Day Ninety Five

Today's miles: 18
Total miles: 1977

Sunshine and I woke up at 8 this morning. Treekiller had gone out to karaoke last night after we came home, and when we woke up this morning, his mattress on the floor was still empty. We found him passed out on the couch upstairs and discovered that he had been out until 6:00am this morning, had walked home, and had fallen asleep for a few hours in the living room.

Scooter drove the three of us back to Elk Lake Resort at 10 and we began hiking north. First days back on trail are always a struggle, and today even more so. Treekiller was battling sleep deprivation, Sunshine was battling sore feet and ankles, and I was still trying to get over the last of my sore throat. To make matters worse, the weather had changed from overcast to ominously overcast, and within an hour, the sky opened up and began raining. We trudged along beneath the rain; the day was so dark that I would have guessed it was evening rather than early afternoon.

After six miles we stopped beside Mirror Lake for a snack break and kept a close eye on the weather, which was fluctuating between clearing up and getting much worse. Unfortunately, it didn't take long to get much worse. We ran along the trail as quickly as possible, getting soaked even in our rain gear. I had always dismissed the idea of carrying rain pants while backpacking, since they "made me too hot" and my regular hiking pants "dried quickly anyway." But today I discovered why rain pants may not have been such a bad idea: the rain was freezing.

My hiking pants were soon soaked through, my mesh trail runners were drenched, and even walking at a fast pace, I couldn't keep my teeth from chattering. I knew unless the weather cleared up, it would be difficult for my clothes to dry enough to keep me warm, and I worried about catching hypothermia. The rain grew harder and harder, and we ran into a park ranger on the trail who said we were getting caught in a pretty big thunderstorm cell, and that we should try to wait it out in a safe spot. Unfortunately, there is little to no shelter on the PCT, and on this stretch in particular. We were in an open field that supposedly had a beautiful view of the Three Sisters mountains in the distance, but today was obscured by dark clouds.

Sunshine and I, having previously discovered each other's hatred for being caught in thunderstorms, found a spot to sit on our packs and hide under his piece of Tyvek. Treekiller hiked ahead, and all around us the lightning cracked and the thunder rolled and the hail poured down. I was miserable, but I tried laughing about it with Sunshine, the two of us joking that we always seemed to be hiding under a small piece of Tyvek together whenever the weather turned bad. Fortunately, the worst of the storm didn't last long, and when the thunder disappeared in the distance, we kept hiking.

I was even colder now, having been pelted by cold rain and hail while sitting. I hiked as quickly as I could to warm up, but my fingers were turning blue and I was still wracked by shivers. The rain slowed and I took my mind off my physical anguish by trying to admire the scenery. We were in a stunningly beautiful stretch of trail, full of open valleys and dark lava flows. The rocks shone with deep colors through the golden grasses: dark umber, blood orange, chestnut and maroon. I would love to revisit this stretch someday in better weather.

The rain slowly cleared up and my clothes began to dry, which warmed me up. As I rounded one corner a few hours later, I noticed Sunshine ahead of me talking with another hiker who appeared to be going southbound. I couldn't hear them from this distance, but I saw Sunshine light up and reach out his hand to shake the other man's. Curious, I approached and as I grew nearer, Sunshine turned to me and cried, "Brambles! This is Scott Williamson!"

Ok, side note: unless you're a thru-hiker or someone who loves keeping up with thru-hiking athletes, you probably don't know who Scott Williamson is. But to someone hiking the trail, the man is a god. He was the first person to ever thru-hike the PCT in one season. He was the first person to ever yo-yo the trail in one season (ie - do it twice, first northbound, then southbound!) and then did it AGAIN the next season. Until this year, when a female hiker named Anish broke the speed record for the PCT in 60 days, Scott Williamson held the title for fastest unsupported thru-hike. He has hiked the PCT, AT, and the CDT, earning him the "triple crown" award. He knows the PCT like the back of his hand - he has walked its length something like 14 times over. He's 45 years old but still kicking ass.

So, needless to say, when Sunshine told me who he was talking to, I was a bit stunned. It's not every day you meet a world-class athlete and thru-hiking hero on trail.
We chatted with Scott Williamson for a while; he was hiking southbound trying to beat Anish's record, and told us that since leaving the Canadian border he had only encountered six hours where it wasn't raining.
"Great," we groaned. We had no desire to spend our last month on trail soaking wet, but we were hopeful it wouldn't last.
We wished Scott well and hiked on feeling rather elated, overall. Sunshine, giddy with the encounter, took a photo of the back of Scott's head walking away, and me grinning like a maniac.

We originally wanted to cover about 21 miles today, but the weather slowed us down. By late afternoon we knew we wouldn't make it that far. I found myself hiking much faster than both Sunshine and Treekiller, so I stopped now and again to wait up for them. We reached Obsidian Falls by evening and learned we weren't allowed to camp any closer to it than we were, so we found a flat campsite nearby and pitched our tents for the evening. It wasn't raining but everything was wet and cold and I woke up several times in the night to hear raindrops on my tent fly.