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…

-Chris…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Chris

PCT mile 2338.? (Day 3)
Hiking Washington State’s PCT
Chinook Pass to 2292.4-White Pass

27.7 hiking miles going SOBO
(cont…)

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…

-chris…