Start: Panther Creek (2190)
Camp: Three Corners Rock
Today the trail began to cross open meadows of familiar grasses. I would wind along gentle sandy tread through forests wrought with green moss. Occasionally a frog would jump and stir the wet bushes but they move so fast that I haven’t really seen one. In here a smell wafts through the air that I can only liken to visiting my grandma in Raleigh. From the forests I cross into open fields that smell and look like the dry plains back home and a word fills my mind and rises to my lips: Colorado. My lips mime the thought that follows, “Colorado, I miss it very much,” and the quiet response in my head is, “You’ll have to deal with it.”
I sit down in the trail. I feel like I’ve hit on something I need to work through. I begin to write and at once I look to my side at a shriveled yellow stalk with a dry brown nub on top. It is one of the millions that were just grass moments before, but it is not grass. “Aren’t these daisies?” I ask in a voice quiet enough to fit here among the vibrating chirp of cricket legs and buzzing flies. These are daisies, just like the ones my mother grew in our garden year after year. Once they had finished blooming and were dry, like these are, I would help my mother collect the seeds to plant next year. We’d roll the dry flower centers in between our fingers or against the palms of our hands and the black slivers would fall out. We’d collect them in a coffee can and pick out any of the crumbly gray debris that came from the dead flowers.
The rest of the field, what’s not the desiccated remains of a million daisies, is wheat. Just pain old wheat. The knee-high tan grass that leaves a million burrs in your socks when you’d hike through it in the summers back home. The other stuff, it’s short and has sparse fuzzy leaves, I don’t know what that is, but we have that back home too. Or had. Most of the places where I used to go to get burrs in my socks have been covered up by, quite literally, shopping malls and tract homes. The home I miss is long bygone, separated from me by a span measured not in mere footsteps or miles, or even whole states, but in time. Years, and perhaps decades. It is a place that I see as real as it were in front of me though it is no longer. Now, it is real for me alone. That place is quiet, and utterly peaceful. Even here there is, perhaps, a bit too much bustle and activity, what with flies, the occasional plane and a creek gurgling in the distance.
Yesterday I was hopeful that my Achilles tendons were just a little cramped, but I knew as soon as I stood up this morning that they were at least a little bit injured. They were stiff, sore and swollen. I’d have no choice but to listen to them and let them guide my hike now. They popped when I stretched them. I walked along eating wild Saskatoon and Oregon Grape berries hoping the antioxidants (that I hoped they contained) would heal me.
I hike on, slowly, mindful of my injuries and in no hurry, and soon I meet Michelle. She tells me she has just graduated physical therapy school, so I ask her about my aching Achilles. I sit down in the trail and nuzzle Jesse, her anthropomorphic golden retriever, while she explains a few things. The gist: I’m probably not in any immediate danger; your tendons kind of resize themselves to the length they need to be; I have strained tendons from switching from a boot with a raised heel to a zero-drop running shoe, which of course has required my tendon to lengthen; your tendons are made out of many parallel fibers that can become bent, causing them to stick to the sheath inside of which the tendon ordinarily moves freely; and, most importantly, lightly rubbing the tendon perpendicular to its length can help to free the stuck fibers so that they may realign themselves. I thanked her and said goodbye and began to descend, stopping often to rub my tendons. At the bottom I crossed a bridge that wreaked strongly of creosote like a railroad bridge. I slipped off my pack abs for the first time I dove into the brimming pool, clothes and all.
A bag of beef jerky with a bite out of every piece. A handful of quinoa. Some kind of rice concoction that’s been soaking a day too long. I giant bag of steel cut oats with nothing to sweeten it. This is what I have left to eat, and that makes me happy. It’s just enough, just the bare essentials. I’ve carried nothing through the section that I didn’t need.
Today has a theme song. It’s a song I haven’t heard in a few years but it goes, “I can feel it, I can almost see it… Out theeeere!” It’s perfect for today. I can feel the end of Washington. I can almost see Cascade Locks. I think it might be Out There by Solarstone and Justine Suza.
Through the North Cascades my eyes were glued to my feet. If bypassed the Katwalk to do Goldmeyer hot springs. As I passed by Ranier my view was shrouded in fog, and again when I crossed the knife edge and Goat Rocks. And the few sunsets I’d seen had been watched through the stunting mesh of my head net while i sweat away in my rain suit. So it seems just that my last night in Washington is my most spectacular one.
I was nervous as I proceeded into the day’s second dry stretch. It’s a simple enough pattern: pick up water in the valleys at the stream and river crossings, climb up over a hot and dry peak, then descend into the next valley for more water. But would my tendons cramp again like they had yesterday, leaving me high and dry so to speak? To save strain on them I was traveling as light as possible: I had dumped any food I knew I would not eat, walked into a campground and dumped all my trash, and was only carrying water when I absolutely had too. So as I climbed into the ten mile dry stretch I was hoping there’d be water at a little spring off the trail near the top. The walk would be worth saving the strain on my tendons.
Three Corner Spring didn’t look anything like the picture. The trough was crushed and rusty, incapable of holding water any longer. The pipe with its four adapter fittings on the end sat dryly, propped gloomily against the rusty slag. I took out my bottle anyway. Everyone I’d passed had confirmed that it would be a long, dry ten miles, so I’d there was any water at all in that pipe I intended to take it with me.
I lifted the pipe of the heap and slowly lowered it to my bottles mouth. Nothing came at first, so I lowered it further until a wild splash came. Quickly, desperately I tried to sequester the flow. I raised the pipe and it stopped. It took me a minute to learn to adjust for the lag but I filled both my bottles, the flow feeling dangerously low near the end. But I was home free. I continued up the trail to see if I might camp at whatever Three Corner Rock was. I had no idea what I was in for. It said good view of some valley…
That was an understatement. A severe one.
Start: Panther Creek (2190)