September 17, 2016. I woke in the darkness with rain tapping steadily on my tent. I love that sound and it makes me always want to stay in bed. My body’s biorhythms had adjusted to match the coming and going of the sun though, and although I had only fallen asleep about 6 hours ago, it was “time” to wake up. After making my coffee and starting on breakfast, something I had also completely adjusted to was eating right away in the morning, and it was to the point that I always woke up hungry.
I heard faint music coming from Crush’s tent. It sounded like meditation music, soft, flowy, spiritual, just right actually. Later I would find out it was Sarah McLaughlin! So, here I was, still comfortable and dry in my tent, about to face the world of rain all day. I was determined not to get too wet, and glad I had my new Altra shoes which were marketed to be weather resistant. I wore my rain skirt, rain pants, rain jacket, and used my umbrella and pack cover, I was all set for the wet. Upon packing up my tent, I laughed at the location and position of where I had slept, but actually it was pretty comfortable! DJ was gone way earlier, and Crush was “doing surgery” on her blisters, so I set off into the wet forest alone.
The forest was peaceful, and I enjoyed how quiet the sound my feet made as I padded along on the cushy, wet Earth. The dripping of water from the trees was lulling, and the mist and fog faded in and out around the trees and amongst the hillsides, constatly changing. Emerging to a bend and opening in the conifer forest, exposed some broad leaf trees (mostly maples) displaying the most electric Fall color I have seen in a while. New England, Kyoto, move over!
I took my time since Crush was behind me, and I thoroughly enjoyed stopping to admire these beauties, taking pictures and just experiencing the stillness of the moments as one ended and another began, remembering my mantra Honor the space between no longer and not yet. One of my greatest challenges when I am on the trail has always been the pressure to make miles. I love a good physical challenge, but in light of a beautiful setting, nature’s art deserves to be worshipped. If I could walk half the distance in the same amout of time and just walk slowly, gazing and taking photos, I would! Maybe my next PCT hike!
Walking back into the forest, the low shrubs and grasses grazed my lower legs and feet and within an hour, my feet were soaking wet. I was enraged. I paid good money for these special shoes, these $160 Altras, as advertised in Backpacker Magazine to be what you need in rain and snow, and here I was walking in the rain for the first time since I got them, and my feet were wet. My legs were wet, too. These “rain skirts” are supposed to be ultra-light, which they are, and protect your legs from brushing up against wet plants. Well they do this, up to the lower leg where the skirt stops. I even wear mine long and my lower legs still got wet. That is, over my rain pants, which were wet, too. REI women’s rain pants, the inner lining shredded after I wore them with shorts on and used them for glissading in the Sierras. These pants were only good from the knees down. My solution, wear both pieces of equipment, which not only weighs more, makes me sweat more, and costs more, too!
Allow me to continue with this digression, it serves a purpose, I promise. My rain jacket. It’s from the reputable company Montbell and I’ve had it since 2013. It’s gone with me on trail for about 800 miles prior to the PCT, and I treated it with waterproofing spray a few times before this adventure because I could not afford a new jacket. At over $200 a pop, it better keep me dry! The material itself is basically waterproof and durable. However, the exterior layer does not bead up anymore, it just gets wet, and water will drip down behing the back from the shoulders and hood if you do not have an umbrella, so your whole back gets wet. Most hikers I saw were not hiking with umbrellas and had similar rain jackets. I was hiking with an umbrella. Otherwise, how could I be Mary Poppins? My umbrella was a Montbell umbrella. Yes, more weight, more money, but 100% worth it! The umbrella is one of my favorite pieces of equipment, hands down. I even found a way to rig it into place using my chest strap so I could free up my hands.
This particlar day was one of the wettest days on trail. Every hiker I saw was soaked through and through. By mid-morning, several hikers had passed me, including Crush, and I saw how wet they were and wondered, also, how miserable they were? They were all trucking on, wearing what rain gear they had, but everyone was just plain wet. It was discouraging and I walked all morning trying to design the perfect pieces of equipment to keep hikers dry. I also drafted disgruntled letters of complaint to the companies who were making money hand over fist on this supposedly “weatherproof” gear. I learned something very important on this hike. Waterproof does not exist.
Ok, my rant is over. As I continued along the trail I gave up any effort to keep my feet dry and stomped right through the middle of the puddles which now covered the trail. There was no getting around the sides, so what to do? Be as if I were a kid in rubber boots! It was always sort of a freeing feeling going right into creeks and puddles with shoes on, but last time I did that was Summer. How would we all get dry? The answer was, we wouldn’t. It was going to be a wet few days. Ugh!
Nearing the 1:00pm hour, I was pretty hungry, and the rain had let up just a bit. It’s quite the task to stop and eat lunch in the rain, so I took advantage of this little break, and sat down on a big log to eat. Shortly, a hiker named “Shake N’ Bake” came along, soaking wet and freezing, asked me if I’d see his partner “Fun Size”? I had been passed by her not too long ago, so he hurried up to try and catch her. After about 10 minutes I was cold, so I too, decided to get moving again. I hadn’t seen Crush for about 2 hours and wondered if she was okay. Within about 20 minutes, I was trudging up a hill, all I was looking at was the ground because my umbrella prevents me from seeing anything else, but I noticed the smell of fire in the air. Strange. I took a few more steps and then looked up to see this:
Trail Angel Rodger had a hiker hut all set up for us complete with chairs, fresh fruit and snacks, HOT beverages of our choice, and a FIRE! Oh my gosh, what a relief! I walked right over there, finding all my hiking companions in there getting warm, drying our socks and shirts, and out walks Rodger with a cup of Hot Chocolate and placed it right into my cold hands. How heart-warming this was! Not only was it heart-warming, for some hikers, it might have been life-saving. Crush, for one, told me later that she had literally been worried for her life and was running along the trail all morning trying to stay warm. By the time I arrived, she had been there for over an hour. Fun Size and Shake N’ Bake were there, Tesla was there, too and it was his Birthday! Several other hikers were there and the vibe was awesome, such comraderie, such shared miserable-bliss.
I’ve always been a little superstitous, and today the date was 9.17. Oddly, I have this ability to always look at the clock when it reads 9:17, like nearly every day. So, I have always wondered what this meant. For many years, I always thought it may be a bad omen, and on the date itself, I could not help but think about it, wondering if my life were in peril. Nothing bad ever happened, though. Today was 9.17 again. I thought about it earlier that day, and when the rain was coming down and I saw how miserable all the hikers were, I hoped nothing bad was going to happen to any of us. Turns out, instead of this being a bad day, it was one of the best and most memorable days on trail. We all sat there by the fire, thanking Rodger for his kindness and generousity, for comingout there in the middle of nowhere in the poorest of weather, to help us. Who does this? Trail Angels Do, that’s who.
I was probably the least wet of all the hikers, and also being the slowest, I decided to get going after spending about 2 hours there. We still had miles to make, since we were still pressing to make it to Snoqualmie the next day, as early as we could. I left Crush sitting there by the fire, knowing she would catch up with me. And she did, within about an hour, there she was, wearing a puffy fleece jacket that she did not have before. “Rodger literally gave me this jacket off his back” she proclaimed. “What?” I said in awe, once again amazed at his generousity. She was bundled up in it and she was, for once that day, relatively dry. She told him we would be in Snoqualmie the next day and taking a zero there, so he could come to claim it back. What a gift!
We hiked on, trying to push, wondering how far we could afford to hike on in this continuous rain, and how many miles that would leave us with the next day getting into town. Our goal was to make about 7 more miles that afternoon, which would leave us with 14 the next day. Not bad. We were hiking at a steady pace, sticking together now, chatting incessantly about how cool of an experience we just had and how powerful Trail Magic is. After about 3 miles, we came to an opening in the forest, where it looked like there were prayer flags hanging in the trees. What is this? We walked a little closer, and then heard voices. As soon as we reached the prayer flags, we realized they were PCT flags, and suddenly there was cheering. Just at the side of a road, were a whole group of hikers receiving more Trail Magic from another group of Trail Angels. Seriously?!
We were welcomed warmly and ushered into the shelter from the rain by a PCT alum named “Stumbling Norwegian” and his group of friends. They had parked their van there all weekend, set up 2 pop-up tents, put out chairs, including lounge chairs, had coolers with beer, water, soda, and had a full kitchen set up. They were going to be cooking hot soup for dinner and breakfast burritos in the morning! This is like a dream, like a prayer, Trail Angels are Real!
There was no way we were not stopping there for the night. It was, after all, close to 6:00pm anyways. It was not easy to find a place to pitch our tents though, all the “good” spots were taken. Is this becoming a pattern? So we finally worked a compromise and pitched on the gravel “driveway” near one of the vans and just enough off the road nearaby that passing trucks would not run us down. Some hikers pitched along the side of the road, brave souls that they were, I would not have been able to sleep that way! It was a process getting everything set up, not a single piece of dry gear except, fortunately, my bed and my sleep clothes, critical! I laid all my gear out on the ground, don’t ask me why, it was still raining, but I think I was trying to be organized. It all ended up in a pile inside my tent anyway.
By about 7:30pm, Stumbling Norwegian came by announcing that dinner was ready. “Hot food cooked by other people”….ON the trail, what a dream this was! I scurried over to the tent and plopped down on a lounge chair underneath a leak in the tent. The water was dripping onto my legs, but I cared not. I had my rain pants on, and I was drinking a beer and eating a delicious bowl of lentil soup with my favorite locally made tortilla chips, Juanitas, the best! This, along with the general comraderie and warmth of the group conversations going on in the background, I found extremely relaxing. I just sat there quietly eating my soup and drinking my beer. What an amazing day this turned out to be!
Breakfast the next morning was not a disappointment either. We were served hot coffee, and fresh made eggs to put together our own breakfast burritos. It was delicious! They even had fresh spinach leaves and fresh salsa! Fresh is where it’s at, I tell you. It was no longer raining either, there were imposing clouds, but shortly after leaving the party, we were actually hiking in the sun for a while. How wonderful that felt on my chilled body, it just felt so rejuvenating and made me feel so grateful for that little bit of warmth. The elements are so powerful when they are not balancing each other. I recalled times from back in Oregon when I prayed for rain, wanted it so bad, wanted a break from the heat. Now, it was the opposite, I wanted sun, and clear skies, and to just get warm and dry. We were left with 18 miles to go for the day from our campsite with the Trail Angels to Snoqualmie, and the day turned out to be stunning. Plus, it’s always motivating to hike on days when you know you will be getting into town. I was dreaming of a hotel room with a hot shower, a restaurant, and a coffee shop where I could spend the entire day sitting drinking hot coffee and writing, resting, restoring my body and soul. Thank you Sun for coming out today!
Snoqulamie Pass has developed a reputation for “weather”because of it’s geographical position in a low spot between high mountains. I really did not know what to expect of this place, except that my guidebook noted “plan to take a zero day here and stay in the hotel, you will be ready for it by now” and this couldn’t have been more true. I’d resisted staying hotels for a month, saving my money for a “rainy trail day”, and here it was. Snoqualmie Pass is basically a tiny ski resort, with a couple small lodging options, a convenience store, a couple restaurants, a coffee shop, a food truck (which actually had amazing food), an espresso stand with an ATM, and a gas station. That’s it. It offered me everything I needed, I was so happy to be there. Rodger even came down to see that we had all made it safely, and Crush returned his sweater to him, fortunately she was able to keep it dry!
Upon our arrival, we checked into the Summit Inn, and the friendly waiter at the restaurant allowed us to order food and eat in the bar even though they were about to close. We had first attempted to walk across the street to another restaurant, where several other hikers had gone. It was more of a gastropub-style place, hip, lively etc. When we got there it was 7:58pm, and their sign said they closed at 8:00pm. The young woman who greeted us at the front door came to tell us they were closed, even though all the tables were full. Even with my pleading, they would not seat us. We waved to our friends who were already happily gorging themselves on good food and beer, and I tried to gesture to the guys in the kitchen to feed us with my best attempt at sign language, unsuccessfully. The Chef pointed to his watch, and shook his head. Seriously?! What bad business etiquette. I was fuming. I was “hangry” and you know what they say: “don’t hike hangry”. So, back to the restaurant at the Summit Inn we had gone, where there was not a soul in sight, but that nice waiter fed us. We sat in the bar watching football, the Seahawks were playing. I mindlessly stared at the TV, and I felt so much better after that meal. I tipped the waiter quite well and added him to my growing list of Trail angels to give thanks to. That night, after great food, a shower, a bit of wine and chocolate, I tucked into a clean, cozy, warm bed and I slept like the dead. It was just what I needed and all that I wanted. In the morning, I opened the black-out curtains expecting to see another sunny day, but it was all clouded in by mist and fog, and it was pouring rain. Its pouring rain outside, it’s pouring rain outside….What a perfect day NOT to hike, I thought.