PCT Mile 2321.3 (Day 2)
Section, Chinook Pass SOBO to White Pass
27.7 miles…
(Part 1)
A Journal
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..)

-chris…

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…

-Chris…

 

 

We were nearing the top of the pass, the trail winding up and through an earth bowl carved into the jagged peaks of the Northern Cascades. Clouds a quarter full of autumn snow swirled above, sometimes spilling white sprinkles around us. All the while, wind danced around the mountains’ majestic crown, shredding white clouds from gray, random splashes of the sky’s blue pouring through.

I could hardly catch my breath. It was clear that fall was preparing to depart the Pacific Northwest soon. Meanwhile winter was busy moving in. Together they were gracious in sharing the beauty of which they had created. The colors of the sky, like pastel chalks, were shades of soft baby blues, turquoises, and purples. The dark greens of the thick forest below had thinned to alpines turned chartreuse glowing with leftover sunlight. A few more upward trail switchbacks, the chartreuse alpines would climb no more, leaving the last few trees brave enough to live in a place called Cutthroat Pass, now dressed in coats of furry grayish-maroon and white…

We could have easily missed this. The make believe Battlefield of the Land of A story* that had begun four days earlier had ended. However as what sometimes happens in the Land of A, the battle had taken a turn for the worse on day three, despite my optimistic belief that a ceasefire had been called. Autism’s OCD over-and-over verbal warfare with demands to recite back word-for-word coded responses while stooping over to yell instructions in my ear finally did me in. My patience gone, I had strung my pretend bow with arrows of my lost temper, letting them rain down fast and furious onto the other side.

It must have something to do with the laws of the land but fighting never works here. Soon enough, disgusted with myself, I had thrown down my bow, breaking in two the rest of my pretend arrows. In the mysterious ways things happen in the Land of A, the battle died down and a truce was finally called. Both sides agreed to the terms of the latest peace treaty and I was left to redirect my efforts to heal fresh soul wounds that had been layered upon old ones.

I knew of a place that existed on the fringe of the Land of A. To get there, a road trip followed by a two thousand feet or so upward trek. On the top of a mountain pass, shards of light and in the peace that the light brings, there was a promise of healing for our battle weary scars.

A decision made and we were on our way. One-of-my-Own was mostly content to play Minecraft after making sure I bought him a special treat at Starbucks. He even shared his game at 10:30, the time he had allotted during departure, with his sister sibling who had joined us on our journey. No matter that he was so impressed with the time slot he had arranged, he made sure to remind us over and over again. And that was OK.

Too fascinated to move beyond the subject, One-of-my-Own’s conversation fixated on the Magic School Bus reboot. I think he felt I should know how it was that Ms. Frizzle had acquired a sister named Fiona who was the class’s new teacher for he asked why at least a hundred times throughout the morning The reality of the long drive must have begun to way on his mind as well. He presented the idea that it would be best to run halfway instead of to the top of the mountain that was our destination for that day. And maybe it was the memory of the ten miles we were to run that triggered thoughts of dinner because I was next obligated to answer over-and-over a question that went a little something like this, “How about that pizza that was my idea to eat for dinner?”

For all the need to revisit this Dialogue of Three, I didn’t mind. The urgent demand to have perfectly recited answers that he dictated to complete his questions a hundred times or more, was simmering on low. Real exchanges of conversation which had been silenced lately by Autism’s OCD and TICS appeared like a promise of a miracle and were celebrated by myself, his sister sibling, but most importantly… by One-of-my-Own…

There is a point on the trail, cradled by the King’s of the mountains all around, where I always look up. I know the saddle of the top of the pass is there in the steep slope of alpine hill sliding down. It awes and confuses me in my perception of how far away it is and yet really it is so very close. I stop to take a picture because for every other time I have been in this spot before, I have had to keep on running because of the race I am compelled to sign up for every year. One-of-my-Own consents to the photo as does his sister sibling. The camera freezes time and the memory of below is in the past. The present is climbing to the top and when we reach it, we wait in the middle of something incredibly profound. Everything is changing in split seconds. Blue sky disappears and than sneaks back, clouds erase the mountains only to draw them jagged again. Wind plays around and hides under the mountain pass, mischievously creeping up from behind, to whoop it up in circles and wild whirls. When the snow comes down sideways, we stand in the shards of light we find there, peace quietly filling our hearts in the middle of nature’s panoramic view of what our life is. And I imagine that we have found for a brief second of time, what it is we started this journey looking for in the first place…

chris….
*Battle of the Land of A story…
http://chrisfraser.org/the-battlefield/