Day One Hundred Sixteen

Today's miles: 23
Total miles: 2402

I slept remarkably cozy last night. Generally cowboy camping means I wake up at least once a little chilled, but the temperature was perfect all night and I slept very deeply.

Despite my wonderful night of sleep, today's hiking was very motivationally rough. This was the start of my twelfth day and my 224th mile since my last true day off, and my body was exhausted. I was looking forward to reaching Snoqualmie Pass today, for it meant a night in town, and possibly two. Unfortunately, we still had 23 miles to get there and it was doubtful we would arrive until late. We had also been checking the weather as we got cell service, and today's forecast said it was supposed to be raining by 11:00am. After so many days of nice (albeit hot) weather, no one was looking forward to another deluge.

I plodded through the first few miles, mentally and physically drained of all energy. So much had happened in the last eleven days: torrential rain, wonderful trail magic, difficult river fords, hot and humid weather, awful climbs, reunited friends, stunning views, terrifying heights, wonderful companionship, and lasting memories. And now I looked forward to the last part of my journey, for after Snoqualmie we only had 250 miles to the border, and it would bring us deep into the heart of the Northern Cascades, a section renowned for its staggering beauty and treacherous terrain.

As I walked I wondered if the trail magic Wocka and Giddyup had received last night would still be there today. It was only five miles past where we had camped, which meant Wocka and Giddyup would be two hours ahead of us getting into town. As I reached the five mile mark, I stumbled onto a dirt road and saw a large tarp strung over a parking area and a bunch of PCT bandanas hung like Nepalese prayer flags over the trail. Trail magic was still here!

I burst onto the road and saw several things all at once: there were two trail angels cooking breakfast on a grill, several coolers and tables full of food, a few chairs strewn under the tarp, and Wocka and Giddyup sitting in them!
"What are you doing here?!" I laughed, checking my watch. It was already 9:30am. "Have you been here all night?!"
"Er.... we may have just woken up," Wocka admitted shamefully. This was shocking, since she and Giddyup were renowned for waking up at the crack of dawn and hiking before most people were awake. The fact that they had camped here last night and were still here after we had hiked two hours to reach them was hilarious.
"We may have gotten really drunk and passed out at... um... 2:00am," she admitted.
"We?" It was then that I noticed Alphabet Soup, Kudu, Toots and Tears emerging from the tarp, still looking groggy and slightly hungover.
"That was one hell of a night," Tears said.

As Katie, Treekiller, Sunshine, Vince, Rotisserie and Sansei reached the road, we gave each other hugs and hellos and plopped down in the chairs for a break. Our two trail angels, former thru-hikers named Stumbling Norwegian and Red, were in the process of whipping up eggs and bacon for breakfast, and passed out a box of donuts in the meantime. It was food heaven. We ate and chatted with each other while discussing our plans for Snoqualmie. It was only eighteen miles away, but we still had a few climbs and imminent weather to consider.

It was then that I noticed Wocka and Giddyup's packs looked smaller than usual, and I pointed this out, asking, "what happened to your stuff?"
"Oh!" said Wocka. "Stumbling Norwegian said he'd slack pack us into town!"
"Really?!" All of us were intrigued by this offer, and decided to take him up on it. A few months ago I would have thought myself crazy to give all my worldly possessions to a perfect stranger, taking it on blind faith that he would return them to me, but the trail had taught me of the generosity of strangers and I had learned to be more trusting of simple acts of kindness. Plus, as a former thru-hiker, Stumbling Norwegian was an instant friend and fellow PCTer, and that was all we needed to know.

Left to right: Honey Bunny, Bramble, Stumbling Norwegian, Treekiller, Vince, Sunshine

After enjoying breakfast, unloading our gear on Stumbling Norwegian and thanking him and Red for their kindness, we set off onto the trail. We would meet him again in town at a local hostel, where he would leave our stuff for pickup.

It was delightful walking on trail without the burdens of heavy gear. My pack was nearly empty, carrying just water, food, extra clothing layers and a few other essentials. The difficult climbs felt so much easier and my exhaustion from this morning seemed to have been lifted. Now we were racing against time and weather.

Vince, Katie, Sunshine and I took a break around eleven at another road crossing with Toots and Tears. Wocka, Giddyup, Rotisserie, Sansei and Treekiller were all flying faster than we were, worried about getting caught in the storm. It hadn't started raining yet, and the sky was deceptively blue and perfect. The weather report changed its forecast to a 12:00 rainstorm, then 1:00, then 2:00, but still no rain fell. We climbed and climbed and I kept a weathered eye on the horizon, searching for signs of trouble. The air was thick and smelled of humidity, but otherwise the weather seemed perfect. I was hoping it would hold out until we reached town.

Vince, Katie, Sunshine and I took a lunch break at the top of a climb near a beautiful lake, looking out at the valley below. A slow, curling fog was rising up far below us, blanketing the valley in white. Amusingly I wondered if that was the rainstorm, and if it would simply hover below us all day while we walked above the clouds. We could see it slowly curling upwards, though, and no one wanted to get caught in it. We hurried onward.

I felt as though I was trying out outrun a force of nature; I danced down the trail, weaving in and out of trees and along forested ridgelines that were quite beautiful. Slowly the fog creeped behind me, and by 3:00, it had thoroughly enveloped me in a cloud of white. It wasn't raining, but the fog was heavy, cold and damp and I still felt as though my clothes were growing slowly soggier.

I dug my umbrella out of my pack and held it above me as I raced down trail, but it only sprinkled on me from time to time. I kept checking my mileage and distance on my phone, though it was running desperately low on batteries by now. My friend Susan who lived in Seattle had said she would meet us at the pass with trail magic, and I was hoping to see her before it got too late.

The final few miles popped Katie, Toots, Tears, Vince and I out on a ski slope, and instead of following the meandering PCT to the highway, we cut straight down the slope and to the pass. Wocka, Giddyup, Rotisserie, Sansei and Treekiller were already there enjoying chocolate milk and some food from a food cart parked in front of a ski hotel on the highway. We joined them and waited for Sunshine, who had fallen behind a few hours before.
While we waited, my friend Susan arrived with a carload of goodies. I gave her a hug and introduced her to my friends and we sat and talked for a bit before she said,
"We should check into the hotel so I can get all this stuff out of my car."
I was mystified as to what she had brought: when she asked me what thru-hikers liked for trail magic, I told her "cheap beer and gatorade" was usually enough to make us happy. I never expected anything more than that.
Instead, Susan blew me away with the greatest trail magic yet this journey: she had booked two nights and four rooms for myself and Wocka, Giddyup, Rotisserie, Sansei, Katie, Treekiller, Sunshine and Vince to stay the night. She brought two huge coolers, one filled with a variety of beers and the other with chocolate and strawberry milk cartons and small gatorades. She brought plates full of homemade food and snacks: brownies, rice crispy treats, pie, cookies, chips, a whole bag of fresh fruit, goldfish crackers, and two huge bags of Halloween candy. She brought a crock pot full of pulled pork she had been cooking all day, and hamburger buns to go with it. She brought paper plates, forks, knifes, and napkins. She brought swimming suits so we could go in the hot tub. She brought a whole bin of cotton sweaters, pants, and t-shirts so that we could wear something while we did laundry. She brought laundry detergent, fabric softeners, and a bag of quarters to put in the laundry machine. She brought accessories for the shower: shampoos, conditioners, razors, and shaving cream. She pulled so much out of her car that I was in shock at how she had fit it all in there. I helped her load it into Katie and my room and sat in speechless wonderment at a room full of the most perfect, thru-hiking tailored magic I had ever seen.
"How did you do this?!" I gasped, nearly crying. "You thought of everything!"
And she had. It was amazing. I told her to bring gatorade and beer and she showed up with every thru-hiker's deepest desires and needs on trail. I couldn't believe her generosity and the amazing amount of planning she put into this.
"I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time!" Susan said. "I'm just so glad I know someone on trail this year!"
I gave her a huge hug, thanked her, and ran out to find the rest of my friends. They were never going to believe this.
"Wocka! Giddyup!" I found them sitting in the hotel lobby, trying to figure out what our plans were for the evening.
"Oh, Bramble!" Wocka said. "Did I hear you mention that your friend was buying us a hotel room? That can't be right, can it?"
I was practically jumping up and down and could barely put two words together.
"She did! She did! She bought us four rooms for two nights!"
"Oh!" they were speechless for a second. "Oh, thank you!"
"Don't thank me!" I laughed, "Susan did this all on her own; it's amazing! She also brought us food! And clothes! And drinks! And quarters for laundry!" I breathlessly ran through the list of magical items, and by the end of it, Wocka and Giddyup were both staring at me with eyes wide, mouths slack-jawed.
Slowly, Giddyup stood up and gave me a tight hug. "Thank you for having friends!" he cried.
I laughed and gave them their room key. "Come see! Come see!"

The others soon filtered into their rooms, and Sunshine finally arrived at the hotel just as the sky opened up and the storm that had been threatening all day pounded down on the rooftops. Worn and weary, he struggled over to our room and took one look at the beds full of food and goodies, all of us grinning at him like maniacs.
"Oh my GOD!" he shrieked, and his reaction was the best of all.

Now that we were all safe inside, we took showers and changed into Susan's loaner clothes and then she drove Katie, Sansei and me to the hostel to pick up everyone's gear. We got a little lost and it turned out the hostel owner wasn't very happy about having a bunch of our gear lying around her garage, but we bought her wine and chocolates and it turned out okay in the end. It was good having the rest of my gear back. Without it, I felt lost, like one of my limbs was missing. These few pieces of gear were my entire world, and being separated from them made me feel ill at ease.

Back at the hotel, all nine of us were running up and down the hallways, jumping from room to room - Wocka and Giddyup's to Sansei and Rotisserie's to Treekiller, Sunshine and Vince's, and ultimately landing in mine and Katie's, where all the goodies were. We bounced on the beds, made ourselves platefuls of pulled pork and rice crispy treats, and sat talking with Susan. She soaked up tales of PCT life and fairly glowed every time we thanked her profusely for such wonderful trail magic. It was exactly what we needed after such an exhausting stretch of trail. We were all looking forward to a zero in town, since we knew it would probably be our last before we hit the border. And we were tired of the long days we were pulling lately.

"Who here votes we hike less than 25 miles a day??" I called out, and every hand in the room shot into the air. Washington miles were proving rougher than normal miles, and this last section had truly knocked us back a few notches. We knew it would get harder from here on out, and we wanted to take it slow, enjoy the miles, and cherish the memories.