PNT Day 17: Into the Smoke

Today’s miles: 12.7

Total miles: 198.2

At 6am exactly, I meet Dan (Sedro-Woolley local and fellow hiker) in the hotel parking lot for a generous ride to the trail. Along the drive, I observe that indeed there is almost no shoulder on this road, and vehicles (including semi trucks) are hurtling along at alarming speeds. I’m grateful to skip these eight-ish miles of roadwalking — I’ve got plenty more paved road in the coming days, and I value my physical safety above any trail purism.

The trail picks up right on the side of the highway. I step around a gate barring vehicles from this dirt road, and immediately begin climbing. My task this morning is to get up and over Anderson Mountain, a little over 3,000 feet of gain. Yesterday, smoke was already blowing into Sedro-Woolley from fires to the east, and today I can see a thick haze over the mountain range in the distance. The smoke has created a bright red rising sun, which in turn casts a red-orange light on the trees around me. I climb steadily, trying to make the most of the cooler morning air, and surprise myself by reaching the top in just about two and a half hours. I briefly lose the trail up here, though I’m not sure how, and have to slide on my butt down a short steep section of loose sand, but then it’s clear I’ve finished the ascent.

Top of Anderson Mountain (all of the white area is smoke blocking the view)

At the top I pull out my Tyvek and sit down for second breakfast, happy to still have some cell service so I can text the trail angel about my arrival time. I imagine the surrounding mountains usually look pretty great from this spot, but the smoke has fully settled in and occludes all possible views. Well. Time to descend, then. On the way down I can smell smoke for a little while, but either my olfactory sense adjusts to it or it dissipates as I move further into the trees. The air warms around me, the day’s heat moving in. I walk along logging roads and then finally find my turn onto actual hiking trail. Just as I make my first step onto the trail, I hear a gunshot. It’s close enough to raise my heartrate. Hunters? Target practice? A few feet down the trail, another gunshot. Uhhhh. I’m very enclosed by the forest here, the trail narrow and sometimes overgrown. I listen hard and keep hiking. Another gunshot, maybe a little further away. I decide if I hear a fourth, I’ll start yelling (e.g., “Hiker coming through!”).

The trail descends and spits me out into a logging area with downed trees everywhere. The path through is not clear, so I just pick my way around the timber in the right general direction, shuffling down a ditch to a wide dirt road. Down the road, I spy a parked pickup truck and at least two people. Probably the ones responsible for the gunshots? They’re too far away to communicate with, but I’m pretty sure they see me as I cross the road and enter the trail on the other side.

I bounce along a network of forest and logging roads for a while, observing timber sale signs on the roadside and the very faint outlines of mountains in the distance, all blotted out by smoke. The last leg of the day puts me on medium-busy paved road into the town of Alger, but with enough shoulder to feel reasonably safe. I pass a sign for what I think is a bed & breakfast, The Cat Nap Inn, and think “oh, I guess I could have stayed there tonight” — but it’s a bed & breakfast for cats.

Along a logging road, mountains in the background completely obscured by smoke.
Sign proclaiming this a “leave trees area.” Similar signs nearby mark “timber sale boundary.”

I pass through the small town of Alger, leaving the PNT to follow directions to the trail angel’s house nearby. Charity and Jim have created a peaceful campsite area on their property, with hammocks, chairs, and big car-camping tents all set up. I’d only expected a safe place to pitch my tent for the night, but they also offer me access to a camper with running water, toilet, shower, and annotated maps about the upcoming section. It’s only noon, and though I could have hiked a longer day, I’m relieved to be out of the smoke and heat, and glad to give my calf muscle (still quite tight, though far less painful) some extra rest. There’s good cell service here, allowing me to contact another trail angel for a place to stay tomorrow night; I’d been very concerned about finding camping along this stretch of private property, but there are so many kind trail angels through here that now I almost feel like I’m cheating! I lounge in a hammock most of the afternoon, then join my generous hosts for dinner outside on their deck. Even for this introvert, it’s nice to actually have some conversation after so many days being almost entirely alone, especially since they have hiking stories of their own to share. I really enjoy hanging out with their two sweet dogs, too. At Charity’s encouragement I set up my quilt in the big six-person tent that’s already pitched — so huge I can stand up inside it! It feels like sleeping in a palace, and I drift off to the sound of a gentle wind moving through the alders above me.

Pacific Northwest Trail Trail. Hmm.
Afternoon rest in the alder grove.

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