Another slow morning. We’re just over twelve miles from White Pass. Backup and I pack up and leave together and hike the first few miles thirty feet apart to keep out of the dust clouds that we kick up. For a while we’re following a dry riverbed that’s deep and carved enough that its incredible dryness is jarring and odd; why is this riverbed so much dryer than others?
Backup almost steps on a salamander that’s hanging out, motionless, in the middle of the trail. He spends several minutes taking its photo and is relieved when it finally demonstrates its vitality by moving slowly off the trail.
Since we got a late start and we’re not sure what time the store in White Pass will close, I send Backup on ahead. He takes off down the trail; I’ll find out later that he’s doing ten-minute miles with his pack on just for kicks. In the meantime I keep hiking, swishing my trekking poles back and forth, hitting the little lupine and huckleberry plants at the side of the trail from time to time, thinking about a thought Backup had the other day: “I wonder if thru-hikers are a major vector of plant disease.” I think about humans as an invasive species and wonder what I’m doing here. If there’s beauty in the wilderness and no one to see it, is the beauty really there? Do the birds and deer know they live in a beautiful place?
The trail is wide and flat and easy, and I make better time than I really expected I would. In the last few miles, there are dozens of little frogs in the trail, who leap aside as I approach. I hopefully succeed in avoiding squashing them under my shoes. Then I’m crossing a dirt road, and then another at a campsite, and then I’m emerging onto the highway, turning right, and walking half a mile on the wide shoulder towards the store.
I turn off my airplane mode partway there, and Backup’s sent me a text — he’s at the store chatting with Elroy and Sinbad, and he wants to know if there’s anything I’d like him to have waiting for me to eat. What luxury! I ask him to buy me some chocolate milk, and the next thing I know he’s running towards me, chocolate milk in hand, to walk me the rest of the way in.
The store is staffed by two very hiker-friendly women, and we linger for hours eating snacks before walking to the inn next door to get a room for the night. We drop our packs and put on ridiculous laundry outfits (me: rain jacket and skirt; Backup: down vest and leggings) and bring our dirty clothes back to the store to do our laundry. While we’re waiting for it, we sit on the bench outside drinking beer. Our room has a kitchenette with a stove and oven, so we also buy some actual spaghetti and pasta sauce and a box of brownie mix. Laundry complete, we invite Sinbad and a nobo hiker, Blue Sky, to come by our room for brownies. Blue Sky brings more beer and we all sit around until way past our usual hiker bedtime talking about this and other adventures and stuffing ourselves full of gooey brownies.