September 9th, Tuesday
2305.9 to 2329.3
We peeked out of the tent the next morning to see the world covered in an blanket of mist. The nearby lake receded into blankness, and we could barely see the outlines of the trees on the other side. We ate breakfast slowly, then packed up, shivering in the chilly dampness of early morning fog.
It was another late start, as usual, and we were both shivering as we hiked along, our legs brushing against wet huckleberry bushes until our pants from the knees down were soaked. The ghostly mist still hung around, which chilled us to the bone but was undeniably beautiful.
We hiked alone for quite a while, but then heard another hiker approaching ahead. We turned a corner and saw a short woman with wisps of gray hair showing underneath her hiking hat. She looked up through her tinted glasses, and we instantly recognized each other.
“Catdog!” I exclaimed, rushing toward her.
“Leftovers and Tabasco!” she cried with equal enthusiasm. Here was 63-year-old Catdog, my hiking hero, whom we had last seen in Belden, two months and a thousand miles ago. I had hoped beyond hope that we would see her again, and my wish had finally come true.
We chatted for several minutes— as planned, she had hiked north to Bend, then taken a bus to Canada and hiked southbound from the border. She was now headed back to Bend to complete her thru-hike, and we were all confident that she would make it.
She assured us that the rest of Washington was incredibly beautiful (and rainy), and that the cinnamon rolls at the last town stop were to die for. When at last we were all numb-toed from standing still for so long, we said goodbye, and we each hugged her, and then we parted ways and vanished into the mist. I doubt that I’ll ever see Catdog again, but I’m so grateful that I got one last chance to see her and say goodbye.
Now as we hiked, we found ourselves on a rising slope, and the fog was clearing. Before long we were walking under a blue sky, past wide gold-tinged meadows run through with streams, through pine forests fragrant with huckleberries, and at last onto a ridge where the mountains swept away before us in shades of green and blue and gray. Most of the mountains were similar to ones we’d seen before, but we did spot some in the distance that looked impossibly steep and jagged, a hint of what was to come.
It was an uneventful hike that day, and time seemed to drag as we hiked onward. We couldn’t complain about the gorgeous scenery, but almost five months straight of walking was taking its toll. Still, it was a pleasant day and the weather was nice, so we passed it in silence and without incident.
At last we decided to camp in a close forest near a series of lakes called Dewey Lakes. Don’t Ax was camped on the pine needles, and we set up our tent near his. “Watch out,” he said, “I’ve already seen some mice running around. I’m hanging my food tonight.” We heeded his warning, although at the time we didn’t grasp just how destructive mice could be.
I walked down to the lake to gather water from the sandy shore, then returned and helped set up camp and cook dinner. The gray jays, which still reminded me of cute little pterodactyls, hopped around our site, seeing if they could pick up any scraps. Zach and I carefully cleaned up dinner and packed our food away, rolling the bags tightly and zipping them into my backpack. Then we crawled into our tent and snuggled in against another chilly night.
As we laid there, almost asleep, we heard an unearthly bugling sound in the distance. We listened to it, at first wondering if it was coyotes. After a minute, though, Zach smiled. “Elk,” he said.
“Whoa,” I breathed, listening to the sound drifting across the lake, then answered on the other side.
And so it was that we heard elk, but, sadly, never actually saw one.