Friday, September 4, 2015
PCT 2014, Day 130: The Last State
PART FIVE: WASHINGTON
September 1st, Monday
2155 to 2174
Zach and I woke up the next morning again to a squawk and the shadow of scrub jays perched on our tent. We unzipped the rain fly and stepped out into the loveliest day you could ask for— shining sun, dewy grass, and shreds of clouds floating lazily around the mountains in front and behind us.
A lot of people were already awake and packing up their cars. Zach and I wandered over to the main building and found a bunch of leftovers sitting out for breakfast, though the nutritional content wasn’t much. We ended up eating gigantic pretzels dipped in syrup and barbecue sauce. Breakfast of champions!
Soon we got a call from Gary, and he drove into the grounds to meet us. We threw our stuff in the car, then called softly toward Tyler and Adrienne’s tent. Sleepy-eyed, they came out to say goodbye, and we exchanged hugs, hoping to see each other when Zach and I returned to Portland, victorious.
Zach and I piled into Gary’s car and Gary handed us some bagels for breakfast. We ate them greedily and packed a few to take with us (we had an obscene amount of food by this point).
We parked at the lot right next to Bridge of the Gods, and the three of us started walking down the road, looking for the point where the trail diverged from the highway to climb up into the mountains again.
Soon we found it and began hiking up the trail as it steeply cut alongside the mountain, with the highway shrinking below us until we turned a corner and left it behind. The trail was overgrown and often required a little bushwhacking with Zach’s trekking pole. The sky overhead was blue and warm, hardly what I expected from Washington, even in the fall.
It felt good to be starting our final state on the first day of the month. It was our goal to get through Washington by October first. This seemed like a reasonable goal, considering the mileage and difficulty, but we didn’t know how it would work out in practice.
Gary hiked with us for a few miles, past some pretty ponds and across a tangle of jeep roads. At last, at one of the roads, he paused and said he was going back, for the last time. We hugged him goodbye, and he left us with one final present: a bag of jerky each. We said that we’d see him in about a month, and he hiked back down, leaving us alone. We turned forward again and delved into the woods, determined to finish the trail well.
As with any time we took more than one day off, it was hard to get back into the rhythm of hiking, and we took a ton of breaks that day. Soon we ran into a tourist area, where the trail crossed with some trails leading up to a lookout over the Columbia Gorge. The day-hikers we saw insisted that it was totally worth the detour to go to the lookout point, but Zach and I decided that hiking a mile out of our way to see a view that looked just as pretty as the last one wasn’t worth it, so we didn’t.
Sure enough, once we hiked beyond the range of most day-hikers, the trees cleared to show the pinnacle where all the tourists were hiking— and the breathtaking view besides. We saw the jutting ridge of sandstone where the lookout was, the huge Columbia River Gorge, and the mountains beyond, with Mount Hood’s dramatic peak wreathed in clouds.
Later in the day, we hiked into a steep valley, and stumbled into an ecosystem that I would wholeheartedly classify as “rainforest.” Tall thin conifers stretched above, with a jungle of broad-leafed underbrush with huge leaves below. Thick mats of moss and ferns grew on every surface, whether logs, boulders, or living trees. A pleasant humidity hung in the air, wrapping the whole forest with a misty feel. We saw lots of slugs, trailing across the deep blankets of moss, some of them longer than my hand.
I had expected the Washington section of trail to be suddenly hard, but today’s section wasn’t much different from Oregon. So despite our long breaks, we managed to make 19 miles that day. Camping was scarce in the mountain slopes, so when we saw a little flat spot under some pine trees next to a creek, we took the opportunity.
Another hiker was camped there— Shrek, whom we’d first seen in the desert and had run into a few times since. He was lower budget than we were, spreading his sleeping bag on a piece of Tyvek with no pad or tent. We chatted with him a bit, then Zach cooked macaroni and chicken.
As we set up camp and cooked, nighttime flooded over us. We were surprised by this— on one hand, we expected an early sunset because we were camped in a valley, but on the other, it was much earlier in the evening than we usually camped. It seemed like the days had suddenly gotten much shorter. After all, we were only 20 days from the autumnal equinox now. We had to put on our headlamps just to eat dinner. Then we crawled into our tent, listening to the trickling of the creek, and fell into a deep, pleasant sleep.