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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Chris