Miles: 20.65
Camping: PCT mile 2336.25
Miles to go: 332.74

It was quite cold this morning, and the only motivation to get out of my sleeping bag was hot coffee and oatmeal. I got everything ready from within my warm cocoon and was about to light my stove. I was looking everywhere for my lighter and when I sat up it fell straight into my pot of water. Well, there goes hot breakfast…as I don’t carry backup, and it will take a while for this one to dry. At least I’ve been conditioned to eat cold breakfast out here, though that was never my intention in Washington. I kept a good attitude about it though and got moving quickly to get the blood flowing.

I came to a fast flowing creek crossing and found a new confidence in myself. I barely hesitated as I started across, but stopped when I saw Blanko on the shore looking at me in a questioning manner. Was I not even supposed to cross? I guess I had just assumed it was where the trail went and suddenly wasn’t sure, mid river. I turned back and greeted Blanko who I haven’t seen since somewhere around mile 266. He was looking unsure because he didn’t like the route I’d chosen, or any for that matter. He was just coming off 7 days in town with shin splints and hopping along rocks wasn’t on his healing plan. I shrugged and hopped to the other side, encouraging him to follow me. Soon, we were both on the right side of the river, climbing switchbacks.

I stopped by a stream to wash socks and collect water and Blanko hiked on. Reconfiguring my pack, I somehow dropped my warm hat. I can only hope that someone behind me recognizes it and picks it up for me. In the meantime I found a spot where I could dry my socks and eat lunch. I was on a ridge under some trees going through my food bag when someone was coming up on me. They stopped by the clearing, a man with a beard (not a rare sight out here), and he was just standing there, smiling at me. At first I just smiled back and said, “hi,” unsure of who he was. He continued to stand there and just as I was beginning to question why, I recognized the man behind the beard as The Jolly Lama! If you’ve been reading since the beginning, he is who I hiked with during the first week. I haven’t seen him since Warner Springs (mile 109.6) and he was beardless back then. Now, almost 5 months later, he was standing on a ridge, smiling at me while I fought with torn up tortillas and tuna. He had flip flopped and was now hiking southbound so we were only briefly reunited.

We sat and ate lunch, catching up on the months that had passed, though I had more questions than I could think to ask. I had thought of him so many times over the miles, as he was my first real friend on trail. The short time we had together at lunch was sweet but we both had to move our separate ways eventually. The rest of the hike offered some pretty impressive views of Mt. Rainier, such a big mountain covered in the biggest glaciers I have seen. I walked past several lakes and vistas of Rainier before coming to the highway leading into Mt. Rainier National Park. There was road construction happening, and cars lined up for quite a ways waiting to get where they were going. I did not envy their position on this hot day, on that hot highway. It was noisy, and the trail walked above and along the road for the next couple of miles. I hadn’t walked very far by the time I got to Sheep Lake, almost forgetting about the road. I didn’t feel justified in stopping there for the night even though it was beautiful. I just don’t feel as if I have the time to take my time anymore, but I was hungry, so I decided to stop for dinner by the lake. I enjoyed some noodles by the shore and watched the sky change color against the mountains around me.

It felt good to hike after dinner, and progress seems to mean more at this point of the trek. The trail went up and over a pass, and as I huffed and puffed I felt really good about getting this pass done before tomorrow. This will make tomorrow more productive, and I will likely sleep better with the extra hiking. Lately I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’m wondering if I haven’t been pushing myself hard enough. I also wondered if my flattened sleeping pad was the culprit, as I forgot to replace it when I had the chance. The Jolly Lama suggested folding it over under my hips for extra support, so that could also assist in giving me more restful sleep.

Anyway, I followed a ridge that seemed like it had no flat space to camp, happy to be walking, still loving Washington. Not being in the trees, the sky was still fairly light and I was confident that something would turn up before too long. Fortunately I’d already had dinner, so I wasn’t concerned with eating after dark again. After a couple of miles, I saw a perfect campsite right next to the trail overlooking the valley below, mountains all around. It was just turning dusk so I decided to set up here. It is a beautiful spot, and it feels like home. I watched the sky turn dark and stars come out, each one seeming to say hello as it’s sparkle greeted the night. I feel more content here than I have in a long time, sitting up against a fallen tree, sipping whiskey and reading Bill Bryson. It’s a great evening, home on the trail.

Jolly Lama reunion