I get faster as I get older. —Grandma Gatewood
The rain has (thankfully) stopped. I’m packed having coffee, filling my titanium pot to the brim. Bars for breakfast. They’re heavy to carry, but filled with vitamins and loads of fat.
The mist is down and I wear the whole rain gear kit. Had I mentioned this trail passes under many high voltage lines and across many dirt roads? I wonder if we will encounter anyone on an ATV. Two hikers stop under the lines yesterday and pick tiny strawberries, bursting with flavor. I long for sun but I’ll make a deal and happily hike in a white-out if it doesn’t rain. It’s cold and my fingers ache.
Sweet Blood emerges in shorts and rain coat. She is intrepid and I hope I can keep up. What I would give to have had her confidence at that age. I am such a contradiction of bold and insecure. I do pretty daring things, but I want reassurance – and oftentimes from inadequate sources. At my job I was not really led or directed. I’m not sure why. I needed guidance badly but somehow the relationships didn’t warrant building, rather there was an undercurrent of stress and uncertainty, miscommunication for sure.
I head out into the mist, wondering if I have it in me to keep up this pace. I pushed hard on the Te Araroa and also the GR5, but I don’t remember ever averaging twenty+ miles per day over multiple days. I feel good, strong and that I have the whole day ahead of me, so I set my usual leisurely pace and get moving.
From the start, I sing, studying every moss covered tree, brightly colored fungus and clump of purple lupine. It’s so fecund and rich, the air tastes good. I hope I don’t take it for granted.
I realize I have often given my power away – freely and easily – right into the hands of those truly unable to manage me, at best, or manipulate me, at worst. I feel my naked honesty was used against me. Perhaps I should learn to hold back a bit more, know my worth and play a bit hard to get? The ‘signal birds’ are loud in this forest and I bust out laughing.
I am the proverbial scorned lover screaming into this quiet beauty, “You can’t break up with me! You’re not good enough for me! I’m breaking up with you!” I wonder if I actually love them? OK, maybe not love, but did I respect them? Maybe it’s just my ego bruised here. That and not being able to earn a living. It’s kind of like the lover who lectures you on fidelity and you find out later they were cheating all along.
I love how austere it is here. Flowers nestle in hollows and along open areas next to the trail, perfect Christmas trees march up the mountains. My shoes squeak with damp. Richard always says, “My wife smiles when she’s moving her body.” She’s smiling and singing gliding through this magical forest.
Sweet Blood passes me at a water source promising more at the top of the next hill. It’s a doozy, up and up, then a bit of flat before more up. To imitate my favorite bird, I sing and whistle at once, a tritone, then a minor sixth. A chipmunk opens a nut on top of the sign telling me I’m leaving Snoqualmie and Mount Baker National Forest.
Sun pours down through giant trees, my rain gear comes off and hat and gloves are out. I catch Katherine who tells me she ate a pile of snacks and that last night’s low was 44 degrees before she’s races ahead. Views open of hazy blue mountains and craggy snow covered peaks way in distance where I recently walked. I come to a spectacular rock outcropping for lunch, stalked by a well fed chipmunk.
‘Audubon’ and his wife Jenny arrive and I sing/whistle the minor sixth for him. He is quite impressed and finally gives me his name – the Varied Thrush, a ‘better looking sort of Robin.’
I push on with new knowledge, and more singing, and continue thinking about relationships, power, trust and respect. I tend to give far too much of my own power away, but I also place people – and institutions – on pedestals. Here, everything changes – the scenery, the weather, the people. It’s hard to get bored or anxious as you keep moving on, the trail a metaphor for life in how you choose to experience it, for one, but also in the trust you place in things changing and evolving – including yourself.
Odd crags appear in the distance, like something thought up by a fantasy author. Rainier is in cloud, but her lower reaches are revealed snowy and massive. At my feet are spongy, sea-worthy fungi.
I reach a pass with a sign that describes a fire set by loggers – I can only assume accidentally – that consumed 3,000 acres. It burned in 1988, but still it’s a graveyard of giant bleached trunks reaching to the blue sky. Mysterious and beautiful, covered in low bushes and spindly white flowers.
Many hikers fly past me, headphones in, not pausing but saying “thank you” when I make space. I love the sounds here – the squawky cackle of a crow, wind in the pine needles, my breathing. I am jarred by their headlong hurry to get to where they’re going. What’s the rush? And why tune out? It makes no sense to me. I go far each day, but I take all day and I am present with what surrounds me. I think the PCT is a badge of honor or rite of passage that has to be ‘conquered’ rather than experienced. I hope I don’t get like that myself.
I cross many logging roads and eat all my gummy worms before arriving at a snowmobilers cabin. I’m not sure what to expect and many have moved on to avoid the ‘locals,’ but I love it. I come upon a family of three generations hunting for mushrooms and enjoying the splendid meadow in full sun. Sweet is here and soon many of my friends arrive and set up in the tall trees.
Water is close at hand and I purify for Cheerio as a section hiker named Brian splits wood to build a warm fire. Zach, two teenaged friends Hannah and Naomi, Supe and Bounce, Jenny and Audubon all hang out. Two other hikers arrive complaining about this boring walk. I’m stunned, seeing my beautiful pictures and all that fascinated me. I did overhear them say they’re walking thirty miles tomorrow, so hopefully they take their limited attitude far away from me.
They missed out on the fun – section hiker Dave fixing my bent stove and repairing my water bottle, then two dirt bikers arriving and when I asked if I might buy a beer, they went back to their truck and brought over the whole cooler to share.
Talk about trail magic. The cabin even had a hiker box and I scored chips and jelly beans. Life is good!
There’s some snoring happening at camp, but it’s my friends, and I get by with a little help from these friends. Sweet dreams.