I wonder what Washington has in store for me? It was September, I had already begun to witness the gentle transition of Fall in some of the leaves and there was a subtle shift in the angle of the light. The days were getting shorter, and there were breezes that spoke of something crisp and crackling. I was, however, about to enter back into a temperate rain forest from down at the Cascade Locks, it would be wet wet wet. The elevation there was about 1,000 feet above sea level, the lowest place on the entire PCT. Remember Forester Pass at 13,ooo feet? What an entire one-eighty! This is the Columbia River as I crossed it into Washington.
I really lucked out on this town day, as I arrived on a Saturday evening without realizing beforehand that the post office would not be open again until after Labor Day. I did not have the time, or the funds to tske 2 days off to wait for s package on Tuesday. I had messaged my Dad mid-week to see if he could get in touch with someone in town before the weekend. He did his magic. Not only that, he got in touch with an amazing local Trail Angel named Shrek. Turns out there was an entire crew of hikers at Shrek’s place with tents pitched in the back yard and hiker gear strewn everywhere, including the obligatory bag of fast food and six packs of beer. Shrek had my package when I arrived there, he had gone out of his way to retrieve my package from the PO on Saturday before they closed for the long weekend. I opted to stay there for the night and get my laundry done, take a shower and enjoy the comraderie of the other hikers the following morning, and then hit the trail. There was a hiker room where we could spread out and get our stuff organized, a back yard where we all pitched our tents and had picnic tables, and, of course, a Hobbit House built into the side of the hill. I would have loved to hang out in the Hobbit House, but as soon as I opened the door to go in, a giant puff of smoke hit me in the face and more smoke kept billowing out. Evidently, other hikers decided it was a smoking lounge, and I am not talking about cigarettes. They tried to entice me in, but I declined, thats not my jam. No worries though, I was happy to sit out in the fresh air and enjoy the quiet of the hiker room. It was all around, a great place to stay. A HUGE thank you to Shrek, you are amazing!!
The next day, after calling my Mom to wish her a Happy Birthday and get caught up on life, getting all my chores done and packing up, I started to head out of town with a VERY heavy pack. I had convinced myself somehow that I was going to make it all the way to White Pass, seven days, without stopping in any towns. I’ve got my food down to a pretty good science at this point, knowing exactly what I can get by on, and packed accordingly. But It Hurt. Regardless, I decided I could do it and I was anxious to cross over into new territory. So, I headed out over that bridge, the Bridge of the Gods, and entered Washington, with just over 500 miles to go. This is it, I thought, the last stretch, I am really here, this is real. I am really in Washington, and I walked here all the way from Mexico.
As I climbed up the ridge looking over the water, I heard the train whistling from down below, and a steady stream of cars from the highway. I only made it about 4 miles that night, as I left town on a full stomach with a full pack at 7:00pm. Hey, at least I got out there!
Waking the next morning, I felt refreshed from a good night’s sleep and from sleeping in late. I started hiking late, 9:45, and planned on doing about 22 miles for the day. Shortly, I discovered that Washington is definitely not flat. I knew this was coming, but it hit sooner than I wanted it to. This was only the beginning of a month of heavy climbing after a month of flat walking. No more speed hiking, or Manhattanite cruising, I was going to have to actually hike. I only made it 15 miles that day, and ended by a rushing creek with a few good hiker neighbors whom I cooked dinner with out in the open. By the time I was in bed and drifting off into a slumber, the tapping of water on my tent began. Yes, the start of a month of rain, too, I thought. This state has gotten its green from something. I think it’s the rain. I was in a forest covered in mosses on every tree, ferns lining the understory, lichens hanging like curtains and vines growing up trees with buttressed roots.
It rained steadily through the night and into the morning, and into the next day. I began to wonder if it was going to be this way for the rest of my hike? In recent weeks past, whenever I would run into a Southbound hiker who just came through Washington, I would ask them if they had any words of advice. Rain Gear, was what everyone said. I had no choice but to hike in it, so I did. I really don’t mind hiking in the rain if I can stay relatively dry, but relative is the operative word here. Even with all the rain gear we hikers wear, we still get wet. The worst is the feet, once they are wet, you just feel cold all the time, and managing your gear is a constant battle with not only moisture, but mud, ugh!
I did a lot of climbing that day, something around 4,000 feet of uphill, which I was definitely not used to after Oregon, so I only made it 16 miles. By the end of the day, I felt defeated, and disappointed in myself. My feet hurt worse than they had in a while, and I was eating more food than I planned, as all the climbing clearly made me burn more calories. I realized that I may need to resupply at Trout Lake after all, even though I was hoping not to take up more time off trail. At this point, there were lots of calculations going through my head with respect to miles and finish dates in Canada. Also at this point, there was still a bit of doubt that I would even make it to Canada. There was a lot of fear, of unknown things that were out of my control. Things like rain and snow, pain and injury. I knew, even with less than 500 miles left, there was still no guarantee that I would make it all the way. As I hiked through wet forests and climbed and climbed, my body not adjusting well to this new terrain, I realized something very important.
It is the things we want most that we MUST let go of.
No sooner had I digested and truly embraced this concept, did I hit mile 2200, and of course reaching yet another mile marker, a marker of achievement, made me inspired once again. I had to doctor up the stones as they laid on the trail, as they had clearly been walked on and messed up. I was honored to get my hands on them, to touch the dirt and lay on the Earth and be on my knees, arranging the little clay pieces in such a way that told me, and so many others, just how far we’d come. Twenty two hundred, how bout that?
I climbed on slowly and deliberately, placing my feet solidly and carefully on the soil. Soon the clouds began to part ways from one another and let some sunlight shine through momentarily, fading in and out. I stopped at an overlook and admired the vast expanse of deep, green, thick forest. Water dripped from the fir needles and mist rose up from the valleys. I found a lunch spot on a dry rock that hung over a deep valley with a large creek below that cuved like a snake. It was warm there on that rock, and I took my time letting it all sink in. I thought about the view, the land, the water, the dense greenery, and the steep, dramatic slopes. This is Washington. Clearly, I am in a different land. This place feels more like wilderness. I felt more isolated, more “away” from civilization. It felt great. I did not care to rush that day, or rush my hike at all, yet I was acutely aware of the finish line being so close. This dichotomy of emotions, I have since discovered, would become even more prevalent in the coming weeks.
The next day the skies cleared up and the breeze came in fierce and cold. I hiked in layers, yet tried not to get all sweaty at the same time. Once again, I set mileage goals that were probably above what I would actually be doing. I had been talking with a few other hikers along the way, and it seemed that several others were planning to go to Trout Lake for resupply. I started having visions of maybe sleeping in a bed, with a building around it, and maybe taking a hot bath or shower. Oh the luxury! I took a serious inventory of my remaining food and the mileage to White Pass up ahead, and knowing the section before White Pass was going to be even more steep climbing, and considering that I would have to seriously ration my food every day, I decided I would go to Trout Lake after all. Once I made this decision, some gravity seemed to lift from my shoulders. I hiked a decent pace for the morning, but my about 11am, I was super hungry, and I found a gorgeous lake, Bear Lake, to take my lunch on a sandy beach in the sun. I spread out, took off my shoes, gazed at the azure water in it’s various stages of clarity as wind danced across the top and sunlight sparkled glints in my eyes. I had to keep covered up though, as it was cold when the sun went behind a cloud. Those comings and goings of clouds in front of the sun have always made me feel lazy, so I ended up making a hot cup of coffee and doing some yoga to waken myself up. It was delightful, and after over an hour, I was aware I needed to move on. I could have stayed there the rest of the day, and thought about the hikers who passed through in August, certain that they had gone swimming in this crystalline water surrounded by trees. I guess I will have to come back!
For some odd reason I was in denial about needing to take anti-inflammatories, and so I had waited until after 4pm to take any Aleve. I was in a lot of pain once again and I had not taken anything for about 24 hours, and it reared its ugly head up. I was on a steady climb with about 5 miles to go for the day when I just had to stop. I really really was hurting, and struggling mentally with how I was going to keep on keeping on. I literally stopped right next to the trail, sat down on the ground and leaned against a log, and angled my feet so that they were slightly uphill. I ate some almonds and fixed a hot cup of tea and just sat there wondering what I could do.
Shortly, a hiking friend named Gutpunch came walking up. He stopped to talk with me and I was telling him my woes. I have hated being that girl all this way, the one who has a story of why she is so slow, and I did not want to identify with this pain. I was sick of the pain being such a big part of my story and my journey. Gutpunch asked me if I had been taking Ibuprofen, and I told him I had been taking Aleve, but with minimal effect. He offered me some of his generic brand Ibuprofen, and I gladly accepted. He told me that it acts differently on the muscles and tendons from Aleve, which he said is more for joints. Whatever it was, I was willing to try. I knew a lot of hikers who took a lot of Ibuprofen, like 9 a day. For me, that is bordering on drug abuse! In all the blogs and stories and literature I had read about hiking the PCT in the past years, I came to know the clichee called Vitamin I, which apparently thru hikers cannot live without. I had even heard a young woman on just day three of the trail, all the way back in the desert, asking her friends if they wanted some Vitamin I? I remember rolling my eyes and thinking it was way tooo early in this hike to be chomping down on the stuff. I knew it was not good for me, but I also wanted to feel better. I took the advice from Gutpunch and appreciated his generosity, and gulped down two tablets. I finished my tea and began walking again soon after, as it was after 5pm. It was either by some miracle or it was actually the Ibuprofen, but somehow my feet felt less painful. My energy was up and I actually made it 5 more miles that day, before dark. I was amazed how much it helped me, it was good and I had gained some hope that this could be a game changer. Turns out it was. Gutpunch had given me several tablets, so the next day I took some more, and lo and behold, I felt pretty good again. Seriously? After 1,000 miles of hiking in all this pain, all I needed was to take this little brown pill? It was scary and wonderful all in one. I knew had I discovered this a couple month ago, I probably would have walked myself into some permanent damage, as it clearly did not solve the problem of my injury, it just made it not hurt as much. Either way, by this time, I was at least able to cruise the 12 miles to the road where I would get a hitch into Trout Lake. I was, by then, excited to stop in another town and eat some real food and maybe stay in the lodge above the general store. They had rooms there for $25 a night!
When I reched the road, it was pretty desolate, so I just started walking down towards town. It was 13 miles and I really didn’t want to walk that whole way, but I also did not want to just sit there waiting. Within a mile and a half of roadwalking, I got a ride. Trout Lake was an absolutely adorable town, and had I felt like I had time to spare I could have easily taken a zero day there. It was so quaint, with just a few buildings, but it had everything one could need, including a coffee shop and restaurant, a general store, and a campground. I ended up camping, as the rooms were booked and the weather was by then perfect. I enjoyed the company of Gutpunch and Quotes over a pizza dinner and we three shared a campsite.
That night at dinner, I met a very lovely local woman who offered me a ride back to the trail the next day, which I gladly accepted. After all the goodness of town, I had what I needed to get me three more days to White Pass where I was to pick up a box of food and new shoes! Up ahead was a section I had read about a lot in the past year, it was called Goat Rocks Wilderness and there was a section of the trail called the Knife’s Edge. I had this to look forward to as I re-entered the peaceful forest the next afternoon.