Location: The Mountain Goat Coffee Shop and Bakery — Packwood, Washington
Avocado Count: 54
Shower Count: 32
Laura’s going to Canada. My sister Laura, the one getting married on October 1st, has booked her flight to Vancouver on September 18th to greet me at the finish line with beer and ice cream. I still can’t believe it, I often daydream of what my final day will look like, and now I actually have one solid foundation to that fantasy. With this being said, I need to slow down, a lot. She just added an entire week onto my hike! Haha leave it to Laura to take hold of my journey and control the very last part. I’ll for sure hit bad weather now, but I am so, so grateful that she is coming. Another positive is that now I HAVE to zero every chance I get. What a bummer! My body hurts and my feet hurt to touch the ground and now I HAVE to rest them. This means I’ll be spending a lot more money, but just like I’ve been telling everyone all summer “eh, I’ll make more money again someday.” So I’ll continue to spend my nights in golden robes in the lovely presidential suites at the Four Seasons.
Funny part about it is that the resupply points in Washington are no-nothing ski resorts or tiny “hick towns” as one guy told me. True to form, I’m so excited about it.
Rewind: this section of my blog was written last week in Trout Lake, Washington.
I’m not sure what’s going on. I know that I’m in Washington somewhere, and I know that every step I take I get closer to realizing my goal. I would say I am getting one step closer to realizing my dream, but we all know I am living my dream every day, the dream is in the journey. The dream is allowing the sun to wake me up as I moan and groan, and then slowly getting ready for the day while half of me is still coiled up in my sleeping bag. A lot of pivoting goes on, a lot of pivoting. The dream is hiking all day, meeting up with old friends, and making new ones. My favorite part of the dream is when I am within a mile of where I hope to camp, my feet hurting but my body feeling light as I have accomplished so much. I wash my face, I wash my feet, I boil water, I write in my journal, I read my book, I eat my chocolate. My dream is in every moment of everyday. My dream is in the routine that I have come to love. The routine that exhausts me beyond comprehension, yet the dream that has left me with boundless energy.
I can’t make up my mind. As I left Cascade Locks in the late afternoon, I was so high on life. I hiked 7 miles and the whole time was trying to figure out ways to make this last longer. How can I slow this down without sacrificing the physical challenge and accomplishment? Should I get to Canada, turn around, and hike down to see my friends? How hard would they laugh at me? What words and literary phrases would they use to describe the situation, would they all STILL go right over my head? This thought was squashed the next morning when I remembered how difficult it was to get out of my sleeping bag. Progressively more difficult.
It has continued to be warm, so I have continued to take advantage of it and am still starting my hike no later than 7:30. The mornings are so quiet and peaceful, especially in a really dense old-growth forest. On the first day there was not even a breeze to speak about, it was as silent as a day gets. Quietest day on the PCT I have had. I found 2 Starbucks instant coffee packets in the hiker box and thought they would be a great addition to my 80+ mile hike to Trout Lake. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t want them. The mornings were so quiet and peaceful, I didn’t want anything to disrupt that calm. I knew if I added caffeine to the mix I would feel a bit more intense, my thoughts would be quick and plenty, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to wake up naturally and walk slowly for the first few hours. There is just something so wonderfully magical about the forest in Washington. It’s unlike any other forest I’ve been in.
My first full day in Washington I accomplished 31 miles and over 8,000 ft. in elevation gain. Kind of ridiculous. I didn’t mean it, really. Okay, maybe I did. I just wanted to complete a 30 mile day in every state, so I thought I’d get it out of the way early. What if I get hurt or sick? Got to take advantage of the beautiful weather and rested muscles while I can. The climbing didn’t seem too bad, at times I barely noticed I was going up. The trail was so soft and covered in a bed of pine needles. It was quality grade-A trail. No terrain is easier or more fun to hike on. I am around a bunch of new people again, both good and bad. There was a big festival in Cascade Locks that a lot of hikers hitched up (or down) to, and most left the same day I did. Another motivation of my initial big day was to get ahead of the group. There’s plenty of people ahead of me for sure, but the people behind me were definitely the party people, and I kind of just wanted to get some space between us. How anti-social is THAT! Oh well, a big reason of choosing to do this particular long trail is because of the solitude it offers, the remoteness. I like to hike and camp alone now-a-days. I like to be social in town and along the way on the trail. At night I like to make my own spot to camp on, both because I feel wilder and because I know someone won’t come in and set up right next to me and snore all night. Anti-social is what I’ve become but I don’t care one bit. I love this style of hiking and it fits me well. I also have less than 400 miles to go and darnnit I’m gonna hike however I want. It’s my one shot, and I’m going to do what makes me happiest. It’s also that fear that if I change things up now that I will lose control and possibly not finish. I think that is true with everyone in one way or another. We get so used to doing something one way that we get scared to switch it up, especially when it’s close to completion, as if we’ll lose all control and all our work will crumble. I have hiked in so many different ways this summer and I am ready to finish up in this manner. With that being said, I bet something will swoop in and change it drastically soon enough. If that’s the case, I’ll roll with it. Because on the other hand, “what the heck.”
My second day in Washington I aimed for another 30, I got 29.5 in and saw a prime spot so I grabbed it. It was wonderful until when, in the middle of the night, a bear came by for a visit. The night before a little mouse frolicked into my tent and jumped all over me, doing tricks even Simone Biles couldn’t pull off. It was hilarious, and the mouse was adorable, I appreciated its abundant energy. I was just laying there reading so I got to watch the whole mouse show as I sat up and said “hey you, get outta here wouldja!” “come on now, get!” My second zipper broke on my screen door so it’s an open invite to critters.
Oh right, the bear. I forgot about bears and the perils. Not much to worry about in Oregon, so this woke me up a bit. The sound of a bear walking around is vastly different from a dumb deer, vastly. I didn’t have to look out to know what it was. Loud thuds, bears are heavy, bears are in Washington. Damnit. I was half-asleep as I threw my coconut oil into my backpack as if that would make any difference. I felt very vulnerable with a broken door, but I somehow fell back asleep pretty quickly. Maybe because I doubled up on Magnesium that night. In the morning I took out my magnifying glass and looked for bear prints. Okay fine I don’t have a magnifying glass and the last piece of equipment you need when looking for bear footprints is a magnifying glass, but it sets a good image right? Anyways, I didn’t see any, mostly because I wasn’t camped on impressionable soil, dirt, or sand. If I had a choice I’d let a mouse run over me every night then have to listen to a bear stomping around while I’m trying to get my beauty sleep. I’d choose a mouse every.time.
Randomly on one of the days I met Nancy. Nancy is Michelle’s mom. Following? No? That’s because Nancy came out of nowhere. I crossed a bridge and there she was, standing in front of her car. She said “Hey! You need anything?” I hesitated, my initial answer to that question is always no, because I never NEED anything, I’m completely self-sufficient, one of my favorite traits acquired this summer. I looked at her and smiled and asked what she was up too. She said she is waiting for her daughter Michelle to get there, she is heading Southbound. She is there to give her food and drinks for the next section. She asked me again if I needed anything. This question was getting harder. She didn’t give me options, which would have made for an easier answer. I made a lot of unsure sounds like “ahhhhhh ehhhhh i meannnnnnn maybeeeeeeee??? but no thank you I’m fine, I have all I need.” Nancy felt my resistance, saw right through me. She said “HERE, take this soda and bag of trail mix and keep going! get out of here would ya! you have miles to hike dontcha!” I felt like I was at a water stop for the longest race ever. It felt good, I felt like a professional endurance athlete. She shoved them in my hand and I screamed a high-pitched THANK YOU” as I raced away, just as she wanted me to. I passed Michelle 2 miles later and told her that her mother is a saint. She laughed and said yes, yes she is.
After my night with the bear, I hiked 15 miles to the extremely special town of Trout Lake. Trout Lake is a 13 mile hitch down a forest service road. When I got to the road, I met Trail Angels Coppertone and Jerry. Coppertone is known among the PCT community for following the thick of the pack all summer and making us ROOT BEER FLOATS. Jerry is a newcomer to the trail angeling world and had tons of snacks and sausages cooking. I hung out with them and met 5 new hikers relaxing around the spread. Proton and DreamCatcher had a friend coming to pick them up to take them into Trout Lake and invited me along. We got into town and had lunch together at the Cafe. These guys were so great and we became friends quickly. They had other friends already in town and before I knew it I was surrounded by a ton of new, hilarious, and really outgoing hikers. It was a typical town lunch filled with laughter, conversation, and mockery of the trail. Proton snuck up and paid my bill, hikers are so generous. We receive so much support and generosity from trail angels that we immediately start paying it forward towards other hikers and the communities we land in. It’s an incredible circle of humanity.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, Trout Lake means a lot to me because it is where we were based out of for our summer doing Trail Work with AmeriCorps. It was in this town where someone told me what P.C.T. stood for. It was in this town where I saw my first real mountain (Adams). It was in this town where I learned what Organic food was. It was in this town where I met Chuckles and Camel. It was in this town where I learned how to backpack. It was in this town where I was rewarded for good, honest, hard-work. It was in this town where I fully realized the true meaning of volunteering. The biggest risk I ever took was applying and accepting the position as “Trail Crew Team Member” for the Northwest Service Academy, getting on a plane for my first time out West, and embarking on a life in the elements. All brand new. Zero experience. Just a good feeling.
I felt like I made it home. I made it back to Trout Lake all the way from Mexico. I’d been in touch with one of the old coordinators for the trail crew program, and friend, Katie. I am currently at her house now. Her and her husband have welcomed me into their home, given me full access to laundry, shower, a bed, and their refrigerator. Angels. They have 2 adorable boys who I got to hang out with on Friday and we kicked the soccer ball around and got Huckleberry milkshakes. Trout Lake is tiny, it is a general store, cafe, local watering hole, and post office. Mt. Adams watches over the town providing some of the best town scenery one can find. It’s the simple life, the type of town I think we all deep down fantasize living in. I am lucky enough to have lived here, and to know the amazing souls who have made a life here.
I thought I would only spend 1 night, but Katie made me so comfortable that I am extending my stay. Tonight is the last “pizza party” at Debbie and Rods house. They have a wood-fired oven and invite the whole town over every Friday night in the summer. They roll out the dough, all you have to do is bring your own toppings and a dessert to share if you wish. When I heard that I just couldn’t leave! Also, Camel should be coming into town today, and it would be great to see him here!
Okay fast forward! I wrote all of that from Trout Lake, I am now in Packwood at the said cafe. Clearly, I found Camel and we had a blast at the neighborhood pizza party. All of the ingredients were locally sourced and the cheese made by the local cheese guy (who has made it quite big in the 5 years since I’ve last been here, ever hear of Cascadia Creamery?). It was a great way to end my time in Trout Lake, and after Katie made us pancakes in the morning, her husband Ian drove us to the trailhead.
Camel and I hiked the first couple of hours together talking more than we both have probably talked in 2 months. We’ve both made lots of friends since the Mile 55 split, but still mostly fly solo. During the conversation I think I successfully followed 1 movie/literary reference. That’s really good for me. Applause is not only appreciated, but required. Thank you, thank you. The rest of the day I hiked and picked huckleberries. I was eating so many I kept hearing my moms voice “you’re eating so many huckleberries you’re going to turn INTO A HUCKLEBERRY!” Much like she tells my dad “you’re going to turn INTO A BURGER.” So I naturally thought of Violet Beauregarde and how funny it would be if that really happened to people after eating too much of one thing. I then crossed a river that looked like chocolate and just gave in and recited the whole movie in my head. You can understand my surprise coming back into service and seeing that Gene Wilder had passed. So strange.
The day had some really lovely clouds that turned really dark in the late afternoon. As dark as some were, they still didn’t seem threatening and I knew they would blow away quickly. It’s a good thing that ended up being true, because the following day we entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness, the only other area on the trail that you can even compare to the Sierra. I’ve worked in the Goat Rocks before, but I was still wildly excited. I knew I’d be seeing it from a different perspective this time. I’d been looking forward to this day for a really long time.
The Goat Rocks was such an incredible day that it is getting its own photo gallery blog post. I will have that up later today with a paragraph about the section. I am currently taking a zero here in Packwood. Yesterday I hitched the 20 miles into town with a guy named Arnold. Arnold was driving a slaughter truck. It was big, loud, and stinky. I was with my friend Green Bean and when he pulled over she was like oh no, no no no, you go for it, I’ll get the next one, I don’t support that. Green Bean is a vegan. You couldn’t write this stuff.
The good news is that I’m still alive. Everything about getting in that slaughter truck SHOULD have seemed like the wrong thing to do. But it didn’t feel wrong, it felt oddly normal, like I climb up into slaughter trucks with guys named Arnold on the daily. He’s a really nice guy by the way, Arnold. He was envious of my adventure, he says he’s been in the slaughtering business his whole life and that “it’s a living, not a life.” Well said, Arnold, well said.