Day One Hundred Twenty

Today's miles: 20
Total miles: 2457

I woke up to a wonderful sound: the absence of rain. At first I was excited to have a dry tent, until I realized that a very cold night and camping next to the river had caused a large amount of condensation to build up on the inside of my rain fly. But comparatively to a downpour, it was preferable.
We all crawled from our tents in the cold morning, touching the sheen of frost that had built up outside.
"Thirty seven degrees," read Treekiller from his thermometer.
Even with our tents crowded together like they were, we were freezing and jumping up and down to stay warm.
"I have an idea," suggested Sunshine. "Let's just get one big nine-person tent!"
We laughed as we pictured the nightly cuddle-puddles that would occur in such a tent.
"If you carry the tent, I'll carry the alcohol!" said Treekiller.

We had to move quickly to get our bodies warmed up. I left my wool sweater on over my hiking shirt and thumped my feet on the trail as I walked, trying to regain feeling in my toes. My hands were tucked in their gloves, but they were still numb from trying to shove my cold, damp tent into its bag.
We walked through a beautiful forest for a few miles before coming to a six mile climb. The exertion helped warm me up, but once again I was faced with the roughness of Washington's terrain and its battering effect on my body.

I passed TwoBadDogs early in the day, and Art summed it up well: "California, Oregon and Washington each have a motto, I think," he said. "This one is Everything's Harder in Washington."
It was true. Between the changeable weather, the extremities of temperature, the strenuous terrain and the fact that our bodies already had 2,400 miles logged on them, Washington was proving even more difficult than the passes in the high Sierras. And yet, we had only done 16 miles a day in the Sierras, and here we were pulling 20s daily. We were so close to our goal that slowing down was a difficult thing to do - and also a thing we couldn't do. We were forced to keep our paces high in order to beat the weather. October was looming closer and with it, the threat of winter. We had already learned that the weather in Washington was unpredictable, and we needed every sunny day we could get to make it safely to the border.

By the time we had gone eight miles and reached the top of our climb, I was nearing my angry-hungry-grumpy stage. When I came around the corner and saw Katie, Wocka and Giddyup sitting on a plateau of granite eating second breakfast, it wasn't a moment too soon.

We were soon joined by Sunshine, Treekiller, Vince, Sansei and Rotisserie, and we all utilized the flat expanse of rock to dry our tents in the sun while we ate. The day was finally warming up, though it paused at the perfect temperature: not too hot, not too cold, with a gentle breeze and blue skies; a perfect day for hiking. For the first time, it truly felt like autumn.
"It feels wonderful outside today," Wocka sighed, and we all sighed happily with her.
Sunshine stretched himself out on the rock, looking up at the sky. "I think, in some ways, this is what I expected of the PCT," he mused aloud. "I hoped every day would be sixty degrees and sunny, an endless summer. But we've had so few of those, haven't we?"

It was true. We were no strangers to foul weather of all kinds this journey. But then again, it was the hot days, the cold days, the wet days, the dry days and the humid days that made us even more thankful for perfect days like today.

Throughout the afternoon we ambled along the trail, soaking in beautiful views of mountains, of valleys, of rivers and forests. We huffed up another six mile climb, but paused along the way to gaze over the mountain moraines, the granite peaks, the colorful rocks and trees.

At the top we found another rock face that seemed made for a lunch break, so that's what we did. When TwoBadDogs caught us at the top, they laughed to see nine of us tucked into the rocks eating snacks.
"You look like sunning marmots!" Art joked.
We felt like it, too, soaking in the sunshine and silently wishing it wouldn't disappear.

Clockwise from bottom center: Sunshine, Vince, Rotisserie, Sansei, Treekiller, Katie, Giddyup, Wocka

TwoBadDogs: Art and Lynn

Treekiller and Sansei

We left the lunch spot before TwoBadDogs, and they called after us, "if you get to camp first, leave the lights on for us!"
The trail wound downhill, passing by the stunning Cathedral Rock and several smaller river crossings. We kept seeing signs for horse packers that read "PCT horse ford alternate route; no bridge over creek." We knew that meant it could be a potentially dangerous ford, but our maps read that it was late enough in the season that the water level should be low enough for a safe crossing.

When we reached the creek, however, it was much larger than expected, likely from all the recent rainfall. It came down straight from the mountainside, carving a rocky gully all the way down into the valley. There were several sections to get across, and though it looked like we could jump from rock to rock to safety, the rocks were very slippery and unstable over the rushing water.

I hovered behind Rotisserie, watching as Sansei worked his usual magic with the creek: he added logs, rocks and other debris to create a crossing, and then stood at the other side with his hand held out. He helped Rotisserie across and then gestured for me to follow. I hesitated, looking down at the fast-flowing water, but Sansei called,
"Don't look down. Just take my hand; you'll be okay."
I reached across and he pulled me to safety on the other side.
There were still two more sections to cross; the first took some careful hand and foot placement, and the second I had to crawl down a waterfall in order to crawl back up to the trail, a steep and slick slope. It took some time and precision, but we all made it safely to the PCT on the opposite bank.

Cathedral Rock

(If you look at the center of the photo you can see four of us crossing the ford)

From there we only had six miles left to our camp destination of Deception Lake, and it was still relatively early in the afternoon. As I walked, I ran into Vince, who had been hiking ahead of me. He was stopped and sitting on the trail at a particularly scenic spot, overlooking the mountains. But he barely even noticed my approach because he was reading.
Dumbfounded, I asked, "what are you doing?"
He held up his book, which was the classic The Giver. "I've never read it."
"You're reading it now, though?" It was so un-hiker-like to stop in the middle of the day to do anything but eat a quick snack and keep hiking.
"Sure, why not?" he shrugged. "The light is good, the weather is great, and I'm in no rush."

I realized then that Vince had a magical quality that no one else in our group had: he had no Purpose. That is to say, unlike the rest of us, he had no driving desire to get to the Canadian border. He was a section hiker, which meant he had taken a month off to walk through Washington, and if he made it the whole way, great, and if he didn't, so what? It was still a month spent in the wilderness, one way or another, and the ending of the journey meant just the same as the middle and the beginning. He hadn't spent the last five months with his sights trained on the finish line, and therefore had no deep desire to walk all day to get there.

In some ways, I pitied him for missing out on the communal strength and motivation that drives a group of thru-hikers to walk 2,650 miles, but on the other hand, I envied him. I remembered what it was like to walk for the sake of walking, to have no agenda, to soak in every beautiful moment and landscape. It had been so long since I had hiked like that, I didn't know how to do it anymore. Reading in the middle of the day? Preposterous. But here was Vince, doing just that, not a care in the world. It was remarkable, in more ways than one.
"Enjoy," I smiled at him, and I kept walking, leaving him to his book. A small part of me wished I could pause and read a few chapters, myself, but I had a Purpose, a goal to reach, and it kept driving me forward.

The trail meandered along ridgelines, forests and over a few more smaller creeks before disappearing into the woods again and dropping us beside a stunningly gorgeous lake with an island in the center for camping. We hopped across the logs to reach the sandy space and set up our tents in a lopsided circle with all our doors facing toward the center so we could talk to each other.

It was only 6:00, so once our homes were built for the night we sat around the empty fire ring and made dinner, laughing and talking together, telling our usual poop and penis jokes and using our latest favorite catch phrase, YOLO! which was apparently a term the cool kids these days use to mean, you only live once!
Though we had more cause than anyone to use the phrase appropriately, we had more fun using it in jest.
"Guys, I'm going to leave the rainfly off my tent tonight. Because you know what? YOLO!"
"I think I'll eat ramen for lunch tomorrow and have my tuna and pasta tonight. If that's not YOLOing, I don't know what is!"
"Third poop of the day! YOLO!"

TwoBadDogs joined us for dinner, though they had set up camp on the mainland, hoping to avoid condensation on their tent.
As we ate, Sunshine said, "you know what we should do? We should spend the next week getting to camp early like this and asking questions to get to know each other better!"
We laughed at this, because as nice as it sounded, we had spent the last five months getting to know each other better.
"By this point, I know every one of your poop habits, duration, and how many times per day you're going," Katie joked.
Besides poop habits, it was true we knew each other better than most people know their best friends at home. When you're surrounded by a close group of people in a harsh, unforgiving environment that demands the very most of you, it's difficult not to find camaraderie and lifelong friendships from the depths of your challenge. We band together, linked by this one huge endeavor, and share triumphs and defeats greater than anything we have experienced back home. We are all greater people because of who we share these moments with.

"I'm glad I'm walking to the monument with all of you," said Sunshine, "I couldn't have asked for a better group of people." And we agreed.