7/8-8/17, 41 days, ~1248m
Chief Mountain to Eureka:
7/8-7/12, ~135 miles
I started the PNT at around 1145am and had to slug out 32 miles to my first campsite in Glacier National Park. I had to show up in person at a Ranger Station to obtain my permit, in which I hoped to revise my itinerary. Getting a permit at GNP is a real pain in the ass, straight up. While they say they cater to thru-hikers of the PNT and CDT, getting an itinerary in advance is hard to do. Going through a third-party to book a reservation seems pointless when you may not know your itinerary when planning months in advance for a GNP ending, or the system limits the amount of mileage per day a hiker could do, or recreation hikers do not cancel their reservations, or a thru-hiker upon arrival does not have a car, among myriad of reasons. The third party reservation system feels like I am booking through Expedia, which is mind boggling to me in regards to the Park Service letting such a third party manage bookings in a wilderness they are so very much responsible to care for.
So, I went to a Ranger Station to honor my permit and, if fortunate enough, to change my campsite and mileage on my permit. The backcountry ranger did both. However, not only did he change it, he granted me a 32 mile day in grizzly country knowing I would start around noon and would be hiking into the night. He basically winked at me and granted me access to break the rules. Do not walk in the dark, camp in designated campsites only, etc. I was totally down for the feat, no doubt. Nevertheless, I ended up walking past a slew of unoccupied camp sites at a few backcountry campgrounds. I walked into the night with a feeling of unease trying to honor the permit, but finally said 'fuck it' when I found another empty campground, which he had assured me would be full.
Why even get a permit anymore in this park, or any other park, save for the potential fines, when the system seems to deter the ones who REALLY want to be there? Trust me, I ultimately know the answers. I really do.
Enough griping... let's get to the beauty.
I set off into the grizzly bear filled and glacially carved mountains of the Central Rockies of Glacier National Park. The PNT coincides for 20-some odd miles of the Continental Divide Trail (2 National Scenic Trails) and, at one point, has a unifying point where the PNT, CDT, and Great Divide Trail intersect. This would be my 5th time entering and traversing GNP, including the route I would be on. Everything felt familiar to me, but not in a 'same way' that I did not understand the value of such a wild ecosphere. The backcountry scenery in GNP is absolutely stellar and worth one's time to venture back there. While the scenery is probably up on the docket of one's trip to GNP, the importance of this backcountry with an open and wild space for wildlife habitat is crucial. Walking across GNP feels wild. No matter how many times I have walked across GNP, I am on guard, alert, piqued on the aspect of a wild feeling that I am clearly not in control out here, that I am not in charge. So exhilarating!
After a 2 day backcountry stint across GNP empty of tourists, I encountered hordes of tourists from Bowman Lake to Polebridge. That morning I woke up with a sore throat and decided to get into the tiny hamlet of Polebridge and stay the rest of the afternoon and sleep everything off. I hung out with Oliver, owner of the North Fork hostel, whom I had met before. Chill times before I went to sleep in an empty bunk room around 7pm.
The next day I set off early into the smoky Whitefish Divide. A heavy pall of smoke sunk into the North Fork of the Flathead River valley nd stayed with me all the way to Eureka. The trail more or less meanders across the Whitefish Divide that would normally hold distant views. This smoky hindrance did not diminish my spirits, however. The cold and clogged head that had now enveloped me forced me to focus on something else other than obstructed views. Along the way, I met some PNT hikers, which felt good and reminded me that I am on a trail with other hikers. So, different than what I have been used to in recent years.
I got to Eureka in the morning and checked into a motel to sleep and medicate the rest of the day. Despite the head cold, I still managed 32 miles per day.
7/13-7/15, ~96 miles
I left Eureka feeling a lot better and left early in the morning to beat the heat in low lands on a mix of urban trail, dirt roads, and highway. Not the most scenic section, to say the least. At the end of the long flatland walk, I ascended 5,000ft up to Webb Lookout and into the Purcell Mountains. Up there, I met a family from Bonners Ferry, who I chatted up a bit while I rested. They knew of the PNT and I began to piece together a pattern out here: folks know about this trail. I found that interaction with those folks so peaceful and nice, real easy to just have a moment with folks from other walks of life. I camped that night at Boulder Lakes, where things became eerie.
The temps remained sweltering across the Kootenai Valley, as they had the whole trek thus far. Enjoyable? Didn't really care one way or another. These paved road walks were just a means to connecting the route from the crown to the coast. However, I knew that the Selkirk Range, one I have wanted to hike in for some time now, remained adjacently ahead, just a meager 6,000ft ascent.
Recent trail work made for swift travel climbing up Parker Ridge. Before I realized, I was up high on the ridge and even under smoky skies I had a panoramic view far and wide. The Selkirks had an infamous alternate dubbed the Lions Head Ridge. Notably, this ridge alternate avoided an overgrown and more or less trail-less drainage and provided the hiker with incredible views of the surrounding granite basins and granite domes. The Lions Head Ridge route is the idea of my buddy Li, who thru-hiked and mapped the PNT in '09 (I may be off on this, but my memory is ringing with this year). He was a go-getter and route-blazer back in the day and most of the popular routes hiked today, Li was one of the first in most of the routes. He is a very skilled map maker too, probably one of the best in my opinion. I know he had an incredible PNT map set a while ago before the PNT took over the map set. I have seen that old Li map set----killer, just so much more thoughtful and incredibly helpful. Along these lines, I do wish his name was out on some of these alternates he created because all the young hikers have no clue who he is and I believe he is an important part of our long distance hiking community's history. From the Hayduke, to the ICT, to the GDT, and to the PNT, among others, he has left an impact far unheard of than what is actually common hiker mainstream knowledge nowadays.
Lions Head Ridge is not to be missed. The astounding views are reminiscent of northern Yosemite and a world of granite gleaming in a granite globe is visible everywhere you turn. Up on the ridge proper, you will be challenged navigationally and, for an extended period of time, boulder hopping will become one's method of travel. But, this challenging alternate is not all too bad. Really, it is very hard with rewarding and unlimited views. I finally had a chance to cowboy camp up on the granite-slabbed ridge. The smoke sunk as the chill of the night came on and I finally got to see the moon, which had been so hidden in this forested route so far.
Overall, the ridge did not consume too much time, 6 hours in all for approximately 10 miles. At Lookout Mountain, I eyed the 4,000ft descent and the blue waters of Priest Lake. All the views above and expansive were choked with heavy smoke. But, that blue of the water pulled me in. I scampered along the trail zipping on towards the lake in excitement. At a proper shaded beach spot, I indulged in the turquoise blue waters of Upper Priest Lake and my skin began to feel comfortable, soothed with the cool water of the deep lake.
Wonderful walking in a rain forest ensured along pretty trail. Ferns lined the forest floor, a deep red soil compacted the trail, and giant cedars stood incredibly tall above me. Light refracted through the tall canopy and I hiked in an arboreal trance only brought on by a thick northwest forest. Later that evening, I camped in a giant cedar grove and felt the darkness sink to depth rivaling the bottom of a deep lake. I could hear the wind wave up on the pointed crowns of the giant cedars some 200ft above. I was swaying in the hull of a ship, the trunks of the cedars the masts keeping this whole ship afloat.
Metaline Falls to Oroville:
7/21-7/27, ~250 miles
I am a better storyteller than an explainer of thought. I describe scenes better than getting my thoughts out clear. So, I will just get into the scene over this ~250 mile stretch, as I blabbed off the cuff a little too much earlier on stuff. I will just describe what we did.
By this point, my head cold had finally subsided and I only had a nagging cough. Thankfully, the cough would not last much longer, not more than a couple days from Metaline Falls. From Metaline Falls to Northport, the PNT is uneventful except for the high point of Abercrombie Mountain. But, the news of Washington State Land closures within the next week had me concerned as I left Metaline Falls. I decided to just get to Northport to gather as much information as possible to develop a plan on moving forward.
Two brief days of walking and not trying to work shit up in my head proved to be a necessity. After a 21 or so mile paved road walk, I ambled into town early afternoon. I headed straight over to the bar restaurant, but not having not put out a message to Eric at the PNTA. After a big lunch, I spoke with Eric. The state lands of all of eastern Washington were to be soon closing because of the threat and dryness of extreme drought and fire conditions. At that moment, the Forest Service, a government run agency that manages public lands, had not made a decision to follow suit with the State Land Agencies. This left the eastern trailheads of the Pasayten Wilderness open that would require a planned detour around the closed state land around Chopeka Mountain. This also meant that the PNT from Northport to Oroville would be open as well since that long section consists of road easements and BLM and FS lands. My plan was to stay the night at the trail angels' place in town with some other hikers, then take 6.5 days to hike ~200 miles to get to Oroville. I wanted to get the long paved road sections out of the way besides the roads making for easy travel. At this point, I decided if I am going to come back up here to hike a section I missed it would be for something pretty and cool and not for something not worthwhile like all these paved roads.
We had a mini-hiker party at the trail angels' pad. I had a good time with everybody. We all camped on the grass in the backyard. I met Oracle here, as well. Up early in the morning, I saw Nik take off with his tiny MLD pack. I left about an hour afterwards. I thought maybe we were potentially in sync with these closure plans. I booked it along the long road walk and that evening I camped with Oracle.
We got along right away. He has lived in Los Angeles for the past 6 or 7 years and being that I am from LA, we had plenty to talk about. I truly enjoyed this budding friendship and I felt so invigorated to talk with a young person who loves living in LA, who trains in my old stomping grounds of the Angeles Crest and the High Sierra. These conversations brought back cherished memories. We hiked on in sync without any one of with the ability to out-walk one another. He had such a cool demeanor and I could tell he had a great passion for his first endeavor in the long distance world. He had studied experienced hikers, dialed in his gear, practiced his style, trained hard, and pushed himself. He did not act like, look like, or behave like a first time thru-hiker. He acted like a professional, a seasoned veteran of the trail. I bonded with him immediately. I valued his questions and so appreciated falling in to kind of a mentor role. After 35 miles per day, seeing him struggle yet persevere through with a mild stomach issue, and get stronger all the way to Oroville, we were no longer in mentee/mentor relationship. We were peers and a friendship had formed.
I really enjoyed the Kettle Crest, despite the super-thick smoke that had enveloped the surrounding skies. We pushed harder to get through knowing that a potential window would be closing. We were game for the challenge, however. At times, I could feel myself figuratively foaming at the mouth to get what we were after. Up early at or before sunset, cowboy camping almost every night, streamlining our itinerary, and hiking until dark, we managed to get into Oroville in 6 days. We encountered around 5 bears in this section. One waking me up in camp and 2 cubs around 70ft up in a tall pine squealing like pigs being the highlights. We even had an evening and a morning in Republic, a pretty dope little town with an awesome brewery in eastern Washington.
During this stretch, we had heard or saw that hikers had begun to flip, skip, and hitch their way around potential closures. Nothing had really occurred yet, just the potentiality of closures existed. I was flummoxed at the ease in such decision making. I understand I was being subjective, but I also knew what I wanted. And, there was nothing to really make a hasty decision yet. 'Keep walking' should have been the mantra. So it goes, I guess.
In Oroville, we ate so much to fatten up the reserves we lost walking that hard in the heat. We, also, ate a ton to fatten our reserves for the next very long wilderness stretch. We developed a plan for the next stretch into the Pasayten Wilderness. We were not out of the closure area yet, or the threat of wildfire due to extreme heat and drought for that matter. No time to dilly-dally, especially with a thru-hike at stake. We had ahead of us a ~44 mile road walk with a detour from Oroville that would put us at the Boundary Trail trailhead and into the Pasayten. We could not let up yet. We still felt the urge to push.
Oroville to Baker Lake (Concrete):
7/28-8/5, ~255 miles
The Pasayten Wilderness stretch is my favorite part of the whole PNT. This vast wilderness stretches for nearly 120 miles before dumping out into Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Combine the two and a huge wilderness swath is available for the most hardy of hikers. The PNT utilizes the PCT for nearly 14 miles, arguably the prettiest little stretch of the whole trail. Once out of the fire closure threat of eastern Washington state land agencies, we entered the vast tract of wilderness. We could see the huge cumulonimbus fire cloud of the Cub Creek fire to the southwest. The sky smothered in a haze of thick smoke, but now, being up so high, we could see where the smoke was coming from, unlike before. Before the smoke oozed its way across the sky and surrounding hillsides, like a smoky sphere encapsulated my enveloped my own personal globe. We also had an incredible pathway of trail! The feeling of flowing with nature on its own groove-way, streamlining a zooming connection with the slow twirl of the globe puts one in the transfixed zone and headspace. We moved onward in glee, an utter tick of a natural pace that tapped into our nomadic roots.
High pointy peaks surrounded Cathedral Pass, the high point of the PNT. Sweeping views afforded us widespread views of not only the route ahead of us but of other wildfires seemingly close to our pathway. Atop Bunker Hill, we spied the close fire across the Canadian border, the billowing towers of smoke a living and moving entity, like a warping cocoon with a monster inside. We camped before the infamous remnants of hundreds upon hundreds of downed logs from a 2007 wildfire that ravaged this wild landscape. Our aerie put us in between three wildfires, the third now due west of us. Either way, we felt the worst parts behind us, like we were now officially out of the closure barrier and pressure we had in our heads. Regardless, hard work still laid ahead of us.
The downed log stretch, evidently nearly 600 logs across the trail, did not take us too long. But, this stretch was still a pain in the ass. Since our passage through the Pasayten River burn area, from Bunker Hill to Frosty Pass, the PNTA had a backcountry trail crew that cleared the mazework of downed logs making this stretch so much more enjoyable and less taxing to the hikers hiking in after us. One thing I can say, despite the nitpicking of the road walks, is that this PNT has an incredible support system and a great network of community. The PNT trail crews are really out there busting their humps in making this trail so less overgrown than in years prior. A huge thanks is in order....thank you very much!
Below Frosty Pass, near Castle Pass, we intercepted the PCT. Smoke smothered the skyline and the normal views I had been accustomed to up here this far north were gone. Nonetheless, this portion of trail tantalized our feet with well-trodden tread. I am sure Oracle had some visions of hiking the PCT, as I had visions of my past treks and even future treks of the PCT.
That night, we camped below Rock Pass. Around 3am, a storm rumbled through and continued to rain until late morning. Under my tarp at 6am, I saw Oracle packed up and ready to go. This old man grumbled in a tired and allergic-to-water tone. I saw him amble down trail and I loathed myself for being wise. Sometimes confused for being smart, I see wise at times as being a nice word for fear. I do not necessarily want to get wise especially when I am not really being present in the moment. Oracle's zeal and enthusiasm squelched any tiny particle of fear. He was precocious and I was worn with experience. But, seeing him spring along trail in the morning rain, feeling that feeling of when I was 'new,' I leapt up and ran after him prancing along the trail. Later that morning, I felt giddy as the rain kept pelting me. I became entranced by the constant stream of drops and, for a moment, I yelled out with the fire of adventure, of living in and embracing the moment. Oracle was inspiring me.
We got up to Devils Ridge that normally would afford us views of glacier laden peaks. Clouds smothered the hillsides and forests. Thick cotton like puffs of clouds rollingly moved over ridgelines and in and out of drainages. You could envision the body of wind pushing and pulling the clouds that plowed through the landscape, the wind the yoke of an ox-cart driving a team of oxen. We began to enter a dreamscape. The smoke from the day before had sunk and we knew we were among giant and craggy peaks, but we would only see slivers of point peaks and, at times in brief moments, I would confuse the glaciers clinging to the peaks for a distant white cloud that stood out in contrast to the lolling grayish cotton ball clouds in the foreground.
After a tremendous descent down to Ross Lake and a long and hard push through the Pasayten Wilderness we entered an illusory world of smoke and mirrors. The cold and moist air had sunk the billowy smoke witnessed in the west the day before. Suddenly, from being in wet, foggy, and misty conditions, we were now in a globe of silver smoke that transported us to another dreamscape, this time, now, we were in some dark fairy tale that glassed over the reflective murkiness of Ross Lake. Maybe, one day, I will awake from this smoky dream with a tremendous tumult in the reality of concrete and highways where myths die.
We had stayed the course, determined we strove. We pushed hard and persevered through the unknown only controlling the thing we could control: our feet. We became immersed in a massive wilderness with unknown conditions and came out the other side safe and sound, connected and continuous.
At the western side of Baker Lake, we hitched into the tiny town of Concrete to eat our first real meal in 8 days and nearly 250 miles. We were also waiting for Oracle's parents who had planned to trail magic Oracle. They lived in Anacortes, about an hour jaunt west and in the Puget Sound. Oracle is from there. In a sense, he was almost home. With our silence of wilderness broken, we got a ride from a dude who was hungover and going to town for the cure of coffee. I had forgotten how normal people lived because I had been so enrapt by the Pasayten and the North Cascades.
Baker Lake (Concrete) to Port Townsend:
8/6-8/11, ~187 miles
Out of the North Cascades and into big timber and rainier country, out of the smoke and into the mist, the Puget Sound came into sight. Although only a glimpse, I raised my arms up in excitement while the skies opened up on us and poured down rain. The first two days of this stretch mostly rained. We did not see the upper flanks of Mt. Baker. But up on Mt. Josephine, a miniscule mount compared to Mt. Baker, we saw the large Skagit Valley. The forecast of rain looked ominous, in particular the second day. Need not to matter to us, we thought, because we were so close to the urban area around the Skagit Valley and the Puget Sound, as well as the sanctity of Anacortes and Oracle's parents' house.
At 4am, a couple huge solitary drops pattered my tarp. I thought something was walking through the forest towards our camp. Then, I realized the rain had started. At around 6am, I looked at the world from under my tarp in earnest. Again, I saw Oracle ready to go. Fuck, I wanted to sleep the rain off. Hell, this young buck is tough and enthusiastic. I got up with a belly full of piss, packed quickly and trudged on. A series of dirt roads on state lands with logging operations, the rainy day quickly became a slog. I started humming the mantra of the day pretty damn quick: warm and clammy...warm and clammy.
We trundled on in a wet misery. I realistically knew what today was going to be. I am not sure if Oracle knew, though. I grumpily continued on. I can hammer it out with the best of them, but there are times to throw in the towel and just go to town. I was not sure the suffering was worth it only to be cold and wet in the evening and to wake up cold and wet in the morning. I knew we would be thoroughly drenched, our gear even worse for wear. At a highway crossing, we hid under the coverage of a church's porch. I could have stayed right there. But, but we got right up and planned on continuing another 7 miles before camp.
Not everyday on trail is glorious. No two rains are the same. One has to be cognizant of the environment they are walking, the time of year, what your gear is capable of, what you are capable of, what your overall goals are, and most importantly, one has to be willing to adapt and be flexible when shit hits the fan.
At the top of the climb, the sun peeked out from the low stratus clouds. I could see the Puget Sound. The sea laid just ahead and at that moment the sun had greeted us. But, Mother Nature had different plans and just poured something fierce out of the heavens. Just to keep us humble, albeit a grumpy and uncomfortable humility, I knew our day was far from over even though it was early in the evening. We got to our hoped for campsite and saw it flooded. We began to get cold. And we were wet. It would be a monumental task to stay warm and clammy at this point. I waited up for Oracle...because when it is raining, one does not stop, one just fucking walks.
We looked at the campsite in disgust. Only one thing to do: keep moving. After another half hour, we entered the front side of the range that overlooked the rolling hills to the south of Bellingham, a fairly large city.
'At this point, I might as well call my parents,' Oracle said. Although I had searched for motels on my phone, I knew I could not call the day. I could only reinforce the idea if Oracle brought it up. He finally did at about mile 35, at about the time we were the coldest and a decent campsite seemed indefensible. He called his parents to ask for a ride. We would swap our 'zero day.' So, rather than walking into Anacortes for a zero day, we would ask for one now, when we were absolutely wet, cold, and miserable. This was not the most idealistic day for hiking, and many folks were in town or made their way into town. We did too, nonetheless, just after 40 miles of slugging it out.
...Aaaaah, the zero day of my dreams. Just perfect. We got to James and Lezlie's house the evening before at around 10pm. We got hot showers and dried off. We even got fresh and piping hot chicken tortilla soup! Our gear was demolished from the rain, everything soaked through from a couple days of non-stop rain. We spent the next day lingering around the breakfast table and counter, feasted for lunch in Bellingham, and had a great dinner and drinks over looking the Puget Sound from the patio of the house. We laughed so hard and told stories. New friends, to say the least. A time to remember, no doubt.
We knew that the next objective was to get across the urban Skagit Valley and Puget Sound area in an efficient and stealthy manner. There was a ton of road walking in urban areas, tiny pieces of trail here and there, and a small bit of beach walking. But, in order to keep our pace and mileage, we would have to find clandestine camping locations unknown and hidden to the public. Luckily, I was hiking with a local. It was so cool to hike with Oracle in this area. He knew all the spots. I got to know him even further as we delved into his childhood years and teenage romps.
After walking through the city forest of Anacortes Island, we crossed Deception Pass on a bridge and landed onto Whidbey Island. From here, I got a case of the blahs. I was not excited about this urban road walking any more. After a cool stealthy spot camped near the Air Force Base fence line, we got to the west side of Whidbey Island. The beach walking was secluded enough to not feel any imposition from the human world until we hit Eby State Park. Back into the hordes of people, I just wanted out of the Puget Sound area. Again, with other road walking parts of this trail, shit just felt forced. On the ferry ride over from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend the Olympic Mountains held a deep and moody blue over the skyline façade. I could not wait to get back into the mountain. But first, we had to walk another highway with a very narrow shoulder to get to the foothills.
Port Townsend to Cape Alava:
8/12-8/17, ~180 miles
Finally, up into the Olympics. Finally, a more wild place. Of course, entering a National Park one can expect tourists, recreationists, and backpackers. Of course, we encountered all three. But, the views and the experience through Olympic National Park did not disappoint.
To our sudden surprise, we ascended into some very thick smoke, such a contrast to the deep and crystal blue we saw the day before while on the ferry road. Evidently, smoke blew in from the Vancouver, BC area and just smothered the entire Olympic Peninsula. With our views obstructed, we simply put our heads down and climbed, really climbed up some 6,000ft. Atop the climb, we ran into a campground full of campers, RVs, and 'walk-ins' with vehicles. We hurried through and aimed for the peaks just a few miles ahead out of everyone's hair. The evening hurried into a purple haze and sunset only became blazingly bolstered by the smoke. As night approached quickly, the smoke languorously melted into the palate of dusky hues. We could see a stream of wind bisect the smoky air, splitting the dusky purple in half. The calving of the smoke appeared violent, or repentant, like pure water ridding the sky of its sins. We found our camp on a mountaintop, an altar to worship the sliver of moon, praying for an exhaustive exit of this hazy pollution to our human-caused arsonist ways, hoping for a change.
Throughout the night, we obliged visitor in our small and exposed camp. A healthy buck nibbled on small patches of alpine grass all around us and in between us. One of us would waken and throw rocks at the buck to fetch him out of our area. I thought we had finally had a peaceful camp without any disruptions: no mosquitoes, no wind, no vagrants, no cars, no jet fighters, no grizzly bears, and no sign of rain. In the morning, we laughed off the buck's presence, just another little tidbit in a bigger story.
The end became palpably nearer, so much so I swear I could smell the salt of the coast in the air. We hiked on briskly, even descending another 6,000ft only to go back up another 5,000ft. The PNT ringed the Seven Lakes Basin and we ambulated along a crest that gave us front row seats to the spectacular sight of Mount Olympus. Truly incredible indeed, I could have gazed at that massive mount a full day if I had my choice. But...the coast beckoned.
After spilling off the ridgecrest, we tumbled into the Bogachiel River drainage, a proper rainforest that had recently seen some trail maintenance. This drainage had been notorious in its shagginess and massively downed logs across the trail. Giant hemlock, humungous cedars, and colossal Douglas firs populated the drainage all hung thickly and ubiquitously with moss. This whole rainforest cradled with bogs and bottoms had a red and punchy trail speed-bumped with large roots, enough to trip a whole herd of hikers. Pristine cold water flowed down gashed out drainages with slippery as an eel rock. Lastly, tall ferns came up to our shoulders, both us at least 6'4'' in stature. Nonetheless, this rain forest, even with its monumental shadows and its wet appearance, the sweltering heat made the sphere akin to a sauna. At camp that night, I tried to cowboy camp above the banks of the Bogachiel River. River rocks tumbled out of the tall banks and into the river, the banks in constant erosion. I could not sleep with the cascading noise, mainly thinking a bear was wandering into a camp through the brush. I grumpily set up my tarp, Oracle laughing at my ridiculousness.
The tides of the Olympic Coast became our most proximate concern. I had no idea what to expect in this rugged coastal area. I had no idea what would pass as a warning or be good to go with us. I really did not know what to expect--I will say that again. After walking into Forks, we sat in a pizza place, charged our phones, and began to research the high and low tides. We both knew how important this research and familiarity would be to us, even with Oracle being almost a local, as this research would guide our pace through this area. After a few hours of eating, food shopping, and forming a plan...
… the van turned around and honked at us, exactly the same van I had said I would not want a hitch from. The driver looked too sketch. I nearly turned down the hitch and figured to just walk back the 5 miles, but I knew our timing almost depended on this hitch. Oracle looked game for it all. The front window rolled down, a huge bull mastiff sat in the shotgun seat, and the tweaker asked if we needed a ride. I reluctantly said we did. The sliding door opened and another dude, all tatted up, sat on an ice chest. Two other big dogs sat on the rear bench seat. Oracle hopped in the back and I in the shotgun seat. Off we were to Bogachiel State Park. Little did we know at the time that this ride would prove pivotal for our tidal timing.
Along the way, I noticed a bag of booze under the driver seat. His arms were pockmarked with burn scars and needle marks. His index finger and thumb of his left hand kept rubbing together. Something inside that hand he cupped like a wadded up Kleenex. He swerved along the curvy road, even going slower than normal traffic. At the turn off he pulled over. We said our niceties to each other. I do not know if I would have made that ride if it lasted more than 10 minutes.
We stalled our steps leading our way out of the state park. We did not want them to know which way we were going. After they disappeared from our sight, we walked down the highway a mile or so to our turn off point. We needed 6 miles that night. The plan was to get up early in the morning, a 430am wake up call, and walk forested roads to another state park and the start of our beach walk at the mouth of the Hoh River. We needed to get those 16 miles by noon, as the high tide peaked around 850am. At around mile 18, we would have our most crucial high tide water mark at the Diamond Head. If we timed this wrong, we would have to wait until conditions favored us. Fortunately, we attained those first 16 miles by 1030am. We were trying to split the gap between the high tide and low tide marks.
A steady stream of rain began to fall as we hit the state park. Thankfully, the air was not too cold. Evidently, this area of the Olympic Peninsula has more cloudy days than anywhere in the U.S. and is the only place other than Hawaii that has a rainforest. We expected the gloom and drizzle.
We entered the coast line. The roar of the waves crashing on the beach was deafening, a pure bombardment of chaos that left tombstones of driftwood and ravaged chiseled rock beneath the bluffs. A wide and long beach extended for a couple miles. Huge root wads sprang up from the compacted sand. Ocean water ran up the slopes of the beach after the waves had crashed and, with ease, angled back down through the pebbles and rocks that rang out in a shrill of metallic pings. The 'platinumsphere' (a word described to me by Oracle, a descriptive word of the Pacific Northwest coast in which the atmosphere is a smear of silvers, grays, and whites that create a platinum light reflecting all around you in the coastal atmosphere) enveloped the coast and the open water. The only real stark contrast was the dark green forest clinging to the banks above the beaches. The open sea rolled in waves that crested and crashed, the spindrift blowing in the sea breeze that formed a low mist layer that scintillated the crystals of water vapor floating in the air. Shrouded in another dreamscape, I could feel the gray, the sinking of the clouds, the the wind and power of the waves pushing the water vapor through a thin level of marine layer that formed a tier in the spectrum of mist. This misty layer had to reach land. It was inevitable. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the coast we sauntered onward setting our aim towards the headland of Diamond Head.
Everything felt wet. Our footing compacted the damp sand, not sinking in but tamping down further the dampness of the coast. I kept looking back at my footprints, the long zagging path of my existence that would live on until the tide rose high once again and would sweep my marks away. The contrail of thought held in a realm of gray and wet light, the wind would not brush me away like in the desert. Here on the coast, my time stood still, my footprints frozen in time as my beaten heart was led by the rising and setting of the moon.
At Diamond Head, we scooted around the promontory with the seawater receding at the perfect mark. We scrambled over the slippery rocks covered in barnacle and other bits and pieces of sea life. Around each bend and contour of the coastline we went, methodical, hypnotized by the roar of the waves crashing, by the flushing of the spindrift misting our face, the rain still pelting our hoods. At a headland crossing, we climbed up some slippery ladders and ambled through a thick and dense forest. We finally became soaked to our skin as the ferns and other leafy branches coated us with a sticky water. This 3 mile overland stretch proved to be the most difficult and, at one point, I smashed my head into a low lying log overhead that I could not see with my drenched hood sagging too low over my brow. I plopped in a mud pit and a ringing in my ears persisted through my head. I sat there for a second and breathed. I struggled to get a full sentence out to Oracle, who stood by chuckling. As water dripped off the tip of my nose, I could only mutter: watch your head.
Some hours passed by and we were hitting our tidal marks in a most beneficial way. I actually lost track of time being so enraptured by the coast-- the noises, views, the colors of rock, the lack of color of the air, the giant driftwood trees, the craggy rocks and turrets out in the coastal waters-- the uniqueness of it all surrounded me in a curiosity unfulfilled. Oracle looked at me and said, 'We are getting to La Push tonight in time for dinner.' I could not fathom that notion at the time. I still did not know what to expect when the tide would get higher and how the terrain would look like. Around jumbled and rocky headlands further up the coast, the sun split the gray clouds and mist. I could feel the warmth dry up any trickle still wriggling on my skin. A few stretches of long beaches at low tide sped us across a few coves at an easy trot. Not much easier walking than that of compacted beach walking at low tide. That day we covered 35 miles and hiked into La Push in time for some fish and chips and clam chowder. We nailed our timing with the tides. We had a couple beers feeling celebratory, as if this was our finishing point. We had such a high as we reminisced about the entirety of the PNT and our time together. We knew we had one more day left, but today was an epic day, one that would be hard to beat.
That night we stealthed camp at a beach tucked in between some large driftwood logs. At one point, some dude came over towards us. He did not see us, but proceeded to take a shit right there on the beach. I have seen plenty of people taking a shit, but I had never seen anyone's behaviors leading up to taking a shit. He looked all around, posing as if he was out for a walk at night. He dropped his trousers as he squatted and moments later pulled them right back up. We were covered by the darkness of the night, so he could not see us. I could not hear anything, even though he was like 30 feet from us, for the tide squelched out any grunts. A strange, yet funny, moment indeed.
We woke up early the next morning, not only to avoid the 'ghost-pooper' but to get out of our camp before any one saw us. We had to wait until around 9am anyways to avoid the high tides. We were to have some breakfast before trying to find a ferry hitch across the mouth of the Quillayute River, which is a huge coastal inlet. The ride came easy enough. Gene, who runs the marina in La Push, approached us and asked if we were PNT hikers. I recognized him from the store earlier that morning. I saw him giving us a scowl. Little did I know that he was the marina manager. And little did I know that the size of our packs confused him. He just was not sure if we were hiking the PNT with backpacks so small. Once across the river channel, we began the same sea song as yesterday.
After our floating high from yesterday, this day proved more taxing. We only had 23 or so miles to the end, Cape Alava. Cape Alava is the western most point of the lower 48. Some of the day had some easy beach walking, while most of the day felt to be walking on slippery and precarious rock, boulder hopping over tidal pools. When we were not boulder-hopping we limboed under driftwood nestled up on the high, rocky shores of inland coves. We slowed down at times to gaze into the tidal pools filled with tiny sea life. We walked over shores laden with seaweed. We even came across some carcasses, a couple seals, a porpoise, and a whale.
This part of the coast is more rugged. Huge islands sprout up out of the shallow waters. Turrets and spires point skyward being sashed by the crashing waves. Sea gulls hover over the larger of the islands where the gulls have nests, an inaccessible space from predators and humans. Walking along the coast in this section, when you did not have your head down, one could see the spires passing by and changing shape as one slid up the beach. The miles felt slow and the coast felt long, but looking south and west the feeling of time and space felt infinite, barrier-less, no ending other than what man has created. Where land and sea meet, head to head, something has got to give. Yet, in 4 cycles a day one can feel in charge of things or one can feel helpless. Regardless, just looking out into the ocean gives one a perplexity into existence, maybe akin to space. I do not know much about the sea. The sea is intimidating to me. Nevertheless, I could look out into the frothy expanse and have that same undying and curious feeling I get looking up into the stars, or sitting atop a peak in Nevada, and feel emptiness, that life is trivial and mundane, insignificant, yet mid-blowingly beautiful and precious. I can gaze out into the ocean and see the infinite and understand I will never get on that ride. I am better off eroding, pondering, relishing the tender moments of the actuality of my existence. Like those footprints in the coastal sand, a Utah canyon, or a Nevada salt flat---everything is impermanent except the force of nature.
At a tiny spit of rock, we climb up individually to signify the arbitrary end of something. The moment felt good, accomplished. Seals barked from a nearby island and pierced the air with a hoarse cacophony. A oblong island backdropped the spit behind us. This was perfectly nice, unique and different. I was happy to share this moment with Oracle, most of all. I guess I could give two shits about my own personal thing. I mean, I accomplished my goal, but to see someone put everything in to something, like Oracle did, and stand there with a smile on his face, an infinite enthusiasm---yea, that's what it's all about.