Day 97: magical enchanted rainforest night-hiking aka I <3 Washington

July 30
Mileage 35.5
Mile 2155 to mile 2190.5

I wake at dawn in the soft twin bed (I got up at one point in the night and
opened the window in my sleep- I’m used to sleeping outdoors and was, I think, desperate for air), pack up my things and walk down the clean carpeted stairs. Everyone is already up, looking hungover, eating scrambled eggs and sausage. A flurry of pack organization and then we’re outside ready to go, watching the sun stretch over the fields of yellow grass. A new day.

Thank you Mary Jo and Chris for everything!!

Today is climbing for nine thousand feet, way up above the gorge, or there is an alternate pavement roadwalk that takes you through a cute little town with bars and restaurants. I want to hike the trail because I did it last year and I remember it being beautiful; everyone else wants to do the roadwalk. In the end almost everyone takes the road; Mac and I are the only ones who choose the trail. The challenge, then, for us, lies in the fact that the roadwalk is fifteen miles shorter; Mac and I will have to hike 35 miles today to make it to Panther Creek, where the road meets back up with the trail and where everyone will be camping. It’s already 8:30 a.m.- not an early start by any means. And let’s not forget the nine thousand feet of climbing!

But who doesn’t like a good challenge?

Climbing up steep out of the gorge in the crowded forest, the air heavy and yellow, and I am slow. Burbling streams, moss-heavy vine maples, stones in the trail. Intermittent cleacuts full of berries- salal, huckleberries, thimbleberries, invasive blackberries, some sort of currant, I think, that’s mealy and sweet. Higher up crossing scree in the hot sun and you can see the whole columbia river gorge, faded like an old postcard, with Hood, Adams and St. Helens representing on their respective horizons. I stop for a break at a stream and eat a lot of food, because I’ve brought too much- my favorite things today are salt & vinegar chips, dark chocolate, and sour gummi worms. I sit there, eating and looking at the light in the trees, amd before I know it nearly an hour has passed.

Well hell, I think. I just feel so relaxed in this forest- it’s so peaceful and sleepy here, like a narcotic. I want to lay down on the thick moss and let it digest me. I wonder what that would feel like.

I’m too enchanted to go fast. And the long, steep climb doesn’t help either. I check my pace and realize I’m going to have to night-hike if I want to make it to Panther creek.

Night-hike, I think. Get pumped!

In the afternoon I reach the top of the last long climb and the trail tips down, preparing to deposit me back at sea level. I race down the switchbacks, pack bouncing, jogging as much as I can. The light fades as I hike- no no no! I need to go faster! At the bottom of the descent are yellow fields, dense humid forest, farmhouses with the porchlights blazing. I move my legs as fast as I can on the trail, flick on my pathetic little headlamp when the light is really gone for good. I start to get spooked- what if there are cougars here?

Let em stalk me, I think. Fuck em.

Of course there is nothing, just me walking through the dark forest whipping around now and then shining my headlamp at the inky black. After a time the spooked feeling goes away and I just walk, enjoying the night air and the feel of the earth turning under my feet.

I reach panther creek at 10:30 (a new personal record for slowness) and no-one is there at the creek. I look at guthook and discover there’s a campground just down a side trail- they’ll be there for sure, no thru-hiker can pass up a good pit toilet. The campground is dark and consists of a confusing labyrinth of gravel roads- I walk it for a minute, feeling tired and out of sorts, and see no-one, so I walk back to the creek and pitch my shelter beneath a big cedar. If they’re here I’ll see them in the morning- it’s time for motherfucking bed.

Photos on instagram.