Today's miles: 21
Total miles: 2334
We woke up this morning still laughing over last night's jokes, and since Katie's bag of tiny penis candies wasn't depleted, yet, we decided to have a little more fun with them. As Wocka, Giddyup, Treekiller, Katie, Sunshine and I walked the trail this morning, we placed colorful candies in our wake, all of them pointing the way to Canada. Later it would be hilarious to hear which hikers noticed them, which stopped to eat them, and which paused to reorient them north. We giggled like twelve year olds who just learned a dirty joke all day.
We had a small rock-hop ford this morning and stopped for a water fill-up. We were discussing pet peeves on trail, and Wocka said hers was when people hiked too closely behind her. In response, we all started singing, "Don't stand... don't stand... don't stand too close to me..." and laughing over it. As we got up to continue hiking, Sunshine jokingly began hiking so closely behind Wocka that he was practically tripping over her heels. But even funnier - Wocka didn't notice right away. When we all started laughing, she stopped suddenly to see what the commotion was, and Sunshine bumped into her, smashing against the rubber chicken strapped to the back of Wocka's pack, letting out a loud squack! sound. For some reason this was just hilarious, and we all had to pause to laugh before we could keep hiking.
We trooped along for six miles, and my stomach began grumbling for second breakfast. I can usually only make it five to seven miles in the morning before I run out of energy and have to eat something. Fortunately, we stumbled into a nice wooded campground near a river and discovered Running Commentary, Haggis and Kitty were already there - and they were making s'mores! Apparently it was Running Commentary's birthday, and Kitty had packed out a bunch of marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers from White Pass. They had a fire in the fire pit going strong and a lap full of s'mores fixin's and hot cider. We couldn't believe it. This was not normal thru-hiking procedure. An elaborate snack break this early in the morning? A fire? S'mores?!
Usually we only allowed ourselves a long break at lunchtime, hardly ever a fire, and never s'mores. But today, no one argued protocol. Because we had walked 2,300 miles, dammit, and we could take spontaneous breaks when we wanted to!
Left to Right: Kitty, Giddyup, Wocka Wocka, Haggis
Bottom center clockwise: Haggis, Running Commentary, Treekiller, Katie, Sunshine, Kitty
And it was a delightful break. Even better - we were soon joined by good friends: Kudu and Alphabet Soup, and then Toots and Tears, who had been a few days ahead of us but took a zero in White Pass and now caught up. They came around the corner to find nine thru-hikers sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows on sticks as though we were car campers on an afternoon stroll.
We raised up a collective, "HEEEYYYY!!!" and had a wonderful reunion.
Soon all thirteen of us had forgotten the time - and hiking - and getting to Canada all together - and were simply torching marshmallows beyond recognition, discussing birthdays and zodiac signs, and laughing about penis candies.
"Who wants to only do twenty miles today??" Haggis yelled out, and we all cheered. Funny that twenty miles felt like a leisurely day, but cutting seven or eight miles off our daily total meant we wouldn't have to rush through our s'mores break. Today, the border was looming in our minds and we knew time with each other was precious, so we savored the moments where we found them.
When we finally rallied again, the thirteen of us trooped onward, climbing into Mt. Rainier National Park, where we were awarded with another stunning view of the mountain herself.
We hiked until an early afternoon lunch, then found ourselves walking beside a series of lakes along the trail. Today it was hot - very hot - and we were inspired to do something we hadn't for hundreds of miles: go for a swim. Apparently our s'mores break and our low mileage goal for the day was making us lazy, for no one objected to stripping down and jumping into the water to cool off. We plunged in, hearing Sunshine's familiar, "GETTING NAKED!", and Giddyup's cat-calls, as he submerged. I paddled lazily in the water, soaking in the sun's rays. These kinds of hiking days were so blissful, and care free, and I loved them.
It was late afternoon and we had only gone fourteen miles, but with six more to go, we knew we could knock the distance out in two hours. We came across a patch of wild blueberries not too far past the lake, and so we stopped once again to gather the fruit, eating half of it before it made it to our packs. What started as a short break became an elaborate affair: the hill was soon full of wandering hikers, crawling through blueberry bushes, trying to find the biggest fruit. Fingers and lips stained blue, we finally emerged and began climbing onward.
The climb was surprisingly difficult, but the views into the valley and over Chinook Pass were worth the effort. When we reached the pass, we discovered a trail angel named Brooke parked with a stove of hot chili, fresh apples, hard candies, and fresh baked cookies. We squealed with delight, taking what must have been our 137564th break of the day to enjoy this spontaneous magic. We talked with her about the weather: we heard it was supposed to start raining again soon, but Brooke made it sound as though it was still a few days away, and wasn't as threatening anymore. This calmed us a little, for we wanted to hold on to the sunshine while we still had it. All we needed was two more weeks of good weather and then we would be in Canada, safe and sound.
Back row: Kudu, Alphabet Soup, Katie, Vince
Front row: Giddyup, Wocka, Sunshine
After thanking Brooke for the food, we waved goodbye and climbed our final 1.5 miles to our campsite beside Sheep Lake. Since it was a spot so close to Chinook Pass, it was a popular spot for overnight hikers and had an array of tent spots around the lake. Though there was room for us all to spread out, we found ourselves cramming eight tents into one space so we wouldn't be apart: Katie, Treekiller, Tears, Toots, Giddyup and Wocka, Sunshine, and Vince - who had caught up to us again. Running Commentary, Haggis, Kitty, Kudu and Alphabet Soup were in a nearby camp and we later learned Rotisserie and Sansei caught up to us here, too, though we wouldn't see them until tomorrow.
We arrived in camp before nightfall, and so enjoyed cooking dinner together and launching into our own brand of humor once more: "Tomorrow's Friday," Toots pointed out, which prompted Tears to say, "Fake name Friday!"
It was a game we had started in Northern California, to have funny little games for each day, similar to "casual Fridays" or "hat Wednesdays" at an office. Except we weren't in an office. We were on the PCT, and so our games were a little more ridiculous. Wednesdays, for example, were "Real Name Wednesdays", when we jokingly switched back to calling each other Julia and Parker and Rachel. After so long calling each other our trail names, it was strange and funny to utter normal names like - Will and Robin - on our tongues.
"What's Fake Name Friday?" Vince asked, newly inducted into our group.
"Everyone gets a fake name for the day," Toots explained, "anything but your real name or your Trail name. Sometimes there are themes."
"Like scary Halloween names," suggested Tears. "But you have to make up a name that has the same initials as your trail name! That's a new rule."
We tossed around ideas while we ate, but as commonly happens with thru-hikers, our talk quickly devolved from scary names to porn star names to body part names. And pretty soon we were just naming everyone "cock" or "sphincter" and having a hilarious time of it. Tears for Beers became "Testes for Besties", Treekiller became "Testicle Kream" and our favorite was Giddyup's new moniker "Gooey Urethra" which just meant we were calling him "Gooey-Uey" for the rest of the night.
We laughed until our stomachs hurt and for the second night in a row, went reluctantly to bed. Deep in our hearts we knew our journey was coming to an end, and moments together like these were precious. We wanted to savor every laugh, every story, every second together and ignore that final Monument that was growing closer day by day, our ultimate driving force and our ultimate goodbye. It was the heartbreaking secret that no one wanted to admit: even as we desperately wanted to reach our goal, we also didn't want to lose each other, in the end. For how do you leave behind something so life changing?