Mile 2439.8 to 2446.5 — Today’s miles: 6.7
I am glad for the magically flowing stream next to my tent, because some kids eventually camp on the other side, and the rushing water helps muffle their yelling games (I guess?) that last far past hiker bedtime. At 3am I wake to another backache, and have to do some stretching in the dark before I can get comfortable again. At 5am, an early hiker tromps down the trail, and I watch in the faintest of morning light as he rock-hops the stream, his headlamp a thin beam of white ahead of him. I feel relief that I no longer have to hike in the morning darkness, but then remember the closeness and camaraderie that developed from that first pre-dawn hike with Scissors before Idyllwild, or from the 4am starts with Sprout in the Mojave last year. There is something beautiful to be found in even the harshest parts of long-distance hiking.
Mosquitos may be the exception. They are swarming again this morning. I throw a protein bar in my hip belt pocket and postpone my morning bathroom run, just desperate to hike out of the hordes. Across the river there are so many tents, big giant 4-person tents, and I am relieved that I camped alone on the south side. I hike up through some boulders and then down through the forest switchbacks, headed for a difficult ford at the bottom. Once, my right foot slides out from under me on some loose gravel and I am suddenly sitting on the trail. But I’m unharmed, and no one witnessed that embarrassing moment.
The ford looks scary. Multiple streams of water to cross, mostly not too deep but running very fast, pouring down the mountain. I spend a lot of time considering my options. There’s no way to keep my feet dry — I just need to pick the safest route. Finally I cross the first stream, and then must repeat the assessment process for the second one, walking up and down atop the big rocks to find the least tricky path across. Then it’s down across some more rocks and gingerly over two fallen logs to finally stand on dry trail again. Whew. It took me 20 minutes to complete that ford! I have found that, for me, fords are one of the only truly stressful aspects of hiking solo.
The trail turns up through the forest now, and the bugs remain. Big flies buzz my head again and again, roaming in circles around me while mosquitos try to keep up. I hike as fast as I can. I finally take my morning bathroom break and seem to escape without any new bites. Later, there is a deer just a few feet off the trail, eating breakfast. It looks at me, flicks an ear. “Hi,” I say quietly, and hike past as softly as I can. It continues its foraging, undisturbed. The trail undulates gently for a while, and I stop to take a fast photo at Deception Pass, smacking the mosquitos off my hands as I continue on. Unfortunately, I now urgently need to dig a cathole. The bugs are thick and I’m hiking the edge of a mountain, with no remotely flat ground except the narrow strip of trail I’m walking on. I curse my stupid bowels and their terrible timing. At last I see a spot to climb off the trail and with both relief and dismay I know I have to act now, despite the mosquito swarms. It is a harrowing experience.
In the last mile or two before my planned campsite, I leapfrog with a mother-son pair for a while: I pass them while they take photos, they pass me when I stop for water. Starting with Deception Pass, I am in a little stretch where everything is deceptive, apparently. Here is the junction for the Deception Creek trail, here is the Deception Lakes outlet, and then here I am at Deception Lakes, which are far more beautiful than I’d anticipated. I find my leapfrogging pals having lunch in a large open campsite at the edge of the lakes, and join them to chat as I eat a little buffet from my bear canister: string cheese, crushed Fritos, peanut m&ms, bites of beef jerky. The mom is Huff-n-Puff and her son, who just turned 16, is Dr. Jones (he wears an Indiana Jones style hat and carries a coiled leather whip at his waist!). They are doing more miles after lunch, but I’m camping at these lakes.
Once they leave, I follow an overgrown use trail uphill and find a small flat-enough spot just overlooking the lake, mountains all around. It will be a gorgeous place to camp. The bugs are busy here, but I find that if I am all covered up and sit still, writing this blog post and reading my book, they don’t bother me that much. I wait for the sun to move before setting up my tent, watching the fish jump and just kind of zoning out amidst all this beauty, until a large group of tweens (and two adult guides) arrives. I think they must be on some sort of Outward Bound trip. They swim noisily in the lake below me, but eventually settle down. I already feel bad that I will have to trek through their camps to get back to the trail in the morning, and I hope they’ll be up early. I do some more crude sewing repairs to my shorts’ seams and am in bed early, feeling relaxed and anticipating more climbing tomorrow.