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PCT day 24: here we go again

In the morning Anne cooks us scrambled eggs with veggies, served with toast and slices of fresh ripe pear… It’s easy to go on and on about food, isn’t it? Later in the morning she drives us back to Snoqualmie Pass and we all eat one more time at Aardvark’s. Everything takes forever when we’re trying to get back on the trail — it’s almost 3pm by the time we leave pavement behind for dirt and duff. 

Backup and I practice our hiking-independently thing. When he stops to check the weather and send a few texts while we still have cell phone signal, I walk on, but we agree to meet in a few miles at a creek. 

I-90 is audible for miles, a dull noise like the ocean. When the trail hits a clearing on a slope, there’s a view down to it, snaking off into the distance. I feel strangely wistful to be leaving civilization behind again. On the trail I think a lot about what I want my life to be like when I’m done with this hike. Different than it was before. But the details are still vague. I guess I’m hoping that the more time I have to think about it, the more clear it’ll get and the better idea I’ll have of the steps required to get it. 

Backup gets to the creek right after me, and we set our next destination: Twilight Lake. “Twilight Lake before twilight,” says Backup. The sun is sinking slowly, and the light is just beautiful, turning the edges of trees sort of yellow and glowy. We pass Mirror Lake first, a big beautiful lake with lots of campsites scattered along the shore. We want to get a few more miles in, though. Twilight Lake turns out to be not much to look at (Mirror Lake is a hard act to follow), but a bit later we make camp in the woods near a little stream. The spot we find is too small for both our tents, so we squeeze into Backup’s new one and hit the hay. 

PCT day 23: where I used to live

First order of business today is coffee for Backup, then breakfast sandwiches at Aardvark’s. We’re waiting for our food when Ant (a sobo with whom we’ve crossed paths a few times) comes up behind us, looking hale and happy, and greets us with an arm over each of our shoulders. He’s been hiking with Dragonfly and Cowgirl, and they’re all camped with the Airstream just down the road. Cowgirl shows up and we compare notes, and then they’re off, getting ready to hit the trail again today. 

Backup and I pack up and wait for Anne, a family friend from when I was growing up, who has graciously offered to host us for the day and night. When she arrives, she sweeps us off down the highway to the REI in downtown Seattle, where Backup re-outfits himself with some necessary new gear (including a tent, so we can hike independently). Somewhere in there we get lunch (town days = all the food), and in early evening we drive across the bridge to Anne and Paul’s home. We all go out to dinner, then sit on the deck talking till bedtime.

Anne showed me, hanging on their bathroom wall, a watercolor painting I made when I visited their house on Blakely Island in the San Juans as a kid. I remember it. But it’s funny to be back where I grew up and not actually recognize much. We drove down a street in Bellevue and Backup said “oh! I’ve been here!” and I, who lived here ten years, was lost. There are places I would know: our access street off W Lk Samm Pky NE (I used to love reciting that series of abbreviations when people asked for our address), Marymoor Park, the giant chess set at Crossroads, and the neighborhoods around my high school down in Tacoma. But the cities are nothing… I never knew them the way I know the places I’ve lived as an adult.

PCT day 22: three weeks on the trail

I wake up remembering vague dreams about my cats. We soak in the springs again in the morning till we have to leave. Nothing like a cave full of steamy water to make one feel like a goddess.

The trail south through the woods is dry but everything in the environment betrays its usual wetness: moss, yellowed and brittle but covering every surface except the narrow footpath we’re following. The moss fades in and out as we switchback up scree fields, showing us where the ground is stable and where it clearly moves and shifts from time to time. 

The climb feels long and we’re low on water. We eye the ridge above us, sure that Snow Lake is just on the other side. Indeed, when we finally crest the ridge, we have a great view down to the lake, which is crowded (relatively speaking) with day hikers and weekenders… we’ve abruptly left the backcountry and entered, maybe, the medium-country. 

We fill up on water and then hike the last bit of trail. When it ends, we’re standing in a parking lot right outside the ski area I used to ski at all the time when I was a kid — Alpental. I stare up at the slopes I skied a million times but have never seen without snow, grinning in amusement at this minor serendipity. Oh yeah — I grew up just down the highway from here. 

We start the short road walk towards Snoqualmie Pass and get about halfway before hitching a ride from a passing car full of day hikers, who cheerfully drop us right across the street from the Chevron station and, much more importantly, the food cart parked in front of it. Aardvark’s! We’ve been hearing about this cart from nobo hikers since we left Stevens Pass. I get tofu curry and a downright transcendent fruit smoothie. The cook gives us complimentary Rainiers and we cheers. It’s good to be in town.

PCT day 21: hot springs

This morning Backup takes some time to repair his shoe — the repair has become obligatory at this point, with a huge gash in the upper along one side, from arch to toe. He sews it together handily with dental floss, covers that with medical tape and duct tape, and tacks the tape down with more floss stitches. When we start walking, he’s pleased with his handiwork: “My shoe feels like a shoe!”

Today’s hike is beautiful! We find ourselves in the kind of forest that’s all decomposition and recomposition, fallen logs and little trees growing from the fallen logs, moss and mushrooms everywhere, the trail springy with pine duff. We spot pink flagging on a branch by the trail. “BIG TREE VIEW,” it says, with an arrow — we look and see another bit of flagging twenty feet off the trail. Modern-day will-o-wisps! We follow and do indeed get a view of a big tree. We’re in big tree country.

We cross a bridge over what I think is the Snoqualmie River — some branch of it anyway. The rushing water has worn the rocks smooth into chutes. We climb down to collect some water and can’t resist hopping around on the rocks for a few minutes before we hike on. 

Further down the trail, we hear water again. Another creek no doubt — but when we get closer, the noise is revealed to be from an actual honest-to-god showerhead attached to a tree trunk. There is an honest-to-god shower right next to the trail, plumbed from the river (we assume) and constantly going. “What!” I exclaim at least a half dozen times. The water’s cold but we rinse our hands for kicks. 

And just a bit further — a fountain! Made out of pipe and old rusted parts of something, with rocks placed in a circle all around to make a little pool. This trail crew was definitely having some fun. 

Another bridge over the river, but instead of crossing, we follow signs for Goldmyer Hot Springs. In no time at all, we’re arriving at the little cabin and the sign that says “ring bell when arriving.” Turns out they do have room for us; we pay to camp for the night and go claim our spot down by the river at a site with big log benches and a little table made out of old metal equipment of some sort. It’s early, sure, but what a sweet spot. We spend the rest of the afternoon lounging in the sun, soaking our feet in the river, and doing as much nothing as possible. In the evening we make dinner with our mosquito headnets pulled down over our faces while we cook and cinched down around our foreheads and over our ears, lunch-lady-style, when we need to take bites. 

The hot springs themselves are a little hike away. We have them briefly to ourselves as dusk falls: a few pools of varying temperatures and, most wonderfully, a deep dark cave full of water and steam at the top. Backup sits at the very back, immersing himself in it, while I mostly sit in and out of the slightly cooler pool just outside the mouth of the cave. It’s fantastic, and we stay until dark, then walk back down to our campsite and drink mint tea by moonlight. 

We’re up later than usual, but tomorrow we just have ten miles into Snoqualmie Pass. In the morning I bet we’ll soak again before we leave, anyway. 

PCT day 20: alternatively

A few days ago we met a few nobo hikers who totally sold us on the Goldmyer Alternate. “The hot springs are great! Plus the trail is better maintained than the PCT, has less elevation gain, and it’s ten miles shorter.” Ok, ok, twist my arm. A mile into our hike this morning, we leave the PCT. We’re carrying several liters of water each, just in case the only water source mentioned for the alternate in Halfmile’s app is in fact the only water source available. Weighed down thusly, we start uphill in the sun.

Mercifully, we encounter two hikers coming the other way within a few miles. “There’s plenty of water!” they assure us. “A gorgeous lake at the top of the climb, prettiest we’ve seen, and plenty of water after that.” We dump some water and chug some of the rest, relieved, and climb in the heat towards the promised lake. 

We take breaks: first at the first creek we cross, which turns out to be “oh, maybe three football fields” short of the lake according to a group of hikers who’ve just gone for a swim there. Then at the lake itself, where I take off all my clothes and try (and fail) to dare myself to swim — I get knee-deep, but the water’s cold! Then above the lake, where the trail crosses an inlet and the inlet forms a beautiful blue pool below a dozen little waterfalls — here I take all my clothes off again, and this time I slip in semi-accidentally down a slippery rock and end up in water up to my chest, so cold I can hardly take a breath. But it feels good, too; as soon as I’m out of the water and back in the sun, I’m sweating again.

A few more switchbacks and we’re finally at the top. Off the PCT, the terrain is more variable and sometimes trickier and steeper. We’re slower on the downhill than we usually are, and the hot sun isn’t helping. We break one more time at another creek crossing, sitting in a shady clearing to snack, filter water, and debate the merits of pushing miles tonight. 

In the end, we don’t. We walk a few more miles and stop at a wooded campsite next to yet another stream. I’ve got a headache from the sun and/or from a good day gone less-than-awesome. Backup’s decided to get off trail, or at least to stop hiking with me, at Snoqualmie Pass, which is tomorrow night, unless we decide to spend tomorrow night at Goldmyer Hot Springs (assuming they have room for us) and extend this section an extra day (luckily, I am not eating anywhere near the 4000 calories per day I packed starting this section). I have mixed feelings. I hope that we both remember the last few weeks as mostly positive. They’ve definitely been challenging, but I’ve also enjoyed Backup’s company very much.