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PCT day 3: slackpacking to Canada

I wake up at six and this morning I’m on the trail by seven. We’re leaving the tent up (with sticks replacing my trekking poles as tent poles) and plan to hike the 11 and a half ish miles to the border and then back to our camp. Last night’s 1000 calories have not been sitting well, and I can’t bring myself to eat anything this morning. I’m just antsy to get miles under my feet. 23 miles is a long day. Backup and I agree to meet at the first water source down the trail and eat breakfast there; he takes longer to wake up and get out of camp than me, but he’s generally a faster hiker, so he’ll catch up. 

I walk on the chilly shady side of a valley for a few miles, with a gorgeous view of sunlight hitting morning mist hanging around the mountains in the distance. A couple miles in, I finally round a corner into the sun and it’s immediately at least ten degrees warmer. I meet a couple out for a several-day trip who point to the mountain, Three Fools’ Peak, that they’re planning to climb today. They have a beautiful camp spot in a meadow overlooking mountains and more meadow and forest… the North Cascades are really pretty, y’all. 

I continue on downhill, switchback after switchback. There’re a few spots where the trail crosses scree fields, including twenty or so slightly tricky feet that, as I laughingly mention later to Backup, are the steepest part of the trail so far. For the most part, the PCT — at least this far northern section of it — is gently graded. 

While I walk, I think about my trail name, which I chose for the obvious learning-to-fly metaphor, for the maybe slightly less obvious beginner’s-mind connotations (start again…), and in part because it was the name my ex-husband and I used for our not-really-a-thing folk cover duo, and I guess I just don’t feel done with it — with learning to fly. I think about the last big trip I took, how he was with me for half of it and we called ourselves “Team Slow and Unsteady” — a trail name of sorts too. I think about my life and how I would maybe like to be a part of a team again. I wonder what that means. 

There are a couple other thru-hikers camped with their dog at the spur trail to Hopkins Lake, and I ask them to keep an eye out for Backup. I also scratch his name and an arrow in the dirt at the turn-off and hope for the best. The lake is beautiful and sunny, and I lounge by the shore for 45 minutes before Backup finally shows up. We eat our oatmeal and filter out water, and another hiker, Paint Your Wagon, arrives. What with all the chatting and the water filtering and the lovely sun, it’s 11 by the time we move on, and I’ve been at the lakeshore for an hour and a half. All right. Time to crush some miles. 

A mile or so past the lake, the trail starts to be overgrown, mostly with huckleberry bushes sadly lacking ripe berries. After a long stretch without much water, there is suddenly water everywhere — gurgling creeks across and under the trail. I’m carrying four and a half liters, my max capacity, anyway, for god knows what reason. I need to learn to feel comfortable carrying less water! 

Backup likes to stop and take pictures of insects and frogs, but I like momentum, so I often hike ahead of him for a while before he catches up. So I beat him to the monument at the border and spend a few minutes reading the register, checking out the sobos who have come before us this season, before he arrives. We both sign and then take the requisite photos before the bugs chase us away. 

Southbound now at last. I’m getting a bit footsore, but we’ve got to get back to our camp. The trail is up and up and up. We stop at the last creek before the lake to fill up on water and then head up some more. Backup hikes ahead of me and I plod on. The light is getting extra-beautiful as the afternoon wanes. 

Backup waits up for me every once in awhile, and we’re hiking together when we walk past the couple I met this morning, back at their beautiful camp spot. They had a successful climb and have been exploring the nearby area all afternoon. “We didn’t expect to see you back here this early!” I’m pretty impressed with us, too. After our long stop at the lake, I expected to be arriving back to camp in the dark, but we’ve got at least two hours of daylight left and only two and a half miles to hike. 

A mile from our tent site, Backup, who somehow has energy to spare, decides to run (like, actually run!) ahead and meet me at the campsite. I continue slowly by but surely over Woody Pass and down to camp. We sit and tend to our feet. I can’t bring myself to cook. I eat a bar instead, then look ahead in the maps towards the new terrain we’ll be covering after we pass back through Hart’s Pass. We’re hoping to be back there tomorrow night, and to Stehekin a few days after that. 

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