PNT Day 24: The Price of Admission

Today’s miles: 24.3

Total miles: 316

I wake in the night absolutely sure that it’s almost time for my alarm. I look at the clock: 11:20pm. Oh. I wake several more times — I must be anxious about missing my bus. I’m also still anxious about this next section through Olympic National Park. It’s an eight-day carry with high-mileage, high-elevation-change days. I think I’m worried that this last section with so much flat roadwalking has deconditioned my legs and lungs. I think also the Olympics are a little intimidating.

By 4:50am I’m packing my stuff and can’t find my sleeping hat. I last wore it at Happy House and I feel certain I didn’t leave it there — I was in the backyard! I empty my entire pack and even unroll my tent to see if it got stuck in there. I resign myself to having lost my sleep hat. Then as I finish getting dressed I pick up my hiking cap and there’s the damn sleep hat underneath. Argh.

It’s still dark out when I arrive at the bus terminal. I take the #7 at 5:59am (very specific schedule and it really does arrive then) and transfer to the #8, then GPS myself on the ride so I know when to pull the cord for my stop. The bus deposits me at the junction of Hwy 20, which I now do not have to walk, and Hwy 101, which I unfortunately do have to walk. At least there’s a shoulder. Halfway through, I walk past another major highway junction and after this the traffic lessens considerably. I have zero regrets about taking the bus and skipping a long scary highway walk.

Hwy 101, my last major roadwalk for a while.

I turn onto a gravel road and then onto a more forested road. According to the trail notes, this is a private tree farm with a sign at the start of the road saying non-motorized day use is allowed. But this is not what the sign says. The sign says no trespassing, violators will be prosecuted. Well. That is not the same at all. I walk this portion very quickly and then turn onto actual trail. I mean, it’s more of an overgrown forest road, the two-track for tires still visible, but it’s all filled in with moss and layers of pine needles and soft dirt. It feels heavenly under my feet, as if the trail is welcoming me back after a week on paved roads.


Too soon, I must turn onto another gravel road, which goes fairly gently uphill. I round a turn and see a hiker up ahead! Is it a mirage?! The hiker is standing still to look at her phone, so I soon catch up. Kosmo is hiking solo too — she started in Glacier but skipped most of the Puget Sound section because of necessary timing to complete her hike. We walk this alternate together, uphill on the gravel road instead of uphill on trail that requires bushwhacking, and it goes by quickly with someone to chat with. At the end, we sit in the road and eat, fueling up for today’s steep climb. She heads out first, and I probably won’t see her again because our Olympic itineraries are quite different.

Even gravel roads are beautiful in the right conditions.

The climb up Mt Zion is tough. No switchbacks, just straight up. My calves and glutes burn, and I take mini-breaks to slow my breathing. My pack feels very heavy with eight days of food. It takes me a while, but I make it, and not quite as slowly as I feared. At the top I follow the trail around, but feel uncertain: I know I’m supposed to be descending pretty rapidly here, but the trail kind of rolls along on a quasi-ridgewalk. Every time I think “maybe this isn’t right,” it starts to go downhill again, so I keep hiking it, but eventually decide this can’t be right. I backtrack all the way to the summit and see my mistake. Well, that was 25 minutes and some energy wasted.

Steep climbing up Mt Zion.

I descend steadily on smooth wide trail and reach a small parking lot with a privy and picnic table. After a quick snack, I’m off again for more downhill and then rolling trail forever. Everything is completely socked in and now very lightly misting. Not really rain, not even really precipitation — instead, it feels like hiking through a cloud. I stop at Gold Creek to filter water, and then embark on a few miles of steady uphill. The misting increases, and then about three miles from my planned campsite, I hear a rumble of thunder. Noooooo.

Just before the rain began in earnest.

I pick up my pace. But now it’s definitely raining. Thunder a few more times, closer and louder. I swear under my breath, and hike as fast as I can. I can feel my residual anxiety kick in, leftover from those consecutive days of cold rain in the North Cascades. The last mile is the longest mile in the world. My clothes are drenched. I find the tent spot I was looking for — not the greatest, but I’m very ready to be in my warm dry things now. I lay out my tent and discover that the ground is full of gravel, completely inhospitable to my stakes. I run around in the rain finding large rocks to use instead. When the tent is finally up, I quickly eat a Kind bar for dinner (sad), lock my bear can, and get myself all tucked in. Listening to the rain come down, I think about tomorrow, when I will enter Olympic National Park. Today’s long miles, steep climb, and wet weather feel like my entrance exam for this coming week in the mountains. As I try to sleep, I wish fervently that the skies will clear up so I can actually see those mountains.

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