Pct Day 5
Miles: 15.4/ From Start: 86.5
I wake this morning in the campground and spend some time sorting out my food box. As always, I have way too much food, and not just because I got to town 12 miles early. I have days more food than I need- I just haven’t eaten anywhere near what I packed for each day. I do this every hike, and I just can’t quite figure out how to stop. I hate wasting food or having to ship it home, but I am always afraid of running out and being hungry. Today the post office is closed anyway, so I label my meals and leave them in the hiker box in the general store and hope someone wants them.
I spend the morning charging my battery pack and phone on the porch of the store, drinking a coffee and doing internet things. Gary, a trail angel who gives endless rides to and from the trail, sits nearby on the porch and seems so content to just wait for me to need a ride whenever I want. Around noon my things are charged, and it so happens another hiker who got in this morning is ready too, so we get in his truck and he takes us towards the trail. I ask how many times in a day he’s made this trip (about 13 miles one way) and he says during peak season when all the NOBOs come through he’s done about 8, back to back, that there’s so many waiting for him when he gets to the trail he just loads the truck, brings them in and then turns around and goes back. He’s a retired forest service worker- he did fire management and he’s lived here for 37 years. Now that he’s retired he’s basically made it his personal mission to be the most supportive to hikers he can. The whole town was like this, so kind. I hope all the thrus treat them well this year.
When we get out of the car, my riding companion says she’s going to sit and organize and make a plan for the day, and I say goodbye and hike on, relieved not to feel any pressure to hike together or to awkwardly try to outpace her or leapfrog all day.
The trail quickly ascends through some forest and into a big burn area at the base of Mt Adams- called Pahto in the native language of the Yakama tribe. It’s a long walk through a hot, dry scarred area, but the perks are great views of the peaks around. The mosquitoes aren’t bad here, but there are plenty of biting flies in their place, and they keep me moving quickly. I stop for the quickest lunch I can under my net and my bandana spread out on my legs- the flies don’t care about my bug lotion at all, so I don’t have even that for protection. The views get better and better the higher we go, circling the base, and I get every angle of the mountain face possible as the moon rises. I start passing through lava fields with soft sand on the trail, and then several mountain streams with milky blue water. I’ve loved the forest so far but I could not be happier to be up high now, with the rocks and the streams and the wildflowers- nothing else is quite as fulfilling. The flowers only get better as the evening goes on, it’s golden hour and the mountain is glowing and the air is perfumed with the scent of thousands and thousands of flowers. Every time I round a bend there are more, and the thing is happening where I feel like I might actually burst from gratitude, just crack down the middle of my body and break open. How is this my life, out of all the lives? How could I posibly have been born in a time where this is realistic, where I can fly across the country in hours just to walk around outside somewhere else, how can I have this body that lets me, that feels built for this in a way it’s not built for anything else. That I was born into a life where I can afford this as a hobby is laden with such privilege. That I am allowed to be here in the presence of all this that needs nothing from me, wants nothing from me except to walk gently on the trail, that has nothing to do with me in the way that my flowers or garden at home do. I think about how essential it is to be viscerally reminded sometimes of things that are not FOR us, they are with us. They’re here, and we are too, and that means something important, though it’s hard to put into words.
I am crying from it all, with big crocodile tears salting my face. I stop in a small meadow and I look at every bloom near me and I say thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you to every single one I can see, and then I walk through another meadow across another picture perfect winding stream and I make my camp and eat my dinner and try not to get eaten by mosquitoes, and to keep basking in my gratitude every second.
Pct Day 6
Miles: 25.1/ From Start: 111.6
I wake early today, setting my alarm for the first time this trip and aiming to get up at 5:30 and be walking by 6:15, thinking that today I’ll be going over Goat Rocks and the Knifes Edge, since last night I looked at the app and saw that section was only 18 miles away. But I soon realize that that’s because I camped off trail last night, and when you’re far enough off the app tells you the straight distance from you, rather than how far ahead on trail it is. So really I’ll hit that part tomorrow, which is all good. I’d rather do that part early in the day with fresh legs.
The trail is beautiful in the early morning, It descends sharply into woods and I spend some time saying one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems again and again, a meditation.
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
In a few hours I stop to apply some bug lotion at a dirt road and after a few minutes a guy joins me, also heading NOBO. His pack is tiny, I’m sure he’s a thru hiker and he confirms. He says he started in mid April and had come straight thru, not skipping any except a fire closure in Oregon. He’s hoping he can get to the border to finish- there are fires up there making it difficult. I feel for him, to have come all this way and then not get to the monument would be brutal. He’s super friendly and sits to eat for a minute, but I’m ready to hike on so I say bye, knowing that he’ll surely catch me again. Today is a lot of woods again, pretty as usual but I’m ready for more views and I just kind of cruise along, mind wandering and thinking without much direction. I stop in a few hours for a snack and to let my stuff dry in a patch of sunlight- I woke up to wet condensation this morning- and before long Randy, the thru NOBO joins me. “Wow you’re fast” he says, and of course the unsaid part of that sentence is “for a section hiker” but I still glow a little at that from someone who’s covered 2200 miles so far and is doing over 30 miles daily. We chat a while, he talks about his favorite section, the Sierra Nevada, and how he’s really missing his wife and dogs at home and I laugh and agree. If 3 weeks is this tough, I can’t imagine the feeling after 3 months. He’s ready to go before me, so we say goodbye and I know I probably won’t see him again.
The rest of the day goes slowly- it’s buggy as hell and hard to even take a break because they swarm you immediately. Bug lotion works on the mosquitoes but not the flies, and annoyingly the skeeters can bite me through my clothes where I can’t apply lotion. Finally after a while my feet really need another break so I lather up the best I can, wrap my rain skirt around my waist to protect some more of me, and lay down on some logs for about 30 minutes, putting in my headphones to drown out the buzz of the bugs trying to get through my head net. I make a note to treat all my clothes before my next trip- I’m already covered in bites.
After my rest, my feet are feeling strong again and I cruise the last 10 miles, finally getting some beautiful views of Rainer, and into a camp by a lake around 6:15. Thanks to my early start it’s my highest mileage day so far. I lay in my sleeping bag waiting for my dinner to rehydrate and look at pictures on my phone and miss my wife.
Pct Day 7
Miles: 20.2/ From Start: 131.8
Woke up late ish this morning, only planning to do 20 miles since the next town stop is in 25 miles, and I don’t want to hit that after 6 pm when the store is closed.
I start walking just after 8, and quickly ascend up to the pass, enjoying climbing at 6500 feet instead of 12,000- the trail is steep but nothing too taxing, and it certainly goes quicker than climbing a pass back home. Around the bend the trail winds through a gorgeous meadow, with new flowers I haven’t seen yet- they have soft furry blooms and when I reach out and out and feel one it’s just like Idgie’s fur and I miss my family with a sharpness I am learning to anticipate and let flow through on its own.
Soon I curve around to another high pass, this one looking out over the famous Goat Rocks and the Knife’s Edge Traverse. I sit at the top for a while eating a snack, basking in the bug free break and the stunning views, before I continue. There’s one small patch of snow left on a steep slope, but the footprints are well established and it’s so short I don’t even get out the microspikes I’ve carried all this way. Once past that, the knifes edge is snow free and gorgeous. I stay up high for several hours, and after descending stop for another break in a meadow on the other side, napping in the sun on some rocks and again enjoying the lack of bugs. When I stand up to continue, it’s almost 3pm and I’ve got another 10 miles to go before my camp, so I start walking quickly.
Soon I realize the rocky trail today has led to a small hot spot on the left side of one heel, but it’s not too painful luckily, just the result of more slipping around than normal on the rocks. I head down through more forest, listen to 3 Invisibilia episodes in a row, and find my camp perched high on the side of another mountain. The wind is chilly and I make camp as quickly as possible and nestle into my bag to eat my cold ramen noodles and go to sleep.
Around 8, as I’m getting ready to sleep, I hear some hikers arrived and scout their own spot among the trees, luckily not too close to me but I can hear their voices as they set up and it’s the first time all trip I’ve slept near anyone on trail. I love hiking alone but as I fall asleep I do feel a little jealous of them in their two person tent, chatting quietly as I swipe through photos of Burdock and me and the dogs and miss my family.
Pct Day 8
Miles: 5.3/ From Start: 137.1
Woke in the cold morning air and started walking in all my warm gear for the first time- gloves, hat, and puffy against the chill. The 5 miles to the gas station ski lodge by the trail go quickly, and as I walk up at 8:30 I see at least 15 hikers spread out on the picnic tables outside, and as I walk inside there are at least 15 more. I’ve clearly hit the SOBO bubble, they are all abuzz talking about Goat Rocks or the next town for them, the one I just left. I knew I’d hit the bubble eventually, and here they are. I share a load of laundry with two others and try to plan my day. A guy next to me won’t stop chatting as I’m trying to focus, he’s probably just being friendly but I’m annoyed, and then as I work the phrase “my wife” into conversation his eyes get really big and he repeats “Wife? Wait you have a wife?” in an incredulous tone that most people I come out to casually like this are better at hiding. “Yes, my wife” I repeat and he says “oh sorry” nonsensically, and I’m so over sitting here chatting with cis het men.
It’s early, I could easily use the shower here and then hike out today, but I’m really in the mood for a day off and a bed. I move to sit outside and pack my food box for the next stretch, and try to figure out where I could stay the night. I decide to hitch into the closest town, where most lodging is full because of a track meet or something, but I find a room. There’s a couple of trail angels hanging here at the pass, former hikers who are now setting up trail magic on their week off work, and I ride with them into town and post up at a coffee shop until I can check into my room.
After a few hours two hikers I saw in the last town walk up, it’s the one who made the joke that he shouldn’t even talk to me. They left the night before me from that town and now I’ve beat them to the next stop, and funnily enough he’s much friendlier this meeting. It’s interesting to notice in myself such a shift in relating to other hikers, I remember on the CT on 2015 I felt so excited by the hikertrash community, I loved chatting with others along the way and in town, I was so excited to be part of it, and now I find myself so separated from it- from the endless one upmanship of who’s done how many trails and how many miles and who’s gear is better and I just wanna walk around outside.
It’s finally 3 and I head to my room, get inside, scrub myself clean and lay in the bed the entire rest of the night and FaceTime Burdock and the missing is worse than ever. There’s 175 miles of trail left, two weeks from today till I get home, and it both sounds like not enough and too long. Burdock reminds me I am allowed to feel both things, filled up and grateful to be hiking and sad to be away. Obviously this is right, and so wise, and I try to let go of judging that part of me that wants to be home even while the other part of me is wildly, ecstatically happy to be here. Both, and.