Washington: White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

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August 9, 2003.
Silence dominated the lakeshore in the cold light of the early morning next to Leech Lake. The section hikers were not stirring yet, but I was nearly packed up. I had finished the last few juice boxes and consumed some poptarts while still in my sleeping bag and it was now time to go. Unlike the previous evening, I was ready and strong to do some hiking. I had nearly finished packing when the son starting to wake and he waved to me as I set off, sure that I would not see the section hiking family again. One of the daughters had hiked the Southern California section the previous year and the mother had met Wall and Rye Dog in Northern California earlier this summer. They seemed to be going about things the right way (i.e, they were having fun) and I thanked them once again, though silently, for their help with my supplies before setting off into the woods once more. Mount Rainer was on my mind, but the trees were in my eyes this morning. Almost immediately I entered the William O. Douglas Wilderness area. William O. Douglas or, as I liked to call him, El O, was the chief justice of the Supreme Court for a while an ardent conservationist (not an environmentalist). He believed that the wilderness had saved his life as a child when he was stricken with a debilitating disease that made activity difficult. He spent many hours and days hiking and eventually got better. He authored several books on the outdoors and upon his death a large tract of wilderness was named after him, securing its beauty and quality for generations to come. A fitting legacy for El O.

It was a cool morning and so it was with some trepidation that I stopped two miles later to rinse out several pairs of socks in a large creek. Scrubbing out socks on the rocks, in the water, is a bone chilling endeavor and not one that I looked forward to, no matter how much good it did my feet. While I was scrubbing away the son came strolling up, looking rather pleased that he had caught me. The others were further back he said and moved on. I was hoping that the friendly daughters might catch up, as I had started hatching plans in my head for convincing one or both of them to continue north with me to Canada and then back to Indiana. It was a plan in the same genre as plans to become a rockstar are, but it served to pass the morning while walking through the land of El O. Will there ever be an El Thomas? Will people ever give thanks to the land that Ginsberg wrought? I find it somewhat unlikely, but I suppose it could happen.

My socks were clean and the daughters still hadn't arrived, so I set forth once more, hoping that perhaps they would run me down at lunchtime. I knew it wouldn't happen, as I would have lunch somewhere around the twenty mile mark, and most people don't hike more than 15 miles in a day. Thruhikers excepted. Hope is a beautiful thing, though. From the creek the trail began to wind through more of the lake country that characterized the bottom lands further south, although it was still cool enough for the mosquitoes not to become problematic. More lakes and more trees. More pine needles, though few shrubs. The forest canopy was thick enough here to make the land under the trees somewhat sun-starved, which partially accounted for the clear ground and the tall trees. The lack of kicks didn't seem to be weighing on me as it had in the past and I had hope that perhaps my snobbery might have passed. Hiking California had been like dating a prom queen, I suppose. Shallow at times, but stunning mostly. With a few exceptions Oregon had been more like the prom queen's less attractive sister with the great personality. I was unsure of the character of Washington at this point, as the magnificence of the Goat Rocks was offset by the doldrums required to get there. Mount Adams might have swayed things over to the plus side, but I had not been able to experience it except from afar, when I was well to the north. I knew that the last 40 miles into Snoqualmie were supposed to be heart rending, which gave me hope, in the belief that the world is balanced, that the leg into and out of Mount Rainer National Park would have some quality scenery.

On a dusty trail, the father and son coming down toward me could barely be seen. It was a dry summer in Washington, and it the dryness gave birth to dust, the dust giving birth to obscurity. The father and sun were not smiling, but I suspected that they were just tired. The land had been steadily improving since I crossed Bumping Fork and began the slow climb into the alpine. The two hikers were coming down and looking for a particular lake that I had just passed, where they were going to spend the afternoon and evening fishing away, before hiking out tomorrow. I was happy to tell them that Buck Lake was just around the corner, although I didn't see a trail to it. No matter, I told them, it was an easy cross country walk. They seemed cheered by it and lumbered off, under the crushing weight of their packs, complete with all the comforts of home, no doubt. When they got into camp, they would undoubtedly be happy with their set up (or, rather, I hoped they would). I spent most of my time walking and so wanted to be happy during the day, as opposed to the few hours I was awake and in camp. Thus, my light pack and minimal fuss. Different styles of living in the outdoors for two different pursuits. Remember the only rule: If you are not enjoying it, you're doing it wrong. Less than a half mile later I found a microscopic creeklet and decided that this would be as good of a place as any to have lunch. I was only seventeen or so miles from White Pass and the daughters might make it this far, I thought.

My standard routine went off without a thought, and the quiet gully with the stream was quickly transformed into a kitchen-cum-laundry room. I was cooking up the polenta that the family had given me and needed to inspect it before adding it to the boiling water. If she had used actual polenta, I would have to be careful and add more water, cooking and stirring to get it to come out with the desired texture. If it was just cornmeal, no problems. The daughter that had first approached me in the parking lot of the store at White Pass seemed to be something of a gourmand, as it was true polenta, complete with some sort of cheese powder, dried milk, dried peppers, onions, mushrooms, parsley, garlic, corn, and peas. For the first time in a long time, I was preparing food whose taste could be looked forward to in and of itself, irrespective of its nutritive powers. I usually ate because I was hungry, not for the taste of the food, but today was different. I added the polenta and a little extra water, along with a healthy dose of olive oil and set to stirring. Over an alcohol stove, food burns easily if you do not stir, stir, and stir some more. The polenta thickened and began to bubble pleasantly, the aroma of the dried vegetables floating directly into my brain as I hovered over the pot. I added a bit more water and kept stirring away, thought carefully now as the polenta was getting close to the top of my pot. The daughters had cautioned me that each of the meals was made for two or three people, but I had arrogantly assumed that they had meant two or three regular meals. They had, it seemed, meant that each pouch was enough for two or three thruhikers. I grinned and shook my head at my foolishness at leaving them so soon. I could add no more water without overflowing the pot and so sat back to let the polenta cool before attacking it. Like my previous battles with time when I was thirsty and had to let a sack of water sit while iodine worked its magics, this was a losing proposition for me. I could only give it two minutes of cooling before I tore into 1.3 liters of polenta.

The pot was well worked over, although I was still using my fingers to get at the last stuck on bits on the bottom edges of the pot. Bits of polenta hung in my beard, an unsightly consequence of having a thick beard. My stomach was bursting from polenta as I pronounced this the greatest trail meal of all time. I thought about leaving a note on a tree proposing to whichever daughter made the polenta, but decided that this might not be quite in the spirit of El O, in whose land I was walking. I gathered together my gear and started waddling up the trail, my hipbelt stretches unnaturally wide as it tried to accommodate my swollen belly. I was actually looked forward to lunch tomorrow. I had a massive pouch of dried potatoes done up right, another bag of polenta, and two bags of couscous. I was glad that I had taken the extra dinners with me now, although with the portion sizes, the potatoes would easily be enough for two meals and I could safely split the polenta into two if I wanted to. The extra weight didn't bother me at this point and the excellent food brought alot to my day.

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Not far up the trail I began switchbacking in earnest, gaining elevation on route to the alpine land once again. I was so pleased with myself, though, that I could have been mired in the worst lake country of Oregon and still been having a blast. The switchbacks eventually ended and the trail started to wind through boulders and trees, with Mount Rainier leaping out every now and then to say hello to yet one more hiker. There was a small patch of cloud around its midsection, but the summit was clear. I stopped and gazed for a while and eventually decided that this might be a good place for a break, though the shade was a trifle limited. My desire to be out of the sun while I rested overcame my natural inclination to stop at an otherwise aesthetic place and so I continued on, climbing up and about, until I crested. The other side of the mountain offered good views as well and shortly down the trail I came upon a thick tunnel of trees, whose exit provided a clear view of the mountain and plenty of shade along the way. I took my pack off this time and floated over into the dust and rock, content. I was afraid of the many changes that would come with the end of the summer, but one of the worst was the fear, nay the knowledge, that this eternal feeling of contentment would disappear with when I set got on the plane to go home.

The idyllic day stretched on as the sun made its way down toward the high mountains of the land. I was passing through a good lake country now, lakes of some size and depth, rather than the fetid, shallow, mosquitoes lands of Oregon or southern Washington. Crossing one I met two women section hikers heading south from Snoqualmie and stopped to talk with them briefly. One had hiked from Mexico to Cascade Locks in 1999, as she sheepishly told me, a mere 2150 miles. She seemed embarrassed somehow that she had not finished, despite my compliments and assurances. She had wanted to finish in 99, but did not have the time and so was section hiking the last of the trail. We talked about the various changes in the trail since then and the subject of meaningless things like pack weight, resupply, and miles per day never came up. It was pleasant to talk to someone who understood the general process and could concentrate on the things that actually mattered. The sunset in the desert, the snowbound passes of the Sierra, the grandeur of Crater Lake, the beer in Ashland. We parted, for the day was not long to be in existence and I wanted to make Chinook Pass before it got too dark or cold. I had been with El O most of the day, but had left his legacy and entered into Mount Rainier National Park not far from the tunnel of trees. Chinook Pass was one of the entrances into the park and a road cut the trail there. It was also almost exactly 30 miles from White Pass, although I would certainly have to hike onward for a while before I could find a place to stop for the night. On my map, I had spotted a small lake called Sheep and thought that might make a good place to stop. It was close to a road and today was Saturday, which meant that it might be crowded, but then again it might not. Viewing American's as so lazy as not to be able to walk two miles from a road, slightly uphill, the chances were good that I would have it to myself. Viewing American's as wanting something special in their lives, I thought it might be crowded. It didn't matter, I supposed, but it was something to think about. Is the stereotypical lazy American really the true character of America? Most of this summer indicated that this was just like any other stereotype: Some were lazy and carbound, others were not.

I strolled along the lakeshore of Dewey Lake, pondering this question when the riotous voices of a laughing group of friends floated down the lake toward me. Dewey was large and had ample camping along it. It wasn't terribly close to a road, which seemed to push the scale away from the stereotype. I passed a few groups of tents, then a couple more, then some more near where the trail left the lakeshore. Two more hikers with packs were descending the trail as I was ascending, and three more were coming down just as I crested out. Two day hikers were passed and an old man as I strolled down the flat plateau above the lake. The old man stopped me as he said hello, looking at me deeply and in a concerned way. "Having fun?" he asked. I suppose I must have looked out of it, but I was having a good time. I grinned and answered in the affirmative, although I don't think he believed me.

The temperature was dropping rapidly as the sun barely showed over the mountains in front of me. It was mid August, and it was already in the lower 50s at 6:30 in the evening. The trail led down the plateau and began an end run of a large, deep chasm, the other side of which the highway running through Chinook pass could clearly be seen, the large, lumbering RVs moving slowly uphill, groaning with the weight of a house on wheels. I hoped that there might be a bathroom at the pass and quickened my gait. Dropping down to the pass through a pleasant field of waving grass, I could see no bathroom and so stopped thirty feet from the bridge over the road to take a break. I had a small patch of sun for the next twenty minutes or so to rest in, and so dropped my pack. The presence of the RVs and the road didn't keep me from fishing out my toilet paper and finding a thicket to use as a bathroom. I could see the cars driving down the road, perhaps forty feet from me, but the chances of them being able to spot me were slim, crouched over next to some bushes. I was beyond the point of caring, anyways.

I returned to the patch of sun in the grass and sat down next to my pack. I ate the last part of the Triscuit that I had been munching on all day and rolled a cigarette, doing little else other than watching the cars go by and the sun dip down. It was cold enough, even with the sun on me, to put on my rain jacket for a little extra warmth. A family of three came walking up from the road, staring at this bearded, dirty, uncaring hiker sitting in the grass. The father nodded and complimented me on my choice of rest spots. A former or current hiker? He had to be. To anyone else, my rest spot would have seemed foolish: Why not just walk down and rest on the bridge, where it was clean? But, the bridge was in the shade and was composed only of sterile, pressure treated wood. The grassy field was in the sun and perfumed by the flowers and I was already dirty. The family moved on and I began to think about how nice a motel room might be tonight. Watching the people on the road didn't help, as I could imagine them driving back to a motel or lodge and taking a hot shower after a punishing five mile walk. Then to a restaurant for a well cooked meal and perhaps a few beers or a bottle of wine. I could feel the warmth of the motel room and wanted it, though not bad enough to do anything about it. I had to walk.

I crossed the bridge and began the flat walk on the other side, passing an outhouse in a different parking lot. The trail paralleled the road for a while and I passed several day hikers with little kids on their way back from Sheep Lake and to their warm rooms for the evening. I started to think about Snoqualmie Pass and the motels there. I might be able to make it to Snoqualmie Pass on Monday evening if I put in a longish day tomorrow. I might be able to have a shower and food and beer and, most importantly, a soft, warm place lay in for a bit. The climb to Sheep Lake wasn't even noticed as I was deep in thought of the pleasures of Snoqualmie and I was a little surprised to see the lake and its clutch of tents. Looking back across the land that I had traversed, I was impressed: It looked tough. Today was one of the easiest days of walking that I could remember, even though the numbers in my book told me otherwise.

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The sun was mostly gone and I could see mist creeping up from the south. The climb up to Sheep Lake, an immaculate alpine tarn, had warmed up my body, and this tipped me toward hiking on, away from the temporary inhabitants of the lake. The trail was evident ahead: Follow the lake, then switchback up the rock wall in front to the pass. Sourdough Gap it was called and it was my destination for the night. No one would be camped up there, and if I could find a slightly sheltered spot for the night, I would be able to get my tarp up and have a perfect view. It didn't seem more than another thirty or forty five minutes away. As I gained altitude on the switchbacks, the wind picked up. Sheep Lake had been sheltered, but as I rose higher and higher the shelter was gone and the wind became brutal. Buffeting me and cooling me rapidly, despite my rain jacket, the beauty of Sourdough Gap was almost lost on me. Almost, but not quite. At the top I stopped to survey the land once again and was once again impressed by Washington. I couldn't camp up here, unfortunately. There was little shelter and the pass itself was small. No place for a tarp, and the mist and clouds coming in convinced me that I should put up a shelter tonight. I started down the other side of the pass, switchbacking down the rocky trail with the wind swirling around me. Several tents could be seen in the valley below the pass, well off trail but with little natural shelter. The trail wasn't heading their way, however, and took off to contour along a mountainside fifty feet above the valley floor. I scanned the countryside below me, hoping for a grove in which to camp, or large boulders to hide behind. Less than a mile from the gap, I saw a few trees twenty vertical feet from the trail and scrambled down the mountain side to them. Not ideal, particularly with the rodent holes about, but good enough. There might be something further down the trail, but it was unlikely to be close and I was cold. This would do.

Sitting under my tarp, in my sleeping bag, I listened to the wind flap at my tarp. It had shifted a bit and I was catching some of it from the side, which mildly annoyed me. The temperature was in the upper 40s now and I ran the numbers again to see if I could make Snoqualmie for an evening rest. I didn't want a day off or even a half day. Just a warm night with a shower, food, beer, and some softness. The world was purple once more and I hoped that with the ending of the light the wind might settle down. It worked that way, frequently, in the mountains. Otherwise, well, nothing. My tarp flapped away and the pole holding it up was occasionally thrown into a fit by a blast of wind, but I didn't worry over it. Closing my eyes and thinking of a warm place, I slowly drifted off to sleep, surprisingly content, despite my desires for the future.

It was cold and I was tired when I broke camp shortly after 6 am, with a grey sky and the same winds that had kept me up portions of the night. The lack of sleep was my own fault, as I should have found a better place to camp rather. The weather I could not blame on myself, but nonetheless I started walking north again into the Norse Peak wilderness in something of a funk. After the blazing heat of Northern California and Oregon, a temperature in the mid 50s was just a little cold for my bones. I thought about where the section hiking family might be today and why I never saw the son again. He had passed me, but I had not re-passed him, and it was unlikely that the family would break apart on the first day out. The trail continued to contour along the side of the mountain that rose up out of Sourdough Gap, though after a mile from where I camped the contour hit another gap where there was plenty of camping available, all nicely sheltered, with a pleasant carpet of pine to provide cushioning and a nice aroma for the camper. Navigating my way down the partially forested trail, I munched on small handfuls of blueberry granola, my only lunch for the day apart from the gummy snacks. The bag was large and it would last the day, but I knew that it would grow monotonous at some point later in the day, probably when I was tired and grouchy. The cold of yesterday and today were putting thoughts into my head about Snoqualmie. It was nearly seventy miles from where I camped to Snoqualmie Pass, a distance that I might be able to cover by tomorrow night. If I could make Snoqualmie by the early evening, I would have a bit of warmth and softness that I had not planned on. I hated to race anything, but the idea kept coming into my head. Just a little further today, take shorter breaks, hike long. The balance would swing periodically, and antipodal thoughts would come inside: Walk slow, enjoy your time, camp when you want to.

A father and two boys were walking up the trail, coming from the north, wearing bright, blaze orange vests. The two boys each had substantial packs for their size and were carrying shotguns, obviously unloaded, whereas the father had no gun and only a small pack. I stopped to chat with them and their cheer made me warm up a bit to the day. They had been out for a few days enjoying the area, but seemed to have shot nothing. The guns might have been only an excuse to go out into the wilderness for a spell, to gain something back that society had temporarily deprived them of. The father had the cool look of one who was accustomed to, and comfortable in, the outdoors. Many people that I had seen this summer (and on other trips) have a sense that it is a constant struggle to stay alive when you are in the wild. That might be true in some places, but in areas where people mostly go, it is not. The father was relaxed and calm and his sons seemed to be absorbing some of this from him. Only they were far, far more beaming this morning. The relative exoticness of the place, the freedom and lack of constraint, these were things that appealed to young boys for whom life is fresh and new. They would never leave the wild, no matter how much the outside world might want them to. They were also one of the few groups that didn't ask me the usual questions, that didn't want to know how much my pack weighed or if I ever twisted an ankle wearing running shoes. It was with a grin on my face that we parted.

The Norse Peak Wilderness seemed to be a popular place in August, as I quickly ran into a large group of Boy Scouts sitting by the side of the trail, looking tired but happy, with two adult leaders, looking very tired and less happy. The adults were chunky, out of shape, soft. Their overlapped their belts on their pants and the group as a whole provided a powerful contrast with the three hunters earlier. One group was always in the outdoors, learning and living and generally getting along fairly well. The others went out for car camps once a month, with maybe a long trip during the summer time. The outdoors were the primary place for one, the secondary place for the other. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, just as my appearance last evening indicated to the old man that I wasn't having a good time. Fresh from my encounter with the hunters, I tried to share some of the energy with the scouts and talked vigorously about my trip. The scout troop, as a whole, was trying to section hike most of the PCT. This summer they were hiking north from White Pass to Stampede Pass, a distance of 80 miles. This was, I thought, somewhat amazing for Boy Scouts. Eighty miles through semi-difficult terrain for those unused to the outdoors and carrying far too much weight was tough. To get through would teach the Scouts, and their leaders, far more than four twenty mile backpacks. The mental confidence and strength it would give them, if it didn't break them entirely, would be profound, and I wished them well. They were somewhat incredulous when I told them that I had left White Pass yesterday morning, but I gave them every assurance that I was neither running nor flying on the trail. Just hiking long.

The trail continued to bob up and down and around and around as I munched on the granola. A microscopic handful every now and then gave me the constant energy level that was so necessary for me now. Being hungry was worse than being lost, and I was determined to be neither, at least until I flew home, when I would be merely lost. Shortly after meeting the first group of Scouts, I met a second group, heading south bound on the trail to White Pass. They had started at Stampede Pass and were heading to White Pass. Ambitious scouts out here in the Pacific Northwest, I thought. The Scouts themselves must have been fresh off of a break as they were bubbling over with enthusiasm for their daily task of walking. I stopped to talk with the leaders, who were quite properly in the rear, about their trip so far and about the scouts up ahead. The two groups had heard of each other, but had not yet met face to face. The leaders wanted to know if I ever twisted an ankle in my running shoes, to which I responded with my usual, set routine. They were not convinced, of course, but that didn't really matter to either of us. We each parted knowing that we were right and the other was foolish.

Shortly after leaving the second group of scouts I emerged out onto a ridge where the trees had either been cut down or had been knocked down in a land slide. For whatever reason, the area was clear and I could see far out in the distance. I was feeling good after my three encounters this morning and wanted to celebrate some, so I found a rock jutting out into space and had a rest. The Scouts came to my mind over and over again. I thought back to when I was a Scout and tried to compare the two experiences. My troop had concentrated on camping once a month from September to December (December was a camp in a heated cabin) and February to April. The camping trips usually left on a Friday night after the adult leaders finished worked and were within a few hours of the Chicago-land area. We would pull into a state park or forest and set up camp in a front country campground. The next day the scouts were free to roam about the land as they saw fit, with little supervision or other structure to get in the way of our good time. We didn't even have maps. Just a desire to go somewhere and do something. The adults sometimes hiked close us, other times they disappeared entirely. Two or three hours from Chicago doesn't get you particularly close to anything interesting, but it was the best the troop could do. During Spring Break, in late March and early April, the older, more experienced Scouts would go on something called the "Spring Stroll". This was an honest backpack of three to five days, also within a few hours of Chicago. I even planned it one year: A bold walk along the Illinois-Michigan Canal. Summers consisted of two weeks at a summer camp in Wisconsin. A trip to the International Scout Jamboree happened once. "Big Trips" were planned for future summers, although these consisted of boat cruises in Florida or attending the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I had left Scouting before these big trips came, bored and stupefied with the weekend camping and no longer carrying about Scout Camp. The monthly camping trips had changed by then as I had grown older. My desires had changed, but so had the trips. Whereas we were once free and wild, later I, and the other older Scouts, were expected to look after the younger ones, which put a severe crimp in our own plans. The camping trips were not worth it, anymore, so I left Scouting, only a service project away from Eagle Scout, the top rank a boy can earn. It would be eight years before I would return to the wild.

After seeing, this summer, how much wild and open and free land there was in the West, I questioned the sanity of any Troop that would pay money to get on a waiting list for a lottery to attend two weeks at Philmont. Why not take the money, buy some communal gear, and head to the millions upon million acres of public lands in the West? North of Philmont were the San Juans and the Weminuche wilderness in southern Colorado. Could Philmont stand up to that? Was Philmont any better than, say, the John Muir Trail? Could a boat cruise in Florida compare with a hike of Central Washington along the PCT? The answer was no, in all cases. That I thought such Troops foolish didn't really matter, though. It was their time and they could spend it was they wished. At least some of them had the right idea, though.

I had long since started walking north again, heading for Canada and the end of the summer. I had passed several groups of horsepackers sitting around campfires or chatting away and I barely acknowledged their presence, so deep in thought and memory was I. I scooped up a little water from a snow melt stream next to one of the horse camps, surprising the equestrians as I filled up my waterbag and then drank straight from it without treating or filtering the water. A dark scowl on my part hopefully imparted my desire that they had kept their stock away from the water. I kept walking, the scowl on my face departing from me as soon as the horse packers were out of sight. Mist was rolling in, darkening the land around me, and rain seemed likely. It was past noon, and I still had yet to remove my rain jacket. Snoqualmie was looking nicer and nicer for an evening stop. Indeed, I started thinking about the exact plan I would follow once I got to town. Should I get a room first, and then eat, or eat and then find a room? Did I want a can of beer while I showered, or should I wait until later? Resupply in the evening, or in the morning? When things such as these are your major concerns, life is very, very good.

Two old men, perhaps in their mid 70s, were sitting on top of the forested gap when I came up from below, out of the mist. They were backpacking with appropriately sized packs, barely larger than mine. In running shoes and looking generally fit, they were out for the weekend and were now heading back to their car. They were tired, as they should be, but had survived the weekend without losing the joy of the outdoors, without crushing that which they were looking for in the process of searching for it. I left the old men quickly and begin powering through the hilly lands ahead. The trail had many short up and down climbs in the 500 or 1000 foot range. These would be major climbs on something like the Appalachian trail, but on the PCT they were merely bumps, short hills that you could blast over in twenty or thirty minutes. The grading of the PCT was generally conducive to this, although from my experience on the AT, I did not think the PCT was graded that much more gently than the AT. AT hikers were soft, I thought in a moment of snobbery. Partying, soft, weak fools, my ego pronounced. I was a rockstar, a superstar, a hiking hero, it belted out into my head. I quickly returned to reality and dismissed such thoughts as the arrogance that they were and simply returned to my own hike, hoping that the AT hikers this summer were enjoying their time on the trail as much as I was mine.

The mist began to lift as I dropped off the mountain and by the time I arrived at "Camp Urich," it was downright sunny and pleasant. Camp Urich was a cabin built in a meadow and was used by snowmobilers, equestrians, and hikers alike, three groups that traditionally dislike each other. A sign on the front of the cabin loudly pronounced that the ghost of Big Mike Urich protected this area, and any who disgraced it with litter or other unseemly behavior, such as cutting down trees, would have his phantom to deal with. I thought this quiet the place to stop for lunch, not only because it was a structure in a pleasant place, but also because there was a stream next to it and an outhouse. I fetched water and started my usual routine, scrubbing out my socks in the stream as the water boiled for my potatoes. Inside the shelter I found part of a Fresno Bee newspaper. Fresno? California? It was dated from early July, but I didn't find this particularly off-putting. The news from a month ago would be mostly as current as the news from today. A man had attacked shoppers in a grocery store with a samurai sword. Arnold was now expected to defeat Grey in the recall election. The Israeli's were handing over control of some parts of the occupied territories to the Palestinian Authority. I read and stirred my potatoes simultaneously. The daughters of the section hiking family had produced another miracle. Remembering my flinging of the potatoes back in southern Oregon, I had not expected terribly much from their potatoes. However, I had underestimated the gourmet qualities of the daughters. The instant potatoes were seasoned with a large helping of quality dried vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, corn, peas, and others. A packet or two of some sort of creamy soup had been added, along with cheese powder. The result was a silky smooth concoction that I might have eaten in the outside world, back in my home in Indiana. I savored eat spoonful, not because it would provide me with the energy I needed, but because the taste was so immaculate. I finished up the pot of potatoes as I finished the last bits of the newspaper and thought again about leaving a message for the daughters begging them to marry me, or at least sending food for the rest of my trip to Canada. But, Big Mike Urich would not look favorably upon my leaving a message that could only end up as litter, and I did not want a ghost to haunt me. Besides, I had no idea where the family was hiking to, having either never been told or having forgotten already. So, instead, I packed up and started hiking into a place that I had been fearing for the past few days.

The guidebook had pictures. Other journals that I had read over the previous year had pictures and laments. But none were enough to give a true sense of the destruction that had been wrought upon this land. Whole mountain sides had been laid bare, though always in a cute fashion that left some trees on top, and some on the sides. Clear cuts done in a fashion so that companies could point and say, "Look, we didn't take all the trees. We are not guilty of clear cutting!" Slope after slope of dusty, brown hillsides where once green forests had stood. A battered and broken land, with stumps and husks of tree limbs, were almost too much to stand. The fury of the environmentalists seemed somehow justified as I stood at the pass looking across a land that could only now be described as a wasteland.

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It wasn't just in the distance, however, that the clear cuts were performed. I was walking through the result of them. I had nearly unlimited faith in nature to recover from the hand of man, but now I was unsure. I didn't seem too much sign of recovery. No small shoots of trees coming up, nothing but stumps and broken limbs, interspersed with the occasional shrub. I got lost when the trail hit a logging road that I was to walk along, mostly due to a lack of signs and confusing road junctions. Motorcycles, their high, two-stroke engines, could be heard in the hills and I occasionally caught sight of them. I didn't know where I was, but knew that I had to go up to Pyramid Peak, which my map indicated was the tallest thing in the area. I had no problems with trees obscuring the view to the peak or to the horizon. It was the first time this summer in which I wished that I had been forest walking. I followed various roads that seemed to head to the tall mountain, thinking about how this place could have come to pass. Some of the land was private holding, only to revert to the forest service after it had been harvested. Some of the land was probably forest service already. Our country, and others, wanted wood to make products and so wood was found to chop down, forests were found where access was easy and the trees taken without too much expense. Until our society, and others, found a way to exist without wood-products, or with a minimal amount of them, such behavior would continue. I didn't have a solution and so it was hard to condemn the people who had allowed this to happen. Indeed, I was one of those people. We all were, even the environmentalists. For, society as a whole was responsible and none of us could escape judgment simply by writing a manifesto or proclaiming the guilt of another. We were all guilty.

I had eventually picked up the trail again and left, for the moment, the sight of the clear cuts. The day was cooling and I had only a few hours of sunlight left in which to hike. My data book implied that there was a saddle a few hours walk away, and saddles are generally good camping spots. It would leave me with more than 30 miles to Snoqualmie, but I could do that. I didn't want to think about the difficult questions that the forest had forced upon me, and so I pinned my ears back once again and began racing, knowing that it would distract me from the tortured land around me. The forest that I had been walking through gave out quickly to more clear cuts and the only way blazes that could be seen were on the grey stumps of former trees. There was nowhere else to put them.

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I kept my eyes on my feet, not wanting to acknowledge the land around me, to feel its stare of condemnation upon my soul. Mileage errors in the data book compounded upon the problems of the land around me and drove my mood into a dark corner, from which escape seemed impossible. Up to the top of a mountain, down to a valley. Up and down, up and down, my body tiring as my mind grew more and more frustrated. I had no solution and I had no rest. Light began to fade as I reached the logging road just before the saddle, which provided some hope that I might soon be able to sleep and forget, for a little while, what my society had done to our lands. The second road, which held the saddle was reached, though I had no desired to camp at the road itself. Recent ATV and truck tracks could be seen as clearly as the gutted countryside. Beer cans and bits of paper added to the atmosphere of the place, and I felt pity for Big Mike, whose ghost must have been busy. Hopefully he could contract the spirits of Abbey and Muir, King and Mather, to help him in his haunting. There were many people for Urich to visit and I hoped that I might be overlooked for now. Despite the waning light and the cold air, I had to continue on and hope that a flat spot might be reached shortly after the saddle. Unfortunately, the trail climbed up onto the flank of a bare mountain and began contouring. Unless I wanted to camp on the dusty trail, I would have to finish the contour. I was pushing hard in the cool evening air, trying to keep my body warm, as night began to descend upon me. My legs were not tired and my mind was still willing, but the spirit had taken a pounding today. From the highs of the morning to the lows of the evening, today had been a roller coaster for my soul and it needed the rest that sleep would bring. A mile went by and I was still on the mountain side. Another mile and I was still on the mountain's flank. The purple that creeps across the land with the setting of the sun had faded to black as I reached the end of the contour at a thick wood. Thick woods are difficult to camp and so I continued down the trail, now completely in the dark, relying only on my eyes to pick out the trail in front of me.

Eyes that have adjusted slowly to a lack of light are better, in some ways, than having a flashlight. A flashlight separates you from the land around you in the night. With a flashlight, the world ends a few feet from the light source. With well adjusted eyes, even under a dark canopy of trees, the world continues on much further. On a trail across good terrain, a flashlight is unnecessary for walking. Its only real purpose seems to be to give people a little more confidence and to drive away the fear that the uninitiated have about walking in a dark wood. I had no such fears, partially because I knew that I was the dominant predator in the area, but mostly because I was comfortable and sure footed. I could spot the obstructions on the trail far enough in advance not to fall over them and could maintain a three mile per hour pace even in the darkness. I could not, however, see far enough off the trail to find a reasonable campsite and so had to hope that I would reach a clearing in not too long.

By 9:30, I had found what I felt was a clearing and crouched down to feel out the soft pine bed to see if there were any roots or rocks. I tossed a few out and proclaimed this place to be my home for the night. I could see a few stars over head through the trees and was not terribly worried about a storm coming in tonight. I put my tarp next to my groundcloth, ready to be deployed in case of rain and tried to block out the land that I had walked through since leaving Camp Urich. I knew that more of the same was coming, and thought that perhaps I should have continued through the night in a marathon hike to Snoqualmie. Tacoma Pass wasn't too far ahead, and it was just less than 30 miles from there to Snoqualmie. If I walked through the night, I might be able to miss the destruction on the land simply because it was hidden from my eyes. This was the tactic we, as a society, used to avoid facing the problems of our consumption. No, it was better for me to walk with open eyes and see the results. Snoqualmie could wait until after the lesson. Besides, I was tired and needed to rest for a while before tackling the land ahead. I would easily make Snoqualmie tomorrow and most likely would do so in the early evening, giving me plenty of time to be soft and fat. I closed my eyes, and tried to dream of other places, other times, hoping that Big Mike might forgive me for the sins that I, as society, had perpetrated upon the land.

I was moving shortly after 5 after a deep and restful sleep and no visitations from phantoms. It wasn't light out yet, but I had woken and was ready to go. My eyes guided me down the trail and I reached Tacoma Pass by 6 am. Tacoma Pass was simply a gravel road, but just before the road there sat a 5 gallon plastic bucket, with a note on top saying, "For PCT Thruhikers Only." This was one of the rare caches that people put out for hikers. Indeed, this was only the third one, the other two coming at Three Points on the Angeles Crest Highway, and the other just before the Tejon Ranch in the Antelope Valley. I pried off the top to see what goodies were inside. Beer, juice, candy bars, Little Debby snacks. Why did I just walk for another hour to get here last night? A beer would have tasted really good! Damn my laziness for only hiking 35 miles yesterday! There was a register inside explaining who the cache was from and offering advice for the thruhiker. Dewey lived in Seattle and had thruhiked in 2002. He put the cache out two days ago and I was the first to reach it, as Will was now at least five days in front of me. He left the remark, "I know how you are feeling right now." I pondered this for a while and tried to imagine if he really did or not. Was my hike like other's hikes? Were we having the same experiences? Perhaps Dewey was tired and ready to be done with his hike, or maybe he had passed through in late September when it was truly cold and rainy and generally miserable? Perhaps, however, he was referring to something larger, to something that had less to do with the physical state of the thruhiker and more to do with the sense of dread that the end brought. Maybe not. It didn't matter in many ways. I could take Dewey to be all knowing or just to be a man, like any other, as I saw fit. What really mattered was that he had gone out of his way to bring a little pleasure, a little softness, to others' lives, and for that Big Mike might pass him over. I left a note for Sharon in the book, indicating that I would be in Snoqualmie tonight, safe and warm and clean, while she would be in the woods, cold and smelly. A taunt, but also a letter to the past. I ate several fun size candy bars and several of the Little Debby Swiss Cake rolls and once again thanked Dewey for his kindness and forethought. He had even stashed several gallons of water for hikers, as the trail ahead was fairly waterless. I didn't need the water as I had been hauling a lot from the last spring near the logging road where I got lost. But, I appreciated the thought of the water nonetheless.

I crossed over the Tacoma Pass road as the world began to light up around me and reveal more of the tortured land around me. I was pushing myself at this point, no longer caring about the journey. Today's destination was all that I cared about at this point. That and trying to keep my eyes open as much as I could. I tried to see the beautiful in the broken land, but it was difficult. Fireweed, a very pretty but fragrantless plant, was everywhere. Fireweed is one of the very first plants to return to a land that had been scraped bare, whether by fire or by chainsaw, and it gave the land a gaudy, painted appearance. Mount Rainer hulked up in the clear light of the early morning and I got my first full, unobstructed view of it from the top of a sandy, clear slope that ran next to another logging road. For me, Mount Rainer was the Goat Rocks or Sourdough Gap. I could not appreciate it from a sand box and so continued my push. The trail would occasionally leave the fireweed and the broken stumps for a brief drive through a forest, but these breaks were always short. I was working hard and my body felt it, as both my lungs and my legs were tiring already. I cleared Stampede Pass and walked along various sequences of power lines before returning to the woods for a good, long spell of forested walking. Bouncing up and down, the trail was exacting a toll upon my body for my pace. Each foot of elevation gain was grudgingly given, only slightly more so than a foot of loss. I wanted a flat trail, nothing more. I dropped down through the woods, entering the watershed of one of the major suppliers of water for the Seattle metropolitan area. Signs warned me of disturbing the land and the creek. I spit upon eat one, wishing the signs had been planted in the clear cuts before they had been cleared. I raced across the bottom lands and passed a lake with a tent in a flash before tackling the other side. This would be the last long climb of the day, and I forced it with strength that my legs no longer had, going only on mental will. Both my body and my spirit were united against my mind and kept shouting for me to slow down, to take a more normal pace. My mind, however, was dominant and put them down with a low snub, "You'll thank me for this in a few hours."

The climb ended, for the moment and I began a contour around the shores of sparkling Mirror Lake. An alpine gem, this should have been a place to stop and rest. "No," my mind said, "damn your lazy arse, get to the top of the next climb!" And so I continued past the lake, crossing its swampy headwaters to get to the climb on the other side. "Keep moving! Just think of now nice Snoqualmie will be! You can take a break at the top, dummy!" Up and up I went, mechanically, before finally my mind let my body take a rest. It was cool already, and it wasn't even four o'clock. I didn't have much further to go and it looked like I would make Snoqualmie by 6 pm, just in time for dinner. I could relax a little now, I thought, with this last long climb done. There were several other short ones, 300 feet here, 400 there, but the hard part of the day was finished. The chill brought me out of my rest spot and forced me down the trail. I needed to walk to stay warm, but the more I walked the more tired I became. With my spirit quiet after having been shouted down all day by my mind, walking was becoming difficult. The only purpose was the destination, and this is a terrible way to conduct even a few moments of one's short life. Still, I walked, heading ever north and hoping for a flat trail.

I burst out into the open once more, although not because of a clear cut. The trail was ran though meadows for a while before joining a gravel road. There were cars parked here, fancy, shining cars. A 40,000 dollar Audi was parked next to a brand new Subaru, complete with a raised hood air induction system to feed its motor with oxygen. I had passed a few day hikers but not enough to warrant this number of cars. Several SUVs of the mammoth variety were scattered along the road, next to hulking pick up trucks with camper shells. Where could they all be? The sky was clear blue, but the wind was up and clouds raced by every now and then. I could feel the storm coming as surely as my legs could feel the accumulated mileage of the day. The trail led down the gravel road and my body was beginning to fight back against my mind. The spirit was quiet and still, not wishing to engage in any more battles with the dominant mind, happy to wait for tomorrow. I was tired and could no longer ignore the fact. My pace slowed as I turned off the road and went back into the woods. The clear cuts were gone and I was back in a living thing again. Creeks were slowly walked across, my legs unable to give enough power for a leap. Less than two miles from Snoqualmie, I had to stop again. A small lake with a comfortable boulder for a backrest provided the opportunity as my mind caved in and assented to the break. Taking a good rest before arriving for the night was always a good plan. It assured me that I would reach my destination feeling somewhat refreshed and not broken down. I ate the last of the Chex Mix that I had been snacking on through the day and polished off my final fun-sized Snicker's bar that I had taken from Dewey's exquisite cache. And I sat and did nothing, hoping to summon a little more strength from my body for the thirty minutes it would take me to reach town.

Standing on top of a knoll, after the long, slow walk from the lake, I gazed down upon the object that had been driving me all day long. I had wasted a day on the trail for this object. Had wasted a day of my life. Snoqualmie no longer seemed like such a worthy goal, but now that I was here, and now that storm clouds were rolling down the mountainsides in force, I could not ignore it. I had covered thirty miles in 11 hours, including breaks. It wasn't even six and here I was, with softness within my reach. I hesitated, there on the knoll, before starting the long descent down the mountainside. Two hikers were coming up under heavy packs and they stopped where I was to talk. They were out on a shakedown hike before starting north from Snoqualmie with the goal of making Stehekin or Canada. Looking down at the town, I asked them if it really was as small as it looked from up here, which brought a laugh from them. One offered to buy me a beer when they got back down and that I should ask for a special, hiker rate at the Best Western, the only hotel in town. Snoqualmie was a ski town, which meant high rates in the season. However, it was also ideally located for summer hikers, which meant that the season probably extended year round. The beer-offering hiker thought that I might be able to get a room for $40, which I thought unlikely, but hoped for anyways. They continued over the knoll, heading to the lake that I had rested at. And so I began the walk down the slopes to town.

Part of the way down I came across two dayhikers heading into town and stopped, once again, to talk. The fire that had driven me all day to get to Snoqualmie was long since dead and I felt no rush to get in. I answered one question after another with the set replies that I always give. Yes, I use an alcohol stove. I built it by cutting off the bottom two inches of a beer can. I buy fuel at gas stations or supermarkets. I don't twist my ankles even though I'm wearing running shoes. My pack weighs 10-12 lbs without food or water. I buy food in the towns that I come across, usually 3-5 days apart. I work at a university, which is how I got the time off this summer. I'm averaging about 25 miles a day, but have been averaging more like 30 a day since leaving South Lake Tahoe. I hated answering these questions, but wanted to put on a cheery face for the day hikers, who lived just outside of town. We parted and I ran out ahead, even with my slowed pace. The trail gave out at a parking area and I started the short walk into town as the day hikers got in their car and drove in. I didn't get upset about not being offered a ride in. Indeed, I always liked a short walk into a town as it allows a certain perspective that isn't gained from riding. As I crossed the main road into town, passing the various ski lift areas, I saw there car come out of the parking lot of a small store and head toward me. Just before I reached the Best Western, they pulled onto my side of the road and a window rolled down. Coming by a 3 miles per hour, a hand was extended out, holding a brown paper sack. I took the hand off and could feel what it was. I grinned and waved at them as they went by and looked inside to see what kind of beer they had bought me. A 24 oz. can of Coors Light looked back at me, and the question of whether or not I would have a beer while I showered was taken care of.

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I walked into the Best Western and gazed around at its opulence. I had walked almost 230 miles between showers and was quiet filthy. I only noticed the filth, really, when I went inside and asked the young woman at the front desk if they had any rooms available and if they might have a PCT hiker rate. Yes on both accounts and it would only cost me $65. I grimaced, as I didn't really want to pay that much. But, I had no other choice if I wanted to break the hardness of living outdoors with a little softness. I took the room, handing over my credit card, and tried to make small talk with the woman. "You sure are lucky you didn't come in last weekend," she said. "The place was booked full for a wedding and there wasn't a room to be had," she added. I managed a smile and a thank you and went off to my room.

Two queen sized bed and a larger than normal bathroom greeted me, along with a large television and a TV guide. Within seconds my clothes were off and the Coors Light open. I was waiting for the water to run hot and glanced at myself in the mirror. Laughter filled the room as I gazed upon my body. A thick, wild beard combined with a heavily tanned face a neck, connected to a stark white trunk. My arms below the shoulder were deeply tanned and my legs below the knee were of such a color that I cannot describe it. A base of tanned flesh combined with such an accumulation of dirt gave my legs a color that was not brown, nor black, but rather some sort of amalgamation that should not occur naturally. Yet, it had. All I had done to gain it is go for a walk. I got into the shower with my can of beer, taking care not to get any of the water into its wide-mouth opening, and started scrubbing down in between sips. At home I generally shower in less than five minutes, but now it was taking me more like 20. I was almost finished with the beer when I came out of the shower, mostly clean, though still with grimy achilles.

I dressed and put my filthy clothes in the sink to soak for a while as I headed off to the restaurant in the hotel, sans beer, which was now in the garbage can. Feeling and smelling clean, I sat in a booth and watched the rain came down, thinking of Sharon. I ordered the meatloaf plate and a pint of beer, thanking my mind for driving me here today. Even if most of a day had gone by without much interest, I was now able to sit where it was warm and dry and watch the rain come down. Sharon was on my mind as I worked on the salad that came with the meatloaf and ordered another pint. She was being rained on right now, and would probably be rained on all night long. The meatloaf came out with my second pint and I forgot, partially, about her as I attacked the pile of food on my plate. I had never before had bacon wrapped meatloaf, but it tasted so good that I wondered why the practice was not more wide spread. I ordered the blackberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert and held off on another pint as the rain kept coming down. A Greyhound bus pulled up to the gas station next to me. As an ominous sign, I thought about how easy it would be to get on the bus and head somewhere, anywhere. I had no actual thoughts of leaving the trail, but at the same time knew that it was a good thing that I didn't see the bus until I was clean, warm, and well fed.

With my belly full I returned to my room briefly before heading out to the convenience store to resupply. The rain was coming down very softly now and I strolled across the parking area thinking about how fortunate my life had turned out. No one could have predicted that I would be here, right now, in Snoqualmie, Washington, doing this beautiful thing. It made me proud that my life was a little unpredictable, that too much structure had not yet been placed on it. I was free to do as I saw fit, without a crushingly stultifying job to deal with, without a wife and children to consider before myself. I wasn't trapped, yet, and hoped I never would be.

I tossed the several sacks of food onto my bed and extracted the beer that I had purchased before starting the process of washing my clothes. I had only socks, underwear, a t-shirt, and shorts to work over, but this took a while to do. The better part of the news was past and I was still scrubbing away. Some inane movie played while I repackaged all of my supplies, tossing away the extra plastic and cardboard to get everything into small ziplock bags and thought about the clear cuts again. I was done with my chores by 9 and was happily drinking away watching the television. At 9:30, the phone rang. I didn't have to pick it up, as I knew that only one person knew that I would be here. Sharon's voice rang clear and true over the phone. I told her the room number and opened the door for her before returning to the bed. She came in, as filthy as I, and we exchanged our usual greetings of mirth. I was honestly surprised to see her. She had found my note at Tacoma pass in Dewey's register and had hiked more than 40 miles to get here tonight. She had been close to me over the past few days, but had not been able to catch me as I had put in more mileage than expected in the Mount Adams area. My resupply in White Pass was quick, whereas she had to take some time to do it. She might have caught me today if I had not been trapped contouring last night. I kept talking and talking, spewing forth everything that had been kept inside of me for the past week. She was hungry and had to eat before the restaurant closed and so cut the conversation off.

Thirty minutes later she was back and I put forth a barrage of questions and comments before she could cut me off again. I was, I suppose, a little lonely, she thought. She hadn't seen me so animated before on the trail, but had to buy food for the next leg before the store closed. And so I was left again for a while. When she returned twenty minutes later with her own food and a few more beers for me, my assault continued, although more subdued. At this point, I knew that I would see her at the end of the trail, if not before. I would outrun her to the point where she would not catch up. I was happy that Cascade Locks was not our final parting and perhaps this feeling was what brought forth my yammering. It was midnight, and we were both tired. I turned the light off and went to sleep, in my soft, warm, bed, knowing that my friend would be there in the morning.