Day One Hundred Nine

Today's miles: 26
Total miles: 2253

It was a chilly night, so I woke up several times to readjust my sleeping bag around me. I heard an elk bugling in the darkness, a deep and haunting sound.

Running Commentary, Haggis, John, Kitty and Lt. Dan had a habit of getting up really early to hike, so they left camp before the rest of us were even awake. I woke up with Wocka, Giddyup, and Treekiller, leaving camp with them before the rest of the seventeen of us struggled into action. Treekiller and I spent the morning hiking with Two Bad Dogs. I told them about my meeting with Hard Tack, the older gentleman who had ridden around the world with them a few years back. Two Bad Dogs said they had gotten the chance to meet up with him, too, and celebrate the end of his thru-hike when he reached Cascade Locks. I was sorry I had missed it.

It was a very hilly morning, but with good company it made the day go by more quickly. After ten miles we reached the second road to Trout Lake and found the van from Jeff waiting for us. We waved goodbye to Sneaks, Mudd, Dingo, Horny Toad, and Two Bad Dogs, who also needed to go to town. The rest of us continued hiking until we found a good lunch spot in the trees. Today the sun was almost too brutal in the burned forests, but I kept telling myself it was better than rain and I wasn't sorry for it. We made lunch in a big group: Haggis, Running Commentary, Kitty, John, Wocka, Giddyup, Vince and Treekiller. Wocka and I spent our lunch hour discussing weddings. She said she and Giddyup hadn't figured anything out yet, except that they wanted me to design their wedding invitations. We talked about colors, and the bridal party, and locations. It was strange talking about something so ordinary in so unordinary a place.

We all hiked out together after lunch and tackled several big climbs in a group. I spent time getting to know Kitty, who I discovered was from North Carolina and had never even been camping before she started her thru-hike. She was struggling with some foot issues, but otherwise was in amazingly good spirits for coming as far as she has. Together we reminisced about the east coast and laughed about the differences between there and here.

We slowed our pace through the afternoon and enjoyed some breathtaking views of Mt. Hood, Mt Rainier and Mt. Adams. We were walking in the foothills of Mt. Adams, and with such lovely weather, it was hard not to gape at the views we had missed in the storm.

Mt Hood

Mt Adams

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Adams

Treekiller, Kitty and I ran into a wasp's nest as big as a volleyball hanging near the trail, and so we left a note for future hikers and carefully bended our steps farther away from the PCT to avoid it. If California has ants and mosquitoes and Oregon has bees, then Washington has wasps. It seems the further north we go, the more treacherous our insect life.

After 23 miles we were growing tired and walking into sunset, expecting to cross a small stream and then come upon our campsite a few miles later. Instead what we discovered was a glacial river fed by a very heavy two days of rain. It was at least 100 feet across, and raging. When TK, Kitty and I reached it, we gaped in horror at what we would have to ford without a bridge. Wocka, Giddyup and British John were already on the other side, but too far away for them to offer us advice.

I paced back and forth up and down the river, trying to figure out where to get across. This was not what I wanted to be doing at 6:00 at night. The river was divided into three sections, each broken up by a small sandbar, and in between, the water was freezing and unhindered. I finally resolved that I would have to walk through in my shoes, for there was no way my flip-flops would stay on my feet in this crossing, and going barefoot was too dangerous. Treekiller put on his Crocs and asked if he could borrow my trekking pole to get across.
"Don't worry, I'll throw it back to you," he said.
I wasn't sure how he would be able to throw it that far, but I gave him my trekking pole and watched as he stepped in the flowing river and slowly picked his way across. It didn't seem to be as deep as I had feared, but one wrong step and the current would easily knock him over.
Treekiller made it safely to the first sandbar and then made a motion as if to throw the trekking pole like a javelin. I suddenly realized what a far distance he was throwing it, and I started to cry, "wait...!"
But he had already launched it, and suddenly I was seeing my trekking pole flying through the air toward Kitty and me. It perhaps would have made it, just barely, if no one had touched it. But Kitty, wanting to be helpful, reached out to grab the pole from the air. The pointed end struck her in the palm, bounced off her hand, and launched back into the river.
In seconds my trekking pole disappeared in the water, never to be seen again.
"Oh no!" I wailed, shucking off my pack to try and grab for the pole. But it was gone, and the water was too silty and fast moving to track it down again. Just when I had come to terms with its loss, and how I would have to hike to White Pass with only one pole, Kitty came running up to me in distress.
"I'm so sorry!" she wailed. "I tried to save it for you! It just hit my palm and I couldn't grab it..."
It was then that I noticed the sun gloves she was wearing, and the dark stain that appeared on her palm.
"Kitty, what..." I ripped back her glove and saw her palm covered in blood where the metal tip of the trekking pole had broken her skin. "You're bleeding!"
"It's fine, it's fine," she said quickly, "I'm so sorry about your pole! I'm so sorry!"
"Forget the pole!" I cried, "your hand is hurt!"
I tried to help her clean it off and take care of the wound, but she was more shaken up about my trekking pole and refused to be doctored. I groaned in frustration at her, and suddenly looked up and realized that Treekiller was standing beside me.
What the hell are you doing?" I cried.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he said, "I'm looking for your trekking pole."
"But you already made it halfway across the river!" I said, "why did you come back?!"
"Because I lost your trekking pole."
"Jesus, forget the trekking pole!" I said. "Kitty's hurt and you're backtracking; it's not worth it!"
Seriously, was everyone crazy today?!

But Treekiller slowly picked his way downstream, and suddenly he dunked his hand in the water and came out with: my trekking pole!
"Found it!"
I was shocked. It had apparently gotten caught on a pile of tree branches down river.
Treekiller returned my pole to me and then stood for a few minutes with his hands on his knees, leaning over and breathing heavily like he was going to vomit.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm just waiting for the feeling to return to my feet. That water is fucking freezing and it hurts."
A feeling of dread rushed over me. There was nothing I wanted less right now than to get my newly dried shoes wet with ice water.
"Do you want my trekking pole again?" I asked TK.
"No, I know the way this time."
Treekiller led the way, Kitty and I slowly walking behind him. The water was mind-numbingly cold, and after only a few seconds walking through it, my feet were screaming like I had dunked them in dry ice. My shoes collected the water and my socks soaked it up, meaning that even when I stepped safely onto the sandbar, there was no relief from the cold.
Screaming, I forded through the next two sections of river, clutching my trekking poles and trying to force myself across faster, despite the current. When I finally reached dry land, my legs were soaked from the knee down and I couldn't strip my shoes off my feet fast enough.
"AHHHHHH!" I screeched, desperately clutching my frozen toes between my palms and trying to work warmth back into them. I couldn't remember a time I had been in water so cold. My whole body began to shake with chills, and even trying to wring water out of my socks was making my fingertips go numb.
"Don't worry," said John sympathetically, "it gets better."
It did, slowly, but putting wet shoes and socks back on was torture. I hated knowing that I would have to walk in my wet shoes until they dried.

As we sat waiting to warm up, we were greeted by a friendly face: a brown pine marten was clinging to the bark of a nearby tree, watching us with rapt curiosity. He was so cute we couldn't help but giggle over him, especially when he scampered up and hid inside the hollow trunk, his head peeping out so that he could keep an eye on us.

"How many more miles?" Treekiller asked.
"Three," I sighed. All of us wished we were in camp already.

We walked as fast as possible beneath the setting sun, enjoying the colors spreading over Mt. Adams. We discovered our hiking companions at a beautiful campsite, run through with a winding river and the mountain majestically in the background. Wocka, Giddyup, Alphabet Soup and Kudu were all camped in one section, so Treekiller and I joined them. We ate dinner together and I learned more about Alphabet Soup and Kudu; they were from Southern California (though Kudu was originally from South Africa, hence his trail name) and had gotten engaged on the trail at Mt. Whitney. I found I liked them instantly; Alphabet Soup and I joked together as though we had been friends for years. She and I had similar humors and it was fun making a new friend.

When it got dark, everyone turned in for bed. I was still gathering stuff to put in my tent, so I stood alone in the darkness, looking up at the stars and listening to the voices of other hikers at nearby campsites. I went to get my toothbrush so I could brush my teeth before bed, when suddenly I saw two bobbing headlamps making their way across the grass. I watched them curiously, trying to run through my head who had been hiking behind us. But I was pretty sure Treekiller, Kitty and I had been the last of our group today.

The two headlamps got closer and closer until finally they stopped right in front of me. It was so dark that I couldn't see their faces behind the lights.
"Bramble!!" a male voice cried.
I blinked in surprise. They knew me?
"Yes?" I asked. "Who is it?"
The headlamps burst into laughter, and my light shone on their faces at the exact same time I recognized the voices.
"Sansei! Rotisserie!" I cried, dropping my stuff as I launched into huge hugs. "How! What! Where! How... how did you get here?! I thought you were a week behind us!!"
I was so blown away that I could barely form a coherent sentence. I was jumping up and down and shrieking, completely beside myself.
Sansei laughed again. "Yeah, we were. But then we realized that if we kept going at the pace we were, we wouldn't make it to Canada before the bad weather set in. So we hitched up to Cascade Locks for Trail Days and then jumped ahead to try and catch you. We're going to go back and finish the miles we skipped later."
"How did you know where I was?" I asked.
"We've been following your posts," Sansei said, "and we've been asking every hunter and southbounder we pass if they've seen you. Most of them said they passed a big group of like twenty people leaving Trout Lake, so we figured you were part of it."
"Every tent we've passed today, Sansei thought he found you," Rotisserie laughed. "He was walking down the trail at one point yelling, 'Bramble!! Bramble!!'"
I laughed. "I can't believe it! This is amazing!"
I was so excited I kept jumping up and down and giving them hugs. "You're finally here!"

From inside their tents, the others were curious about my outbursts.
"Brambs, what's going on?" Treekiller asked.
"Sansei and Rotisserie are here!" I said. "That's Treekiller, and Wocka and Giddyup over there, and Kudu and Alphabet Soup over there," I explained.
"Nice! Well, I'm sure we'll see everyone in the morning," Rotisserie said.

I let Rotisserie and Sansei find a campspot for themselves, and said goodnight as I crawled into my tent. I lay in my sleeping bag with a big grin on my face. I didn't realize until then how much I missed my "trail family", and now that everyone I loved was coming together again, there was nothing that could stop us from reaching that border.