Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay. – Simone de Beauvoir
It’s crystal clear; I can see my breath. The moon shown through the big trees last night, lighting up our little tent city. It’s coffee and bars again with my little routine of stuffing my sleeping bag, keeping my body in the still warm liner until the last minute, then stuffing myself in my trail gear, my T-shirt finally full of holes.
I shove off first, mostly because I love the cool, fresh air, frost in the meadow – but also because I enjoy being alone, talking to myself and singing. It’s the first morning in weeks that opens with sun.
The trail stays in familiar forest for a while. I say good morning to the mushrooms and the tall, straight pines. Then I enter a large burn area. Sweet tells me this area is a shadeless, dusty twelve miles – but the three section hikers say it’s settled more this year, and the wildflowers are epic. They’re both right since the huge trunks have been sheared of all their branches, the view is open right to the lapis sky. But, with so much rain, the ground is firm.
It’s a recent wildfire, and the tree carcasses are still a nut brown, charred bark curled and flung away. The earth appears scoured clean, at first looking absolutely barren.
Its austerity captivates me and feels like my heart in this moment, stripped bare and left for dead. But as I get deeper into the burn, life emerges – just green shoots and weedy grass at first, some less interesting flowers. But then, deep purple lupine are sprinkled into this undulating landscape of ash and charred wood. As I move up the ridge, more and more clumps appear, melding into a sea of clumps as though purple water is spilling out of the mountainside. I cannot remember ever seeing something so beautiful.
I round a bend and suddenly see the all-white humps of Mount Rainier, not one cloud obscuring her majesty. To be fully alive, one must have days like today – picture perfect sunshine, blue skies, stellar views, ideal temperature and strong legs. In contrast, one must endure days like my return home from New Zealand when all feeling drained out of me and I felt like a robot incapable of enjoying anything let alone registering emotion. It’s the deal we make if we want to experience life fully. The challenge is to recognize and appreciate what kind of day you’re having.
I arrive in the thickest section yet of purple lupine and as luck would have it, a woman arrives to take my picture. I snap hers too and she notices my Te Araroa patch telling me she walked it the first year it opened. She looks strong, capable and happy – and about my age. I’m happy we share the flowers for a moment.
Rainier plays hide-n-seek with me all day as the trail goes behind mountains. At one tight little pass above a gorgeous, bright green meadow, a woman greets me and tells me that the coming meadow – where there is the first water in eight miles – has the best specimen in all of Washington of Elephant Louse Wort. It’s a sidling climb on loose rock, then a gradual descent into a bowl, and there they are – stiff magenta blossoms that look to be lupine from a distance but, when studied closely, reveal tiny elephant heads including a playfully curved trunk.
I have a snack here in this glorious meadow and speak with a NOBO named Wallaby. She’s adorable and asks if I’ve been bothered by any men. I assure her I’m too old and too married. She then tells me how she hiked with a man who gave himself the trail name Prometheus. When she fell down in the Sierras and decided it was too hard in the snow, he told her she was a wimp, a quitter and a failure. I’m dumbfounded, responding I hoped she lost this creep. She assures me she had, but what an awful experience.
I am lucky that the people I’ve met have been incredibly supportive. I usually walk alone, but we meet when camping, and it’s always a good feeling. I can honestly say that I get by on the PCT ‘with a little help from my friends.’
The ice is glowing on Rainier as the sun strikes it. I walk a long balcony facing it, with time to study its rounded hulk, the pointy pinnacle on its south end and the huge avalanche shoots. I can hardly contain my wonder, when I turn to look ahead and the massive flat top of Adams appears. Even St. Helens is a dim silhouette ahead.
At a trail junction, a lovely young Russian named Yanna appears with her snow white dog. She is impressed I am walking the trail and asks a few basic questions, like, “How?” I tell her just to walk and that she could of course do it.
There is truth in that – all you need to do is put one foot in front of each other for a long time. It’s a wonder where your feet will take you.
Rainier slips away again as I enter the final balcony walk up a stunning valley with hanging meadows. I can see the trail cutting a zigzag far in the distance. I do just as I describe and slowly come round, then up and over. Day hikers gather at this pass as do a family of backpackers. Below is a turquoise lake where I’ll meet Cheerio and Sweet to camp.
I introduced them to each other last night, and they’ve become fast friends keeping up a quick and steady pace. We hike a bit together, stopping for wild strawberries. I can’t keep up, but I can go as far, and 20-25 miles, at least for now, is a perfect day that pushes just enough but leaves time for contemplation, picture- taking and a leisurely lunch in the sunshine. They’re headed swimming when I finally arrive, having saved a flat spot for the alicoop. We set up, eat and have a laugh at our enormous appetites wondering if we can sneak a bit more from the final day’s rations – I mean, who really needs to eat when on their way into a town?
It’s 6:30, and we’re crashed out already enjoying the mellow din from the mix of campers here. It’s been an absolutely glorious day walking and seeing Rainier so huge and so close. More surprises await me tomorrow. Good night.