“Wander a whole summer if you can…time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” John Muir


October 2014

Day 152: The Final Stretch

Miles: 8
Camping: PCT mile 2588.9
Miles to go: 80.99

After waking up and having a quality breakfast at the ranch, we sat in our cabin watching the rain come pouring down outside. We were more motivated after our break and knew we’d hit the trail today, though we kept putting it off. Blisster, ever the most motivated in the morning, caught the first bus back to the trail. Hugs was planning to stay in Stehekin to wait for Pockets, and the guys and I were going to take the afternoon bus back to the trail when the rain had settled more. We got in one last trip to the bakery, played cards by the store and then hopped on the bus to the trailhead. On our way there the bus slowed to a stop and pointed out a mama bear with 2 cubs foraging near the road! That makes my bear count a total of 7 this summer, and they barely acknowledged the big idling bus full of gawking tourists saying, “oooh!” and “aaah!”

The day was grey and bleak making me feel solemn that it was our last section of trail before Canada. Even if I had hiked the last section, this one would still feel like I was hiking on to a big loss. I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave the trail life, but it is inevitable at some point. I hiked slowly, getting back my trail legs and the guys were off ahead of me in no time. We were only planning on 8 miles as we had to obtain a camping permit for this section. This made us have to choose our camping spot before hiking, and the next one had already exceeded permits, so we didn’t actually have much choice. Alternatively we could have tried to go 15 miles that first day but none of us were quite fast enough to do that by the time we had hit the trail, and it’s getting dark so early these days!

It took a little extra effort to get back into the flow of hiking but it felt good all the same. The sky was full of low hanging clouds, but they didn’t release any rain on us and we walked through the moist dense forest to our camp. We ran across Birdbath, Gil and Waffles who decided to join us for the night; and after a pretty uneventful 8 mile hike we all pitched our tents next to a rushing river. We made dinner and then the rain began to fall again. Camping in the rain makes me feel lazy, but I love laying in the tent listening to the rain hit the roof. It gives me a little bit of anxiety, because then I have to pack up wet gear and there isn’t much hope for drying anything out in this last stretch. I guess I better get used to it if I want to do the AT next year. Both Steeltoe and Dayglo hiked the AT in the past and have been making me want to do it more and more as the PCT comes to an end. I lay in my tent thinking about this new adventure on the horizon – and reminiscing on the one that was wrapping up currently. I love this life, and I’m definitely not ready to let it, or the people, go.

Days 149-151: An Unexpected Detour

I woke up in the dorm surrounded by people who were still asleep. All of the beds were taken and people were strewn about the floor in strategic positions. I tiptoed across the human burritos in sleeping bags and found my way out to the yard where those who slept in tents were beginning to greet the day. It had rained in the night, and though I was still feeling a little ill I eagerly awaited the opening of the cafe. One thing about being an early riser in a small town is that you have to wait for things to open; an early morning sense of limbo. Blisster and I talked strategy for the next section, one no one is looking forward to. It has one of the most daunting elevation profiles and with the weather forecasting heavy rain over the next few days, I wasn’t eager to head off – but I am getting more and more ready to reach the finish line. There is a certain dysphoria spreading among hikers. We are all a bit antsy to complete the hike, but we are all feeling the sense of impending loss on the horizon. It makes it hard to motivate forward, but it also makes me want to see it all be over so I can start recovering. I can already tell it’s going to be hard.

Hugs, Blisster, Dayglo, Steeltoe, Detour, Lapdog and I all piled into a truck to Stevens Pass. Detour and Lapdog were fast onto the trail, but the rest of us wandered inside the lodge not feeling like succumbing to the trials we were about to face. My belly was still in knots a little bit, but I was gradually feeling better if not weaker than usual. The five of us sat at a table and started joking about not doing this section at all. What if we just went to the next town? What if we didn’t hike the hardest section of Washington with forecasts that called for “heavy rain?” It felt like the cowardly way out, but something inside of me was all for it. I definitely want to hike this section, but since I live fairly close, why not come back and do it when the weather is more agreeable? We all had our own internal debate on the matter as the joke became more of a realistic proposition. All of us were tired. All of us just wanted to get to Canada at that point. All of us knew that this would put a bit of a smudge on our thru-hike, where most people will say we aren’t real thru-hikers if we skip 100 miles out of 2660. I had already skipped in California due to fire and injury, so my hike was already not perfect. If I skip this, I will still have hiked 2300 miles. That’s good enough for me, and I decided I’d go with the group decision in the end. If they threw on their packs and hiked, I’d do the same. If they stuck their thumbs out on the side of the road, my thumb and I would be there too. For this I gave in to the hive mentality and it felt rather liberating (as much of a contradiction as it sounds).

We decided to hitch to the town of Leavenworth (which is not a trail town) for the night, and then make the ultimate decision. We could always come back if we wanted to. Amazingly enough, a truck pulled over right away and all 5 of us fit comfortably into the cab with the driver (one of the easiest hitches I’ve ever had-and with 5 people!). It seemed to be in the cards to go, and though I felt regret, I felt relief too. I wasn’t sure which emotion was stronger, but in the end it would be a fun detour with friends. Leavenworth is a small Bavarian village that makes you feel more like you’re on vacation in the Alps than in Washington. The architecture of the entire town lends to the European feel, and the streets are lined with themed shops and restaurants. We all promptly ordered bratwurst and ale before finding a hotel in our price range. With 5 people, it makes it a heck of a lot easier on the wallet! That night we ended up going dancing, as there was a band from LA playing at a local pub. It was an absolute blast! One of the most fun nights I had on the entire trail. Hands down. It was the perfect night of fun and entertainment with my trail friends. I felt like the quality of our detour made it all worth it, as I’m going to miss these people fiercely in just a few short weeks. Why not take the time to enjoy this aspect of the trail one last time? It wasn’t just about the hiking.

The next day, we took a bus to Chelan where we found a cheap hotel and rented movies from RedBox. We ordered pizza and all lounged on beds for the night, knowing we had an early ferry to catch to Stehekin. Stehekin is the last trail town before Canada. It is where we will get back on trail and finish the hiking portion of our trip.

The 4 hour ferry ride was beautiful and we sat in the lower deck playing cards as we made our way across the lake. We had reservations at the Stehekin ranch, and they picked us up in an old school bus to bring us to our lodging. It was our last night of relaxation before getting back to reality and the entire detour was worth it, even if it meant skipping a bit of trail. The most affirming moment was when I went to the post office to pick up my resupply box and it wasn’t there! I had never had issue with getting any of my boxes on the entire trail and all of a sudden, I was standing in a small town with no grocery store and no resupply – but the most amazing bakery on the entire trail. The only saving grace was that I still had the food from the section I had skipped, so I was by no means without food for the trail. It was a letdown as the final box had lots of treats and trail favorites in there, but it was a consolation knowing I had just had a stellar time with my friends touring Washington. I wasn’t going without anything and it was rather serendipitous that I already had food. I can’t imagine how dejected I would have felt after hiking that section in the pouring rain, then coming into this town looking forward to everything in that box … and it wouldn’t have been there. That would have been a major letdown. I feel like it all worked out how it was supposed to, especially after hearing how miserable everyone was that had actually completed that section. I felt slightly guilty but also tremendously relieved. That said, I am ready to get back to hiking! One last stretch to Canada – one last journey through the wild west.

The Big Bang! An awesome, booty shaking band from LA!
The view from our hotel room in Leavenworth
Blisster on the ferry
Best bakery ever!

Day 148: Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven

Miles: 6.37
Camping: The Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven off PCT mile 2476
Miles to go: 192.98

I woke up to the sound of thunder (isn’t that the beginning of a Bob Seger song?). I was in no hurry this morning so I lay back with a smile on my face. There is something about listening to a storm in the comfort of my tent that I was happy to embrace. With only about 6 miles of hiking on the agenda today, I could take my time this morning without feeling like I had to be somewhere. Though I was looking forward to meeting the Dinsmore’s (Washington’s premier trail angels and owners of the Hiker Haven), I also liked the idea of just enjoying the day. I began to assemble breakfast when a rumbling came from within me. I had to use the bathroom. Thinking I could hold it off while the storm passed I continued pouring water into my pot for coffee. Lightning began to light up the morning sky and I realized I had two options: 1) Soil myself in my tent or 2) Risk getting hit by lightning. I liked option #2 best.

I ran into the rain, thunder and lightning threatening my safety, and dodged under a thicket of trees nearby. I felt relatively secure there and I began to dig, or should I say, attempt to dig? Time was not on my side and the ground was made of a thick root system with a few rocks thrown in for good measure, making hole digging an impossible endeavor. Lightning struck in the distance. Thunder rolled a long echo through the valley below. My belly turned in knots. “Sometimes,” I thought, “sometimes you just have to give in to circumstance.” I took care of business without the proper LNT (leave no trace) technique, wondering if I was suffering from something I ate, or worse yet water I hadn’t filtered. I have been a bit cavalier as of late on the water filtering, as most of it is spring fed and ridiculously clear on this part of the trail. I made the decision that it was something I ate (mind over matter), and then dealt with hiding the trace I had left behind. Fortunately, there was a great deal of forest debris to build up and over things, and I found an uprooted baby tree to plant right in the middle. Maybe it will grow big and strong one day, all because of whatever I ate that didn’t agree with me. Maybe.

Diving back into my tent I felt a wave of nausea. This worried me only slightly, as I tipped back a liter of water. I usually try to deny any feelings of sickness that come my way, and often they go away on their own. It’s like my super power. I ate some oatmeal and had coffee, noticing that my symptoms were neither getting worse or better. Soon the storm had rolled on, and though I felt pretty crummy, I knew I could make it the short distance to town. Packing up seemed like a bigger chore than usual as I was feeling lightheaded and particularly low on energy. I supposed that I could stay in my tent longer, but at that point I wanted to get to the warmth and security of the Dinsmore’s.

I began my hike and took care to move slowly. No point in overtaxing myself with only 6 miles to walk. I felt weak, but there was no recurrence of digestive issues, so I figured my body was taking care of things. The hike was easy and absolutely stunning as the fog was lifting from the storm. The sky displaying a clear blue behind the receding dark clouds, mist rising from the ground and the trees around me. It was muggy and that added to my ill feelings, but I just kept moving forward. Looking back in the direction I had come I saw new clouds moving fast and furious over the hillsides. It was strikingly beautiful with a hint of ominous. The storm was returning, and fast! I hiked as fast as I could, sweating in the cool yet muggy weather, feeling weak and nauseous, but with an instinct to get off of the exposed hillside quickly. I was climbing up a steep ski slope on one side, completely exposed to the elements. I knew that the road I was hiking to was on the other side of the hill and I went as quickly as I could up the hill, feeling my insides tumbling around like the clouds. I was thankful for my neoprene socks, which locked out most of the moisture, though I found that the wet shrubs that brushed on my feet managed to get water in through the seams. It was worlds better than hiking in soaked socks though, and my feet were quite warm.

The storm was soon overhead, blue sky nowhere to be seen, clouds surrounding everything. I walked through the cloudy soup and finally hit the top of the hillside, admiring the beauty the clouds created in the distant hills. As I began climbing down the other side of the ski slope the clouds embraced me and my surroundings so tightly that I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of my own face. I couldn’t tell how long the storm would stick around but I was eager to get to my destination. There isn’t much more defeating than being socked in by a storm on the one time I’ve been ill on trail. I felt terrible and cried a little in my weakened state. When I finally reached the road I couldn’t even see the cars as they drove by, the fog was so thick. There was no hope for hitchhiking in those conditions so I found my way up to the ski lodge, feeling further defeated. This was not my day so far.

Before I even made it to the door of the lodge a man was approaching me.
“Are you a hiker?” He asked.
I nodded, trying not to look as pathetic as I felt.
“I’m headed to the Dinsmore’s if you want a lift.”
“Yes please! Thank you!” I couldn’t believe my luck in that moment, as relief swept over me.

We got into his old Cadillac and he introduced himself as Legend. He has hiked the trail in the past, and spends time off trail helping other hikers, driving us where we need to go. Legend was enamored with my neoprene socks, high fiving me several times in full support of them. I give credit to Blisster for making me aware of them and to my mom for buying and sending them to me. Legend himself is set on buying a pair as soon as he gets to the city, as they are truly a worthwhile piece of gear in Washington.

After driving through the fog, Legend let me off at Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven, a sprawling piece of property in Baring, WA. They have a huge yard where hikers are welcome to set up tents and also a garage space converted into sort of a dormitory for hikers. There are several bunks, a tv/vcr, refrigerator, laundry facilities, a shower and loaner clothes. Everything we need and in true trail angel form, so much more! A few of my friends were already lounging around watching movies, some of which I hadn’t seen since Oregon: Sacred Cow, Caboose, Party Saver and Trolley. Steeltoe and Dayglo had made it last night, also scoring a fast ride from Legend as they approached the road. Everyone was relaxed and I liked the atmosphere, as all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball on a bunk. Instead, I took a shower and headed over to the cafe to scare up some proper breakfast. I knew I wasn’t overly ill if food was still taking priority, and I managed to put down a veggie omelet and a pancake. I’m going to miss pancakes a lot when this is over as I cannot stomach them in my normal life. They are the utmost in trail treats!

After I ate I went back to the dorm and lounged with the others. We watched movies, did our resupply, wore amazing loaner outfits, and were later fed an amazing meal by a neighbor. A local hunter had cooked up a big batch of venison chili, and we had a true hiker feast, joined by Blisster, Pockets, Hugs, Pirate Bait, Pisa, and more friends throughout the day. It felt good to be surrounded by friends, everyone pretty calm this evening. This was good for me as I never truly felt 100%, and embraced the relaxed atmosphere fully. We all plan to hike on tomorrow despite the heavy rain in the forecast. It’s inevitable in Washington, and I really don’t want to fall behind this late in the game due to feeling ill. I will power through it and in the end, it will still be over all too soon.

Day 147: Into the Night

Miles: 24
Camping: PCT mile 2469.63
Miles to go: 199.36

I had been expecting to wake up and see that the others had gone already, but as usual I was the first to get up. Everyone else was still abed, though I could see that Dayglo and Steeltoe were at the very least awake. I set about my chores and the guys soon set out upon their 30 mile day. I was wondering if I’d see them up the trail, or if they’d make it all the way. They are pretty determined but you never know out here. Even if you have an idea of what you’d like to do in a day the trail always has it’s own ideas. I wandered off from camp alone, the guys already gone on their ambitious endeavor to get to the next town by nightfall, the girls just rousing from their sleeping bags. I walked by a few other tents with people snug inside, staying warm against the cold Washington morning. There was a river crossing coming up that came with a warning on the maps, something that weighed heavily on my mind as I climbed over a pass and down the other side, looking about at the beautiful foliage changes spreading across the hillsides. The huckleberry and blueberry bushes were shades of red, orange and yellow all at once – so perfectly fall, so delicately beautiful.

I could hear the river in the distance as I descended switchbacks, and it sounded ominous. I tried not to think about it and soon came to a curious part of the trail. Someone had drawn an arrow pointing in a direction that I did not expect the trail to turn. It looked as if the trail went forward, but I wasn’t sure, and upon studying my maps I felt no more assured on which way to go. I went forward but had a sense that it wasn’t correct, so I went in the direction of the arrow. I had no confidence that this would be the proper route and I took out my GPS as I moved on. There were no trail signs and no blazes, and I wasn’t sure how long before my GPS would tell me if I was off course. It can be off, so when I’m questioning things I never trust it. I use it more to confirm my whereabouts than to locate myself. After about 1/4 mile it seemed to be correct, and I kept moving in that direction until reaching the fast moving water I was soon to cross.

There were a few ways that people seemed to be using to get across and I didn’t feel great about any of them. Most were on thin logs that looked slippery and I would have to trust my balance. The funny thing is that I have amazing balance, I always have. I think about it too much when I’m crossing a river, or maybe the loud water roaring under my feet makes it so I can’t think at all. What I know is that if any of those logs were on the ground, I’d make it across without skipping a beat. As the case lay in front of me, I made it halfway across one log and turned back because I didn’t trust myself. I saw a more stable looking crossing downstream so I opted to go out of my way in order to feel safer about getting across. No matter how long I’m out here, no matter how many rivers I cross, I still find myself standing on river banks questioning everything. I always make it across though and have never fallen in, not once; I’m still terrified.

After my little side trip downstream, I made it across with my heart thumping in my chest. A fall would have sent me careening down a cliff-side in the fast moving water; a thought that is mostly ridiculous, but possible at the very least. Safe on the other side, I collected some water and sat to eat my second breakfast. I was alone again but figured I’d see the girls and Blisster at the same lake I had planned to get to tonight. Deep down, I hoped that Steeltoe and Dayglo wouldn’t make it to town, and we’d have another fun night at camp with the whole gang, but I had seen their determination in effect and knew I wouldn’t see them until I made it to town tomorrow.

The trail soon found itself approaching a series of lakes where I had planned to stop for lunch. The water was a beautiful green and having these places to myself sure feels magical. I served up my last trail lunch for this leg of the trip, and without seeing any of my group proceeded up the trail. The terrain led back up the side of a pass and down the other side, crossing large boulder fields in its path. There were a number of lakes below and I enjoyed watching them unfold as I made my way down the side of the mountain – one even shaped like a heart. I walked until it was growing dark and I was just reaching the lake I had hoped to camp when I realized that it was crowded. There were a lot of people there already, but I couldn’t tell if I knew them in the increasingly dark evening. I walked over to fill up my water and scope it out and it turned out to be a group of section hikers heading south. They were very nice and a lot chatty, so after filling up my water I reevaluated my game plan. The maps indicated that there wasn’t any more established camping ahead but I was determined to make it happen. It was growing dark and I was tired, only wanting to be with my people at this point of the day. I was exhausted and not interested in answering a bunch of questions about myself or feigning interest in others. I feel like a big jerk sometimes but I’m unapologetic about it. Thru-hiking takes a lot out of you, and sometimes at the end of the day there is no energy left for humoring strangers.

I walked and walked into the growing darkness, the ground all around me full of debris and at a constant slant. Breaking out my headlamp I thought that maybe I would end up having to walk the distance to town as well, but I did not want to. I wanted to sleep in my tent out here alone. I like it. I went on for a couple more miles, feeling exhausted and hungry. Finally, there was a patch of meadow to the left where I could pitch my tent. I don’t like camping in grass as it adds to condensation, but at this point I just wanted to get camp set up. Hunger and exhaustion were stronger forces than not wanting to let my gear get a little wet. I set up my tent and made myself a hot dinner, knowing I’d be in town tomorrow where I could dry everything out. No one else came hiking by and I went to bed alone for the first time in a while. It was nice, and I drifted off to sleep before I knew it.

Day 146: Leaving Paradise

Miles: 22.61 (including 15.12 on the hot springs alternate trail)
Camping: PCT mile 2445.63
Miles to go: 223.35

I was the first to greet the day at camp this morning, no one else even stirring in their tents. The river nearby provided white noise, the forest provided a gentle peace, the hot springs having relaxed us all before bed. I wasn’t surprised to be going about morning camp chores solo and I greatly appreciated the quiet. Even after I’d completed breakfast, collected water and visited the convenience of the composting toilet, I still hadn’t seen any of my companions so I decided to head off on my own. I knew they’d catch up before too long, as everyone I am hiking with at this point is pretty fast. I’m certainly the slow one of this bunch so a head start is actually what I need on most days. It helps that they will sleep in, so it will be around lunch when they start catching up to me. Dayglo ended up getting up before I officially departed, but he was still packing up as I headed on up the trail. I enjoyed the path through the giant trees, springs seeping through the ground nearly everywhere. There was a piped spring that had burst and was spraying all over the trail and everything surrounding me was of the brightest green. I was wearing my waterproof socks for the first time, as everything around me was saturated and dripping with water, branches slapping me in the face, bushes growing over the trail and forcing their wet branches all over my body and pack. I felt as if I was going through a carwash, but my feet were doing great, dry and warm in my neoprene socks. Thank you Mom!!

Dayglo caught up to me as we entered a horse camp, so we sat and enjoyed second breakfast together. He is one of the faster hikers I hike with and he was off like a shot after break. Dayglo intended on making it a 27 mile day, but I wasn’t feeling that ambitious, and figured I wouldn’t see him again today. The trail continued to climb out of the peaceful valley where we’d had our pleasant soak, and I was covered in the dampness of both sweat and rain covered branches. I still wasn’t on the PCT, so the grade wasn’t as gentle as I am used to, and I worked hard to climb up and up over the serene and beautiful Dutch Miller Gap. It was a spot most reminiscent of the Sierra; a high alpine meadow with meandering rivers, wildflowers and towering granite peaks. Climbing over the pass the views opened up to the valley below, waterfalls cascading off the side of the very steep descent I was then embarking on. The trail was super muddy and my feet got sucked up a few times, making inevitable suction noises as I wrestled them to freedom from the sticky mess. At one point, the slope was so steep and muddy I was virtually skiing down the side of the hill, using my trekking poles to hold me upright and praying that I would stay on the trail and not go over the steep edge. At another point I fell straight down on my butt, covering myself in mud. It was rather fun and exciting, if not a total mess. My plan was to camp at a lake tonight anyhow, so I’d clean up in camp. In the meantime I kept my mind on safely making it down the slope.

I came upon a beautiful waterfall that pooled up into a large outcropping of rock and continued it’s descent into a ravine in the rocks. I decided it would be a great spot for lunch and I laid out my wet tent/sleeping bag to dry in the sun. Lunch today was one of my favorite treats, a pouch of salmon in curry sauce with vegetables wrapped in a tortilla. I pack one per resupply, so it never gets old and is always a treat! I felt as lazy as a lizard in the sun watching the waterfall, wondering if my friends behind me would be catching up soon. I’d been alone for hours, since Dayglo had gone off after second breakfast, which was fine by me. I like hiking with a group and feeling solo all at the same time; knowing Dayglo was ahead, Pockets, Hugs and Steeltoe behind. I was cozy in the middle, feeling safe and serene.

After lunch I climbed down the rest of the descent and came upon a beautiful, pristine lake. The trail hugged the shore for the better part of a mile, and I walked while staring into the crystal clear depths, feeling as if the world could not be more perfect than it is along this trail. I feel so lucky every day, though there is the impending feeling of loss creeping up, as I know this hike is not much longer for this world. I’m about to be in Canada. It’s going to be over. I don’t even know what that means anymore, what it’ll be like. I’m a little scared, a little emotional, a little ready, a lot unsure.

I finally reached the PCT after 15 miles and wasn’t making great time. I knew there was no way I’d catch Dayglo at 27 miles, so I hoped the others wouldn’t fly by me at that point and leave me alone. I liked having them around … but inevitably we are all hiking our own hike, and they could choose to go ahead. Back on the PCT, the trail wound up in a series of steep switchbacks, right back up. It was a day of “PUDs,” or Pointless Ups and Downs, and it was taking a lot out of me! I caught up to Blisster who had left an entire day ahead of us, but having taken the real PCT and not the alternate, we were just catching him now. He was also struggling with the climb at that point, both of us moving through molasses. I was moving faster than him and that wasn’t saying much, so I kept my momentum and climbed. Two miles from my destination, I had to stop and have a snack. I was bonking (hiking term for blood sugar drop) hard and felt like I could barely make any headway. A Snickers tasted like everything I needed and Blisster caught up with me, saying he didn’t think he could even do 2 more miles. I was giving him the, “it’s only 2 more miles,” pep talk when Steeltoe finally caught up with us. He was doing okay and confirmed that he’d be staying at the lake as well, so that made me feel a little relieved. I wanted our group to stay together.

The last couple of miles were slow going, and Hugs eventually came up behind me. She is an incredibly fast hiker, but I was surprised it took her that long to catch me. Apparently she had taken a nap at lunch … “aha!” I thought. We walked the last mile together and found Dayglo and Steeltoe sitting at the campsite we were all aiming for. Even Dayglo had the wind taken out of his sails today! I felt better knowing it wasn’t just me who struggled today and we all set up camp, washed the mud from our feet and legs in the creek and began on dinner as Pockets joined us. She said that Blisster had chosen to camp a mile back, as he was done for the day. I knew we’d see him again soon, so I proceeded to relax next to the fire that the guys were building, everyone accounted for. We all lounged a little zombie like, watching the flames dance, always joking, sharing candy that Steeltoe brought along. He always has extra candy, and loves to share in camp. He’s so thoughtful!

Everyone besides Steeltoe and I were cowboy camping, but we put up our tents (without the rainfly). I like to have everything in my tent, especially in Washington. There are mice everywhere in this state, and I feel overly protective of my food! It is much safer in my tent with me than on the ground where sneaky little rodents can sink their sneaky little teeth into it. Everyone is talking about 30 miles tomorrow, but Pockets and I are both hesitant to commit. We are looking at another lake only 24 miles away, a much easier goal in this ragged PUD terrain. Whatever happens I look forward to sleep tonight. It was a long day and it took a lot of energy to get through it.

Day 145: Destination, Hot Springs

Miles: 11
Camping: Goldmyer hot springs (detour from the PCT)
Miles to go: 245.96

Waking up was a little rough this morning, considering that we’d all stayed up late last night. We had fun catching up and having drinks at the hotel bar, watching Thursday night football and playing pool. Fortunately the restaurant is attached to the hotel, so I ambled through the labyrinth of hallways to the pancake house, which quite honestly has pretty subpar pancakes. Even with this information under my belt I ordered pancakes, and was not shockingly unsatisfied with my decision. It is hard for me to resist banana pancakes, a favorite since childhood. I’m not quite sure how you can mess up pancakes, but the Pancake House did it somehow. No matter, I ate what I could storing calories for another cold day of hiking in Washington. I packed without enthusiasm, but was excited about our plans on this day. We (Hugs, Pockets, Dayglo, Steeltoe and I) had decided to take an alternate trail that would visit some hot springs in an old growth forest. It was only 11 miles of hiking and then we would spend the night at the hot springs.

As I was getting ready Rush came into the room and announced that he was leaving the trail. I stared at him in shock, “but, we’re so close!” I insisted. He shook his head, and with confidence asserted that he was happy with his decision and that he’d be returning next year to finish with his uncle. It was hard news to take, but it’s ultimately his choice and we had to honor that. I feel sad and sentimental enough these days, but losing a friend on trail is about as heart-wrenching a thing as I could imagine on a day that I woke up drowsy and had to eat subpar pancakes. Rush and I haven’t even hiked together that much, but I felt as if I was losing something important, and I was. He has been a great friend and I’m so happy to have known him at all. I wish him the best of luck no matter what, we will miss you so much Rush! So much!!

I decided to head out solo and wandered up a small road to the alternate trail. The town had a lot of Swiss architecture and with the giant mountains all veiled in fog as a backdrop, I felt as if I was walking in a different country. My pack was heavy, and I knew this alternate was going to be steep and ultimately crowded. The trailhead was full of cars, indicating one of those days where I will encounter a ton of day hikers. I can always smell them from far away (I’m sure they have things to say about how we smell too), and sometimes I can tell you exactly what kind of soap/shampoo/laundry detergent/deodorant they are wearing before I can see them. It’s amazing how out of place those smells are, and how I never really catch the scent of my fellow hikers. The only time I notice the smell of hikers is when everyone takes their shoes off in the same room at once. It’s pretty gross. So it was today, I could smell all of the scents of civilization as I climbed deeper and deeper into the forest. The trail climbed up and up over a ridge, steep switchbacks with countless day hikers coming and going all over the place. I counted nearly 30 before I gave up trying. A small child told me to watch for dinosaurs, a man with a camera told me the lake ahead was the most beautiful thing he’d seen, a group of folks asked all of the questions we are used to hearing. Yes, I’ve read Wild. Yes, I started in Mexico. Yes, I plan to finish in Canada … and yes, I do hike in sandals. No, it isn’t difficult. Dayglo and Steeltoe caught up and we pushed through the masses until we reached a giant lake. A beautiful lake surrounded by steep cliffs and mist enshrouded summits. Hugs and Pockets were already there eating lunch so we joined them.

We ate our lunch overlooking the lake and the guys broke out their slingshots. They launched rocks into the water below, and the rest of us just lay there watching lazily. I ate chicken salad in a tortilla and nibbled on M&M’s while Pockets learned how to use the slingshot. We laughed a lot and then decided to hike the remaining 5 miles to the hot springs so we could lounge in luxury. I took off with Hugs and Pockets while the guys hung back for a while longer. We wanted to go fast, as we were coming out of town and eager to get to our destination, finally broken from the masses of day hikers, but the terrain wouldn’t allow it. There were miles of loose/sharp/giant/small rocks in the trail as we descended steeply into a valley. It was all we could do to maintain 1.5 mph … at least half of any of our usual paces. The mountains were large against the sky; a waterfall dropped hundreds of feet into the valley below. We made jokes and laughed as we stumbled on rocks and dreamed of hot springs. Finally, as the descent mellowed out, we found ourselves entering an old growth forest on soft spongy ground. Everyone picked up their pace, we passed countless springs, and the trees grew larger, the moss more dense, ferns as big as our packs. There is actually no old growth on the trail until a few hundred miles north of here, so this extra stroll through a fairy tale land was special. It felt amazing to stand next to trees that had to be close to 1,000 years old, to smell the damp earth, drink from the springs.

As the 5 of us arrived at the cabin at the hot springs, we were met with a nice smiling couple. They were the caretakers and checked us into a campsite as they listed their basic rules of use. We each shelled out $20 for camping and soaking rights then pitched our tents next to a roaring river. The forest was so beautiful and old and perfect; so full of peace. I already didn’t want to leave. I wanted to move into the small cabin and stare out into the dense forest forever, able to walk around the grounds whenever I was moved to do so. The walk up to the springs was about 1/4 mile uphill, passing trees that are bigger than city buses, everything dank, rich and magical. The hot springs themselves were mesmerizing. There was a cave dug into the rock that went back about 20 feet. This is the source of the hot spring, flowing at 3 gallons/minute – dumping into 3 soaking pools via small waterfalls. We made our dinner and climbed way back into the dark cave; the hot water enveloping our aching muscles. It was like a sauna/hot tub in the cave, too hot for me at the time so I climbed down to one of the lower pools and laid back on a chair made from smooth rocks. I laid there for over an hour; Dayglo and Steeltoe stretched out beside me; the girls lounging in the pool above us. There has never been a more soothing or relaxing moment on trail until now, it was a moment I would have loved to bottle up and enjoy for eternity. Eternally soaking in a natural hot spring with ancient trees in an ancient forest, a wild river roaring nearby, my friends in equal states of euphoria.

It was hard to draw ourselves out of the tubs to head back to camp, but it was getting dark and we were getting sleepy. We had a big day of hiking tomorrow and we still had to hike back to camp down the steep hill. The air was cold on my wet skin, but my muscles felt relaxed, and I felt calm. So calm. Arriving back at camp I climbed into my sleeping bag, and plan to drift off into a state of peace, a peaceful sleep. If I’d only known how amazing this place was I would’ve planned to stay longer. It is exactly where I’d want to stay forever if I could, and I will most certainly return. I lay grateful to have experienced it at all, that I could share it with my friends, that we had it to ourselves. We are so lucky, and we most certainly earned it.

Hot springs

Day 144: Snoqualmie Pass

Miles: 10.75
Camping: Summit Inn in Snoqualmie Pass
Miles to go: 266.99

There is something about waking up on a town day that has both a relaxing and rushed feeling. I look forward to getting into town but I know there is no hurry, as there is rarely a deadline. Today, I decided to drink my coffee cold and just have trail bars for breakfast. My goal was getting to Snoqualmie Pass in time for a hot breakfast, pancakes on the brain all night. HZ was already awake, and we both got packed up pretty fast and on trail in no time. He flew off in front of me as he was meeting a friend in town, and I meandered at a casual pace. The forest was beautiful this morning, wet from the night’s rain, trees creating their own fog, green lakes calm in the still air. I passed Mirror Lake and realized that I had hiked there 15 years ago with my friend Megan when I lived in WA. It looked different, but I recognized the image from a single photograph I took all of those years ago.

As I was coming down the mountain there came the sudden sensation that I had to use the bathroom. Sometimes on trail there is little warning, and we are sort of spoiled by the fact that we can just run off into the woods on a whim to relieve ourselves. Sometimes though, even on the trail there is nowhere to go. Today was one of those times, as the hill rose steeply to my left and dropped steeply to my right. It was suddenly very urgent, and I thought back to the night a few hikers told their embarrassing stories of soiling themselves in these situations. I didn’t want a story to tell, so I held on tight and picked up the pace in search of flat ground where I could dig a proper cathole. I could see the comedy in the moment but I began to sweat from the effort of holding on. Just when I thought I would lose all control I saw a flat area open up to my right, and I bolted over to get the job done. It was a very close call, one which I was happy to escape and move on from. We all have our fair share of moments like this on trail and we become less modest about them as we go, openly discussing these things while dining out. It is all part of the comedy of being human, I suppose.

Feeling worlds better I nearly skipped through the damp forest. There were lots of small flowing streams to jump over and moisture clung to the leaves and branches, falling off on me as I passed. It was almost a virtual carwash at times when plants grew close to the trail. Soon after real rain returned, and I quickly donned my large poncho for the last couple of miles. It is uncomfortable to hike in the rain, but not as bad when town is just around the corner. I’m not sure how I’ll hold up when I have to spend days at a time hiking and camping in the rain, it is truly uncomfortable. It is impossible to stay dry because even in rain gear your sweat creates its own weather system in between you and the nylon (or whatever it’s made of). I hike in the rain all of the time at home, but I always have a dry place to go at the end of the day. This is a whole new level of hiking in the rain.

I made it to Snoqualmie Pass via a road under the ski lifts. Blisster had passed on word that it is a quicker, more convenient route, and the rain had really picked up at that point. I walked faster and soon I had the hotel/cafe in my sights as my legs and feet got more and more wet from the runoff of my poncho. I walked into the warm dry building and found all sorts of hikers I haven’t seen in ages, including Hugs and Pockets! I haven’t seen them since California, and now we were reunited again in Washington. I love how Washington keeps bringing this trip full circle, it’s beautiful and almost sad at the same time. Our days are truly coming closer to an end out here.

After hunting down my packages at the gas station, a bunch of us collected in hotel rooms and watched movies in piles on beds. The rain continued and we ate curry from the Aardvark food cart in the parking lot, which was some of my favorite food on trail. My mom had sent me some gear replacement to deal with the cold and wet, which will be detrimental to my finishing. She sent waterproof socks so I can keep wearing my Chacos, and a new warm shirt to hike in. I’m ready to finish Washington! I’m about ready to finish the hike in general, but will get the most out of this remaining time on trail (and in town) with my friends.

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