Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 550

Tuesday, September 3, 2019; day 45

I woke to the sound of a car driving down the paved road behind me. So many car encounters on this journey. I went to retrieve my charger from the bathroom. It is now 0604, I am sleepy.

I begin to pack up my things and collect water from the campground spigot.

Soon Asa was packing up as well.

It felt nice to wake up in the company of another.

He took spoonfuls of peanut butter, and I drank an instant coffee/protein/maca shake as we sat around the picnic table.

Asa was familiar with the Pipsissewa Trailhead, and offered to walk me there.

We chatted a bit longer, exchanged contact information, and hugged goodbye.

“I always tell other cyclists to ‘keep the wind at your back!'”

“That’s a nice thing to say! Thank you!”

I wished him the best of luck in his amazing journey.

Then, we both set off!

I gazed down at Bonaparte Lake.

I travelled through a logging area, and a section where the trail had been cleared of many blowdowns.

As I hiked, I decided to follow the Original PNT Alternate. I would follow the Mount Bonaparte Trail, then join the Antoine Trail, which reconnects with the Primary PNT.

The trail was clear, and I was able to move quickly.

Soon the PNT briefly meets the little community of Havillah. There is a church there that is only .3 of a mile off of trail. It is said to be very hiker friendly, providing hikers with water and snacks and a place to camp. I hoped to make it there before dark. The miles immediately proceeding Havillah were roads, flanked by private properties.

Havillah is a beautiful little community.

As I approached the church, two graceful young bucks and a doe leaped over a distant fence.

The trail magic was more than I had anticipated. They had a little bulletin board at the side yard of the church, welcoming hikers to collect water and camp either outside, or inside the unlocked building.

I was elated.

It was dark, I moved around inside with the red light of my headlamp. Atop and inside the fridge were containers labeled “For PNT Hikers”. They contained a variety of snacks and food and fresh apples! There were even frozen meals for hikers, in the freezer! I could not believe it. It was certainly some of the best trail magic I had encountered on any trail. I was extremely grateful.

I enjoyed the fresh fruit and microwavable meal of quinoa and grains.

I placed my things to charge and set myself up for sleep on the soft carpet.

I fell to sleep in a space of good-heartedness, filled with thanks.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 575

Wednesday, September 4, 2019; day 46

I woke to the soft humm of kitchen electronics.

I heated some water for my instant coffee.

I packed up, quickly left a note of thanks on the bulletin board, and was back on the road by 0730.

I turned on to Swanson Mill Road. The cows abounded.

I did not not feel like using my trekking poles. I tied my bandana above my left knee.

I walked an alternate along Mount Hull Road and reconnected with the PNT at Sullivan Lake Road.

Soon after, I joined Trail 100. The trail was maintained by backcountry horsemen.

Along the trail, I missed a fallen sign post and continued in the wrong direction.

I found my way back and joined the Whistler Canyon Trail.

The climb out of the canyon was rewarded with wonderful views.

I came around a bend, and was shown the little town of Oroville.

I wanted to camp as close to town as possible.

I found a flat spot with a bench .7 of a mile from US Highway 97.

Little cacti stick to my pack.

As the sun sets it becomes shady and beautiful.

I watch as the little buildings and houses light up below.

I feel like a silent watcher, viewing the town secretly from above.

The stars and moon greet me as I lay on the exposed rock, beneath their light, high above town.

Pacific Northwest Trail; Oroville

Thursday, September 5, 2019; day 47

I headed towards town by 0720.

I did not quite feel welcomed. No one waved on the road. Not even when I tried initiating the gesture.

There was no warmth in the coffee shop.

I headed to the Camaray Motel.

My plan was to ask if I might pay for a shower and laundry, and have a look at the hiker box.

They were so incredibly friendly.

They brought out the hiker boxes and offered me coffee, and were very willing to let me use their facilities.

I thanked them for their kindness. I mentioned that I had not felt very welcome thus far in town. They were surprised by this, and suggested that it may be due to the homeless population. Also, many of the locals are not familiar with the trail.

As I was looking through the hiker box, a kind couple offered to cover the price of the room!

I was eager to get going, yet happy to accept the offer.

In the hiker box I found loaner clothes (skirt and top!), creamed coconut, nuts, and razors.

Back in the room, I decided to forgo using the razors. It would inevitably lead to an uncomfortable prickly phase. My body hair makes me feel more wild in nature and more rebellious before the eyes of town. I notice who takes notice.

I shower and put on the loaner clothes and head to the laundry room.

I wash all my clothes, my tent, my sleeping bag.

I resupplied, and repackaged.

I sewed two groupings of little stitches along my tent to keep my vestibule shut where the zipper had broken.

I watched the sky turn grey.

I felt shifty in the hotel room.

It was early morning before I slept.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 595.8

Friday, September 6, 2019; day 48

I checked out of the hotel, spent time at the library, and followed paved roads through town to join the Similkameen Trail.

The trail hugged the beautiful Similkameen River. It provided a nice dirt, then gravel pathway before joining Loomis-Oroville road.

Shortly after I joined the road, Border Patrol drove past. They turned around and parked beside me.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”, they said as they exited their vehicle.

“Sure.” I removed my sunglasses and walked towards him.

“Thank you” he said, and asked my name.

He introduced himself, and we shook hands.

He asked where I was from. I offered what I was doing.

He told me that smugglers of drugs, and human trafficking frequent this road. Now that he had my info–should he get a call concerning a pedestrian with a pack–he will know who I am.

He asked where I was headed that night. We discussed Miners Flats Campground, though I had the intention of going further.

As he drove off, I waved goodbye. He flashed his rear light in response. A quick red and blue farewell. This made me giggle.

The road was not busy. It was beautiful.

I howled. I laughed. I was happy to be on the move.

I untie the bandanna from my neck and tie it above my left knee.

I passed the Miners Flats Campground.

A second campground came in to view with the falling night.

I could not stop. There were hardly any cars, no grizzlies, a wide shoulder, clear skies, and I had walking to do.

Star-flames illuminate.

I notice a pair of headlights in the distance that were not moving.

There was a man outside the car, walking along the dry hillside. He was calling something out as he moved forward.

Did he lose his dog?

He continued in my direction.

As our paths nearly cross, I decide to vocalize my presence.

“Hello!?”

There is no response. Then I realize that the truck/pedestrian duo must be herding cattle.

I walked up to the parked truck and spoke with the elderly man in the cab. He told me that the cattle were on the wrong side of the cattle guard. They were trying to get them back where they belonged.

I mentioned to the man that I was hiking a long trail, and was just headed along the road until I found a suitable place to camp.

We both continued on our way.

A short while later a car pulled up and parked beside me. I walked up to the passenger door. Nothing happened. Peculiar.

I was confused as how to proceed.

Then the glass partition disappeared into the door.

“Sorry. I did not realize that I had not rolled down the window.” The man inside continued, “Dad said you were looking for a place to camp?”

I realized that I was speaking to the man from the hillside.

“Yeah. This road seems pretty safe to me, and the night is clear. I was planning on camping at the next campground.”

“That’s like 5 miles from here.”

“That’s okay.”

The man told me that he had some gated property up the road, just after passing the entrance way to Canada. I could stay there if I wanted. I would have it all to myself save for a couple cattle.

“If any one gives you trouble, just say ‘Dan said it was okay’. If they don’t know who Dan is, they have no business being there. Just make sure to shut the gate.”

I thanked him for the offer and continued.

There were not many cars on the road. The cars that did pass slowed nearly to a stop when they saw me.

As I entered the small community of Nighthawk (population: 5), I could hear loud, smooth, folk-y music play from a stereo.

I was curious. I noticed people socializing on a porch. I moved slowly, and tried waving. They were unresponsive. I suppose that was understandable. It was just around 2200, and I was not much more than an unidentified disturbing light in the distance.

I continue.

The dry grasses hiss like a snake at my ankles. It surprises me in to laughter.

Finally, I arrived to Palmer Lake Campground.

I found a little site near the entrance to star-camp for the night.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 614.0

Saturday, September 7, 2019; day 49

I rose and moved to collect water from Palmer Lake.

I filter while reviewing the guide book. Looks like the route soon becomes a “maze of fading old roads and cow paths” until it reaches Cold Springs , and the “jump off point to the Pasayten Wilderness”.

These confusing routes no longer stir fear in me.

I found I was rather talkative this morning; spouting my thoughts verbally to myself in silly voices, humming Nutcracker melodies.

I glance at the easily accessible water spigots protruding from the grassy private property nearby. The sprinkler had been left shooting streams of water all through the night, and continued rhythmically with the break of day. So interesting how we live, with “ownership” of land and water.

As I walk towards Toats-Coulee Road, the people are all smiles and waves and outhouse offerings. People seemed to know what I was up to.

I was not enjoying the lake water, however. Things lose their essence when they stop moving.

Thankful for the cloud coverage, I took a break just before climbing Chopaka Creek Road.

People do not seem to notice much that is not in their path.

I tie my bandana above my left knee. I consider how the simplest measure is often the most effective.

As I climbed the road, I heard ATVs pull up to the lot where I had just taken a break.

I stop to watch and listen.

One of them called out to another, “Hey, how fast can you go up here!?”

“As fast as ya want!” Said the other.

“I don’t know about that!”, the first replied.

“Hey! Watch out for me!” I called.

Judging by their lack of response, they did not hear me. I need to work on my ‘outside voice’.

I began to see the cattle gaurds as a form of childhood hopscotch… which I played often, and was getting rather good at it.

Found myself considering how beautiful this walk would be on a cool clear night.

I longed for the vibrancy of cold spring water.

At 1422, the thunder sounded.

I put on my pack cover.

All the ATVs zoom by me in a rush off the mountain.

I finally come to cold, flowing water. I stop to drink and collect and appreciate.

Cows gather at the cattle guard. Terrified at my approach, yet unable to cross the guard, I watch as they rush off to my left. One somehow pushes itself through a barbed wire fence.

The sky remains clear, giving me confidence as I approach the less discernable parts of the trail.

A rusted barbed wire catches my right leg, entangling as I walk. Surprised, I stop to free myself. Only scratches, no blood drawn.

I connect to a jeep road and continue. Unfortunately, I continued for too long. I was only supposed to follow the road for 300 yards. I turned back and found the correct junction.

I was running out of daylight.

The trail was very faint and difficult to follow in the dark.

I see bright flashes of light in the distance. Lightning. It is not followed by a sound, but strikes my nerves.

In just one more mile, I would come to a clearly defined forest service road.

There is another lightning burst.

The trail has faded away in the night. I am uncertain of where to turn.

Then, something catches my eye. Reflecting the light of my headlamp, is a cow patty. It points me in the direction of a cow path, and I find my way.

As I walk the forest service road, the moon calls my attention.

I stop and stare. I am flooded with joy.

Another flash of light fills the sky.

I am uncertain if I should continue further in to the night.

At 2204, I set up my tent at the Cold Springs Campground. My tent smells fresh, like dryer sheets. It is mold free, from the recent wash and dry.

At 2317, I heard the first drops of rain.

Vibrations of pain shoot up and down the bottom of my feet.

Tomorrow will be cold and wet.

At 0300 I woke to the loud cracking of thunder.

I listen as cows move about in heavy groups in the night.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 627.4

Sunday, September 8, 2019; day 50

I am concerned with the potential difficulties of navigating in the rain. Fire damage throughout the Pasayten may pose challenging conditions: dead and downed trees, indiscernible trail.

There does not seem to be much elevation change moving forward. If I move quickly, maybe I can make it the 23 miles to the Old Tungsteon Mine cabins.

I make sure everything is in plastic bags. I fill up on water to full capacity and pre-soak a meal. I don’t want to stop until I set up camp, and I want to have enough water to camp at any moment. The frequency of listed campsites in the coming miles is comforting.

It may be a subconscious tactic towards survival, but it seems that post initiation one is always less afraid.

The birds sing and there is a light buoyancy to the air. I laugh at the appearance of my shadow.

I find relief in the clear orange blazing of The Chopaka Trail.

It is not long before the sky dims and the rain sets in. I had removed my base layers in the heat of the morning sun. Caught in shorts and a sleeveless top, I put on my rain skirt and rain jacket and continue.

As I hike, I offer self motivation: you have done this before; the weather is not scary; there is only one option: keep going– find a way–there is always a way.

***

I have set up camp in a dry pond bed, only 13 miles from where I began. Night has fallen. I am soaking wet. The cold rattles my bones. The rain did not cease until the sun no longer shone. I considered hiking in to the night but I was worried about staying warm. My fingers and toes burn as I hurried to pitch my tent, as I told myself it was okay to stop if I tried harder tomorrow.

I eat a dinner of cold mashed potatoes. I curl my body inward, within my damp down bag. My legs convulse involintarily. I am concerned. I check the weather with my satellite device. Tomorrow: 37 degrees and more rain. I am still 102.7 miles from a possible hitch in to town.

Should I have pushed further? Would I have been able to stay warm?

I marvel at the extreme change in weather. Usually there is some warning. I feel foolish and shocked. I was not physically or mentally prepared. My dry sacks have failed me. A wet down bag without an emergency bivy is extremely dangerous.

I suppose the transition from a hot valley road walk to 6,985 ft elevation within the rugged Pasayten Wilderness, is not so fluid.

I hope this weather is but a warning of what is to come, not what is here.

I curl into a ball. I watch my breathe in the light of my headlamp. For the first time on trail, I feel alone. I long for the heat of another. I think of what it would be like to cuddle a cow. I think of what it would be like to freeze, alone in the wilderness. I think about the danger of not being prepared for the cold. I wonder if I should turn back. Then I think of the cabin in 13 miles. I could make a fire. I could dry out my sleeping bag.

I think of the East Bank trailhead, just over 100 miles away.

You can make it there. Just make it there.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 637.4

Monday, September 9, 2019; day 51

I wake and turn within my sleeping bag. I am cold. It is hard to rise.

I sit on my wet socks to warm them. I am tempted to wear my relatively dry pair, but I know better. They would turn wet and cold the moment I put on my boots.

I plan to eat lightly today, and stop at the cabin in 10 miles.

A bird sings one simple, elongated note. It gives me comfort.

As I strap on my boots, I tell myself that being cold is not that bad. I tell myself that it makes being warm that much sweeter.

I was surprised at how emotional each glimpse of sun and blue sky made me. My gratefulness was like a sudden earthquake, shifting mountains deep within me.

To make these journeys successfully, I have to be both highly demanding and extremely nurturing towards myself. If I properly rationed, it was okay to take refuge for the night.

Mid-afternoon, I reached the cabins.

I explored them both. They were not maintained, but were still very suitable. The smaller cabin was preferable. I settled there.

There were two pieces of wood inside a metal bucket near the door.

I gathered scraps of paper and cardboard from inside the shelter, and old map and guidebook pages from my pack. I searched around for bits of sticks and wood for tinder. I placed my collection beneath the two pieces of firewood, within the wood-burning stove.

I lit the paper. I waited. I tried blowing life into the flame. I tried to create enough heat to catch the wood. I failed.

With a heightened sense of urgency, I moved about to collect more tinder. I pulled out the cardboard center from a roll of tin-foil. I ripped out the “recources” section of my guidebook, along with the back cover. I collected dry twigs from underneath the cabin. I told myself that there was absolutely no way that I should be unable to make a fire.

I poked and prodded and blew and rearranged.

Finally, the flames grew strong enough to consume the wood.

I changed out of my wet clothes and hung them fireside. I put my boots beneath the stove, and my sleeping bag on the floor beside it. I filled one of the pots on the cabin shelf with water and placed it on the stove top to boil. I wondered what I would have done if those two pieces of firewood had not been there. I have never chopped wood. I told myself I must learn how.

I stepped outside to relieve myself. A sound came from the distance. My first thought was cattle. Then I recognized two human formations approaching the cabin.

“Hi. How are you?” I asked.

“Happy to see these cabins” one replied.

I smiled. I felt awkward and antisocial. I had certainly not expected people.

I moved back inside. I shut and locked the door.

I positioned my things a bit more tidily in the corner, and peered through the peep hole.

One of them was taking a saw to a downed tree. It seemed they intended to build a fire in the other cabin.

Them going about their own business put me at ease. This allowed me to realize that warmth must be shared with all that are cold. I unlatched the door and stepped outside once more.

I initiated conversation and invited them in.

Doug and Devin were an uncle and nephew pair out for a few nights of backcountry bonding.

They were extremely kind, and were just as surprised to find me alone in the wilderness as I was to see them. They were the first hikers I had met on trail since Montana.

We all picked our wooden platforms for sleeping, and got comfortable.

I told them the story of my wet sleeping bag, and how I considered turning around; of how I still have 100 miles before I reached a point of resupply.

Devin gifted me his dry sack, Doug gave me a ration of food.

I was so grateful; not only for their amazing gifts–but for the warm conversation and genuine kindness, for kindred human company.

The cabin heated quickly. The fire crackled through the night. I fell to sleep safe and warm within a dry bag, a smile upon my face.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 682.7

Wednesday September 11, 2019; Day 52

I sat on my socks to warm them, reviewed the maps and guidebook pages for the day, and played a song on my quena. I was 28 miles from joining the PCT, my first true love. I was excited.

What was not exceptionally thrilling was the burn devastation, and loss of trail that lay ahead.

I can travel cross country, I can bushwhack. I will get there.

I was so thankful for the sun. I walked a short distance east to collect water before venturing forward. I had not seen cows for some time. I did not filter.

I presoaked a meal. I would have to wait to add olive oil, it has been solidifying in the cold weather. As I moved forward, I realized I had made the right decision to set up camp. The trail proved difficult to locate even in daylight. I used horse tracks and scat to help guide me.

I laughed at the beauty, at the simple peace of being. As I rounded the southern slope of Quartz Mountain I could feel sunshine on my skin. I removed my raincoat. What luxury!

The trail disappears in the mountain meadows, but there are cairns to guide me.

I could see the burn devastation ahead. I stop at a cool, flowing stream. I drink deeply, and listen to its soft music.

As I move forward, the trail disappears entirely in the mud and soot. I spot a cairn, then another. Downed trees that have been freshly cut were another indicator of the trail. With intense observation and study of the subtle changes in terrain, I was able to successfully find my way.

A deer and buck graze in the distance. A light rain falls from the sky. A magical rainbow appears.

The appearance of the rainbow lifted my spirits, but I was cold. A fording of the Pasayten River lay ahead. I wanted desperately to make it across before nightfall.

I think back to the cabin, the heat, the company; to those that have opened their homes to me. I consider how strong a bond is formed when you pass a night in the company of a stranger.

I came to a sign.

Trail crews had re-routed the fording. The new crossing was 1.4 miles earlier, ensuring the presence of the sun!

I entered the water, opting to ford in my boots. I safely reached the other side, nestled within a brief breadth of living green. I removed my boots and rung what water I could from my socks. I laughed. Fording is always such a thrill.

I continued along the Boundary trail. The trail is clear, as is the sky –save for wisps of clouds. I took a break trailside, ate cold mashed potatoes and prepared for the night. It would be cold.

As I walked, I appreciated how the day slowly fades in to night. No abrupt flick of a light switch.

In the darkness, I miss a turn-off near the airfield. Entranced by the sillouhette of the mountains in the darkness, and the swiftness of my movement through the field, I did not realize my error until I had travelled nearly a mile.

I returned to the trail. Soon I am climbing and the stars make me giggle. The ascent is green, full of life– oh, the scent! I breathe in deeply, beneath the waxing moonlight. This is magic.

I come to the fording of Chuchuwanteen Creek, after midnight. I pause in middle of the fording, water lightly pushing and splashing the back of my knees. I gaze at the moon suspended to the southwest. Her reflection of light casts a rounded silvery glow upon the creek. The rushing cold water serves as a conduit for her energy, her magic. I stand still, in a moment of perfection

I forded and crossed more streams and creeks and rivers today, than I have over the entire stretch of the trail. Water is prevalent again! The burn regions and navigational challenges and disappearing trails are behind me (for now)!

I set up camp only miles from the Pacific Crest Trail. I fall to sleep satisfied, and excited for what tomorrow may bring.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 700.3

Thursday, September 12, 2019; day 53

I opened my eyes at 0830 to realize that my headlamp was still strapped to my head, the light still on. In my exhaustion–once inside my tent–I had disregarding all but sleep.

I was still tired.

I considered sleeping, just a tiny bit more. Maybe a coffee nap. Drink some caffeine, take a 20 minute nap, and that’s it. I had not set up camp until around 0230, after all.

No. No time for napping. I ration my food, instead. Just under 50 miles until a road crossing. I am getting there. I am doing it.

In less than 5 miles I will connect with the PCT. I will have the joy of travelling along the beloved trail southbound, for 13 miles. This is a portion of trail I missed when I hiked the PCT in 2016. Due to dangerous snow conditions, I opted for a roadwalk along Route 20 from Rainy Pass, connecting lower elevation trails in to Canada. Needless to say, I was ecstatic!

I felt a bit giddy. As if I were heading out for a night on the town. I will certainly see other people, other hikers.

…Not just hikers, but hikers only 3.5 miles south of the northern terminus, and the completion of their epic journeys. Part of me was tempted to go touch it. But not yet. That time will come.

I consider the intersection of journeys in life, how the old mission was calling me back. I consider how symbolic, how strong in archetypal energy, a terminus of a long-distance trail is.

Soon my giddiness turned to nerves. I was not sure if I was ready to see all of those people, all of those reflections of what they saw in me. The anticipation of other people already had me engaging in the hike differently. The PNT is truly a gem of solitude.

As I crossed paths with each hiker. They congratulated me. At first I corrected them, explaining that I was on another trail entirely. When that became too much, I just smiled and congratulated them in return. I laughed, realizing just how out of sync I was with the hiker fist-bump.

Stepping over a mountain pass is like hopping in to a new dimension. It is nothing short of magic.

What an expense of trail! So amazing to see the route zigzagging ahead!

I continue in to the night. It only rains in gentle spurts, then clears. I keep gazing upward in hopes of glimpsing a burning star. No. Just beautiful wisps of dark cloud, and the silhouette of proud pines.

I continue. Just before I reach Holman Pass, and the junction that leaves the PCT, the rain turns fierce.

The PNT descends towards Canyon Creek. There should be a tent site in just under a mile.

I reach the site and quickly erect my tent in the rain. I throw myself and my gear inside.

There are still 29.8 miles until I hit Ruby Creek, and access to Route 20.

I feel very happy to be back on the PNT. I feel very happy to be alone, once more.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 713.3

Friday, September 13, 2019; day 54

I had a terrible time willing myself to rise this morning. It is raining, but hardly.

The drops fell so hard last night that they shoock the ceiling of my tent, causing little drops of condensation to fall within.

My sleeping bag is warm, and my socks are dry.

I consider how this will be the longest stretch I have spent in the wilderness. I consider how powerful it has been.

The rain picked up again. I missed a clear window to break down my tent.

I am so thankful for the dehydrated meal of beans and rice I had been gifted. I portion the meal in to two servings: one for today, and one for tomorrow. I have done a good job of rationing food, this stretch. I have certainly felt the pangs of hunger, but have not felt weak.

I have been wearing the same wet socks for days now. My logic being, that donning my dry pair would only provide momentary comfort that would result in extra, wet weight. But the skin on my feet has begun to turn white and puffy. I think the time has come to change my socks.

I listen to the rain. A distant woodpecker joins the song. Tonight the moon would be full.

I am thankful, that despite these difficulties and discomforts, I am so happy. I am excited to hike. I love what I do.

The rain ceases as I gather water. I find my way among the numerous offshoots of paths.

As I climb, I feel an overwhelming sense of peace.

How amazing it was to be out of regions of burn, to be amongst the fresh, living green; inhaling a fragrance bursting with life!

The mountains were cloaked in fog.

I realized that my feet were so wet, due to two sizeable holes forming on either side.

I stopped. I sat on a fallen tree, pack still on back, and removed a large pebble from shoe. I ate 1/2 of the days portion of rice and beans. Oh, how delicious! I could feel the nutrients mash out of each red bean as I chewed. As a friend once told me: hunger is the best seasoning.

I move amongst such lush green beauty. The brush is very wet. Soon, I am very wet. The brush offers huckleberries, however. This softens the wet blows from each bush as I pass.

It was terribly cold as I reached Devil’s Dome, at 6,982.

I feared that night would bring rain. I feared over exposure in the cold.

I could not help but turn off trail, towards Bear Skull Cabin (which was actually a 3 wall shelter).

I am thankful for the planks within the shelter. They provide a buffer between myself and the cold ground. I hang my wet things on a line, and adopt a pair of large gloves that lay in the corner.

Rain did not come, only the light of the moon.

Maybe I should have pressed forward. I am disappointed. Disappointment does no good, however.

The Pasayten has proved an amazing teacher. I should be happy to spend one more night within its bounds.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 730.1 (Winthrop)

Saturday, September 14, 2019; day 55

I am cold. It is so difficult to start early at over 6,000 ft. I need to get over it. I need to toughen up.

If I don’t make it to Ruby Creek in time for a hitch, at least I will be at under 2,000 ft. With warmth at that elevation being a relative non-issue, I am going to risk wearing my only wool layer. I was not fully prepared for the sudden change in weather. I have silk undergarments, which were cheaper, but no match for the cool mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I will get more gear in Winthrop.

As I descend towards Ross Lake, trees shake their little paper chimes.

“Why, hello to you, too!”, I say smiling.

It is so much cozier down here! The weather is perfect! Everything is wonderful.

I think of the long journey ahead; of the need to rush to beat the cold. I do not like to rush. I will not stop until my life is at risk, and even then I’ll find another way.

“You are so beautiful! I love you!”, I spout to the trail, to the woods, to nature. By the way they make me feel, I knew they loved me too.

A bird chirps, sending vibrations through the crisp air.

I cross a bridge. I had been there before. This was the alternate I took into Canada in 2016.

I moved quickly. I hoped to reach the road before nightfall.

Soon I came to the parking lot and East Bank trailhead.

I crossed the street to hitch east to Winthrop. I had roughly one hour before night fall.

Car after car sped by. I was becoming very discouraged. I started to eye where I might camp for the night. I thought of how I would have to head back down the trail to collect water.

I will try just a short while longer.

Then, a vehicle pulled over and into the parking lot.

At first I was not certain that they were stopping for me. After confirming their intentions to help, I ran over and told them that I was headed to Winthrop. They were headed to the closer town of Mazama. That would do! They made space for me in their vehicle and I hopped in. They introduced themselves as Ryan and Josh. They were out camping and cycling through the mountains. They were very familiar with the area and we exchanged many a story of outdoor adventure. They told me that I was free to camp with them tonight, as they were intending on heading to Winthrop in the morning. I very much enjoyed there company, and was flattered that they did not mind me tagging along.

Soon we came to Rainy Pass.

“We got another hitch-hiker”, Ryan announced, “we’ve got to make room!”

Their kindness made me giggle as we rearranged to make room for the PCT hiker.

Then, we were off once more. When we reached the little town of Mazama, we found their store to be closed. Commando, the PCT hiker, was also planning to go to Winthrop. So what did Ryan and Josh do? They changed their plans entirely and decided to travel the extra 20 miles to Winthrop that night! I was so thankful!

After arriving in Winthrop, everyone headed to a restaurant for drinks and a meal. I was working hard to budget, and had been falling behind on my writing, so my intentions were to go straight to the hostel. I found them so pleasant, however, that I decided to join, socializing over a hot cup of coffee (or three).

We spoke of hiking and the mountains and the cold. I told them how this was the longest stretch that I had ever been in the wilderness. I told them how I had been a bit frightened, and felt underprepared.

Then, Ryan retrieved some things from his car. He gifted me a pair of wool bottoms, and an old MSR Dragonfly stove that he said he had used for the past 20 years. I could not express my gratitude enough. Such amazing gifts of warmth and kindness. His generosity will never be forgotten!

Soon we parted ways. We all hugged goodbye, and Commando and I made our way up the hill towards the hostel.

I found my assigned bunk, and hungry but warm, fell asleep.

When Zeros Multiply…

Tuesday to Thursday, September 15 to 17, 2019; days 56-58

I slept so comfortably. The hostel certainly did not skimp on their mattresses or bedding.

I walked to the grocery store to resupply. I socialized with PCT hikers. I tried to write. I watched YouTube videos on how to properly operate the Dragonfly stove. I purchased more wool base layers, an emergency bivy, full length gaiters, and waterproof gloves. I shoe-gooed my shoes, wrapping them in dental floss so that the tearing flaps of boot stayed secure while drying.

The hours and days rolled by.

Outside the comfort of the hostel, it rained incessantly. PCT hikers continued to arrive, speaking of snow through the Pasayten.

Though there was a gnawing guilt that rolled and reared within me, I spent three full days in the hostel.

I struggled to reflect and record my adventure. I revelled in the warmth and down bedding and being recognized as a thru-hiker amongst thru-hiking peers.

I told stories of the adventure and lessons and solitude that the PNT offers.

Though the culture seemed to be isolating and phone-centric, I made some connections that I found special, and hold dear.

I fell asleep on the night of the 17th, knowing that it had to be my last night in town. It was time to move.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 734.9

Wednesday, September 18, 2019; day 59

The rain cleared by the afternoon, and I set off.

I stood at a westbound entrance to Route 20. It was not long before a kind man called Dave, with high energy and a love for adventure, pulled over to give me a lift. I told him that I was not heading to Rainy Pass, but further west to the East Bank trailhead to continue along the Pacific Northwest Trail. To my surprised delight he knew of the trail, and knew exactly where I was headed. He would be passing there on his way home to Concrete. I told him that I intended on going to Concrete to resupply. He gave me his card and told me to contact him when I get there. He said that his wife makes the best vegan quinoa chili, and that they would love to have me over! Oh, how wonderful!

We pulled in to the East Bank trailhead. Dave was curious about the route I was taking, so I pulled out my maps and we reviewed them together. He told me that he had hiked the Swift Creek trail, which would be part of my route. He told me that they had recently done a lot of work on the trail, and that it was in good shape. He mentioned a fording, but I did not pay that much mind…I had plenty of fordings under my belt.

I was hiking again by 1700.

The past three days now felt like a dream.

As I hiked, I could see the distant lights of Ross Lake Resort.

I came to the Ross Lake Dam Service Road. Just off the road was a covered picnic area.

I liked the idea of not having to set up my tent. I decided to sleep beneath the covering, beside the benches.

Soon, I had company. They were the largest, cutest, bushy-tailed little scavengers I had ever seen.

They were also persistent.

I thought that they may not make it up to the picnic bench, so I moved myself and my things, positioning myself precariously on top of the wooden table. This was not a deterrent. They continued to scramble on top of me and amongst my gear, frequently leaving little “presents”.

It was too much to handle. I resigned to a flat spot beside the picnic area, and set up my tent.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 754.2

Thursday September 19, 2019; day 60

I rose, packed up my things, and headed back to the picnic bench. I would try my hand at my new stove.

Success! How lovely it was to have hot coffee in the morning!

I followed the road across the dam.

I decided to stop in at the Ross Lake Resort.

I used their wifi to follow-up with Lowa. I had sent them a picture of the holes in my boots, while in Winthrop. To my delight, I had received an email response asking where my replacement boots should be sent. I called them up and asked them to ship them “general delivery” to the town of Concrete.

I continued along the trail. I paused, saddened by a dead toad that lay in the middle of the path. As I considered whether I should move its little body to the side of the trail, it hopped off. I was thoroughly impressed by its ability to play dead.

I joined the Beaver Creek trail. The trees were so powerful. I found myself stopping many times just to stare, to press my flattened palm against their wizened trunks.

The mountains soothe my soul.

The trail was surprisingly populated. Twice I was referred to as “you guys”, when there was clearly just one of me.

I came to Luna Camp, after night fall. All of the tent sites were occupied. I moved on.

I arrived at Beaver Pass Shelter.

I was relieved to find it empty. Well, save for the mice… but I hung my pack on a nail, and they left me well enough alone.

Spurts of gentle rain came and went through the night as I slept.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 766.8

Friday, September 20, 2019; day 61

The day looks promising. I will mostly be dealing with the wetness of shrub.

I strap on the long gaiters I purchased in winthrop (a relatively futile effort, considering the shape of my shoes).

I will be travelling over Whitcom Pass today. It is said to be one of the most challenging climbs of the trail.

As I move, I notice changes in the foliage, the trees and leaves broaden. There is a deepening of green.

I take joy in the crunching of autumn leaves beneath my step.

I began the ascent up Whitcom. I become frustrated with the technological gadget I use to communicate with my family. It opens a flood-gate deep within me. I stop at a very preliminary switchback. I sit. I cry. I sob. I cry for everything and everyone, for nothing and no one. It is heavy and powerful. I look ahead. To the rushing water from the opposing rocky mountainside. I watch it cascade down from the melting snow fields above. I am in awe of its composure. It is still and beautiful as water pours and rushes along its cracks and gathers in its crevices.

Let them be your teachers, I tell myself. Let your emotions flow freely, but keep a calmness inside; an inner stillness of love and realization of what truly matters. I cry more. Hugged by the wild, I lift myself and continue.

Whitcom pass was amazing. I ascend slowly, gazing at the surrounding ice-covered peaks; how they melt and flow and feed the Earth.

As I descend, night falls. I come to the Whitcom campsite. There was a quick flash of light from my headlamp. As I wondered if I had imagined it, it happens again. I attempt to adjust the power of the lamp, and it goes black. I fumble for the spare batteries I had found in a hiker box. I drop one, and feel around for it in the darkness. They were fairly easy to spot, obtrusive and shiny and perfect in shape…they did not belong.

The fog rolled in so quickly. So thick! I find fog to be the biggest challenge toward my tendency to hike in the darkness.

I stopped at Graybeal Camp for the night. How dreadful to have only made it so far. It was an emotional day, however.

My heart weighs heavy.