Day One Hundred Fifteen

Today's miles: 24
Total miles: 2379

I woke up warm and cozy on the front porch of the Urich cabin, packed in closely with Vince, Sunshine and Katie. We lay watching the sunrise for a while and finally struggled to sit up and get ready for the day. It was a common game of ours when cowboy camping to try and pack everything up without standing. Usually we had our stuff strategically scattered around us within grabbing distance so that we didn't have to struggle to our feet until the very last second.

Sunshine had his stuff cleared off his Tyvek ground tarp pretty quickly, but instead of packing it up, he began giggling and cried, "Look! My new Tyvek is so slippery I can breakdance!"
He lifted up his legs and began to spin wildly in circles on his butt, making us all laugh.
As I stood to leave the porch to gather the rest of my gear, Treekiller said, "Brambs wins the First to Stand Up Award!"
"I guess that means Sunshine wins the First to Breakdance Award!" I laughed in response.

Katie, Sunshine, Treekiller, Vince, Rotisserie, Sansei and I were on trail by 7:30 and soon sweating beneath a hot and humid sun. We crossed several logging roads throughout the day, which meant there were large patches of cleared trees that allowed for no shade on trail. I couldn't believe how warm it was - didn't everyone say it was going to be cold and rainy in Washington? The sun I didn't mind, but the humidity was stifling, and I worried that it meant rain was coming.

We suffered up a few difficult climbs and topped out of one just at lunchtime. I was so exhausted I didn't want to look for a "nice" place to eat lunch, so I plopped down right on trail and everyone soon joined, the boys having stripped their shirts off hours ago and all of us drenched in sweat. It was relieving to stop for a while and let the small breeze cool us off while we ate.

"I have cell service today, so I've been talking to Watson," Sunshine informed us. "He's going to meet us later today at one of the roads we cross and bring us some trail magic!"
Watson was an old thru-hiking friend of ours; he had gotten on trail in central California and spent two months hiking north - I hiked with him for a while in Northern California - and he left trail after arriving in Ashland. He lived in Seattle, now, and was close enough to the trail that he wanted to visit us.
"He's six miles from here," Sunshine said.
We had walked eleven miles already but we weren't making our usual good time. Today's terrain was more challenging, and we were all walking slower. There were also few water sources to be found today, and we were draining our reserves very quickly.

The trail wandered downhill for a while, leaving the burned and exposed ridgelines and dropping into a lush, green forest. I was almost out of water and was keeping an eye out for the next source, but even so, I almost missed the turn off. I saw Rotisserie's pack lying beside the trail, and then noticed a note that another hiker had left beneath a rock, tagged with a piece of blue duct tape to make it more visible.
It read: There is a good water source 0.4 miles to the left. Follow the trail through the trees until you hear running water. If you walk upstream there is a small waterfall where you can easily collect water. Flowing well at 2 liter/min.

Notes like these on trail were common. The hikers who have gone before us did their best to make our lives easier, and in turn, we did the same for hikers behind us. We left detailed descriptions of a variety of helpful information: flow rate and clarity of potential water sources, obstacles on trail (like the many wasps nests we had run into), lines drawn in the dirt to guide us on the right path, or notes to point out which way the PCT ran upon reaching a confusing trail junction. Often I have been saved a time-wasting walk off trail because someone left a note saying, water source muddy and not flowing. Better water is 1.5 miles further up trail.

Or when I wasn't sure which path to take, I would find a note that read, PCT North --->
The notes left behind were always extremely accurate (if they were wrong, someone else would have corrected them) and we had all learned to trust them in our journey.

By the time we walked the six miles to the logging road, it was 4:00pm. Watson was waiting for us with a cooler of beers and some fresh salmon. It was good to reunite with an old friend, and for an hour and a half we sat and talked with him, enjoying the company. We asked Watson if he had seen Wocka and Giddyup, but he hadn't, which meant they had passed through here a few hours prior. Realizing I had cell service, I texted Wocka asking where she was, and she responded,
"We found great trail magic! I think we're about ten miles ahead of you."
I told her we had found great trail magic, too, and she was sorry to have missed Watson.

By the time 5:30 rolled around, we were still sitting with Watson and had only gone seventeen and a half miles. We knew we had to cover at least six or seven more in order to make it to Snoqualmie Pass tomorrow. Unfortunately, there were more hills to climb, and I was growing more exhausted by the minute. I lagged behind the group, my feet dragging up the hills, seriously contemplating stopping early. I watched a beautiful sunset from on top a ridge, and then descended into trees again, where darkness set very quickly. I was stumbling over roots and rocks, trying desperately to catch up to Treekiller. I had accidentally buried my headlamp at the bottom of my pack this morning, and I knew I would never be able to find it now. I hated hiking by myself in the darkness.

Hours passed, and finally I bumped into Treekiller, Katie and Vince filling up water at another water source. Vince, Rotisserie, Sansei and Katie moved on to find somewhere to camp, and I bumbled around in the darkness near Treekiller, trying to fill up my water bladders without a light. I was exhausted and irritated, though Treekiller was being very patient with me. I finally sighed and sat down in the dirt, saying, "I'm sorry for being grumpy. I'm just very tired. I don't like hiking this late."
"It's okay," he said, "I don't like it, either."
One thing about being on trail is that emotions are difficult to hide. Everyone carries their greatest joys and deepest frustrations on their sleeves, and so we get to know our friends at their highest and their lowest points. In a way, this creates a very strong bond between ourselves and our friends; we see each other for who we truly are: no more, no less. There are no societal walls to hide behind, no facades to put up, no "proper" way to act. We don't have to smile when we're feeling low, pretend to laugh when our feet hurt, or act like someone we're not for the sake of appearances. The trail is harsh, the trail is real, and it brings out the best and worst in everybody. Joys are greater, sorrows are deeper, frustrations are more volatile. Emotions bubble to the surface where they are shared, and embraced, and then they are let go. The trail doesn't care if you're the CEO of a powerful company. It doesn't care if you have been living on pocket change for years. It doesn't care if you're a world-class athlete or on your first backpacking trip. The trail strips every person down to his core, taking away layers of masks and walls we have built, and leaves you raw and new, re-discovering yourself. You learn to listen to your body, to listen to your emotions, to become more in touch with how you interact with the world, and how it interacts with you. You begin to realize that you're not the most powerful thing in this universe, that Mother Nature will always be stronger. We arrived in Washington with our heads held high and our egos beaming, and the trail knocked us down again, made us humble, in more ways than one. After 2200 miles we still had so much to learn.
It is out here that we can be truly honest, we can become the greatest versions of ourselves, but we have to let ourselves be stripped to our barest emotions first, to show others the best and worst of us. And it is then that we realize that we are accepted for who we truly are.

We waited for Sunshine to catch up and then discovered we didn't have to walk much further to reach the others. They had found an abandoned road just off trail that was flat enough to accommodate some sleeping bags. We rolled out our ground tarps in a long line and cowboy camped side by side like rows of sardines in a can. It was a calm, silent night, and I lay looking up at the stars, watching the Milky Way hover in a great white sheet above me, until I felt myself slipping softly into darkness.