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?


  1. The answer to your question could well be found in your drive and resilience

  2. Hope you stay dry and warm under he tarp. If you can do this I love the sound of rain on my tent.
    I was supposed to head off last week on a solo trip but am now in hospital post op recovering from an emergency gall bladder rupture. So glad that did not happen on track and explains why I've felt so crappy over the last few months. Keep on keeping on !

  3. None of this sounds like comfort, well except for that tiny ray of sunlight. I always label these situations as character building . . . I must need more character. HAH, you keep building that kit of skills which will make you a bad ass ranger.

  4. Interesting about the ray of sun shine. It is a wonderful and amazing thing. Different circumstances, but I had a similar experience...