PCT mile 2226.4 Day 1 (14.2 miles…)

(Hiking Washington State’s Pacific Crest Trail)

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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…

-Chris…

 

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