Friday, September 30, 2016

Day 27- What it can teach us

Day 27- What it can teach us

 From Packwood WA to Cascade Locks OR via bus and train

"How can you stand being in town after being on trail for so long?" asks Still Waters.

Being away from town allows me the opportunity to look at things I normally take for granted.

I wander into the public library and for FREE have access to books on every subject. I can look up anything on the computers and I can even print my paper Halfmile maps for the next section (also for FREE!). Town is where I really appreciate this access to our human knowledge base. Out in the woods I have my own observations and memory, but I miss humanities collective wisdom, our scientific knowledge. The Public Library is where I can read about anything I want to know. I read more about William O Douglas and elk, I try to figure out where the rivers flow carrying all that rain downstream. Sometimes its easy to get trapped in our small hiker mindset of thinking of streams as things to cross or places to get water. We forget the meaning of rivers apart from ourselves. How does the fish see a river? Our maps only show the narrow world around us- a few miles. Being in town you see the bigger picture.

At the post office, I ship food to my next resupply stop-- can you imagine-- only a few dollars and they bring my stuff for miles and miles to somewhere I can pick it up later! 

 I also learn there is a public bus (LEWIS Mountain Highway Transit) that for $3 will take me to Centralia (where there is an amtrack station). The freedom of mass transit!


On the bus I greet fellow passengers as I would on the PCT. A warm "Good morning! How are you doing? Where are you coming from?" 
I keep forgetting that I am not on trail or behind the front desk at a visitor center at my park.

I have the good fortune to strike up a conversation with T. who has a flare for storytelling, a passion for sociology, and has lived a rich life.

I want to know about the local area of Packwood and Mt. Rainier, but he recounts the socioeconomic history of the entire region, weaving in tales of his own life growing up in Alabama then moving out west and watching the northwest changing and being in the teamsters union, being a Boy Scout leader and watching changes in recreation, and how Thoreau's Walden Pond really spoke to him.

He tells me one story about when he was a young man and went on a journey to visit all the Native American reservations in Minnesota. I ask "What was your purpose for doing that?"

Here he gets to the heart of his tale, the important life lesson he wants to pass on in our brief passing. "I went out there to find out what it had to teach me."

That resonated with me deeply. Funny what thought provoking conversations can be had in such short timespans and in such unexpected places when you step out of normal routines and take chances.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day 24- Into White Pass

Day 24- Into White Pass
Washington PCT Section I
2299 to 2292 (White Pass)
7 miles

Frost. Mist rising. The sound of elks bugling. Maybe one of the most beautiful sounds I've heard. On par with the cry of the loon at least.
Thoughts cloudy and swirling with brain fog. Definitely a fever. Must pretend I am OK until I get somewhere safe. Must hike hike hike.

I question every northbound hiker about the next section called the Goat Rocks and about the Knife Edge. The phrase "extreamely sketchy" is used nearly universally. Some add "most dangerous thing I've ever done" and "hardest part of the PCT" and "Don't cross it like I did the snow and 100 mph winds. I could have easily died up there."

I get cell phone service and check weather and there is a high chance of storms the next few days.

I think about what it means to be brave versus stubborn. I think about words like grit and fear, adventure and safety, comfort and risk. I try not to think of it in terms of quitting. Mostly I just want to be somewhere I can lay down and be warm until my head stops swirling and the feverish chills and aches go away. 
The store at White Pass is so warm. Warmth, ah what a beautiful precious thing! 

Steph (who helped care for me when I got the stress fracture in the Sierra section of the PCT in 2014- and who helped me get back on trail) has sent me a resupply box here and its bursting with wonderful food and surprises - a true Care Package! Where will I be when I eat this wonderful food? I have no idea.

The northbounders sitting around the store have wild looks like they have escaped death but barely. While I've been hiking through rain they have been hiking in falling sleet and snow and the winds have been even fiercer. 

I sit and talk to the northbounders about the pros and cons of the two routes through Goat Rocks.  There is the low route, the official PCT, over the Packwood Glacier with a "really sketchy" snow traverse that has iced over in the storms we've been having. The hikers that went this way describe a steep scree scramble before the icy glacier traverse with tough kick steps. Jan has told me not to go this way. She says that more people die on the Packwood glacier traverse. 

Some of the hikers say they tried to go over the high route alternate over the knife edge but the wind literally knocked them off their feet and they had to turn around and take the other way. 

Neither if these sound like good options. 

Everyone says wait until the weather is better. But how long do I wait?

In the meantime, I need to wait to get my new hammock and I need to wait until my illness gets better. 

It takes me a while to get a ride at White Pass to the town of Packwood. Am I sticking my thumb out too high? Should I wear my red raincoat or blue fleece shirt? Am I smiling too much? 

But the wait is worth it because the woman who picks me up is just the right person. Deborah works at a community college in Yacama and we talk about the joys working with college students and AmeriCorps. Mount Rainier finally shows itself on the drive down and then Deborah drops me right off at the hotel some other hikers recommended. Thank you Deborah!

I get a room at the Hotel Packwood which is a deal for $45 including laundry and is right across the street from the public library. I sit on the porch and watch my tarp, poncho, and ground cloth flapping in the brisk wind and the storm clouds building over the mountains. The poncho has a fresh collection of new holes, and I wonder why I wasted all that tenacious tape and waterproof spray on it instead of just buying a new one. I take stock of the dreadful state of my feet and the feverishness coursing through my body. 


Then I spend the next two days recovering in town and devising a plan. They only charge me $31 a night for the room the next nights and I find some deals at the grocery store so I don't waste money on going out. Once I am in bed I realize how sick I am.
I also realize that I have more than two choices. It's not Knife Edge versus Packwood Glacier traverse. I can be ANYWHERE. 

This is my life. This is my hike. I can make choices. I have freedom. 

I will choose to hike through Goat Rocks section some other time. I have hiked 300 miles now in Washington. That is good. I will be back. For now, I decide I want to be in Oregon. I grew up in Portland and even though I haven't been back for many, many years, Oregon is my roots. It is important for me to hike there now, I decide. 

I don't care that the thru hikers do the trail in a linear manner. I want to make meaning in my hike that is my own personal thing, that is mine alone, that is for my reasons. 

Then more good news! Renee/ Pathfinder is in Sisters, Oregon but will come meet me in Portland/ Cascade Locks to hike southbound through Oregon together. I'm excited because its fun sharing the trail with a good hiking buddy. It will mean adjusting my pace again though, but I decide I don't care how many miles and at this time of year it will certainly be safer hiking with Renee than solo.


The day before I take the bus/ train to Portland. I talk to northbounders who waited for a break in the weather to cross the Knife Edge and they say it was one of the most beautiful days they've had on trail. I briefly think about continuing on. I know I could do it safely by waiting, watching the forecast and timing it right now that I have gathered all these stories and information. Talking to them though allows me to come to peace with my decision. It makes it feel like I am not avoiding challenges, but rather that I am making a positive decision for myself.

Let the Adventure Continue....

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Day 23-What is comfort?

Day 23- What is comfort?
2323 to 2299 (Buesch Lake)
Washington PCT Section I
24 miles

In Stehekin, a guest at the lodge explained why she doesn't camp- "There is no comfort!"

I wake up thinking of that word "comfort" and what it means to me out here as the cold rain falls. I am warm. My hammock didn't rip during the night and spill me into the cold wet ground. Is that comfort? 

I send a message on my InReach to Still Waters to have her coordinate with Randy of Dream Hammocks to send a new hammock to my next stop. What does it mean that I can be anywhere and yet know there are people out there looking out for me. Is that comfort?

A well-traveled deflated mylar balloon glistens in the rain and I shove it into my pack because there is a trashcan at the road crossing in just a few miles. Not just a trashcan but also an outhouse that a hiker told me he'd slept in a few nights ago. I redefine comfort to mean trashcans, and the shelter of an outhouse.

A strange sounds echoes below in the valley in the pre-dawn. It sounds like a musical instrument. Or perhaps some strange relative of the sandhill crane. What could it be? 
It is raining even harder. The trail is slick and my legs are lead weights. My brain is sloggish and dark thoughts about quitting swirl in my brain and I'm feverishly sweaty. My lips and eyelids are burning up. Dang thats how I get when I am sick. But I can't be sick I must ignore it and hike on like normal. There is no way I can quit I'm not a quitter even if my hammock is torn and its rainy/cold/miserable. I try to remember that feeling of warmth from the morning and I check my InReach messages to see if they can send a new hammock. But there is no reply so I have no idea if and when a new hammock will reach me.

The outhouse at Chinook Pass is a palace. They even have furniture I think as I prop my pack up on the trashcan. And toilet paper- oh that marvelous wonder! I sit in the outhouse and listen to cars wiz by and wonder what it would be like to stick my thumb out and get a ride into town. 
Instead, I gulp down more spoonfuls of peanut butter, try to tell myself Im not really that sick, put on my pack and adjust the poncho, put my umbrella up, and enter into the William O. Douglas Wilderness.

My brain is jolted out of the fog and cold seeing the name of that great progressive supreme court justice. I remember the story of how William  O Douglas saved the C and O Canal from being paved into a highway by inviting the important decision makers/ newspaper to go hiking with him along that beautiful stretch, and what a remarkable area was subsequently preserved. It's a story my Dad told a hundred times when we'd take family hikes on the C and O canal tow path near our Maryland home when I was in high school. I have no idea though why this area was named in his honor- was he from this area- but I am warmed by the thought that I actually remembered one of my Dad's stories (See Dad, I did pay attention!)

As the wind picks up and it gets colder and rainier, I hike in survival mode. Seeing only the mud and concentrating on not slipping on rocks.

There is a single break in the clouds. A ray of sun shines down at an angle. I stop in my tracks to look over at it. The bream of light cutting through darkness above a meandering creek. A great blue heron flies through the light. Then both it and the light are gone. It was just a moment. But it is, once again, enough to sustain me through a few more cold-dark-completely uncomfortable hours.

And then, two hikers are standing by the side of the trail and they are going Southbound!!! The first southbounders this section. Comfort comes in the form of conversation and connection. These two women who stop to look at mushrooms and pick sweet blueberries! Turns out they were in Americorps/ Peacecorps too and we all worked with kids! We hike together the rest of the afternoon. They tell me the alien sound of the morning was elk bugling!  
Turns out they aren't stopping at White Pass so I decide to go camp by myself so I will have time to focus on patching up my hammock. It feels like the coldest and dampest night yet but maybe its the fever and my hands fumble and the tape doesn't want to stick. But I am persistent and cut out a patchwork of butterfly bandage-like repairs using all the tape I have. I set up the hammock nearly on the ground- so low that my butt rests on the ground (or rather on my raincoat spread over the groundcloth on the geound). But at least my head and feet are off ground and most importantly the down underquilt can loft fully around my shoulders to keep me warm. It seems like a good compromise between safety (not falling far if the hammock fails) and comfort (being slightly elevated allows me to stay warmer since the down under-quilt isn't compressed). If it were warmer, my torso pad would be enough and Ive gone to ground fine with it a few times but not when its freezing.

Before I fall asleep, I get a message from Still Waters that the new hammock is on its way. I fall asleep listening to splashes of rain on the tarp and try to figure out what Im doing out here. Why didn't I hitch into town at the road crossing? Why does the experience feel like its worth it?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Day 22- More ups and downs

Day 22- More ups and downs
Washington PCT Section I
2347.4 to 2322.7 (near Chinook Pass)
24.7 miles

When I get to the Urich Cabin at 7:30 AM, the guy smoking up on porch offers me whisky and says he's going to get the fire going soon. They had a big party last night, just like a few of the nobos warned me about the previous evening (which I why I decided not to go there). The place is packed with sleeping people. I peek in and its dark and dank and I'm so glad I slept alone in the cold wet forest where I could fall asleep at the proper hour which is 7:30 PM when it gets dark and could listen to the sound of raindrops splashing on the tarp instead of snoring and mice.

There is a change in weather and the rain stops. I sit in the sun and dry my feet and think about sitting here forever eating all of my food. But before I do, my feet get cold and I decide I'd better keep hiking or I'll freeze to death.

The PCT gets pretty again here. Or maybe it's always pretty and I just can't see it when I'm too cold and wet.
The cold wind picks up and drives away the fog. I can see all the colors. How can there possibly be so many colors sometimes and not just endless grey? How long will this last?

I get cell service on the ridge and I check the weather forecast and a dark cloud of fear settles over my head again because snow is in the forecast and that makes me afraid and it is getting colder and colder and I am feeling terribly alone.

Weather shifting yet again.
I start to feel hot and then cold and then am soaking in sweat.  Or maybe I'm starting to get sick and its a fever.

But I keep hiking because what else is there?

So is this how it is?
I find a sheltered campsite and start feeling a little better knowing that for at least the night, I will be warm and safe and will deal with tomorrow at a later time. Evenings are hardest because I am so tired and worn out.
A sheltered fortress of protective trees to keep out the wind and cold
 But then while setting up my hammock--- MAJOR PROBLEM OH NO!!!  The hammock ends are starting to tear. Fabric separating from the gathered ends. This is not the small hole from last week.  This is a major catastrophic hole. Not one I can patch or solve. Or at least I think it is cause I can poke my finger through.  What makes something a big problem?  Will it fail and end up with me on the ground?  I realize I have no idea.  What caused it? Could I have set it up too tight the other night?! Oh no I knew I should have replaced my hammock it was showing those signs of wear and I made a mistake and now what can I do its so cold.

So I set up just hovering over the ground with shoes under my head and feel feverish and scared but somehow fall deeply asleep. And somehow it holds through the night so maybe everything isn't as bad as I think it is. 
The hole that is too big to patch with tenacious tape because it extends all the way around. How the threads hold me up all night, I have no idea.  It seems impossible.  But they do.

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

Washington PCT Section L

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Day 12- Our first 20 miler

Day 12- Our first 20 miler, Washington PCT Section K

2526 to 2546 (Miners Creek)

After seemingly endless rain the past few days, after a few sprinkles this morning, a break in the rain! 
Hiking through rain towards a break in the clouds
 The sun even made brief but moral-boosting appearances. A few sprinkles on and off keep us from taking it for granted. Feet and hiking clothes remained damp, but I can't recall ever feeling so appreciative of being not chilled and not completely soaking.
Taking a break in the sunshine, but still wearing our dank raingear
 I'm proud of us though for doing this many back to back days of rain where we can't dry out gear. I'm proud my hammock patch held and my finger wound seems to be stable/ not infected yet. We've managed to keep out sleep clothes and sleeping gear dry. And today socks got washed- ah what satisfaction to put on damp but cleanish socks- a true luxury of life.

Along the Suiattle River, ancient towering trees were the highlight of the day. Majestic, rising to sky-soaring! Ah trees!
Jan in the company of giants
 Near a sign for a fire closure at a trail junction, ironically enough, two PCT hikers stopped to put out an unattended campfire another group left. Jan and I donated all our water to help put it out. Thanks so much to Green Bean and the other hiker for being so responsible to take the time to prevent another forest fire. Please note that even with all the rain, campfires can smolder for days and conditions change and dry quickly. If you have a campfire, you must make sure it is cool to the touch when you leave camp.

The objective of the day was making enough miles to get to the Stehekin Post Office in two days before it closes for the weekend. Breaks and stopping to take in the views were cut short. Instead of hiking behind Jan, I walked ahead and set a 2 mph pace when we needed to get going. It all paid off but I did miss our lollygagging.

20 miles today! Including nearly 5000 feet gain and a whooping 5900 foot drop- downhill being harder for me given my feet. After such a hard day yesterday, I am amazed and delighted that we pulled this off.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Day 11- Hardest yet

Day 11- Hardest day yet, Washington PCT Section K
Glacier Creek  (2512) to 2526

The tape on the hammock held last night. One hole repaired, one problem solved for now. But this success is soon forgotten once hiking begins. The rain and cold are the only things that matter on this hardest day yet.
Jan in her poncho cape
 The rain is heavy, soaking, incessant, and bone chilling. At first, there is a possibility it will let up. But it just keeps coming. Hope for a break becomes this far-fetched, ridiculous thing. No sense looking at the sky for signs of blue. The sky is grey-white and dripping. It will always be grey-white and dripping. The sun is just a myth.
Milk Pass rocks, rain, and glaciers above
 Milk Pass is covered in clouds but still incredibly beautiful with striped rocks unlike anything we've ever seen. What is it about this place?! But soon it is down down down to Milk Creek then up up up again.
What causes the milky-white ribbons that stripe the rocks?
 The steep topography provides a slippery 5000 foot elevation gain with a comparable loss.  Concentrating on not falling in the steep, rock, narrow trail demands full concentration. Switchbacks tighten, brush so thick that we cant see down to our feet or the trail in front of us. Blowdown tree obstacle courses have us hanging on to slick tree trunks trying not to tumble down the hillside. A section of trail has completely collapsed down the slope and we mudslide down grasping at roots. If there was energy to think, I might remind myself that this is a wilderness, not a park. A place not to feel at home, but to pass through just long enough to have a lasting impact on me, but not with me having any impact on it. But there is no energy to think outside of the placement of my next step and forcing my body to move forward.

Mica Lake jolts me out of my plodding singleminded focus.  Even cloaked in clouds, the deep blue waters beckons. Jan and I huddle by the shore braced against the rain shoveling food into our mouths fighting the cold clouding our brains for enough energy to soak in the beauty. 
Mica Lake reflections
 Finally we decide to find camp. Jan quickly chooses her tent site. But the site is high and exposed and with the heavy rain, I know I will need to choose my hammock site more carefully. I set up in one pair of sheltered trees only to look up to see a widowmaker above. Another grove has too many lowhanging branches, another the trees are oriented into the wind. Finally, exhausted, I find a grove of dense trees with a sheltered depression that is just the right size. By the time I string up my tarp I have been slogging around for 45 minutes and I am shivering. Cold hands fumbling, somehow my tarp stake slips and slices my finger. Sharp pain and blood everywhere, streaming down and mixing with the rain. A quick check determines its deep but not severe. I try to wrap it and stop the bleeding, but decide the cold is more of a threat than the throbbing pain. Prioritizing getting dry/ warm first, I get blood over everything fumbling with my worthless fingers to get hammock out, wet rain gear separated from dry sleeping gear, food secured against critters, and finally myself into layers of fleece and down. Only then do I attempt flushing the dirt from the wound and patch myself up.

The rain keeps coming all night. I hear the roaring train of wind approaching and brace for gusts to send my stakes flying and drive the soaking rain through into my down quilt. Will the patch in my hammock fail and send me falling to the ground? Will my blood of my finger wound soak through my bandages and soak me with blood?

Please stop raining please please please. Please let me make it through the night. 

After I found my site I went back and told Jan where I set up "down the trail a ways and up the slopes and over a bit into a big grove of trees." There is no way she'd find me. Jan seems so far away. Everyone is far away. I am utterly alone. There is only rain, wind, cold.

I decide I no longer believe it will ever stop raining. But somehow I start to get warm in the shelter I have made. The wind blows over me. I stop the bleeding. I decide the only things that I believe in are the patches I have made with my tenacious tape and leukotape. I have discovered I cannot expect the conditions to ever change or be easy.  But I have to power and ability to patch holes in the universe. That is all that I need, all that is real out here.

Day 10- Sun peaking through holes

Day 10- Washington PCT Section K
2497 to Glacier Creek  (2512)

Morning fog with sun peaking through. Damp with rain. Spirits soar.
A fleeting glimpse of the sun through the fog, Jan climbs through false hellebore and anenome over the pass.
Gorgeous morning climbing Red Pass. High alpine with snow covered peaks appearing and disappearing in clouds.
Clouds rolling over mountains. This peak was only visible for a few moments before it was cloaked again in whiteness.
Spring, summer, and fall happening simultaneously in the high country- monkeyflower, laurel, gentian, daisies, lousewort and gentian  
Jan wants clear skies, warm sun, and wide open view. She is getting frustrated with all the weather we are having. I share that sentiment sometimes, but when the clouds are actively moving around, I love the mystery, the hope and waiting and drama. Will the clouds shift? What do the peaks look like? Watching the holes in clouds reveal huge mountains seems so exciting, even if we can't see them entirely. 

No lakes today so I missed swimming. Streams were running milky with glacial runoff but couldn't find a safe swimming hole where I wouldn't risk being swept away.
Glacial runnoff makes for milky streams
 Discovered a small hole/ snag in the bottom of my hammock while packing this morning. So before setting up camp, I taped the bottom of my hammock with tenacious tape, which I had in my first aid kit. I remember SlowBro showing me the repairs he'd done on his hammock when we met in Kennedy Meadows in 2014. Wish I could remember how long his repairs lasted and if he did anything else besides tape. Oh well, I will just have to try it tonight and hope I don't end up crashing onto the ground tonight. 
Patching my hammock bottom with tape
 My hammock has lasted an incredibly long time for how thin and light the fabric is and I am optimistic about the tape.

Day 9- Entering Glacier Peaks Wilderness

Day 9- Entering Glacier Peaks Wilderness, Washington Section K
Wenatchee Pass (2479) to 2497

Thru hikers that pass us are focused on miles and have goals like 10 miles before 10 AM.  But we have our own goals. Crossing over scree and boulder fields, we count 10 unique pikas calling "eep" before 10 AM and decide we are on track for being observant for the day. 

Yesterday Anish was telling us how the pika are declining. Global warming threatens them and they have a narrow habitat range. Pika here seem more plentiful compared to Montana (ie Glacier National Park where I did a few pika surveys) but its sad to think of what it must have been like when their numbers were healthier.

Clouds are all the move all day but no rain. Sometimes the clouds are low and obscure views and sometimes the breathtaking snow-capped peaks are visible. 
Skies that are the scenic feature of the day
 Jan missed the sun and when a rare sunbeam touches down on a bridge, she basks in the glow.
Jan stands in a rare sunbeam
 The trail climbs today into the high country. Heath thickets, windswept dwarf trees and grassy meadows that remind me of the balds in the southern Appalachians. 

Today is a day for meeting women of the PCT. A mother and daughter, college-aged team, and a 70 year old lady and her friend-- after seeing mostly men, it was great meeting strong women here!

The cold temperatures and looming clouds didn't stop me for reaching my swimming goal for the day. Lake Sally Ann was just too gorgeous to resist! Timing the swim for the warmest part of the day, being quick to change, and hiking with extra warm clothes afterwards are secrets to swimming success.
Achieving my swimming goals- this is what makes my hike a success, not miles hiked per day, but how much I savor the miles I do hike
Fog is rolling over the mountains and temperatures are dropping tonight. The last weather forecast called for rain tonight. I'm tucked into a sheltered spot in the trees yet I'm really nervous for some reason. What if It rains and I get wet and cold? What if it snows? I tell Jan that I'm nervous and she gives me a hug. 
Some of the best hang sites are found just a short walk for established tent sites.  Jan camped in an open site while I was sheltered in this thick grove of trees that kept me warm and sheltered from the rain
 Tonight I will lay in my hammock early since its too cold outside. I watch the thoughts float like fog through my brain. The nervous thoughts swirl and sometimes obscure the joyful peaceful calm center, but hopefully I can watch as they lift and bask in rays of sun that shine through.