Dragging My Feet

Having gathered the strength to get back to trail (read: overpowered my laziness/reluctance) I ventured out from Vancouver, WA and back to Cascade Locks at the WA/OR border. It had been over a week since I’d crossed the Bridge of the Gods and entered Washington State, and both my body and mind were resisting the return to trail. Sandra (the friend who had picked me up) was good enough to drive me back, and, after saying our goodbyes, I trudged to the trailhead with a less-than-Kevin-like pace. I stopped a couple of times to send a text and to write another quick Facebook update before I lost cell service. The umbilical cord was proving more difficult to cut this time.

Eventually, though, I quickened my pace (though still slower than usual) and gave myself a pep talk: only 512 more miles; 3 weeks or less, easily. But the combination of the still bothersome shin splints, a week’s worth of atrophy, and having new shoes to break in made me want to cry by mile 17. I pushed it to 19 where I knew there was a campsite, but I want exited about it. Flopping myself on the ground dramatically, I gently removrd my shoes from my battered feet, assembled my tent, crawled inside and went to bed pouty and disappointed with plenty of sunlight left to burn. Very un-Kevin-like.

The following day I felt a little stronger. My feet hurt a little less, too, and I wrapped my ankle with athletic tape to restrict movement and minimize further damage to the splints. But all of this couldn’t help the fact that the trail had become rather boring. I had no views and the landscape was more brown than green at this altitude. And I was grumpy. I consoled myself with music, but wasn’t sure I’d have enough battery life to keep it and myself going through this stretch. Going solo through Oregon when I was moving fast was easy. Now I was just bored and maybe just a touch lonely. Again, I did the math on remaining mileage and gave myself a pep talk, then banged out a 29 mile day. Not bad, but I still had to push hard to hit that and my feet were killing me.

The third day my legs were feeling much stronger, and though my feet still hurt it was lessening by the day. In the morning the skies were perfectly clear, I started gaining elevation and breaking out of the dense forest, and, besides a few bird chirps and bees buzzing, it was completely silent and still. I could feel my mental fog lifting and a smile may have crossed my lips, despite my efforts to remain glum. By midday I started getting glimpses of Mt Adams and Mt St Helens off in the distance. I grudgingly let that hint of a smile curl into a grin, and then I rounded a corner and the rest of the lingering metaphorical dark clouds were swept away in an instant. Mt Rainier came into view.

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Being a Seattleite, Rainier is a very familiar sight, creeping into view on clear days and dominating the horizon to the south east. Seeing her now gave me a solid bearing to measure my distance to Canada and the terminus. The fact that I was truly almost finished hit me like an emotional brick to the chest; I can count miles all I’d like, but nothing could drive home that fact more than the sight of this, my mountainous mistress. Oh, how I’d missed her. With my excitement bubbling over I sped over the hills, grinning like an idiot and gawking at the awesome sights.

Despite stopping for numerous pictures (and to take advantage of some cell service; slave to technology that I am), I was at 30 miles by 5:30 and feeling good. Thirty-seven was the goal for the day, but at mile 32 I ran into a southbound hiker who told me there was a guy giving out cookies and rootbeer floats at the road crossing a mile up. Coppertone was here!! I mentioned him in a previous post (Kevin Acquires Enough Woe to Write a Country Song), but Coppertone is a former thru-hiker who drives around following the herd of hikers, handing out snacks of all kinds and his signature rootbeer floats. So, knowing he was waiting a mile ahead, I had to budget a minimum of half an hour to enjoy the magic. Still, I made haste. His unmistakable truck became visible through the trees about a quarter of a mile out and I had to stop myself from running. This day just kept getting better.

Emerging from the woods with my arms raised in joy, Coppertone dropped the bad news quickly: he’d just run out of ice cream… That damned southbound section hiker got the last one! But still he had cookies, a Dr Pepper, and a chair to rest my weary legs, so it wasn’t totally heartbreaking. Sighing heavily as I sat, I sipped my soda and munched happily on generic sandwich cookies while Coppertone told me of his adventures past and future. He was truly an inspiration. Amongst other things, he had been a mountaineering guide in the Peruvian Andes for years, and now, in his mid-sixties, was climbing all the major peaks in the down time between providing trail magic for us hikers. Sixty-plus and climbing mountains like Rainier and Adams regularly. The definition of bad-assery. In fact, I’d met numerous 60+ers who were out here hiking the trail, climbing mountains, running ultra-marathons. It’s been truly inspiring to see what you can do with your “twilight years” if you stay fit and healthy.

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After chatting for a bit I picked up the trail register he keeps and checked out the names so I could stalk my friends that were ahead of me. I saw quite a few familiar names a day or two ahead, and two in particular -Kit and Rimshot- that I was trying to catch up with. But the names right before mine were a group of guys I’d been leapfrogging since the desert. I asked Coppertone how far ahead they were, and he told me that they were camped down the road 1/4 mile! Apparently they’d gone around a bend in the road where they had a nice view of Mt Adams and called it a day. So I threw my mileage goal for the day out the window and snuck down the road to surprise the boys. I found them on a little hill with, indeed, a very stunning view of Adams with the sun setting off to the left. I had last seen them in Central Oregon the day after my 50-miler so we chatted for a bit and caught up on each other’s adventures since then. But duty calls, and with the sun nearly set I needed to get back to it. I bid them a good night and raced off to try and get at least a mile further on.

The next couple days were amazing. I ran into the guys again the next day. They’d snuck by me in the wee hours of the morning, so I was surprised to see them again up ahead of me. I walked with a trio -Doc, Ballhawk and Smiley- for a while and met the others for lunch by a spring. They were in no hurry, but I had big mileage goals. So after a quick lunch I shot off again and hit my goal of 40 just as the sun disappeared and was feeling pretty good about myself finally.

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The beginning of the next day took me up over a pass that led me into Goat Rocks Wilderness. I was not prepared for what lay ahead. A steep climb took me up 1500 feet over the “Knife’s Edge” and high enough above my surroundings to provide a view of just about everything within 100 miles.

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Just as I had taken my fill of the views a cloud moved up from the valley and enveloped me as I carefully made my way down the escarpment. With my views hidden and the terrain leveling off I picked up the pace to make it to White Pass in time to pick up my resupply package before the shop that was holding it closed. I reached the highway at 4:15 grabbed my package at the store where I ran into another familiar face, Amtrak, who was just heading for a shower in the room he’d booked next door. We exchanged game plans and resolved to try and meet up at Snoqualmie Pass a few days from then. There was actually decent cell service, so I got sucked in to spending an hour texting, facebooking, and checking email. I had been exchanging emails with the German TV crew that I had met at kick-off and again at the Saufley’s. They were in the area and we had been conspiring to meet up for weeks. It turned out they’d be near enough to Snoqualmie in a couple days that we could meet up again, but I’d have to hurry. Fortunately, I like to hurry.

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The next couple days I ran into a ton of familiar faces as I quickly ticked off miles. I finally caught up with Kit and Rimshot, then only hiked a few hours with them before hustling up to Snoqualmie. Besides them I caught back up with Handbrake who I hadn’t seen in over 2000 miles, Tick-Tock and Dewey who I’d leapfrogged a few times in Oregon, and Crystal who had had to get off trail back in Tehachapi (mile 566) but was back on doing sections with Shady who I hadn’t seen in just as long! It felt good to see so many familiar faces after hiking alone for nearly 600 miles. But I was committed to getting to Snoqualmie by Labor Day, so I doomed myself to solitude yet again and pushed over 30 miles a day until I got there. Still, I was smiling.

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Then the rain came. It started around 4:00 Saturday and didn’t stop until 1:00 the following day. Me being the stubborn bastard that I am stuck to my mileage goal and walked for 4 hours in the pouring rain. The pathetic little sleeveless poncho I had did little to keep my limbs dry, and my arms and feet were freezing. Still, I was laughing at the storm like Lieutenant Dan, undaunted. When I arrived at the campsite I was aiming for at ten-to-eight, however, I was crushed. It was on a ridge with no protection except a disorderly row of anorexic pines and the wind was gusting at, oh, about 70 mph if I had to make a conservative guess. The ground was basically one huge sheet of rock with about an inch of gravel on top, and the only flat spot was dangerously close to a tiny depression that was quickly becoming a not so tiny pond. In short, the site was less than ideal. But my options were either a) go back 1.3 miles (downhill) where I’d seen a lovely little spot tucked into the trees, b) continue on in the soon-to-be pitch black and pray there’s a more suitable spot in the next few miles, or c) make do.

So I dropped my pack and tore out my tent components. A few weeks prior I’d experimented with my tent and discovered it can be set up inside-out; that is to say I can put the ground cloth down, insert the pole into the 3 grommets, pitch the rain fly and guy it out, then climb inside this shell structure and clip in the main tent body so that no rain gets in to the part I’ll be sleeping in. Easy, right?

It took me about ten minutes just to get the ground cloth down and staked out, first weighing it down with rocks so it wouldn’t blow away, then finding chinks in the bedrock beneath and hammering the stakes as hard as I could only to get them less than half-way into the ground. Fortunately someone had previously gathered sizeable rocks to hold the stakes and guy lines down. So, after wrestling with the rain fly in the wind, I got the shell assembled, secured all the lines with the rocks, then crawled in to get the body attached underneath. I dragged my pack under the fly as well just to give myself a bigger challenge in manoeuvering. After attaching the tent body to the poles, I ran back out into the rain, reached under the rain fly and felt around for the corners and, one by one, pulled them out and secured them to the stakes before finally running back around, jumping inside, and zipping everything up. It worked and my tent was perfectly dry inside, save the water I’d carried in when I hurled my body inside, dripping wet. I immediately stripped off my cold wet clothes and set about cooking, both to get fed and to sleep as soon as possible, and to heat up the tent a couple degrees.
The wind was constantly tearing at my rain fly, and I kept my eyes on it to make sure the guy lines were holding, holding my breath every time a big gust came up. Then, one huge gust smashed against my tent, folding it over on top of me and almost knocking over my camp stove and its boiling contents. I frantically righted the pole and pushed the rain fly back into place from inside. My alertness turned to fear when it occurred to me that the possibility of my tent poles snapping was very real. On the other side of my tent walls I could hear the wind rising in waves, barreling through the mountains before buffeting my little shelter for seconds that felt like an eternity. Every couple of minutes I could hear it building and I’d have a few seconds to reach up and grab the tent pole to physically hold it upright before the wind hit. This went on for hours, and I sat in dread, imagining myself having to shove all my sopping wet gear and clothes into my pack, along with my shattered tent, and walk the 26 miles to Snoqualmie in the dark. It was the first time on trail that I feared for my well being.

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I relaxed as soon as the wind did around midnight, and when I opened my eyes it was morning. I was knackered. Putting on my wet clothes, I shot out of camp as soon as I could in an attempt to build body heat. The rain was still going, but it had mellowed to a drizzle. Every plant I brushed against, however, sent streams of water trickling down my leg and into my shoe, soaking it anew and making it impossible to keep my feet warm. Finally, around 1:00 the sun started creeping out and I had broken out of the trees enough to get some of it to fall on my skin to warm me and start to dry my clothes. By the time I strolled under the ski lifts at Snoqualmie Pass it was sunny and warm and I finally took off my poncho.

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Arriving at the trail head, I rounded the corner and saw Ingo, the presenter for the German TV program, just walking up to the trail followed by the crew. Apparently they’d arrived only moments prior, and I was smack in the middle of the 3:00-3:30 window I’d predicted for reaching the pass! We filmed for about an hour and a half before they cut me loose to get on my way, but not before loading me up with Reese’s products. Back in the desert I’d made my preference known and they remembered this time around. My inner fat kid was squealing in delight.

And here is where I out myself to my Seattle friends… my friends Brooks and Jen were waiting for me and I snuck into the city for a day and told only a small handful of people. I’m sorry! I had so much to get done in so little time I had to keep it a secret! My laundry list included (but wasn’t limited to):

*Hitting up REI for shoes and rain pants.
*A trip to the DMV for a new license (which I’d lost in Portland)
*Digging through storage for my big, heavy waterproof jacket
*Mailing myself a resupply package to Stevens Pass (which I’d planned on skipping but changed my mind), and
*Going up to Edmonds to the home of the Hinchliff’s (who were handling my resupply) for some food stuffs and things I’d mailed back much earlier on that I decided I now wanted.
**Eating a ton of pastries. Paramount.

It was a very productive day. (A big thanks to Rishi for shuttling me all over the Seattle area, I never could’ve done half of that without you!) After all my errands I squeezed in dinner with some close friends and called it a night early. Brooks, in his boundless generosity, would be driving me back early in the morning before work. The man is a saint. No sooner had he pulled away after depositing me at the pass again than a car drove up with Amtrak in the passenger seat. He had spent a day down in Redmond and was suited up and ready to hit the trail. It looked like I’d have a little company for the first time in a long time. I was ready for it.

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