Mile 2107.5 to mile 2124.5
At dawn it starts to drizzle. I pack up my stuff, bleary and half-awake. How much did I sleep? I don’t know. I shoulder my pack and walk up through the lupine meadow to the big stone lodge, inside of which I find a circle of couches around an ornate hearth and Spark, curled up with his scifi book, pack against the legs of his chair. The walls are beautiful wood and the lamps are low, the first grey light of morning sifting in through the big paned windows.
“This place is beautiful,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Spark.
“So clean, and really fancy.”
“I feel so dirty.”
“The dining room doesn’t open until nine,” says Spark.
I make my way up some twisting stairs to the small, hot bathroom, where I brush my teeth in the sink and wipe the dirt from my face. What I really want, though, is a shower, and I ask the clean, sleek-haired woman at the front desk about it.
“We have a shower in the lower parking lot for hikers,” she says. “Just walk down the hill and you’ll find it.”
A shower in the parking lot? I make my way downhill and end up at another building, the wy’east building. Inside all the floors are laminate and there are cafeteria-style tables. The building where you can wear your ski boots inside, I guess. Instigate is there, digging through the huge wooden chest of a hiker box. I paw through the ramen and find a couple of milky way bars and immediately eat one, which makes me feel awful. Then we wander into the little shop and try on cheap sunglasses. After two thousand miles of trail my sunglasses are epically scratched, and looking through them is like peering underwater.
“Should I buy new sunglasses?” I ask Instigate.
“No,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say. “It rains in Washington anyway, right?” I wonder about this as I spin the sunglasses rack. Is it really going to rain in Washington? Nearly the whole trail has been hot and sunny. What even is rain? The only rain so far has come from the sort of drizzle that burns off almost immediately- an anomaly in an otherwise bright reality. I can’t seem to remember a time when I wore anything but running shorts and a tank top, aka as little clothing as possible. But still I don’t buy the sunglasses.
Such a drizzle is happening right now, in fact. And it’s cold, too. In the lower parking lot I find a blue plastic port-a-potty and open the door. Inside, instead of a toilet seat there is a showerhead, and hanging from the showerhead is a rack with a bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, and a bath poof. A towel is spread to dry optimistically on a rock outside. I turn on the water- it’s frigid. No hot water, says a sign taped to the outside. Brrr, I think. I mean, I need a shower. But not that bad.
I hike up to the lodge and join Spark on the couches, scrolling on my phone and waiting for the dining room to open. At last there is a clanking and a rattling and a woman appears, behind a little podium. We line up before her; filthy, unwashed thru-hikers with infinite, bottomless insides, and hold our breaths as the big oak doors begin to open. As we file past this woman we hand over our fifteen dollars. It is our ticket to the gates of heaven, aka the Timberline Lodge breakfast buffet, which we’ve been hearing about only for the last two thousand miles.
A broad, dark wooden dining room, diagonal tables with white tablecloths and bright silver, tall paned windows looking out at the gray misty morning. We sit at a big table in the middle of the room, Spark and Instigate and myself, and rest our dirty hands on the white tablecloth. A server brings us coffee and stemmed glasses of ice water. He looks to be about sixteen, and is obviously a snowboarder.
“Can we eat?” we ask him.
“Yes,” he says.
The buffet consists of a long line of hot steaming serving dishes with gleaming steel lids. We walk down the line, lifting each of these gleaming steel lids in turn. Sausage. Bacon. Eggs. Pancakes. Grits. Fresh biscuits. Gravy. There is a shining tower of fresh sliced fruit, a crockpot of piping oatmeal, vessels of yogurt and honey, mounds of raspberries and blueberries. There are waffle irons and waffle batter for making your own waffles. Brown sugar. Maple syrup. Fresh whipped cream.
I fill my plate completely full, plus another small plate completely full, and take them back to our table and arrange them on the clean white tablecloth. I pull out my chair and sit down.
“All for me,” I say to no-one in particular.
We eat, and we eat, and we eat some more. We sit, us dirty hikers, gazing vacantly out the windows, our stained plates in front of us, waiting to digest so that we can eat again. At some leisurely hour the regular hotel guests stream in, and the dining room becomes a cacophony of mingled voices. We eat some more and the waitstaff wanders by and tops off our coffee, understanding. They are used to this. We come in every year. I take an empty Ziploc bag from my pocket and surreptitiously fill it with warm sausage patties. Also slices of cantaloupe. A server stops by and places a shotglass of fizzy liquid in front of each of us.
“What is this?” says Instigate.
“Apple cider vinegar,” says the server. “For your digestion.”
Fifteen minutes before breakfast is over Egg and Raho appear, flushed and covered in raindrops. Spark, Instigate and I lay prone on the couches in the lodge, idly going through our resupply boxes while they stuff themselves. Are we going to hike today? I guess we’re going to hike today. Only 47 miles until the Columbia River, the border between Oregon and Washington, and I-84, which will take us to Portland. We pull ourselves upright and begrudgingly pack our bags. If we play our cards right, we’ll get to the river before dark tomorrow, in time to hitch into the city.
In Portland I’ll make my resupply boxes for Washington, as well as get my cold weather gear. In Portland I’ll see my dogs.
Spark, Instigate and I hike away from Timberline lodge in the cold rain and switchback down to a churning river and beyond it, a damp cedar forest. So beautiful, I think. It’s so beautiful here. Home, home, home. We ford the river and climb up in the mist to the ridgetop and then down again, across another swollen stream. Then up again to a series of campsites, which are full- those darn day hikers! We say, as we shiver in our damp rain jackets, looking for somewhere to rest our underslept selves. At last there’s a cluster of flat spots next to a rutted gravel road, some parked machinery and the rumble of a generator, spotlights waiting to burst to life before dawn. Some sort of excavation in the forest. The three of us pitch our tents beneath the dripping trees and crawl inside, weary and grateful. I eat the last of my cantaloupe and lay in my sleeping bag, waiting for drowsiness to overcome me. Rumble rumble clack clack, goes the generator. Tap tap tap, goes the rain. Washington, I think again. What is that even going to be like.