Mile 2022 to mile 2047 plus 2 miles on the wrong trail
The morning is damp and overcast, threatening rain. I’m hiking fast, I’m behind or I’m in front, I don’t know, and then I’m switchbacking down, down to a lake, and I check halfmile’s app and discover that I’m actually off the PCT, by a mile. I curse and swear as I climb back up as quickly as I can, thirsty but I don’t want to stop for water, figuring how far behind the others two miles will put me, guessing where they might stop for lunch, imagining their habits.
I catch up to Raho and another hiker at a silty stream, thick with snowmelt, and sit on the rocky banks to eat my lunch. I try to talk but we can’t hear each other over the rush of the water so I eat my beans and spinach and then I hike, hopping across the churning water on wet stones, one foot still dry when I reach the other side.
The skies open up and it starts to dump. Cold rain, pissing rain, thundering down in the summer forest. There are doug-firs now, Oregon grape in the understory, usnea hanging from the tree boughs. We’re transitioning into what I call “the wet part of Oregon”- the beginning of the true blue Pacific Northwest. My home bioregion, the forest that enchants me, my cathedral. That intoxicating mixture of dense understory, mossy nurse logs and dusty yellow sunbeams. Like I could lie down in a sunlit clearing and sleep forever. Let the forest digest me.
I’m pumped. We’re in the beginnings of the temperate rainforest and I’m pumped.
We circle Mount Jefferson in the pouring rain, the trail a muddy slick. Water puddles in every low place, sloshes over the tops of our shoes. Clouds tumble over Mt Jefferson and down, over the mountain and down. Weather coagulates on three horizons. We switchback up towards the pass, the rain pauses briefly on top and we take foggy photographs. Then we rush down the other side of the mountain over patches of snow, the trail a route of tumbled rocks, hard to find sometimes. Dusk finds us at a flat spot next to a dirt road and Raho eyeballs the level ground, imagining the coming storm.
“I think we’ll be ok here,” he says. We pitch our tents and duck inside just as the rains return and cower on our sleeping pads, hungry but not hungry. Tired but infinitely awake. The storm opens all the way up as we’re spooning dinner; everything undercooked or oversalted, drinking water from our smeary plastic bottles, maybe a little bit of chocolate if we have it.
I can’t see the moon tonight for the storm. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the torrent, watching the skin of my tent vibrate like a drum. Don’t wash me away, I think. Just don’t wash me away.