Mile 2476 to mile 2498
Trains blow by all night but I manage to sleep a little bit, wake up too early and sort my resupply, then walk to the cafe across the street for greasy breakfast with Brainstorm, Tiny, Guthrie, Chance and Mac. Chance got in yesterday evening- she did the 72 miles from Snoqualmie in just two days! With something like a million feet of elevation gain. Chance and Mac are zeroing today, which means we won’t see them again until Stehekin. I miss Chance but I’m also starting to conceptualize that life continues after the trail and we live on the same coast, so that’s good.
After breakfast we all get rides to the ski lodge at Steven’s pass- T-Rex, Rocky, Slosh and Dr. Smiles are there, sitting at a metal picnic table- I get to see them again! It’s 9 a.m. and there’s bad house music pumping from the sound system on the patio.
“I bet it’s to keep the mosquitoes away,” says Rocky. He takes off his hat and shows us his long red hair.
We all hike out around eleven- me, Tiny, Brainstorm, Guthrie, Twinkle, Krispies, Woody and Homeless Guy, who’s been leapfrogging with us. It’s smoky today, and hot, and we’ve got 5400 feet of elevation gain to our campsite in 22 miles. I’m determined to hike fast uphill, though, or at least not as slow as usual. Everyone else seems to like charging uphill at 3+ miles an hour, but it’s like I’m missing a muscle in my legs- I just can’t do it. End of my second thru-hike, and I still haven’t figured it out. I think I need a mentor, or something.
Climbing up through the forest into Alpine meadows full of flowers, ridges in the distance hazy with smoke. A descent and then up again, down and then up again. I’m drenched in sweat, I’m chafing everywhere. We stop for a break next to a stream, I eat peanut MnMs and reeses puffs in protein powder mixed with water. Then back up. I try to remember my experience in this section last year but it’s as if it happened in a different reality- climbing up to socked-in ridges, 35 degrees and misting, soaked to the skin fighting hypothermia unable to use my hands, stumbling down to lower elevations where it’s drier, sheltered, warmer, then back up again into hell.
Not today, though. Today it’s hot and thick like the inside of a smokehouse. We turn a corner and see the fires- yellow flames leaping up, a plume of smoke like a mushroom cloud. Just a couple of ridges over. What. The fuck. These fires must be new- like from today. We watch them as we round the ridges- the flames spread and grow, as does the smoke. Will it come to where we are? Nah, we don’t think so. And we plan to put in 32 miles tomorrow, so that should get us past it. But what’s gonna happen? Fire closure for the folks behind us? On the trail to Stehekin?!
We reach camp at 6:30, a grassy meadow next to a clear granite brook, overlooking the smoky ridges and the egg-yolk sunset. One of the most beautiful places we’ve camped. We watch the light while we eat- everything has that orange tint of an instagram filter, the colors super saturated. Dinner is instant lentil soup with dried spinach, potato chips, a rice krispie treat. There are mosquitoes, tiny but persistant, so we all pitch our shelters, turning the meadow into a tent village. I feel fried from the heat and the smoke. All day I’ve been trying not to think about the end of the trail, about the way I’ll feel. About the emptiness that will rush in when all of this is gone. It’s there, though, waiting, like a small death. I’ve got to go bravely towards it, towards this portal that will transport me back into the other world. The world of asphalt, comfortable chairs, and existential despair.
I’ve been running towards it for the last four months, and now I’ve got to try and be brave.
Photos on instagram.