained. I drift in and out of sleep. Each time my eyes open, there’s a new view of the North Cascades and a renewed sense of wonder: I still get to hike through this?!

The last stop on the drive is Safeway, wherein I assemble my final PCT resupply. The next time I go to a grocery store, I doubt I give the Little Debbie section any love. So I make sure to relish the highest calorie/lowest price decision making process. It’s been a wild gastro ride.

In Chelan, we check into a motel and bid my parents farewell. First order of business: my wadded, soggy mess of gear. I slowly pick through the pile of wet everything and spread it over bannisters, bushes and fences around the hotel.

When I come back to the room, DirtyBowl is already laid up in bed with a steaming plate of microwaved pizza bites on her lap, icing her knees and lolzing at Sienfeld. With more sincerity than I have ever heard in her voice, she says: “I am so… happy.”

DirtyBowl deserves her bliss. Weekend and I duck out of the room and head over to a diner down the street. Then it is time to catch up on overdue rest.

Day 139: 100% Chance Of Rain, Part II

August 30, 2016

The morning brings nothing new. Same wind, rain and tumult as the day before. I make hot water and mentally steel myself for another day of beating by nature. There is something maddening about this. Something maddening and very unnatural about leaving shelter for exposed travel through a storm so that I can eventually make the same flimsy shelter, only wetter and colder than I started. What in God’s name am I doing out here.

I ask myself a lot of Why questions this morning.

Weekend passes by the tarp. He lived through the night as well! DirtyBowl and I are still far from being hiking ready, so we hurry him on before he gets cold standing there.

He leaves and it takes hours (no exaggeration) to pack up with our trembly hands. We hobble to a water source once were packed. I hold a Snickers bar to DirtyBowl’s mouth. She takes little bird bites of it. Then we hike on. A break in the clouds passes along the horizon and shows a fleeting view of Glacier Peak Wilderness ridgelines dusted with new snow. Oh what the views would surely be without this curtain of rain. The whole day I just focus on making progress forward. No matter how slow. Doesn’t help that this section is an obstacle course. Deadfall blocks the trail every tenth of a mile, and the routes around each obstacle are all washed out and slick with mud.

Around midday DirtyBowl turns a corner: “IM ALIVE AGAIN!!” she says. Her appetite returns and we squat on a switchback and smash a round of bars and cosmic brownies. We walk fast to support the turn in well-being. Yes today is comfortless. But DirtyBowl and I somehow find ourselves having fun. We are a sick, twisted breed.

We’re stumbling along, trying not to slip down the hillsides, when we come to a wonderful sight. GUMBY!!! 


Gumby is proped on the trail, pointing us toward a campground. We found Weekend!
Since morning, I’ve dreaded this moment when I have to set my tent up in the rain. But magically, the rain stops and doesn’t start again until I’m safely beneath shelter, the most blessed sliver of luck I’ve had all week.

My tyvek, tent and backpack are all water logged (yes, even the tyvek). The only dry things left are my sleeping bag and base layers. Pretty clutch things to have dry. Everything’s going to be fiiiine.

From our domes of nylon and cuben fiber, we hear tales of Weekend’s day and split a pot spiced cider.

Only a half-day tomorrow until we hit the closure and bail out to Suiattle River Road. Dry warmth is coming! 

Day 138: 100% Chance Of Rain, Part I

August 29, 2015

When I wake up, I am warm and the stock camp we inhabited for the night is still both dry and poop filled.

That all you got, Washington? Ha!

When I wriggle from my tent, I (literally) stand corrected. It rains, afterall. Tree trunks creak and bend under the wind and I tuck my garbage bag skirt back into my waistband for another day.

The morning is sloshy, but manageable. After a few hours, the clouds break and expose a spiny ridge of Cascades in the distance. I go bananas over the view. Goddamn the North Cascades are a stately range. The view is a tease, though. A gaping, sucker hole, tease. The clouds, wind and rain close back in, battering us along and then up and over an exposed ridge line.

But don’t feel sorry for me. On the other side of the pass…

… awaits Glacier Peak glory.

The basin below the pass is strewn with boulders and traces of wild creeks that glint like silver under the stormy tumult. No words or pictures do this wilderness area justice.

Yesterday, we spotted hot springs marked on our maps not too far off trail. What better place to wait out the storm than in pools of naturally warmed mud! We’re shooting for the hot springs by evening, smug at how perfectly our plans tend to pan out. But we meet some hikers midday who tell us that the hot springs we’re gunning for are completely washed out and have been for years.

Ain’t that a let down. 

I brew a consolation pot of hot water + green jello mix. We sit in the rain and pass the green brew between our white, pruney hands. It lifts out spirits. As does the Gumby Weekend got in a care package from his Mom. I am endlessly entertained by Gumby. He is my talisman.

The rest of the day is a steady suffer fest. The trail is steep, washed out and slippery. Meanwhile the rain works its way through every last defense layer of Gore-Tex and wool. The gang grows silent.

Finally DirtyBowl stops and says she needs to make camp. She’s shivering. We consult maps and apps; alas, no campsites listed for miles. We try to trudge further, hoping for a perfect campsite to materialize but the it doesn’t. Conditions worsen. The best plan we can think of is to split up and make shelter happen wherever we can. Weekend back tracks to a potential bivy we just passed, while DB and I stumble against the wind till we find a semi protected spot wide enough for her tarp. Setting up the tarp is hard going. Our hands are too cold to function like normal hands. DirtyBowl is nauseous, loopy and numb. Bad combo. Eventually we get ourselves under the tarp. I convince DB to eat food. She still shiveres. Added hazard: her sleeping bag is wet. No bueno. No bueno at all. But I try to keep the mood light and give her warm things to drink and offer dry layers I have on reserve. The tarp walls flap against the storm. At one point in the night, it collapses on us. Rough ridin’. In fact, tonight is the roughest ridin’ of the entire trail.

For the first time, I am momentarily at peace with the fact that this trail will come to an end. Winter in the mountains is nigh. The seasons will help bring this adventure to a natural, rightful close. If summer lasted forever, I could hike this trail forever. But tonight, as I shiver under a shuddering tarp and soggy down, I dream of the great indoors.

Could this be… closure?

Day 137: Signs of Storms to Come

August 28, 2015

Somewhere in the murky purgatory between very late night and very early morning, I wake up. Rain drops splat on my forehead and cheeks.

“Guys… Guys. It’s raining,” I say.

Only grunts in response. Then silence. We all try to pretend the rain isn’t happening. The shrubby nest we settled into for the night only has enough room for one tent at its widest point. We’re confused and only half awake, meanwhile our things are getting wet. Help. Instead of sending two off into the dark to scrounge for alternative tent spots, DB offers to set her tarp up high and wide to fit all three of us. After a flurry of rearrangements and Twister-like moves, we’re all packed sardine like under the party tarp.

Hours later, dawn comes. It is grey. The sky, still drizzling. And we are slow to leave the party tarp. More Twister to get get dressed and packed. Once standing, Weekend and I make skirts out of garbage bags. Rain kilts! 

Despite how threatening the sky looks, the rain never amounts to more than a begnin sprinkle. The drama of the clouds makes the day even more beautiful (or so I convince myself). I only have 200 miles to buffer off any lingering weakness. These light dashes of discomfort are good for me (or so I convince myself).

“But I like being comfortable” says DirtyBowl. I don’t believe her. You don’t get named DirtyBowl by being a creature of comforts.

The weather isn’t only good for feeling tough, it’s good for the fires. The smoke gets a good spritzing today. Maybe this damp weather is the blessing we need to keep passage to Canada open.

We break up our mileage for the day into four mile chunks, breaking under trees in between. Most of the miles are exposed sidehill traversing. When the clouds part, I can see the trail slice across the hillsides like a hairline fracture for miles and miles ahead. We are the only hikers we see all day, and the only foot prints on record in either direction. Less people means less competition for wild blueberries.

Bluuuuuubs!!! Glorious Bluuubs! (Or maybe black huckleberries?) The trail today is bursting with them. I feast on magic berries and by the end of the day my mouth and finger tips are stained purple; signs of addiction.

On the less delicious front, I try Rocket Chocolate today. You know the ones they sell by the register at rest stops? Cartoon rocket on the label? DirtyBowl says they’re a wild ride. When I open the one I found in Skykomish, it is dusted with white powder. This gives me pause.. but I eat it for the thrills // and immediately regret it. It doesn’t taste like anything tasty.

I hike alone in the early evening, taking my time to pick blueberries and periodically peel the garbage bag from my legs when it gets wadded up between strides. I finally see another hiker. He’s walking south, in a slow and thoughtful manner. He gives me a nod as he passes and disappears into the clouds.

We decide to make camp early in case the sky and weather report follow through on their threats. The camp ground we find is well protected and smells of horse poop. Largely because it is a stock camp and filled with horse poop. Weekend, DirtyBowl and I pitch our tents close together. That way we can bundle ourselves in our respective sleeping bags, make dinner from our shelters and still feel like we’re hanging out.

Where’s this rain at?

Day 136: Ain’t Nothin’ Keeping Us From Open Trail

August 27, 2015

In the morning, Weekend, DirtyBowl and I make decisions. Here be the facts: the current fire closure starts on the North side of the Suiattle River. There are 70 miles of open trail from here to there, and on the other side of said closure, is free and open passage to Canada. No reason to over-engineer a solution or wait it out or (gasp) go home. We’re gonna keep it simple, sister: hike until the closure, do what we gotta do to get around it (i.e. take the seven mile side trail to the Suiattle River Trailhead, meet a car there, drive to Chelan, take the ferry to Stehekin) and resume the trail headed North from there. Boom! Sureyeah, the continuous footpath will be broken. But all said and done, I’ll only miss thirty PCT miles total. I can deal.

Les do it.

By 10am, my sink washed socks have line dried and I’m ready to hike. Jerry kindly gives us a ride back up Highway 20 and drops us at the Sky Deli. Back on the same porch as yesterday but with new resolve, I eat my second breakfast of the day and drink my fourth coffee. Oooh baby, am I fueled. I knew it would all make more sense in the morning.

Meanwhile, I call in what will (hopefully) be the last grand favor of the Koopmans Family. They agree to meet swoop us from the Suiattle Trailhead in three days at noon sharp, sparing us a very difficult hitch. Praises be for locally based parents. Once the plan and it’s players are dialed in, we hitch the rest of the way back to Stevens Pass with a nice couple named Ken and Lisa.

After all the doomsday talk, I expect the trail on the otherside of Highway 20 to be ashen. It isn’t. The verdant corridor North continues! 🌲🌳🌲🌳🌲

The weather report damns the next few days to 100% chance of rain, but right now it is sunny and blue skies. Maybe it won’t rain at all! (Read: Famous last words.)

After a few miles, DirtyBowl, Weekend and I break in the shade. A very aggressive bird makes multiple swoops at DirtyBowl’s food bag.

“I will WRECK YOUR DAY, Bird!!!” She threatens. Something I believe her 100% capable of.

Back in the hiking saddle, we revisit the “Tell Me A Movie Plot” game.  DirtyBowl takes us through 10 Things I Hate About You. I do Sleepless In Seattle in return, which I realize through the telling, has a very vanilla plot line.

The fact that I’m still hiking and still making progress towards Canada takes a while to sink in. When it does, my mood rebounds like a bouncy house. My hike is not over! I’m North Cascades bound! I might as well have a new lease on life.

Our three man gang reaches the top of Grizzly Peak just as the sun flirts with the horizon. Time to camp. We shwack a bit off trail to a clearing and spread our ground sheets. The view is positively tops.

Though I do not know it yet, this will be the last time I cowboy camp on the PCT.

We play a rousing round of “what are the odds” over dinner, and now Weekend has to finish everything in his food bag by the time we hit the Suiattle trailhead. If you could see his food bag, you’d understand how inhumane this challenge is. Probably 8,000 calories and 30 Oreos per day. Will he or will he not respect the game. I fear for his well-being if he does.

While we invent ways to torture and entertain ourselves, nature gets funky. The sunset + smoke + cloud whispies mix up something special for me to stare at.

I love this adventure. I love everything about it.

Day 135: Red Sky At Morning Is A Pirate’s Warning

August 26, 2015

Everything about today is ominous. Even the sunrise I wake up to. A thin line of dark, dull crimson seeps along the horizon, the rest of the world still shadows and folds of night. The air isn’t pine fresh, it’s thick and smokey. I watch the red morning for a long time. Very Eye of Sauron. It puts me in a strange mental space. 

Then just as Weekend and DirtyBowl show signs of life, the sky pulls a u-turn. Suddenly the sun tears through the veil of smog and spreads pinks and blues like ruffles over the red and black backstop. Now it is your typical PCT dawn of sparking promise. The day already feels complicated and I haven’t even unzipped my sleeping bag.

We pack up quickly and start the descent to Stevens Pass. The ledges of trail are hedged by yellowed ferns along the way.

To further reinforce the off balance vibe of the morning, explosives are detonating nearby. Every 5 to 7 minutes:

KAAAABBBBOOOOOOOOOOMMMM!

I jump and grab my heart every time.

“Must be working on a ski resort,” says a man in a UW sweatshirt headed the opposite way.

DirtyBowl, Weekend and I regroup on picnic tables outside the Stevens pass lodge and put our thumbs out for a hitch to Skykomish. Our ride is a silent type. I make attempts at conversation but get batted down with one word answers every time. Silence is better.

At Skykomish we post up on the convenience store porch with sandwiches, and so begins the Skykomish Hailstorm of Fire Closure Misinformation! Every online and in-person source has a different opinion on the Blankenship fire closure that lies directly ahead on trail. Everything from “bail on the PCT now” to “stomp on through, you’ll be fine” is recommended — the whoooole gamut.

Granted, the current situation is genuinely unpredictable. As soon as a new alternate around the fire is posted, smoke shuts it down, only to reopen a few days later. My weeny brain bits can’t make sense of it. I sit on the porch and mentally rake through all the contradicting updates. I feel overwhemed. Despondent, even.  Where is omniscience when you need it? Alls I need is an all knowing source to tell me what is truth and what I need to do to get around this fire safely (and not skip any PCT miles and have smoke free views of the North Cascades). Is that so much to ask?

The team is just as confused. We get another hitch to the Dinsmores (a famous PCT trail angel) with Jerry Dinsmore himself: “Once we get to the house, we’ll tell ya why this is the place to end your hike this year.”

I laugh, but Jerry doesn’t. He’s not joking. I want out of the truck.

There are ten or so hikers already at the Dinsmore’s. A handful of them have resigned to the fire and will head home in the morning. Others are waiting it out. Others are steam rolling ahead, fire closure, shmire shlosure. I read the trail register and find no solace therein. Poca, Lookie Tookie and others have all ended their hike here.

Everyone in the common room is having a group discussion of the closure updates and plans to skip past Stehekin or come back and finish next year, and I can’t listen to it anymore. If my hike is over, I’m in denial — and a tired hiker’s assessment of the situation can’t be trusted at this point, my own included. We are all roughly five months worn on this adventure. We are tired, oh so close to the finish, and confronted with a formidable obstacle. I’m suspicious that the neigh-sayage might partly be looking for an out. But what do I know. Nothing, except that I’m feeling exceptionally sensitive.

I leave the doom room and lay on the grass outside. DirtyBowl talks on the phone. I write until it’s dark out.

Eventually, I return inside because there is is pizza inside. Pizza > Doom. A hiker called the Green Flash turns up, who casually mentions that he’s a firefighter and about to complete his triple crown.

Everyone gets real quiet and listens to him talk. We ask for one word summaries of each trail. Here’s what we get: Appalachian Trail = bluegrass. Continental Divide Trail = grassland. Pacific Crest Trail = easy to follow/extremely well marked.

Just when we think we’re seasoned hikers, this guy’s track record reminds us we’re all noobs.

Too much pizza and too many feelings make for an unsociable Double Happiness. I crawl into a bunk bed and curl into a ball. Maybe everything will be clear in the morning.

Day 134: New Prof Pic

August 25, 2015

I never actually hear the mice. My sleep is safe and sound, for Weekend and DirtyBowl… not so much. Apparently Snickers sacrifices were made to lure the mice away from food bags.

While I slept, the temperature plummeted. Come morning, spindles of early dawn spear through the network of branches, but the cold’s bite doesn’t soften. I boil water and invoke the powers of a double VIA to make me bold enough to leave my sleeping bag. It works. I start with liner gloves and puffy jacket on, making a conscious effort to double-time my stride turnover until I’m warm.

At our first break of the day, I eat too many spoonfuls of nutella. Weekend eats too many fistfuls of Skittles. Such is our fate in a binge eating culture.

The map warns about a big river ford ahead. I dread the hassle of it. Frozen soup shoes are not my fave. But when the ford comes, it isn’t bad at all.

I spend most of the afternoon hiking alone. No audio books or podcasts. The PCT is prime-time-pretty today and I want to stay dialed into it. As Canada and my return to the indoors becomes evermore imminent, and overstimulation ever nigh-er, I want to mindfully inhabit the still and quiet while I can.

I catch up with Weekend and DirtyBowl at the top of Piper pass, then plod over rock slides and between Volkswagen sized boulders and eventually down to another lake. I don’t see any marmots or pikas, but they meep like squeaky toys from under the rocks in all directions.

The sun settles lower.

The day starts to feel long.

Weekend charges ahead while DirtyBowl and I fall behind and talk in the delirious way we do when we’re at our hiker wits end. We revert to ye olde time passing tactics: business ideas and comfort fantasies.

We pass Costco and Sudz, already bedded down for the evening by a creek. We observe their comfycoziness with envy.

Still no sign of Weekend.

So we keep on.

More miles pass. Where the hell is Weekend. πŸ˜‚ We become impatient and start shouting his name in (half joking) desperation. Eventually we catch him.

The next campsite is less than a mile away, but over 1,000 ft up. Woooweee. That’s a flourish of a finish. The switchbacks are short and steep, and I imagine my legs are machine parts instead of banded tissue and bone. No fatigue or lactic acid, just mechanical parts and work to do. I try to eat a Kashi bar in between gasps for air. Eating and steep climbs don’t mix but I’ll never learn. My face and chest become a mess of thick saliva braided with chocolate and crumbs. I wish I had my phone out for a photo. Would have made a stunner Linkedin prof pic.

I pass a boy who’s hiking down the hill with a few friends.

“Is the PCT hard?” he asks.

I have no patience for waxing poetic about the trail at the moment, so I give him truth in one terse sentence: 

“It is right now.”

The sunset is doing cool things to the sky but I’m too deep in bionic leg visualization to stop at every break in the trees.  I choose one viewpoint to stare at the sunset from. I stop, watch and catch my breath. Then I turn back to the trail. The sun leaves a pulsing blob of purple in my eyes.

Then I hear a “ca-caw!!”

Praises be!

There’s a campsite on the tippy top of the pass. The view was worth it. I settle down as fast as possible. The dirt is black and ashy but we all agree its a top ten campsite of the whole trail.

My feet feel like they’ve been hammered by a meet tenderizer. Sitting is the best. Laying supine, even better. I let my numb feet, my thoughts and everything around me recede.

Stevens Pass tomorrow.

Day 133: Seasons Turn Under Mt. Stuart

August 24, 2015

My first sunrise in Section J is spectacular. I think about my friends that are off trail… I can’t help but feel like the winner. They say the last one to Canada wins, a PCT adage I’ve rolled my eyes at a few times. But when I’m on the right side of it, it feels true.

The trail eeks itself out along narrow ledges. Footing is chossy and forces all of my attention on how my Cascadias meet and make progress over the rubble.  At one point I scramble up a few feet of scree for a Southbounder to pass — and I recognize him! HighWater. I haven’t seen him since the night we camped with Rooster under the wingspan of Eagle Rock (Day 6). He’s back on trail after an injury and now crushing his way south to finish what he started. We reminisce for a minute about early times and then move on in our opposite directions, as we do.

I pick my way down along switchbacks until the rubble gives way to dirt that drives me back into the ferny and floral undergrowth.

Throughout this progression, DirtyBowl and I listen to a few Risk! podcast episodes through the mini speaker. The storytelling is very hit or miss. Midday, we try on a few break spots for size. They are invariably thick with hornets. We eventually find a shady creek bed that’s hornet free enough to relax. I rip open another vacuum sealed pack of 7 layer bars. Dana’s box o’ treats just keeps on giving!

The afternoon throws me a six mile climb. After two zeros, a very high protein (read: pulled pork) diet, and a course of brain fever, my body is somehow primed to breeze up it. God bless this thru hiker fitness and resiliency. As I climb, Weekend hikes behind and asks questions that get me thinking about my future in a hopeful kind of way. My mental game is strong today.  The smoke lifts and exposes rows on rows of jaggedy ridgelines.

The fall colors below the ridgelines are positively cray today. Gold, orange, red and stubborn corners of green holding on for dear leafy life. The shift in foliage reminds me how long I’ve been hiking this trail. It was spring when I started, with its snow and rain. Then summer, with its swallowing heat and bugs. Now fall.

I follow the switchbacks down under the shadow of Mount Stewart. My feet say it’s time to make camp but there are no open campsites. Domes of nylon have already claimed them all. I cross the Waptus River and continue the search. DirtyBowl, Weekend and I explore off trail and each find small clearings just wide enough to cowboy camp. The ground is lumpy and carpeted with moss. We each make our dinners from our sleeping bags. Evening discussion: why relationships fail. I make a bowl of rice and beans and add so much cheese that my meal adheres into one giant gooey ball. I transfer the gooey ball into my stomach one spoonful at a time and then lay on my back and talk to my friends through the dark.

And then, the night mice cometh.

Day 132: Splintering Off

August 23, 2015

It’s time to blow this popsicle stand. We all feel anxious to hike, but you wouldn’t know it by watching us this morning. Our combined will to get back on trail applies feeble resistance against the town vortex. So many hours have been spent in this small space. It takes a long while to clean up after ourselves, and the greatest challenge of all is figuring out what to do with all the surplus foodstuff laying around. Concern #1: a crock pot of pulled pork, ~150 tortillas and bags of cole slaw and cotija cheese. Thank you to the Ghans for slow roasting this feast for us!  I eat as many pulled pork tacos before 9am as I possibly can. Gaaad it’s good. Now that my health is (ostensibly) restored, I make up for all the soft tacos I missed at dinner. Then I pack a ziplock with more pulled pork for the road. So not ultra light and so necessary. Concern #2: leftover bottles of red wine. Weekend, DirtyBowl and I distribute the wine between our empty water bottles. Not high performance fuel, but again, so necessary. Washington’s a party.

Afternoon is well advanced by the time we get to the trailhead. And as soon as we start… we stop again. There’s a picnic bench and trail register that we find entertaining enough to stall hiking yet another hour. Between the trail register entries and cell service, we are suddenly flooded with updates on trail friends and their whereabouts.

1. NoTrace and Unbreakable: I JUST MISSED THEM! According to this register, my fairy godparents were right here, in this very spot, just a few hours ago! But I won’t catch them any time soon — they’re headed South. According to their entry they flip-flopped and are still on track to complete their second PCT thru hike.  I am genuinely heartbroken to have missed them. I text them and tell them so.

2. TwinkleToes: she’s done. No skips or flips, Twink has made it to Canada. I have no idea how to process that.

3. Playa: he’s off trail. He texts us from his bus en route back to San Francisco. Fires in the North Cascades shut him down at Stevens Pass. He says he’ll get back on trail in a month or so.

At one point, we were all together — headed the same direction, suffering and/or basking in the same weather patterns, pining for the same trail town diners. Now we’re all… splintering off. I’m trying not to be overly dramatic about all this news, but something about this adventure has already been lost.

Well. I guess it’s time to hike.

Weekend, DirtyBowl and I stick within a pace of each other on the long climb out of Snoqualmie and into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. For entertainment, Weekend gives us an hour long summary of the movie Braveheart. I’m so absorbed in William Wallace and the dirt between my trudges that I forget to look up and appreciate how rugged the terrain is becoming. Oh, mighty Cascadia!

We stop for water at Ridge Lake and a photo op at the 2,400 mile marker, but otherwise keep the pace at a steady, healthy clip. Daylight is fading as we push past a string of crowded campsites. A ring of hikers in their camp chairs nod to us from behind their head nets. The head nets must be for style, because there aren’t any bugs that I can see.

When I reach an exposed saddle with stunner views, I unshoulder my pack and call it a day. DirtyBowl sets up her sleeping pad and bag on a platform of rock. We call it the Penthouse. The Penthouse of the Central Cascades.

Pee thirsty deer loiter nearby. I make ramen and stir in a packet of tuna. The sun sets behind a veil of smoke. Washington still burns.

The Penthouse

After dinner, I coerce Weekend into looking at every photo I took between Campo and the Sierras.

“Let’s hike it again.” he says.

I’m posting this entry 9 months after writing it, and my response remains the same: I’d hike the PCT again in a heartbeat.