September 12, 2022
Mile 2538.5 to campsite at mile 2558.1
It’s raining when we wake this morning. Usually, the sun wakes us up naturally, but today, we have to motivate ourselves a little harder than usual. This is what Washington is supposed to feel like, I think: cool, misty, mysterious. Once we’re packed up, we start heading down the trail that’s still covered in blown-down trees. Jumbo is not feeling great, so I get pretty far ahead of him before long.
I am loving every second of this morning. The trees are massive, towering, covered in moss, and I feel as though I’m walking through a curtain of dew. I’m not listeing to music and my mind is chill, which is not a feeling I’m used to. It’s cloudy and moody, the world smells like soil. This is what I pictured when I imagined the rainforests of Washington. I’m not in a hurry. I’ll get to where we’re going soon enough. I’m just existing and moving in this sweet, earthy world.
At one point, I start to get a little worried about Jumbo. I’ve really been cruising, and I know his ankle has not been treating him well. What if he fell on one of those stupid blowdowns and I didn’t know because I was so far ahead? So at a stream crossing, I stop and wait for a while until I see him sauntering up.
“I thought I’d better wait for you, just in case you fell and broke your ankle, you know?”
He smiles. “Oh, I’m just trudging along,” he replies,” on my chalk ankles.”
A little while later I cross a large bridge over a river, and stand there for a moment to observe the force of the water and the peaceful sullenness of the clouds. Jumbo catches back up to me, and I take him in as he approaches: tall, slim, disheveled dishwater hair under a dirty hat, smiling slightly, loud orange shorts, deep blue sun hoodie, walking slowly at a pace above a hobble on ankles that are very, very done.
I can’t believe we have so little time left together on this trail. I’ve been trying not to think about it, but every day I realize how much closer I am to returning to pre-trail life, a life where he is across the ocean from me, after nearly five straight months of being together. He stands next to me on the bridge. I loop my arm through his and rest my head on his shoulder. I don’t want to give this up. I want to be in the woods with Jumbo forever. He’s ready to go home, but I’m not. I’m just not. This forest isn’t at home. The trees and the moss and the sense of adventure aren’t at home. James isn’t at home. So, no. I don’t want to go home.
We take our Five Mile Coffee break a little after that. It is incredibly satisfying today because it’s actually cold. Then Jumbo heads up the hill before me, and I stick around for a while, writing. I don’t feel particularly rushed to start this climb. I feel a little melancholy today. A wave of emotion hits me a little while later after a beautiful creek crossing. I have to get water, so I drop my pack and walk towards the clear, roaring stream. But then, before I can collect water in my CNOC, there are tears falling out of my eyes.
God, what a price we pay for thru-hiking. It’s amazing, it’s freedom, it’s the best way to live that I can imagine, but it is so painful when it’s over. Even when it’s approaching over. Out here, I’ve made some of the closest friends of my life and spent day after day with them. I’ve drunk from cold clear streams and fallen asleep while the world turns pink over the mountains in the distance. I’ve felt loved and seen, and yes, in pain, too, but it’s worth it. The thought of being anywhere but on this trail is unbearable. The thought of not being with Jumbo is unbearable. The thought of going back to a life of screens and work and forgettable days is unbearable.
Yet, I’m still here, I tell myself. I’m still here. And I have today. What else is there but that? So I get water and filter it and start moving up the hill. It’s a Trevor Hall day. That’s music for the mountains. It makes me feel grounded and brings me back to myself as I climb. The grade of the hill is beautiful, the path is soft and even, and it doesn’t take me long to get to the ten-mile mark. I keep expecting to see Jumbo pulled over for lunch, but there are no good spots, really. So I guess I’ll just keep walking until I find him.
It’s his poles that I find first, lying on the trail aimed towards a flat spot by a junction. This threatens to tip me back into that emotional space. I’ll miss all the little things like this, like leaving our poles for each other to find when we’re taking a break off trail. I pick them up and head down towards him. We have a quick lunch because it’s starting to rain and it’s not super enjoyable to sit here under the drops. He goes ahead again, and I finish the soggy climb on my own.
At the top, I’m surprised when I see Gus and Mim. I haven’t seen Gus since the day before Bend, and the last time I saw Mim was around Big Bear. I stand around talking to each of them for a while, and then I continue downwards. It’s still raining, but it’s getting a little lighter now, and I stop when I see Jumbo sitting on a rock overlooking the valley in the distance. A cloud is creeping up towards us, tendrils caressing the sides of the gray mountains. Jumbo is talking to Skywalker, a hiker-turned-trail angel who is now hiking southbound from Stehekin…. barefoot? Yep, barefoot. She is indeed not wearing shoes, I notice as I approach.
I sit there with Jumbo for a while as hikers we know start rolling up: Frankie, Kevin, Gus, Mim, and Dilly Dally. It’s so magical to see all of them again! We all stay there gathered at the edge of the trail talking for a long while. Dilly Dally updates me on some books she’s been reading and gives me new recommendations. Skywalker gives us all face sparkles (and beard sparkles, in the case of Jumbo and Kevin). It’s a joyous little encounter. During this whole thing, I boil water for tea and have a snack. We don’t have much left for today, and the scenery is amazing, so we’re taking it all in.
Skywalker continues southbound on her bare feet while the others carry on to their campsite that’s just up the trail. Jumbo and I finish up our break, then we keep moving over the last of the rocks and back onto soft, muddy path. We’re down below some seriously gorgeous mountains, all rocky and craggy and pika-licious. It’s still sort of wet, but the clouds are shifting quickly and now there’s a little sky visible above us.
We cross a few creeks, then trudge to our campsite. Very kindly, Jumbo gets water for the both of us while I start setting up. We eat dinner in our individual tents because it’s dark now and we’re pretty wrecked, and sleep is all we can think about. I definitely won’t miss this exhaustion, or being soggy and gross. But I love this little tent. I love the thought of cinnamon rolls tomorrow. I love being out here with my friend in the mountains.