Today's miles: 12
Total miles: 2206
The sound of the pounding rain never ceased last night, and I didn't sleep well at all. I woke up this morning to a steady drip of water plinking on my forehead like some form of Chinese water torture. Water was slowly gathering on the hub of my tent poles and then dripping down through the tent mesh onto my face. I groaned and put a handkerchief over my face to catch the water, and went back to sleep.
When I woke again, it was still pouring cats and dogs. Usually in the morning I listen for the stirrings of my hiking mates so I know when to get ready for the day, but the rain was drowning out any kind of sound. I checked my watch and realized the rain wasn't going to get any better, so I had no choice but to get ready to hike in it.
As I started to pack up, I noticed that the excessive amounts of rain had caused water to puddle beneath my tent, and the pressure of my sleeping pad lying on those puddles all night forced the water up through the tent material. When I got out of my sleeping bag, I realized I was literally floating in a pool of water. My tent was soaked.
Survival mode kicked in, and I knew the only way I could survive a potentially long rainstorm was to keep my down sleeping bag and sleeping clothes dry as long as possible. They were the only things that would keep me from hypothermia if the shit hit the fan. Currently my inflatable sleeping pad had saved me from the two inches of rain I was lying in, so I balanced on it carefully while I packed up my sleeping bag in its stuff sack. Then I carefully reached into the vestibule of my tent and tried to pack everything into my backpack without getting out into the rain. It was a challenging endeavor; the Fly Creek tent has a very small vestibule, and because the ground was soaked, my pack and food bag had gotten very wet, too. I had a waterproof liner and a pack cover for my pack, and I hoped it would be enough to save my gear from the rain.
When I finished packing, I dressed in my raincoat and put a trash bag around my waist to act as a rain skirt. It only came down to my knees, however, and my pants stuck out below it, undoubtedly to get very wet. I finally emerged into the rain and had the very unpleasant task of packing up my sopping wet, freezing cold tent, which was now soaked inside and out. I looked around and realized we had all pitched our tents in a depression, meaning water had spent all night collecting on the ground and there were large puddles everywhere. It would have been a miracle if anyone stayed dry last night.
Nearby, Treekiller was packing up, too. Our other friends had left earlier this morning, but Wocka and Giddyup were still inside their tent, wanting to wait out the rain a little longer before they started hiking.
"A mouse ate through my tent last night," Treekiller told me, showing me a large, ragged hole near the head of his tent.
"What!" I said. "How did that happen?"
"I was using my food bag as a pillow," he admitted. "I think it was too close to the tent wall, because the mouse chewed through my food bag, too. Got into my snacks. It was raining so hard I didn't even hear him."
I shook my head pityingly. A lot of my hiking friends slept with their food bags, which I always thought was a poor idea, since mice and rodents have no qualms about chewing through a $400 tent to get to your food. My food was in a bear-and-rodent-proof bag, but I always kept it outside my tent in my vestibule, just in case, and hadn't had any problems so far.
Once Treekiller and I were packed up, we didn't want to stand in the rain waiting for Wocka and Giddyup, so we told them we were heading out. We still had the last half of the climb we started yesterday, and the physical exertion was in our favor, for it kept us warmer in the freezing rain. It didn't take long before we were soaked completely; Treekiller and I were both wearing trash bag rain skirts but mine was doing absolutely no good, as it was dripping down onto my already soggy pant legs. My mesh trail runners were soon soaked through, my socks sopping up water like a sponge. I felt like I was walking through a swimming pool. My raincoat was keeping me mostly warm, but I still felt drenched beneath it. My wet hair was plastered to my wet face, and my pack was getting pounded by rain even with its rain cover over it.
The hike was a struggle. For once I barely even noticed the difficult terrain and was completely focused on the driving, relentless rain. I plodded along the trail behind Treekiller, quickly and thoroughly miserable. Even worse, my mind was racing with what-ifs: what if it doesn't stop raining today? What if I have to set up my wet tent in the rain tonight? What if I can't keep my sleeping bag dry? What if it never dries out? These thoughts sent me into a panic.
I dayhike all the time in the rain of Portland, for you go stir crazy in the winter if you don't go hiking, and it's always raining. But the difference with a dayhike is that it doesn't matter if you get wet. You can get drenched and simply go back to your car, go home, and take a warm shower. Out here, you don't have that option. You have miles and miles and miles of forest and trees and open trail. There's absolutely nowhere you can go to get out of the rain, and that realization is slightly terrifying. It's amazing how important shelter can be in bad weather.
As we walked, Treekiller turned back now and again to fix me with a concerned stare, asking earnestly, "how are you doing?" I think he was remembering his promise to take care of me, and was doing his best to keep my spirits up.
I responded to him honestly every time: "I'm cold. I'm wet. I'm miserable."
"Me too," he admitted.
We walked below tunnels of trees, but even the trees offered no respite from the rain. In fact, they made it worse. The branches and leaves collected the rainfall and dumped it even harder over our heads. I was starving but I couldn't stop for a snack because I was too cold to pause, and opening my pack meant I would be subjecting it to the rain. Everything was more difficult in poor weather.
And so we pushed on.
As we reached the peaks of our climbs, we paused to look out into the great white abyss. Treekiller kept climbing up into cleared areas of the trail, to "check out the view!" as he put it. But that was the joke, for there was nothing to see but a blanket of white.
The trail began to go downhill and the wind picked up.
"Does the wind make it better or worse?" Treekiller wondered aloud, cocking his head to the side thoughtfully.
We felt the wind blow straight through us, cold and punishing, and I cried, "Worse! Worse! Definitely worse!"
It began to hail. We hurried through it, pelted by the freezing rain and shivering inside our rain coats. We had to keep moving to stay warm. I despaired of ever being dry again. I could now understand why people who have walked thousands of miles in a thru hike could be driven to quit by days of relentless rain. In my head I was making ridiculous barters with myself: I would walk two weeks in the 100 degree desert again instead of this. I would walk through the worst mosquitoes of Yosemite again instead of this.
In each case, there was always an escape. Even in the desert, the sun would set and the heat would abate. Even in Yosemite, setting up a tent would offer respite from the mosquitoes. But rain? There was no escape. My shelter was already soaking wet. My gear was soaking wet. My clothes were soaking wet. My shoes and socks were soaking wet. And I had no way to dry anything out. It was a feeling of utter helplessness.
God, please let something good come of this, I prayed. Keep us safe in the storm.
The trail soon became a river. Treekiller and I did our best to dodge the big puddles, but soon it was unavoidable. We sloshed through water as deep as our ankles, our feet turning cold and pruney in our shoes. And still it rained. Pouring, pouring, pouring. Not a single inch of us was dry.
I checked my maps desperately for any kind of respite: a ski cabin, a shelter, an overhang. There was nothing. And then... I found a road crossing, twelve miles from where we camped last night. My maps indicated that it might have a primitive outhouse next to it. That outhouse became my savior. If nothing else, I was going to make it to that road by lunch and I was going to cook a warm meal sitting on the toilet. I didn't care how dirty, how smelly, or how dark it was. It had a roof, and that was enough for me. I was excited about the prospect. Practically giddy. I'm going to have lunch in the outhouse! Lunch in the outhouse!! Best news all day!
Treekiller and I didn't stop all morning until we came to that road crossing. We hiked twelve miles in four hours and when we reached the outhouse, we discovered it had more than just a toilet under a roof: it had a very tiny covered porch. And fifteen people crammed beneath it.
Haggis, Running Commentary, British John, Kitty, Hummingbird, and Lt. Dan were already there, dancing wildly to music under the roof in order to stay dry. And there were more: Mudd, Dingo, and Sneaks were crowded in there, too!
"I thought you guys were way ahead of us!" I said in surprise. They had left Cascade Locks a half-day in front of Wocka, Giddyup, TK and I.
"Yeah.... we got here last night," Sneaks admitted. "We didn't feel like walking in the rain."
"So now what?" I asked. "It's not like it's going to get better. It's been raining since yesterday afternoon."
"Well, we learned this road is like twenty miles away from a town called Trout Lake," Sneaks said. "We were thinking of hitching into town for the night."
"How?" I asked. The road was obviously infrequently used; mainly as a thoroughfare for campers and hunters in the area.
"Hops called his mom and she already came by once to pick up a group of people," he said. "He was going to stop by the general store there and see if the woman who runs it could bring out another car. We hear they're PCT friendly."
I turned to Treekiller. "What do you think? Should we go into town?" The very thought of it was making me giddy.
"I don't know," he said. "What would that accomplish? It might be raining again tomorrow."
"But we'd be able to dry out our gear," I said, "and that would be huge."
"And next time this happens?" Treekiller asked. "We can't bail out in town every time the weather turns bad."
"No, but we can get better gear," I admitted. I already had a running list of things I wanted Tanner to send me.
Rain pants. Waterproof boots. Warmer rain coat. Trash bags.
At that moment, Wocka and Giddyup showed up, the two of them toting their sun umbrellas that they've carried since the desert. I was jealous of those shade-makers in the desert, but now I was even more jealous of them in the rain. Wocka and Giddyup barely looked wet except for their feet, while I felt like a drowned rat.
Umbrella, I added to my list of things I desperately wanted.
After a reunion with Sneaks, Mudd and Dingo, we relayed the latest news to Wocka and Giddyup, and they decided going into town might be a good idea. Treekiller came around to the idea, too, and so we debated our next step: how to get there.
"We think there's a car coming?" Giddyup asked.
"Supposedly," agreed Sneaks, "but it takes about 20-30 min each way to drive there."
"In the meantime, Kitty has been trying to hitch," Haggis said. "She's been running out to talk to the hunters who drive by. No luck so far."
Just then, a huge black truck came barreling up the road, stopping just outside our outhouse. Stunned, the group of us stared at the car, wondering who was coming up here in this weather. Someone jumped out, and we all realized who it was at the same time:
"Hey, guys," he grinned.
"How the hell does a thru-hiker have a truck?" Treekiller cried.
"It's not mine. The woman at the general store in town owns it. She heard you guys were up here in the rain and told me to come pick you up."
We were stunned, but extremely grateful for this ticket into town. The truck was big enough to cram five of us in the front and ten more in the trunk with all our packs. I climbed in the front seat with the other girls and enjoyed the amazing feeling of warm air coming from the vents.
We rumbled our way down the road, arriving at the small community of Trout Lake a half hour later. The woman at the general store, Betty, was waiting outside, and her mouth dropped in shock as all of us exited clown-car-style out of the truck.
"So many of you!" she cried. "How did you all fit in there??"
We smiled and told her that cramming people into cars with packs was a thru-hiker super power. (True story.)
"Poor things!" she cooed. "You all look so wet and miserable. Come get out of the cold."
Surprisingly, it wasn't raining in Trout Lake. We had dropped a considerable amount of elevation, and were told that most storms break when they hit the mountains in Indian Heaven, where we had been hiking. Still, this storm had been raging for a few days and we learned that it was biggest rainfall Washington had had this early in the season in several decades.
"This is very unusual this early," we were told, which assuaged our fears a little.
Inside the general store, we bought snacks and asked about hotels in the area.
"We don't have many," Betty admitted, "and they're all full this weekend because there's a wedding in town."
Discouraged, we glanced at each other, trying to figure out our best option. There were at least twenty hikers here, now, and surely more on the way.
"There's a camping area nearby," Betty suggested, "it's free."
"It's not that," Treekiller said, "we just need someplace to dry out our gear. Everything is wet from the storm. Is there a warehouse or a garage we could sleep in for the night somewhere? We're happy to pay for something."
"Oh, dear," said Betty. "I'm not sure. You poor things. Give me a minute; I have a list of people in town who have been trail angels in the past for PCT hikers. Let me call them and see what I can do."
She disappeared into the store while we waited patiently, talking amongst ourselves on the porch. What happened next was a bit of magic that, looking back, I'm still awed over.
People began showing up at the general store. Men, women, families, townsfolk. They answered Betty's phone calls, heard about our plight, and they drove right down to the store to pick us up and take us home. They loaded us into their trucks, carted us to their homes, fed us, gave us warm places to sleep for the night, and asked for nothing in return.
In small groups the hikers began disappearing: as each trail angel showed up, they took three or four hikers home with them, like adopted puppies. The word spread quickly that there were PCT hikers in town, driven in by the storm and needing a place to stay the night, and the people of Trout Lake came to help us. It was amazing to see.
Wocka, Giddyup, Sneaks, Horny Toad, Mudd and Dingo went with the last of the townsfolk, and now there were just seven of us left: Treekiller, Running Commentary, Haggis, British John, Lt. Dan, Kitty and I. Betty came bustling out of the store and gave us the latest news: there was a youth ministries camp just down the road that usually had campers staying over the summer, but the last of their programs for the year had just ended, so they had bunkrooms and showers available to us to use for the night. Delighted, we jumped back into Betty's truck and she took us down to the Jonah Youth Ministries camp, which looked as though it had been renovated from an old elementary school. The youth director and owner, named Becky, came out to greet us and show us around.
She had already put up signs on two of the bunkrooms, saying "PCT girls" and "PCT boys." The camp staff were cleaning out the bathrooms for us and she said we could use the laundry facilities and borrow towels for showers if we needed them. We were in awe of her generosity on such short notice, and thanked her over and over.
"May I ask a question?" I asked tentatively. "Is there somewhere like a garage where we could lay out our gear and let it dry?"
"Of course!" Becky showed us into the large gymnasium and told us we were free to use the space to lay out our stuff.
The seven of us stood quietly in a huddle, looking slightly uncomfortable.
"Is everything ok?" Becky asked.
"This is so nice," British John spoke up, "but our gear is very dirty with rain and mud... we don't want to ruin your gym."
Becky laughed. "It's no problem. We haven't cleaned in here yet, so I'll just have the staff hold off until your stuff is dry. Don't worry about getting it dirty!"
After much persuasion, we finally thanked her and gathered chairs in the middle of the gym. Then out came all our gear: wet tents, sleeping bags, pads, clothing, packs. I discovered I wasn't the only one with ruined gear. Several of our group had their tents collapse on them last night in the rain and had soaking wet down sleeping bags, completely ruined for another night of sleep. This refuge was truly a God-send and probably saved the life of more than one hiker.
Pretty soon the whole gym was covered in gear draped over every surface. We set up tents to dry, lay bags over chairs, and stripped our feet of our wet shoes, pulling out the insoles and stuffing the toes with paper towels. My feet were ghostly white and wrinkled with rain from standing in cold puddles all day.
We took hot showers and moved the rest of our stuff into the bunkrooms, which were stacked three bunks high into the walls. Running Commentary and her wife Haggis picked out two bunks near mine and Kitty on the other side. The boys: John, Lt. Dan, and Treekiller were next door. Treekiller and I joked that it felt strange being segregated, since we had all spent so many nights in close, comforting proximity to each other, but we were happy to obey the rules of the establishment.
After my shower, I started a load of laundry with Treekiller and spent some time with Becky, thanking her and her staff for all they had done for us already. Becky was keeping busy making sure we had everything we needed, and asked me, "What are you all doing for dinner?"
"We brought food with us," I promised. "And we're happy to walk downtown to get some food from a restaurant or grocery store."
"We have leftover food here from the camps," Becky said. "If I brought it out, would you eat it?"
"Of course," I said, "but you don't have to do that. You've been a huge help already."
"It's no problem!" she said, "we have lots. Let's say 5:00? I'll have the food out for you guys in the cafeteria. Will you spread the word?"
I agreed, and passed it along that Becky was feeding us tonight.
When we gathered in the cafeteria later that evening, Becky's husband Jeff and their daughter were bustling about the room heating up plates of goulash, salad, corn bread, soup and pie for us to eat. We were astounded by the amount of food before us, and eagerly gobbled it up, feeling warm from head to toe. Jeff sat with us and asked us questions about the PCT; they knew about the trail but hadn't had much experience with hikers in the past. We explained to them what trail angels were, and how their generosity had certainly earned them the title.
Though we asked to help do dishes, we were turned away, and Becky's family did all the work cleaning and putting away our dinner.
"We can have breakfast for you tomorrow, too, is that okay?" Becky asked.
"That's... that would be wonderful," we stuttered.
"Nothing big," she promised. "It's our first day off since the camps ended, so we were hoping to sleep in and get some work done later in the day. But I can leave out some food for you guys to heat up in the microwave when you wake up, would that be ok?"
"Perfect," we promised, "we don't want to bother you on your day off!!"
Treekiller and I learned that our hiking friend Cuddles, who bounces his cello from town to town, was playing a concert tonight in Trout Lake at 7:30. Becky let us borrow her van and a few of us drove downtown to the local church where he was playing. The house was packed with townspeople and hikers alike, and the church minister gave a wonderful speech about PCT thru-hikers.
"These men and women come through every year, having walked some 2,200 miles from the border of Mexico with only their packs on their backs. Sometimes they need shelter from the storm, or a ride to the grocery store, or a kind person to give them a bed for the night. They come into town expecting none of these things; they know how to care for themselves and they are strong, independent young people. But if you take the time to show them kindness and generosity, I promise you will be rewarded with meeting some of the most amazing people you've had the privilege to be in contact with. Thanks to all of you who have helped out this latest group of hikers as they have found their way to our small community during this storm."
The minister had us all stand up while the town cheered for us. I was blown away by the warmth and generosity of these people, and I couldn't remember being in a town where I had been so grateful for the kindness of the human spirit as I had here.
The concert was lovely, and afterward Treekiller and I stayed to greet old hiking friends: Tears for Beers, Toots Magoots, Safety First, Fun Size, and others who were in town for the night. Then we returned to the Ministry, where we settled into our comfortable bunks and felt truly blessed that we were out of the rain tonight. My last thought before I fell asleep was how terrible this day had begun, and how wonderfully it had ended. The PCT is like that. It always provides, in one way or another.