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.


Sheep Lake (2334) the morning after the fog.