Tuesday, October 6, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 147: Leaving the Haven

DAY 147
September 18th, Thursday
2476 to 2485.2ish

We were in no hurry to leave that morning, since a steady drizzle was still falling, so we ate a leisurely breakfast by splitting a bag of chips we’d found in the hiker box. I called some people and we did some last-minute chores, and then we saw that a group of hikers was headed to the cafe for breakfast and decided to join them.

We walked in that direction with Lumber, 45, and a middle-aged dark-haired hiker  I’ll call Frank, who was only hiking the Washington section. As we walked toward the cafe, the drizzle turned to a mist, and great wisps and apparitions of steam began rising from the mountains and drifting up to the clouds above.

Frank said, with a reverent tone, “That’s the spirit of the mountains up there. God, I love Washington.” He looked at us and smiled cheerfully. “I’ll bet you’re savoring every moment.”

“Washington has been pretty amazing,” I said, “but I’m actually really excited to be going home soon.”

Frank seemed to think this was the most ludicrous thing he’d ever heard. “But… why?!” 

“I miss my family.”

“And we’re getting pretty worn down,” Zach put in.

“We’ve been out here almost five months.”

Frank just chuckled in a patronizing way and shook his head. “What I wouldn’t give to spend five months in the wilderness.”

We arrived at the cafe, and Zach and I noticed that Jerry and Andrea Dinsmore and several of their friends were at a table, laughing and talking. We sat down at the adjacent table and ordered our second breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Halfway through our meal, Andrea walked over and plopped down a huge half-finished plate of biscuits and gravy. “You’re Leftovers, right?”

“Yes!” I said, laughing.

“These leftovers are yours,” she said, grinned, and walked out with her husband.

We all talked about the trail— stories, favorite parts, least favorite parts. Zach and I mentioned how unprepared we were for the Sierra, and how hard it was for us. Frank scoffed loudly at this. “You guys are just lucky there wasn’t any snow.”

“There was snow,” I said a bit testily.

“Yeah, but nothing like in years past. The year I hiked the John Muir Trail, Forester Pass was buried in ten feet— we had to tunnel through the snow to get over the pass. It was so much fun!”

He was basically calling us wusses, but he did it with such innocence that it was hard to be mad at him. And granted, he was obviously more experienced with snow hiking than we were. Still, I didn’t think he had much room to brag, considering that he had never thru-hiked. So I just felt my feelings being hurt and we moved on with the conversation.

After the excellent breakfast, Zach and I headed back to Hiker Haven, packed up our things, thanked the nearest volunteer, and headed out into the mist to try to hitchhike back to the trail. 

We stood outside the country store and looked around at the deserted road. No one passed us for a long time, until at last a woman on a bicycle came riding by. “Do you guys need a ride to Skykomish?” she asked.

“Yes…” we said, hoping that she had some other form of transportation.

“I’ll be back,” she said, and pedaled on. About ten minutes later she returned in a pickup truck. We threw our stuff in the bed and piled into the cab. We chatted with her all the way to Skykomish, and she dropped us at the gas station in Skykomish and wished us luck.

We found Happy Feet outside a nearby store, sorting his resupply box. He gave us almost a dozen energy bars! Then we bought some tortillas, chips, and other snacks at the convenience store, and purchased breakfast sandwiches for lunch.

We sat at a bar that faced the window, looking out at the gas station across the road. I saw a local newspaper sitting nearby and flipped through it. There were three different articles related to the Ferguson incident, even out here in rural Washington. I felt mildly depressed and closed the paper.

Staring at the window, my thoughts turned again to my grandparents. What if I didn’t get to see Nonni before she died? How would Poppi take it? How was my aunt, who took care of them, holding up?

At last we saw that the rain wasn’t letting up, so we stepped outside to try to hitch back to Stevens Pass. The owners of the store gave us a pre-made sign identifying us as hikers, which was nice. Rain drizzled down on top of us and we stood out for a while.

At last a guy and a girl drove up and offered us a ride. We piled in, a bit soggy, and they took off down the highway. We learned that the guy was the owner of the Baring Country Store, and the girl was one of his waitresses. We had a nice conversation as we drove.

He dropped us off near the ski lodge, and we thanked him and headed back into the woods. Our stay at the Dinsmores’ had refreshed us, and we were ready to tackle Section K, the penultimate section of Washington! Several people had told us that this was the hardest section of the trail other than the High Sierra, so we were braced for difficult low-mileage days. We had packed a ridiculous amount of food. I felt ready to take on the challenge… as long as it didn’t snow.

The trail was flat for a while, cutting straight through a dripping pine forest, then turned into a set of switchbacks lined with low huckleberry bushes that splattered water onto our pants until they were soaked. Mist and moss hung about everywhere.

Despite the chilly dampness, Zach and I talked about how we both wanted to hike another trail someday. Despite everything, we really did enjoy hiking. Especially if there was enough food. Speaking of which… We paused to eat yet another meal, an entire bag of tortilla chips, then continued on, climbing higher and higher into the mountains.

We both fell silent, and I began to shiver in the dampness as the rain continued to patter down. I wasn’t thinking about Nonni, but the grief of that impending loss simmered in the back of my mind.

Right in the middle of a steep climb, the rain began to thunder down, soaking us. We cringed and searched around for a place to camp, and fortunately found a little spot in a stand of trees that provided a flat spot on the side of a slope. The trees offered little protection from the rain, and cold drops pelted on our backs as we struggled to set up. 

I wrestled the zipper on my backpack, trying to keep our gear as dry as possible, and I began slamming stuff around and not-quite-swearing.

Annoyed Zach, told me to have a better attitude. I practically snarled at him, intending to yell something about how I was trying to have a good attitude. But instead, all that escaped my lips was a whimper: “I don’t want my Nonni to die.” And then I burst into tears.

Through the splattering rain, Zach looked at me with compassion in his eyes. He spoke in a much gentler voice. “Why don’t you blow up the sleeping pads inside the tent and I’ll continue working on stuff out here.”

Sniffing, I obeyed. Blowing up the pads while inside the tent was nearly impossible, but I managed. Zach was still hungry so he cooked a pot of mashed potatoes despite the rain, then brought it inside. But at last we were inside, not dry by any means, but not as wet as we could be. It was chilly, but not cold. By the time we finished our potatoes, our clothes and gear had dried out enough to be tolerable. Without a word, we curled up and fell into an exhausted sleep.


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