Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mile 2663.5: The End

We couldn't sleep last night. First off, there were some very brazen mice keeping me up, and at 3:30 in the morning, all three of us realized that we were awake. We were whispering and giggling like it was an-all girl's slumber party. I guess it technically was, one that lasted over 1900 miles.

We hiked to the border together, spirits higher than the mercury. The border is not exciting, just a clearcut swath, a sign welcoming us to Canada, the PCT monument of different-height beams, and a cute little obelisk, a mini Washington monument no higher than chest level. As we hit the clearing, I announced, "I'm doing it!" dropped my pack, and stripped off all my layers (quite the process). I pranced over to the "Welcome to Canada!" sign, suddenly feeling very silly, and Micro took some carefully posed pictures. Then Sweet 16 wanted in on the naked action, so she stripped and we took photos with the monument. We really have been looking forward to getting naked.

Once we had our clothes back on, as we were still messing with tying our shoes, Fuzzy Monkey strolled in from the Canadian side. He wanted pictures taken not at arm's length, wanted to experience the border with other hikers, and so he hiked back from his nearby campsite when he figured we'd be there.

I couldn't remember all the clever and witty things I'd thought of writing in the register, so it ended up something like this:

"Crossed an international border naked. It was cold. To quote Grateful Dead (when in doubt, quote somebody else, right?) 'What a long, strange trip it's been.' Time to keep truckin' on."

I'd thought of writing:

"Wrote 'Looking forward to snacks, naps, and bearded men' in the register at the Mexican border. I've had plenty of snacks, I'm tired of bearded men, it's naptime."

"Dear Knees,
Thank you so much for your help and cooperation these last 5 months. We've made it a long way together, and I couldn't have done it without you. We had fun though, right? We've seen some amazing country and met some fabulous people. You've made big, painful sacrifices, and I promise you a winter of Nordic skiing and knitting last year's Christmas presents. How about we look into bike touring after this?
Thump Thump"

"Team Mexico or Bust: now farther from our destination than ever before- and loving it."

Since Tradja and Swipe had commented on our fizzled out trail romance novel, I fabricated a 'last page surviving Washington's rain and mice' to greet them when they read the register. At the monument, Big Spoon suggests that they get a room. Loony Toed Quack coyly raises an eye, asking how he wants to celebrate. He says, "Nah, I'm tired. Let's go cuddle."

We hiked to Manning Park headquarters/lodge/resort, so happy that we all had passports and didn't need to backtrack all the way back to Hart's Pass or Rainy Pass. Along the way, we started saying "aboot" and "eh?" making fun of Canada as much as possible, despite how happy we were to be there. We ended up singing many a Canada-themed song from South Park.

In Manning Park, we found out that Sweet 16's sister-in-law wasn't expecting us to get there for another three hours: we had three hours to burn; relax and celebrate! We ate lunch with Fuzzy Monkey and two pints of beer each and napped in the sun.

When Morgan got there, she had everything under control to an unbelievable extreme. We Febreezed and garbage-bagged our packs, then took showers. She had brought shampoo, conditioner, soap, a loofah each, and a comb. She had made sure we had every item of clothing and flip flops to wear so there would be no temptation to wear trail clothes, and febreezed and double-bagged our clothes.

It was a long drive back. Now I'm tired. I haven't done today justice, but I don't have words to describe my feelings, so I'm describing actions instead.

- Typoed on my iPhone

Mile 2652.5: last night! Reflections

I am about 2.5-2.7 miles from the Canadian border. We decided not to push on tonight because
a.) It will be more fun to get there in the daylight, excited, rather than in the dark, tired, hungry, and crabby
b.) Two other hikers are planning on camping there, and it sounds like a small spot
c.) We can hike in together (Sweet 16 and I are still holding out on our dream to cross into Canada naked)

Today wasn't all that exceptional, at least compared to the last five months. Micro and I woke up super-bitchy and the sun was rising beautifully, turning the clouds pink and orange; very quickly we brightened up and weather turned wet and windy. Sometime in the afternoon, either I was zoned out beyond recognition or the weather turned instantly; I looked up and the sky was blue and the sun was shining and the air was calm. The terrain was also gorgeous, maybe it had been all day but I only noticed once I took my hood off and looked around. A couple miles later, I was at camp, and we had our final "stay or push on" debate.

Time for some reflections.

In the last five months...
-My hiking pace has gone from 2.5 mph to 2.5 mph
-I have lost almost all bladder and bowel control. I have never pooped my pants (though it's been close), but I have peed them countless times during the five seconds between my "hey, I need to pee" realization and having poles off, pack off, and pants layers down two feet off the trail.
-My dinners have increased from 16 oz to 28 oz
-I've lost about 25 pounds
I have read 1.5 books and every single food label (the entire label) at least four times

I look forward to...
-Just listening to music when I get Ricky Martin stuck in my head for hours
-Toilets! Beds!
-Spitting out my toothpaste
-Not carrying all my trash (including used toilet paper) around for days at a time.
-Watching movies on televisions rather than in my fallible, scatterbrained memory

I dread...
-Traffic, and driving in it.
-Having to watch what I eat
-Excercise requiring special effort, rather than a given
-Gaining weight no matter how good I try to be
-My financial situation
-Holding my pee beyond the next bush
-Needing to be busy, busy, busy when all I'll want to be is lazy, lazy, lazy
-Being homeless and unemployed
-Finding a job and a place to live

I'll miss...
-Having a data book to answer all my important questions. Having all important questions answerable by mileages in a data book?
-Having a solid, reliable routine to fall back on at all times
-Waking up next to/near Microburst and Sweet 16
-Eating and talking with Micro and 16
-Adding peanut butter or mayonnaise to food in order to make it more nutritionally appropriate for me.

It will be weird...
-To have more clothing choices in the morning beyond, "Do I want to wear my shorts over my long johns under my rainpants or not?" and "Clean underwear, dirty underwear, or no underwear?"
-To have something other than "walk north" on my to-do list.
-When getting in bed is exactly that simple.
-Calling people by regular names rather than nouns and cultural references.
-To not be a mini-celebrity everywhere I go
-To listen to podcasts within a month of their release
-When "having the brightest headlamp" will not be a reliable source of legitimate pride and joy
-To look at my watch for the date rather than day of the week.

I have gotten really good at...
-Mental math

I wish I could tell my Mexican-border self...
-All the things I eventually got rid of
-I need variety between sections, not during. Turns out I can happily eat the same thing every single day for a week as long as I'll be eating something different over and over next week.
-Not to get emotionally wrapped up with anybody
-To enjoy my knees while they last

- Typoed on my iPhone

Mile 2630.0: Nacho Yurt

Beautiful morning, fabulous weather, gorgeous views of dying glaciers, technicolor alpine foliage, neverending switchbacks. It started drizzling at lunch, and it continued to do so on and off for the rest of the day, through drier, rockier, burnt terrain. The databook lists a 21.1 mile dry stretch stretching from our lunch spot, but we've come across at least two creeks since then. I bought an extra water bottle in Stehekin, increasing my capacity to 2.5L, while Micro and 16 were sure enough that the rainy weather would provide us with flowing ephemeral streams and stuck with 1.5L capacities. They were rueing their decision at lunch, trying to camel up on water, but it turned out that 1.5L was plenty, I've just been hauling extra weight for fun and character-building.

We heard from previous year's hikers about a super-nice yurt used by a heli-skiing company on one of the "weather passes" (this section has Rainy Pass, Windy Pass, and Foggy Pass). Foggy Pass would have been perfect according to our mileage goals, but we were happy to stop 2.2 miles earlier when we saw the yurt at Windy Pass. Unfortunately for us vagrants, Micro and 16's reconnaissance mission found the yurt boarded up, locked, and inaccessible with a polite sign from the heli-company asking hikers to please respect their private property and not try to stay there. Not yo' yurt. We ended up camping half a mile later at a creek with flat spots and a really well protected eating/cooking area in the middle.

- Typoed on my iPhone

Mile 2608.6: Golden Creek and Willis Camp

I loved today! It was wonderful. It started with a rich, moist, doughy cinnamon roll slathered in cream cheese frosting. I managed to not even touch my sleeping bag with my sticky fingers! There was a little bit of rain and wet brush in the morning's 10 miles, but there was also one pit latrine and two outhouses.

After lunch (during which we were rained on while directly under blue sky), we climbed up to Cutthroat Pass, into an open sub-alpine ecosystem, allowing us breathtaking views of the amazing mountains surrounding us. The plants are now nature's own fireworks, with rich magenta blueberry leaves, appropriately colored berries, green plants of all sorts from dark to bright, orange and red maple leaves, and yellow larch. I thought, "What's killing all these pine/spruce/fir trees?" until Microburst explained to me that larch aren't evergreens.

The scenery was so gorgeous and the weather so pleasant, that the afternoon was not a struggle for me. Since Sweet 16's sister-in-law is picking us up midday on the 29th, there's no need to rush to Canada, and there are known camping spots conveniently every 23 miles until there, we get to enjoy this last section of the PCT at a relaxed pace. I didn't need to fret, stress, or push to get in to camp an hour before dark.

The sheer magnitude of what we've done and how close we are to being done had definitely hit Micro and 16 by the time we got to Stehekin, though I was feeling decidedly unphased. I am still feeling quite underwhelmed at the moment, but now that we are on the same page-spread as THE END of the PCT, 100 pages into the data book, I'm starting to get excited.

- Typoed on my iPhone

Mile 2574.1: into Stehekin

A beautiful day. Last night's dusting of snow on the mountain tops brought sharp relief to the texture of the jagged rock, and I was out of the tent early enough to see all the peaks turn rosy pink and orange as the sun rose. The trail followed the walls of a canyon, into two glacial bowls bursting with fall color, and into thick, lush forest. It was beautiful, and very easy, all downhill. The weather messed with me a little bit, it changed every time I finally stopped being stubborn and changed to adapt to IT.

Since today was a town day, it was every woman for herself. Sweet 16, with her 3+ mile headstart, made it just in time for the noon shuttle, Micro got there at 1-something and hitched a ride from a local. Her old town guide had said the shuttle ran every two hours, starting at 8 and ending at 6. It turns out the schedule is changed quite often, I got there right after the 3:00 shuttle departed, almost three hours until the next and final run. I had to work really hard to put on a good attitude, be happy for the opportunity to read and journal without any town distractions. Right when I had settled into writing, the park ranger had to run into town and offered me a lift. Yay! So thankful.

In town, there was no cell phone service, I just wandered around to businesses asking if they had a message for me from two other girls. The cashier at the general store said "yes" and handed me a sticky note with directions to the room they had rented for us in the lodge. Micro was taking a shower and couldn't hear my banging on the door, so I dropped my stuff and continued to wander.

I misjudged my caloric needs for this last section. I rationed so I never ran out of food, but I was never full. This last day, my calories consisted of my breakfast and a huge halvah roll. I was starving by the time I got into town at four, and the bakery was closed.

I knew that thoughtful Microburst would have foreseen this turn of events and would have bought me an extra goodie. With our plans for celebration and me not immediately shoving pastries down my gullet upon walkin into the hotel room, the treats became our munchy-food to share when we were drunk later. It was ok, I could handle the hunger as long as I didn't let low blood sugar make me cranky. Once the three of us were all showered, we'd eat dinner, then drink and do laundry, right? Wrong. Laundry, which always takes longer than we expect, was to take place before the last possible seating time at the restaurant so we could eat in clean clothes. By our 7:30 reservation, I was barely keeping it together (more stupid than snappy), and by 8:00, the restaurant realized that a huge party was taking too long and asked us waiting hikers (now including Ann, Tradja, Swipe, and their CDT friend Skittles) to take our food to-go. Tradja and Swipe said they can do to-go orders, but since they were camping in the wet and paying full-price for food, they wanted to eat inside. Our small-looking portions of food was served in quick-cooling clamshell boxes, we had to specially ask for things like drinks, condiments, and dessert. It was a very disappointed experience since we were paying so much. Hikers got the shit end of the stick there.

We didn't get drunk to celebrate, instead we split a cinnamon roll and crashed in our tiny but spendy inn room.

- Typoed on my iPhone

Mile 2556.8: Suiattle River, Suiattle Pass

From about 7:30 am til 2 pm, I had but one focus: reconstructing the children's rhyme that follows, word by word backwards as the melody played incessantly through my head:

Little bunny FuFu,
Hoppin' through the forest,
Scooping up the field mice,
And boppin' 'em on the heads

Along came (somebody who think's she's somebody), and says:

Little Bunny FuFu
I don't want to see you,
Scoopin' up the field mice,
And boppin' 'em on the heads

I don't remember exactly what follows, but I like to imagine that the plot thickens as little bunny FuFu debates the moral implications of scooping up field mice and bopping them on the heads. Is it a traged or comedy? I'll have to ask my 3 (4?)-yr old littlest sister how it ends. Maybe it's like other old nursery rhymes, sinister, morbid, or hiding sexual entendre.

The reason this song was stuck in my head is that we had mice in our tent last night, and I wouldn't have minded if little bunny FuFu popped in for some head-bopping. The mice ate a hole through my bagel bag and the colorful part off my book. They also left lots of droppings all over the TOP of my sleeping bag, and one got inside Micro's bug bivy net, realized it was trapped, and went berserk. As soon as I put 2-and-2 together with the horrible night's sleep, droppings, food, and mystery noises, I had "hmm hmm hmm hmm, lala la la lala, something something, bop 'em on the heads!" stuck.

We began the day with a 2.5 mile climb up brushy switchbacks to the ridge where Sweet 16 slept, and we missed her by 15 minutes. It snowed a tiny bit on us as we wound our way through some alpine tundra and a glacial bowl, and then we started dropping elevation through forest. We ate lunch one creek crossing early, once again missing 16, and got to the Suiattle River.

We've been hearing all about the Suiattle for weeks now. As advertised, there was a log going clear across the river about 300 feet upstream. Micro and I, both excellent at imagining the worst that could happen, both got a little shaky looking at the churning, milky water rushing past, but we put one foot in front of the other and crossed completely dry and unharmed.

In October 2003, a massive storm caused flooding that took out a whole bunch of bridges along this section of the PCT. Thanks to the stimulus package, all but one of them have been rebuilt. This last one was the Suiattle. It's easy to see why this has been left unbridged the longest. Looking at the channel, it's hard to imagine the scale of the flooding that formed it and littered it with huge tree debris. To build a bridge that would be unscathed by that sort of flooding would have to be HUGE (really high up and long to make the span) or SUPER burly.

Then came the fun part, that nobody told us about: a 7.4 mile, 3130' climb up to Suiattle Pass. It wasn't difficult, the trail was at a really gentle, mellow grade, but goodness me it was long. It was also completely viewless

- Typoed on my iPhone

Mile 2534.8: Camera lickin' good fun

I suppose that this journal entry, like all my other journal entries, should describe parts of my day in fine detail while missing the big picture. Instead, I start with a list, by way of explanation for the odd title.

Questionable Things I Have Eaten:
-Numerous bits of candy, nuts, or dried fruit found on the trail, unwrapped, and dropped by a complete stranger.
-My own food, dropped in mud, prepared in a dirty pot, or retrieved with black fingers.
-Soggy candybars, sandwiches, and other things that should not be soggy.
-A ham-cheddar-taco sauce-English muffin sandwich and chocolate milk, made of perishable ingredients found in a cooler on the side of the trail with no explanation or ice.
-a him-bao (sp?) roll, already baked, found in a bag of other him-bao rolls abandoned on the side of the trail. When first bought, these rolls are just raw dough with raw pork stuffed inside. Based on the texture of a chunk that I spat out, these rolls were not thoroughly cooked. Sweet 16 and I each polished one off anyway.
-The remnants of a (an?) FRS energy chew that Micro had given me and I had stowed in my camera pocket. There was rain, I was drenched, and the candy dissolved in the pocket. Now every time I pull out my camera, I also lick the screen, hoping for a caffeine buzz.

Today was a beautiful day, making up for our miserable first day out. I got an early start and had the morning to myself, it was glorious. After a long traverse through several saddles to Red's Pass, I had to stop and gawk at the amazing views of Glacier Peak, alpine tundra in fall colors, snowfields, and rock. I yelled to the sky, "I am so happy right now! There is no place I'd rather be!"

The day continued on through a really long walk in the woods, a long lunch break spent drying our frosty gear in the sun, a climb up to another pass, and a long, switchbacky descent to Milk Creek. At this point, Sweet 16 continued on up 2 miles more switchbacks to a ridgetop campsite, and Micro and I set up camp on the bridge because it was already dark, I was crying from low blood sugar, and we figured 16 could use the alone time. After 8, Tradja and Swipe joined us, also hoping to find camping adjacent to Milk Creek, and resigned to bridge camping.

- Typoed on my iPhone