I was kinda self-congratulatory last night about how comfortable I felt alone in the woods, but then I wake up at 4 and lay afraid in bed for an hour, until the sky starts to lighten, before I can manage to fall back asleep. The area where I’m camped seemed fine last night, but now it feels ominous — no undergrowth whatsoever, just dry branches and brown ground. The trees seem dead until you look way up at their drab green canopies.
I wake up again at 6 and wonder if it’s raining — it doesn’t seem to be, but everything feels damp and heavy. I pack up pretty quickly and get on trail. Almost immediately the undergrowth returns, ferns and wildflowers and beargrass and huckleberry (no berries though!). It’s not raining, but it’s very foggy. And then it is raining, and I grumble to myself as I dig in my pack for my rain jacket and rain skirt.
I eat a bar while I walk, and then luck onto some ripe thimbleberries for breakfast dessert. The trail is overgrown in parts, and my legs are soaked from the wet plants I can’t help brushing against. It’s not raining hard at all, but everything is wet and visibility is poor.
The forest gives way to a huge clearcut; I can’t see where its edges are in the fog. There’s some kind of truck or equipment somewhere in the foggy distance beeping its horn or sounding some kind of chime. I follow the trail across a maze of logging roads. There are no trees, but tons of blackberries, wildflowers, lots of plants I can’t name.
Back in the woods, a hiker catches me — I passed him and his daughter early in the morning while they were breaking camp. His daughter is nobo, and he joined her for a day out of Cascade Locks. We chat for a while about places we’ve hiked (he’s hiked into the crater of Mount Saint Helens! So cool) until I pull over for a pit stop.
I keep stepping wrong and slipping on little rocks like ball bearings under my feet. I don’t fall (yet?), but I’m moving slow and feeling pretty tired. I’m finally at the right elevation for ripe berries, though, and use every red thimbleberry as an excuse to stop for a moment.
The weather starts to clear, and then in no time at all it’s a hot, sunny day like yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I strip off my layers right around the time I reach the first trail junction for Table Mountain, about halfway, mileage-wise, through my day. From here I’m in familiar territory… or I thought I would be, in any case. For some reason, nothing looks familiar. Is this really the right trail? I would swear I’ve never hiked this trail before, but I know I did it just a couple of months ago, when I was training for Rainier. Jamais vu — I check Guthook on my phone after every turn, making sure I’m still following that red line. A Stellar’s Jay yells at me from a tree.
J. is going to meet me on trail today (mid-run for him) and then drive me home from Cascade Locks. I’ve been keeping an eye out for him, and finally I see him struggling up a hill on trail, head down — I have to call to him twice to get his attention. We hug, and he continues past me to finish his run. I have about five miles left before the Oregon border, and he wants to run up a bit further, run back down, and then walk out the last couple miles with me.
I continue on, slow and not particularly steady. My feet are aching and I feel kinda zombie-like. It occurs to me to eat some snacks, and that helps a little bit. The trail still looks unfamiliar. I realize I’ve maybe never seen it in full sun. It’s always been blustery or overcast when I’ve been up here.
J. catches me again when I’m still a couple miles from the bridge. I shuffle along the trail, J. walking behind me. After approximately forever, we step off the trail and onto the pavement, and then we cross the highway to the Bridge of the Gods.
It’s narrow and windy and I’m surprised to feel my mostly-manageable fear of heights kick in. I walk my left hand along the railing, giving oncoming traffic the predator stare. J. takes a few photos of me and then says, “you should look down!” At first I refuse, but then dare to look down through the metal grating we’re walking over at the river many, many feet below.
On the other side, I follow J. to his car and we drive to Thunder Island, where I drink and eat and moan a little about how sore my feet are, and then we get soft serve at East Wind, and then we drive back to Portland, and I greet my impossibly soft cats, and I take an amazing shower.