August 30, 2022
White Pass to mile 2317.4
Our camp location isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep. I keep tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable, trying to avoid facing the bright lights on the building next door. Jumbo and I wake up at the same time and walk in opposite directions to pee, then get settled back in and nod at one another as if to say, “Same, friend. Same.” But it’s not the worst night of sleep ever, all things considered. When it starts to get light, I gather up my things and head to the front of the store to wait in line for a shower and laundry.
Jumbo is on a video call with his parents when one of the owners opens the shop and asks if we want to take showers even though the store isn’t technically open yet. Tribute and I go for it while Jumbo gets our name on the list for laundry and then continues his call. Tribute and I take our shower passes and walk to the building around the back with a pair of pristine bathrooms. I’m unreasonably excited by the fact that there is a sink, toilet, AND a shower. The shower has amazing water pressure and I crank it up to one degree below scalding. Are showers this amazing in non-trail life? Can I keep this level of enjoyment after my hike? I could die right now and be perfectly content.
Back at the store, which is now open, I commence my morning’s tasks: writing, charging, texting my mom, buying some things to supplement my resupply box, washing my Kula cloth, filling water bottles, washing my hands a million times just because I can. I order a $5 bottomless coffee and a microwave breakfast sandwich, and both are far more delicious than they have any right to be.
I sit at the table with Tribute, Feather, and Cookie, then later Jumbo when he returns from his shower. By then Tribute has had an ungodly amount of coffee. He looks at me and says, deadpan, “I can see the fabric of space-time.”
I laugh then, but three cups later, I’m there with him. I am far more caffeinated than I’ve been in weeks, and my hands are shaking. I think Jumbo has gone way beyond this realm after his seventh cup.
We could be using that energy to hike, but first, we have to wait for our laundry to finish. I use that time and the less-than-great internet to book a flight home from Seattle. I’m not exited about it because it’s on Frontier, which I hate, and I have a twelve hour layover in Las Vegas, which I also hate, but it was significantly cheaper than anything else I could find on the day I wanted to leave. (It’s the same day Jumbo flies home to England. The idea of being in Seattle for a second longer was unfathomably depressing to me.)
The laundry finally finishes, and I pack up as quickly as I can, then go inside and buy a quick order of chicken tenders with a million condiment packets to pack out. Now that I’ve discovered the joy of mayonnaise and Tapatío on trail, there’s no going back. I inhale that, plus the rest of an order of tater tots that Feather gives me and a mango smoothie. The calories combine with the coffee and I feel like I can take on the world.
We head out together on the trail, dodging tons of tiny frogs hopping across the path from the lake. When we find the PCT again, we start heading up the 4-mile climb. I don’t know what to expect because I’m usually pretty low energy right out of town, but I feel pretty great right now. Tribute lets me pass and I start rocketing up the hill.
“I think I have cheese!” I call back.
“Is it the coffee? Is it coffee cheese?” Tribute muses.
“Yes! It’s coffee-flavored cheese!”
I don’t know what my body needed that I suddenly gave it or what has just clicked, but I feel absolutely incredible. Remember that day right before the Cajon Pass McDonald’s when I said I felt like my blood had been replaced with rocket fuel? That’s how I feel today. I feel boundless. Endless. I am tectonic! I am megalithic! It takes me two and a half King Gizzard albums to make it to the top of the hill: all of Infest the Rats’ Nest and most of Nonagon Infinity. The music is gasoline, liquid mercury, the essence of cheese itself. I am flying. Trees whiz past me, I see lakes and pine needles and rocks. I’m climbing and climbing and then, suddenly, I’m going down.
I think I’m going to lose energy then, but I don’t. So I figure I’ll just keep going until I totally run out of cheese, or until the inevitable coffee crash comes. I listen to K. G. and L. W., then decide I’m done with music for a while and switch to a new audiobook called This is How You Lose the Time War. It’s really different and really good so far, about two women, or women-like entities, in a future world where there is a war going on in time. They’re enemies and are trying to undo each other’s work, but there is also a sort of admiration between them that develops in messages they leave for each other. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I become quickly entranced.
I reach a creek around 4:00. It’s the first flowing water source all day, and I’m about 12 miles in so I figure it’s well past time for a break. I think I’m pretty far ahead of the other three, so I claim a spot and make myself comfortable. Being alone because I am ahead of the group is not a feeling that I’m used to. It feels like I just bought myself a free hour. I eat lunch, make a cup of tea, write, and look at the meadow just beyond the trees.
I make the mistake of looking at the Canada border on Guthook. The comments are so emotional. Hikers leave their thoughts about completing the trail and congratulate other NOBOs on their journey. It makes me feel things. Now that I have a flight booked, it’s getting real. No matter how long a trail feels, no matter how unfathomably huge an adventure seems, time just passes. Give yourself enough days and make enough miles and, eventually, you’ll come to the end of the trail. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? And yet it feels so mystical. I’m still in the desert in my mind. I’m still on the plane to San Diego. I’m still getting my permit and realizing that I am going to do the PCT. But somehow I am also in Washington looking at the trees and feeling 2,300 miles in my bones.
After about an hour, Tribute and Jumbo roll up.
“I want whatever you’re on,” Tribute says.
I grin. It’s been ages since I felt this good. Actually, I think this might be the best I’ve ever felt on trail. It’s definitely the strongest I’ve felt. It’s so nice not to constantly feel like I’m dying for a change.
They settle in for a lunch break and I make another cup of tea. Feather comes up to join us as well. Somehow, despite having been there for ages, I’m still the last to leave. The trail is downhill to the Bumping River, following a steep, shady path to the water. I cross on a really nice log upstream. I used to hate log crossings, but now I find them pretty exhilarating.
I pass Tribute and then head uphill. It’s starting to be a pleasant temperature now, but I’m still really sweaty as I start attacking the hill. I pass Feather, then Jumbo. When is this cheese going to run out? Guess I’ll just keep hiking until it does!
It goes away just as I stop for water and then see another couple of pikas. Jumbo and Tribute catch up, and I put away my music and talk with them. We finish a steep climb, at the top of which is the boundary of Mount Rainier National Park. A view of this mountain snaps into place just as the sun is leaving the sky. We stand ogling at its snowy flanks. Then it’s dark and it’s time for a few miles of night hiking.
I still hate night hiking, but I’ve accepted it already today because I know we need to hit an average of 21 miles a day in order to finish by our preferred date. Plus, it’s so much cooler now. So I’m not that fussed about it tonight.
We hike together over a few climbs and then start to go downhill when we spot a nice flat campsite in a field. We decide to claim it, reasoning that the sites a little further by the junction might be taken already, and this spot might give us a good sunrise in the morning. We set up our Cowboy Sardines and get cozy. I eat my packed-out roast beef and cheddar sandwich, brush my teeth, and finally eventually calm down enough to sleep. I have no idea where my energy came from today, but I’m grateful for it because it made the hiking so much easier. Let’s see if that holds out tomorrow.