PCT Mile 2159.6 (Day 7)
Hiking Washington State’s Pacific Crest Trail
Road 24 to 2144.5-Cascade Locks
-67.7 miles going SOBO
(cont…from Day 4-6)

I think I’m dreaming. Something hits the side of my cheek. Cold, wet, the small dot of it gets bigger but I am sleepy and roll over, pulling my sleeping bag closer to my face. I’m in and out of sleep, wondering why I can hear the sound of one thing and than another, falling from the sky. I wait to hear the noise again and when it happens, I am confused. It sounds like slowly dripping water…

Despite the three or four raindrops we had felt the night before while eating dinner, it’s not supposed to rain. Last night’s gloomy evening was forecasted as partly cloudy. Today is supposed to be clear skies, temperatures in the high 80’s. There was not even a chance of rain but I hear the noise again. I think I am waking up, that I am not dreaming after all. I lift my head but it is dark and I cannot see. I lie back down and turn one way, than the next in my sleeping bag. My eyes close again, I can feel myself drifting off. Cold and wet, another dot falls on my cheek. I cannot ignore what’s happening anymore.

I jump up and around to my knees in my sleeping bag because that is the best way to stay warm. I am in a hurry but know to be careful of the zipper as I open the door to our tent . My hand presses into damp material and a shower of water falls onto my arm when I fold the flap out. I feel around in the dark outside for the things I am looking for but I can’t find them. I am mad at myself. But in the lateness of last night and the relentless of the cold, biting wind, all I had wanted to do was to dive into the warmness of the tent. I had thought there would be no harm in leaving our shoes and socks outside.

I can’t find them. I shake Shortcut awake. He mumbles about something, I can’t understand him. But he finally understands me and scrambles to help. I do not dare wake Bugles as he will not go back to sleep and that would not go over well for anyone. “Here mom…” Shortcut is efficient as he quickly locates our shoes and soggy socks. We are too tired to worry about where the whole wet mess of it should go. We lie back down and Shortcut is asleep again. My nose is in my shoe, a nasty sock in my hair. It doesn’t really matter. I am ok with that…

The next time I wake up, it is daylight. I examine the inside of the tent. I do not see where the water might have leaked. I wrestle on my hiking clothes while still in my sleeping bag because I am cold. When I am as ready as I need to be I wake up Bugles and Shortcut. “Whoaa, it’s raining!” Bugles exclaims, “What’s for breakfast?” He will verbally relive these questions continuously for the rest of the day and for now, both Shortcut and I have already answered him a dozen times.

We climb out of the tent to see that we have camped inside a cloud of thick fog.  The bottom of the cloud is the trail and the rest of the ground we stand on. “So much for the view,” I mumble. I had read that the best views of the Columbia River Gorge on the PCT could be seen nearby. We will not find them today. All that can be seen is whispy walls of white mist and the lower-halves of ghost-like, shadow trees.

I make sure Bugles is dressed in his rain jacket and pants. Shortcut tells me that his thrift store, camouflage pants will do just fine. I remember how, in wanting to get rid of some of the base weight in my backpack, I had left my rain jacket behind in Panther Creek. I know I will never to do something like that again…

Shortcut and I are motivated by the rain’s persistence that soaks our clothes and makes us cold. We break down camp quickly. We plead endlessly with Bugles to get dressed, eat his breakfast, and put his socks and shoes on.  He does so in his own time…  

Sometimes it helps if we just start hiking. So we do. I’ve read there is water somewhere up the spur trail. That is where we go. Bugles yells behind us to wait and soon he is hiking behind us. His rain jacket is crooked. A buff draped, not worn, sits on top of his head. His rain pants are snagged on one leg, up to his knee. Shortcut and I stop. I straighten Bugles’ clothes and Shortcut makes sure his backpack is on correctly. We both ask Bugles to wear the buff or put it in his pocket so that he doesn’t lose it..

It so happens that today, of all days, the trail is lined by thigh-high, tall grass and shrub. Every step is a fresh wet wipe of rain slapped against the legs. I make a mental note that it doesn’t matter how much the cost, rain pants are a necessity not a luxury item and must be purchased immediately upon arrival back home. But I think I will be ok with being wet. After all, no matter what the trail serves up, the journey is what it is all about. So for this morning, “it” is what it is, we hike onward in the rain and the clouds.

I’m not sure if I care about finding water. I mention as much to Shortcut. We have enough, roughly two liters on each of us, to last for the morning. Shortcut agrees. We turn around, head back down the Spur trail to where it meets the PCT, turn right, and head south.

Bugles follows behind in non-stop “stop” mode. First he has to ties his shoes, than take off his jacket. Next he has to go to the bathroom. Than he has to go to the bathroom again, and tie his shoes. It is on one of these stops that I notice his rain pants are too big for him, one side of which is falling down around his knees. We wait while he takes them off and stuffs them in the back pocket of his pack. It’s on the last stop, when he drops the buff he’s got lying on the top of his head, for the fourth time, that I lose my patience. In between his insistence that I answer his auto-pilot, repeated question of “what’s for breakfast,” I ask him if there is anyway that we can get going so that we might make it to Cascade Locks today. My question doesn’t go over so well…

In the heated and very loud moment that follows, it’s not surprising to me that when I turn around, there is a tent to the right of the trail. I stammer my apologies to the hikers that we most likely woke up. I feel the need to explain awkwardly that my son has Autism. I know full well there is no excuse for my meltdown that mirrors his own. The hikers are gracious in saying that they are enjoying their coffee before they break camp. We hadn’t woken them up, and they totally understand. I can’t say that I believe them but their kindness makes things a little bit easier. Bugles, in his most friendly way, belts out, “Hello sir, hello ma’am. I’m Bugles N’ Cream and I AM a PCT HIKER!” He leans over to pick up the buff that is now streaked with mud and drapes it once more, on top of his head…

The trail curves in a continuous lazy “S” down an exposed slope. Bugles stops, turns around, and runs back up the trail to find the buff that has fallen off his head again. When he rejoins us, the buff is hanging off the side of his neck. We pass by a group of older-than-myself hikers. I do not believe they look like thru-hikers. I assume that they are section hikers instead. For some reason, they don’t seem very friendly. I’m admittedly in a funk and mumble, “good morning, have a nice hike…” Shortcut flashes them his amazingly, friendly smile, and Bugles’ yells, “Hello SIRS, hello MA’AMs…”

We hike another mile and reach a confusing jumble of trail and forest road. I check my maps and apps to make sure we make the right choice to move forward. Another hiker, this time, one who mentions he has come from Mexico and is going to Canada, appears. We talk very little. Neither one of us, it seems, is up for conversation. Maybe he is in a funk too. For the life of me, and despite the fact that it is still raining, I can’t fathom why. He’s hiking my dream…

After he disappears out of sight, we walk along the trail that is now a ledge and wraps around the middle of another mountain. We are no longer in the fog cloud but below it. Through trees with branches grown high, we see layers of dark-blue mountains and greenish, brown valleys. The trail ledge merges and becomes flat with the mountain again. We stop where a new forest road and the trail form an X. Shortcut and I look down and start laughing. We are appalled yet fascinated. Bugles catches up and yells, “Oh my GOD!, Somebody has POOED ON THE TRAIL!”. We can’t help but stand in a circle, around the poo in silent amazement.” It’s not long before we realize that Bugles no longer has the buff. It is gone and lost for the last time… 

We hike steady on into the morning. The clouds shift and roll and than fall apart to reveal the great river glinting in sunlight sparkles as it snakes through the Gorge. From where we are, it looks small. I know it is big. We have a false sense of being close to Cascade Locks. The truth of it is, we are still at least ten miles away. It’s been a rough morning for Bugles who has been unable to shake the OCD that keeps him from being calm. In turn, his rough morning has ricocheted into being Shortcut and mine’s as well. Seeing the mighty Columbia reminds us of everything that we know to love, in hiking the PCT. We stop to fist pump and hug each other. Shortcut, Bugles and I talk about how simple it is. All We have to do is hike on down to that river.  We don’t know that it will take the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon to do so…

We walk in cloud again, brushing aside fog as we feel the rain.  The trail is once more, lined with long grass and shrub, Sometimes the grass drips tall above us. I’ve given up on staying dry. I’ve got thick hiking leggings on but think I would have been better off wearing just my shorts. I am mostly warm, however, in my base layers and down coat. No matter my feet feel squishy-wet. I ask Shortcut how he is doing and he says he is fine. Bugles takes on, takes off, his long sleeve shirt, swinging it over his head, dragging it in the dirt. He does not mind that his t-shirt is getting wet.

We reach a clearing with heavy tractor tracks dug into the hillside. Huge tree stumps have been yanked out of the ground and are scattered everywhere. In the place that we can touch the misty fog around us, the stumps look like strangely twisted tombstones in a cemetery for dead and dying trees. We can hear, but not see heavy machinery loudly chomping and grinding. Bugles thinks the machines are eating the mountain. The forest begins again and we leave the wasted hillside behind, wondering why the trees there are being destroyed.

We arrive at a place that I imagine wood elves real. Maybe, this was their home long ago. The path is lined with yellow, white, and purple-blue wildflowers The white mist is transparent and ethereal. Bugles eyes are full of wonder. He asks if dragons live here. Two thru-hikers move towards us. They are Europeans, tall, beautiful, and blond, and fit right in with their earth sandals and nomadic clothes. Bugles wants to talk to them. Patient and soft-spoken, they listen when he stops and starts over, the words he wants but cannot, seem to say.

We hike on several overhangs where the trail is formed of a thousand rocks, each steep mountainside, tumbles of small rocks and boulders. It is good to keep one’s eye on the trail so as not to fall off and die. I mention as much to Bugles and Shortcut. The fog lifts for the last time. The morning warms up to hot. We stop every so often to take another layer of clothes off. Shortcut and Bugles tell me that they are hungry so on one of the cliffs, we stop and eat. I make sure to fill their packs with the rest of their lunch to snack on along the way. Bugles asks for plain M&M’s but we have run out. I only have the peanut ones to give them. Shortcut tells me he likes the plain ones better. Bugles agrees that he does too. We sit side-by-side on jagged rocks, the sun drying our clothes, the three of us are content.

Shortcut, Bugles, and I climb some more mountains, we are getting used to that. And than it’s a hike down again. We are used to that as well. It is green and red-brown everywhere with the rich soil that the coniferous forest and ferns grow in. The trees play chameleon as their trunks and bark take on the same hue as the dirt. Our packs now low on water, we know we have to stop to filter soon. Before we do so, we meet three remarkable, young men, that for a tiny second made huge, become our friends.

Fieval, Mugwort, and Super Squeezer are thru-hikers who have hiked the whole way from Mexico. They say they think they will reach Canada in a few more weeks. I can see that Shortcut and Bugles are enjoying the camaraderie the trail has a way of bringing to those who share in the love of the hike. The spirit of all one can find if they are looking, on this trail journey is clearly present. It is a rare gift and I am thankful that Shortcut, Bugles and myself are here.

The hikers tell us that it’s all downhill from here on out. We hike down and for a while we believe them. But by now we know the trail is not to be underestimated. It’s not long before we are hiking up again. Shortcut comments how it is, in a very short time on the trail, he has changed. “Will my dad be proud of me?” he asks.

Before he was my son, Shortcut lived the first eight years of his life in an orphanage in China. I wonder at his question. There is a new light in his eyes, a confidence I have not seen in him before. We talk about how many miles he has hiked. How proud I am of him. “Yes,” I reply, “Your dad is going to be very proud of you” I tell him that what matters most and is much more important than what his dad or I might think, is that he should know to be proud of himself.

“What about me?” My eternal child, Bugles says. “Will you be proud of me?” I can’t tell him that hiking while navigating the unpredictability of how Autism affects his behavior at any given second is one of the toughest things I have ever attempted to do. It matters but it doesn’t. Bugles is one of the reasons I am out here and why he is too. The struggle to navigate the trail with severe OCD and Tics is huge. But he never complains about the weight of his backpack or how many miles we hike a day. He is always pointing out the beautiful things we see. I look into his blue eyes earnestly waiting for my answer. I hear the echo of the many times he has shouted, “MAN, I LOVE this HIKE! We are REALLY doing this, hiking the PCT. Mom, I AM a PCT hiker!” I say to him “Yes, I am proud of you” and than repeat my answer over and over until he is satisfied. He’s quiet for all of a second before he replies, “REALLY? you ARE? Why THANKS mom… And than he hikes on…

The landscape morphs into one potential, forest-fire, dry mess. The trees are sparse, the trail becomes rocky and uneven. Another thru-hiker casually mentions, “It’s all downhill from here,” as he passes going the opposite way. “Liar..,” We all say out loud when he is far enough away that he cannot hear us. We laugh. The reality is that we know the hikers are not lying. They are simply saying it is so as a way of hiker-encouragement.

Bugles’ starts talking about how he wants pizza when he gets to Cascade Locks. I watch for sight of the river. We collide with a friendly crowd of local day-hikers. They tell us that Cascade Locks isn’t very far and that it’s all downhill from now on. “That’s what we’ve heard,” I mention and Shortcut nods his head in agreement. Bugles lets them know that he is “Bugles’, the one and only PCT hiker. The day-hikers are glad, I think, that they have met a hiker who is one of a kind…

Bugles asks, “Are we there yet?” Shortcut and I start to think it’s taking forever to get to Cascade Locks. We reach Gillette Lake, 3.8 miles to the Washington-Oregon border and the Bridge of the Gods. We walk past a campsite full of garbage. Shortcut and I conclude that the trash could only have been left by day-hikers. Thru-hikers know better. The trail squiggly-curves back and forth through dry hillsides, another forest, a bridge with a small creek, and than another bridge with another creek. We pick blackberries where the trail cuts through a path of sticker bushes and Shortcut says that he likes blackberries much better than raspberries. Bugles is insistent that M&M’s are much better than any kind of berry. We’re still wondering how come it’s taking so long to get to the Bridge of the Gods…

“We’ve got this,” exclaims Shortcut a little while later. He’s got a big grin on his face as he reaches up to a thorny cane of yet, another giant blackberry bush to pick a ripe berry and pop it into his mouth. I think about how many times he has said such a thing in the past couple of days and than I think about how he’s been talking about changing his trail name. He’s got a couple of ideas. I do too… He’s close to deciding…

“Hey.. you’re almost there, right around the corner and keep on straight.” A friendly woman stops her car to lean out her window and with a big smile cheers us on. I get the feeling she is used to cheering on hikers. The three of us walk in a line across a road that splits our path and leads to several houses along the way. We can’t help smiling back and waving our trekking poles. The trail becomes a straightway on a wide ledge of a cliff hanging over Highway SR-14. We are close now but it is still seems like a very long way. We walk until the trail dips down to the right and it becomes the road. Shortcut and I look at each other, wide grins on our faces…

“We did IT!” yells Bugles as we reach the Bridge of the Gods. We are learning to move through a path that is not always easy and sometimes, impossibly tough. Shortcut who has decided on a new trail name, looks down at the curious steel-latticed grate that we must walk on. The river can be seen through the spaces in-between and it is a long-way down. The way is narrow here and we share the same lane as the semi-trunk idling behind us. Bugles wants to know if the truck will hit and kill us. Myself, I am sad because when we cross the bridge, we will be leaving the trail for a while. We need to go home and I do not know when we will be back…

Shortcut becomes Braveheart and steps out onto the grate He is not afraid. I assure Bugles that it’s not likely the truck will hit him. For some reason he is ok with me answering his question only once. He follows Braveheart, no longer worried about the semi-truck behind him. My sad is comforted by peace because I am sure of one thing…

Single file, our feet go clickety-clank on the bridge’s grate. The wind that lives in the Columbia Gorge swings up and around the trestles and on the trail we still have a long way to go. It’s just the beginning.  So for now, Bugles, Braveheart and I get on with it.  We adjust our packs, hold up our trekking poles, and with a good deal of much-appreciated satisfaction, continue the hike across our bridge…

-Chris

 


PCT mile 2184.7? (Day 6)
Hiking the Washington State’s PCT
Road 24 to 2144.5-Cascade Locks
-67.7 miles going SOBO
(cont… from Day 4 and Day 5)“Hey Mom… Uh, what do you think about slowing down just a little bit?

I hear Shortcut speak behind me. I’m in awe at how easily he seems to keep up. Yesterday he was not a hiker but something has changed in him and I do not know yet how great that change will be until much later. “Of course,” I reply. HIs request is both easy and hard because I don’t want to go slow. I want to go fast. I try to do as he asks but it doesn’t work out so well. My feet are flying…

The trail is almost all downhill this morning. Endless switchbacks on smooth trail that is a trail runner’s dream. It is a different forest than the one from yesterday. Ferns grow big and in some places are wet with morning dew. Huge leafs that are missing one from being four leaf clovers droop onto the trail and the trees here have a rain forest look. I think the seasonal streams we will see today will not be dry as they have been in many areas of the trail we have seen so far.

Bugles is right behind Shortcut. His hat is flying around his face by a string, his backpack is sometimes lopsided. I do not worry about him, at least not in the way of the trail. He is strong and sure-footed despite the tics that plague him. If he needs to be fast, he can be and he is so now.

Shortcut slides off the trail into a pile of green ferns. He grins as he pulls himself back up and I know he is not hurt. But it’s a sign for me to to work a little harder at slowing down. My backpack-style run turns into a fast hike. Shortcut is good with this and matches my stride, swinging his trekking poles in circles, helicopter style, rather than using them in the hiking way.

We have five miles to our first stop at Panther Creek. We are content with our current way of life. For two nights we have slept in a tent, our trail-dusty socks tossed above our heads, backpacks stacked neatly by our feet. We wear the same clothes as yesterday and we don’t care. Our pockets are full of snacks that are second and third courses to the breakfast that we ate while breaking down camp. I think I would like to hike on the trail forever.

We talk about the pile of bones placed in the dirt in a curious way a mile ago at a junction of several trails coming together and laugh that it was someone’s idea of a joke. The trail emerges out of what I think looks like a rain forest, to make it’s way through a random, rocky clearing. We see valleys below, purple mountains above, and a sky of blue streaks with dark and white clouds. The trail dips back into the forest and down we go. I wonder how far it is to the bottom…

A PCT thru-hiker is trudging our way. I do not envy his climb but am instantly jealous of his footwear. “Check out those sandals,” Bugles loudly exclaims. Shortcut will later wonder how many times the hiker has stubbed his toes on rocks since the origin of his journey at the border of Mexico.

We stop to talk to the hiker whose name is Stretch. He has long curly hair, a beard, and a smile in his eyes. Stretch patiently waits for Bugles to repeat several times, the questions he wants to ask. He nods his head in gentle understanding when Bugles explains that he must ask the same question until he, (Bugles), “gets” the question right. Stretch than becomes my hero, not only for being a PCT thru-hiker but for the careful manner in which he repeats the answer to Bugles’ question until Bugles is satisfied.

Several downhill trail zig-zags later, we run into another hiker whose name is Tootsie Roll. Neither Bugles, Shortcut, nor I think to ask him why. He also is a thru-hiker, wondering what he will do and where he will go next when his months of hiking the PCT are done. He lives in California but speaks of family in Washington. He thinks he will move to where his family lives, to be near the mountains and winter skiing. He, like Stretch, is patient as Bugles, who is tic’ing extra hard, has to start and stop his sentences several times before proudly proclaiming, “I’m THE one and ONLY … BUGLES N’ CREAM! … and I am a P*C*T HIKER!”

“Looks like bike tracks…” Sometime later, Shortcut points down at the trail. I admire his anything-wheels, tracking skills and agree that he must be right. “I don’t think anybody is supposed to be doing that on the PCT,” I say off-handedly. It is easy to see that the trail here is not only a trail runner but a mountain biker’s dream as well. I think though that I wouldn’t want to pedal the uphill of the almost vertical we hike down. I hear water and know that Panther Creek is near. Shortcut sees the bridge first and we walk across, Bugles asking the question over-and-over, “Are we here THERE yet? The Man in Charge waits for us. Shortcut and I look at the mountain bike that the Man in Charge is walking across the bridge, look at one another, and than nonchalantly look the other way. No need to say more…

Shortcut and Bugles sit on rocks with bare feet in the cold creek water. They happily eat two-day-old pizza. I peel off my dirty socks and wade in, ankle deep. The water soothes the growing blisters on three of my toes. Roots and Backpack appear and help us filter water. I wash my underwear and a shirt and clip them to the back of my pack, help with the water filtering and than, together with the Man in Charge, I look over my maps, eager to hike on.

I think to lighten my pack weight so leave my raincoat and a pair of dirty wool socks behind. The Man in Charge disappears to go get the truck, I join Shortcut and Bugles, in grabbing large handfuls of M&M’s out of a jumbo sized container and shove them in my pocket. I listen to Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart,” on my phone, which instantly becomes my go-to trail theme song and off we go. Roots and Backpack follow along until the trail meets a road where the Man in Charge is waiting with the truck. We will meet one more time in five miles at Trout Creek before they head off to Cascade Locks. There they will wait for us to arrive the following day.

We hike along overgrown forest growth that frequently drapes vines and leaves over the trail. The way here is low and flat, a short reprieve from the elevation gains and losses that we have hiked so far. I feel like we are in a jungle. Bugles’ eats all his M&M’s than asks to eat mine. Reaching into my pocket, one blue M&M drops in the dirt. I share the rest that are in my hand. Shortcut, Bugle’s and I discuss the ten second rule and all agree that we shouldn’t leave the blue M&M in the dirt. Somebody picks it up and eats it, but I won’t say who…

We hear road traffic. I tell Shortcut that we have reached the place where the PCT crosses the Wind River Highway. The same spot that I couldn’t find a couple of weeks ago when the Man in Charge was teaching me map navigation skills while driving on our way to Chinook Pass. We walk across the road and pct-it back into the forest. It’s not long before we climb up and around another mountain, walk across a couple of bridges and creeks, hike through meadows with no trespassing signs, march by some houses, and stumble over a graveled, forest road or two. The trail goes on like that for another couple of hours until we emerge onto a road that is paved. Our truck is there, along with two cars, all parked in a row. We are at Trout Creek.

I take off my backpack and set it down. Shortcut does the same. Bugles kicks off his shoes, one is lying in the road, the other flies underneath the truck. He slings the rest of his gear everywhere. I find one of his trekking poles later in the bushes behind the truck. I take off my shoes and than my dirty socks, interested to know if I still have skin left on my blistered toes. I do, but not for long…

A breve mocha finds it’s way into my hands because the Man in Charge knows that is what I like. Shortcut and Bugles’ disappear across the bridge that crosses Trout Creek in search of Backpack and Roots. I follow and when I see the creek, think that this would be a fine place to spend the rest of the afternoon.

A group of thru-hikers blend in near the water to the left and under the shade of the bridge. They laugh easily with each other as they eat their trail food. I climb down to the right where a female thru-hiker is curled up in sand dotted with river rock, circled by big boulders all around. I guess she is asleep. I think she will be awake soon. Bugles sits content, sharing a boulder with Shortcut, their feet dangling in the water. He loudly alternates his repeated questions from, “My legs are sore, may I dip my feet in? Do you have any gatorade?” .. to “Mom… are we ready to hike the PCT… I’m hungry, do you have any more to eat?” I don’t know at what point in the midst of Bugles’ questions, our answers, and more of his questions, that the hiker silently gives up on her nap and goes about on her way.

The water is bubbly and falls over big, round rocks here. The mirror clarity of the creek and the crisp white of the rocks’ surface is stark wonder in the reflection of the sky blue that no longer has any clouds. Roots and Backpack laugh and play in the creek. “They’ve been that way for a while,” says the Man in Charge. I watch them and smile. This place reminds me of the river that flows through the California mountain town I grew up in. The peace that I found when I was young there. It is good that Roots and Backpack are happy with their time here.

Mile 2159.6 has water, campsites, and the promise of 15 miles to hike the next day to Cascade Locks. It is also almost 15 miles from where we are now. The Man in Charge doesn’t think we will make it. He tells me that, according to the map, there is seven miles that we will be hiking on a steep, mountain ledge. He says we do not want to get caught on the ledge after dark. We talk strategy on different locations to camp for the night. Rock Creek looks to be a good option but is still ten miles away. Time to go, I quickly patch Bugles’ blisters, than my own, and we put our shoes back on. Packs on our backs, pockets full of M&M’s, Bugles, Shortcut, and I say goodbye and continue on.

We are in good spirits. I believe the M&M’s help fuel our climb as we hike the forever of uphill for most of the afternoon hours. The forest here is different from the morning, large pine and fir trees give plenty of shade with lot’s of opportunity to see the mountain views as we climb to the sky. Sometimes there is a breeze when hiking on the south or east side of an upward slope and it feels good when it cools the heat of the day. We finally reach the top and push on over and onto the forest-surrounded ledge that the Man in Charge mentioned. It is amazingly endless as it cuts it’s way down the other side of the mountain. We stop once to look behind us. I remark to Shortcut that it would probably be a good thing to build an alpine slide on the path that we have just hiked. He laughs as he agrees.

It is a strange thing when a summer blue sky is covered stormy gray when least expected. We hike through a low forest and can barely see the clouds through the tunnel of dark green turned shadow-black overgrowth above us. It is gloomy with the overcast sky and Shortcut remarks that he is scared. Water from a creek that sounds like a giant river parallels the trail and we pass by a campsite cradled in logs lying in soft dirt. It is the perfect place to camp. But it is still early and we are not anywhere near Mile 2159.6. 

Relief in the dreary landscape, yellow, red, and lime green are three of four colors of tents, lined on either side of the trail where it meets the bridge of Rock Creek. A party of folks sit around a campfire. Shirts, shorts, and jackets of orange, red, and brown hang on a line strung from tree to tree. Laughter and people talking mingle in a melody playing with the song of the creek Surely if the sun was shining through the tree tops, this place would be called magic. Instead it feels vaguely haunted despite the thru-hikers gathered to spend the night there.

“Let’s keep on going, we can do this,” Shortcut announces bravely. He and I wonder whether it is wise to try and push through another five miles to get to where we want to be. Bugles protests loudly, wanting very much to camp with the other hikers. We do not stay but keep on moving. In a mile or so, we eat dinner where a forest road cuts our path apart. In between bites of food, Bugles’ mentions quite a few times, we should have camped back at Rock Creek. Neither Shortcut nor I attempt to disagree. Without the sun shining it is dismal and lonely, raindrops begin to fall. We hurry to finish, jumping back on the trail that falls off the road and down a hill, before disappearing deeper and darker into the woods.

It gets dark, we put on our headlamps, and it feels like we are crawling. Bugles never stops talking about how we should have camped at Rock Creek The steepness of the trail makes us pause often to rest. There is another forest road and a flat spot warmly cocooned among the trees, suitable for putting up a tent. Bugles wants to stay there. But it is at the bottom of the rest of the mountain that we must climb up so we keep on going.

Bugles is getting louder and louder. Shortcut and I try to reason with him but nothing we say helps. Bugles starts to insist that we are all probably going to die if we do not stop soon. His OCD gets the best of us and we all escalate to ultra-loud in the never-ending answers to his questions. I worry but than realize that our loudness should not disturb other hikers. The trail’s edge falls sharply down the mountain and there is nowhere to camp. It is doubtful that anyone is nearby.

The wind starts to howl and it is getting cold, the trail evens out and unbelievably we are where we want to be. We look around in the dark and finally settle on a place to camp among the trees, on a spur trail that breaks off to the right of the PCT. In the inky-black night with only our headlamps, we have no idea if we are close to tumbling off the mountain top.  Maybe the wind will push us over.  It doesn’t matter, I hurry to get the tent up. It is hard to do. I assure Shortcut that I think it’s a good idea to put on the outer shell of the tent. Tonight, he does not wish to see out into the dark. I know he is still scared.

The wind chills us frozen and our hands get cold. Bugles is shivering uncontrollably but will not listen when I tell him to put on his jacket. Shortcut throws me the backpacks, I cram them to the back of our tent. While I get the sleeping bags and mats ready, he stakes the walls of the tent down. I help Bugles so that he will get into his sleeping bag to warm up. Shortcut is done with the stakes and climbs in. With the three of us, the cold outside stays put and we start to warm up. The wind pushes the top of our tent around but that is ok. We feel safe inside.

“We are doing this!…hiking the PCT! Mom, I LOVE THIS hike!” Bugles’ blue eyes are innocent, he has calmed down from his earlier angst. Shortcut is earnestly counting the number of miles he has hiked on his fingers. It’s starting to sink in that he’s really doing this too. They fall asleep in a matter of seconds. I do not…

I listen to the the trees bend and sway and once, I open the tent door just to smell the woodsy-fresh air that the wind tosses my way. I breathe in deeply, my eyes close, I am thankful I am here. My mind is still hiking and I know I never want to stop…

-Chris…

PCT mile 2212.2 (Day 4 and Day 5)
Hiking Washington State’s PCT
Forest Road 24, going SOBO

My feet sink in the soft, sand-colored dirt of the trail. I am ready to go. The rest of them walk in a straight line of four and I can see their shoulders and heads bobbing, a short distance ahead, above naked, twisted branches and wheat-dry, forest-grass. Bugles’s voice can be heard, echoing back through the clearing, loudly asking the same questions over-and-over. This time, it is Shortcut that provides the scripted answers which seem to satisfy Bugles enough that he moves on to demand answers to his next series of questions while all of them hike on.

It wasn’t easy getting ready when everyone piled out of the truck earlier. Afterwards when they all had their packs on, we were still waiting for Bugles who inevitably took his time pulling on socks and shoes, his backpack completely awry and hanging from his body, that it took three of us to make him hiker-ready. But that is the way it is.

In a curious twist of bending trail, our Support Team now joins us on our hike. One is Shortcut and he does not like to hike. The other, who as of yet, does not have a true PCT trail name, for now is called Backpack. Roots, who quit at White Pass has no choice but to hike as we will not leave her behind.

The Man in Charge was leery of dropping us off in the middle of nowhere but we have plotted out potential bail-outs along the way if things go bad. Several weeks have passed since pulling off trail at White Pass and I am better prepared this time. But that means nothing and I know it. I don’t talk about it with the Man in Charge, but I know I still have much to learn about trail life.

I wave goodbye with what I hope looks like confidence. There’s no point in showing I am nervous. We are to hike southbound, thru-hiker lingo, “SOBO.” This is the section of trail that was bypassed several weeks ago when record high temperatures and armies of mosquitos chased us off course. We are headed to Cascade Locks, 67.7 miles away. It is afternoon and time is short with a long way to hike to my target camping spot tonight. I run to catch up with the others.

The way is rough here. Sections of rocky, crooked trail turns into an obstacle course as the five of us work as a team to help each other climb over, or crawl under, the fallen trees that are everywhere. Some parts of the trail are so bad, that detour options include pushing our way through young forest growth with trees so close together, their branches act like rubber-bands, pushing back so we cannot move forward. A mile or so and it occurs to me that something is not quite right. Already I am lost. The trail we are on is not the PCT. I lead everyone back to somewhere close to our starting point and discover that the PCT routes parallel to the unknown trail we are on. We hop on over tall grass and scrub to land where we are supposed to be, and begin to hike on a much smoother path.
In the sun, it is hot and that is good. It keeps the mosquitos away. But the trail winds it’s way through the trees and the mosquitos are there waiting. I know better this time. Everyone has long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and face nets. Bugles is dressed in a full length mosquito net suit that covers him from head to toe. We hike on…

Spirits are high this afternoon. Roots, Shortcut, and Backpack talk as they walk, Bugles joins in from time to time when he is not busy holding conversation with himself or intent on asking his questions over-and-over. The open grassy areas get smaller, and the trees get thicker. The trail we follow winds in a rolling up and down pattern through the forest. Every once in a while, there is a hole in the trees, and mountains hobnobbing with blue skies peak through. After hours of viewing only firs and pines, splash-painted a thousand shades of green, keeping an eye out for such holes becomes a welcomed habit.

The Man in Charge and I had talked strategy before the hike. With 16.8 miles between Road Forest 24 and Road 60, and where he is to meet us the next day, the best case scenario is to hike as near to 10 miles as possible this afternoon. I hope to make Blue Lake which will leave us 6 miles to hike in the morning. It doesn’t take long to realize that the chance of this happening is getting slimmer by the second. Backpack and Shortcut lag behind and it is getting to be that time when the sun hangs low. They cheer when they see a lake come into view on the right but it is not Blue Lake. According to the map, it is the much smaller Bear Lake and really not much more than a pond. We stop for dinner.

The mosquitoes find us. They must be as hungry as everyone else as they buzz their way through our head nets. Bugles is getting bit around the ankles of his net suit and the mosquitoes decide that our hands are just as good as dessert. Fixing dinner, filtering water, while trying to avoid anymore mosquito bites turns into some kind of weird backpacker dance, hopping first on one leg, and than the other, our arms slapping random body parts at odd moments. We eat quickly.

I want to keep on hiking. There is still a little bit daylight left and we are not afraid to use our headlamps if needed. Roots is eager to move as well. So we climb away from the lake and back on the trail. It is a short hike. The trail curves around the hillside, the lake disappears, and I realize it is much darker than it is light. I remember the mistakes I had made the last time on trail. I know better and call off on going any further, turning everyone around instead to head back to the lake to camp for the night.

We find a flat area in the trees, high on a slope that looks out and down over the water. I am grateful because it is across the lake from where I notice a solitaire tent quietly settled on the shoreline. I think it is best not to camp too close. Bugles’ voice echoes and he is not up for whispering. I feel bad that our loud group may be disturbing the hiker’s solitude. But there is nothing I can do. It is a while before the laughter and the in-and-out bulging walls of the inside of Bugles’, Shortcut, and Backpack’s tent subside from all their goofing around. Somehow, everyone quiets down. I am not sure how they sleep as I do not. Mosquito bites burn my legs for the rest of the night as I discover that my tent is not in anyway mosquito proof.

I am awake when the dark turns light and it is morning. We are once more on the trail, not an easy thing, after almost two hours trying to get camp broken down, repacked and breakfast made. Maybe we walk fifty feet when we run into a couple named Ridgeroute and Shortcut. “Hey, I know you!” I exclaim while they look on in surprise. I had met both of them several months prior while hiking at Baden-Powell, a mountain in California. Meeting up with them again is “selfie” worthy and we wish them well after our pictures are taken. They hike north. We hike south.

It is hot. The mosquitoes follow us. Backpack lags behind and Shortcut’s rain pants are falling off. Roots wants to go on ahead but I tell her she has to be a part of the team. Bugles is talking to himself. Hours pass and I realize that the chance that had been getting slimmer by the second the night before is long gone. We are not going to meet the Man in Charge at the time we had planned for this morning.

We reach Blue Lake and know instantly that it would have been a way better place to camp the night before instead of Bear Lake. It is windy, crispy cold, and the lake is as turquoise-clear as can be, nestled on three sides by steep, rocky mountain edges. The water ripples along a dirt bank that we stop and climb down to filter water at. The mosquitos are mysteriously gone.

We keep going on the trail that slides down a mountain and we hike through a burnt up forest. The blackened trees stand like uneven bundles of telephone poles, the ash-dirt of the trail curving in switchbacks that lead us through desolate and strangely beautiful destruction. Roots gets her way and moves so far ahead that she is now gone, taking Backpack with her. I think this is strange because Backpack has been hiking unbearably slow all morning but obviously not so, anymore. Shortcut and I discuss how this makes us feel and I wonder when it is Roots will reappear. This will happen an hour or so later.

The hot day gets hotter and I am reminded of our hike from Chinook Pass to White Pass. I know we will not run out of water again. I have made sure of that, we are all hiking water-heavy. We trudge through meadows with little shade on a muddy-trail that forks two ways. I am lost as to which direction to go and everyone except Bugles is put out when we hike back and forth several times in both directions just to make sure the Garmin map is showing the correct way to go.

Lunch is water poured into Mountain House Chili Mac and Cheese. Bugles, Shortcut, Backpack, Roots, and myself with all our gear are sprawled crazy all over the trail. Roots is disgruntled with the heat and mosquitos, throws her body around as she loudly yells that she hates this hike again. I realize a change is in order.

The disappearance of Roots and Backpack several hours earlier concern me. I know it is highly likely that Roots, in her think-for-herself-way, will choose to do the same thing again. There is a potential of danger for all of us if this choice is made. Listening to her yell, I make a final decision that I am going to be leaving two, maybe three hikers with the Man in Charge and continue on to Cascade Locks without them.

Maybe an hour later, while heading down a mountain slope, the Man in Charge appears out of trail-nowhere to hike the rest of the way to our meeting point. There is a group of northbound thru-hikers eating lunch. Easy is their hiker-life that they sit and talk as if they have known each other for life. Roots and Backpack will stay with the Man in Charge. Shortcut astonishes me when he decides he wants to hike on with Bugles and myself. “I don’t want to let the team down,” he says. “Let’s do this,” he exclaims bravely, his heart gleaming gold in his kind eyes.

We leave the rest and hike through big boulders, a trail of sand, the sparse trees and it is hot. But a small miracle, the mosquito armies are gone, and we do not see them for the rest of the summer. Bugles is content with Shortcut who is easygoing. We stop for spring water that flows ice-cold out of a pipe onto the trail and than we stop again to talk to a thru-hiker named Tinker who looks like a forest elf with his flowing white beard and hiker garb. He speaks of the way of the universe and whatever happens is meant to be, than claps his hands together twice, holding palms out towards us. Maybe this is his way of saying farewell as he than magically disappears to follow his destiny. The afternoon changes to evening, we find ourselves in the best camping spot ever, near a mountain called Huckleberry and we think we would like to stay the night. We face one way and Mount Adams gleams white in the blue sky to the north. If we decide to go on our way forward, Cascade Locks is that much closer. We choose to keep going.

There are more camping spots, this time, flat areas on high cliffs with awe-inspiring views of Mount Hood and the mountains to the south. Bugles and Shortcut are unimpressed or leery of setting up our tent so near sheer and certain death drop-offs. We eat dinner staring at Mount Hood in a leveled out spot high up on another mountain. It is windy, much cooler than earlier in the afternoon and the skies are clear and blue though it will soon be night.

We are satisfied when we finally do stop for the evening. We find a camping spot overlooking the trail not far from one of several forest roads that we pass along the way. We set up our tent without the outer covering so we can see the stars. We laugh as we imagine that we have just seen a UFO. There is a rustle in the woods that we say may or may not be a bear or cougar. We know we have five miles to hike the next morning to meet the Man in Charge once more in a place called Panther Creek. Shortcut is proud of the miles he has hiked so far. Bugles is happy Shortcut is with us and I stare up at the stars when they are asleep, at peace with what life IS when hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

-Chris…