In the morning, when I go down to the lake to collect water, the surface is perfectly calm and flat. The ripples I make when I dip my cup in are the only ripples, and I watch them expand out and out, watch the reflection of the trees and mountains across the lake start wiggling and get hazy.
It’s already warm out when we start hiking, and it only gets warmer. The sun still feels novel and wonderful in the morning, but by afternoon we’re ducking into spots of shade whenever we find them. Still, we’re making good time, and I’m feeling great. “I’m really enjoying the trail today!” I tell Backup. We’re not even in alpine wonderland, but today I’m loving the trees, the streams, the berry bushes, the boulders and rocks, all of it. It feels new again, and beautiful again. I try real hard and I make this feeling reinforce itself. I feel good, so the trail is beautiful and fun, so I feel good!
We stop for water five miles in at a place Guthook descriptively calls “cascading stream” and which we’ve been warned by maps and signs may be a difficult ford. It’s not so bad — a few logs have been carefully placed across the only spot where a rock hop would be tricky, and we’re able to pick our way across. When I’ve crossed and am waiting for Backup to finish packing up, two older hikers come down the trail heading in the opposite direction. One crosses and the other stops to chat with me for a few minutes. It’s Bipolar, whose blog I read before I got on the trail. We exchange notes about hiking and the trail; Bipolar is enthusiastic and kind, and the encounter leaves me energized for the big climb of the day, next up: Cathedral Pass.
We climb rocky switchbacks, then wooded switchbacks. We stop on some logs next to the trail about halfway up for snacks and shade, then continue. Near the top, there’s meadows and trees and bushes and the trail rolls around and between all of these, with big rocky summits rising up above.
Three miles down to Deep Lake. Every section hiker we’ve passed today has asked us: are you camping at Deep Lake tonight? No, we plan to go further, but when we get there, it’s clear why they’re asking — it’s very pretty. We fill up on water and take another break, then push on.
I’ve stepped wrong and rolled my left ankle twice so far today. Both times I’ve taken a few nervous steps and the pain has quickly faded. Now, a little tired, I do it two more times in quick succession. After the last time, the pain thankfully still fades away, but the joint feels weak, and I baby it for a few slow miles as the day starts to fade and shadows lengthen. We’re still walking through a million different environments: rocky outcroppings, steep river valleys, a section of forest bowled over completely by an avalanche at some point, huge ferns that come up to my shoulders, and more.
The last few miles go a little quicker when the terrain eases and I start to feel better about my ankle. We finally find our campsite, just a little clearing right off the trail, mercifully unoccupied. It’s just around the corner from Spade Creek, a reliable creek big enough for a steel-cable-reinforced bridge. We set up the tent and then find big rocks to sit on below the bridge. I soak my feet and ankles in the cold water for a few minutes, and then we cook dinner and watch the frogs.
Here’s a little thing I’m really good at on this hike: I keep my mug and spoon very clean. I lick my spoon thoroughly after every meal, and when I’m finished eating or drinking out of my mug, I add a little hot water, scrape the sides with my spoon, drink down the water, repeat. It’s silly but very pleasing to have a clean mug and spoon the next time I eat, without ever dumping out any food residue in the wilderness.
Bedtime and it’s still warm. I felt good today. I feel good now.
I admit: I am frustrated by the learning curve I’m traveling on this trail. I thought I had the skills I needed. But: this morning we stop for water a few miles into the day, at a pretty little lake. When I’ve rounded the corner, I see another hiker on the lakeshore, packing up his stove. Backup and I drop our packs twenty feet away and say good morning.
“I’ll yield a bit of shade to you,” the hiker says, moving a bit further away from us.
“Oh, I’m still really enjoying the sun!” I say, and I pull out my water filter and set to work gathering and filtering water.
A little bit later the hiker gathers his pack and heads out. As he passes, he says, with a bit of sarcasm, “Nice sharing this lake with y’all.”
Ok, ok, at first I am offended because what is with these passive aggressive jerks, eh? But this is twice now I’ve pissed hikers off by quietly existing in the same space as them. Backup, when pressed, tells me (more or less) that my city social skills do not serve me well in the backcountry. “People come to the backcountry to be alone.” When I protest that I needed water, he tells me I should have made conversation in that case. I am so frustrated with myself and these people and these rules I don’t know.
“What happened to ‘beginner’s mind’?” asks Backup, and I stew in my frustration for a while longer, upset with him and myself.
Ike catches and passes us in the morning, and then Wallace catches us and the three of us hike together for a while, chatting about the trail and what we eat and vegetarianism. We’re in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and we do indeed pass alpine lake after alpine lake. By early evening we’re all spread out again, and Backup and I climb the switchbacks to Pieper Pass alone. There’s a beautiful view of Glacier Peak over Glacier Lake, and a perfect snack stop rock halfway up the climb. Yesterday I told Backup that my goal for this section was to not stress out. I’m trying hard to be cheerful.
We catch up to Ike and Wallace at Desolation Lake, but they’re hiking on and we’re stopping for the night. There’re a ton of folks camped nearby, but we manage to find an empty spot tucked away up above the lake. Dinner, blog, bit of reading (Fahrenheit 451), sleep.
I wake up early in the bunkhouse at Hiker Haven. I doze in my fluffy dry sleeping bag for a while, and then tiptoe outside with my food bag to re-sort it on the concrete patio where Cynthia, a nobo section hiker, and Ike, another sobo, are chatting and sorting through their own resupplies.
After my impromptu shopping spree at the convenience store in Skykomish yesterday, I have a ridiculous amount of candy for this section. This’ll probably be a bit of a pendulum swinging back and forth, I’m sure; all sweet for one section, and then all I’ll want for the next will be savory and salty snacks.
At ten we all pile into Jerry’s truck — me, Backup, Cynthia, Ike, and one more sobo, Wallace — and drive into Sky for breakfast at the Cascadia Inn. Eggs, potatoes, toast, homemade apple butter, and the thickest, fluffiest pancake I’ve ever eaten.
After breakfast we all go our separate ways. The other hikers have errands to run and relaxin’ to do and are taking a zero at Hiker Haven. Backup and I hang out outside the inn for a while; Backup repacks his pack (one of his favorite pastimes) while I call my folks.
An hour later we walk to the post office so Backup can mail a few more things home; the woman who works there, just like everyone else in this town, is just about the friendliest person you’ve ever met.
An hour after that, we walk across the bridge and stop to pet an adorable eight-week-old puppy whose owner turns out to be the mayor. We walk to the deli, where Backup gets a sandwich and I get a milkshake. While we’re sitting on the porch outside, a bike tourer pulls up and I just have to ask him about his trip — he started in Daytona, Florida, rode up to Bar Harbor, Maine, is on his way to Seattle now, and plans to ride from there to San Diego and then back to Florida. Awesome!
I’m definitely thinking of my TransAm ride more on this hike than I have in a while. Bike touring is such a great way to travel. But today’s the first day I’ve really experienced what people mean when they say the PCT is a community. I’m not sure anything I experienced on the TransAm really quite compares. It’s about a critical mass, maybe. I didn’t think I’d get it as a sobo. But we’re starting to run into people more than once and collect bits of their stories, you know? I like it.
So yes, town has been great. But even still — I am relieved to find that I’m feeling a bit antsy to get back on the trail. The deli loans us their pre-made perfect hitchhiking sign: PCT HIKER NEEDS RIDE TO STEVENS PASS. We wave it around, smiling at drivers, until a woman pulls a u-turn to pick us up. She and her son are driving home from visiting her mom, and the windows are down, Fleetwood Mac on the stereo. They drop us off and wish us well, and we head in to the coffee bar for one last check of our food and one last flush toilet before we hit the trail.
We hike lazily, stopping to pick blueberries and huckleberries. We meet a trio of older day hikers who’ve been berry-picking and have the stained hands and huge smiles to prove it. I feel so much happier with the sun shining, I don’t even care that the milkshake I drank before we left town isn’t sitting very well. Everything is better in the sun. We fill Backup’s cup with berries as we go, underneath the ski lifts of the Stevens Pass ski area, up to the top of one lift and then down the other side. We make camp less than five miles in, just about far enough to be out of sight of ski lifts and powerlines, next to a small lake, and eat the whole cup of berries for dessert after dinner.
We wake up and everything is still wet, wet, wet. But Stevens Pass is just four miles away. Backup skips his oats but not his coffee, and then we pack everything up and stuff it more haphazardly than usual into our packs, shoulder them, and set off down the trail.
My knee hurts, but Stevens Pass is less than four miles away!
It’s raining again, but Stevens Pass is less than three miles away!
We took off our rain gear and the trail is overgrown and we’re getting soaked from all the wet plants, but Stevens Pass is less than two miles away!
We cross the highway on a pedestrian bridge, and then we’re there. I order the mocha of my dreams, plus a cinnamon roll, from the very kind and patient barista. We retrieve our resupply boxes and chat with a nobo section hiker, Han Solo. Everything is wonderful! Everyone is beautiful!
When we head back outside and cross back over the bridge to hitch to Skykomish, we spot Cowgirl and Dragonfly, two other sobos we’ve met twice on the trail so far, hanging out at their sweet Airstream trailer with their friend who’s been driving the trailer to meet them at towns. When we mention that we’re headed to Sky, Dragonfly offers to give us a ride to the Dinsmores’ — he’s headed there to do some laundry anyway. We gladly accept, and happily linger in the trailer with Cowgirl’s dogs, one of whom is hiking some of the PCT with them this year and the other of whom hiked the AT with Cowgirl last year.
The Dinsmores welcome us to Hiker Haven, which is a truly remarkable place — it reminds me a little bit of the Cookie Lady’s house in Acton, Virginia on the TransAmerica Trail bike route. Andrea and Jerry are not just collectors of unique trail memorabilia, though; they’ve also anticipated hikers’ needs and desires remarkably well and created a true haven. There’s a washing machine and dryer, clothesline, a whole shelving unit full of clean loaner clothes ranging from practical to bizarre, a shower stocked with soap and shampoo, clean towels, bunks with pillows, comfy armchairs, a fridge and freezer, a huge hiker box (free/swap box), info about weather and fire closures, wifi, and more. I feel welcomed and soon I feel clean.
I put on a flowy maxi dress from the collection of loaner clothes and wear it with my sneakers and puffy jacket to Skykomish where Backup, Dragonfly, and I head next in search of a good meal. We get a little derailed first by the convenience store attached to the gas station, which has a pretty incredible selection of candy and snacks, but we eventually find our way to what is, by early evening, pretty much the only game in town (or at least the only game with vegetarian options — apparently the bar next door has great fried chicken), the Cascadia Inn. The kind and patient (are you sensing a theme here? Everyone has been so wonderful today) proprietor brings us all veggie burgers and then three different desserts, which we all share.
Three more hikers bound for Hiker Haven pile in for the ride back. Dragonfly and I chat about blind spots and not knowing what you don’t know while his laundry finishes up, and then he heads back up to Stevens Pass and the trailer. I hope that he, Cowgirl, and Twinkle Toes (their canine companion) become recurring characters on this blog.
It’s been a lovely, relaxing day.
(photo by Dragonfly)
It rains all night and is still raining in the morning. I closed all the doors to keep the rain out, but the result is so much condensation that when heavy drops fall off the trees above us onto the tent, water shakes off the inside of the tent roof and onto our faces. Yes, it is raining inside the tent.
It takes us a while to get going in the morning, but the rain shows no signs of letting up, and we really need to get some miles in. We chat with OCD while we all pack up — he’s a super ultralight hiker (“16 pounds with five days of food,” he brags when we ask; we’re appropriately impressed) and rags Backup good-naturedly about his various backups. We push through the huckleberry bushes back to the trail and then say our goodbyes, heading in opposite directions.
We walk in the rain. We walk in the rain some more. Late in the afternoon we sit by a lake for a snack-eating and water-filtering break, and it looks like the sun might come out… and then we walk in the rain some more.
Tonight we’re camped less than four miles from Steven’s Pass, where we’ll pick up resupply packages at the “coffee bar,” and I’ll drink a huge mocha with as much whipped cream as they’ll give me. Then we’ll hitch to Skykomish and find someplace where they’ll serve us eggs for breakfast. Then we’ll avail ourselves of the Dinsmores’ hospitality at Hiker Haven and dry out our sleeping bags and tent and socks and shoes and soggy brains.
I read back through the blog entries I’ve written during this stretch from Stehekin. Why has this section been so hard? The first half was hard because ??? (novelty of the hike wearing off? Physical pain and difficulty?). The second half has been hard because of rain, I guess. I told Backup a couple of days ago, “I don’t know if I suck at this or I suck at doing this with you.” We stress each other out. Is that because our approaches to this hike are incompatible, or is it because we’re both still learning how to do it, how to stay comfortable, get enough calories, stay present enough to enjoy it? I really don’t know.