The Last Day of the Last Year…
From where I sit on my make-believe mountain peak way up high, I can see sparkles of lights from the night of the valley far beyond. On this day marking the end of a year, those who live in the valley gather to celebrate. As always, I watch from afar. I wonder at their hope for what the new year may bring. I remember the past as I wait for what will come next…
I remember how I had arrived in the Land of A so many years ago. When One-of-my-Own, than a little boy with long blond curls and a belly laugh that could make the angels sing became lost in such a strange place. It was all Autism’s fault and I didn’t know what to do. I would spend a lifetime searching a way out for him.
It is cold on my mountain peak. The snow rings a circle around but does not touch where I sit. I wear a favorite pretend down coat to keep me safe and warm. It won’t be long now before the celebration in the valley far beyond begins. It does so at the end of each and every year. Those who have gathered are now together. As usual, I am alone. I think of the past and the present as I wait for what’s next…
I think about One-of-my-Own and the years of the tiniest steps forward and the huge leaps backwards. Despite it all, I always believed that I was moving closer to finally finding his way out of the Land of A. But that all changed recently when somehow Autism gained the upper hand. OCD and Tics took control, and One-of-my-Own went missing again. I think he is lost now more than ever.
Sporadic booms and bangs sound up from the valley beyond to interrupt the quiet of my imaginary mountain peak. A cold winter wind shakes clouds that will spill more snow. I pull on my pretend pair of black merino wool mittens, even though I lost the real one while hiking a volcano a while back. It is not time for the people of the valley’s celebration. Yet those who gather begin anyhow. From where I sit, there is nothing to be done. So I think about what I might believe of the past, present and future, as I wait for what’s next…
It is my belief that in the Land of A, these past months have been the hardest of the years living here. Every once in a while I will find One-of-my-Own and he will look at me with clear blue eyes and tell me that he hates Tics and asks if I can please make him go away. But there are other times when OCD tricks him into thinking he is cured, and right before he gets lost again, he says not to worry, that he’ll be just fine. I can’t imagine OCD and Tics’s hold on him getting any worse but I think I know now that there is always a possibility that it could…
I do not belong to the sparkles of light in the valley down beyond and the celebration is not my own. Those who live down there have never been to the solitude of my mountain peak. The snow is falling everywhere except in the circle that I have created in my imagination where I sit and silently watch. On this last day of the last year, I make a decision for the present and future as I wait for what’s next…
I’ve decided for the thousandth time to quit blaming Autism. Maybe Autism and I can understand each other again…become better allies. We could find a way together to convince OCD and Tics to free One-of-my-Own. We’d still live in the Land of A but maybe being back on the side of Autism, One-of-my-Own wouldn’t be lost anymore. I could believe that I no longer have to find our way out …
It won’t be long now. The booms and bangs are no longer sporadic but a constant rumble, and streaks of light begin to arc up and burst into fireworks in colors of the rainbow. The valley far beyond’s celebration will rise and fall and than eventually die down. I wonder again about the hope that those who gather to celebrate on this last day of the last year, have for what the new year will bring. The truth is, in a very different way, their hope is my hope and the reason why I am here. I look up to see the clouds part with one cloud that floats over just so, that the shiny-white sliver that is the moon jumps on and gently rocks on down it. I suppose right than, that anything is possible. My wait has come to an end and it is time to go. From where I was sitting in the circle where the snow did not fall, I step out and begin the hike down the side of my imaginary mountain to face the many unknowns of what’s next in the Land of A…
PCT Mile 2321.3 (Day 8)
Hiking Washington State’s Pacific Crest Trail
Chinook Pass to 2390.6-Snoqualmie Pass
-69.3 miles going NOBO
The highway weaves in and out far below, snaking around the mountain and the trail we hike on. I know it continues through the canyon in a roundabout path that bypasses White Pass, eventually falling out of the mountains and into the dry, rolling hills of high desert. When that happens it will be a long way from here. The truck is out of sight, somewhere in the middle of all that. Backpack, Roots, and The Man in Charge are on their way home. We will see them again in three days.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” The Man in Charge had asked four hours earlier. It was a reasonable question. We were both concerned about the forest fires that continued to grow in number and size all over the state. Smoke had been the color of the sky for several weeks. Add in the thunder storm forecasted for the Cascades over the weekend, it was fair to question the safety of continuing the hike at this time.
I looked out the window and up at the sky often as we drove towards Chinook Pass. The air was clearly still a chunky-ash mess and we were heading straight toward a forest fire that was burning two miles out of White Pass. The possibility of lightning had me spooked and this was to be our longest stretch hiking without any support. The Man in Charge started grilling me on what to do if we found ourselves caught in a fire while out in the middle of Cascade nowhere. I couldn’t deny the apprehension I had along with the excitement as we started driving into the mountains, the trail getting closer. I told him I was sure…
“We are BACK on the PCT!” Bugles chants. He is happy. His backpack is slightly crooked as usual, and he keeps taking his hat on and off. I am impressed. He has yet to drop it in the dirt of the trail. Shortcut, now Braveheart, replies, “Let’s do this… “ He is wearing his usual smile and is confident after completing the sixty-nine mile stretch south from Forest Road 24 to the Bridge of Gods several weeks ago.
Behind us the parking lot of Chinook pass is already far enough away to look small in the distance. Ahead, the trail leads straight as far as I can see, sliced flat into the side of the mountain. I know it won’t be long before we will be climbing up, over, and into the back country of the Cascades. For the first time this summer, we go north, instead of south. We are on our way to Snoqualmie Pass.
The trail is busy. A man followed by a woman in a dress and flip flops, holding the hand of a small boy step off the path to allow us to pass. We say thank you as we hike by. An older couple with a dog trotting at their feet, move off to the side, making room so that we do not have to stop for them. We pass several more groups of people who follow the same pattern. There seems to be a level of respect for hikers carrying backpacks such as ours. They look at us curiously. I wonder if they believe we are genuine, PCT thru-hikers.
We hike the trail cut into the steep side of the slope. The trees are sparse, though there is enough scrub that I think it would certainly break a fall if one of us slips off trail. If not, than it might be a long way to roll down because I cannot see where the fall would end. It’s a surprise when the trail bends inward and we are in a forest. Our path now spirals through tall trees. Somebody is calling out for a lost friend. His voice echoes on and off until finally, we no longer hear him. We pass two young men, day-hikers from the looks of it. Their packs look more like school backpacks which sling sloppy from the back of their shoulders. We hike on and than there are two more men and a woman. They are swinging water bottles in their hands. They do not carry packs and look like they are out for a Sunday walk. The parking lot at Chinook Pass had been full of cars, so the trail being busy was to be expected. Still it was strange to see so many. For up until today, meeting other hikers had been few and far between.
The trail leads us to a bowl-shaped clearing surrounded almost all the way around by razor-sharp mountain peaks towering above us. I think how we might have to climb over them soon. There is a small but pretty lake in the middle of the clearing. “Good place to filter water,” I comment to Braveheart who agrees with me. We pass a thru-hiker who has the same idea. Kneeling with his back to us, he makes his Sawyer Squeeze bag glide through the lake’s surface with a sweeping motion of his hand and arm. It is the way to fill the bag with enough water so one can filter easily. We continue along the trail as it curves to the right and than around the lake. From here, we can still see the thru-hiker. In the distance he looks very small, the mountains that much bigger, and I’m back to thinking about when and how it is, we will hike over them.
Bugles announces that he has to go to the bathroom. HIs loud manner attracts the attention of a large gathering of young people sitting by the water. They stare at us. I wonder why it is they do not have the same manner of acceptance that we have experienced with the thru-hikers we have met so far. I shrug my pack off and Braveheart does the same. We get busy filtering water and are almost done by the time Bugles wanders happily back.
“Great camping spot,” I point out to Braveheart. There is a flat area at the bottom of a small hillside by the water’s edge, straight in front of us. Three or four colorful tents are pitched among trees limbed high. Campers sit in chairs and the sound of their laughter floats our way. Behind us, on a small knoll up high, there is a tent and a hammock is strung. We don’t see anyone there but we can hear their voices. A glance at my map to note that we are at Sheep Lake. A short hike from the parking lot and yet secluded in the wilderness, it is beautiful here. It is easy to understand how and why this would be a popular place to camp in the summer. We move on…
The trail begins to climb. We pass several more groups of day hikers before there are no more. The last two we pass stop to brief us on how long it will take to get to the top. “I’m Bugles and Cream and I am a PCT hiker,” Bugles exclaims. I can tell these hikers are not as impressed about Bugles’ claim to fame as the thru-hikers we have met so far on the trail. But Bugles doesn’t notice and happily rambles on, busy discussing with himself how awesome it is to be a PCT hiker.
We keep hiking on rocky switchbacks that zig zag up one of the sharp-edged mountain peaks. Below us, Sheep Lake now looks little and we pass an older woman on a section hike that tells us that her brother thru-hiked the entire PCT a couple of years prior. The trees are once more sparse but there are wildflowers spraying the mountainside purple, blue, and velvety-red. The granite gray and white of the mountain ridges blends with the blue-gray smoke color of the sky. We finish our zig-zags as the trail pops up and over a saddleback cutting into the jagged peak we are on.
Bugles, Braveheart and I stop here. There is a enough room to sit on a rocky ledge overlooking the bowl-shaped clearing far below. We can look the razor-sharp mountain peaks that towered above us when we were at the lake, almost in the eye. Far to the south, the mountains unroll, layer after layer of green, blue, and than purple. There are two thru-hikers, a young man and young woman, sitting with their backs to us. They take in the view and somehow I know their hike takes them south, not north. I snap a picture. It’s not until much later that I see a photo on Instagram. It is of the same couple in the same pose with their backs to the camera. Their picture on Instagram will be taken several days or more from now, somewhere near Goat Rocks, south of White Pass.
I turn around because there is so much more to see. There is a grooved path cut in the ledge of red rock that is this cliff. We stand there and face east, looking in the direction that the Man in Charge would have been traveling on his way home. The highway is invisible from here but one can see the canyon and layers upon layers of more mountains. This time different shades of blue and gray define where one mountain begins and another leaves off. Braveheart ventures out on the ledge to take a look. I think it is safe for the amount of rock that rises up almost like a natural bannister from where he is standing. To fall off the other side would be a sheer drop-off down a granite-red and pink cliff that faces north.
I am nervous and am glad when Braveheart steps back down to where Bugles and I are standing. The older woman on a section hike appears. She takes off her backpack to rest a while. I ask if she would mind taking a picture of Braveheart, Bugles, and myself. She fumbles with my phone and than hands it back to me. I do not have the heart to tell her that she has captured Bugles frozen-in-time. One of his many facial expressions when he has tics is now immortalized. It is not a picture that will one day end up framed and on the wall. But it still means something…
I look at the tilted, slightly skewed photo more closely. A middle-aged mother slash grandma with a hippie-braid and hair in her eyes, a grown son, his smile turned smirk with the tics he cannot control, and the teenage son, who up to a couple of weeks ago, had no interest in hiking. We are bigger in the picture than the pointed mountains painted in swirls of chocolate chip and mint colors behind us. There is no doubt we are a motley bunch. But there’s a look about us. We stand with ease, smiles on our faces. It makes me think we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
“We’d better get going,” Braveheart says. He puts his arm around me to take a better look at the picture on my phone. I know he is right. We have a long way to go. Together we make sure Bugles’ backpack is on correctly. Shouldering our own packs, we wave goodbye to the woman and are on our way.
The trail cuts the slope in half. It is so as far as I can see. Rugged rocks drape the top of the mountain that shadows where we walk. I believe the trail will roll over the gap in the distance that this mountain makes with the next. I am wrong. Instead we descend on hair-pin turns and downward straights to another bowl-shaped valley. Before we can get to the bottom, the trail goes up again. A long time goes by. Than over a ridge, and from across the canyon, views of the other sides of the jagged mountain peaks we have seen all afternoon
“See…way over there? That is were we stopped to take the picture,” I point out the saddleback that we had been at earlier. It is very far away. Looking across the immenseness of the canyon makes Braveheart and Bugles feel good. It tricks them into thinking they have already hiked a lot of miles. The wind is strong here where we stand. There is a flat area to camp in the middle of trees facing the canyon and the mountains. “This would be a great place to camp,” says Braveheart. It’s become a game, to point out the best camp spots along the way. The ones we know we will not stop at. Braveheart is right. It is a perfect spot. But there is still a lot of daylight and we move on.
We hike to another ridge and stop to eat. It is cold and the wind is blowing. There are no trees here and we can see for miles in a 360 degree view around us. I shiver as I rummage through my backpack to find my down jacket. I look through Bugles’ packsack to find his as well. Braveheart takes care of himself.
I grab one of the dinner meals that I had packed for Bugles.’ It was one of the MRE’s that the Man in Charge had insisted we use. Braveheart and Bugles laugh as they open each mystery package of food. Spicy cheese for a pair of crackers. BBQ sauce to put on beef ribs that are, god only knows, how old. Mashed potatoes, hot chocolate that I mix cold, and a chocolate chip cookie that Bugles declares he has dibs on. I tell him it’s only fair to share if he’s expecting to eat some of the M&M’s that I packed in Braveheart’s dinner. Neither Braveheart nor Bugles wants the MRE Vanilla Latte drink mix which is just fine with me. I’m happy to drink it as I scoop out chunks of my meat stick with a spoon, my pocket knife being too dull to cut anything.
“Is that smoke?” I ask as we hike up and to the left side of another ridge. To the north I can see what looks like smoke clouds rising up and spilling over a much higher mountain slope. “No, it’s only clouds,” Braveheart reassures me. But I am not sure. “I think that’s smoke,” I mutter to myself. I go over what the Man in Charge told me about knowing where my escape routes are. I look back behind us, wondering if we should turn around and hike the ten miles or so back to the parking lot. My imagination runs wild. I am not excited about the prospects of outrunning fire. Bugles is oblivious to my concern, happy as he talks how much he loves this hike to himself.
We keep going as the trail rounds the mountain we are on and heads north towards the clouds. There is a canyon below us with miles and miles of blue mountains to the southeast. An army of more clouds march towards us in the sky. “Are you sure that’s not smoke,” I ask. My heart thumps crazy in my chest. “Mom… I know what smoke looks like. Those are just clouds,” says Braveheart. He is confident. I am not. I use my Garmin to message the Man in Charge. I ask if there are any new fires in the Cascades. The reply I get is no. “I told you mom,” Braveheart say. “We are going to be ok.”
I am uneasy but we hike on. The trail winds it’s way into a forest that is no more. Tall and darkened gnarls of what used to be trees lurk still, their trunks swallowed down low, into powder smooth, charcoal dirt. The clouds that I still am leery into believing are smoke, curl white tendrils up the mountainside we are on and tangle within the tops of the very dead trees. Forest fire has already lived and died here.
The forest fire must have felt that it couldn’t decide where it wanted to burn. After a few miles the trail hairpins 180 and takes us around an ultra-thin slice of another ridge. We hike in green forest where the grass is tall. I look a long way down to where the hillside of grass meets a line of trees. It makes me uncomfortable hiking on steep, dangerous sections like this. I’ve developed a weird habit of wondering what would happen if one of us accidentally falls. This time, I’m comforted to imagine that the tall grass would easily break almost anybody’s fall. It’s not an idea I’d like to test. But it helps me move on without being afraid.
We hike and hike some more. We see two lakes far below and for a while everything with all it’s green growth reminds me of Switzerland. The mountains like giants loom high above us and gleam red and pink with the setting sun. Another ridge and we hike down off a mountain. The sun is gone now. Bugles says it is time to camp. We pass four young men going the opposite way. They are not carrying backpacks and I wonder how they plan to spend the night without gear. They stare at Bugles when he loudly announces four times and again it is time to camp. I tell Braveheart that this would be a really good time to speed up our hike.
The valley is semi-flat with rolling little hills. The tops of the Cascades slice the sky in sawtooth patterns above. We pass by a lime-yellow colored tent set close to the trail between a tree or two. Bugles is getting louder demanding in a never-ending mantra that we must stop and camp. I let him know that we most likely just woke up whoever is in the tent that we just hiked by. This does not register with Bugles. He just keeps getting louder.
The little hills dip into a downward slope. There is a curious circle of thick fir trees, another perfect place to camp. Except that a large group of people have already figured that out. The red, orange, yellow, and blue colors of their tents make it look like they’ve decorated for a party. Laughter and conversation echo up from where they are to where we are on the trail. Bugles is insistent that we camp with the random group of strangers. There is no use explaining that inviting ourselves into their space and setting up camp is beyond awkward so I simply say, “Not going to happen…”
But we need to camp soon. It is still light but the sun has set and a breeze is quick to carry a chill. According to my map, water in the form of a seasonal stream is near. We stop to look for it. Bugles shrugs off his pack and dumps it into the dust cloud that puffs out of the trail where it falls. Braveheart and I hear running water and scramble down the hill and below the trail to find it. Tucked into a nook of earth, water pours out of the ground and through a curved leaf spout. It looks like something out of a make-believe world. We shiver with cold as we hurry to fill our water bottles. “I want to camp HERE!” Bugles’ announces loudly and several of the campers below begin to stare at us. I promise him if he just puts his backpack back on and starts walking, the very next camping spot we find is ours.
We hike around a bend in the hillside and than into another clearing. To the right of us are more brightly-colored tents, hiker-colonized in a cluster of trees. Clothes dangle from branches. For sure hung to air out for the night. All is silent and I think it is probably because these hikers, unlike the party of people camped in the trees below the water and the curved leaf spout, are thru-hikers and are already asleep for the night. Bugles is determined to camp amongst this group of tents but I say, “No, not going to happen” one more time.
“Over there,” Braveheart points to the left. I can tell fire burned through this area some time ago. Most likely the same one that created the blackened, gnarled trees that we had hiked through earlier. It is strange how the fire’s path has burnt miles of mountains and valleys, yet leaves so much untouched. The thick wedge of lush-green, forest trees that the hikers camp in on one side of the trail is in complete contrast to the twisted blackness of burnt trees that we see before us. Bugles breaks into a run to get there.
“I WANT to camp HERE! Say, can we put our tent up HERE?” Bugles is in overload mode as he asks me the same question again and again. I can see that he is trying to keep quiet. But his whisper is getting louder as he speaks. He is also shivering and that is unusual. He rarely feels the cold. I go through his backpack and find his down jacket again because he had taken it off earlier. I make sure he puts it on.
Braveheart has the tent laid out, and is getting the poles ready. “Here, let me do it,” Bugles says. Surprised, I look into Bugles’ earnest blue eyes. “It’s my tent, I want to help,” he continues, and picks up the stakes. I step back out of the way. Braveheart grins as he jokes with Bugles as they work together. I am grateful for whatever it is in this second, that Bugles is free of his OCD and tics. It is easy to see that he is pleased with himself when they are done. It is good to see him ‘be so.
Our tent stands in the midst of eerie beauty, skeleton trees surround us. Stars are growing bright in the sky. The ground is soft, dark-charcoal ash mixed with earth. When we take off our shoes, the still-warm dirt clings to our toes. It is cold now and we scramble to get inside and are quick to warm in our sleeping bags. Braveheart is asleep almost at once. Bugles surprises me by quieting down and than he too is asleep. Alone with my thoughts, I am deeply aware that being back on the trail brings me peace. I hear a howl in the distance. I imagine it might be a wolf. It is more likely to be a coyote. I am not afraid…
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…
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…
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.
PCT mile 2338.? (Day 3)
Hiking Washington State’s PCT
Chinook Pass to 2292.4-White Pass
27.7 hiking miles going SOBO
I am awake and it is still night. I sit up and pull my sleeping bag around me. A cold wind moves through the trees, over the bumpy meadow to push it’s way through the door of our tent. I watch as pale light punches a hole in the dark sky, painting it bigger with pink, orange, and finally blue. The sun will be here soon. I lie back down as Bugles and Roots are still asleep but think I should get up soon. My eyes close and I almost fall asleep again but a rumble of noise growing louder concerns me. I quickly sit up again.
The ground rumbles now and Bugles and Roots are awake. We are living Lion King. A herd of deer burst into the air, flying towards us. We are either going to live or die here because there is no time to pack up and move. We watch in wonder as the herd parts in perfect order, deer running on both sides of our tent. They let us be. My eyes lock in spirit with soft-brown eyes of one who is closest as she flies by. I will never forget. They are gone and we stay, knowing we have been given a gift of nature’s way.
It occurs to me that there might be a reason the deer are stampeding and I think maybe it is because a bear or cougar is chasing behind. Again I think we may live or die but if that is so, I am not afraid. Bugles, Roots and I talk about what we have just seen and than we watch the sun as it climbs up to light the day’s new morning.
It is time to get breakfast, pack up our camp and get going. Bugles is having a hard time doing so as he is stuck in an OCD loop of having to repeat a sequence of questions in which we must answer in the exact way that he wants us to. Tic-Toc, than time stops as we wait for him to move through the OCD moment but he does not. I am mad because Bugles’s OCD has us all at a complete standstill. Instead of making the breakfast I had planned, I make sure Bugles and Roots have plenty of snacks to eat along the way, stashed in the side pockets of their backpacks. My first mistake of the day, I will learn later not to refuse to make breakfast ever again.
It is a beautiful morning that hints that it will turn into a hot day. The sky is without clouds and when the trail we hike breaks away from the trees, Mt. Rainier, covered in snow, is standing tall beside us. Roots and I are wary of mosquitos and wear our rain jackets and have head nets ready when the mosquitoes appear. Roots refuses to take off her head net no matter what but I can’t stand to wear it and push it up and off my face whenever I think the mosquitos are gone. Bugles’s long sleeve shirt, jacket and net are flying everywhere but near his body as he refuses to wear any of it since he is getting hot.
We hike down the side of one mountain into a valley with a lake that overlooks layers of blue mountains to the south. I say to Roots that we just have to climb the “one more that is closest” and we will be in White Pass. I will find out much later how wrong I am but for now, we hike endless ups and downs for the rest of the day.
It is mid-morning and we reach a river. I look for an easy crossing such as a bridge or a shallow area but do not look hard enough. Shoes off, I tie them to my backpack and help Bugles and Roots to do the same. The water is ice-cold, deep to mid-calve, maybe higher, and moving fast. I step carefully using my trekking poles to help guide the way. On the other side, I turn around to talk Bugles through. Roots refuses to put her feet in the water and looks for another way instead. From the other side, and a little ways upstream, three hikers appear out of nowhere and appear to float mid-air, across the river. I now notice a big tree that I had not see before, that has fallen over the river and acts as their bridge. It is not visible from the side we have come from, but easy to find for those hiking north. Mistake number two for the day, and a dangerous one, I had not taken the time to look for a safer way to cross. I call out to Roots to let her know about the tree-bridge and when she gets to it, she straddles her legs over each side and scoots on her butt all the way over.
Before the three hikers melt away north into the forest, one of them calls out to let us know that the mosquitoes are really bad a mile or more down the trail and continue to be so on into White Pass. He lets us know of a good water source with advise to make sure and fill up. “You are not going to want to stop after the water,” he says. I do not pay close enough attention to where he mentions the source is and end up never being able to find it. I also do not take the time to make sure our water supply is full before hiking away from the river. Mistake number three and four and never ones I want to make again.
The temperature soars as the day turns into afternoon. “It must be close to 100 degrees,” I mumble to myself. Sweat drips off my face. Our water is running lower than I like and we need to stop for lunch. But when we do so at a small lake that we have to scooch and weave off-trail to get to, the mosquitoes swarm to land on us. Roots is crying and I am close to doing so as well. The bites sting and burn, it feels like maybe we are in Hell. I scramble to get my pack back on, Bugles and Roots do not care about lunch anymore, and all we want is to get as far away from the mosquitoes as is humanly possible.
I imagine skin peeling off as blisters burn two of my toes. Roots is having a hard time dealing with her mosquito bites. Bugles casually mentions that his legs hurt and that he is getting stung also. It isn’t until much later that we discover he is head to toe in red-welted mosquito bites. We are hot and thirsty, and come across a fork in the trail in which we do not know the right way to go. Back and forth on the two different trails several times before we decide on the correct way using our Guthooks App. We hike some more. Thirsty again, we drink out of the water Roots is carrying in the Sawyer Squeeze, our water filter. I insist she drinks as well but she refuses saying she isn’t going to drink dirty water. I ask her what she means only to find out that the filter isn’t on the Squeeze and that she had watched without saying a word while Bugles and I unknowingly, drank the unfiltered and undoubtably, dirty water.
We are still about five never-ending miles from White Pass and our water supply is almost gone. With no other choice we stop in the muck of a lake that is more like a marshy mud-pond. The mosquitoes land on us by the thousands, and it is miserable but we must filter water. Done, we hike on with Bugles loudly proclaiming over-and-over that we are, “lost in the middle of nowhere.” A thru-hiker passes us going the other way, hears Bugles and asks if we need help. I tell myself that I will never run out of water again.
Through thick trees with no view, we hike down one last mountainside. I recognize where we are as we have hiked this section of the trail before. It is longer than I remember and Roots yells that she never wants to hike again. Bugles’s voice is echoing off the trees as he loudly dialogues to himself and is surprised when someone calls out his name from far below us. “DAD, is that YOU?” Bugles “bugles” in surprise and I see a glimpse of the Man in Charge as he races his mountain bike on an invisible trail through tangled branches and thick, green undergrowth before disappearing somewhere into the forest.
I think it takes us forever to get to the trailhead and gravel road that leads to the Summit Inn where we are staying for the night. I want to stop into the store first for something cold to drink or maybe even a coffee, so we dump our packs on the log bench outside next to several other backpacks lined there. I walk inside and to the left, is a small corner with a table or two and some chairs. In the strange way that is the trail, the hiker from Switzerland, the one that I had asked to look for and who had found my sunglasses two days ago, sits there. “Hey,” I call out, rather lamely, “you’ve got my glasses…,” He digs them out of his pocket and gives them to me. I wish the hiker well on his last miles to Canada and than hobble out the door to meet up with the Man in Charge and the rest of the Support Crew who, taking their job very seriously, have been busy swimming the whole afternoon in the pool at the Inn.
Hiker hunger rules and Bugles, Roots and I eat through a pizza, bag of chips, gatorade and a carton of ice-cream. It does not matter that we usually eat much healthier. The Man in Charge asks if I have plans to continue hiking in the morning. I do not have an answer. Roots is done, Bugles is torn up by mosquitoes and my body feels like I have recently been hit by a truck. I see a group of thru-hikers setting up camp on a flat piece of ground on the inn’s property and I am envious of the ease in which they move after months of being on the trail.
I wake up to see the same thru-hikers cooking bacon, drinking coffee, as they break down their camp. My spirit is ready to be back on the trail with or without Roots who had quit the night before. But I have done nothing to prepare our packs. My food supplies are unorganized, our clothes dirty. I attempt several times to get our backpacks in order as the Man in Charge looks on, a serious expression on his face.
“You are not ready,” he says, watching me struggle to organize our gear. “You came in here beat last night and you’ve made some big mistakes. It’s going to be record temperatures out there again. I think you need need to rethink what you are doing.”
Tears spill from my eyes, I do not say a word. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer is a dream fast coming to an end. We load up the hiking gear in silence. I climb into the truck trying not to cry but doing so anyhow, disappointment in my failure, overwhelming. I look over at the spot where the group of thru-hikers had camped but they are gone now, having left without a trace. They hike on the trail that I love and I wish that Bugles, Roots and I are out there hiking as well. But I know that the Man in Charge is right. I am not ready and to go back out on the trail when unprepared is unwise, even potentially dangerous. It is time to go home…
PCT Mile 2321.3 (Day 2)
Section, Chinook Pass SOBO to White Pass
Hiking the Washington portion of the Pacific Crest Trail
It was later in the morning than my 6:00 AM departure time that I had wished for. The sun is bright in the clear blue sky and it is already hot. I sit side by side with the Man in Charge on white plastic chairs outside the small, worn cabin we had rented the night before. We talk about the logistics of the planned route on the PCT I am to hike today and tomorrow with Bugles and Roots. It is my call I know, and I make it. There will be no hike today.
My heart sinks. I know this decision ruins the chance of a thru-hike of the Washington portion of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. The temperatures are going to be even hotter today, soaring into the 100’s. The mosquitoes are in war mode in the section we are to hike. Water is a concern after yesterday’s observation that the seasonal creeks mentioned in the Yogi Pacific Crest Trail Handbook have so far, been dry as a bone. In our team novice hiker mode, for Bugles and Roots safety, I know this decision is the right thing to do.
The Man in Charge surprises me with an alternate plan. He suggests we drive north and find a section of the PCT higher in the mountains, Somewhere where the temperatures might be cooler. He asks if I have any ideas of where we could go.. A shorter section of trail is what he is looking for. This would make it easier for the support team to help out if needed. I know the place.
It is never easy to get Bugles going in the morning. The support team works to convince him to get in the shower. It helps that we have pop tarts for breakfast. I can hardly believe I had bought them an hour earlier in our search for coffee in the small town. I’m horrified that I am feeding junk food to the support team and the two hikers. They however, are completely ecstatic. After twenty times or more of Bugles asking, “What’s for breakfast, can we have a good day,” and, “Are we going to hike on the PCT today,” we somehow manage to convince him to get into the truck. We drive to the next place that we will hike.
If one is a hiker, it is a good thing to know how to navigate a map. I do not know how. The Man in Charge believes I should learn. I am holding the jumbo Washington State Map book that I bought the other day as we drive up the Wind River Highway. I am supposed to find where the Pacific Crest Trail intersects with the road. But I’m lost navigating the map and we drive right on by the trail. The Man in Charge is shaking his head as he backs up the truck. We get out and walk around just because. I know I will be back to hike this section when it cools down.
I have lot’s of time to practice my map navigation skills for the rest of the morning. We bounce along on narrow, windy, forest roads that climb tall mountains. In the backwoods that we will never pass through again, we find a small store, a closed pizza shop, and the most incredible views of the east side of Mount St. Helens. We stop at a view point to take some pictures. It is a good time to visit with a man on a motorcycle that has stopped for the same reason. He talks about a hike that he did last summer on the volcano and how the top of St Helens remains as destroyed as it was after it’s original eruption in 1980. I think to myself that maybe I want to hike there someday. Who am I kidding? I still have to figure out how to hike the PCT..
The forest road dumps us out in the town of Randall on Highway 12. The Man in Charge finds himself a coffee stand and than we drive to Packwood. We find a restaurant that serves the best hamburgers in the world. It’s possible that we think this because hiking has a way of making any food other than backpacking food taste like something that has come from heaven. While we eat we realize that I am missing a couple of maps I will need for this next hike. It doesn’t help that we failed to realize that the ranger station is back in Randall. We don’t want to drive the 16 miles in the opposite direction of where we are going. So we don’t.
Chinook Pass is our destination. The narrow road winds a curly path steeply up the jagged mountain side of this pass. Look over the edge and it’s a long way down. I am intimidated but do not say it out loud. There is a bridge that is the PCT that runs over the top of the road and we park nearby. Everyone climbs out, and the Man in Charge unloads our backpacks neatly side by side on the ground. Once again Bugles takes his time getting out of the truck and he says he will put on his hiking clothes and pack only if I answer his questions just one more time.
We are finally ready to go. I ooze pretend-confidence, and lead the way, Bugles and Roots follow behind. The only problem I have is that I’m not quite sure which way is north, which way is south. After going back and forth across the bridge a couple of times, I head back to the truck to admit I’m lost. The Man in Charge gives me a short lesson on map navigation…again. I am proud that I’m the one that figures out which direction of trail will ultimately lead south. I wave goodbye to the support team and lead Bugles and Roots one more time across the bridge.
I don’t look back. I know the Man in Charge is worried about us and I do not want him to think that I am unsure of being able to hike the 27.7 miles to White Pass. I can’t help the feeling of excitement that is erasing being afraid. Bugles and Roots are unaware of any of what I am feeling. Bugles is content as he talks to himself, pleased that he is hiking once more. Roots has recovered from the mosquito attacks of the night before and has renewed interest in the hike especially with the changed scenery of which we are hiking.
It is warm but cooler than yesterday. The trail is wet in places and there is still sometimes snow. Fresh water creeks are everywhere, and the water is cold. Roots puts her hand out to scoop up the water to drink and remarks how good it is. A snow tunnel has formed on the trail and we climb behind and between it and the side of the mountain. Than we hike, the mountains surround us, a crystal blue lake is to the left. We hike up and over a ridge, more of the same mountains, and lakes as the trail winds it’s way to somewhere. And we know we must go on.
Hours melt by and that is ok. It’s an easier afternoon than the day before despite having to stop the many times we do for Bugles to tie his shoes, get a drink, and have his bathroom breaks. We move more as a team this afternoon, helping each other to get our water or snacks out of our backpacks. We hike down the side of a mountain and I call out when there are rocks and knarly tree roots on the trail. I do so to keep Roots aware that she needs to be careful. Her eyes see a different way than we do and I do not want her to trip and get hurt.
It is later and a good time for dinner. We cross our first creek that is deep enough that if we fall in, we are going to get wet. I guide Bugles across and he helps Roots. The mosquitoes attack for the first time and we scramble to get on our head nets and rain jackets. We hope this will stop their assault.. But the mosquitos are ruthless like their southern cousins of yesterday afternoon. They easily bite through the running leggings that Roots and I are wearing. Bugles remarks that he is getting bit. This does not stop him from taking on and off his long sleeved shirt and mosquito net. For the rest of the night, I plead with him to keep his clothes on.. It doesn’t matter. he will not listen.
We stop for dinner at another creek. Roots filters water, I get dinner ready, Bugles slings his backpack down and takes off his shoes and socks to take care of a foot itch. We are done eating and we hike some more. We see a tent and a hiker calls out a
greeting to us.. We stop and say hello. His trail name is Hamstring. He explains that he is currently hiking sections of the PCT in Washington state. He is inside his tent, wrapped up in his sleeping bag and in the PCT thru-hiker way, invites us to camp with him. But I know better. With Bugles unable to control how loud he is, it is not a good idea to stay. We wish Hamstring well and hike on our way.
It is sunset. Mount Rainier looks like it belongs in heaven, surrounded by a pinkish-orange mist of clouds. I know there is a campsite a mile ahead. We arrive, it’s almost dark and there is a tent already there. Two girls call out to us that there are more campsites ahead. We move on and now hike in the dark, head lamps on. The side of the trail on the left falls steeply down the hill and is not a place to trip and fall. We could die. Bugles is mad at me because we didn’t camp with the girls and will not stop with the same question and answer dialogue as to why that is. Roots is doing amazingly well hiking in the dark but I know she must be getting tired. It is time to stop.
The first flat ground we find, we hurry to put up the tent. Roots is good at this and in no time at all, the three of us are inside our own sleeping bags. No matter that there is a definite downward slope to the right. Roots holds on to me so she doesn’t roll over and against the side of the tent. There is a good-size ground hole underneath my sleeping mat but I don’t care. The three of us laugh about who-knows-what-really. But it is a good time, in the dark, in our tent, in the middle of nowhere. “Look at the STARS!” Roots exclaims. I think I will never forget what I see. “WHOAA…. mom, LOOK at the STARS,” Bugles shouts. An explosion of bright twinkles in all the constellations of what we can see, I have not seen stars so alive since I was a child. It is a miracle, I think to myself and almost cry at the beauty of the night sky. In what must be a spiritual gift, I am deeply grateful that Roots in this moment of time, is able to see clear enough, the starlight above.
Our laughter quiets. There is a cool breeze and the stars remain bright. Bugles and Roots fall asleep…
We end this day with a good night….
(to be continued..)
PCT mile 2226.4 Day 1 (14.2 miles…)
(Hiking Washington State’s Pacific Crest Trail)
We turn left on Forest Road 23 and drive right past the Pacific Crest Trail. I know this, not because I see the trail but the fact that my Garmin Earthmate App tells me so. Climbing out of our truck, I scramble to get organized. It is already well after two in the afternoon and we have 14.2 miles to hike today. The temperature is somewhere in the 90’s and I can see that for One-of-my-own, this is too hot for him. He doesn’t handle heat well and the sweat pours off his head.
The other One-of-my-own is standing outside, her mosquito net covering her face, ready to go in her usual prepared way. I think to ask her if she’s got the toilet paper but decide not to. I know it’s a sure thing she’s got it tucked away somewhere in her gear.
I ask my son repeatedly to get out of the truck but he reminds me that he has to finish the Mind-Craft game he is playing. There is no worry in him that we are parked on a deserted forest road for the sole purpose of beginning a hike that is going to last a lot longer than the battery in the iPad that he is playing with. When all of us, including the Man in Charge and the rest of the support team, finally convince him to be done with the game, he becomes preoccupied with finding somewhere to go to the bathroom. This is only done after he repeats his thoughts about having to go twenty times or more and demands for me to answer in the exact way that he explains beforehand. So is the way of Autism which is what my son has, and for the majority of time, makes for living life each and every day, a thousand times harder.
We get our running vests on because just for today, we are going to pretend to slack-pack. This is a backpacking term that means to hike with a much lighter load. As we are trail runners, we don’t think twice about navigating this stretch of trail by mixing the hiking with little bit of running. The mosquitos have already started biting, the map falls out of my pack, and there is some confusion as to who has the bug spray. This is quickly figured out when my daughter sprays it in my face as I am trying to convince myself that I really know how to use the Garmin In-reach Mini that I bought a couple of days ago.
It doesn’t matter if we are ready or not. I step on the trail hoping that the two behind me follow along. Ten or more steps and we are out of sight of Forest Road 23, the Man in Charge, and our support team. Day one to morphing into the mighty few that call themselves thru-hikers. Those, for who, whatever the reasons, decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The Two-of-my-own now assume their PCT trail names that they acquired several years ago. My son is Bugles N’ Cream and my daughter’s name is Roots.
I have promised Bugles N’ Cream that we would discuss the plot for a new children’s book that we are planning on working together on while we hike. Time enough, this would be an opportunity to maybe even put the whole story together. It soon becomes evident that Bugles isn’t going to move past talking about the characters and demands instead that I answer his same question with the scripted answer that he gives me over and over again. I think I am going to be ok with this. If he needs me to answer the same question a thousand times or more, so be it. But moving along in almost 100 degree temps quickly changes my mind. It isn’t long before I wish to the Almighty that it is possible for just once, to hike with Bugles, even it is for only a minute or two, in blessed silence.
Roots decides to start adding ideas of her own to the story. She is good at that and really should think about writing her own book. Bugles isn’t happy about her doing this however, and they start to argue. The only good thing that come out of the argument is that for a couple of seconds, my wish of not having to constantly answer Bugle’s questions, comes true.
I think the trees will keep us cool and the area in which we are hiking will have the same rain forest feeling that I had experienced in Cascade Locks last year, while running a half-marathon. I am wrong. The forest is thick but dry and the sun burns down through the spaces between the trees to remind us that summer is now upon us. The heat concerns me and I wonder if we will have enough water. How am to keep Bugles from getting sunburnt? He can’t and won’t stop taking off his hat. When he does so, the hat flies into the dirt on the trail or into a tree nearby.
One-of-my-Own was given his PCT Trail name, Bugles N’ Cream during a hike in White Pass several years prior. The hike where he yelled non-stop about wanting Ice Cream. It didn’t matter he had already eaten a whole box of Bugles, (bugle-shaped crackers that are especially good in nacho cheese flavor). For a different reason, the name is fitting. Bugles is unbelievably loud, an attribute of the Autism of which he was diagnosed with long ago. As we hike I wonder if there are other hikers on the trail and if so, do they hear One-of-my-Own loudly bugling his way down the trail?
It wasn’t long before I find out. Bugles removes his hat for what seems like the hundredth time because he is hot, and the hat goes flying into the scrub that now lines the trail. He is upset that I have not answered his questions in the exact way that he wants. His head tics (yet another attribute that often comes with having Autism), worsen and amazingly so, he becomes even louder. Distracted, I stumble and my own hat falls off my head. I don’t notice for another mile that I have lost my sunglasses. Bugles N’ Cream and Roots are in the middle of another argument and I begin to wonder if hiking the PCT with these two is such a good idea..
The thru-hiker emerges from the forest and is coming our way. He looks as if he has become one with the PCT trail. Darkly tanned, his long-sleeved khaki shirt opened in the front to combat the heat, he strides with purpose. He gives Bugles a double-take look as he passes him. Embarrassed I mumble something about having a family moment as the hiker asks me if Bugles is ok in a thick European accent. The hiker’s name is Lionel and he is from Switzerland. I dare to hope that his English is minimal and that he isn’t aware that the words I have just yelled in my efforts to quiet Bugles down, and for sure Lionel must have heard, are not at all very nice.
I ask Lionel that if by some chance he sees my sunglasses on the trail, would he drop them off along the way, maybe White Pass, so that I could pick them up. Lionel tells me he is going to Packwood, not White Pass, but if he finds them, he will leave them in Snoqualmie Pass. We exchange phone numbers in the slim chance he finds the glasses, he will text to let me know. We say goodbye and he strides on his way north, swiftly disappearing back into the forest.
The plan is to hike-run today southbound in the direction of Cascade Locks. We are to meet our support team at forest road 24 which intersects the PCT. The afternoon wears on and I begin to realize the PCT has a windy way of being endless. A bridge appears and a small creek, the first water we have seen on the trail. It is an easy decision to stop, filter and restock our water supply. Roots turns out to be a pro at the filtering part, I hold the empty water bottles steady to fill, and Bugles is busy flinging his hat and gear in a crazy mess all over the trail. The creek not only gives us water, it also introduces us to more mosquitos and vicious, little flies that like to bite a lot. We realize quickly that to avoid the mosquitos, it is best to keep hiking and never, ever stop.
There is another bridge only a hundred feet from the first with a creek that is twice as large as the one we had just stopped at. There are hikers camping here. Several of them are busy filtering their own water. Bugles is loudly talking to himself and we do not linger to visit with the hikers. The trail begins to climb and I see glimpses of a high ridge and mountains in the distance. This is where the mosquitoes get ruthless.
Bugles N’ Cream casually mentions that the mosquitos are biting him. This doesn’t stop his non-stop conversation that he is having with himself. An Autism “Ism”, it is relief from the rigid OCD behavior in which he demands that I answer his questions over-and-over in the exact wording that he dictates. Though I am glad that Bugles is calm for now, I am leery of the mosquitos flying in buzzing clouds around us. When Roots starts to groan and cry behind me, I realize she isn’t doing so well. Who could blame her, the burning, stinging sensation that the mosquitoes leave after landing on our skin is just plain awful.
Our hiking turns back into a run in the hopes of being faster than the mosquitoes who we are sure are tiny, mutant vampires. Arms flail as we swat them away and i hear Roots yell, “I HATE THIS HIKE!” It doesn’t help that the trail switchbacks to climb another mountain before continuing in what seems like an endless part of another forest. Thankfully this one clears when we don’t expect it, The Man in Charge randomly rides by on his mountain bike and we soon meet up with the rest of our support team also riding their bikes nearby on Forest Road 24.
There is still light in the sky but it doesn’t last long as the sun slides down behind a mountain. We are quick to load up and get on our way. We are to stay in Cascade Locks for the night and Bugles wants pizza. But when we arrive, we are reminded of it’s small town atmosphere. We park outside Cascade Locks Ale House. Chairs stacked on top of the tables and several of the employees are cleaning up. It is clear the restaurant is closed. So is everywhere else I learn after the owner of the Ale House searches her phone’s internet to see what time the rest of the local restaurants stop serving food for the night. I thank her, say goodnight, and walk outside to climb back into the front seat of the truck.
Knowing this isn’t going to go over well with Bugles who has his heart set on pizza, I am at a loss for what to do. Bugles is often overcome with behaviors that are a associated with having Autism. In his case, extremely loud, OCD verbal loops are going to make it impossible to allow for any reasoning with him of the fact that we have no pizza to eat. The door to the Ale House opens and a young couple walks towards our vehicle, a pizza box in hand. “Please take this pizza, we have eaten all we could eat,” they say. Embarrassed I reply that we can’t possibly take their pizza. But they have heard me explain to the owner of the Ale House that my son has Autism and is sure to throw a huge OCD fit once he learns there will be no pizza tonight. They kindly persist with their offer. With a truck full of hungry hikers and support team members including the Man in Charge, it would have been silly to refuse so I don’t. The pizza in my lap now, warms my upper legs as I sit in the truck. I thank them for their kindness. The door opens again. It is the owner who leans her head out and firmly says, “Come on in! We are going to make your son a pizza. What kind would you like?” More kindness from another stranger is overwhelming but very much appreciated, Bugles soon has that pepperoni pizza he so wants to eat.
Later that night when the hikers are snoring in the cabin bed, support team except the Man in Charge, (he gets the other bed), are fast asleep on the floor in the middle of the chaotic mess of backpacks and hiker gear, I find myself staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. My body is still in hike and trail-running mode. My legs jerk periodically as if I am still tripping away on the trail. It is supposed to be even hotter tomorrow, a record high, the locals say. This greatly concerns me. Both Bugles and Roots are still miserable from their mosquito bites and according to what the Ranger Station told the Man in Charge today, we are about to hike the section of the PCT that has the worst mosquitos in the area. I know Bugles will not wear his long sleeved shirt if it is hot and there will be no way to protect him from getting stung, bitten, and blatantly eaten alive. I don’t know what to do.
With no way to solve this, I’d like to say I fall asleep, to think more upon it tomorrow. But i don’t and spend most of the night awake, my brain on overdrive as it processes the afternoon’s hike. Several memories keep replaying in my mind. First was the view I had seen hours before while walking by the PCT hiker log journal box near Forest Road 24.
I had turned around, looking for a view of the North. The view did not disappoint. Mt Adams rose from the forest. This was the closest I had ever been to it. Strong and mighty, the snow-topped mountain stood high in the blue sky, nature’s beauty at its best. Next, on the drive to Cascade Locks and finally being able to access internet again, I was surprised to receive a text from the thru-hiker we had run into earlier. Hardly possible but true, he had found my sunglasses and would leave them in Snoqualmie Pass as we had talked about. Finally, the last memory was of sitting quietly at the bar at the Ale House, the good smells of pizza cooking while having normal conversation with the owner and two employees as if we had been old friends for a long time. It was a rare moment because in Bugles’s need to constantly be talking, it is near to impossible these days to speak with anyone for very long. These happenings, trail magic as far as I was concerned, and something that made hiking the Pacific Crest Trail all the more special. To think of such fills me with gratitude and even though it is very possible my thoughts will continue to keep me up through the whole night, my heart is full and….
I am thankful…
Some years ago, I discovered that trail running in the Land of A was a whole lot like magic. Through the woods and mountains One-of-my-Own and I did run, and life, no matter how hard, was good.
But than something happened…
And now we don’t run anymore…
For about eight months, we’ve simply been pretending. Dragging on our running clothes, lacing our shoes, One-of-my-Own and I struggled to make it past the front door, let alone stumble over any one of the many nearby mountain trails. Not running anymore had to do with what had happened in the Land of A. Something that I never thought would happen…
But it did…
Autism tricked me.
Years living in the Land of A, it’s not unusual to get discouraged. Many tears for the helplessness of not being able to find the answers to all that troubles One-of-my-Own’s world. Than after the tears dry, finding a way to push past the sad of not knowing how to make it better, to celebrate the moments even if they are seconds, of life that is normal to everyone else. To believe that everything is somehow going to be ok.
But it wasn’t ok anymore…
Autism had introduced a new game.
One-of-my-Own appeared to be losing a war with the OCD behavior that had sneaked in on an invitation from Autism and now demanded to be the ruler of every waking moment. As if it wasn’t enough for Autism’s companion OCD behavior to be ruler of One-of-my-Own, he than maneuvered to conquer one other who lived in the Land of A as well. In doing so, he became King, commanding the other he now lorded over, to speak and answer for a thousand times or more, in precise wording, the script that he desired.
The problem was that the OCD behavior was so obsessed with complete control that he wouldn’t allow for One-of-my-Own to have any freedoms. If One-of-my-Own was planning on running, the OCD behavior was coming along. Running which had involved road trips to trail races in beautiful forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest became more and more difficult to attend. A hard decision was made to no longer participate in these events. That didn’t satisfy the OCD behavior’s desire for control as he than maneuvered to be the ultimate ruler of each and every afternoon run.
Inevitably OCD won.
As time went on, one day, an idea occurred. Would it be possible to “re-invent” the trail running to find that magic once again? Could the OCD behavior be lulled into some kind of peaceful coexistence? If so, would there be a possibility that the OCD behavior might lose some of his power over the Land of A?
It was worth a try.
We made plans to run a mountain trail loop not far from our house. The whole family was joining in and as they like to ride rather than run, they had brought along their bikes One-of-my-Own was surprised but unexpectedly agreeable when for the first time ever in our trail running adventures, I hopped on an extra bike that had been included.
The OCD behavior was strangely absent.
After falling a couple of times, I got the hang of the bike and pedaled my way up the hill, One-of-my-Own a little ways behind. The OCD behavior remained oddly quiet as One-of-my-Own mused out loud that maybe he should ride the bike and I should run, or that next time, maybe we should both ride bikes. Up we went to where the trail leveled out and started it’s path around the top of the mountain. One-of-my-Own, a smile on his face, was running strong, so different than when the OCD behavior was in control. Light-hearted games of “Catching Mom on the Bike” and “Let Me Get Ahead of You” prevailed over the OCD behavior as we continued to bike & run the trail all the way around the mountain peak and back down to where we had started from.
Peace be with you OCD
This time, our win…
Driving back home, the OCD behavior loudly asserted rulership once more. Nothing had changed in the big picture of what was going on in the Land of A. But something small had shifted. My thoughts dared to believe this re-invention of our trail runs might coax back the pieces of the magic that had been lost these past months. It reminded me that one must never stop believing that somehow there is a way through the toughest of times. That one must never give up hope.
We had found a way to run again….