Day One Hundred Twenty Two

Today's miles: 11
Total miles: 2487

Though it stormed loudly all night, it wasn't the rain that kept me awake. It was the train. The train that roared past the Dinsmore's house every few hours, shaking the walls of the garage with its blasting horn. I have no idea how the residents in this neighborhood sleep at night.

We were awake at 8, expecting rain, for the weather forecast predicted five full days of it, but it was surprisingly nonexistent. In fact, it was only moderately cloudy and we could already see the sun peeking out from behind the clouds. It seemed too good to be true, and we knew that the smart thing to do would be to get on trail and hike as many miles as possible before the rain began again.
Instead, we went out to brunch.
We had fallen in love with the tiny cafe across the street, and couldn't wait to go back and sample their platter full of circus-animal-shaped waffles. But even afterward, with bellies full, it was difficult to make the decision to leave. So far we had only been in town for a collective 13 hours - 10 of those spent sleeping.

And so we dawdled in the Dinsmore's hiker hut, watching movies and organizing our food for the next stretch. It was only 100 miles to Stehekin (our last trail town), which we estimated would take us about five days. I had packed seven days of food into my resupply box, and so I weeded out some of the extra weight and donated it to the hiker box for others to purge.

By 11:00 we were reluctantly ready to get back on trail. Rotisserie and Sansei opted to take a zero day in town at the last minute, so we gave them hugs goodbye, hoping we'd meet up again in Stehekin. Wocka, Giddyup, Sunshine, Alphabet Soup, and Kudu all got a ride back to Stevens Pass with a friend of the Dinsmore's, and Katie, Treekiller, Vince and I stood outside the cafe on the main street, trying to hitch out of town. No one slowed to pick us up, even though we were holding up very friendly "PCT hiker to trail!" signs and I was doing all kinds of funky dance moves to make someone laugh enough to pull over.

Finally, at 12:30, the Dinsmore's friend Jerry returned with an empty car and very graciously shuttled us the 25 miles back to the trail. We bid him goodbye and thank you and crossed our fingers for good weather.

Honey Bunny, Treekiller and Vince hitching

The rain held. It was definitely colder on trail these days, so we bundled up and trundled up the hills, keeping a wary eye on the darkening clouds above us. Our goal was to get in as many miles as possible, but the terrain was unforgiving, and even after just a few miles I was already wanting to set up camp for the night. Shortly after starting our hike, we bumped into Kudu and Alphabet Soup, who had fallen behind the others and joined up with Katie, Vince, Treekiller and me.

After five miles, we started to pass a large number of trail runners and dayhikers with children. This startled me, for we hadn't seen anyone for a few hours and it felt like we were too deep in the backcountry for casual strolls, but apparently there was another trailhead hidden out here somewhere. I quickly discerned the reason for all the hikers: we had emerged onto a beautiful stretch of trail. We passed by the stunning Lake Valhalla, which was rimmed with white rocks and had a megalith of granite rising up from it on one side, giving it an epic appearance.

I wished we could camp here. That's one thing I regret about being a thru-hiker: sometimes you find the perfect, most beautiful campsite at the absolute wrong time of the day. I tell myself that someday I'll come back to all my favorite "missed opportunities" on the PCT and enjoy them one by one over long weekends, taking time to fully explore the landscapes.

These are the kinds of things I think about while hiking: all the hiking trips I'm going to take when I'm done hiking. Totally normal.

It wasn't too difficult to catch up to the dayhikers; the tricky part was passing them. Often they didn't notice a lone thru-hiker behind them unless I carefully cleared my throat or tapped my trekking poles on the rocks in warning. I had learned to be careful about how I announced myself: dayhikers were often so engrossed in talk and so oblivious to their surroundings that they were never expecting a sudden visitor to overtake them. Once, I said "hello, there" to a pair of women on trail and they both whirled around, literally screaming in surprise.
One of them said, "you scared the crap out of me! I thought you were a cougar!"
I joked in response, "not yet!" but inwardly I was wondering how many PCT-hiking cougars they had met on trail that said "hello!"
When I cleared my throat behind a large, meandering family group, they turned and said, "so sorry! We'll get out of your way; I'm sure you're much faster than us!"
I smiled in response and said, "thanks! Enjoy!" but as I started to walk away, the father called after me, "Wait, are you... are you thru-hiking the PCT?"
I stopped and turned, agreeing, "I am! This is my last stretch. Only 175 miles left!"
"Wow!" he said, "that's so awesome! Congratulations!"
"Thanks!" I said, "you guys are hiking a piece of it, too, huh?"
"Only back to the car!" the grandfather guffawed. "But maybe someday!"
"You can do it!" I encouraged, giving the small son a wink before hiking off again.
As I walked away, I heard the father say to his son,
"Do you see that girl up there, Billy?"
"Uh-huh," came the reply from the eight year old.
"She started a hiking trip in Mexico a long time ago. And over months and months she has walked every single day through the desert and the mountains and all of Oregon and now Washington so she can one day reach Canada. What do you think of that?"
"Whooooooooooooooa!" the boy replied, obviously impressed.
I smiled to myself as I disappeared around the bend.

You can see Treekiller in the bottom left of the photo hiking the ridge

I hiked by myself for a while, carefully choosing my footing over slick rocks and a trail dampened by rain. I pulled out my phone at one moment to check my coordinates to the next water source, when suddenly my foot slipped on a rock and I landed heavily on my butt on the ground. I was slightly frustrated with my own blunder, but even more so when I heard a voice call, "are you okay?"
"Fine, fine!" I said, embarrassed and thinking I had been caught in a moment of clumsiness by a dayhiker. But it only was Kudu and Alphabet Soup, having caught up with me.
"Let me help you," Kudu offered, grabbing my pack and hauling it off my back so I could stand up. "Wow, this is light!" he said.
"Light?" I laughed. It was a running joke that I had one of the heavier packs in the group. Sansei was constantly giving me hell for carrying too much food and water at all times, but I was paranoid like that. I always wanted to be prepared.
"Compared to mine, that is," Kudu said. He was easily 6'4", and gauging by the size of his pack, it must have weighed a ton.
We continued hiking together, keeping up a cheerful commentary until we reached Janus Lake, the supposed spot for our campsite for the night. Katie was already there, reading a note that had been left on the trail. It read:
"To Treekiller, Vince, Honey Bunny, and Brambles: we met a lady here who used to be a park ranger for twenty years in this area and recently retired. We had a nice talk around the lake. I guess she's waiting for her two basset hounds to return since they ran off a little earlier so we're going to keep an eye out for them. Anyway, we got here at 4:00 and decided to keep hiking another few miles to the next campsite. See you there!"
I laughed. It was so typical of Sunshine to write an entire note about the stranger that he had become intimate friends with in the five minutes they had stopped to get water.
"Look, he wrote this at 4:00," Katie pointed out, "it's only 4:15. I bet we catch them."

We left the note on the trail for Treekiller and Vince, and continued on. The next two miles were hellishly uphill, in a series of ever-steeper switchbacks that finally dumped us right on the heels of Wocka, Giddyup and Sunshine. We stood catching our breaths for a few minutes and trying to decide what to do. It was only 5:00 but we were tired and wanted to camp. Wocka and Giddyup decided they wanted to push another five miles to beat the storm, but Katie, Sunshine, Vince, Treekiller, Kudu, Alphabet Soup and I found a flat space near the trail to set up camp. We took some time trying to find the perfect spots to pitch our tents. If it rained during the night, no one wanted to be caught in a depression with a puddle, so we looked for the highest ground.

As it grew darker, the air grew frigid, and we were soon bundled up in our warmest layers and jackets and boiling hot water for dinner. As we ate, we heard the distinctive tinkling of bells, and a moment later were joined by two fat basset hounds.
"We're not supposed to play with them!" Katie warned, "I met that park ranger lady and she said to shoo them back down the trail to her..."
But it was too late. Upon seeing the dogs, both Vince and Sunshine shrieked, "AWWWWWWW!" and fell to their knees to pet and play with the dogs.
"Oh, boy," Katie said.
Playing with the dogs lasted five minutes, and then the boys were bored and told them to go back to their owner.
"I wonder how long they've been out here hiking?" Alphabet Soup said, "they're still two miles away from where we saw that park ranger."
"And how are they hiking?" Vince added. "They're so fat."

We did our very best to tell the hounds to "go home!" but try as we may, they didn't want to go back to the trail. They simply flopped down on the ground next to us and lay still, panting heavily. Sunshine eventually decided he would lead them down the trail a ways until they could make it on their own. So he took off while the rest of us finished dinner.

An hour later, Sunshine still hadn't returned.

It was getting dark and we were starting to get worried. Katie said she would go after him, but she only got down one switchback when she realized she'd need her headlamp to make the trip. When she came back, she asked for someone to go with her, and Vince and I jumped up to help.
We hurried down the trail, yelling, "Ca-caw! Ca-caw!"
And suddenly we heard Sunshine's call back: "Ooooo-woooop!"
"Oh, thank goodness," I said, relieved. I squinted into the darkness to see his figure running up the trail, and Katie must have been doing the same, because I heard her say, "Sunshine, is that you - Sunshine? Sunshine! WHY ARE YOU NAKED?!"
Sunshine rounded the bend at a full sprint, wearing only his running shorts, the rest of his warm clothes bundled up under his arm.
"Oh, hey guys!" he said. "Yeah... long story. The dogs wouldn't walk the whole way on their own, so I had to walk them all the way back down the mountain to the lake. And when I got there, the park ranger had gone home already, but she left the leashes with a group of Boy Scouts. So I give the dogs to the Boy Scouts and one of them is like, 'aww, here cute doggy, do you want some sausages?' and he proceeds to pull out these nice, gourmet sausages to feed this dog! And I'm like, 'guys... guys. I just ran two miles back here to bring these dogs, and I haven't had dinner yet... can I have those sausages??' So they gave me some food and then I realized it was getting dark and I didn't have my headlamp, so I sprinted back up here."
By then we were back in camp, and everyone was listening with rapt interest, bundled up in our warmest coats and hats and breathing white steam into the cold air, staring at Sunshine, who was still mostly in the buff. For a second there was silence, and then Katie spluttered, "Yes, but... but... why are you naked??"
"Oh, that," he said. "Yeah, I ran up here so I got really hot. I kept stripping off layers. Ooo pasta!" He shoveled down the rest of his dinner while the rest of us laughed.

It was cold enough that no one wanted to stay up late, so after cleaning our pots and passing around some sweets, we crawled into our tents and wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags. As I fell asleep I had one last ridiculous thought, maybe the weather forecast was wrong and it won't rain...