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.

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