PCT WA Section J Day 4: Easygoing

Mile 2422.6 to 2428.6 — Today’s miles: 6

In the morning I take my sleep hat off and scratch my scalp all over. Ah, three new mosquito bites on my neck. These will complement the collection on my legs very nicely. I eat breakfast under my headnet but get one more bite behind my knee as I’m rolling up my tent. Small price to pay to be out here.

I considered just lounging in camp this morning, because I have such a short day planned: a cool six miles to Spade Creek, where I hope to enjoy the water and lie around reading. But there is some internal hiking clock that insists I hike in the crisp morning air. From my tent at night I sometimes see others hiking after 7pm, when I’m already well snug in my quilt, and in the mornings I have passed by still-occupied tents at what is, to me, the very late hour of 9am. We all have our preferred hiking style, and mine is early to rise, early to camp. So today I’m back on trail just before 7am.

It’s all downhill today, and I take it slow not because I need to but because I’ve got plenty of time. I stop frequently to gaze at the views, which are spectacular. The trail alternates between forested stretches, where big leafy plants reach into the path from both sides, and sunny open sections that wind along the rocky edge of the mountain. After a while, what I gather to be a father-son pair of northbounders passes me up. But I wind up hiking behind and chatting with the dad for a bit, as he tells me how much incredible hiking there is in this area and I become increasingly envious.

After he speeds away to catch up with his kid, I take a second breakfast break on a perfect sitting stone next to a tiny stream of a waterfall. It’s in the shade and there are almost no bugs, so I feel very lucky. Then it’s on down some more. I step aside to let a few southbounders continue uphill, as per trail etiquette, and they apologize for making me wait! “Oh, it just means I have to look at this view a little longer,” I say, “What a hardship!” At another short stop, I hear an “eeep!” nearby and see a brown pika just sitting on a rock below, eeeping its little heart out. Hello, friend.

Finally the trail begins to level out and I cross the Waptus River on a large footbridge. A hiker calls out to me from the bank below, where he’s filtering water. Because of the rushing water I can only catch half of what he’s saying, but I don’t feel like climbing down there for a chat, so I reply as I can, give a friendly wave, and move on. There’s a short bit of uphill before I arrive at Spade Creek, with its own footbridge and water rushing down across several small pools in the rocks. It’s very pretty.

After I cross I find the small campsite I was looking for. This is where I plan to stay. It is 10am. It’s very strange to be finished with my miles for the day! To my delight, there are currently no bees or mosquitos at this campsite, just a lot of obnoxious but non-biting flies, and some black ants. Tall trees all around me and the sound of rushing water nearby. It’s amazing. As I’m securing all my smellables in the bear can, a southbounder strolls by and says there are amazing huckleberries ahead for me. And oh yeah, he saw a bear about three miles north of here. I appreciate the information, but part of me wishes I didn’t have it. I know there are bears out here, of course, but something about having a precise location for one leaves me a bit nervous. I will have to really “hey bear” a lot tomorrow morning as I pass through that area, though that bear will probably be elsewhere by then.

I stash the bear can and walk back to the creek, climbing down on the rocks to soak my feet in the cold pools of water. Ahhh. I “wash” my hair, face, and legs with my bandana, do a bit of trail laundry, and gather water to filter. It’s true that dirt is an excellent sunscreen: I’m not nearly as tan as I expected to be, once all the dust is rinsed off. At camp I make freeze-dried spaghetti with meat sauce and also eat one of the oat bars that I found so wholly repulsive last week in Yosemite; it tastes great here. I am kind of awed by the dramatic difference in my body between that week in California and these last four days. This time in Washington is helping me recognize just how physically run down I was from the one-two punch of altitude and smoke. Here, my body feels like the one I know again. Not perfect, not the fastest or strongest, but mine, with all of its familiar idiosyncrasies and possibilities. And so, thankfully, my brain can also be itself again — no more lying awake at night worrying and doubting, no more hollow, desperate pep talks to myself. No more feeling as if I’m constantly struggling against the landscape, the air, the trail. I hike the hike that’s in front of me, and I experience it as fully as I can, as it unfolds.

Once the shade arrives for good, I set up my tent (one of the best pitches I have ever gotten on it!) and climb in, away from the flies. I alternately doze and read. I’m now reading Francisco Cantú’s book The Line Becomes a River, a complex account of his job as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the Arizona and Texas borderlands. It is very intense and difficult to read for many reasons, including the descriptions of violent actions undertaken by Border Patrol agents and the broader, systemic violence of the border, of which Border Patrol is one key component. And then there is the author’s own complicity as a (former) agent who actively participates in that violence, even if his book is ultimately critical of those practices, the institution, and (I think) his own action/inaction. I have to listen to Alan Cumming read to me each night before bed, so I can think about something else before I sleep. I look again at my map and check the elevation profile and make a few changes to my planned campsites for the next few days. I thought I was going to take another short day tomorrow, but I feel restless. I want to hike.

Morning views on the long descent.
Pika on the rocks, eeeping adorably.
Almost certain that is Waptus Lake. All those shades of blue!
I got to look at this beautiful landscape all the way down the mountain.
Crossing the Waptus River, mid-morning.

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