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.

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