My 40-mile day, or how to shake off trail blues

I really felt there was kryptonite in the trail for most of Washington depriving me of my walking super-powers. For hundreds of miles I struggled to get even 20 miles a day. I was contemplating calling Deborah to tell her I would be late to our Rainy Pass meeting when a sudden last burst of energy kicked in. On that last day before Stehekin, I woke up feeling I had a lot of “walking” in me. I wasn’t planning on doing a 40; I just felt like walking fast and far. From my camp below Mica Lake, on the flanks of Glacier Peak, I went down about 1500 feet, back up 3000 feet, down 3700 feet and back up another 4000 feet (so, I had climbed the equivalent of Baker from Sandy camp twice that day before dinner). I stopped at the Suiattle Pass and ate a snack bathed in the golden light of a spectacular sunset over Glacier Peak. That’s when the idea first sprouted. I had already hiked 30 miles, I could just keep on going and do my first 40. It seemed fitting, this was my last full solo hiking day. I could have a grand finish. The next day would be a half day into Stehekin, then another shorter (19 miles) day to Rainy pass, then Deborah would be with me.

That 40 miler was one of the most fun adventures I had the whole trail. It took me another five hours to complete the 40 from Suiattle Pass. I crossed giant boulder fields in the dark, negotiated slippery terrain that glowed silvery in the full moon and relished the clear starry sky. To my right, a moon-backlit cloud flowed over the jagged dark outline of a peak like an ethereal wave. To my left, the interplay of light and dark shadow on the trees bark made them look alive. My friend Ninja believes that trees are mostly asleep during the day and awake at night, when they watch us go by. That is exactly what it felt like. I was walking under the curious eye of the entire forest. The vibe was neither one of approval nor one of disapproval. Curiosity is probably too strong of a word. The trees don’t really care, I think, that we walk among them, but they do notice us in a non-interfering kinda way. As the night got deeper, I had an increasing sense of conclusion to my PCT journey. This was the last stand of a vision quest, a five and a half month vision quest. Had I learned what I had set out to learn? I thought I might be granted a vision, maybe a totem animal to represent my growth progress. I suddenly remembered I was hiking alone in the dark and asked the Universe, aloud, that if a totem animal was to appear, to please have it be nothing large or scary. No sooner had I finished asking that a golden salamander appeared in my head-lamp. It looked exactly like my tattoo. I took a few more steps and found a golden toad, the same size at the salamander. I believe omens and totems always come in three, so I was expecting another small lovely golden animal. It took another half hour before I encountered the third animal.

I came around the corner on a very steep part of the trail to find my way completely blocked by a very large fully spiked-out porcupine. I was startled. My heart was beating so loudly that for a moment I couldn’t think straight. My first reflex was to turn to the full moon and ask “Moon, what do I do!?” It didn’t answer, or maybe it did … right after asking I began singing a Harry Belafonte song to the porcupine. Something about being sad to leave Jamaica. It made sense then, I promise. I am not sure how it affected the porcupine, but singing calmed me instantly. I extended my pole (That) to see if I could persuade it to move off the trail and let me by. It thrashed its tail violently at my pole and lodged several quills deep into the rubber on the tip. I was glad that wasn’t any of my body parts. I saved the quills. It took another fifteen minutes of pole probing and singing before the trail widened enough to allow me to run on by. By then it was almost midnight.

A little while later, I noticed that I was not very stable in my steps. I think by a combination of too few snacks and water-breaks and too many miles walked by the fading light of my head-lamp had left me dizzy. In this state of wobbliness, I came upon a wide wild river. The only bridge was completely destroyed and unusable. I could have slept there and negotiated the crossing with fresh legs in the morning, but no, instead, I found a log a hundred feet or so downstream and decided to cross it. I climbed over the roots and talked out loud to myself before letting go of the safety of this natural vegetation belay. I said “Riiight, so I am about to cross over a raging river on a slippery log, in the dark, on unstable legs, and absolutely no-one knows where I am.” That made me laugh. In fact, I hadn’t felt this alive in a long while. I could probably write a 2000+ word post about how living close to danger makes me feel more alive, but I want to get to the end of this post here, so maybe some other time … I took three full yogic breaths (Sequoia would have been proud of me) and suddenly felt my whole body focused and strong again. I crossed that log as though it were a highway.

With all the excitement of the totem animals, porcupines and log crossing, I hadn’t noticed that my back was soaked. My back had been soaked for a while, but earlier that day I had been pushing some 3.2 to 3.5 mile per hour speed up steep hills, so I had assumed it was sweat. Now it was night and I was walking much slower because my head-lamp didn’t allow me much foresight, and I was still soaked. Horror! After five years of faithful service, my platypus water-bladder had finally turned in its resignation letter. My pack was soaked, my sleeping bag stuffing sack was soaked, my pants were soaked. I wasn’t upset though; I was mostly sad. That platypus had been with me up and down baker at least 17 times, and up Rainier, and to India, and down the Yukon River, and 2580 miles out of 2660 miles of the PCT. The seam was open, I wouldn’t be able to repair it. Also, even if I could have, the drinking tube looked like a corroded artery, the mouth piece was disintegrating and so dark that it would likely have made another hiker than myself sick, the main bag was tinted yellow from bad water and iodine. Once the initial sadness had passed came the realization that it was almost 1 in the morning and that I was going to have to sleep in a wet down sleeping bag. I had a little conversation with the Universe. I said “Is there any chance that my sleeping bag could be dry in there?”, It said “It would take a miracle.” I said, emphatically, “I believe in miracles!” but the Universe said that that would be a big miracle, even for someone with as much faith and magic as me.

I got lost after that. I walked around in the woods for a while. I was still on the trail, so I wasn’t technically lost, but I could not find the camp spot and the water that were marked on my map. There were no other place to stop. I was out of water. Once again, that made me laugh. I felt so tired, and loopy, and alive, and just so damn happy to be having one, possibly last, adventure on the trail. I switched off reasonable mode, reason apparently could not figure out where on hell I was on that map anyway, and switched on intuition mode. I followed my instinct blindly and within fifteen minutes caught sight of a reflecting square in my head-lamp. That was a tent, which meant camp, which meant water. Then all was well. I dropped my pack and located myself on the map – I was exactly 40 miles from where I started that morning, to the first decimal. I ate some of the hunters cheese (see last post) and drank a full liter of water. I had decided that I would sleep in my rain gear to stay warm and just unpack my wet sleeping bag so that it could start drying. When I got the sleeping bag out of its stuff-sack, it was completely dry. I couldn’t believe it, and yet I did, because I do believe in miracles.

It was 1 am by then, I was only 8 miles from Stehekin and feeling a happiness of a magnitude I hadn’t experienced since the early days in the desert. I felt rejuvenated and walked much stronger for the rest of the trail to Canada after that day. Spending three hours at the Stehekin Bakery also helped ….

… Still more to tell … but this is all for now.
XOX – TheBobcat.

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3 thoughts on “My 40-mile day, or how to shake off trail blues

  1. Wow.. I could have written this post, it’s so nearly identical to my experience in WA section K …Less the porcupine and the happy hunters, I’m glad to hear someone else gave up trying to make sense of how long it took to make the miles pass, or how the trees took on a personality all their own at night, or the thoughts turned morbid at having to sleep through a cold wet night with wet down feathers. Oh yes, even my faithful, aged Platy retired on those last nine miles to Stehekin, and I wouldn’t have noticed except that I’d finally worked up a dry mouth from dreaming of eating a fat, juicy hamburger at Stehekin.

    Thanks for sharing.. I’m in awe of your super human abilities.

    Like

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