PNT Day 18: Way Cool

Today’s miles: 19.7

Total miles: 217.9

I sleep soundly in that huge apartment-sized tent, and after a quick thank-you text to my hosts, am retracing my steps back to Alger around 6:20am. Then I squeeze through another service road gate to shift off the highway and onto trail. It looks like today’s the last day of real trail I’ll have for a while.

Today’s first climb, I was told with a chuckle at dinner last night, is known locally as the “Alger Alp.” A nice little gain of about 700 feet to wake up my legs. I’m cautiously relieved to note that my calf muscle feels unremarkable this morning…maybe I just really needed an afternoon in a hammock. After the singular alp, I descend and walk a road crossing Hwy 5 (signs to Seattle and Vancouver — I feel very strange traveling on foot through here), then tackle a longer 2,000-foot climb up to Lizard Lake. It’s not a bad climb, just really sweaty. There are campsites, but the lake water is very dark, and crowded with what I suspect is debris left by beavers, so it’s not the most inviting spot. I take a quick snack break nearby at a trail junction and move on. The sweatiness continues: I hike uphill through dense forest with no chance of breeze. The trail is rocky and torn up through here, with some tire tracks in the mud, and sure enough, a motocross biker comes toward me, their revving engine ripping through the morning air. The noise fades behind me but I can hear it for a long time after.

Lizard Lake

I reach a wider path in the forest and am grateful that the trees are not quite so close for a while. I must be nearing a trailhead, because a group of day hikers approaches, and they all pull over to the side to let me pass, which is kind. Almost immediately after, I hear a muffled crash and a few gasps, and turn to see that a mountain biker has fallen onto the side of the trail, into a rotted tree stump. He’s completely stuck — he really fell into the stump. Two of the hikers have already pulled him out by the time I get there, and I think the biker is embarrassed, but as he pedals off he quips “my landing was rotten!” and I’m impressed.

I take a short alternate so I can check out an overlook of Samish Bay. It’s mostly shaded, wide, easy trail, and when I arrive I can see it was worth the trip. I sit on my bear canister to eat lunch and look out across many soft shades of blue, hazy in the distance from lingering smoke (I assume). A few people wearing large packs arrive and wander around, peering over the edge, conferring with each other. I realize they’re paragliders, doing preliminary checks for their jump off this point! I stretch out my lunch break so I can watch, but they still don’t seem remotely close to taking off, so eventually I leave them to their preparations.

Samish Bay from my lunch spot

After this it’s a long downhill to my roadwalk on Chuckanut Drive, which is just as twisty and busy with cars as I’d read. There’s almost no shoulder for the first bit, and I walk mostly in the ditch while vehicles zoom by (including at least thirty lowriders all in a row — maybe there’s a car show this weekend?). At least in this early portion I’m along the edge of Samish Bay and can look at the water. As the road opens up with a wider shoulder, it also turns inland to a less visually compelling environment. The breeze fades as well. It’s hot and super flat, and I can smell cows, and then I pass a cornfield and wonder if I’ve somehow hiked myself back to Illinois. I’m wilting when I reach the tiny towns of Bow/Edison. I’m still not sure how the two are distinguished from one another, but am grateful to find a fantastic bakery in these two blocks of Bow and/or Edison. What a delight to sit outside and eat a giant turkey sandwich on fresh bread, with cold drinks!

Another “PNTT” sign as I leave the overlook area
PNT marker carved into a giant stone just before turning onto Chuckanut Drive. Only 200+ miles to go!

After second lunch, it’s a few more road miles past farmland and another two blocks of town, then turning off the PNT route toward my home for the night. This last stretch takes me past some houses with aggressively barking dogs, and one horse that is clearly upset by my presence, but at last I arrive at Marc’s and let myself into his barn as instructed. Marc is a long-time PNT trail angel, and I called him yesterday to ask about camping in his yard. He’s out of town, but urged me to stay at the barn anyway (!). “Take a shower, eat anything you find in the kitchen, feel free to take a zero day if you want! It’s all set up for PNT hikers.” I asked him if there was any particular place he’d like me to put my tent in the yard. “Tent?!” he said incredulously. “No, no, there are couches! It’s like a man cave on steroids.”

I don’t know what I was expecting, but when I open the barn door it really is exactly as described. I’m greeted by a giant banner proclaiming this “Marc’s ‘Way Cool’ Barn,” and then notice, in this order: gleaming Harley parked in the kitchen area; big leather couches; biker art and memorabilia covering every wall; and massive amounts of snacks. There’s a huge bowl of mini candybars, bulk-size boxes of Goldfish crackers and animal crackers, variety packs of potato chips, individual servings of cereal. The fridge and pantry are fully stocked. I guzzle a cold Gatorade and take a shower, then lie flat on a couch while I text my friends descriptions of all the incredible hiker amenities around me. Kinda disappointed that I don’t get to thank Marc in person. (I don’t want to breach his privacy by posting pictures of the barn, so you’ll just have to trust me that it is, as I texted Whiz Kid, “the greatest trail angel stop OF ALL TIME.”)

At 8:30pm I’m almost ready for bed when I hear footsteps approaching outside: another hiker arriving. I’d already set my brain for solitude here, so it takes me a bit to adjust to sharing the space. And I’ve already wound down for the night and am way beyond conversation mode. But mostly, I feel anxious about the delta variant, indoors with another person all night. I just try to keep space between us, and then fall asleep on one of the couches with my buff over my face.

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