Mile 2317 to mile 2350
It’s cold- our first cold night! I sleep hard next to the rushing river, not even waking once, wake at 5:30 and make my little tupperware of oatmeal, protein powder and chia seeds, mixing it up while still in my sleeping bag. Every morning I eat my oatmeal and watch the others sleep- everyone else eats bars for breakfast but I’m too hungry for that in the morning- I wake up starving! so I get up earlier so that I can eat more. I’ll have second breakfast, later, and then third breakfast after that- but this is a good start.
I feel amazing today. Some sort of cloud has lifted- the sun is bright and mellow, the trail loamy and soft, the mosquitoes are gone. And the north cascades are crazy beautiful- we climb up onto lush green ridges carpeted in flowers and in the distance is the soft white of Mt. Rainier, the nested ridges of other mountains. All of time and space, stretching away. Last year I saw none of this- Washington in September was hypothermia rain and socked-in fog. THIS is why we went so fast through the desert, THIS is why we pushed big miles in Oregon and Nothern California. This is why I’ve been rushing, rushing, rushing. Washington in August, it turns out, is a dream.
The thought of all of this calms me. I can feel the anxiety fluttering from my chest like a bird. We made it, we’re here, we can relax. At this point, with just two weeks left, we’re basically on a long backpacking trip. We’re tourists, we’re pleasure seekers, we’re day hikers.
We can let go.
I feel better about the social aspect of the trail today too. Half of the group is in Packwood so there’s less of a crowd today and we’ve got our old friends back, Brainstorm and Tiny- so new stories, new jokes, fresh energy. Also I get some quality one-on-one time with people throughout the day, which I’ve been craving, and that makes me feel so happy and good. By midday I feel better about absolutely everything- by god if Washington isn’t turning out to be alright, after all.
Witch, of course, makes me wish that the trail wasn’t over so soon.
But what can you do? The regular world is waiting. I’ve got to work, and finish the book about my hike last year, and eat vegetables, and look at ugly concrete every day, and sit in chairs, and do yoga to try and mend what two consecutive thru-hikes has done to my posture.
And then next year of course there is the CDT.
Spark will be there for sure. Insitgate is on the fence, but I have plans to wear her down over the winter. Chance and Mack and Twinkle want to do it, and my friends Justa and Lint, and other people I’m not remembering. The water sources will be bad and there will be snowstorms in the Rockies. 40 percent roadwalking, I can’t wait!
Around noon Twinkle and I pass a string of elderly ladies, their faces white with sunscreen.
“Are you thru-hiking?” They say.
“Yeah,” we say. They throw their hands up in the air.
“Congratulations!!” They say.
“There’s a lake down below to swim in,” says a woman who looks to be about 100. “It’s very inviting.”
We get to the lake and Tiny and Brainstorm are there, paddling around. The four of us hike the last few miles to Chinook pass, in hopes that there will be picnic tables for lunch- there aren’t any so we sit on the sidewalk and pull food from our packs. We are thru-hikers, we need nothing, we can eat anywhere. I eat instant refried beans with tortilla chips. Twinkle and Tiny consume various packaged things. Brainstorm has a pot that looks like a blackened teakettle and he cooks ramen in it, eats the ramen, wipes the pot out with a hanky. Cars come and go and across the parking lot a horse makes horse noises.
After lunch we hike up the ridge to Sheep Lake- the sun is hot and bright and when we get to the lake I jump in and paddle around, sit on a log and push my feet into the sand. The water is cold and aquamarine, framed perfectly by the mountain. How many more lakes will we have like this, here in this perfect Washington weather, in the autumn of our thru-hike? I pledge to jump into more of them. I also want to see more sunsets, dry camp on beautiful ridges. I want to sit in the more forests and watch the light move through the trees.
It’s all going to be over so soon.
Camp is a seeping spring in the dim forest where, incidentally, I camped with Raho last year on my birthday- all of our stuff was soaked from the storm the night before, the temperature dropped down to freezing, and that night I got hypothermia for the first time. This year my stuff is dry, the night is just cold enough to be cozy, and I’m surrounded by wonderful people. And my morale is up! Soon after reaching camp Coughee, Woody and Guthrie show up, and then two hikers who are, apparently, trying to chase Rice Krispies- their names are Pigpen and Handy Andy and they started on, get this, May 16th. They’re young, just out of college, pole-thin and wearing filthy desert shirts, their beards patchy. They’ve been doing 30-35 mile days, have only taken two zeros, and are on track to finish the trail in 90 days. At least that’s their intention- but I imagine we’ll suck them in, like we do, at least for a few days.
We all sit around a dead fire ring (“imaginary campfire”, I call it) and eat our little dinners, laugh as the light fades from the forest. We cowboy camp like sardines at the edge of the trees, drift off as the stars come out.
Trail life is so sweet.
Photos on instagram.