27 Aug Echoes in the Cascade Valleys
I pushed out of Snoqualmie Pass headed for Stevens Pass. From one little snopark highway stop to another. It would be 74 trail miles. The forecast was 20% chance of rain each day and in Washington that actually means something.
At noon and after our last town meal at the food truck in the Chevron parking lot, Grease, Cecil, and I began hiking down the road. We’d pass under highway 90 with the loud noises of earth rattling semis rattling our now fragile nerves.
Being so isolated on the trail with nothing but quiet chirps and warnings from birds, over the past 4 months my senses have changed. The sights and sounds that were once so common now feel like an assault that raises immediate anxiety. The zoom of a car passing. Multiple conversations within earshot. A TV just blaring with a spray tanned newscaster babbling about another tragedy. Phones ringing.Even music playing over a radio. All this background noise that had been normal makes me sick and overwhelmed a bit. A reminder of the unnatural noise pollution that dominates our world.
The trail picked up just past the highway. The climb began immediately and slowly the sound of cars faded and with it came a familiar palpable calm of being on the trail again. We climbed the switchbacks and contours through thick mossy trees and up past the treeline. We passed day hikers going the same direction as if they were standing still. My legs quickly remembering the drill and falling into a steady rythym. My lungs reopening and working at a comfortable and quick pace. As I felt the blood truly begin to pump through my body and the sweat begin to soak my clothes and sit on my forehead, a joy returned to me. A joy of hard work and of health, a joy of a long adventure and a return to the wild unknown.
Another joy carries me. The morning I left Snoqualmie, I found out I was an Uncle again. My new nephew, Tyler Justin Nelson, had been born in London earlier that morning. The excitement led me to make pancakes for everyone and pile them with ice cream and syrup. And so, on the trail I was accompanied by many day dreams of another young boy growing up in our family, of camping, playing catch, catching snakes, and so much more. Onward, I hiked.
Before too long we had broken past the “day hiker buffer”. After 6-8 miles, the trail changes. There are fewer shoe prints on the ground, the trail is more narrow with unpicked huckleberry bushes, the fat squirrels and jays looking for handouts disappear and are replaced by lean wary ground squirrels and singing song birds. Past this buffer you don’t usually see cigarette butts or dropped jolly ranchers. No toilet paper stuck to a rock in the trail or forgotten dog poop bags.
Again the calm of the trail deepens as I pass through this transition. Here it finally feels as if I’m surrounded by nature. It finally feels like I’ve returned to the place where man was made, crafted by conditions both pure and harsh – hard rock, rushing waters, whipping winds – his senses sharpened and his body formed of muscle, bone and hair.
The joy that comes with this is shared by all three of us I figure. It’s not something we discuss, yet as we reach pass after pass,
staring down deep valleys all three of us howl or yeehaw, overwhelmed with the great emotion of freedom. Our echoes yell back at us calling us forward, higher and further to the grand ridges, deep valleys and rock spires ahead.
Weather threatens daily here. Clouds creep up and over ridges. They sit there hung up on sawtooth rocks and warn of dew and mist. During the day the clouds build and break and build and break. At this point, there is no conjecture or concern for the weather. We are prepared and unphased. And anyway, worry is wasted energy with the weather. When it rains, I’ll get wet. Until then, I’ll hike and enjoy being dry.
And so, we hike. After 10 miles we meet 3 gals on a weekend trip. They offer us whiskey after hearing our story. We can’t turn down such a kind offer. They ask us why we were yelling into the valley. We tell them it’s because we’re overcome by the beauty before us. They like that answer. Miles later before leaving the valley, as the evening fog rolls in making our trail a mystical scene, again we yelling back with animal hoots and hollers. The echoes are as loud as the yells. This time we yell in thanks and goodbye to the three ladies.
All three of us are trying to slow down. We’re trying to wait for friends or meetup dates with parents, or just trying to savor this journey. And yet, 48 hours after leaving Snoqualmie Pass, we begin our descent to Stevens Pass representing another 74 miles of trail done.
Here we will rest. Entering the parking lot of Stevens pass lodge, a car pulls up and a man asks us if we’re going to the Dinsmores. We are. He offers us a ride to their house. We gladly accept and find our driver to be a well-known PCT community member named, Shroomer.
And so begins a wonderful trip to tiny Baring, WA. We rest. Watch movies. Laundry is done for us. We eat pizzas and ice cream. We help our hosts by fixing their computers and moving wood for them. We find the biggest burger in town and gladly accept the challenge it presents. The towns change but even this has all become a routine in some ways. What makes it unique each time is now the people. The stories of the trail angels. The new hikers who you catch up to in town or the ones who catch you taking a day off.
Happy, a retired school teacher has caught up. Brother and sister, Long Legs and Jorge, have caught us. We caught up with Leap Year and Chocolate Bandito Strikes Again or something like that. These last two needed maps so I gave them mine and I’m setting out from here into one of the more wild sections without any navigation except the sun and stars. I’ll probably stick with this new crew for the next section.
The Dinsmores are my hosts here in town. She spent her life driving big rigs and he was a truck repairman. One day he caught her checking out his fancy big rig, peering in the windows and trying to peek beneath the hood. As she says, from there they started dating and the rest is history.
Now, they host as many hikers as they can in a mechanics garage converted to a bunk house. He wiles away the day working on cars with a big stogey hanging from his mouth. She greets the hikers and immediately is your mom. Running down the rules and warning, “You can have a drink or two but if you get stupid, you’re out of here no matter rain or snow!” “Yes, Mom.”
And now I sit. Rain pattering on the tin roof above me. My bag to be packed. Less than 200 miles of trail between me and Canada. One stop left. A bakery in Stehekin, WA is the last place I’ll stop before reaching the end of this adventure.
Before that though, a rugged 100 miles of trail and skies of thunderstorms will test me again.
And again, I’ll walk.