Day 22: The Promised Land
Lake Beusch to Kracker Barrel, mile 358
I saw John Mayo in his orange raincoat, rounding the corner of the switchback above me.
“Fuck you, John Mayo!” I cried, tripping down tree roots and urging my leaden body to let gravity do the work. “You will NOT beat me to Kracker Barrel!”
I tapped the gas station door first, but I think he let me win.
It was technically a gas station, because it dispensed gas. But Kracker Barrel was so much more. There was hot food — pizza to order! — and espresso drinks, plus a large area of tables and chairs where hikers (and theoretically, other customers) could sit to laugh and charge phones. There was also a shower around back and a laundry machine right there in the store, so you could eat ice cream while you waited for your socks to dry. Or beer, as long as you disguised it in soda cups.
We descended like vultures upon the hiker box, unearthing treasures like small plastic bottles of olive oil, instant coffee, landjaeger, flavored drink mix, Tasty Bites Madras Lentils, and more.
The truly miraculous thing about Kracker Barrel was its ascendance from the highway as an oasis, a sole dispenser of all thru-hiker needs where the closest town was thirty miles west. “I could live at this Kracker Barrel,” I said. “I DO live at this Kracker Barrel, right now.”
Specifically, I lived in an unceremonious lot around back, where fifteen or so PCT hikers had pitched their tents for the night. It was a good life, or so I felt.
Day 23: Goat Rocks
Kracker Barrel to high camp, mile 376
Today is Goat Rocks Day but it is extremely cold and FOG, I texted NoDay. Also, a mouse chewed through my tent and ate my breakfast pizza.
I told my sob story at the Kracker Barrel counter and got extra whipped cream and sprinkles on my mocha.
Strangely, the fog seemed to lift on our way out of town. We had identified a point on or GPS app that promised a view of Mt. Rainier, which just seemed too good to be true.
We continued to theorize about the name of the wilderness. “I think they call it that because only goats can walk on these rocks,” said Slippy.
“No,” I replied. “When the clock strikes noon and the sun goes away, the rocks turn into goats and hop off into the fog.”
But they didn’t.
The scree here was different. It tinkled like glass beneath our feet as we edged around the iconic Goat Rocks spine beneath the summit of Old Snowy. Suddenly, our old friend The Fog was back.
“Oregon!” I cried, pointing at the horizon. Guthook promised us the best campsite on the PCT, and it did not disappoint.
Day 24: Little Angels
High camp to Midway Creek, mile 399
The night was uncomfortably cold. I blinked awake at 6:30 and was potentially ready to go at 7:30. But then the sky got a bit bluer and I realized I could tolerate the open air, so I sat and drew a picture of Mt. Adams. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was doing it, except that it was nice to sit against a morning sky and sip coffee as if I had nowhere to go, as if my whole life was dedicated to the study of this moment. Drawing mountains is generally unsatisfying, but makes you notice every crevice and couloir. After an hour, I felt I had a new relationship with the mountain. I tried to explain it in a poem.
Chief, Slippy, and John Mayo had all felt similarly about our vista, and we reluctantly left camp around 9:00am.
We took a break at Cispus Pass. It was a weekend, or so we were told, and people were finally welcoming summer to Goat Rocks.
We watched a yellow lab roll joyously in the snow. “Looks like a service dog,” Sarah said as it approached, and we nodded glumly. We knew what that meant: no petting.
The woman and her dog stopped at the pass to chat. She (the woman) was diabetic, and the dog was trained to alert her when her blood sugar was getting low. It knew by smell. She demonstrated the dog’s skills to a wide-eyed audience. “That’s how I can go on these hikes,” she said.
I told her about Rampaige. “I have a friend with type-1 diabetes, and she’s northbound on the PCT right now.”
“Does she have a dog?”
“She wants one. She’s been on a waiting list at a nonprofit. Otherwise, they’re too expensive.”
She said she had gotten her dog from a nonprofit called Little Angels, which offered help with fundraising and tiers of discounts if the person struggled to do so. They trained the dogs and even hosted her for a few weeks at their facility in Florida, so her bond with the dog would be airtight. The dog sat patiently, staring at a hip bag full of treats and wagging her tail. The goodest hiker. Quintuple crown.
Once we descended into the forest, Washington reminded us that there is no joy without a price. The mosquitoes were back, and worse than ever. I put on my new headnet and reapplied 10-hour bug spray several times. Slippy had lost his net, so he sat wrapped in his tent on our lunch break. (Full body protection, not a bad idea.) A passing northbounder called the mosquitoes “Oregon-level.” Ominous.
Day 25: Blaze It!
Midway Creek to camp, mile 423
I heard Six and John Mayo outside the tent. “How bad are the mosquitoes?” I called groggily. “Do you have my food?”
“They all died overnight,” JM said. He pushed two food sacks into my vestibule; we had hung them all on a line the night before.
They were gone by the time I was really awake. I made coffee and oatmeal, unzipping tiny parts of my tent wall and sticking my hands out comically to work to the stove before withdrawing and zipping back up. A few mosquitoes tried to land on my fingers; they really were that bad.
8:00am. Back to my old ways, I thought. The group had staggered start times: Six Thirty was true to her name, and Slippy often didn’t leave his tent until… well, how would I know? But we had only planned a 21-mile day, so I was in no rush. Big miles in Oregon had become the late-riser motto. I lingered in camp to pick wild strawberries.
On our lunch break, I joined Slippy in his tent — the mosquitoes really were that bad. But there was a good reason. Adams Creek ripped through the chalky volcanic rock, fresh from a massive glacier on the side of the mountain. I dunked my hat and shirt in the water.
A burn area near Mount Adams offered excellent views but very little shade. I wove through the tree-skeletons for hours, panting in the newfound heat. No one was used to drinking much water or carrying more than half a liter at a time — there had never been a need until now. Suddenly it was scorching; I wanted to pause in the shade but I couldn’t, not with the drone of the mosquitoes moving closer to my head…
But tree cover came again, and the mosquitoes ceded their territory to biting horseflies. Finally, we celebrated our PCT mileage…
…with s’mores, and talk of breakfast in Trout Lake the next morning.
Up next: How much will Cloud spend on breakfast in Trout Lake?
Then, Slippy has died of dysentery and one of our oxen is sick. Will the team make it to Oregon?!?!?!