Day 169 – 173 Skykomish to Steheiken

Day 169 26.08.18 19miles / 30km 

Having one last breakfast with trail angel Jerry Dinsmore we stuff ourselves full at the buffet trying one of everything from the only cafe in Skykomish.  

Out the front of the cafe we meet a couple full of questions about thru hiking so offer Spiceman and I a lift to the trail so we can keep chatting.   Four Eyes had already started on the trail and the others weren’t ready yet but being the slow one in the group I accepted the head start.  

It starts drizzling on the drive and by the time we reached the trailhead we needed rain jackets and pack covers.  Spiceman and I promptly got lost in the car park and after circling for a minute or so got started with the help of Guthook.  

This was only my fourth day of hiking in the rain this whole trail, so I really wasn’t used to it.  Before I knew it, my wet shorts were chaffing and my hands were freezing.  Spiceman was just as cold.  We eventually got to where we all agreed to meet though no one was there.  With it getting late and being so cold we decide to stop anyway.  We were nearly set up when Ray arrived (hooray) though everyone else seemed to have missed the turn which we also overshot then turned back. 

We quickly got in our sleeping bags and ate chocolate until we felt warm again.

Day 170 27.08.18 29miles /46.6km 

With only nine days left in my Visa I was running to a tight schedule.  We got up early and I immediately felt grateful for the windy night that dried my tent and took the rest of my gear from dripping to merely damp.  I pre-emptively put on tights for my poor chaffed thighs and packed up.  

Washington is so beautiful it attracts far more section hikers.  As a result, they have great trail management systems and drop toilets.  They are basic wooden chairs over a hole that offered no screen or privacy, but I truly felt like a queen on a throne that morning enjoying my morning poop on a whole new level.  Take a rest quads, let’s enjoy this view.

Since it was an uphill day Ray decided to hike his pace and meet me at camp.  I was disappointed to not be spending the day together but understood how hard it is to hike slower than your usual pace, especially uphill.  Luckily Spiceman walked with me and we chatted all day.  Every now and then I’d be desperate to be at the top and go to check Guthook, only to hear Spiceman chime out behind me “Don’t check, we’re going up girl”.   Despite the tough terrain it was a beautiful day.  The smoke was lifting and panoramic views showed the trail skirting around the mountains for miles.   Marmots began to reappear though this time a grey colour which matched the rocky landscape around us.   They were also far more curious.  They would sit right next to the trail and freeze as we walked past hoping we’d think they were a rock, then call out to their mates once we’d passed.  They aren’t nearly as discrete as they think they are, but I was thrilled to be so close to my favourite animals on trail again. 

Spiceman was due to get off trail soon for a wedding so sussed out his exit with passing rangers and decided to still walk with me the few miles to camp then double back tomorrow.  As it got later the campsite was still close enough to keep walking, but far enough that we had to hike in the dark.  As dusk hit the trail turned to a muddy swamp.  All I could think of was the movie Labyrinth as we walked through the smelly marshy maze of fallen trees and overgrown raspberry bushes.  After a few wrong turns following clearings that were not the trail we got out our head torches and checked Guthook at every turn.   Wearing a head torch made my confused lefts and rights very obvious keeping Spiceman entertained.  He’d call out to turn right, and watch as my headlight panned to the left.  He’d call out “Other right” and I’d be on my way.

Exhausted from the long day we reach camp at 9pm, slightly disappointed the others were asleep we quickly eat and immediately fall asleep too.  

Day 171 28.08.18 29miles / 46.6km 

The sound of mice scurrying around woke us up at 2am.  I double check my food isn’t against a tent wall and Spiceman moved his food bag inside to stop them rustling around, we then fall straight back asleep again.

So tired I forgot to set my alarm, Ray woke us up at 7am and waited until 7:30am for me.  Damn it.  I had a huge 50km (30 mile) day ahead with about 3000m (9850 feet) worth of elevation change, and I was starting it late.

I said goodbye to Spiceman who I’d very quickly become very attached to, then dashed up the trail to catch up with Ray who was now five minutes ahead.

We’d heard the bridge ahead was damaged and can be hard to cross when the river runs high, so it was nice to find Ray waiting there as promised.  The bridge had totally snapped in the centre, dipping down into the water, but luckily it wasn’t deep enough to need to get wet.  

After crossing with me Ray took off up the hill living up to his trail name Sea Biscuit.  I, on the other hand, just couldn’t get momentum and made my way very slowly up the mountain.  Feeling slightly defeated I reached the top and saw couple Katie and Stephen who we’d been hiking around for the last few days.  Looking around I take in the dramatic views of mountains and trail and distant peaks.

Katie “Do you see our switchbacks?” 
Me: “oh shiiiit, we’re badass”

(Note switchbacks in below picture down and up the clearing in the other side)

Feeling drained I decide to stop at the top for an early lunch of wraps and the biscotti spread (like a buttery crunchy Nutella) that Spiceman left me with.  Katie and Stephen soon left, so I ate on my own while taking in the beauty of the location.  Just wow.  There was a steep descent to the bottom of the Valley and then the trail promptly climbs back up the other side.  My next destination was within eye level of where I was, and I wished for an imaginary bridge to take me there.  I knew it would be a tough climb, and I was upset about the long day ahead, so I packed up and got on with it.

After a few hours of hiking I eventually got down and back up the valley, distressed knowing I had 16km (10miles) to camp and it was already 5pm. I was so mad.  I never expected to feel so angry on the trail but I was fuming.  I was mad at myself.  For agreeing to do such a long day, for finishing so close to the end of my Visa, and for being mad at myself in the first place.  I was angry at the trail for leading me through the Northern Cascades when I was exhausted, at the fire for destroying my dream of finishing the PCT the way every other successful hiker has gotten to, I was mad that I had what it took but it still wasn’t enough to see the Northern Terminus.  All kinds of negative talk and nasty words were flung at me from my inner voice.  “You can’t do this, you can’t walk another 16km (10miles) today”. I found myself answering out loud “Yes I can, I did it yesterday”, then realised I’d finally lost it and was not only talking to myself but arguing.  I felt myself unravelling, I was struggling to keep it together.

After stopping to filter more water I passed two day hikers which was the confidence boost I needed.  It felt nice to be reminded of my pace, but it didn’t stop the hot streaming tears as I took up a jog on the downhill sections.  Reaching the bottom of the hill I felt a sharp pain through my right knee.  It was a familiar overuse pain of my Iliotibial band (ITB) which I’d experienced when endurance racing a few years prior.  I dropped my pack, sat down and cried.  “What have I done?  Why now? I’m so close”.  Limping on my sore strained left quad had been putting too much strain on my now dominant right leg.  I promptly took more Advil than advisable, picked myself up and kept walking.  I had 5km (3miles) to camp where I could then rest, and it was getting dark.  I put my head torch on and headphones in and pushed for a power walk, trying not to scan through the shadows between trees while feeling particularly vulnerable. 

I eventually made it to camp at 9pm.  I was wrecked.  Two consecutive 50km (30mile) days, and two nights of not enough sleep to recover.  I ate my mashed potato cold, prepped the next day’s breakfast and snacks, and fell asleep hoping I had set myself up for a better day tomorrow.

Day 172 29.08.18 22miles / 35km 

Waking up to my alarm at 5am I discover I’d gotten my period for only the third time this trip.  Through over exercise it was down to every second month which was incredibly convenient…except for right now.

I packed up and was ready to leave at 6:20am when I realised I could only see Four Eye’s tent.  A sadness washed over me as I realised the others didn’t wait for me.  They weren’t to know of my hard day yesterday, and we are all at the point where we just want to finish, so I could see why they’d push for miles if they had it in them, but I was discouraged that I couldn’t keep up.  I said a brief hello and goodbye to Four Eyes which was nice and learnt our periods had weirdly synced up with hers starting that morning too.

I used my lingering anger to push myself up the trail.  My inner voice soon started up again “You can’t catch Ray.  Four Eyes will pass you soon, you can’t stay ahead for long”. I reply out loud “Yes I can, watch me”.  I eat my last two chocolate bars from Goat and try to ride the sugar high as I climb uphill towards our next fire detour.  The scenery was beautiful. It was mossy and green with streams everywhere.  In a strange defeated way, the smell of smoke in the air had become a comforting smell of the trail.  I stopped to gather my thoughts, marvelled at how frazzled I felt while in such a calm place.  I had officially spent too long on my own, feeling fragile and unsupported in such a frantic section of trail where everything was spiralling beyond my control.  

After 19km (12miles) I sat and waited for Four Eyes so we could walk and talk to take my mind off it.  Forty minutes passed and she still hadn’t shown so I figured she was having a slow day too and kept moving. 

Now at the junction of the fire closure I head off down the reroute on my own.  It started to sprinkle as soon as I left the trail, as I seemingly walked away from the sunshine and under a cloud.  In the distance I could see the smoke from the fire on trail which we were now avoiding.  Instantly the path turned from smooth dirt lined with huckleberries to giant rocky steps and crumbling loose rock that I had to scramble up.   “What the hell is this?  Is it seriously going to be like this for the next 19km (12miles)?”.  I promptly lost all speed and watched as the tiny specks of Katie and Stephen got closer until they finally caught up to me near the peak of our climb.  Walking together we gasped as we took in the unexpected views of mountains and glaciers and lake runoffs.  Just wow, I mentally take back everything nasty I thought about the detour.  A few minutes later Four eyes appears and we both sit absorbed in the information about the surrounding mountains that Stephen shares having hiked there before.  

We were all feeling drained and defeated with the fires and detours and general Northern Cascades exhaustion.  We stop for a quick lunch while taking in the view and get moving again after what felt like a short 20mins.  We walk together chatting, I learn Katie and Stephen are both doctors and avid hikers and mountain bikers.  Four Eyes falls behind so I say goodbye to Katie and Stephen and drop back to hike and chat with Four Eyes, grateful for her interest in extra breaks.

As we dropped further into the valley towards Holden Village it got hotter and hotter meaning snakes started to appear.  After mindlessly passing two I watch Four Eyes casually step over one.

Me: “Jesus Four Eyes, that was a snake!”
Four Eyes: “Oh was it?  I thought it was a stick”
Me: “You’ve got to sort this out if you ever want to visit me in Australia”

Finally arriving at Holden Village we were amazed by the tiny place.  We learn it was an old mining town, but is now a completely off the grid village that operates as a spiritual retreat.   A community notice board encourages people to come to the day’s activities of poetry, yoga, masses and volunteer work of laundry and kitchen shifts.  The whole town of about 100 people (including guests) eats together in the dining hall, which hikers can join in on for $12.50 per meal.  The food was amazing, all locally grown or sourced from within the village, and every option in the buffet was made with love.  The extensive herbal tea collection blew our minds, resulting in us being the most hydrated we’ve probably been for weeks.

Dorothy was a volunteer in the village and joined us at our table.  Strangers speak to each other as friends, and Dorothy told us all about her role in the kitchen chopping the carrots and baking the bread.  Aged in her 70s she wore homemade dresses with matching bandanas, and I was surprised how with it she was for such a remote community.

Not wanting to double back too far into the bush to camp, Four Eyes and I ventured back to outskirts of the village and found a tucked away spot to stealth camp amongst the ruins of old house foundations left to crumble back when this place was used for mining.  It looked totally haunted, there was the recent bear sighting and the many snakes, but weirdly, my tent still felt like my safe little home where nothing was out to get me.  Together Four Eyes and I chatted and laughed all night, high on herbal teas and stuffed full from the buffet.  

I’m amazed how much my day turned around and fell asleep grateful for this beautiful place and the chance to re-centre myself.

Day 173 30.08.18 5miles / 8km 

Allowing ourselves a sleep in we wake up at 7:30am, pack up our tents and walk back into town for the buffet breakfast.  The choices were amazing, but I’d only had one craving, toast.  So, five slices later I decided to also try some fresh yogurt and berries since everyone else’s looked so great.  I marvelled at how much I now eat, I wasn’t even uncomfortably full.  We then made sandwiches for lunch (7 slices of bread in a day eek) and planned our day.  Ray passed straight through town and kept hiking to our last town, Stehieken.  We however, weren’t too worried about off trail miles so opted for the ferry there.  Ultimately, I was tired and sore.  I felt comfortable missing a day’s hiking, so made the most of the day guilt free.

We had a quick shower and I notice my left pinky toenail fell off.  It was bound to happen, but it had been a point of pride of mine that I’d hiked with all my nails intact, but now so close to the end it had finally happened.  A small part of me felt like a “real” hiker now.  Though five months’ worth of constant blisters and plantar fasciitis had already well and truly proven I was.

Together with Four Eyes, Speedy, Katie and Stephen we catch the bus to the ferry and have lunch in the shade admiring the view. Being in towns that are only accessible by boat or foot was serene.  It’s a special type of person it attracts, and the surrounding nature is seemingly untouched.   On the boat ride over Four Eyes and I laugh the whole way, giddy in being so close to the end, rested for a day and truly enjoying ourselves in the wind and water.  As the ferry pulls in, we see Ray waiting on the balcony for us, cheering and holding up welcome beers.   I was glowing with joy to see him.  He hiked the section very quickly and was now ready to slow down and spend the last few days with us.

We went to the post office to collect our final resupplies.  Sorting my food, I leave half of it in the hiker box since the detour for operation walk to Canada was shorter than the trail.  I double check everything is in order, the water taxi and my greyhound bus was booked, Four Eyes booked our permits at the ranger station and using my Garmin InReach I messaged my aunt in Vancouver with my official finish date and when to expect me.  I was uneasy and frustrated since I couldn’t connect to the wifi, I wanted nothing more than to speak with my Sister and Mum and reflect while I was only a few days out from the finish of this six month journey; but made do with information from Ray who could connect with no issue.  

We were finally all packed and ready to go.  We sat at a picnic table looking over maps one last time, drinking a can of Coke before jumping on the bus in an hour which would take us to the trail head.  Then a ranger came up to us and totally changed the course of my final few days on trail, and this whole PCT experience.  
“Are you PCT hikers? I have trail updates for you, the monument is open again”.  

The fire was still burning on trail, but they had found an alternate route around it, adding 20miles to our last leg.

My head was spinning.  This was great news, but I have so much to figure out again now.  There’s no wifi and I had the $200 water taxi and a greyhound ticket to cancel, along with contacting my Aunt to pick me up from Manning Park again, and let my family know my route had changed.   I head to the pay phone and make as many of the calls I can.  I was missing the area numbers for a few places, but Ray soon helped me figure it out.  I call Spiceman and let him know that I wouldn’t see him in Seattle for a celebration dinner like we’d planned. I was stressed, for no real reason at all except for the plan changing…again.  I had gone to so much work to finally be at peace that we won’t get to the monument, and now I have to reverse all that work and get excited again.  My poor head.

While working out our mileage I learn we still have 40km (25mile) days ahead. I comment that I just need an easy day.  I then quickly realise I hadn’t hiked yet at all that day and that I’m in fact just ready to finish.  I’m tired.  My body is tired.  I’m ready for this to be done…I just need to push four more days.  

With the detour taking a day longer we grabbed more food out of the hiker box again, jumped on the bus and then walked 8km (5 miles) to camp.  Ray stayed behind to finish chatting to family, promising to meet us the next morning.  Four Eyes powered ahead, and I had the longest walk ever as I got my head around another changed plan. 

Arriving at the campsite in the dark I quickly set up, put my food in the bear box after hearing how strongly advised it was there, and fall asleep, tired from my “relaxing” day and still processing the news that I’ll be finishing at the monument after all. 

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