A warm, hazy morning. The lake is just as pretty in the morning as it was yesterday evening. Unsure about hiking south into the smoke, Backup and I decide to hike together today, and leave camp around ten with our sights set on Lava Spring, about twenty miles distant. Pretty quickly we decide to press on, to see how it goes with respect to the smoke. We meet a few nobo hikers who, when asked, say, “Oh yeah, it was pretty bad this morning; I was using a bandana. But maybe it’s clearing up.” We catch whiffs of the fire off and on all day — Backup likes it, says it smells like campfire. There’s no seam in the sky today, but no red-black-yellow either, just a general haze over everything.
What happens today? When I ask Backup at the end of the day, he’ll shrug and say, “We hiked twenty miles.” The trail goes gently up and down through woods. Nothing is particularly notable, really, except maybe the smoky haze. We leapfrog each other, meeting at creeks or tent sites every few miles, until we’ve hiked twenty miles.
When we were in White Pass, I looked at the calendar and realized how close it’s getting to time for me to get off the trail for a couple of weddings, and I decided to end this section at Trout Lake. I’d hoped to be at Cascade Locks before now, or even, originally, much further than that. I’m humbled by how hard this has been. By how much my feet hurt (all the time. Still). By how grateful I am to get to town every time we get to town. By how very different this is from bike touring. When we first started, I told hikers who asked that, yes, I was a thru-hiker, going all the way to Mexico. I’ve been less and less ambitious in my self-identification since then. Today I tell a nobo named Toto (he’s from Kansas) who asks if I’m hiking thru, “I thought so, but it turns out I’m too slow to be a southbounder.” Then we chat for a few minutes about bike touring.
Bike touring is how I plan to salvage my fall. I’m going home from Trout Lake. Then I’m going to a wedding in California, and then to another wedding in New York. And then I’m going to ride my bike from Trout Lake to somewhere in California, following Adventure Cycling’s Sierra-Cascades route, which lines up roughly with the PCT. And then I guess I’ll get back on trail and hike to Mexico. One way or another, I’m going to cover this ground.
I’m trying not to be too disappointed in myself. Usually I’m pretty good about following through on my goals. But here’s a thing: many of the nobo thru-hikers we’ve met fall into one of two categories. First there are the cheerful hikers. They ask about views and wildlife; they want to know our plans; they cheer us on and wish us happy trails. Then there are the downtrodden, beaten-up hikers. They’re hiking to finish. They ask about water and terrain. They don’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much. I don’t want to be the second kind of hiker. So I’m quitting, for now, while I’m ahead.
Here’s most of what I feel about getting to Trout Lake, and getting off trail for a while, tomorrow or the day after: relief.