September 8th, Monday
2291 to 2305.9
In keeping with our pattern of hiking in Washington, we got up way too late. Shrek and Ken were long gone. We hiked into the woods at a limping pace— our legs were sore from hiking the Goat Rocks yesterday, although we were in fairly good shape otherwise. Besides, we were getting to our next resupply point today: White’s Pass. I was nervous, hoping that my new shoes were there— my current shoes, which I had worn since Old Station about a thousand miles ago, were thin on the soles and had very little tread left (but otherwise were holding up surprisingly well).
The scenery as we walked continued to be gorgeous (though on a different scale than the Goat Rocks): verdant rolling mountains covered in meadows and firs, with Mount Rainier’s crown almost always visible. At last we delved into woodland, wound around a bit, and ended up on a large highway. White’s Pass was a mile down the road, and we quickly saw that it was not going to be a town; as we walked toward it, we saw just a couple buildings on the side of the highway, and nothing else.
Our resupply stop was a gas station called “Kracker Barrel,” a well-kept building with rows of planters and hanging baskets of petunias to either side of the door. We dropped our packs outside, walked in and saw a world-weary woman scowling at us from behind the deck. We asked if she had our boxes, and she sighed and stumped off to the back. It took her a while, but at last she found both our food box and my shoe box, which was a relief. She plopped them both on the counter and glared at us, but despite her bad attitude, I didn’t feel like she bore any ill will toward us. Zach and I thanked her and sat down in a corner of the cafe, which had little round wire tables, some bookshelves, and a hiker box.
A few hikers were sitting around, including Zen Dawg and Don’t Ax, both of them looking a bit beaten down but still determined to make it to the end. Both of them being late middle aged, I was impressed they were still going strong.
I unpacked my shoes, which looked good, and tried them on. They felt incredibly tight, like my feet couldn’t breathe. I teared up a little, wondering if it was worth it to send them back, but Zach encouraged me just to wear them for a while and see how they felt. They seemed almost unbearably tight the rest of the day, but after that they began to fit more comfortably. They turned out to be an excellent pair of shoes (which, incidentally, I wore frequently after trail until I finally broke the heels a couple weeks ago).
As we unpacked our boxes, the world-weary woman walked up to Zach. “Hey, do you want some free pop?”
“Yes…” Zach said uncertainly.
“If you water the hanging baskets out front, I’ll give you free pop. They’re going to die if they don’t get watered but it’s too much hassle for me to do it.”
Happy for the trade, Zach took the gallon bucket and step ladder she handed him and went outside. I refilled his bucket for him, going into the back of the store to fill up the water. The woman actually smiled at us now, seeing that we were being useful.
Some weekend hikers who had overpacked came in and dumped their leftovers into the hiker box— and I scored some awesome items, like an almost-full fuel canister, a huge bag of trail mix, and a whole bag of Kashi cereal (which I proceeded to eat in one sitting).
We sat back at the table and watched the cars whiz by outside. Some people were hitching into the nearest town, Packwood, but we felt no desire to do so. The woman at the counter liked us now, and this cozy nook with the books and chairs and magazines was a nice place to sit and charge our phone and Kindle. We bought some hot dogs (they were awful) and some pastries (they were also awful) and sat side by side, contentedly eating the awful gas station food.
We had a couple shaky bars of reception here, and I considered calling home. Then I decided not to, and also decided not to feel guilty about it. I wanted to talk to my family and friends— but the amount of energy it took to fight through several hours of conversation while the calls were constantly dropping just wasn’t worth it. I was exhausted, and I needed to rest. Because of that and because I was less stressed about money, White’s Pass was one of the most relaxed resupplies we had on trail.
At last the sun was sinking toward the horizon, and we decided that we should get back to the woods to camp— it looked like there was a nice spot near a lake just three miles away. As we stood up to leave, a gaggle of hikers burst into the store. Zach and I did a double-take, then exclaimed a greeting.
It was Sad Fish, Smoky, Banjo, and Goosebumps! We’d seen Sad Fish in Etna, but we hadn’t seen Banjo since the Sierra, and Smoky and Goosebumps since the desert! I gaped especially at Goosebumps— she looked as fresh and put-together as always, her Disney-princess hair tied up neatly in a wreath braid atop her head— remembering the conversation we’d had at Monty’s house, our very first trail angel. I remembered how insecure I felt when I first met her, how I felt like everyone else had it more together than we did. And yet here we both were, three hundred miles from our destination. I felt so happy to see them that I almost cried.
They had just taken two zeros in Packwood, and were planning to hike out. However, they ended up just splitting a hotel room next door for a third zero, and bought a ton of beer for the occasion. They were in a celebratory mood, knowing that almost nothing could keep them from completing the trail now. Despite their third zero, I had no doubt that they would finish, probably ahead of us (as I recall, they did).
Waving goodbye to them, we grabbed our packs and stepped outside. The world-weary woman was standing in the parking lot, smoking a cigarette. We stopped to chat with her (she seemed much more relaxed now that she was on break), and she asked us about the trail. As we talked, I mentioned that I was really excited to be going home soon.
She asked, “Why, what do you do?”
I stared at her blankly for a second, lost for words. I do love my job, but I hadn’t missed it at all since I’d been gone. After a moment I stuttered, “I wash dishes in a sink and go out to lunch with my family.”
She gave me an odd look and chuckled. The conversation turned to the trail ahead, and she warned us that winter was right on our heels. Under the vivid blue sky, it was hard to imagine this place buried in snow, but it was coming.
We exchanged goodbyes, and Zach and I began walking down the shoulder of the highway back to the trailhead.
I was silent for a while, mulling over the conversation. Finally I said, “Isn’t it weird that people assume the only reason we’d want to go home is because of an awesome job?”
“Yeah, it is weird,” Zach said. And for days afterward, the career-obsessed nature of our culture provided pleasant mental material for me.
We hiked into the pine wood, easily cruising along three miles before ending up at the edge of Sand Lake, a large pond with a sandy shore. We set up quickly, but felt no need to have dinner after gorging on so many snacks. So we split a Clif bar, then climbed into the tent and read together as a cold, misty night settled over our tent.