The PCT – Washington – Days 162 – 169

Day 162: 5.7 miles

Originally I’d told Anthony I would leave on the 0800 shuttle back to Stevens Pass but after eating dinner last night I swiftly changed my mind and decided on the 1100 ride. He took us to town before leaving for the trail and I got a sandwich to go from the deli. Unfortunately the coffee shop closed at 1100 so I didn’t get any caffeine. Skykomish citizens don’t need coffee after 1100 apparently.

I got back on trail about 1230 and was feeling the weight of 6 days worth of food. I had enough to get me to Stehekin where another resupply box waited. The trail wasn’t even hard but I was feeling slow and sluggish. I have a very hard time starting my hiking day after 0900. However I was only going to go a short distance today so I kinda wandered along in a noncommittal daze.

Camp was supposed to be down by Valhalla lake (so I could listen to some Led Zepplin in the proper setting lol), but there were no sites available. I went uphill back to the trail and set up under some lovely pines with the rocky wall of the mountain standing guard to the west. I soon discovered this was a Pika hot spot. Their squeaky meeps echoed throughout the night.

Day 163: 19.3 miles

I woke up ornery and mean. I’m not sure why? I just felt off and it didn’t get better all day. I had some hazey views of Glacier Peak to the north but what was really worrisome were the visible fires and smoke to the east. They weren’t new fires, as the Forest Service had already closed certain trails in the area, but they were uncomfortablely close to the PCT. Or at least it seemed that way to me. At this point though I could only see the smoke, not smell it and the wind was blowing east so I kept going.

All day I was in my head with worry and unease. It was hot and the climbs were tough. Someone left the sun on the Broil setting for some reason. (Who did that?!) I had no eyes for my surroundings I was so very deep in my feelings. At the top of one climb I gave up and sat down for a cry. Letting all of it wash over me without a fight. All the anxiety, the doubts, and the tension surged up through my eyeballs into an ugly cry. A chorus of the same old song Why is everything still so hard? made its rounds through my heart. Eventually the pitiful tears slowed down and I realized that I felt a little looser, infinitesimally gentler. Showing up as your authentic self isn’t always roses and for me that means the letting go on the tight grip of control over the “bad emotions”. Just let them be what they are and process. I was lucky that no one walked by. I managed to have 10 minutes on the trail alone.

After my Big Cry ™️, I put on some distracting podcasts and shuffled to camp…which was full of people. I found a slanty spot that would do and went to wash in the stream. I whimsically thought that maybe the mountain water would wash away my anger and fear along with the sweaty salt and tears. I know that’s illogical and just a little bit naive but I did feel better and fell asleep quite easily.

Day 164: 19.5 miles

I woke up 0230 this morning to the intense smell of smoke but in my sleepiness paid it no heed. When I woke for real it was hazy and the smell had worsened. I got up to the ridgeline and the view from where I came was whited out with smoke. The winds had shifted and now blew the noxious fumes northwest.

I watched as smokey tendrils crept their way up the valley, filling every nook and cranny. It was creepy in way, like a ghostly mist destroying everything in its path. The trail turned down into another valley towards the northwest and was clear of smoke. The sky still had a haze but nothing too worrisome.

There was a never ending climb up and out into a wide expanse of Alpine hillside. Once again I had to stop and have a what is fast becoming a routine afternoon cry. I sat up high on a rocky slope looking down on the pine valley below and just bawled. This time I’m not even sure about what. I just let it happen though and like last time felt simple relief.

The trail obliged afterwards by continuing down into the valley in a gentle manner. Streams the were milky with glacier silt splashed down along the trail and the shaggy bark of the Sitka Cypress welcomed me back into the safety of the canopy. I turned one bend to find two hikers, Caps and Chimney, who I’d been bouncing around. Caps asked if I wanted the bad news, but I couldn’t even hear her over the rush of the creek nearby.

Well apparently the trail after Harts Pass was closed which meant that you couldn’t hike to the border and finish with a picture at the monument. The big goal that everyone had been working towards for months was snatched out of reach. And for me, I felt quite suddenly rudderless. Now I know it’s “all about the journey not the destination” but to be denied the final leg of the trip and the closure of tagging the terminus is the worst.

I’d been wanting to quit for some time now. My hips hurts all the time, I’m not having any fun, and everything is hard, like moving through molasses. The only thing keeping me going was the distant goal of reaching the border. The pride in getting my picture taken at the monument. Now that was gone, what was the point? I couldn’t go back though, that way was covered in smoke. I decided to continue on and end at Rainy Pass, after hitting up Stehekin’s famous bakery for their cinnamon rolls of course.

The PCT’s Class of ’22s motto should be “womp womp”.

Day 165: 16 miles

Well now that I’m not trying to get anywhere fast I decided I’m going to enjoy as much as I can of what’s left. Today made that real real hard. It was all climbing all day. Once at the top the views were socked in by fog and smoke. I stopped early and just flopped into my tent.

Day 166: 18.6 miles

After a mild 2500 foot climb the views opened up and it was actually sunny and nice. I’m reminded that the weather can directly affect your mood, as well as food intake and hydration. It was like I was on a different trail: there was slight comfortable breeze with no hint of smoke, the sun was bright but no overbearing, and the sky was a clear pure blue the contrasted nicely with the green earth. Glacier melt sent streams of icey water everywhere. I could see the trail wind its way through this slope of rocky waters and rich greenery and I felt light, like I could be better.

At the top of one grassy hillside I saw a marmot hanging out and after inspection saw that it’s little hidey hole was the best seat in the house. I sat there for awhile waiting for the little creature to stick it’s nose out while soaking in the sheer grandeur of the mountains before me. We played this little game and I thanked it letting me share its spot. Clouds were rolling in and I wanted to get below tree line. On the way down, the trail was lined with blueberry bushes which of course slowed my progress.

I made it to the trees and entered an old growth of huge Cedars and Cypress. The blow downs here didn’t even bother me because it was like playing on a jungle gym. The still standing old trees had massive trunks that were cemented into the ground. These trees seemed to say We are here and we are not going anywhere. The Suiattle River was close by and offered a pleasant hum of rushing water, and added to the soft whir of leaves in the wind. After clambering up one fallen trunk that was over 6 ft tall, I sat down. I reclined against my pack and looked up into the canopy where barely any sky shone through. In my peripheral vision were monumental tree trunks and under me was one of their downed brethren soft with decay. It was a swirl of cashmere brown and jeweled greens. For a brief moment it felt like I was being cradled by these ancient beings and I could breathe easy. But then just as fast the moment fled when I realized the moisture from the tree below me was seeping into my clothing.

I reluctantly continued on to camp that had a creepy lean-to pit toilet. One comment said it looked like the Blair Witch hide out and others compared it to the Iron Throne. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones so I leaned towards Blair Witch.

Day 167: 19.1miles

It rained overnight and everything at my feet got wet. It was no fault of my tent though. I usually put my socks on the mesh part, which is usually not a problem, but in rain it drags the tent walls down and lets in water not to mention got all my socks wet. Like soaking wet. Like I just walked through a river wet.

Also I had some weird dreams about a scraggly old witch (like the one from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) scratching on my tent and I was immobilized. I think that comment about the Blair Witch toilet seeped into my subconscious.

I got going with wet feet and got even more wet with the overgrowth on trail turning into a car wash. Luckily I found a sunny spot for lunch and had a pack explosion to dry everything out. Afterwards it was a beautiful walk down to camp. All sheer rock mountain slopes, tall pines and clear cool streams. I thought that it’s a shame my trip was ending when it just starting to get good. I began to think there might be a point to this whole experience.

Day 168: 14.5 miles

Today was town day…well kind of. I got up at 0400 to wall the 10 miles to the shuttle pick up to go into Stehekin. I managed to get 10 miles done before 1000, a first! I’ve never had a real interest in doing 10 before 10 but the lure of huge Cinnamon Buns picked my feet up.

Stehekin is a tiny hamlet of a resort town that is only accessible by boat or foot. There are no roads there. The bakery is much touted as having the best baked goods and the Cinnamon roll above all. And the shuttle stops there for 10 minutes before continuing onto town. I decided I was going to sit there for longer and just walk the two miles into town. I sat there with another hiker friend Sprocket and enjoyed the cozy fug of coffee and food.

On the walk into town is an organic garden where you can pick up fresh veggies and goats yogurt. There Dahlias of every color and had trees frogs sitting in them. The road skirted the lake and a bunch of old vehicles parked along it. Like they bought that car the year it came out, got it on the barge to Stehekin and then never left. The lodge in Stehekin proper had a post office which is where I sent my resupply that I no longer needed. I kept all the Welsch’s Fruit snack and the M&Ms but put most of my food in the hiker box.

I sat at a table overlooking Lake Chelan and drank cold drinks while chatting with various hikers. I saw a couple if nurses I’d been bouncing around and we had a long hilarious discussion about the mold in one the water bottles (Healthcare humor).

I got on the shuttle back to trail around 1600. I had contemplated staying the night but then soooooo many hikers kept showing up. Once back on trail it was a huge and sweaty climb up (always up). I got to camp and ate the sandwich from the bakery I’d packed out. I lay in my tent, this was my last night.

Day 169: 14.5 miles

Today was my last one on the PCT. I “slept in” which means I didn’t set an alarm and woke up at 0600. I dawdled over breakfast and packing up, in no rush. The trail up to Rainy Pass was a forever climb up but nothing unbearable. I crossed a wobbley bridge and stopped frequently for snack breaks. My mind kept shying away from the reality that I’d be done today, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it.

The trail made a turn and then suddenly I was walking near HWY 20 and hearing the sounds of cars. The end was immenent. I got to the road crossing and then the sign that says Rainy Pass. This was it. I got my picture taken and then a random couple asked if I needed a ride. It was all very quick and anticlimactic. After being whisked to the quaint western looking town of Wintrop I took a shower and finally had a moment to process.

I didn’t start this trail to have big revelations or figure out the big questions. I already knew from the AT that was a fool’s quest. You just end up with more questions. I wanted the movement, the constant change of scenery to soothe something in me. I wanted to bathe my nervous system in nature and let it reset my alarms. In some ways this was successful, but also in others that were unexpected.

A lot of Hiker culture will tell you “Its about the people” when you thru hike. That the people you meet and connect with will renew your faith in humanity. Well this may be a hot take (it’s most certainly unpopular) but I don’t think it’s the people. It is your self and how you react to this world. I may write a whole other post about this, but on the whole, I didn’t connect with people. In fact most of them annoyed the hell out of me. There were about 20 hikers I’d want to talk to again (you know who you are, and if you don’t then you probably still are; I’m horrible at communicating).

For me the trail experience wasn’t the big grand views or feeling connected. It was the little things. I caught a glimpse of this on the AT and it only solidified on the PCT. The litte steps it takes to add up to a 2000+ mile journey. I started fat and dangerously out of shape, with nervous system screaming for relief and a emotional blockages that created baggage for my baggage. I can’t say that I’m a fresh new person now, but the little lessons I learned with the little steps I took shaped something inside me into a softer gentler version. Someone who can say I feel happy and then mean it.

Someone who has experieced:

The bursting flavor of a sun ripened blueberry straight off the plant. The seeming suspension of gravity on Mt Whitney, like I could fly straight off and into the sky. The quiet peace of Old Growth Cedars. Seeing the rounded horizon high on a pass and think that I could feel the earth turn. The humor of observing chipmunks, pikas, and marmots going about their daily lives. The comfort of knowing I’d never be hungover on trail. The strength in climbing 2000 ft without stopping. The brilliance of the Milky Way arched overhead as I fall asleep. The grinding whirr of windmills. The blankets of moss and lichen on granite. Sunlight drifting through the leafy canopy. City lights twinkling in the distance as I look out from my midnight pee. Walking through the cool pines after exposure and feeling my breath quieten and slow down like I’m falling into sync with the forest. The fireworks of wildflower colors and figuring out their names. Meeting my physical needs in a concrete way. The color explosion of a desert sunset. Meeting someone that I feel at ease talking with.

Those are just a few little moments. Some I haven’t even parsed yet and most I’ve futiley tried to grip too tight. So what does it all mean? Not much. It doesn’t have to. I do know I’m extremely grateful though. The privilege of experiencing all that is something I can’t appreciate enough. Even that’s not a big lesson, it’s all about the tiny steps. They lead you were you need to go, which apparently wasn’t the terminus, but somewhere I was supposed to end.

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