The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, and dignity. – Ruby Dee
The stars were crystal and diamonds until the moon peaked over Adams, reflecting on the glacier. The sun just hits the summit white snow icing as I mix cold coffee and chocolate to save fuel. My advice to self: get the 8 ounce gas canister and skip the minis. They run out too fast and I’m pretty sure cold soaked brown rice stir fry is going to be pretty marginal.
I’m not sure if it’s because I walked the furthest ever in my life yesterday or that I stayed up late with the boys to watch the magical sunset on Rainier, but I am not quite with it this morning. I feel tired and out of step. I’m also distracted by seeing the whole trail, which is impossibly daunting, and scares many a PCT thru-hiker because you can’t dawdle, saunter and take too many indiscriminate ‘zero’ days or you won’t get to the high Sierra before the snows begin.
That being said, nothing is more crazy-making than hearing people brag about how many miles they walk, and how fast they’re going. There’s a reason someone came up with the sage wisdom, “Hike your own hike.”
But this morning, in this absolutely stunning location with Adams and it’s massive hanging glacier looming over my left shoulder, Rainier still peaking out to my right, and Helen coming more into view straight ahead, I am lost in strategizing just how far I need to walk each day.
And every morning, I start at mile 0.
I tell myself I have the entire day, shooting to get to final streams before a long dry section. But I feel a bit panicky that my body just won’t manage. Part of the reason is circling Adams requires going in a kind of snaky direction on his flanks. Huge ancient lava rocks bust out along seams with gray glacial streams pouring out, the rock pumicey and mottled but then also in long, smooth Henry Moore-like polish. The trail goes in and out, up and down. I’m wearing out already as the sun gets hot and intense.
The forest is burnt here and I can see far out on the horizon. Woodpeckers ratatat staccato fills the blue sky. Fallen white, splintery logs melt into the grass. A marmot squeaks and I suddenly see Mount Hood’s perfect triangle in the direction I’m walking.
Feeling a bit off brings up my sadness. It’s so intense, I wonder if it will ever cease. I remember a breakup when I was in my early twenties. I was shattered by it and my mother suggested it’s my ego that’s bruised. I wonder. I loved the man, but he wasn’t the one for me – maybe, really, it was that the timing was off – but it would have felt much better if breaking up was my idea.
It’s funny that I’ve camped a few times with Zach and he is the same age now as that long ago boyfriend. Zach is a good guy. He told me at the sunset that when he sees something extraordinary, he knows he has to take it in quickly as we all have to keep hiking. I take photos, and write things down, but I try to breathe it in and take a mental snapshot so I can look at this place and savor it later. Like so much in life, all of this is fleeting.
And I realize that walking today – and still arguing with the air and feeling hurt – is the best I can do at the moment. I’ll just keep walking for now, and my mood should lighten up.
I come to a gorgeous meadow filled with lupine and magenta Indian Paintbrush, then cross a few rocky streams. The trail goes up some more, when it seems it should be going down. I finally take a gps reading and find I am way off, having accidentally taken the ‘Round the Mountain’ trail. I have this awful sinking feeling, but see it’s not too far, just a mile and a half. But that is a full hour out of my way.
I retrace my steps and immediately begin to cry. I cry because I feel like a reject, a failure and that I don’t have what it takes to walk this. I must have simply passed right by the junction. I am tired, overwhelmed, the devastation of my life has a grip on me – and, believe me, it is not easy to sob while hiking as it takes a lot of air for a good cry.
The odd thing is that things look even more lovely when I return. My back is to Adams, but also to the sun and suddenly the birds, the butterflies, the flowers and grasses, the silver dried out tree trunks, the half moon still in the sky, perfectly shaped Mount Hood beckoning me to Oregon, the buzzy bugs and this piney morning all come together to tell me I’m ok. The meadow sings me a lullaby telling me that it’s good to take a wrong turn because you go to your darkest places and realize cruelty and unfairness can’t really touch your essence.
I finally arrive at the junction and see how easily it can be missed. I sit down with a snack in the shade feeling more alive and present and filled with incredible beauty. I also realize that I’ll get where I need to get in my own time.
The trail does indeed descend steeply. I stop to take a photo when a voice from behind me says, “I was collecting water at this lake and some lady told me she could see my butt crack – and whaddyaknow, here she is!” Ha! It’s ‘Toast,’ a friend I made on day two, another fifty-something from Washington who I’ve leap-frogged with the whole way. He’s such a fun-loving, cool guy and just who I need to see right now. We catch up since we last saw each other at White Pass, then break into silliness imitating some of Madeleine Kahn’s best lines prompted by my telling Toast, “I’m tired.”
Toast plans to leave the trail for the night at Trout Lake, where it’s said half the population is a trail angel. I feel ok to walk the next eighty miles, so we hug goodbye at the road, although I have a feeling we will be close until Mexico.
The good people of Trout Lake left a couple of bear proof cans – Alison-proof is more like it and Toast comes to the rescue to discover only packets of instant coffee and a completely full garbage can.
It really is ‘adios’ now as I hoof it up a steep hill to a meadow, then straight back down to some streams, and right back up again for more streams. Bugs hover in the sunshine, quivering before darting off. I reach a ‘dirt road’ which is now drifts of gravel, pioneering trees taking over.
Zach passes me as I’m losing steam and asks if I’ll camp at the road. It’s four miles after water, so I stop at a creek to make dinner. Even after eating, I know I’m exhausted, so I press on to the next stream and find a tiny site for one. Absolute bliss!
I’m able to wash my terribly dusty feet and legs – even in long trousers, my legs are filthy – in ice cold water, fill up my drinking bottles and settle in before 8:00. The mosquitos are resting on my bug net as the rushing water helps me relax into sleep.