Day One Hundred Nineteen

Today's miles: 20
Total miles: 2437

It rained all night. A heavy, dark, bone-chilling rain. And the winds howled at the tent, as though the damp wasn't enough. I didn't sleep.

I could hear the rest of the hikers in our camp packing up at 7 in the rain. Toots, Tears, TwoBadDogs, and others. I pressed my nose to the door fabric and tried to peek out, but the tent was doing a good job of keeping everything out, including views of the world. All I could see was a small patch of wet earth peeking under my rain fly.
As I was wondering who else in my group was awake, I heard Sunshine call, "So... on a scale of one to ten, what's the motivation level right now?"
Laughter came from the other tents. They were all still in their sleeping bags, too, avoiding the rain.
"Zero," I replied.
That was answer enough to sleep in for another hour. But when we starting moving again at 8, the rain hadn't stopped. I sighed and looked around the cozy, dry interior of my tent, knowing it was probably the last time I would sleep puddle-free for a while. And then, reluctantly, I struggled out of it.
We all packed up our gear in the rain. Although it was difficult to call it rain, I realized, because the temperature outside was so cold that it was closer to sleet.
"Thirty eight degrees," said Treekiller, checking his thermometer with a frown.

Around him stood Rotisserie, Sansei, Katie, Sunshine, Vince, and Lighthouse, making their way out of their tents and into the world. We all shivered as we packed, trying desperately to do everything quickly. I kept my pack covered beneath its rain tarp, trying to keep it dry for as long as possible. When Soon there was just one dreaded task left: the tent. There was nothing worse than shoving a cold, wet tent into a tiny stuff sack, especially without gloves. The rain hung onto the tent fabric, no matter how hard I tried to shake it out, and putting it into its bag was like plunging my hand into a bucket of ice water, over and over again until my fingers were numb and blue. Eventually what I had left was a soggy, limp tube of tent: a used condom, Sneaks liked to call it. I strapped it to the bottom of my pack, trying to protect it from the elements, though it seemed a futile task.

The only thing that made the morning worthwhile was that everyone was still in high spirits. We were all laughing and telling jokes, even though the weather was proving abysmal. We wiggled into our rain pants and jackets, rigged up our umbrellas to our pack straps, and set out in a line down the trail, sloshing through the river that it had become.

Though the day was soggy, it was slightly less gray and foggy than yesterday, so I could see a fair number of views around me. We were walking through meadows, and green forests, and beautiful hillsides. Once or twice I thought I caught a glimpse of a mountain range in the distance, and I could hear the roar of a waterfall plunging down it.

After five miles of walking we caught up to Wocka and Giddyup, who hadn't been too far ahead of us. We stopped for a snack break on a bridge and tentatively shook out our umbrellas. It seemed as though the rain was letting up a little bit, at least. Over the next few hours it misted, but was never so terrible that we felt our resolve slipping, and so we told jokes all afternoon and enjoyed each other's company. Today may have been much worse if it weren't for good friends.

We stopped for a lunch break on trail, propping up our umbrellas so they protected us from rogue raindrops and taking the time to cook warm meals. I had gotten into the habit of cooking my dinners at lunchtime, since I had more time in the afternoon and it was nice to have a hot meal in the middle of the day. We often got into camp so late that I didn't have the energy to cook dinner, so it was easier to eat my lunches before bed.

Left to right: Vince, Sunshine, Katie, Wocka, Giddyup, Lighthouse

The next six miles after lunch were an uphill battle, but the exertion kept us warm. And lo and behold, by the time 2:00 rolled around, there were tiny patches of blue in the sky, white clouds, and even a hint of sunlight. We did our best to ignore it, for fear that calling attention to it would make the rain return. But we were blessed with more and more sunlight, and by the time we had conquered half the climb, the sun was starting to beat down again. What a heavenly feeling it was!

I caught up to TwoBadDogs on one of the switchbacks. They had stopped in a small patch of sun and were trying to dry out their gear. This was a talent most PCT hikers were learning to acquire: the second we see even a beam of sunlight, we have all of our gear strung from trees, trying to dry it out. Other times it was a gamble trying to decide the correct moment to stop.
Should I stop now, because the sunshine won't last? Or should I keep hiking a little longer, in hopes that it will get sunnier and I'll find a better spot to dry my stuff?
It was a constant battle, and an important one.
On this occasion, Sunshine decided to join TwoBadDogs to dry out his tent, and I decided to keep hiking.

When I got to the top of the climb, I was rewarded with breathtaking views of the valley below and - for the first time - a stunning row of mountains reaching far into the distance. I couldn't believe this was the view I had been missing for two days, for what a view it was! I was both speechless and thankful for sunlight today, for I was able to enjoy the scenery with new eyes.

When the climb flattened out, I stumbled into Rotisserie and Sansei in a meadow drying their gear. The others had apparently gone further ahead, but it seemed the perfect spot to dry my own gear out, so I joined them. While we basked in the sun waiting for our tents to dry, I tucked my hands behind my head and mused aloud,
"These mountains remind me so much of the Alps."
"I was wondering if that were true," Rotisserie smiled. "Were they as beautiful as this?"
"Yes," I agreed. "Though perhaps a little taller. And full of snow."
Shortly thereafter, Sunshine caught up with us and we wandered the meadow taking pictures and passing around bags of gummy bears and skittles.

As I was taking a photo of the panorama, a strange noise hit my ears and I frowned and turned back toward Sunshine.
"Do you hear that?"
"It sounds like..." he hesitated. "Rock slide?"
I frowned. "I don't think..."
The noise grew suddenly, roaringly louder and I whirled around, realizing what it was.
The sound was deafening, and seconds later, we saw the black fighter jet roar up over the hilltop, speed directly over our heads, flip upside down, and disappear again behind the cliff, its engines reverberating in my eardrums.
I clapped my hands to my ears, shrieking with delight, and Sunshine had fallen to his knees, his arms outstretched to the sky as the plane rumbled overhead.
"YEEEEESSSSSSSSS!" he cried, his voice getting lost in the din.
We were laughing and jumping up and down in the aftermath, the sudden silence roaring in our ears.
"I can't believe that just happened!" Sunshine shrieked. "That was awesome!"
Still grinning, we packed up our dry gear and headed out. It was already 4:00 by that point and we still had eight miles to get to our camp for the night.

For eight miles we were slinking down a chain of switchbacks, down, down, down, toward the crystal blue Walput Lake that we could see from the top of the mountain. All around us soared the Cascade range, glowing in the fading sunlight and tipped with soft, white clouds. It was a beautiful sight. They seemed to wrap around us like blankets, keeping us safe as we slowly descended among them.

It was nearly dark by the time we reached Walput River. It was tent city again, for everyone had chosen the same spot to spend the night. We packed our tents in closely, eating dinner together and laughing as we crawled together in a tent cuddle puddle: Wocka, Giddyup, Sunshine, Rotisserie, Sansei, Vince, Treekiller, Katie, Lighthouse, Toots, Tears, TwoBadDogs and me.

Tonight everyone's highlight was sunshine. ("Both the burning star in the sky, and our good friend,"Giddyup teased.)