08 Sep The Hardest Day
I left Steven’s Pass with the Gravy Train: Grease, Cecil the Green, Long Legs, and Jorge. Dead set on getting some of Canada’s fabled Poutin (fries with gravy), the name seemed appropriate and led to a team rally call of Choooo Choo! (Fist pump included). And so, we set off.
There were six days of hiking left and one more stop. After months of walking, it came down to this. At ridge tops I’d gaze North and know I was looking at the far off mountains of Canada. I struggled with such bittersweet emotions as this long journey neared its end.
It was far from over though. Washington still had something for us. Out of Stevens Pass it began to rain. It didn’t let up that night and we found ourselves setting up tents in the rain come night.
The pitter patter of rain greeted me at dawn. We were unphased and hit the trail early. Our wet tents hanging on the outside of our packs, we set out for a big day of climbing. The trail was gorgeous yet tough. Steep climbs and muddy descents. The trail was a creek at times soaking through our shoes, our socks, and our feet. Warmth was found in movement so we pushed on.
On one steep descent, the trail was washed out entirely. It required cutting a switchback down the muddy slope. Hikers before had left slippery prints in the mud down the 10 ft embankment. I told myself to take it slowly as I lowered myself sideways to the first footstep. My foot flee out from under me, my bag pulled me backwards as I lost my balance, my feeling poled went flying and before I knew it I was on my ass sliding and rolling into brush and young pines. I lay there for a moment as the rain fell on my face, my hands gripped death and roots to keep from sliding further. I laughed at it all, now wet and covered in mud. I did a check for injuries, collected my trekking poles, and tried again. This time sliding and falling successfully to the trail below. No one was around to see it unfortunately but of was the greatest fall of my trip no doubt.
The rain continued and on we pushed. As the day wore on and the big climbs and descents continued, I began to feel hampered in my stride by chaffing between my thighs. My rain pants had created a hot sweaty mess of my shorts and each stride led to painful abrasions and stinging. I did not want to stop but forced myself to when it was too much to ignore with my regular tricks. So I stopped briefly and took off my rain pants. The rain cooled my shorts and allowed my thighs to breath. I walked on gingerly and with an awkward waddle of a gait.
At 4pm, I came upon Long Legs and Cecil taking a break. The rain had stopped for the first time all day. I pulled up and sat down next to them. We snacked and shortly Grease and Jorge caught up. I reevaluated my chaffing.
I had waited too long. My inner thighs burned at rest and quickly swelled as I sat. They oozed clear liquid and a bit of blood like a floor burn you get on a basketball court. They were so swollen it looked as if someone had inserted a chicken cutlet just under the skin. The swelling made it impossible to avoid further rubbing. I was screwed.
Looking at the maps, we had only gone 20 miles. The plan had been to get 27 on the day and there were at least two hours of hiking left to reach that mark. Although it was early, I knew I couldn’t go on. I told the others I would break a bit longer and see them the next day if I didn’t catch up. In my mind I wasn’t sure I’d see them again. I had no idea how long it would take me to complete the next 37 miles to Stehekin, let alone get to Canada.
The Gravy Train rolled out without me and I was finally alone with my pain. I laid my cold hands against my thighs, blew gently on them, but nothing seemed to help. I decided I’d try to walk through it and grit it out.
I hardly made it 15 minutes of extraordinary discomfort before waddling just feet off the trail and painfully setting up my tent. The rain had started again and me and everything I had was soaked when I finally got in my tent.
For the first time in 4 months, I thought to myself, “Shit, I may not finish this!” That was a fleeting thought though. I would finish this thing even if I had to walk out of there on my hands or with blood streaming down my legs. With that determination in mind, I gave up for the day. My mind and body shut down and surrendered knowing that today’s battle was over and tomorrow would be a new day.
At 1645, I was in and out of restless painful sleep. Sleep was deeper later in the night and when morning came I felt very rested. I was full of dread. I didn’t want to hike today. Rain fell still on my tent. I told myself I could sleep all day if I wanted. I’d run out of food but with rest I could probably muscle out 36 miles with a bit of trail mix. Then, I had to go to the bathroom. Like clockwork, my bowels were knocking on the door like police with a warrant.
I carefully dressed, noticing the swelling was all gone on my thighs and the wounds had scabbed over. I took a few deep breaths and came to terms with the fact that I was gonna be wet again. I got out of the tent and quickly took care of business. I was able to walk a bit without much pain. Excited by feeling remarkably better, I decided to pack up quickly and walk slowly as lo g as I could without damaging my legs anymore. It may be slow and maybe it wouldn’t be more than a couple miles but at least I’d be closer to town.
So I packed and began walking. Every now and again my shorts would catch a scab and I’d cuss loudly and waddle for a stride. Yet, the rain stopped and I was feeling good. My pace quickened and the minutes turned into hours. By midday, I was feeling great. Mid afternoon a Swiss guy named Cloud Chaser, passed me and stated he was going to go all the way to Stehekin. It was another 16 miles he said (I had given my maps to other hikers and very little sense of how far I’d gone). If this section hiker in his alpine boots could do it, I could crush it!
So, I packed up my gear and put the pedal to the metal. I charged up hills and jogged down hills and on the flats. Jogging actually felt better on my thighs and it certainly lifted my spirits. I was gonna do it. I’d catch the Gravy Train. And so I did.
At 2100, I tromped to High Bridge Trailhead with my dim headlamp lighting my path and found my friends eating dinner together. O felt great. I felt recovered. With 36 miles on the day, I had made it to town. I could rest here. And, from here, only 88 miles stood between me and the end of the trail.