Saturday, September 24, 2016

Day 21- Turtle mode

Day 21- Turtle mode
Washington PCT Section I
2369 to 2347
22 very wet miles

Rain all day long. No breaks. It is heavy unrelenting and cold.

The cold freezes all happiness and the greyness starts to fill me with hopelessness. One tries many techniques to raise ones spirits. I pass many nobos wearing headphones to escape. I don't want to escape. My goal is be present.  So I try to let the rain soak through me and not let it get me down, just run over me all zen. I follow streams of water running down trail and try to be one with the water, but this doesn't work either I just feel stupid for being out here in the cold.

I figure I need to try another technique to get my spirits up. I try to think about the big picture, or at least my understanding of rain. How water molecules cycle through over and over getting to travel for miles and have so many adventures- maybe a water molecule starts out as pika pee and ends up in an alpine lake and then evaporates to a cloud over Mount Rainier only to fall as snow and get stuck in a glacier for years and then melts in a stream is drunk by a hiker. Its actually quite amazing if you think about it. This line of thinking makes me less resentful of precipitation.
Precipitation, condensation, percolation, perspiration, urination, transpiration-- it's all right here!  The water cycle in action!
At the state park where I spent the past two summers, teaching about the water cycle was one of my favorite field trip programs. The third graders make up skits to act out the water cycle and the kids would roll down the grassy hill pretending to be water in a stream and wiggle their hands pretending to be rain. Then they would all laugh and giggle. I try to think about that joy that kids have when they are being silly and it starts to warms my heart a tiny bit more and gets me through a few more miles. I don't know if this kind of reminiscing is not being present and escaping or whatever but I decide I don't care anymore.  I am desperate for something to cheer me up.

The umbrella provides protection from rain but no warmth. That's where the poncho comes in. Turtle Mode, my highly advanced hiker technique, is putting the poncho above your head like making your very own sheltered home and its a little warm if you breathe out and trap the hot air, just lacking in views. But I can get into my pack without getting rain inside my pack which is what makes Turtle Mode such an advanced brilliant maneuver. 

Jan took this photo of me in Turtle Mode last week.
 I allow one break all day to sit in turtle mode balancing my pack in my feet, poncho over my head spooning peanut butter into my mouth. For a moment I am almost warm. I wonder if anyone passes me on trail while I am huddled like this in the trees. I cant hear anything but rain. Maybe my dream hiking partner just walked by and I missed them.

An hour later I meet a northbounder named Mary Poppins who is carrying an umbrella. We stop and chat and I ask her if there are any other southbounders and if my dream hiking partner is walking right in front of me but I never catch up because we are so perfectly hiking at the same pace.  She says there is no one, dream or otherwise, close in front of me. But we get to talking and she is so super friendly and says I should come hike north with her and her friend and it is tempting but I decide to just keep going on.

In the afternoon, the wind gusts are so strong I have to take down my umbrella. What am I doing up so high on these exposed ridge? Oh that's why they call it the crest trail.

I am worried about the wind driving rain into my hammock, but see a grove of trees way down so I dart down the hill way off he pct and there is no wind (yet) so I hope it will protected enough to keep me safe.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Day 20- Solo sobo

Day 20- Solo sobo (Southbound!)
Washington PCT Section I
Snoqualime Pass (2390) to 2369
21 miles

Jan drops me off at Snoqualime Pass. She is heading off to heal from her foot injury, and I will be hiking southbound solo. Will I meet other southbound hikers? Everyone around seems to be going north.

Just me.
 "Don't you know theres a storm coming?" they all say as the stream of nobos rush by, heading into town.

It's one thing to get caught in a storm. Its another to deliberately set iff into it. I'm setting off into it. Why?

The clouds come like a cloak across the sky.
One hiker tells me that there is s cabin in 40 miles so if I hike fast maybe I can dry off there the second day of the storm. But she is a bit uncertain about it and I can't tell the story for sure.  She says I'll have to ask permission of a guy who is staying there and maybe he will let me stay there. 

My legs swing wild and free and I find myself hiking fast now that I am solo. I skip rest breaks even though I know my feet will hate me for it. The rhythm of my legs synchs with my breath. Even though I know I'm missing the scenery, I focus on the motion, moving and crusing and flowing down the trail. It makes my legs and heart feel good, but oh my poor feet. Why cant my feet and kegs agree to a pace?
Feet say they are ready for a swim!
A swim in Mirror Lake takes my mind off everything and feels good on the feet. The cold jolts me into the present. Afterwards. I wonder if this will be my last swim-- I notice how quickly my mind leaps forward into the world of what ifs. It's so cold I can barely stand it and it takes longer for me to warm back up and I know the weather is changing now.

No idea why they call it Mirror Lake.
 I try to soak in the views while I can still see. I try to stop and smell the flowers. The mountains to the north I went through what seems like so long ago. Rainier to the south- will it be obscured by clouds when I get there?

All bright and sunny... for now...
 The rain starts falling during the night. Here it comes. What am I doing, choosing this?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Day 18- Kindness of Strangers

Day 18- Kindness of Strangers
Washington PCT Section K

Jan and I didn't expect to get off the trail at Rainy Pass. But her foot is too injured. So here we are, getting off trail, not going to Canada.

How will we get 200 miles to Jan's car near Snoqualime Pass? There is so little traffic on the road. We stick out our thumbs and put on our best smiles.
 Hitchhiking sign 
A van pulls over within 15 minutes. Amazingly, Steve and his dog Molly are going all the way to Snohomish and can drop us off at the bus stop in Everett. What luck! Though he looks like a woodsman, he is an adventurous old soul who tells us tales of packing horses on the PCT in the 70's. Since then he has been a commercial pilot for skydivers, been in the navy, and now dreams and plans to embark on a sailing trip to Alaska. I only hope that I can lead half a life of adventure and keep learning new skills. Also, Steve is kind and we are so lucky he picked us up. Thank you Steve!

Three hours later, Steve is driving us in circles around the Boeing factory complex as we provide horrible  navigational directions. Its more like a small city and everyone is business clothes and security badges with checkpoints everywhere. We have no idea how to find the Metro bus that google says should be here. We are so obviously not in the right place and we know we made a mistake in being here. This bus stop is clearly for Boeing employees, not smelly hikers. Finally, Jan asks an employee bus driver where the Metro bus stop is and she takes pity on us and will take us there. So we leap out of Steve's van and onto the bus.  The bus driver drops us off at a bench in the middle of a sea of cars and gives us a stern warning. "Can we go to the bathroom somewhere?" 

"No you must wait here. You are on Boeing property. You do not have badges."
We don't need no stinking badges
 We wait for an hour for the bus. Everyone stares at us. Everyone keeps their distance. We have no bus map. Our iphones hardly have any battery left. My charger is near empty and seems to be malfunctioning and Jan's broke last week. We ration the last of our battery power.  Google says it'll be four buses minimum. Will there be any bathrooms on the way? Where can we get some water? We are surrounded by civilization, by technology, but we are trapped like animals in a cage. Without a bathroom.

I remember a time when I was street smart, living on the south side of Chicago, cruising the DC Metro. A lifetime ago. Now we are feral creatures of the forest. And we smell like it.

But not everyone keeps their distance. Mr. High School Guidance Counselor arrives and immediately takes us under his wing, orients us, and proceeds to launch into a rich discussion on hopes and dreams, travel, life, and everything. "I wish I had my car I would take you all the way to where you need to go." He rides the bus with us and we talk for an hour and feel like old friends when he gets off the bus.
Once he leaves, Mr. App Guy comes over and wants to empower us and teach us the ways of the bus system. He gives us 4 transist system app choices with pros and cons and studies our options and we take notes of all the bus transfers on paper.
This transfer ticket gets us really far on just a few dollars
 Partway through the bus gauntlet there is a problem. Imagine: you are at a bus stop with people and cars around, you've been traveling for six hours and you still have six more hours to go. The next bus is coming in two minutes. You have to pee. BAD. Do you put on your rainponch and just go in the gutter? Do you "hide" behind the transparent bus stop? Can a bladder explode? 
Which way to the nearest bathroom?
The next bus comes and we get on and start talking about our next transfer. Mr. Nerdy Programmer leans over and whispers softly, "Get off at the next stop, go up the stairs, and go to Bay number 4 for the 208 express." Do we listen to him or follow the instructions on google?

Finally, one more bus change to go. Ms. Professional gives us the most efficient way to get the job done. "Don't listen to the bus driver. Take the 556. At the end of the line, transfer to the 218." She is right. Of course.

We are overwhelmingly grateful when we see Taryn waving to us when we get off the last bus. She brings us to Jan's car and we collapse in the hotel. We made it all the way from Rainy Pass to the town nearest Snoqualime Pass in 12 hours! 

The kindness of the people that helped us restores my faith in humanity many times over. I thought I knew how city people were. But it wasn't like that at all. We were dirty and worn. And we were met with generosity and kindness. 

Thank you Steve and Taryn and all the wonderful people that we met in between.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Day 17- Rainy Pass

Day 17- Rainy Pass, Washington PCT, Section K and L

2586 (Junction to Copper Pass) to 2596 (Granite Pass) then back south towards Rainy Pass to 2592

Spectacular scenery and bluebird skies climbing from Rainy Pass with views of Glacier Peak to the south. Surrounded by mountains on all sides. And then thrilled for something completely different - The Larch!
It's the first time I've seen larch since leaving Montana. I've never seen them so windswept and dwarfed- are they a different type here? Back at the park I was at in Montana, the larch numbers were dwindling due to fire suppression, so efforts were made to cut the doug fir which were growing in unnaturally dense stands and crowding out the shade-intolerant larch. This spring, I helped replant larch seedlings to help restore the natural balance of tree types. How has this forest been changing? I also wonder how the larch seedlings I planted back in Montana are faring.

The traverse between Cutthroat Pass and Granite Pass is gorgeous.
North from Cutthroat Pass
 Jan's tendonitis is getting increasingly painful and swollen. Jan is limping. At Granite Pass, we discuss our options and Jan starts to break down. This is hard. Heartbreaking hard. Should we turn around and hike back to Rainy Pass or try to make it to Harts Pass or Canada? 
Towards Granite Pass
 As we were talking, Bobber comes along and gives Jan his ace bandage. He'd had the same problem a while back and needed a week of rest to heal. Hearing his experience makes it much easier to decide to turn back. It's more difficult to turn around than keep pushing forward, but I know it is a good decision. Jan's leg isn't going to get better if we keep going, and it could easily get worse or lead to other injury or problems. Safety comes first. And will stick together.
Jan sporting the Ace bandage
 We take the hike back slowly. The ace bandage does wonders and Jan goes from limping to walking nearly normally. 

Camp has clear views of the surrounding mountains, but it is bittersweet knowing it is our last night together on the trail for this trip. Jan is a delightful hiking buddy and I will miss her.
Hanging with another view
 No idea how we will get back to Jan's car or Snoqualime Pass from here. But at least we are together and things always seem to work out. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Day 16- Out from Stehekin

Day 16- Out from Stehekin
Washington PCT Section K

2569 (High Bridge/ Stehekin) to 2586 (Junction to Copper Pass)

On the bus back to the trail, a woman tells me how she worked in the Stehekin lodge 40 years ago and this is her first time back visiting. She says back then they did all the work- from cooking and waiting tables to housekeeping and washing- and it was all hard. I wonder how much has changed.

At High Bridge, Jan and I talk to the ranger and learn that there is a 7-8,000 year old archeological site nearby. It marks just one stop that was used as an important travel route to cross the cascades for centuries. Today local tribes honor the passage through this area on a Big Walk.
As we climb into the ponderosa pine, I think about the materials that make the things I have with me - the plastic bags that carry my food, my cuben fiber tarp, my driducks poncho- what is that even made out of? Would I be out here if I didn't have all these luxuries that make my pack so lightweight? 
Ponderosa pine
 I think about the reasons for my travel. Would people centuries ago understand? What about the emotions we experience out here- are they similar? How universal are things like missing family, longing for connections with others, fear of the unknown,the elation of the sun coming out after a long-stretch of rain?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Day 14 and 15- Stehekin

Day 14 and 15- Stehekin, Washington PCT Section K
2564 (5 Mile camp) to 2569 (High Bridge/ Stehekin

A quick 5 miles along Agnes Creek to High Bridge in North Cascades National Park to catch the bus to Stehekin. 
Agnes Creek
 After this tough section (Section K has some of the hardest terrain on the PCT), I'm ready for rest and looking forward to that most important thing... no, not food or a shower... but the Visitor Center.  I can hardly wait to get pressing natural history questions answered and to browse their field guides, starved as I am for interpretive information.  

Many hikers pack with us onto the bus and there is feeding frenzy on the 10 minute stop at the bakery. We make it to the post office in time to pick up our resupply boxes with the food that will fuel us to Canada.

I make a beeline for the Golden West Visitor Center. It is everything I'd been dreaming of and more! Ranger Mark has recommendations about books about pikas and marmots. There is an excellent Junior Ranger book (for ages 12 and up) so I learn more about the park and earn a very cool patch. And there are even comfy chairs that we can sit in while reading about how marmots cuddle together in groups for hibernation and how pikas get more energy from their food by eating their own "soft pellets" i.e. poop!
Golden West Visitor Center in Stehekin has soft chairs, field guides, and a quiet place to work on earning my Junior Ranger badge
 Just when I think life couldn't get any better the ranger says he will be giving an evening program. We camp right behind the visitor center  at the free campground so its not even far to walk. The ranger does a great job tailoring the program to PCT hikers, who make up 100% of the audience. I'm impressed that a dozen PCT hikers attend and we have some cool discussions and stories about mountain lions and bears.

The next morning, I end up on the visitor center again for a few more hours, realizing that after nearly two years working at visitor centers, they feel like home to me.

Then, we head to the Stehekin Ranch for a relaxing second night. Ten years ago, my parents took me here on vacation. We day-hiked up Anges Gorge and I fell in love with this place. I remember meeting all the backpackers on the bus and wishing I could see the high mountain passes and alpine scenery they described. That visit planted the seed that I would learn to backpack and someday return to Stehekin via my own two feet. Returning to the Stehekin Ranch brought back sweet memories of that wonderful trip with my parents (Thank you Mom and Dad!) and I think my younger self would be proud that I actually made my dream a reality.
A tent cabin at Stehekin Ranch seems like a palace. The main lodge has fireplace, amazing food, and all the hot drinks 
Not many PCT hikers stay at the Ranch, where all meals (including a second lunch to pack out) are included in the $100 per person price. But I'm glad we splurged- sitting next to the fire sipping hot drinks and having the opportunity to visit with so many wonderful people made it worthwhile. We met a couple from Bellingham who shared their fairy tale story of how they met through Habitat for Humanity. We also had great conversations with Christina and Alexandra who are section hiking Washington (but we forgot to get their contact info- if you are out there please email would be great to keep in touch!).

This stop in Stehekin sure was a highlight and allowed me time to reflect and appreciate my experiences out here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Day 13- Pika amphitheaters

Day 13- Pika amphitheaters, Washington PCT Section K

2546 (Miners Creek) to 2564 (5 miles to Stehekin)
Look at those glaciers.  The North Cascades have over 300 glaciers, which is more than anywhere else in the US.
Sunshine and no rain all day! Spirits are high, though our bodies are sore and ready for a break.
Bluebird skies
 I spread out my gear in big boulder fields to dry and listen to pikas. They are such fascinating animals. I wonder about their social structure. Are some pikas cheaters that steal the stores from hardworking pikas? Do they share haypiles with family? Why do they live in only certain rockpikes? 

The cliffs are rounded like a pika amphitheater. Their calls echo. Do they favor places like this?

We camped in a warm dry site and the sky is clear for stars. It is one of the first nights we've seen stars.
5 Mile camp