Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 26.3

Sunday July 22, 2019; 4222 ft; Day 2

I do not like my inflatable pillow.

It was warm enough that I had a full sack of wool under-layers and rain gear to rest my head upon. I tossed and turned a bit. I woke to numb hands and bird-song.

I went to use the designated pit toilet. On the way back I spoke briefly with a group of hikers that had gathered in the dining area. A woman with a dead cellular device was in need of a charging-cord. I offered mine for use. She followed me to my tent to retrieve it. On the way she asked of I had bear spray. I noticed that I did not have it on me. She then commented that she “still can’t believe that [I am] doing this alone.” I can’t help but wonder if she says that to all solo hikers.

After packing up, I returned to fetch my food bag. The group made mention of night hiking; that they had done it in the park. I liked hearing this very much. I have been a bit more weary of night hiking in “bear country”. The PNT mapset, until mid way through section four, says “Grizzly Bear Country. Bear spray is recommended. Do not hike after dark”. Not: hiking after dark is not recommended, or highly discouraged. So explicit. It made me wonder. But in all the nights and days I have spent hiking in the woods, I have only seen bears in daylight. I certainly would not, however, like to meet a grizzly in the night.

I am the last one to leave the camp site.

The trail weaves through brush. A barely discernable line extending to the distance.

I made my ascent towards Stony Indian Pass.

With each step, I am remembering who I am.

I feel I am breaking free. Like a veneer, a loosened lining, is hardening in the sunshine, cracking with every bruise, flaking with every leafy kiss, and blowing away in the scent-filled breeze. My city-shell is rigid and seductive. I am highly sensitive–and am often overtaken–by consumption and distraction.

It is amazing to be out here.

I collect water from a beautiful spring. I ford my first river of the trail. Though my body moves slow and steady, my mind dances and spins and frolicks in wonder.

The wildflowers are so abundant! The brush so green! I recall what dear Linda said about it usually being brown this time of year. I am so thankful to feast my senses on such richness of colors and smells.

I stop for a break at the mountain pass. Stony Indian pass is majestic. I am however, suffering from the bugs. I do not have bug-spray. Not even the cool mountain breeze can save me. It makes one hardly want to stop for break. I don my puffy in the heat. That helps a little.

I open my food sack and make snack-time selections.

I heard a rustle from behind. I turned in time to catch sight of a medium sized grizzly run across the pass and out of view.

I jumped to my feet. My bear spray is at my hip. I stand and continue watching in that direction, my food splayed about me. I had a strong feeling that the bear was entirely disinterested in my presence. I decided to stay and finish my meal. But only briefly.

The bugs were relentless. I wrapped my legs in my ground tarp. This provided some relief.

As I descended from the pass I heard hikers calling out “hiker, hiker!”. When our paths crossed I mentioned the bear encounter. They said it must have been the same one they had just seen. They told me that it popped out right in front of them on trail. “Then what happened!?” I asked. They told me that it was busy chasing a deer.

As I descended, the breeze grew stronger, the bugs less prominent.

Oh, the flowers!

I consider the vastness of this country and the beautiful geographical changes from either coast to divide.

As I drop lower, humidity rises, heavy clouds are rolling in. It is 1520, by 1621 down comes the rain. I continue on.

I come across a spring. The kind that makes me giggle with glee and makes my bottles frosty with its earthen chill. Terribly pleased, I collect three liters and carry on.

In the weather change, the bugs became virulent. I whimpered and wailed softly to myself, entertaining personal pity parties when it seemed too much to bear. I cursed at the mosquitos, then asked them kindly to stop. Neither tactic worked. I tried not to scratch, but often the beloved brush and the outstretched limbs of trees scratched for me. Each scratch sent strange intense sensations through my body. It was an almost euphoric dermal sensation that left me craving more.

I squirmed and danced as I removed my boots and strapped on my sandals to ford one final creek that stood between myself and the campsite. I made it.

I could not sleep. I woke in the night to itching and burning. I found some little packets of hydrocortisone cream in a first aid kit a kind friend had gifted me. I was so thankful. It was 1300. My legs were on fire.

I kept seeing flashes of light in the distance. At first I thought I was imagining things, or having some sort of peripheral sensory malfunction. It continued, but no sound followed.

Around 1400 the flashes of light moved closer. By 1600 the rumbles were so loud they seemed to shake the ground beneath me. The flashes were so astounding, they caused momentary blindness. A bit of fear began to sink in through the edges of darkness. The food-hang pole, I thought. If anything were to be stricken it would be that metal pole. This was calming.

Then the showers came.

The sound of the rain on my tent, the gentle drumming, led my march to slumber.

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