Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Day 137 : In Which I Finish

20 miles today
0 miles to go

Spectacular alpine morning on the top of the pass. Cold, crisp, and clear. My tent is pitched with the door facing the sunrise. Just a hint of bright orange on the eastern horizon as I peek out from under my tent. The cold mountain is not as cold as it was in the valley I camped in last night. I eat breakfast in my tent with the thought that this is the last time I'll be doing this maybe forever. Will I ever be hiking again by myself where sitting in my tent for breakfast makes sense? I follow my standard routine automatically, salvaging the final snacks, the last food in my pack and stuffing my pockets. The extra miles yesterday mean today's mileage is only twenty miles with the border monument in the middle. I emerge from my tent and pack my pack just as Bey and Wildflower sit down together for the social event known as breakfast. I feel bad that I ate in my tent. I'd rather sit out here and eat with others. I can't remember the last time I ate breakfast with others out on the trail. Ah well, it is what it is. I chat with them as I pack and take down my tent for the last time. Bey says she wants to hike alone to the monument which suits me fine. I like hiking alone in the morning. Besides I'm ready to go now. 

What a wonderful fall day this is. This is what I think of when I think about how much I like to hike. The cool morning air contrasts with the bright sunshine. I walk into and out of the sun alternately warming and cooling off. Just as I start to get too warm the trail turns into the forest or behind a ridge and I'm in the cool shade. Just as I get so cold I feel I need to put on another layer I pop out into the warm sunshine. The forest is silent and welcoming an occasional chipmunk or pika breaks the silence with a chiding chatter or the pika’s distinctive Eeeeeek. I pass over plenty of water sources before finally stopping at one and filling my empty bottle. I have no Aqua Mira or squeeze bag for my microfilter. I can attach the filter to the bottle and drink through it but that is a lot of work and more than I want to do. The water up here is ice cold and clear, probably fine to drink without filtering. Still I hesitate and decide I'll only drink it if I need to. Right now I don't need to, so I carry an extra pound of water. Old fears are so hard to let go of. Even in this place of plentiful water I feel the need to carry three quarters of a liter of unfiltered water ‘just in case.’ I guess it'll take more than a PCT hike to completely get over that fear.

I walk filled with all kinds of mixed emotions and thoughts. I find the emotion wells up within and leaks out of my eyes in tears. Not that I'm sad, I'm overcome with feelings of the grandness of this moment. Years in the planning from my first thoughts about Big Hairy Audacious Goals, to thoughts about blogging continuously for the entire trip for my grandkids, to thoughts about raising awareness and money for ALS research to help my friend Shelly. All the dreams, plans, training. How many people to thank! Scout and Frodo way back in San Diego. Countless trail angels along the way. Special places and people. Adventures, pain, dirt, sweat, weather that's too hot, too cold, too wet, dry sections without water. I feel I have lived an epic. How many new trail friends? Other Thru-hikers who have lived through the same experiences. How we all hiked our own hikes with the threads of each weaving themselves around each of our memories and hearts. How important it is to hold relationships with an open hand, some stay and grow and build deeper longer connection. Others pass in and through my hike and memories like so many different colored pieces of thread weaving a beautiful tapestry of memories I will always treasure. 

A few hours more walking and I reach a spot above where the monument must be. I can see a line cut thru the trees. The clear cut that marks the border between the US and Canada. It comes down the hill across through the clearing below and right in front of a sharp turn in the trail. The top of three switchbacks which I descend to find a number of my fellow thru-hikers cheering and clapping for me. There is Monument Seventy Eight and the northern terminus of the PCT, a sister to the southern terminus I left one hundred and thirty seven days ago. I complete a continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada today, September fourteenth at eleven AM.

I remove my pack and join in cheering for the other thru-hikers that are coming down the trail behind me every ten to fifteen minutes. Soon we have a merry little band laughing, high-fiving, fist bumping each other. We take group photos. Thirteen has a camera full that he promises to share with the rest of us. Some have champagne they open and shake spraying themselves and those around. Like we've won the Indy five hundred or something. We did! Not as a speed record. It's more personal, we've all arrived here at the end of this journey having overcome all kinds of obstacles, fears, and physical maladies. We've lived through days of excruciating pain, deprivation, exposure. We been confronted with the idea of who we thought we were versus who we really are. We've pushed ourselves beyond what we thought we could do. We kept walking when almost everything in us wanted to stop, to quit. Each of us is changed. We have new skills and scars.

For me I find I have a new love for people. They are the best part of the PCT and the true treasures of life. I want to live my life around people. They may have different thoughts, backgrounds, beliefs, opinions, politics, values, you name it. There is very little I have in common with my fellow thru-hikers in this clearing in the middle of the forest except we’ve all lived through a common experience that was yet uniquely tailored to our own choices and temperaments. I think that in this way the PCT is like life itself. We all have our own journeys. We all have different pasts and backpacks we carry filled with our previous experiences. We find ourselves at the same place and the same moment in time to share some common time together. That common time together begins and builds relationships. Will I ever see any of these people again? I don't know, I know I'd like to. If for no other reason than to relive those moments of hardship, adversity, and pain through the lens of time and laugh at them together. Yes that was tough, but here we are. 

Poppy and I leave while others are still celebrating. We walk the eight or nine miles to Manning Park talking about the different experiences we’ve had, some that we shared others we had at specific places at different times which created completely different experiences for each of us. We talk about new friendships and others we haven't seen for some time. How some drop off the trail and sort of disappear. This wasn't their year, or maybe this isn't their trail, or whatever. So many people I've met. I think about Ufda who I past yesterday as he was hiking back to Harts Pass. I realize just now that he's the person I've known the longest, having met him at Scout and Frodo's way back on the first day. The miles pass quickly and we find ourselves at the real end of this story, Manning Park. A beautiful spot for a lodge. A valley in a Canadian forest surrounded by a flora in the throes of transition from summer to an early fall. The bright yellows, oranges, and reds of the deciduous trees and plants contrasting with the deep greens of the surrounding evergreen forest. The weather has held up, sunshine and blue sky. Far exceeding my expectations or hopes. We walk down the road to the lodge. The sun is warm. My thoughts, hopes, and dreams turn to home, family, and friends. How I want to make a greater effort to make time for those people I've found have journeys that intersect mine. How I want to hold relationships with an open hand. To live with grace and generosity with those whom I'm fortunate enough to be close. To put relationships first before others distractions like careers, hobbies, and activities which at first glance seem to be the essence of life but are really just the background, the set, the stage. Real life is found in the connections I have with others. That, at least, seems to be the most obvious thing to me after two thousand six hundred and sixty three miles or so of hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Day 136 : Woody Pass

29 miles today
11 miles to go

I awake at my usual time. It's still dark. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the rustling and shuffling in the tents around me as one or the other Thru-hikers adjusts their position on the cold hard ground. We’ve come to expect that the ground is what we sleep on. No one complains about it. It's normal, it just is. I think about the timing of my pre-purchased by ticket. One fifty AM, basically two o'clock in the morning on Friday. Which for me is easier to think of as late late Thursday night. Fifty eight more miles to go, forty to the border and another eight miles to Manning Park, British Columbia. If I walk twenty five miles today then I can walk twenty four miles on the day after and finish on Wednesday. Then I could stay at the Manning Park Lodge Wednesday night. That way I can take a shower and wash my clothes before taking public transportation home. I like this plan as it coincides with the other Thru-hikers who all exited the bus at High Bridge. I'd finish with a group of friends that I've been hiking around for thousands of miles. People I know by trail names. People that call me No Skip. I like this change to my plans, then realize that means I need to start hiking.

Pfffssssssssssss goes my mattress in the silent cold morning air. A startling sound in the quiet campsite filled with other thru-hikers. I think about the noise briefly, this group isn't bothered by noise. They had no problem with it till way passed hiker midnight last night. I'm sure the noise this morning won't elicit any harsh comments or ill will. They are a great bunch of easy-going thru-hikers and my friends. I go through my morning routine. Wow, it's cold! I keep the flaps on my tent down to hold some of the warmth in. Spronggggg goes the windscreen of my stove as I pop it from its container. I eat my crunchy granola and banana chips as I heat water for my coffee in the vestibule. The rustling of my food bags sounds like thunder in the quiet glen. It's probably not very loud outside my tent and it certainly isn't bothering any of my friends, they are used to the noise of each other. Unlike me they have banded together and camp with each other for thousands of miles. I on the other hand normally camp by myself. I paw through the mostly empty ziplock bags gleaning some snacks for today's hike. Twenty five miles is a normal day. I need a full complement of eight different snack items and a small lunch. I smear peanut butter on a tortilla and fold it before sliding it into a quart size ziplock. This goes in my lunch ziplock with my beef jerky and cheese. It's a lunch that slides into one of the lower pockets on my pack that I can reach while hiking. I rarely stop for lunch. Just walk all day. I save up all my ‘stop’ time for camp and really short water resupply breaks. Otherwise I walk from daybreak to around five thirtyish. Which is an earlier stop time than just about everyone else but I prefer as I have more daylight for cooking and camp stuff in the evening. I drink my coffee as I stuff my snacks into the thigh pockets on my hiking pants. I start each day with bulging pockets on my hiking pants. I like the convenience of being able to grab snacks on the go. Basically eating all day. 

Out of my tent and packing my pack. Have I mentioned, it's cold this morning. My hands hurt and my feet are so cold they don't hurt. How ironic is that? As I pack Red Riding Hood peeks out of her tent next door. “Good morning Red,” I say. “Good Morning,” she says in her Queens English accent. I love listening to her talk. We don't talk much this morning as I finish packing and say, “See you down the trail,” to Red and the silent tents around me. I think I hear a few muffled responses from some of the others. 

The day’s hike start on an up note. As in up switchbacks. Up and up and up. Back and forth across the face of the slope over camp. Higher and higher in the icy cold breeze. It's still early and this valley is still in the shade. The trail crunches icily beneath my feet. I meet Swag on the trail as we climb the switchbacks at our own paces. He's been hiking with a stress fracture in his right foot. I empathize with his pain as my feet have been hurting every day for months. They don't hurt at this moment because they're numb. At the top of the ridge I can see all around, another beautiful blue sky day! Craggy peaks surround me here on this ridge. I meet Terminator up here. He and a number of other thru-hikers blew past my camp last night and camped up high on this ridge. This is definitely one of the most scenic and beautiful parts of the trail. In fact I think the Washington section is the most scenic part of the entire PCT. It's the most remote, rugged, wild looking country. I love going through it. Today I enjoy the walking because of the surrounding beauty. Absolutely incredible, the ridge meanders about and I am on the top of it for miles and miles. I look down steep valley walls to tree carpeted valley floors. Mountains upon mountains stack the horizon no matter which way I look. The glorious sunshine is warm but not hot. Perfect hiking weather. I feel so grateful for the weather, or lack of weather. Just warm blue sunshine. It feels like fall up here in the north. The trees and bushes are turning into flaming fall colors. Wow, hiking for going on five months, when I started in the desert it was spring with flowers blooming at every turn. Now the color is in the leaves and berries. No blueberries though. They seem to have stayed behind at Glacier Peak. 

I turn a corner and see Thirteen and Sweet Ums stopped on the trail taking pictures. We chat for a bit. Sweet Ums thru-hiked last year and is out for just a couple of days this year. She points out the general path of the PCT heading north. We walk together a bit until they stop to take more pictures. My feet have warmed up and they don't hurt unless I step wrong on a rock. I don't do that as much, the trail isn't as rocky and I am more disciplined about keeping my eyes on the trail.

I reach Harts Pass an hour or so later. I find Scabs is already here. She tells me about the trail angel in camp five. He's firing up the grill. We’ll have bratwurst and corn on the cob in an hour. “Do I have an hour?” I wonder. Scabs sees my pondering and asks about my transportation from the end. “I have a bus ticket at two AM on Friday morning,” I say. She says, “Oh, you have an hour then.” She’s right. I walk to camp five with her. I didn't get his name, but our gracious host is busily preparing lunch for us. He points us towards the sodas and beer. I choose a root beer and sit in one of the camp chairs. Terminator, Two Pack, Candyman, Texas are here. So is Thirteen and Sweet Ums. Cheese arrives, so do Sour Rip, Swag and others. I have a bratwurst and another soda. I choose to not have corn on the cob. The trail is calling to me, or maybe it's just my anxiety about getting to camp early enough to not be cooking in the dark. I thank our trail angel host and head off to the trail. It leads up and along a slope up and over Windy Pass. The views are so inspiring and amazing. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness about this perfect weather for these last few days. 

The trail winds around ridges and through meadows and across open slopes. I climb up some switchbacks to the top of Jim Pass and see a Thru-hiker who looks vaguely familiar. Then he says something to me about the weather as I'm about to pass. Wait a minute, I know that voice. My mind churns for a moment as I look closer at him. “Do I know you?” I ask already knowing the answer is yes. “No Skip?” He asks. “Poppy?” He nods. “You've let your beard grow out, you look different,” I say. He laughs. We talk a bit about the trail, the absolutely stunning beauty and the equally stunning and wonderful weather. He's eating and time is passing. “See you down the trail,” I say. Truly hoping I would. I like Poppy even though we have virtually nothing in common except our hikes and our love for the beauty around us.

Downhill. Lots and lots. Switchbacks, then across ridges, following the tops. I see Speedy Gonzales reveling in the warmth of the sunshine. I stop and chat with her a few minutes. Then I'm off again. The camp of my plans is after the last water source for a while. I want to make sure I don't miss the water source and that I get enough to camp. It's still hours away according to the map. I press on. More downhill. Down, down, down. “What is this? Why so much down?” I ponder. I'm just going to have to climb back up. Time passes and I'm deep in thought about finishing and being home and… I suddenly find I'm no longer going down. I am crossing Holman Pass. The water source is only a few miles from here and camp a mile beyond that. I should be there around four thirty. Yay! That's perfect plenty of time to cook and settle in. 

There's Bey! I reach a trail junction on the far side of the pass. Bey’s standing there conversing with a couple of section hikers. She looks like a cat ready to pounce. Like she's anxious to be moving yet pausing longer than she wants but not long enough to feel comfortable to leave. I stop. “Hi Bey!” I join the conversation. It's fun to share about Thru-hiking with those who have lots of questions, but when your in the middle of s hiking day it can also be exasperating. I sense Bey's exasperation. “So where you hiking too?” I ask her. “Woody Pass.” That's six more miles I say to myself. Do I want to hike six more miles? No, not really. Do I want to hike six more miles of it means I can spend some more time with Bey? Yes, absolutely! I hear Bey say to the section hikers, “I'm just looking for the motivation to start climbing.” “Let's go,” I say. We say our goodbyes and starting hiking. Bey's a strong hiker and she's leading us quickly up the steep switchbacks. I think I'm walking faster than I've walked all day. It seems effortless. Well, not quite effortless, but easy. We talk, time flies. In no time we reach the water source. Wildflower is here waiting for Bey. Bojangles is here too with a couple of her friends who have joined her for this last section. She's such a fast hiker otherwise I think she's really had to check her pace in order for her friends to keep up. 

Wildflower, Bey and I push on. Wildflower leading the way. It's so refreshing and fun to be hiking in a group. I feel energized and tireless even though my decison to hike with Bey will result in a twenty nine mile day today. So much for the short days at the end of the hike. We climb up through an open bowl that looks like something out of National Geographic. I expect to see mountain goats or sheep, or a grizzly bear. It looks so wildly rugged and remote. I guess that's because it is. Higher and higher we go. I don't care, I'm having so much fun talking and bantering with Bey and Wildflower. Up to the top of the pass and suddenly we are going back down. We can see Woody Pass on the other side of the bowl. As soon as we are over the pass the sun sets for us. It's on the other side of a crazily tipped rocky peak. It's cold and breezy as we descend switchbacks down to a low enough point for the trail to survive the rock fall and winter avalanches from the rugged peak above. I feel like we are in one of the most wild and remote places I've ever been. It's much later than I usually hike. I think hiking this late is normal for Wildflower and Bey. We cross below the rocky scree and begin climbing the last uphill switchbacks of the entire trail. Our plan is to camp at the top so the tomorrow's hike is all down hill. We climb up and up and up. It seems longer and longer. The way that the miles grow when I approach the end of my hiking day. On we climb. Closer and closer to the top and the small campsite the awaits. We reach the site and find it already occupied by a German couple who are also through hiking. The site is small and we don't know the couple. We continue up to the pass longer for a place to camp. We settle for a rocky semi-flat spot just below the pass. We find three tent spots somewhat close. It's so rocky that I use my rock guy lines instead of stakes. I can't remember when it was that last time I used them even though they've been attached to my tent for over twenty five hundred miles. So I feel good that I'm finally using something that I've carried so far. Last night on the trail! It takes me extra long to set up my tent. I have to keep adjusting and readjusting the rocks. I finally get my tent pitched and pull out my cooking stuff. So many components and bags and stuff. I hail it all out to our common cooking area about the time that Bey and Wildflower are finishing up. They sit and watch my go through the motions of my cooking routine. I narrate the steps as I go through them. They look on with jaw dropping amazement and amusement and the absurdly long and complicated process I go through to make my dinner. I find it funny that I have this process that works, that I've done for over one hundred nights that only now do I realize that I could have done something different for dinner. Perhaps relieving the stress I feel about cooking at night. Oh well, better late than never, I learn something new. Both Bey and Wildflower are warm and cozy in their tents as I finally finish my dinner. Mowgli stops in on his way back to Harts Pass and eats dinner with us. I give him the extra day of food that I have since I now will be finishing a day early. Thirteen and Cheese come powering by as we eat. “We're going to Canada right now!” They say as they pass by. Wow! Ten more miles in the dark. I'm glad I'm staying here.

It's dark as I find my way across the rocky slope back to my tent. I sort through my gear putting everything where it normally goes almost without thought. I get everything situated and sit in the door of my tent looking at the moon rising above the rocky crag across the valley in darkness below. I can see the switchbacks and trail from the pass across and wonder if I'll see any headlamps. “Probably not, they've surely all camped by now.” I say to myself as I crawl into my sleeping clothes and bag. It's dark except the light of the moon. Which is to say it's a bright night. A few minutes after settling in I here footsteps on the trail crunching by. “Amazing,” I think. Thru-hikers seem to never tire. I try to guess who’s passing by their footsteps. I have no idea. Everyone walks at a fast clip. I take a couple of Advil PM with the thought of it reducing some of the swelling I feel in my feet every night. Also it'll help put me to slee...

Monday, September 12, 2016

Day 135 : Glacier Pass

17 miles today
40 miles to go

I wake in the pre-dawn darkness, as I always seem to do. I think about today, think about my plans, and roll over and go back to sleep. I wake a little later, I've been hearing rustling in the campsites around me. Thru-hikers getting in an early start? Could be, old habits die hard. I plan to hike to Glacier Pass today, significantly less miles than I have been hiking. I plan on being there mid afternoon. I figure two more nights, maybe three. It depends on the weather. If it gets bad I'll hike further and get done sooner. I might decide to get done sooner anyway.

It's cold this morning. Much colder than it's been for a long time. I pass by a couple of Thru-hikers on my way to the PCT. It seems that they, like everyone else I've talked to, plan to go to Harts Pass, another ten miles further than I want to hike today. The trail is icy crunchy. The mountains surrounding the camp make it into a bowl of cold air. I climb up towards Cutthroat Pass. Switchbacks of course. These have great views, especially today, it's clear and cold. No clouds in the clear blue sky. No breeze or wind of any kind. I feel an ecstatic feeling of lightness and joy. A beautiful day does that to me. Especially in the mountains. The trail reaches the sunshine. I feel a warmth on my back like I'm standing in front of a wood stove. Wow, stunning. I feel like Rapunzel felt it Tangled, “This is the best day ever!” I keep stopping and taking more pictures.

I feel great this morning no foot pain at all. I attribute some of that to the fact that it's so cold my feet are numb. Up and up I go, one switchback after the other. No need to stop, no need to catch my breath, truly remarkable. At the pass I meet Blackberry and Puppy. They were at the trail magic yesterday but I didn't meet them then. We talk about the beautiful blue sky and the views from here. 

I cross over and down from Cutthroat Pass and I am in another amphitheater. A valley surrounded by rocky crags, some with snow. The trail winds down and around the ridges. Down switchbacks, sharp ones , steeps ones. I am surrounded by stunning vistas in every direction. I have learned to stop and look. I have learned that protecting my feet comes first. It's like second nature to me now. I don't even have to think about it. If I want to look at anything but the trail I automatically stop. I stop a lot.

The trail crosses Granite Pass and I'm heading back up. I imagine that if I were not a Thru-hiker that had already hiked over two thousand miles preparing for this that these trails would be brutally tough. To me it's just trail. Be it up or down, it no longer matters. It hurts the same, but hurt doesn't tire me. I just live with it. Besides, today the views completely overwhelm the pain making it seem insignificant and immaterial.

I arrive at camp in mid afternoon. Glacier Pass. No one else is here, no one passed me all day. Did I get on the wrong trail? No this is the PCT. I wander through all the camps looking for the ideal spot. I settle on a flat spot under a tree on the edge of one of the larger campsites. As I'm setting up Speedy Gonzales stops. “Do you mind if I dry out my stuff here?” She asks. “Not at all,” I say. She lays out her wet sleeping bag and tarp in the warm sunshine. We chat about all kinds of stuff. She's a lot of fun to converse with. Everything from our favorite gear to our favorite blog authors. She shares her big stack of sliced salami with me as we chat. Eventually her stuff gets dry and she heads down the trail. It's gets quiet and a little lonely sitting here by myself. I may need to rethink this ending early in the day concept. I could be walking now, getting closer to finishing. I decide to cook an early dinner. I find a great log with a flat springy top on which to sit on the far side of camp. It'll also give me a good view of anyone on the trail passing to Harts Pass. I cook, I eat, I wait, no one comes. Time passes slowly, the warm sun disappears first behind the trees, then behind the mountain. No one. “That's odd,” I ponder. There should be scads of hikers passing by. It's getting late. There's no way they are going to make another ten miles without night hiking. 

I decide to turn in early. This is the earliest I've gotten to bed in a long time. It feels good to be laying down in my warm bag. There's still a lot of daylight left even though the sun is behind the tall mountains to the west. I doze and nap until dusk. It's getting dark when I hear voice in the first campsite about a hundred yards before this one. I can't tell who it is but they seem loud in the cool evening air. Perhaps it's the quiet afternoon that makes them seem so loud in contrast. 

It's almost dark. I hear voices on the trail in addition to the voices from the other camp. I see feet pass by. Then other feet from another direction. A whole host to Thru-hikers descend on my large empty campsite from multiple directions. Like Patton's army performing a grand sweeping pincer movement, the arrive from all directions. It's Shaggy, Red Ridinghood, Youngblood, Short Shorts, Cheese, Jules, Tumbleweed, and a few more I couldn't identify. It's like they didn't see my tent, or the were ignoring it. Either way. I felt like relatives had just arrived in my home. I lay there quietly listening to their banter. I got a warm sense of family. These were my kin. Unlike me they always hike till dark. They are used to this. I was fascinated with how relaxed and at ease they were setting up tents, cooking, and eating in the dark. In no time they had a nice fire going and they all sat down for story time. I thoroughly enjoyed laying in the dark listening to them take turns reading. Each doing their best to provide different voices to the characters. They stopped at the end of a cliff-hanger chapter and I found myself wishing they'd continue. I felt sort of like a mouse hiding in the walls of a house. The fire died down they all drifted off to their tents while a few of them doused the fire completely. I feel fortunate to have been here and that they chose to stop here too. I have a fondness for each of them. I drift off to sleep feeling like I'm surrounded by family members.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Day 134 : Rainy Pass Without Rain

23 miles today
58 miles to go

I awake in the dark. Ha! I don't have to get up yet. I roll over and sleep for another forty five minutes. Town days are great. There are other things that dictate your schedule other than the number of miles you need to complete. I pack and get to the restaurant at seven. As I walk down the hill I see dark ominous looking clouds off to the west. Up at High Bridge, where I was yesterday and am going back to today it looks dark and threatening. I can see rain falling on the mountains and clouds covering the tops. Nothing I can do about it, so I won't worry about the weather for now.

The restaurant has a traditional breakfast menu and I order a traditional breakfast,
eggs and hash browns. I'd get pancakes if I were staying in town but I've found them to be a poor breakfast choice for a day when I am going to be doing a lot of hiking. The bus leaves at eight fifteen. I finish my breakfast with plenty of time to kill. I sit on the deck and contemplate the weather. It's definitely thickening up and moving this way. I move to a chair under the eaves. A couple of Thru-hikers had planned to sit on the deck and eat their breakfast but now regret their decision as the wind picks up and start blowing stuff off their table. The manager comes out and starts to close the shade umbrellas. They start picking up their plates and mugs and stuff and migrating them to a table inside. It takes multiple trips back and forth. The rain starts coming down. It's angling down in the gusty wind. I see the bus’s door open and Thru-hikers climbing aboard. I put on my pack and head down to the bus. The rain is coming down harder than I expected. I get a good dousing by the time I get inside the bus. The driver is sitting in a passenger seat regaling us with tales of his hikes on the PCT and his migratory life. His home is in Florida but he's been out here on the opposite side of the country all summer.

The bus fills with hikers, mostly thru, some section, a few day. All seats are filled and the aisle starts to clog with standing hikers. Thirty two people mostly thru-hikers. The driver moves through the crowd collecting our bus fares. Red Riding Hood scores sitting in the front seat. The bus is full. I have my pack sitting on the floor tightly squeezed against my legs. We head off back up to the trail at High Bridge. Like yesterday, we stop at bakery. I wonder if there is some kind of kickback that the bus drivers get from the bakery. I imagine that the greatest part of their business comes from thru-hikers coming and going to the trail. I am conservative again in my purchase opting for two blueberry muffins. Terminator realizes he left his new sunglasses at the restaurant and runs out and hops on a bike. A bike that's not his. He basically steals a bike and heads off to the landing pedaling like mad. The rest of us place orders, pay for baked goods, and sit in the bakery eating. I eat both of my muffins sitting in a big overstuffed chair by the stove. The wood burning stove is not lit but I can imagine this would be a cozy spot to sit during the rain and or snow in the winter. When I finish my muffins I head back to the bus. The weather seems to be blowing itself out. I am amazed and how dark and foreboding it was earlier when now the sky is clearing and the blue sky is returning. The change in weather has changed the tone of conversation on the bus. People are having all sorts of animated conversations. The bus driver begins to attempt to herd the others back on the bus but they seem to be lagging and not understanding. They understand perfectly and are practicing delaying tactics to give Terminator time to make it back before the bus leaves. The bus driver is getting anxious and impatient, the last few hikers slowly board the bus. It looks as though the doors are about to close when Terminator suddenly shows up and boards. He's breathing hard but he's wearing his glasses. We all burst into cheers and clapping as the driver closes the doors and heads up the road to High Bridge.

There are lots of conversations going on around me as the bus heads up the hill. I listen in to first one than the other. I feel surprisingly untalkative. I close my eyes and look forward to the bus ride ending. The hubbub tires me out. I feel sad, I feel tired, I'm ready to go home. I'm anxious about the weather. I really don't want to go through another rainy cold day of hiking between now and Canada. We exit bus and mill around visiting with each other. There's a party atmosphere in the air. It's dissonant with how I'm feeling. It's too much for me. I need solitude, I need time to think and reflect. I mosey over to the trail and head off while everyone else is still milling about. I start climbing up switchbacks back into the woods. I feel better and better as I climb. The trail is going to climb all day from the relatively low elevation of High Bridge back up into the mountains. Four thousand vertical feet. I love it. The uphill is slight but consistent. I climb and climb following rivers and streams. Clinic passes me explaining he needs to get to the outfitter before they close. Before too much longer Sour Rip passes me. I keep expecting others to pass, I turn around thinking I hear someone behind but no one comes.

I don't stop hiking or eating. I have plenty of snacks but need water. I stop at a clean clear flowing stream and fill my filter’s squeeze bag. As I'm filling my water bottle, suddenly the bag fails and water spills all over my left shoe. It's ironic that I was just thinking about how long it has lasted and attributed that to my patience and not over-pressuring the bag. Well, that certainly a surprise I wasn't expecting. I drink the clean water from my bottle. It’s only about half full. “Now what?” I think. I noticed earlier that my Aqua Mira was getting really low and now this. How will I be able to drink clean water. Well, one thing’s for sure. I have lots of time to think about it. I continue back up the trail. Other than the water purification issue I'm doing quite well. I cinched my shoes up this morning around my feet and my feet feel relatively good. I guess my shoes really needed to be broken in. The long wet slog in the rain the other day must have done that. The short day and the Visitor Center’s coffee table helped to put my feet in a better frame of mind. I feel better and stronger than I've felt for a long time. I climb and climb and climb. The day passes by and I keep chugging away up the hill. I am amazed that I can keep up this pace for hours on end. Climbing and climbing and climbing. I suppose that's what over a hundred days of hiking will do to you. 

Late in the day I reach Rainy Pass, the last paved road the trail crosses before it reaches Canada. There’s a junction with a spur to a trailhead. I pass it by wondering about Clinic and Sour Rip. Did they stop there? Was there trail magic that I missed? “Oh well,” I decide. “I don't need any more trail magic, I need to get to Canada and finish this thing,” I reason. I press on. The sign says ‘Rainy Pass .8 Miles.’ Now I'm in the time warp where the trail grows longer and time slows down and it feels like I'm walking mile after mile but not seeming to get any closer to Rainy Pass. On and on the trail goes. Eight tenths of a miles seems to take an eternity to walk. Finally I come around a corner and see cars. The trailhead! Not only that I see Sour Rip sitting in a camp chair eating something that looks like a burger. I hear cheering and clapping. They're cheering and clapping for me. A big sign says, ‘PCT Class of 2016, Last Call.’ Trail Magic! Wow, I am so excited to see these generous people taking time from their lives to sit at the cold windy pass and make burgers and mixed drinks for Thru-hikers. Thank you Animal and your merry band of trail angels! I sit and eat a burger and drink a drink. Other thru-hikers show up. More and more. In fact eventually the entire bus load will get here. The Trail Angels explain that they were at Harts Pass, the last (gravel) road the PCT crosses before Canada yesterday but they were snowed out. “Snow ahead,” I think.

I feel the anxious feeling that says I need to get to camp before dark. I thank my wonderful trail angel hosts and head out across the highway. North, always north. Just a few more days. The weather today has been wonderful. In spite of the ominous clouds of the morning in Stehekin the day has turned out to be filled with blue skies and sunshine. I climb up the trail from the trailhead back into the forest. There are hints of rugged rocky peaks all around me. The forest thins as I climb. I climb back into the alpine zone. It took all day but I'm now back up where the trees grow shorter with more space in between. Back where the blueberries should be. No luck there, the bushes empty. They have taken on a dark shade of red. I don't know, but if I'd have to guess, I think blueberry season is over here. I reach a spot on the map called ‘Trail Camp.’ There’s a single sign pointing down a trail at a single camping spot with two tents already on it. The sun is already behind the trees and about to go behind the mountains as the darkness begins to settle into this little bowl below Cutthroat Pass. I tromp past the tents asking if they knew of any other sites. I spy another tent up a little further in a grove of larger trees. I head over there. Then I see another tent and I keep meandering along until I find a small spot beneath some trees on the edge of the camp. The ground drops steeply away from here so I won't have people camping on that side of me. I prefer to be on the edge like this. 

The air has turned decidedly chilly. Much colder than it's been. I set up my tent and climb inside. I close the flaps and cook dinner under the vestibule. It's warmer inside here, but that's only relatively speaking. It's dark by the time I finish. I transition the tent to sleep mode and change into my sleeping clothes. I climb into my sleeping bag. It's warm and cozy. I lay in the dark and the cold breeze flows past my face. In on one side of my tent and out on the other, flowing down the hill. Cold, snowy cold thoughts. What do the next few days have in store for us poor, exhausted, Thru-hikers? Will this sunshine continue or will the rain, or perhaps snow come back? I fall asleep thinking thoughts of cold arctic conditions ahead.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Day 133 : Stehekin, Last Town Day

5 miles today
81 miles to go

Final town day! I awake and check my phone alarm, five twenty nine, one minute before it's set to go off. I lay there waiting with my phone in my hand. Bee… I cut it off before it could finish. Then I lay there some more. It's still dark at five thirty. I won't be getting up this early again for the rest of the trip. Breakfast in the dark. I need to be at the trailhead at nine fifteen. I have plenty of time. I pack, a few snacks left for my pocket. That's it. Six twenty, two hours to the trailhead. No problem. Normally the shortest hours of the day are the first. This could be the exception. I force myself to ignore the time, ignore the miles, just walk and enjoy the trail. 

The fall colors are here in the mountains already. It's strange that I've been walking since spring. The water from Agnes Creek falls through a gorge to the left of the trail. The mountains rise steeply up on both sides. The trail meanders across an open bench following the creek down to the river. The trailhead is filled with hikers, some I haven't seen for quite a while. Thru-hikers literally coming out of the woods. We all were probably within a few miles of each other for the last four days and hundred miles. The bus comes, we pay and board. A couple of day hikers seem a little put out by all these shaggy, smelly, dirty thru-hikers. We all know each other so there's a lot of talking and bantering. Everyone has their own story of the rainy day. It seems that all of them are stories of difficulty and cold. Doh, we don't carry enough gear for a significant storm. Each of us has just enough to feel a bit safer, the line is different for each. 

The bus stops at the bakery. The legendary ‘best bakery on the trail.’ The bakery I've heard about for more than two thousand miles. I get off the bus with everyone else. The bakery is warm and cozy. This might have been the place I was thinking of on the cold rainy day. A big wood burning stove in the middle. It's not lit today. It's warm and sunny. Five or six employees are busy behind the counter making baked goods. We line up and place our orders. Mine is one of the smallest orders, a cinnamon roll and a large mocha. Some thru-hikers appeared to order one of everything. Rolls, muffins, tarts, quiche, ten or fifteen items. My cinnamon roll was really good, but I don't think I could have eaten half of what they ordered. Back on the bus there were fewer riders, some choosing to eat all their stuff and walk two miles.

The landing is where the ferry arrives from the rest of the world. It's also where the bus stops. I get off and head to the lodge. Saturday night, it's a long shot. Nope, sold out. I'm camping tonight. The Post Office hours are twelve to two. I have an hour or so. I go to the visitor center and get a camping permit. I meet Beekeeper and Hemlock. Beekeeper has been jumping from spot to spot on the PCT and other trails all summer only picking ‘the highlights’ she called them. I immediately renamed her Highlighter. They are camping in the same spot. So are Dreamcatcher and Proton. Our ‘group camp’ is pretty much full. I take my food bags in my pack and walk down to the Post Office. Yep, closed till twelve. I chat with Wisecrack, Smoosh, and Batman as they wait. I then walk back to the store and buy a can of Coke. I was going to buy a few more ounces of fuel but all they had was white gas. 

The Post Office is open, we line up to get our packages. The office is piled high with packages. I scan them for purple tape. “What if it's not here?” I think. I'll worry about that if I need to later. Wisecrack was one of the first. He came out without his package. “It's upstairs,” he said. I get to the counter and give my name and show my ID. He looks up my name and says, “it's upstairs. We'll go up there when we have one more.” I go out and sit next to Wisecrack. I feel like we're in trouble and going to the principal’s office ‘upstairs’. We don't wait long, Youngblood’s package is upstairs too. The Postmaster locks the door and leaves the rest of the Thru-hikers standing there while the four of us head upstairs. Another room filled with hiker boxes. I see mine right away, right by the door with purple tape, yay! The Postmaster scans it out. I have enough food to get to Canada! I walk across the street to the picnic tables and sort through it. I end up with a small donation for the hiker box since I was originally planning for five days and now I plan for four days. Short Shorts comes to check out the hiker box. I hand him my donation, “you can have this too.” 

I head to the restaurant and order a bacon cheeseburger and beer batter fries. Probably the last one I'll have for a long time. Then I order two scoops of blackberry ice cream in a bowl and eat it while my battery charges. They kick me out because they're closing to prepare for dinner so I head to the visitor center. Quiet and lots of outlets. I sit in a chair and relax. Hemlock and Highlighter show up and we have a cozy front room chat. We take off our shoes and rub the bottoms of our stocking feet against the thick wooden coffee table. It's feels awesome! Hopefully the cleaning staff cleans that table before some toddler comes along and chews on it. I hear more about Hemlock’s and Highlighter’s adventures and I tell them a few of mine. Before I know it it's time for dinner and we head down to the restaurant. The burgers are good here but I had one for lunch. I order the Pasta Mornay fettuccine with salmon. A giant plate of noodles and cheesy sauce with a salmon fillet on top. So much food. So many calories. I am amazed as I eat the whole thing. I top that off with an ice cream. Somewhat disappointing in that my black cherry ice cream had chocolate chips and almonds. I eat it anyway.

We head back to camp. Hemlock decides she doesn't like where she's hung her hammock. She wanders about the camp trying to find the perfect two trees. Not only do they need to be the right distance apart, they need to be oriented the right way so the wind doesn't blow in. It's way more effort than I would have patience for. Highlighter and I stand around talking while Hemlock moseys about. Highlighter lives an interesting life and has lots of great stories to tell. Hemlock finally settles on a spot. She shows me the features of her high tech hammock. I have to admit it's pretty cool, and she's not sleeping on the ground. 

I go back to my tent on the ground. Nice flat ground. I think I'd have a hard time with a hammock, high tech or not. I like flat and hard ground. I sleep well in the warm low elevation of Stehekin. A cool breeze comes up at night and blows through my tent. I drift off thinking of the remaining trail and wondering if the sunny weather will continue.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Day 132 : Agnes Creek

26 miles today
86 miles to go

I wake early, even with my poor sleeping. I eat in the dark and am packed and moving up the trail before seven. Up is the right word. The climb from the Suiattle River up to Suiattle Pass takes all morning. It's a beautiful day. Blue skies overhead. I figured the clouds would be here to stay once they arrived. The river roars and churns in its channel. It's big and it's roar can be heard for hours after I've left it and climbed up the switchbacks. There are views back to Glacier Peak and the pass I came over yesterday in a gray bubble. The views from there today would be spectacular. I'm not going back that way so I'll have to wait for someone's pictures. My climb is up and over into the Agnes creek drainage. The morning goes quickly. Four hours of climbing, no problem. The afternoon slows down. Down the hill I go. It's warmer than it's been in a while. I take off my base layer. The trail down is across a cliff choked slope. The trail goes up enough to make the trail down twice as long as the cliff is high. Down through overly warm bushy areas. More down until I reach Agnes Creek. I wonder about the name. Why Agnes? Down along the creek. The home stretch. It's called the stretch because it stretches out before me growing longer and further with each step. Or so it seems. I meet Beekeeper and Hemlock sitting by the side of the trail. Huh, how is it that other hikers find time to sit around and dilly-dally? 

I arrive at camp exhausted and worn out. Four twenty five mile days in a row. I am in a great spot, fiveish miles from the bus stop an easy two hour walk tomorrow morning. I celebrate by eating a peanut butter tortilla. Today is the last twenty five miles day of the trip if all goes right. I set up my tent and cook and eat outside in the sunshine. Today's weather was wonderful. Will it last for another six days? I can only hope. It's warm and comfortable as I settle into my tent. I fall asleep quickly, so glad that I reached my goal. One hundred miles in four days, not to shabby.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Day 131 : A Walk In The Clouds

26 miles today
112 miles to go

No rain, I hear no rain falling on my tent! It rained most of the night, but now it's finally stopped. I wonder for how long. Will it start up as soon as I get moving? It really doesn't matter, I need to get up so I can get my twenty six miles done. I don't want to be hiking till night. The way to avoid that is to start moving earlier. It's still dim, five-thirtyish. Start now, it'll be light by the time I'm packed. My sleeping bag is still dry, and my sleeping clothes! Yay! That's great after the huge day of rain and wet I had yesterday. “Am I really going to put on these wet clothes?” I ask the darkness. I emerge from my tent to a gray sky and place my pack on the wet ground. I take down my tent and use my pack towel to sop up as much of the moisture from it as I fold and roll it up. I attach my tent to the outside of the top of my pack and don it. Somewhat foggy, cold, damp. It hasn't started raining again so that's a positive thing. I hike back up to the trail through the bushes I hiked past last night. They are sopping wet. They baptize me fully as I pass by. The trail is lined with bushes. All of them join in as I pass. I am shortly as wet as I'd be if it was raining. It's cold and foggy, I’m drenched. The trail climbs and I follow. Up is good, it takes work. Work generates heat. I put my poncho back on. The trees I pass under shower more water. Up, up, up, higher up switchbacks. The trail is muddy and slippery. My feet are at least four ways of sore. They need a break. No break until Steheken. Even then, if I make it by Saturday, it's only a short day break. I think I need about two weeks of not walking. I've been walking for over four months now with minimal breaks. My feet hurt just standing on them. I climb the trail carefully, trying not to twist or step sideways as that really hurts. Up I go, higher and higher. The higher I go the colder it gets. I hike up into the clouds, my world is smaller. I can see no more than about fifty feet in any direction. Up past the trees. It's alpine country up here. Low heather and blueberry bushes. Rocks, rocky trail. Climbing across rocks. The fog partially lifts. I can see down into the valley, then it closes in again. I climb over a ridge, possibly the top, impossible to tell in this thick fog, and into a rocky bowl. Above the timberline this is alpine country. As I descend the trail the fog lifts. I see glaciers feeding water to streams. The streams feed into a glacier blue lake trapped by rocks beneath me. Down across the slope. Water dripping and drooling from everywhere up here. I cross a stream every thirty seconds. Clouds above fog below. I'm in the green in between. Only it's more rocky than green. Down some more, then around a beautiful alpine lake. Down into the green zone, blueberries so plentiful a person could survive just eating them. Down more, trees small at first get bigger and bigger the further down I go. I'm in a forest of large trees. A steep slope with switchbacks, always switchbacks. A wrong step, miss the trail and it's a long way before I'd stop. Probably a tree would break my fall. There are rocky sections that really hurt my feet, but a lot of this forest trail is carpeted smooth with needles from the trees. Sometimes a downed tree must be climbed over, or stepped over if small enough. Always down. I meet Sweet P and Mowgli heading down too. We bypass a washout where the trail is completely gone. A simple cliff with a really quick one way trip to the bottom. Instead we slip and slide down the mud from one switchback to the next. Down through bushes higher than my head. A narrow thread of a trail between them. It's been mostly dry so far today. I'm wearing and not wearing my poncho alternately as the trail and temperature dictate. Down to a glacier fed river and bridge. I cross the bridge and it's not long before I'm climbing again. Back up again up and up and up. One tall ridge thousands of feet back up. Hours of climbing, Switchbacks all the way back up. I climb them and they lead out to a bush filled avalanche zone. Fortunately there's no snow above to worry about. It's more open and I can see across the valley to the trail I climbed down. The fog lifts and swirls. Sometimes I'm in it but it seems to be dwindling. The wind blows ragged tatters of it up the hill. I follow, a lot slower. I finally reach a saddle. Over the top and it's back down again. Down down down. Through a carved out rocky bowl with multiple snow and glacier fed streams to cross. No rain, I finally dry out by late afternoon. I reach the valley bottom late in the day and follow the trail along the Suiattle River. I can hear it somewhere off to the right through the trees. It roars and echos through the valley. A rain shower briefly threatens but then retreats and I see blue sky. I meet up with Sweet P and we talk. What were the highs and lows of our hikes? What do we plan to do after we finish? Mostly though our conversation kept reverting back to food. We described our favorite foods, our best town meals. What we most look forward to eating when we're done. Time passed quickly and suddenly I'm there. I get to camp by the Suiattle River, big loud milky white water. There is a big long hiker bridge across the river. Well made and sturdy. It has a turn in it. My camp is there on the other side. Sweet P continues on to her planned camp a few miles further up the trail.

I wake around midnight. I toss and I turn unable to sleep. I should be exhausted but I'm wide awake. It's pitch dark I can't see my hand in front of my face. It's warmer down here by the river, relatively speaking. I lay thinking about my trip. It's mind boggling to try to encapsulate it into a single coherent thought. Too many stories, too many places, too many people. I wonder, so what? Here I am close to the end. My feet are tired and sore, other than a couple of worn out feet and a shaggy beard. What does this trip change? 

I have a deeper appreciation for the wonders of modern civilization. Running water, indoor plumbing. Yea, so what! 

I have a deeper appreciation for my wife and family. Something I should have appreciated more but didn't. 

I wonder if my feet are going to make it the through the last miles. 

I am tired of walking, tired of cooking on the ground, boiling water, eating from a bag. 
I am tired of seeing trees and mountains and, well not really. Is it possible to tire of that? I am tired of walking through them. There's a lot to be said for sitting in front of a television and watching nature without having to actually live in it. 

Exposure is the word I think of, outside all the time. Exposed to the elements. Whether the heat of the sun or the cold of weather. I'm never just right. It's hard to stay dry. Hard to stay clean. The daily routine is a lot of work. There is no such thing as leisure time for a Thru-hiker. There are always more miles to do, food to eat, pack or unpack. Life is always in motion. There is not time to sit and watch clouds. There's no place to sit that isn't hard, wet, or dirty.

I drift off to sleep after downloading my thoughts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Day 130 : Cold, Wet, Lonely; How Low Can You Go?

25 miles today
138 miles to go

I awake and I am transported from wherever I was back to reality. I'm warm and dry. I reach up and touch the ceiling, it's wet. I find my pack towel in the pre-dawn darkness and wipe down the ceiling. A light rain is pattering on my tent. “Maybe it'll stop soon,” I think. I pack my pack inside my tent, then I emerge into the drizzle and pack my tent. It's soaked. I roll it the best I can. No way I'm putting that in my pack. I attach it to the top instead. Then I put on my poncho. It's always been quite a feat to get my poncho on but I have to say I'm getting better at it out of necessity. I hike out of camp down and across to another slope back up. I climb the slope, it's a long way. I lose track of time and distance. I'm in a cloud my world is a fifty foot bubble of sloppy wetness. I walk a trail that I believe is the PCT, I follow it. It leads in two directions both disappear into the fog. One direction is the way I came. I go the other way. Mile after mile. I reach what I presume is the top because it flattens a bit. I seem to be walking along the top of a ridge. There's probably amazing views, I live in my dripping wet gray bubble and see nothing but blueberry bushes, grasses and heather. The wind keeps up a steady stream of vapor and rain coming at me from the side. I batten down my poncho as much as I can and walk on. I won't get any wetter. Even if I fell into a lake I couldn't get any wetter than I am now. There is no time. Time has ceased to exist except by breaths. I don't count them but there is a rhythm to them, and steps, fairly regular until a rocky section then very uneven and irregular. Both of my feet hurt. Do my shoes need to break in? I have them as loose as possible and my feet hurt. They hurt worse when my shoes were tighter. Now they're so loose they flop when I walk. The make more of a flasploosh sound rather than just a sploosh. On I go flasplooshing along the ridge. Sometimes up sometimes down. I eat my snacks one at a time. I pass Homewrecker, Batman, Wisecrack, and Smoosh eating snacks on the side of the trail. The rain is steady for a while then it stops. “Maybe it's done,” I think. Then it starts again. The sky looks the same whether it is raining or not. A single shade of gray. It's completely socked in, no views. I pass a marker made of rocks on the ground, 2500. “Two thousand five hundred miles, Yay,” I think. My camera phone stays sealed in its plastic bag. No picture at this milestone. I climb up and then suddenly I'm heading down. Down with a purpose. I'm no longer following the elevation of the ridge, I'm leaving it. Down, down, down more switchbacks, down into the forest. Still more down, the trees get larger. A stream comes down from somewhere above and the trail follows it. The stream grows soon it's a cataract bouncing down the mountain from boulder to boulder. The trail follows, little short switchbacks bouncing down the hill. Slippery and muddy, the trail slides between enormous trees. Suddenly I'm at the bottom. The stream disappears into the forest and the trail turns and head along the bottom land. The trees are large and it's more open. I follow along this valley for a ways. Every once in awhile there's a break in the forest and I emerge into a land of bushes. Bushes with a narrow path between them. I path that I follow, becoming fully drenched as if passing through one of those car washes with the floppy roller things. Then it's back into the deep forest, moss covers everything but the trail. It's pretty and green. The trail begins to climb. I check my mileage, it's way less than I'd hoped. The day drags on and on. I climb up higher and higher. I can feel the change in air temperature. Maybe because I'm soaked I'm more sensitive, I don't know but I'm getting cold. The trail turns sharply and begins descending. I can hear water rushing ahead. The trail turns into an obstacle course. I climb over logs, under logs. Over a big slippery log. Under a log with stream flowing beneath. I pass into neck high soaking wet brush. At every obstacle I stop and pause, analyzing the method and effort to pass through it. “Really,” I say, “Really?” I'm drenched, sopping wet. The trail gives up on switchbacks and begins ascending straight up the hill. It's muddy, there's roots and rocks. The rain doesn't let up. I climb up a ridge now there's more switchbacks, more brush, I am exhausted. More up, it's quite cold. There on a tree is a symbol for a campsite with an arrow. Through the bushes and down into a creek’s drainage. The bushes spray me some more as I pass through. There is a small muddy flat patch next to a bush. No trees for cover. Camping close to water means lots of condensation. Probably one of the worst campsites I've seen much less camped at. I reluctantly set up my tent and put my pack inside. I climb in and sit next to my pack. I close the flaps and sit. Miserable, if I could quit right now and be home I would do it. Maybe this is a reality show and I can push a button or stand up and walk out the back door of the set. I'm done! This is not what I signed up to do. At least it didn't come to mind when I thought about doing whatever I'm doing. “What am I doing here?” I ask myself. I'm cold and tired. The lowest I've been since starting this odyssey so many months ago. There's no button, no door, nothing but the continuous patter of the rain on my tent and the cold lifeless splashing of the nearby stream. I'm completely alone and it's getting dark. It'll be even colder after dark. I'm fifty miles from anywhere in any direction. Nothing to do but shed a few tears and suck it up. First priority, eat something hot. I go get some water from the stream and start a pot of it to boil. I pull off my soaking wet clothes and change into my sleeping clothes. I put on my fleece shirt for the first time all trip. I wrap my calves and feet in my dry sleeping bag. I make a hot dinner. While it steeps I eat tuna and mayonnaise. I eat a graham cracker, opening the package makes me smile. Kelli has a unique way of vacuum sealing graham crackers, stacked like fallen dominos. I think of home, of being warm. I think that this trip is almost done. Finish and be done. I don't have to stay here. I eat my hot dinner. I drink my electrolytes. I feel warm, I'm dry. The tent is pitched well. My wet clothes are in my turned out trash compactor bag where they can't get anything else wet. I'm exhausted. I lay in my sleeping bag in the darkness listening to the rain. Fifty more miles to Steheken. Lots of vertical tomorrow. Then I drift off to warmer friendly places. I sleep, blessed sleep.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Day 129 : Rain At Pass Creek

25 miles today
163 miles to go

We see five Thru-hikers hitching in Baring on the way to Steven’s Pass. We stop and pickup Homewrecker, Batman, Cheese, Wisecrack, and Smoosh. We all drive to the pass. They all head to the store to pickup Homewrecker’s box. I cross the bridge and head north. I feel sad and lonely as walk the trail. The trail parallels the highway, it seems like a long way. Lost in thought I suddenly realize I don't hear the highway anymore. The trail turned one way the highway the other. The trail climbs and climbs, and I follow. It's not raining, which is a surprise. The forecast was for a one hundred percent chance of rain. What does that even mean? I enjoy my morning hiking at a slower pace.Only twenty miles to go today. Twenty miles per day gets me to Steheken in five days, on Saturday. Hmmm… I wonder if the Post Office is even open on Saturday. 

Around lunch time I meet up with Proton and Dream Catcher sitting in a field. It was sunny a moment ago now the sun is covered in a gray cloud. I ask them if they know if the Steheken Post Office is open on Saturday. Dreamcatcher tells me it's open from eleven to one. In order to get there I'll have to catch the nine fifteen am bus at the trailhead. Well that just changed my hike. I have to do more miles because currently I'll arrive at two. If I do I'll be stuck waiting for my box until Monday. 

I now need to hike twenty five miles per day for the next four days, including today. I've been dilly-dallying all morning thinking I only had twenty miles. Now I have to make up for that. If I hike non-stop I should be able to make Pass Creek before dark. The day thickens all afternoon. Then it starts to drizzle. The views are gone, the sun is gone. It's gray and dreary. I hike alone, as fast as I can. Which is not all that fast by thru-hiker standards. No stopping, even though large plump blueberries line the trail. I run out of water and stop for a minute or so and pick a handful. The are sweet and tasty, more importantly they are wet and juicy. It's raining now. The clouds make it that much darker. I leave the ridge and descend down the hill towards where I hope to camp. Under the trees it's really dark, seems like night. Still no camp. Back and forth, down, down, down. It seems like I've been walking for days and days. My arms and legs are soaked. I feel cold. I imagine sitting in a warm coffee shop. Or in a bakery. Someplace with warm lighting and a fireplace. Some place warm and cozy and dry. A big rain drop hits my poncho hood returning me to reality. Dark, cold, wet. I am way into my anxiety zone. I don't want to hike all night. Where is this camp? Down and down some more. The trail is slippery and rocky. In the dim foggy light I see a few flat open spots in the trees below. Finally I arrive at the camp. I select a spot under a large cedar tree. Less rain makes it down here through the branches. I get water at a small stream close by and climb into my tent. I cook in my wet clothes. It's hard to see by the time I'm done eating. I change out of my wet clothes, putting them in my inside out trash compactor bag. I climb into my dry sleeping bag in my dry sleeping clothes. It's dark as I settle in. I quickly fall asleep listening to the patter of rain on my tent.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Day 128 : Zero With Vic and Melinda

0 miles today
188 miles to go

Zero day! Not a lot to write about except food and gear. 

We stop at Burgermaster and I order a bacon cheeseburger and fries with a chocolate shake. 

Got a ride to REI. It was busy with Labor Day shoppers. Wow, it's Labor Day already! When the shoe sales guy asked me if I needed help I said, “I’m a PCT Thru-hiker and got these shoes in Eugene a few weeks ago. They have holes in the uppers where my foot bends even though there's plenty of tread on the soles. Do you think this is a manufacturer defect?” He looked them over carefully and said, “yes, let me get you a new pair.” REI is a great store, their warranty during the first year is still the best. I buy a couple of pairs of socks. That makes seven pair of socks I have burned through on this trip. 

I sort through my resupply box and only keep enough food for four days. Vic gives me seven ounces of denatured alcohol and loans me a nifty storage bottle. That will give me enough fuel to finish the trip.

We go to Malby Cafe. The place is in a basement. It's packed. Great food, great service. They make owning and running a restaurant seem like an easy way to get rich. There's lots of people in line. The place does a thriving business.

I order a giant cinnamon roll and a California scramble. Tons of food, tons of calories. I can't eat it all, yet. I bring the rest home and eat it a few hours later

Vic out does himself making the best smoked baby back ribs ever. I eat more than my fair share.

Zero days are all about eaten big,  rest, relaxation, and sleep. I get plenty of all of them.

“Oh man, that's it?” If this is what you're thinking, lighten up. I've been busy. Don't worry. There's more. It's not a healthy attitude to be angry and frustrated with someone because they are not living up to your expectations.

Be more like the Trail Angels I have met. Incredible people of generosity and patience. The best way to get over it is to love others. Become a trail angel. Click here.

And be a trail angel to Shelly and other people living with ALS. They are on a journey way more difficult than anything you've read about in my blog. They need trail angels as much as any PCT hiker does. Do that and you'll feel a lot better and be part of something bigger than yourself. Do your part to make the world a better place than you found it. I promise, the rest of the story is coming soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Day 127 : To Steven's Pass

19 miles today
188 miles to go

I wake in early morning darkness. It's quiet, no rain pattering on my tent. I reach up and touch the ceiling, wet and cold. I touch the outside of my sleeping bag, cold and dry. What a great tent! I have the best tent ever. There is enough space inside and the design is such that I stay dry even if there is condensation inside. I reach for my pack towel and wipe the ceiling off. It's cold. I wear my smartwool base layer. I put on my hiking clothes while tucking away my sleeping clothes into their dry bag. After two days of rain everything but my tent is dry. Yay! That is sustainable. I can hike till I need food and don't have to be dependent upon good weather. My breakfast is extra good today. I will be zeroing tomorrow so I eat all my remaining granola, meaning an extra sized bowl. 

I pack in the gray dimness of a fog. The fog has turned my camp in the trees into a cold dark corner of the forest. I am glad to leave and start hiking. The trail is uphill. The map indicates a lot of vertical today. First up, I climb the trail across the slope of the valley I'm in. Up and up until I pop out of the fog. I'm in the green in-between. Above me are gray and white clouds. A solid ceiling of them. Down in the valley from whence I came is a lake of fog, roiling and drifting slowly south. It's damp and cool in the middle where I continue my uphill climb. Through the trees I can see steep rocky slopes. Below the rocks are trees, like a thick carpet, forest green shag carpet. There are cuts and rips in the carpet where snow has avalanched down from the rocky heights and torn deep gashes all the way down to the bottom. Now appearing and disappearing as the fog drifts and bunches creating gaps down to the river below. I can't see the tops of the mountains from where the avalanches must have come because the gray blanket has sealed off the tops. Perhaps they are in sunshine. I can't tell. I climb up and past a couple of mysterious looking lakes. Extra dark and ominous in the gray twilight. Mists and vapors slowly and menacingly advancing across the water towards me. I don't stay but keep moving. There's more climbing. It seems steeper now and there are switchbacks. Climbing until I'm at the ceiling, then in the fog, the high fog. The blueberry bushes lining the trail have crystal gems on their leaves. I brush by them and my pant legs are immediately drenched with dew. It trickles in cold wet streams through my gaiters and socks into my shoes. There's a cold wake-me-up. I'm going to try to avoid doing that again. It makes me walk funny. Like I'm trying to walk an imaginary line in the middle of the trail. It's all the harder because the rocks don't cooperate. I finally give up, focusing instead on flat solid places to step. Even if my feet get soaked. Cold and wet is better than sore and throbbing. So steep, and muddy! Back and forth, the fog is dense and thick. No breeze, no sound except my gasping breath. I have a rhythm going one breath for every two steps, like a little steam engine puffing it's way up the hill. I haven't seen many hikers yesterday or this morning. Those I've seen have been day hikers or section hikers. Up I climb, the switchbacks become shorter and shorter. The last one turns only halfway and I head straight up the hill for a short distance. It flattens out and I'm on top. I only know it's the top because it's downhill in both directions. There is a flat camp spot here. Probably an amazing view. Not today though. It's monotone and so thick it looks like I could reach out and touch it. Downhill on the opposite side of the ridge. This is the lighter side, the east. A lighter shade of gray. Steep switchbacks. Down until it looks like I am climbing out of a lampshade. I can see the slope below but the fog blocks the view outward. Down below the fog line and I'm back in the world of trees and lakes. A blue one beneath me is ringed by rocks that have apparently fallen there throughout the millennia. A few trees dot the far side. Perhaps a great campsite hiding down there. The trail doesn't take me there to find out. I traverse across a cliff. At least it looks like that from here. As I cross I realize that it's not as steep as it appears from afar. Steep enough, just not a cliff. The wind picks up and blows fog down the hill at me. The fog is torn and shredded, evaporating into nothingness. Only the sharp cold wind reaches me. 

Up over a saddle and down then back up again then down then up again. The trail has an incredible amount of elevation. The ridges and mountains it crosses are impossibly steep. I can't imagine doing any cross-country hiking here. On and on I hike, it seems like I'll never make it to Steven’s Pass but it's really me focusing too much on the time. When I think about how long I anticipated I'm right on schedule. Perhaps it's just that the afternoon is dragging on and on. I don't know how much vertical I've done but it's wearing me out. I get water at a small stream where I can see the top of a chairlift atop the next ridge. I'm close now. I can see switchbacks cutting back and forth across the slope. “I'll be on those soon,” I think. I cross the stream and start to climb. I meet Sweet P hiking with her family who came to meet her. Up over the top of the ski resort then down to pickup the car and keys left for me. I see a blue plate, ‘Coppertone is here.’ I stop in and say hi and sign his register. I eat a cinnamon roll. It starts to rain so I say goodbye and I head down for my zero.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Day 126 : Over Dutch Miller Gap

24 miles today
208 miles to go

Rain! Pretty much all night. I wake to the sound of rain on my tent. There's supposed to be a twenty five percent chance of rain. It's raining now, isn't that a one hundred percent chance? There's a great chance that it will rain today because it's already raining. How long will it rain? When will it stop? Will it start again? I don't know the answers to these questions. This campsite is in a meadow right by cold moving water. Condensation city! I wipe down the inside of my tent to soak up the condensation. My sleeping bag is still dry. I'm dry, for now. It's cold with a damp chill in the air. I need to keep my sleeping bag and clothes dry. That means pack them away and put on my wet clammy clothes that I was hiking in yesterday. Boo! Thinking about it turns out to be worse than actually putting them on. There's an initial cold shock but then they warm up and feel clammy. Yuck, at least I'm not cold. I eat breakfast in my clammy clothes. I watch them steam as vapor rises off my arms and legs. I keep wiping down the inside of my tent and with my pack towel and wringing it out on the ground outside my tent. My clothes are slowly drying as long as I stay in my tent. Or if it would stop raining.

Out into rain, mostly moist, not quite raining, yet I seem to be staying wet. Rain occasionally falls but the trees and bushes are soaked, passing through them splashes me with doses of cold water. Blueberry bushes everywhere . They line the trail. The bushes and trees are soaked with rain. They spray my pants legs with icy cold water that then runs down into my shoes. My shoes and socks are soaked. Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh go my feet. My shoes are wearing out. There are holes on the sides, water oozing out like the scuppers on a boat. The trail goes up higher. It climbs over Dutch Miller Gap. There are bushels of blueberries, big ones, I stop and graze briefly. Good ones! 

The rain turns to mist. Fog settles around me blocking my views. I climb until the trail levels out. Instead of rushing water there are standing pools in the meadow the trail is passing through. I think it's a meadow. No trees. Just low bushes, rocks, and pools of water. This must be Dutch Miller Gap. I wonder how it got its name. 

Downhill! Water flowing the same direction as I walk the trail steepens. The water raises its voice, from a happy gurgle to a roar. It's moved away from the trail so I can't see it. But I can hear it. Cascading water. Waterfalls. I passes below them, falling into blue pools in the rocks next to the trail. Steep switchbacks down, back and forth. Down, down, down.
Down to Ivanhoe lake. Deep and dark, mysterious in the mist. Waterfalls seem to be congregating from all sides. They are all meeting at the lake.

The clouds are thinning in the east, the end of the lake is to the east, that's where I go. To the outlet. The outlet is rushing. The trail is steep and muddy. Big rocks to climb down.
Fallen trees to climb over. Steep downhill switchbacks back and forth across a large open face. The sun peeks through the clouds. Then widens its gaze. I'm in the sunshine! I feels it's welcome warmth. Cloudy fingers push east as far as they can. The sun cuts off the clouds and melts them away. I reach the PCT. The trail widens and looks like it gets a lot more traffic. The PCT is a friend, it's nice to be back with my friend. Yes, some parts are more difficult than others, but the parameters are consistent. This rough and no rougher, this steep but no steeper. It feels good to be back walking on the PCT. The trail begins to climb. A long climb, lots of switchbacks. Higher and higher I go. The clouds billow and push across the sky above. The bushes along the trail are dryer. Others have already passed by and received the dousing of cold spray from the wet the branches. The morning passes as I climb, back and forth. I climb to Deep Lake passing more blueberries.

I stop for lunch at Deep Lake, lots of day hikers, I don't see any Thru hikers. The sun comes out, sort of warm. I sit on a rock and take off my shoes. I lay out my socks on the rock to dry. I eat my lunch in bare feet. My shoes have holes. Not good, but I'm close to the end. Will they last? Will the holes grow bigger? Will stuff start getting into my shoes? All questions to which  I don't know the answers. I put my shoes back on and graze for blueberries after lunch. Only big juicy ones that have been in the sun. They seem to be the sweetest. 

I start climbing up over Cathedral Pass. Rain is chasing me. The valley below where I had lunch is under a descending gray cloud of rain. The clouds pouring over the ridge to the west are thick and rain swollen. They want to soak the area I'm walking in. Walk faster, head north perhaps they won't catch me. It's starts spitting rain. I wear my poncho. The switchbacks take me north and south across the slope, when I head south I head into the rain. Then the trail turns and I walk out of it. Back and forth, rain and no rain. Always higher and higher. Up until Deep lake is a tiny blue spot in the trees below. I see it intermittently through the trees and most. Then it's gone, I pass over the saddle and down the other side. The wind, which had been hectoring me as I climb, drops off, the air warms slightly. One more ridge between me and the rain. The clouds though seem to be closing in again. More rain? I descend into the canyon. The signs says there is a dangerous ford ahead. Dangerous? First time I've seen a sign like that. I've crossed many a ford some of them I consider dangerous. Why does this one get a sign? Is it more dangerous than the others? What does danger even mean? I hike on watching for danger. Down, down to dangerous ford. A large path of boulders and rocks cross the trail, or rather the trail crosses them. A ginormous creek bed. Mostly dry. Is it raining or not? I can't tell. Do I leave my poncho on? I cross most of the rocks, no creek until the very end. A creek with green rocks. I climb up and over and across the creek without stepping on the green rocks, they were the slippery ones. Huh, dangerous because of slippery rocks. I avoid stepping on slippery ones, the ford is easy. Maybe it was dangerous for horses. Whatever. 

More traversing across a slope a little up a little down. Across a small saddle into a new drainage. More traversing. A large creek, get water for camp. A large camp that isn't as large as I imagined. Mostly sloped only a couple of decent tent spots. It starts to rain again. I set up my tent and climb inside. Out of my wet clothes into my dry ones. Cook dinner in my tent. Warm food! I can't imagine hiking without a stove. Of course those that I know that didn't hiked a lot faster, perhaps they've finished already, avoided rain and cold wet nights in a tent. Can I do this for another ten days? Will it rain until it snows? Will I get to see the sun before I leave Washington? I don't know. One day at a time. I lay in my warm sleeping bag. Dry and cozy. I drift off to sleep.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Day 125 : Embrace The Suck

20 miles today
230 miles to go

I wake at five thirty eight. I know that because the clock on the nightstand says so. Wow, I slept great, especially since I'm in a hotel room. The last couple of places I stayed I didn't sleep this well. I get up and take a long hot shower. I know that today I'm going to spend most of the day cold and wet. I check all my gear. It's dry! I roll my tent and put it in its bag. The last time I camped before coming here I didn't put it in its bag, instead I stuffed it in the back mesh pocket of my pack. A sloppy wet mess is what it became. I'll need to put it in its bag and pack it, even if wet, if I am going to have a sustainable routine that works even in the rain. I need to figure it out. I completely pack my pack everything in its proper place. 

I sit down in a booth in the Pancake House. It's attached to the Summit Inn so I didn't even have to go out in the rain to come here to eat. The waiter said sit anywhere so I picked the booth under the Open sign. Miles, Spreadsheet, and Butterfly come in, I invite them to sit down and they do. We chat about our plans for today. It seems like I'm the only one planning on hiking out today. It's supposed to rain most of the day and people are deciding to wait until tomorrow when the weather may be less wet. I don't want to be limited by the weather. I believe I have the gear to be able to do it. I may not be comfortable, but I can be safe and successful. So I want to prove to myself that I can hike regardless of the weather. I've hiked in every other kind of weather, now it's time to hike in the rain. Soccer Dad comes in and we move to a bigger table. Then Cheese comes and sits with us. Other thru-hikers come in and sit at other tables. Scabs, Terminator, Two Pack, I forget names and then remember them later. The talk is about the weather, staying another night, going to Seattle. No one I know of is hiking out except me.

I order the I-90 Special. Two of everything, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and a pile of hash browns. I also get a coffee. I enjoy visiting with the others and try to get someone to come with me. They've all got their plans and reasons. I have mine. Hike Your Own Hike, is the motto of the Thru-hiker. I finish breakfast, it's time to go. 

My modern lifestyle, the one I had before starting this hike, was one of being clean and dry. Dry is such a wonderful thing. Being dry all day, work inside, it's dry. Air conditioning keeps me dry in my car. It's easy to get into the mindset that dry is normal and wet is not. Today I'm living in wet. I am a salamander. I am hiking in rain. I have a poncho that I have carried over twenty three hundred miles and used one day, yesterday. Today though, there’s no hotel room with a hot shower at the end of the day. I gotta make it work. Hike wet, sleep dry, then go back to hiking wet again, then sleeping dry. If I can do that I can sustain my pace regardless of the weather. Today's crunch time, time to see if it works. My poncho only covers my head and torso. My arms poke out the side and my legs out the bottom. Neither my arms or legs have waterproof gear. I have my base layer smartwool that I've talked about, my hiking shirt, and my windbreaker. My legs are covered by the same hiking pants as I've been wearing on all the other days. My feet are in my shoes, not waterproof. With my socks and gaiters. Everything will be wet. Hopefully I'll be warm.

I check out of my room and meet Miles and Spreadsheet. They both immediately notice the utility and advantages of my poncho over a waterproof jacket. Time for my test. I walk out of the hotel into the rain. I walk down the road and to the Snow Lake Trailhead. The sky is gray. The rain falls consistently and persistently. It's not long til my pant legs are sticking to my real legs. My arms are soaked and feel cool. My torso inside my poncho is probably damp, at least though, I feel warm. I feel the urge to turn around, back to the dry, the warm, to food prepared and a bed made by others. An urge to panic, “this is crazy, I'm walking out into the cold wet wild and I'm soaking wet before I reach the trailhead. Am I insane?” Thoughts like that play through my head. Then another cool, calm part of me silences the gremlins. “You've done this before, yes it sucks, but you'll be fine. Embrace the suck.” I have hiked in conditions like this before and with gear worse than this. Its okay, I can do this.

The trailhead is up a slight hill at the end of a road. A couple of day hikers are at their car preparing to hike too. That's right, this is Washington, this is what people do here. I'm okay, I can do this. I head up the trail. Steep, rocky, wet, three words to describe it. The trailhead sign has a map. I study it, Snow Creek Trail to Rock Creek Trail to Middle Fork Trail, that's my route. The rain is relentless. I zip my hood tightly around my head, I feel warmer. The rocks are slick and treacherous. I step carefully, walking slower than I normally would. Walking slower means the day will be longer, less miles per hour. Switchbacks up into the clouds, the gray surrounds me, it's colder here than down below. And occasional blast of wind blows water at my face. I pull my hood lower over my face. I'm surrounded by gray, there’s no view to see anyway. The trees drip bigger drops, I hear them on my hood as I pass beneath. The trail is soggy with puddles deep enough to soak my shoes which I try to avoid. I'm not sure why I bother, my feet are thoroughly soaked. Perhaps it's the mud, let's keep the mud off my shoes. They are showing serious signs of wear, almost holes across the toe box where my feet bend.

I'm past the day hikers. Over the top of the ridge and down around Snow lake. The water is dark and forbidding. I can imagine a Loch Ness type monster would find this a pleasing enough setting to make a showing. No, it's only a sunken log lying beneath the surface. Gray vapors float across the top of the water like phantoms chasing each other as they swirl and dance in the breeze. The lake is surrounded by cliffs with trees to the edges. The trail skirts the edge. Trails with tangled roots ready to pitch the unsuspecting hiker down over the edge into the icy cold looking water. I walk around the lake, across rocky section with loose tippy rocks and up the far side in heather covered alpine meadows with the trail a deep muddy trench in the soil.

I climb up and over a muddy and rocky saddle. Down into canyon beyond. Far from the casual hikers far from anything comforting or warm. A cold wild remote wilderness much less traveled than the PCT. By now I am soaking wet. Every part of me is wet. Ferns and bushes provide fresh shower of water. Water drips down my arms, I tuck my hands into the extra long sleeves of my windbreaker. My feet in my shoes squishing water between my toes that's bubbling out the tops of my shoes. My feet are sloshing along. Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh, is the sound I make as I walk further and further into the cold empty wilderness. There are exposed rocky areas and boulder fields to climb across. At one point the trail slipped away, gone. Disappeared down into the canyon below. Washed away, I suppose by the rain. Down I climb to the lower switchback along the edge of the washed out area. I continue on Into the trees, wet, drippity drip. I climb over massive fallen trees across trail. Up on the high side then it's six feet down, too far to jump. I carefully lower myself down. Clinging to branches and sitting and sliding across the slick rain soaked bark. Less than one in a hundred PCT hikers come this way. I meet a southbounder. “It's nice to see I'm not the only crazy person out here,” I say with a smile. He smiles back. We chat for a few minutes. It's nice to have a human connection with another person. We talk cheerily and positively even though the day is bleak and cheerless. A few minutes of talking does a lot to cheer me up and warm my heart. 

Down into the wet soggy canyon, I'm hiking the Middle Fork Trail. It's a trail past GoldMyer Hotspring. It's a beautiful trail following the Snoqualmie River up to its headwaters. This route bypasses the section of the PCT that is high on a ridge. The forecast of thunderstorms has me looking for a way to continue my trip without delay and not be stupid hiking on a ridge in a thunderstorm. I continue to climb up the canyon for hours and hours. The rain pauses, allowing my clothes to partially dry. The rain starts anew. Bushes re-soak my legs and arms. On and on I walk. I walk right past GoldMyer Hotspring and continue to follow the rushing middle fork of the Snoqualmie. I look down into the canyon. I smile as I look down and see clear water turn white with a crashing roar. This trail is an excellent alternate for someone like me who loves waterfalls and raging torrents. The steep trail climbs right next to the roaring water. I'm eating snacks to keep up energy. Energy is warmth. There are large puddles to avoid as I climb. There are four established camps. The first is a nice camp next to the trail down in the forest. The second is a little less refined. A sloping spot with a fire ring. The third is at the confluence of a few trickling streams in a small copse of trees. The fourth, twenty miles in, is in a meadow. I've climbed higher and higher the entire time, the meadow is high up beneath the exposed rock walls. Cliffs that soar upwards into the gray gloom surrounding the hidden dark peaks above. It's become colder as I climb. Now in this meadow with streams flowing through it I can feel the influence of all this water. It's cold and clammy. There are a number of sites but a few of them are taken by a trail maintenance crew. I talk to one of the crew and he points out to the middle of the cold meadow, “One spot left.” It's wet soggy and cold, yet the soil is well draining and great for holding tent stakes. I set up my tent and toss everything inside. I climb in behind and change out of my wet clothes, I stick them all in my trash compactor bag turned inside out. Wet stuff inside, dry outside. It takes longer than usual to get into my dry sleeping clothes but eventually I do. I cook dinner in my dry clothes with my stove out in the vestibule. I feel tired but elated. I'm here in a cold wet place but I'm dry and in my tent. Mission accomplished, twenty miles of trail behind. Closer to the end. I eat a hot dinner and climb into my warm dry sleeping bag. I drift off to sleeping listening to the consistent drum of the rain on my tent. It's been a long day.