PCT 4 | A postcard from the Space Needle

Day 13: Commence the Swarm

Stevens Pass to Deception Lakes, mile 206

My first break alone. I had intended to save the beer for camp, but my pack was heavy so I drank it at noon, curled uncomfortably on what should have been a nice rock overlooking a lake. I was trapped in an alarming cloud of mosquitoes. I applied the bug spray from the Dinsmores’ hiker box and gingerly rubbed it into my arms and legs. It worked, and I wondered why it had been abandoned.

I dipped my poison fingers into a bag of Cheez-its and a mosquito landed on my hand. So this is the fabled Mosquito Season. Constant vigilance. A high droning around my face.

I slurped down the chia fruit cup too. It was meant for more deprived times — a weight splurge — but it didn’t seem worth it right now.

The far-off lake caught the light. I twitched, took a final swing of beer, and gathered my things, ready to run from the mosquitoes at whatever speed necessary.

I found Sprinkles and Grum filtering water by a stream. We hiked up towards Piper Pass and chatted about careers, sunk costs, and what it might look like to take a chance on something meaningful.

The last two days at the Dinsmores’ had been sunny, but of course the rain came after a few hours on trail. We found the rest of our little bubble at Deception Lakes. I pitched at the edge of the campsite and made dinner in my tent vestibule, thinking I would eat it alone. But the noise of the rain slowly faded and I crept out to join the group for dinner, now seven strong. Everyone else was wearing a bug net over their face.

Our mouse hang that evening was lacking in form, but either it served its intended purpose or we got lucky.

There was rain all night, a soft metronome to count the hours that I did or didn’t sleep.


Day 14: Two Rivers

Deception Lakes to Waptus River, mile 225

Our camp wasn’t comprised of early risers. I set off alone and the miles dragged. More misty forest, more distant snow, more broad green leaves and ferns and tiny waterfalls. It was all nice and it was all the same.

I passed a northbound couple, Lunar and Solar. They started in Cascade Locks and were hiking through Washington. Lunar said the weather had been great — only three days of rain, maybe, the whole time. I tried to swallow a glare. She also warned me about a tricky stream crossing.

There were three braids, and I made it halfway across the third before I miscalculated a rock’s sturdiness. The water closed over my ankles and after a second’s delay, filled my shoes. I gazed up and down at the churning white water. Oh well. That could have been worse.

I found a large, flat rock on the other side and spread out my tent to dry. It wasn’t sunny, but I had to take what I could get before the rain. I took off my socks and shoes and pulled out the insoles too.

It was 10:00 am and I had only hiked 5.3 miles, but I was tired. I mixed some Crystal Crack (Gatorade powder + Crystal Light with Caffeine; breakfast of champions!) in a water bottle.

My feet were doing pretty well. No blisters yet, just a crack in my left heel. I slathered some coconut oil on it.

From the rock, I watched the rest of the group cross: Blueberry without fuss, Sprinkles and Grum trepidatiously, and finally Chief and Slippy, who fell squarely off the log. He landed on his feet with his legs on either side. I winced and waited for him to double over. But he was fine, just wet — and so earned his trail name.

I would go 11 more miles, I decided. Dry camp near the scenic viewpoint. Now that NoDay was gone, I had to focus on picking up the pace. The Sierras weren’t coming to me.

In tying to maintain a positive attitude, I focused on the word uncomfortable rather than shitty. The rain came in and out so often that I barely noticed. The trail was full of green goblins soaking my shorts. The air was so dense and humid that I could hardly breathe. The mosquitoes… the mosquitoes were shitty. Who the fuck let these mosquitoes exist?

And then my ankle started to hurt. It was a serious, sharp pain concentrated at the front, and after a few miles I was hobbling down the trail. I was so confused — nothing had happened!

I ran into Chief, Matilde, and Slippy by the Waptus River. “Are you camping here?” I asked. It was only 5:00 pm, but they were.

“Come soak your feet in the river,” said Matilde.

It felt amazing, and I decided to stop walking for the night. It turned out to be a good decision.


Day 15: Life’s Candy and the Sun’s A Ball of Butter

Waptus River to camp, mile 245

I burned a hole in my puffy before 7am, reaching over my stove. Could be one of those days, I thought. I patched it with tenacious tape while my oatmeal cooled.

I talked to Sprinkles while I ate. He mentioned another hiker who comes to the trail to escape a life where he doesn’t feel like he belongs. “It’s sad,” Sprinkles said.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I relate. I mean, I give it an honest effort in society. I have friends. But it’s only out here that I feel uninhibited… and free.”

Like magic, my ankle felt 100%. It could have been rest or the enchanted waters of the Waptus. I hiked along humming and dancing down the trail, swinging my poles with intention.

I took a break with Sprinkles and Sarah. Once again, we sat and talked about rain and mosquitoes. We decided that the state mascot was the Rainbugs.

“Washington better deliver,” said Sprinkles.

We got up; breaks never lasted long in such uncomfortable circumstances.

But after lunch, Washington delivered.

It was still early, but I noticed a few berries on the side of the trail. “They don’t look like raspberries,” said Matilde.

I shrugged and popped one in my mouth. She looked at me in horror.

“They’re blackberries,” I said. “I think. I ate one yesterday and I’m not dead.”

Another Washington miracle: the sun emerged at exactly the right time. There’s nothing like a long, hot climb through a burn scar to emphasize life’s circular beauty. And there’s nothing like a raging waterfall with pools to swim in once the climb is done.


Day 16: We Brake for Mountains

Camp to Snoqualmie Pass, mile 259

We made it out of camp “early,” around 6:30am. It was another long climb up the scree. The surrounding peaks were red and geometrical, like Colorado’s southern San Juans. Was I… a little homesick? I shook my head.

We crested the pass and met another truly epic inversion. Sprinkles called that we could see Rainier, and sure enough, I glimpsed it’s powdery crown between peaks. I had been waiting for this! As I hopped along the trail, it came into full view.

Rainier. The iconic 14,411 ft. volcano, more Washington than the Rainbugs, which I had seen from the Space Needle in Seattle nine years ago.

Nine years ago, when the world was a narrow telescope of possibilities and the end was getting foggy. Nine years ago, when there was no trail connecting one end of the country to another, just a two-door Toyota Echo and a couple kids who had never seen the west before. I had stood at the window in the Space Needle for a long time. Was the mountain a beautiful static picture, or was there real distance between us?

Today there were miles. I would walk them. And then it finally happened: I was so happy to be on the PCT that I wanted to cry.

We couldn’t stop stopping. Every switchback brought a new, better angle on Rainier, and we inched along like a clumsy dragon dance.

There were so many day hikers on the Kendall Catwalk that I stopped greeting each one. They said there had been an earthquake last night; had we felt it?

Nope.

Six miles out, we began to hear I-90. “I think we just passed the halfway through Washington mark,” Chief said.

My toes had been feeling strange, and it finally hit me on the way down that my feet had begun to swell. I really was on the PCT.