Wherever is my Heart

From Trout Lake, I was offered two rides back to the trail, one by a local man who was on his third beer by 10am, and another by a local woman who drove a Subaru and had a dog named Daisy with her. Take a wild guess which one I chose. In a way this is hitch hiking and in a way it’s not. Since hiking alone I have definitely been more selective about who I take rides from. Jo Ellen, was a lovely human, and as promised, she drove me the 13 miles out of town back to the Trail. We chatted all the way on the drive up and we were so engrossed in conversation we even missed the turn off and took the wrong road! She gave me a big, motherly hug goodbye, and as I was shouldering my pack, she was already helping some hikers get into her car for the ride into town. 

I crossed the road and swiftly re-entered the soft quiet forest. The feeling of a soothing balm surrounded me immediately, as silence fell on me, as if an insulation had been wrapped around me. I felt protected by a certain stillness, I felt like I was home, the trail was truly home to me by now. I thought of a song that Prince often sang with lyrics that siad Wherever is your heart, I call home, to which I adapted my own version saying Wherever is My Heart I call Home.  The soil was familiar, the plants and trees greeted me, the smells of wet earth and abundance of oxygen made me feel like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt rejuvenated from 24 hours off trail, plus all the great food I ate, the shower, the friends (and the Ibuprofen) and I was ready to take on the next challenge. 

I had some climbing to do, and I took it steady and slow. It felt good to be gaining some elevation again, as I truly love to gain height and be able to look out from a wider vantage point. Around 5:45pm I needed to pee and have a snack. These needs tend to pop up urgently, do I quickly stopped to take off my pack, sitting on the ground to eat and also stretch a bit. After ten minutes had passed, I was ready to get rolling again, and remembered I had forgotten my urge to pee. It can go away as quickly as it comes, for when you take off your pack because you unfasten the hip belt, the pressure is gone. Anyway, just as I was about to expose my bare bum to the trees, I heard loud tromping footsteps in the bushes up the slope. I modified my actions and stood up quickly. I listened. Stood very still. Again, there went the footsteps. Another hiker, I thought, of course, I have a distinct knack for hikers coming out of nowhere every time I pull down my britches to pee! But this sound was too big and loud to be a hiker, it sounded more like a horse. So I waited for a horse to come down the trail ahead of me. I waited about 30 seconds, and nothing. Then, I heard it again, this time it took more steps, stomping in the bushes, up the hill, and away. What could it be? Suddenly, it made a big snort. Was this animal blowing it’s nose? Was it a bear? A deer? It was too heavy footed and too heavy a breather to be a deer. My pulse quickened and I decided I beter just get moving and skipped the peeing. For the next hour, I was certain I was going to run smack into a bear, so I walked trepidatiously. Nothing ever came of it. Eventually I got over it. By nightfall, I found myself overlooking a vast valley with tall pointed mountains in the distance, the closest and largest being Mt. Adams now to the South and far to the North, the final large looming mountain this trail would take me close to, Mount Ranier. I passed through some of the last sections of burned forest I would see, and enjoyed the open views I got of the sunset through the skeletal trees. It was spectacular with great clouds that glowed golden, and I was very at peace. My heart felt home. 

By dusk, I made it to my intended campsite, where I found a lovely woman named “Grandma”, who was a section hiker, 70 years old, and awesome. We enjoyed each others company that evening very much. I hope I am still hiking these trails when I’m 70 too! I was very inspired by her, yet she was the one that kept asking me all these technical questions about gear and such. She was not a veteran back packer, which made me respect her even more. Going out all alone at her age, with little experience, walking slower, hiking solo all takes a lot of courage and an adventurous spirit. Right on, You Go Grandma!!
The next morning I was excited because I was finally entering the Goat Rocks Wilderness, something I had anticipated for over a year during the planning stages of my hike. I had seen beautiful photos of the area called the Knife’s Edge, and knew it promised to be quite adventurous and memorable, and it was a completely foreign landscape to me. The Knife’s Edge is about a two mile section of the trail which traverses on top of a ridge, with about 12″ of trail underneath your feet, droppinf off steeply on either side. Needless to say, the views are spectacular, many hikers later would say this was their favorite section on the entire PCT! It would still be another day before I actually reached Knife’s Edge, so I was suspended in anticipation.  The trail was forgiving that Dat and so I had a mellow day of being in my head. I thought about my future, what I wanted after I finished thectrail, I practiced Taekwondo in my head, and at lunch I meditated for a litle while. I was grateful for the good weather, it was sunny although cold, a crisp high of 50 F was comfortable in the sun, but cold in the trees. 

By the next day,  I was elated when, after a long climb, I reached Cispus Pass, where I felt like the entire world just opened up, and so did my spirit. I felt like “I” was extending the distance of the giant bowl shaped mountains in all directions. It was dramatically steep, rocky, and awesome! Just after the pass itself where the wind blew strong, I stopped in a sunny spot on some pure white sand with tall grasses poking out, and enjoyed a lingering lunch break. I soaked up thecsun and took in the views with the sound of a few giant waterfalls off in the distance. This was beginning to rival the Sierras. If I only knew what was in store!
This is my life, this is now, my heart is opening bigger each day. I am Loving WA!!

From my lunch spot I had a few more miles of climbing to get to the Knife’s Edge, so onward I trudged, stopping briefly at the waterfall to replenish my water. Shortly after, I entered a section of forest where I came upon three gentlemen who were section hiking. Actually, they were on a day hike from their base camp nearby, they were locals and I call them gentlemen for several reasons. They stopped long enough to ask me several questions about my hike, my gear, my adventures. They were the “Dad” type, the kind of men who had daughters and loved them very much. They were also religious, and upon our parting of ways, one of them asked if it was okay with me if they gave me a blessing prayer. Of course, why not! We stood in a circle with heads slightly bowed, the one gentleman placed a soft but solid hand on my left shoulder, and said a blessing thanking God for the day, for the beauty and for being out there. Then he asked God to bless me along the rest of my journey, prayed that I be safe and that I would have the spirit and will to complete my hike to Canada. It was a really beautiful offering, and I walked away feeling peaceful and cared for by complete strangers. Once again, this trail provides. It is amazing. 

Shortly, I approached a trail junction where I was passed by another thru-hiker as I was adjusting my clothing layers. He took the Old Snowy Alternate, which I took to be a lower route that would save hikers from having to be on a sketchy snowy ridge during certain seasons. I would find out later that I was wrong about that. I had opted to stay on the PCT, the traditional route, as I didn’t want to miss any epic views or sections of trail. What I found out, wast that the PCT actually was sketchy in that it traversed steep slopes of talus and I had to cross two snow fields, while the alternate went up on the ridge and had 360 degree views, which was the actual Knife’s Edge proper. So, I missed it. However, I did not know I missed it because I only missed about a half mile of it, I walked the remaining mile and a half of the Knife’s Edge without knowing I had missed anything, so I was prefectly satisfied. As a metter of fact, I LOVED this day. I took enough Ibuprofen and went slow enough that I could walk on this uneven terrain, on steep slopes, over rocks and loose boulders with minimal pain. I also have come to learn that adrenaline seems to neutralize pain, at least while it is pumping in your bloodstream. I apologized over and over to my ankle and my feet, as I knew the more Vitamin I  that was ingested was only numbing me, allowing me to hike on, I but I also knew if I had not taken it, the day would have been miserable, if not a complete flop. Once I made it across the PCT traverses (glad for my knowledge and experience in snow crossings, thanks Ned!) to where it re-joined the alternate again, this is the view I saw of the trail ahead: 

And this is what I walked on…

The other hiker and I caught up with each other, and exchanged offers to take photos of each other in this post-card, calendar, magazine cover setting. 

I must have stopped thirty times to take photos and videos of this spectacular scenery, not realizing how much time had gone by and how slow I was going. Soon, the sun was setting and it was getting more windy and quite cold. My hands were numb and my cheeks ached from the cold wind too, but I was having such a great time. My heart was exuding love. More hikers were catching up with me, and passing me by, and I tried my best to pick up some speed and get to a campsite before dark, before it got too windy. There were lots of downhill miles to go, with very few campsites and only one option for water, so unless I wanted to be finding a campsite in the dark, there was not a lot of time to spare, but the light was so great. Gotta get a move on!  

As I descended, I came upon a pair of men who were section hikers, and I only make the distinction because I could see they had set up quite  the camp with lots of gear, cooking pots and pans and gallons of water, not the stuff of the ultra-light, minimalists that had become my friends. Nonetheless, I approached the men and asked if there was room for one more tent. They welcomed me and let me know there was not a lot of room but that there was a small tent site just around the corner from where they had their kitchen set up. I scoped it out, it was small, and perfect for me. I have noticed that thru-hikers are also very crafty and creative when it comes to considering a workable tent site. Since we are out on the trail for such a long time, our standards for “good camping” seem to slip and expand as needed. I took one look at this little spot, half covered by trees, half exposed to an open slope with a view that was seriously one of the most amazing views for a tent site I had on the trail. I pitched my tent in the remaining light, and in a brisk breeze, deciding to cook my dinner from inside my tent due to the cold and especially the wind. Part of me wished I had gotten there earlier so I could enjoy the stellar view, but then again, I was walking trough post cards all afternoon and into the evening, I’d had my share. 

Turned out this was a windy spot for me in my mesh tent that was very “airy” as tents go. Yes, well ventilated would be a good description. On this particular night, it was actually windy inside my tent. I ended up wearing every possible article of clothing I had with me and by 5:00am I was definitely not asleep anymore. I got up in the dark and started packing up, taking off as the sun rose, to get down in elevation and out of the wind. It may have not been the best night’s sleep, but  just having that view was worth it. I felt like the feng shui of my tent site at least allowed me to absorb some good geoenergy if nothing else! Here was my morning view:
I tiptoed by the other tents so as not to wake another hiker who apparently pitched a tent just like mine even later than I did the night before. I said goodbye to my neighbors and down I went into the shadows where I was protected from the wind, but lacked sun. This entire day would be down down and down, all the way to White Pass where I would stop at the only place to stop, a gas station with a convenience store that accepted hiker packages and offered minimal snack items. I was to be picking up a food package and….new shoes! As I descended that day, fatigue had set in by 9:30 and I had to stop for a second coffee, which helped temporarily, but the pain set in by 1pm, strongly. 

I was coming down from a high passage and also coming down from high emotions. It seems to me that going down is always harder on me than going up. I prefer to climb, I prefer the heights to the lows, descending always seems to take extra energy out of me. At any rate, I stopped about 3 miles before the road crossing and filled up my water at an ice cold, lovely creek, and took some Vitamin I. I was miserable, really really in pain. I tried to keep my spirits up though because the day before had been so amazing, and so I just kept walking at a comfortable pace. By the time I was about a half mile before the road, I met a man who was limping along and looked disgruntled. He approached me and asked me if I knew his son, trail name “Butterscotch”? I had met his son, but when and where I could not remember. He had apparently been waiting all day there at the trailhead and was concerned thst something was wrong. I tried to reassure him that his son was ok, as several of us hikers passed each  other out there every day, and if he was sick or injured any of us would have offered him our help, we would know. The Dad then offered to drive me over to the gas station, Kracker Barrel, to which I had planned to walk, only abouut a half mile or so up the road, but I gladly accepted the offer to get off my feet. Once again, is this still considered hitch hiking when people come up and offer you rides? 

When I got to the Kracker Barrel, I was exhausted and it was about 4:00pm. The store closed at 6:00pm and so I only had 2 hours to decompress, organize my re-supply, shop for any needed snacks, eat a snack, try on my new shoes, charge my electronics, call my Dad, and get back on trail and hike to another campsite. This is called hiker stress. Yes, I know, stressful! This is what Prince and I always called “first world thru-hiker problems”. 

Well, I got it all done, and by 6:45 I finished charging my phone as the sun was setting, and was getting ready to walk down the highway back to the trail. I had no idea where I was going to sleep, except that there was a horse camp right near the road, and I crossed my fingers I might be able  to find a flat piece of dirt to lay on for the night there. Horse camps always remind me of my Mom, so I felt comfortable just winging it there. Plus, this had become my mindset, never to worry about where my day would end, not to fret about what surroundings would make my  bed for the night, because it really no longer mattered. As long as I was on a relatively flat piece of Earth, and maybe in the protection of some trees, I would be perfectly fine. There was one other hiker named “The Optimist” who was also leaving for the trail just a little bit before me, and we ended up finding each other in the dark, by headlamp, in a flat-ish depression under a tree near the horse camp. 

Fortunately, as we discovered the next morning, we were not laying on a pile of horse poop! We both decided to cowboy camp that night, side by side, head to toe. Turns out he was the hiker in the other tent just like mine from the night before, we had camped at the same place without even kowing it! We had a lot in common and conversation flowed naturally for a few hours. We shared the wine I had bought, which flowed naturally as well, and shared some other snacks with our dinners too. My Dad had sent me some delicious Curried Kale Chips in my re-supply package, such a nice surprise, and I had purchased some “chocolate” desserts at the convenience store. Such had become my hiker diet molded into such a dichotomy of health and illth. We enjoyed a few hours of great conversation and I felt myself wishing I had a hiking companion again. Someone I could really talk to and listen to, a heart connection was what I was missing. Wherever is my heart is my home…

Well, he was not to be the one, as he was definitely hiking faster and lighter than I. He had begun his journey two months later than me, and his gear was quite minimal. I took a photo of our stuff laid side by side the next morning, noting the extra items I had that he didn’t. I was carrying more clothing than he was, plus an extra sleeping pad. I had a hand written journal, a book and my bluetooth keyboard. I think I also carried and ate more food than he did. He was also stoveless, so also no cooking fuel and no coffee cup. I think he also did not carry a first aid kit nor a back up battery for his phone. Essentials or luxury items? In the morning, we were both covered in condensation, our sleeping bags were wet, so we decided to wait for the sun to come out so we could dry our gear out before setting off. We chatted once again over “coffee”, mine hot, his cold, and enjoyed more great conversation. Finally, it was time to set off, and I asked him how far he was going that day. Leaving at almost 10am, he told me, “well, I think I will just take it easy today and do 25”.  “Well, it was nice knowing you” I replied with a smile, as I knew that would be the last I saw of him, he was Canada bound for sure. We hugged goodbye and off he went like a flash!

I thought after taking such a leisurely morning I would have felt rested. Not the case. I was still tired,  and my feet still hurt. The pain now was due to a full food carry once again, I had enough to get me about 100 miles, to Snoqualmie Pass. That would take me 5 days, about my average of 20 milrs a day, and I had my food packed pretty reasonably. Still, my pack felt heavy and so I went slowly up the trail. By mid morning I found myself feeling quite lonely. I had enjoyed the company of The Optimist so much, I started to wish I had a hiking companion again. I had been chasing on the tails of Mama Lion and Boone since Sisters, and was consistently two days behind them, so my hopes of actually catching them were few. I hiked on, tried to feel cheery and tried to sing. I cant sing. The trees looked grim, they were looking very monatanous and very brown, dull, everything was getting gray from incoming clouds, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself I’m bored

I hated that I even had that thought. But it was true enough in the moment. I had to push on in the wake of my boredom and eventually reached a creek where another hiker named “Tesla” (from Croatia) was sitting in the sun washing his socks, and I decided to stop there for lunch. He was nice enough but the quiet type, at least that was my feeling at the time. We both sat in silence mostly, exchanging only enough words to share our appreciation for the beauty of the scene we were gazing upon. I ate my lunch, filtered some water and did some stretching. Soon Tesla headed back up the trail. “See you up the trail” had become a string of words that escaped many of our lips as easy as an exhale, but I often knew when I said it, it meant, “have a great rest of your hike”. 

Ho-hum. How very Eeyore of me. After about 45 minutes, I felt the need to push on, and I reluctantly stood up and shouldered my pack. Just at that moment, another hiker named “Crush” walked up. She and I had met a week or so before, somewhere just before the end of Oregon, but had not seen each other for a while. She was hiking the section starting from near Timberline all the way to Canada, the country she was originally from. I remembered her from before because she was bright and shiny. She was all smiles and bright colors, and said “Mary Poppins! I wondered if I was going to catch up with you!” From there, my spirits lifted. We ended up hiking together for the rest of that day and agreed to camp together that night. From that moment, the rest of the day went by so much more quickly. Crush and I talked almost nonstop, and discovered very quickly that we were out on the trail for such similar reasons, the heart of it being that we both had a very deep appreciation for nature. 

We made it to our campsite by about 6:30, just enough time to gather and filter water and set up our tents. We had a great little spot above a creek, nestled in the trees, all to ourselves. It was actually quite idyllic, protected, soft pine needle floor, close to water, and quiet. We were cooking our respective dinners when just as dusk fell, I looked to my left, not far up the trail because I heard some loud footsteps. These noises reminded me instantly of the sound that had come out of the bushes a few days before, hoof-like, heavy, disruptive. I glanced and squinted to try to see what it was, all I could make out was the outline of something large. Crush and I both paused from what we were doing and fell silent. “Hey Mary Poppins, do you see that?” Crush whispered. “Yes, but I can’t tell what it is. Is it a wild pig or a cow?” Silence again. We waited. The beast started to make its way toward us, using the trail. Footsteps grew louder, shadows got larger, and finally Crush called out excitedly “oh my gosh, its an Elk!” which indeed itvwas. It proceeded to walk within 10 feet of our tents, completely lacking the appropriate stranger danger it should have had, and eventually it moved down the slope and away. It was so large! We did not see any antlers, so we thought it was a female, it was beautiful and mysterious and finally I found out what that animal had been back in those bushes a few days before. I had not realized, I was in Elk country, I was super happpy for this close encounter. So, as it often goes on the trail, and in life, I started out the day in good spirits, had hit a few low points, and finished on a high again. I was happy to have the companionship of another woman and little did I know then, what a great companion she would become. I slept very well that night, I felt at peace, and was happy with the anticipation of entering Mount Ranier National Park the next day. 


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