I’m up with the birds every day now, eager for the cool air and what lays ahead. I hung my food bag with Emily last night and told her I like to go at about 5:30.
And she’s right on time, dressed in rain gear to protect her skin from the biting insects. I tell her I plan to take the Spotted Bear alternate with the group even if there are lots of blowdowns. She asks why it’s hard for me and I say the surgery does make me a little less limber, but let’s face it, I’m getting older and can’t do everything I used to do.
She’s surprised I’d admit that and says if it were her, she’d fight it. I’m all about pushing myself as far as I can and defying odds, but I also live in reality and try to work with what I’ve got.
I take off into a misty morning, creating mystery in the burn section. It must have been a extremely hot fire to leave only charred trunks like totem poles and small trees bent into arches.
But it’s loud with birds: mountain chickadee, the ever present two toned thrush and a woodpecker, it’s hollow hammer echoing through the forest. Flowers carpet the way in bursts of color next to gray: massive paintbrush, purple harebells bobbing in the wind as well as gentians only just blooming in the filtered light.
The walk is flat and I move fast. The blowdowns have been sawed apart and pushed aside in massive piles. I am ever grateful to the trail crew for their work. Butterflies in all colors flutter from flower to flower – orange, yellow, blue. What would it be like to have wings like that, as big as our bodies? I try to take their picture, but they refuse to hold still.
It’s a perfect morning and I feel strong and alive. I sing the Beatles, “Strawberry Fields” as i approach huge Strawberry Creek, then take s pause to fill up water and have a shake.
I come to a few blowdowns difficult for me to pass over and think about some of the information I’ve received. There will be miles of blowdowns on the alternate, and I am slow and awkward on them. It will be more up and down, which makes them far more difficult.
I had a lovely night last night with my friends and really enjoyed my short visit with Emily this morning, but I’m ready to be in my own, and there’s another alternate coming up which heads into shaded forest with very few blowdowns – so they say.
So I decide to stay on the CDT main route and make it my own. Things seem lovely right now, the trail maintained well and the views superb, opened up by the burn to mountains, many still with snow.
I pass the junction and make a large switchback towards a ford, just as Austin and Emily arrive. I yell across a hello and Austin spins his trekking pole like a baton. I tell them I’m moving on and we’ll meet somewhere down the trail. How nice was that timing? Just right.
The air is crispy dry and I need more to drink. But I also need to dry my poor feet, plus socks and shoes. I find a tiny bit of shade and make lunch as my socks crisp up. I may need a week for my feet to go back to normal though. A hummingbird hovers close by, droning the zinging away.
My food is working out well so far, filling me up and giving me the energy I need. I know this recipe is supposed to be salsa, but it turns out more like soup and I just dump in the fritos.
I’m so relaxed here, I hardly want to move on, my feet protected from burning under my umbrella. I eventually do into total exposure, the sun hot and intense, though a cool breeze feels like I’m taking a shower.
I follow the creek far below with me on a balcony walk surrounded by large peaks. The wind whistles in the dead trees mournfully, it’s singed branches hanging down like so many arms.
Flowers burst out bushy and pink smelling like grandma’s. One lone tree, magnificent and proud, survived the fire. I walk under it’s shade and the temperature drops by 10 degrees.
I stop for water at a stream in low full sun, drinking a liter and saving a half just in case. Below is a meadow, bright green and full of peeping pikas in stereo.
I reach another stream with gorgeous flat grass, but it feels to early to set and I’m not really thirsty. I just give my pruny feet a rest and trade socks before pushing on, only a little over two miles to another stream and a good time to stop for the night.
The first thing that happens is I lose the trail. I can’t imagine how as I was following one that was very well used. I have been warned that the CDT tends to do that, sending a hiker the wrong way because the most obvious way is usually wrong.
I end up triangulating and climbing up over bushes and small trees to meet the trail. It’s not too hard going and the pass is obvious. It’s when I hit the trail that the nightmare begins.
It’s like a ski jump in reverse heading straight up and all I can see ahead of me are blowdowns. I made a few mistakes – not camping where the ground was flat and inviting next to water, and only bringing a half liter to drink. What’s ahead of me is going to take time and is uphill in sun.
I refuse to drink yet, and simply focus on what has to get done. These are complicated falls, trunks on top of trunks, twisted and piled high. Sometimes a see a trail carved by the last attempter, and find the way through. I climb up on logs and heave over, twist around a drop, swing my butt around or do a massive high step.
All this while biting flies and mosquitos attack.
It’s not easy to tell exactly what’s ahead and I breath heavy, but a kind of angry determination comes over me. Here’s a koan – if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear Blissful utter every dirty word known and unknown, did she really crawl through?
Yes! And I have the scars to prove it. Scrapes, tears, gouges, bruises, even somehow on the side of my boob. My hands are black from soot and I’m exhausted, navigating a maze of maybe 200 logs.
Near the top, I find a sock that must have dislodged from someone’s pack. I hope I’m full intact after this trial.
A sign tells me I’m at the pass, leaving The Bob (briefly) for the national forest. It’s deep green and fresh up here and I tell myself it’s smooth sailing to the stream as I guzzle the half liter I’ve been carrying.
It is clear for about 100 yards, then the excitement continues with massive logs smashing right through tiny bridges. I scream and begin to cry, but what good will that do? I can’t stop and simply have to get to water.
The views are lovely, but I don’t care. All I look at after the final log is where I can pitch my tent. The stream comes soon enough, and I filter water right away. There’s a small lumpy spot for the alicoop and I make four attempts before deciding lumpy will have to do. There’s nothing better back or beyond – I checked and only found a single Croc – and I refuse to cross another log tonight.
The bugs are vicious and all I want to do is crawl in my tent to get away, but still, I ‘do everything right’ as I was once told when out in the backcountry.
So I ensure I have plenty of water and expertly hang the food bag on a blowdown in mid ‘down’ held up by trees and miraculously 12 feet from the ground and six feet from any other trees.
It was a day of stunning beauty, magical moments, independence, ferocity and now, perhaps horrible sleep.
But at least the bugs can’t get at me!