30-Breakin’

Start: Sheep Lake (2334)
Camp: White Pass (2303)
Maybe it was meeting my first NOBO’s, or maybe it was the possibility of eating prepared food that night or of catching my friends. Maybe I just kept hiking to escape the mosquitoes or because my pack was light and didn’t tire me like before. I hiked quickly though, that was the big difference. I swung stiffened feet on flexed legs by tautened core. I stopped three times, to cook three meals, and to the people I met I spoke with my pack on. By 5:00 p.m. I knew it was going to happen and I made up a little song: Body Movin’ by the Beastie Boys with the words “Body moving” changed to “Thirty-breakin’”. I was excited and by 7:00 p.m. I had reached White Pass. Mike and Maggie were there and they hugged me, sweat and all. They were just about to go and setup camp with a pair I’d not yet met, Jacob and Alexis. The store was just closing and I got some food from the hot bar and left my resupply box for tomorrow. We camped together in the meadow and stayed up late swapping trail tails.

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Mt. Ranier after the fog (finally) lifted.

A Night Indoors

At the Urich Cabin (2355)
Paul was on the front porch making breakfast when I slipped out of the Urich Cabin to use the outhouse. “How’d you sleep sir?” I told him the truth and it made him laugh:
“I slept alright. The cabin makes a lot of strange noises, creeks and drips and whatnot,” and he laughed. I looked up at the roof where there was a constant spatter from fog condensing in the pines and falling to the roof. “You know. I’d have slept better on the porch.” I walked off to the outhouse. I sure do get sirred a lot.
The front of Urich Cabin faces out into Government Meadow and walking back I noticed how the thick the fog was, it was thicker than the evening before: now I couldn’t see the meadow’s far side. I searched for the motivation to hike into the 6:00 a.m. cold.
The rich and distinctive smell of burning white gas filled my nostrils from Paul’s unattended Whisperlite on the massive dry planks of the overbuilt cabin’s porch when I walked up. It brought me back to being a kid, Dad making pancakes or bacon and eggs on an old Coleman suitcase stove at a campsite on a big river, or Pikes Peak or Mt. Rushmore. Me widdling sticks, my sisters being ignored like usual.
The fog had grown to a palpable falling mist and I had slipped back inside and shut the door. I laid my sleeping bag back down, deciding that if two days of dreary whether was coming as Paul had said then I could afford to hang here in the ashy over-dryness of the Cabin, at least for a late start. All night I’d sniffled and sneezed. I checked the stove for still burning logs but all where cold. It’s as if so much fire has happened here that allergens just constantly, invisibly ooze from every fisher.

The Real Ones

Start: Urich Camp (2355)
Camp: Sheep Lake (2334)
I hiked all day in fog. It had been building slowly yesterday and by this morning it was in full effect. I couldn’t see across the meadow when I looked out the cabin’s windows. But the trail was dry, it was just the plants that were wet.
First came Quad. He was laying in the trail when I came upon him, perhaps asleep, but he bounced up to a position nothing short of upright in less than a second with a limberness that gave him away if his wariness did not. Certainly his shoes, Vibram Five Fingers which he’d ostensibly walked 1,100 miles in, did not help me to peg him as a through hiker, nor did his dreary attitude. He’d come from Sierra City, California, which was the furthest anyone I’ve met so far has come. He droned on about the necessary detours I’d need to make because of fires and water (actually, lack there of) and I was not gruff but I excused myself forthrightly, deciding there wasn’t any detours close enough that conditions wouldn’t change before I got to the forest fire in Oregon (two weeks) or the California desert (two months.) I wondered how long he’d had such a pessimistic view for and eventually decided he was having an off day and dismissed it.
All day I hiked in a white abyss where every direction felt the same and the sun came from everywhere. My GPS couldn’t get signal and no matter which way I turned I always felt like I was walking back the way I’d come. I ignored my constant nagging instinct to stop and positively locate myself on a map. “Just keep walking. There will be a sign soon,” I had to tell myself, and eventually something would materialize from out of the mist, then vaporize as quickly as it’d come. In the meantime I began to realize how sporadic the blazes are and how far apart the trail emblems really are. Quite far.
The fog was cold and it condensed on the branches and foliage of the trees that had been heated by the dry spell I’d enjoyed these last couple of weeks. When the branches and the leaves or needles became saturated, the moisture began to drop, and then rain, down onto me and the trail. My trail environ was in a state of constant flux as I crossed from rainy forests to open clear cuts and back again. “Checkerboard” Washingtonians call it, from when every other parcel of land was given to the railroads to encourage development. Now that land has been logged and baked dry and hot without the protection of its indigenous 100′ tall trees. Low shrubs and grasses thrive in these arid squares where Douglas Fir, Red Cedar and Alder would otherwise grow.
As the day rolled on the forests began to sag under a swirling mist that you could watch rise up on wind currents over the ridges and sink, in single, visible, levitating drops, onto your palm. Then, in the clearings, you were wrapped in a warm white cloud that the sun might just drive away at any moment. Cold mist abs rain replaced with a burning hot, too hot, beam of unfiltered light, heat and UV, though this never happened.
I was never quite comfortable and sometimes I wanted to stop and wait for ‘better’ conditions. I changed into my rain gear to stay dry, then back to a t-shirt on top to stay cool, then to shorts and no shirt to stay cooler still. The mist droplets accumulated and coagulated into bigger drops and soon I had to put my rain suit top back on. The drops merged into wet splotches and slowly soaked into everything and weighed it down as the fog took hold and squeezed the last drop of hot and dry from the peeling bark of tree trunks. Crunchy pine cones and their asunder petals that previously crunched under every step were turned to a soft mat of dark organics underfoot. The rain of condensed fog continued down the banks to accumulate on already soggy trail and the wet trail turned squishy, then to mud. Puddles formed in the complete absence of rain. Occasionally I sprung across them, walking jauntily now that I was down to just four days of food and the most minimal gear on my back.
That evening I met Dainty Fingers. I found him filling his dromedary from the Sheep Lake outlet, just as I’d come to fill my bottles. His pack was large and old, he wore a heavyweight zippered fleece (which I wished I had – I was already wearing my warmest layer, my rain suit, and could have stood to be much warmer) and as far as I could tell there was nothing lightweight about his gear, but he was the first. The first person of 2014 to walk contiguously from Mexico to Sheep Lake. He would probably be the first to reach Canada. He’d left sometime in early April, was walking 25 miles per day, and had taken no days off – no zeroes. As things stood at that moment I’d taken five zeroes already. I didn’t tell him this but I felt like maybe I’d been short changing myself. I tried to hide my self-abasement. He said to never be afraid to carry too much food. He said he felt very much out of touch and that he was very, very ready to “go back.” He said he’d needed up to about 4 liters of water at times when it got dry. I liked him, and though he was terse I walked away feeling somehow changed.

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Sheep Lake (2334) the morning after the fog.

Suddenly It Was Dry

Start: Scott’s Spring (2375)
Camp: Urich Camp (2356)
It was hard to believe but the map, the app, and other hikers reports were all true: there really was no water for 12 miles. And the funny thing was I liked it. I powered through, I’d no reason and no luxury of stopping, and when I got to the spring 12 miles later, I filled up and powered through the next five dry miles with the same momentum. A dense fog came and went, but mostly came, and good views were rare today. That was good: photo-ops seem to break momentum. Momentum was good. 19 miles dropped off quickly and I had time to lull around the Ulrich Cabin and chat with a couple (who also happened to be sharing cheese and salami and Wheat Thins!)

On Finding Clarity

Start: Scott’s Spring (2372)
Camp: Urich Cabin (2356)

I woke to a feeling of restfulness that I strive for but rarely attain. I smiled to myself knowing that I’d ‘hit my mark’ the evening before and that’s why I felt so good now; I’d gotten my shoes off by 7:00 p.m. and was board and falling asleep by 9:00. Eventually, I brought myself to reach out and touch the exterior of my sleeping bag. The last two mornings I’d had to dry off a significant amount of condensation before packing which had slowed me down a lot. I chuckled when I saw that I was still wearing the blue nitrile gloves I’d donned against the cold the night before while reading Brave New World. I swiped the smooth nylon with my gloved hand and then brushed the high, hairless part of my cheek on the same side. I smiled and opened the valve above my head. The air began to rush out of my Thermarest. I remembered today’s singular goal, to walk twelve miles to the next water source, and I picked up the aqueous oddity that is my hydration system: a 1.25 liter Sprite bottle with a Sawyer Mini screwed on where the cap should be, then the Sawyer’s eight inch rubber straw (typically intended to syphon water from inside the included collapsible bag, which I’ve long ago discarded, into the Mini when it is in an upright position) stuck on top to increase the fluid pressure at my mouth when I invert the while contraption. It stands 26″ high and works superbly. I drank my first 1.25 liters of water. Over the next hour I would drink five liters of water and eat four cups of oatmeal. That’s why I have a yoga belly. I taped one of my toes for the first time, the right ring toe, to fend off a blister. “What’s a yoga belly?” you ask? I sniffed my socks and then put on the cleanest pair. A yoga belly is an oddly large bulge in an otherwise fit person’s lower abdomen. I rolled up my thermarest. Using my foot to get it tight like i always do, then i slipped in my already tied shoes. Yogi’s guide recommends keeping your shoes loose enough to slip on and off. In my case, the yoga belly bulge accommodates unusually stretchy intestines that regularly house quadruple portions of food and several miles’ water.

My mind and body seemed to agree on purging as I shot like a rocket into the driest segment of trail yet. Without going into details (I pooped three times in two and a half hours,) it was wonderful. A ripened effluent that I’d hoped to release years ago spewed from my mouth. It fumed and spattered and I scooped it carefully so as not to leave any of it behind. This is what I’ve come out here for. For five weeks it has alluded me, Marissa, perhaps I’d forgotten to mention that in our conversation some days ago. No, I wasn’t being purposely vague nor truant from our conversation. No, that catharsis which I seek I simply have not seen since September of last year. On a hike along the Lost Coast, in the state park specifically, the section south of Shelter Cove is where I saw it last. Until today. Today Clarity began.
Tall yellow-white puffs sprout from clumps of ordinary grass on wavering green stalks. Like gargantuan pistils of alien botany they line what seems a trail across another planet. Bear Grass, as Kent called it last night, is the only thing that is different. The rest of this place is exactly like the one I spent so much time in as a teenager. A tall mountain ridge with a gentle grade, sparse pines and a crumbly soil that is mostly pebbles of crushed granite that are smooth but not round – that description applies to both of these places. That ridge was traversed across its top by a wide dirt road which seemed endless (60 miles was long enough to achieve the feeling back then) and although this one is traversed instead by a trail, this trail too seems, for my purposes, endless. To cement that similarity in my mind a trail dirt bike winds along a flanking ridge releasing it’s gutteral pit-pat, and gunshots ring as a dull pop in the trees below. The bikes wind slowly down a trail that must be technical, the ones on my ridge are, and glinting helmets appear through the trees then ride off before I’ve finished their place in my writing. Deep pops follow in short succession, the sound of large caliber magnum rounds muted by trees that grow more densely in the lee of the valley. It must have been there on my destination-less walks as a teenager that I first found Clarity.
With this newfound place old memories return. It’s the smell, I believe, that’s set them loose as if they’d bubbled up as ephemeras from a cold, sloshing brain stew. I’m overwhelmed with excitement and my pace quickens as I peruse these bits of the past I call Clarity. I choose a few to focus into view but I cannot stop, not for long, because I will run out, not just of water, but of inspiration. I speak the memories aloud with names and details whispered or left out completely, not so much because I think there’s anyone around to hear but because these rapturous words, if spoken to loudly, can evoke such strong recollection as to clear my view of all else, bringing their own set of bubbling ephemera into Clarity and pushing all else into a cloudy fog. It is the former though, the only moderately memorable bubbles of life, that I am scanning for. These I will organize, then record, then write and weave into a story framework, that is punctuated by rapturous fruitbodies and therefore easy to remember tableaus, but is otherwise left quite vapid in the absence of the mundane mycelium that places them there.
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I stopped, and I wrote.
Then, as I hiked on, Hawaii wafted into my nostrils and a time before my walks on the ridge wafted into my mind. But I didn’t get far, my energy and mental focus were waining.
I broke for lunch, cruised a few more miles, then broke for dinner once I reached water at the Urich Cabin. A thick fog blew in followed by “real rain” as a camper from Seattle put it. It was the most substantial rain I’d seen on the trail. I decided to call it a day.

Further Lessons

Start: T20N R12E Section 3 (2382)
Camp: Scott’s Spring (2372)
Got my first glimpse of Ranier: “Holy sh*t” I said aloud. I’ll be much closer in three days, I’m sure it’ll seem a monster than if the whether holds. Heavy fog has been rolling in, off and on throughout the day, and hi status clouds stretch out above; I may be afoot of bad whether.
The sting of yesterday’s lessons came back unexpectedly today when I discovered my day would be held to a scant nine miles. I had made it a point to get a fuller understanding of the day’s watering holes and as I put the springs, creeks and lakes in order from asunder sources that included Halfmile’s maps, Yogi’s town guide, Guthook’s Android app and Halfmile’s Android app I found a concerning gap: there is no water between mile 2360 and mile 2372. The implication? I’d either be doing nine miles, or 21.
Today I met the PCT hiker that i most identify with out of any of the hikers I’ve yet met. His name is Andy and he is an unemployed drifter. He looks old because of his graying facial hair, but I’d guess he’s just in his forties. I also met my first intoxicated hiker, Kent, id est ‘DoubleBack’.
I’m burning through my extra phone batteries too quickly too: I have two to last 69 miles; I’ve used four in the first 30 miles of
Section I.

A Lesson in Scarcity

Start: near Snoqualmie Pass (2399)
Camp: T20N R12E Section 3 (2382)

I woke early to the familiar din of traffic on I-90, though it was far below. I had set out from Snoqualmie Pass at 7:00 p.m the night before and hiked until it was dark, making about four miles. My discussions the day before with John, where everything seemed to relate back to the idea of scarcity, the idea of there not being enough of something to go around, lingered in my mind. I excitedly strutted up the trail comfy and rested but at the same time I was sad to see the consumer-driven land of the familiar go.
I haven’t been coming to Washington but four years, and when I have I’ve always come via Snoqualmie Pass. I’ve stopped and poked around the closed ski resort here, much as I did last night, never staying more than a few minutes, but being here brought back many fond memories. Long, meandering drives, sometimes in the wrong direction, and sitting in hours of traffic, but with 25,000 of your best friends; Snoqualmie Pass is also on the way to Sasquatch Music Festival, a large part of my motivation for coming to Washington on any of my trips. Memories of rain and gushing falls, as well dry hot sun and strong steady wind. And of the hundreds of windmills that rise into enormity and flank the Columbia River.
Feeling light, quick and spry I bounced along the trail today faster than I could read a map; I barely looked at the map all day, let alone taking the time to compile a complete understanding of the available water sources as I passed them, which have started to become much more sporadic.
The sun sat low in the sky by the time I realized my folly. I was out of water.
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I silently censured myself for having felt so dangerously gung-ho as I hiked on, my feet aching and my mouth dry. Why hadn’t I just camped when the clock struck 6:30 p.m. like usual, why had I so adamantly pushed on when the day’s goal had already been reached? I had to hike another four miles to find water, bringing the day’s total to 17, and that late in the day, having thought I’d already completed the days miles and would just tack on another one, maybe two, I felt rudely awakened: I’d have to be more careful now that the snow was gone, much more careful than when I could simply eat snow if I couldn’t find water.
Relief coursed through me when I located Scott’s seasonal spring and it was gurgling, which I consider a reasonable sign of freshness. I tried to remain tacitly aware that my feet were no longer waterproof (I was acutely aware of their throbbing soreness, particularly in the bottoms) as I filled my bottles and my stomach. I sighed as I once again shouldered Midget, my behemoth of a lightweight pack, and headed up the switchbacks toward a windy and sonorous night on a dirt road, the only level ground I could find, over an anonymous populous below that rested not, though this mattered not: the sounds of trains, large construction equipment that runs, curiously, at night and aircraft fused with the nighttime hum of I-90 traffic and brought me back to a childhood growing up in a boomtown suburb of Denver where two lanes of a rural highway  sprawled into six, a golden field of grains sprouted the epitome of invasive urban species, the shopping mall, where two freight rails underwent mitosis to produce two directions of 24 hour commuter rail line, and among it all the noise floor, and my tolerance for it, grew logarithmically. I laid out my tarp, prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and did what 21st-century urbanites do for relaxation: I got out my phone and got on Facebook.

This post has been brought to you by: Endangered Species 88% Dark Chocolate

Meet My Gear

I get gear questions from time to time as far as what gear I like and carry. Here’s a run down of what I’m using right now, although I should stress that everything works as a system and I’m a minimalist, so this setup would not suit necessarily suit  your needs.
– Sawyer Mini Filter and two soda bottles: a cheap and lightweight solution to water filtration. Just my style. 4 oz.
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– The North Face Hightail 3s: an expensive but extremely well done sleeping bag with a warranty that packs a punch. 34 oz.
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– JetBoil PCS: not the lightest nor the fastest boiling nor the most versatile -those accolades go to the cat food can, reactor and whisperlite stoves – but when it comes down to usability the JetBoil wins every time. Around 2 lbs with the small fuel cans I prefer.
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– New Balance Minimus 1690 size 11 4e and Superfeet green size G cut to fit inside: both are a new addition to the stable and together represent a serious weight reduction where it counts (on your feet.) They’re wide enough and supportive enough to carry a pack 2,720 miles.
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More to come!

Beautiful Day

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I lightened my load, got to see a really beautiful friend and make a new one. Then I made some miles and found a camp that not only has cell phone service but it’s not overrun with mosquitoes either. I’m rested energized and feeling stronger than ever, and my feet love me again. My resupply box was perfectly stocked – it even contained chlorine drops just when my Sawyer was starting to falter.
I reluctantly took an hour ride from Snoqualmie Pass into downtown Seattle after finishing Section J early yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t the driver. It was just that I had planned to roll through, pick up my resupply box at the Chevron station and add a few more miles to the breezy eleven miles I’d strolled from Goldmeyer (where I’d taken a zero the day before.) But my feet hurt – bad. I have had a shooting pain in my right arch that’s been developing in the afternoons on longer days, and the hot weather (it was in the eighties the last two days) combined with my high top waterproof boots was starting to give me hot spots that I knew were nascent blisters. I called REI about exchanging my shoes and insoles, then I called Marissa about crashing her futon last minute.

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On the futon with Binx


REI was great, John was better. So John gives me a ride to REI where they happily return my shoes and exchange my insoles (twice) but REI doesn’t stock any wide sizes except the Merrels I was wearing. John to the rescue. John asks, “What size shoe are you wearing?”
“They’re a size eleven wide. Why?”
“Well-” John looks at me slyly, “these are an eleven double wide.” John shows me his shoe. It’s a brand new New Balance in a beautiful blue color scheme. I put one on and it felt like my foot had been reunited with an old friend. I did due diligence and walked around with two different shoes on for a while but when REI finally kicked us out I was wearing John’s shoes and his new ones were on their way from Amazon. John took me back to Marissa’s and we stopped in the middle of the road to take touristy pictures of the Space Needle along the way.
Marissa and I got a chance to go to lunch and catch up better than when I’d been in Seattle hurriedly preparing to set out five weeks ago. We ate Cuban style pulled pork at Paseo, something I’d never had and we’d weighted in a line that ran down the block for, then she took me back up to the pass. What amazing friends.

Start: Snoqualmie Pass
Camp: Rockdale Creek
Distance: 4.0 miles

Acknowledgements

It has taken the help of many, many people to make my PCT hike a reality. To everyone that is a part of making this happen I would like to extend my deepest, heartfelt Thank You!

Mr. Saxobeat: for performing needs-anticipation and last minute prestidigitation that only a caped superhero could do so well.
Bes: for so many things I can’t count them so let me just start with saying you are all-around-wonderful, especially at leaving me at a remote wilderness trailhead, thousands of miles from home, friends, or family, without the thought of missing any of them.
Capitan: for reminding me that it’s something special to be a southbounder, and for the use of a certain indispensable pink brush.
Cool Ranch: for recommending Frog Toggs – this stuff is mosquito proof and my pack’s two pounds lighter!
Aimee & Caitlin: for fueling my stove, filling my food bag, and teaching me the chords to Free Falling
Rachel: for a strangely relaxing forearm and rotator cuff massage.
Mary: for all the shampoo and conditioner one hiker could need
Taylor, Adam, Whitney & Cathy: for taking me in, cleaning me up, and returning me to the mountains. Your soft hearts and supportive hands kept me from bailing out.
Mark: for a fatty bag of teriyaki beef jerky.
Andrea & Jerry: for a new tarp, exciting new food, and surrogate parent love.
Jim: for a ride back up to Stevens Pass from Baring and a great conversion about the local BNSF line.
Aaron and Brett: for a completely ordinary stay at Goldmeyer ;-)
Mike & Maggie: a delicious peach =-O
John: first it was a couple of protein bars, then a 57 mile lift to Seattle, and now by some twist of fate I am hiking in John’s New Balances.
Marissa: for a couch to crash… Again.