Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Second Time Around the Loop: Part 1

 The Second Time Around the Loop: Part 1

The morning alpenglow start of the GBT

The rays of the sun gleamed over the mighty ramparts of the Snake Range, the highest and craggiest ridgeback of the Great Basin, on the morning of my second go of the Great Basin Trail. The morning rays immersed the air in a hazy yellow that swallowed up views of the surrounding area. I felt enveloped in a sun globe of light squinting my eyes from the intense glare, gauging distance through a blur of light that muddled my perspective of the high ranges and long basins around me. Basking in the light I became confused about the way to go. I shook off the glow of the sun rays and tried to clear my head with some deep breaths. Settled and relaxed, a feeling full of an unknown path that lay ahead and fresh with a memory so recent my first step felt the same. The light had only baffled me briefly. I was back again, the same terminus of a beginning and an end. I rattled off in a shaky and hoarse voice to Woody and Pep: You ready?

The previous months, we spent time organizing a resupply strategy, arranging a shuttle plan, and planning a timeframe to get everyone ready for a Great Basin Trail thru-hike. Woody was coming from a Spring of exploring the rare plants of the arid inter-regions of the West, Pep was coming from California after working for the Winter, and, eventually, Katie would join us after she was free of her work commitments. I had hiked the GBT the previous Spring in ‘20, I took the lead on arranging our meet-up and timeframe. We planned on having buckets filled with food at various cache points along the southern portion of the route. We developed an itinerary with mileage and pace based on our backcountry experience and our expectations. Here we were, basking in that immense Great Basin light shining over the tall ridgecrest of the Snakes, ready to put one foot in front of the other, together navigating a meandering route that looped around and within the Great Basin of Nevada. We pointed a trajectory away from Wheeler Peak, seemingly up in heaven, an altar overlooking the entire Great Basin, a Mount Olympus of sorts where ghosts of dead miners, Paiute chiefs, and pioneers dwell, and headed south into the Fortification Range.

Looking back towards the Snake Range

The Great Basin Trail circles 1,100 miles within the state of Nevada, with the obvious connotation of the vast ecosystem the trail resides in. This loop is huge, a vast and remote landscape adorned with isolation and empty terrain. Hardly any sign of humans exists in some of these remote expanses. The GBT is strung together by lonely ranges and empty basins, high ridge lines and barren sagebrush-filled valleys. None describes these characteristics more than the Fortification Range. This range is seldom visited by recreationists and campers, hardly peak-bagged because the peaks are not tall enough, and never off-roaded by jeepers because of the wilderness designation. This range is a wild horse sanctuary - laden with water, shade and grass, untrammeled by people.


From afar, the range looks inhospitable and beyond access. But, upon closer exploration, the walker finds a horse trail angling up into the ramparts along a large cliff band. Under the pink tufts sprouting up like a stegosaurus's back, the prominence below and all around of the Great Basin puts one in an ocean of empty land. Woody, Pep, and I followed this horse trail up into a narrow creek crammed under pink walls. We stopped occasionally, Woody stopped to inspect rare plant species endemic to the Great Basin. His knowledge immediately brought us closer to the landscape, his enthusiasm filled our veins with excitement. He spotted a few ponderosas under the toothiest of crags, a tree rare in these parts. More life existed in these inhospitable parts than met the eye. 

Here’s the key - I utilize descriptive words only in relation to human impact or existence. I cannot describe the utter spirit of wilderness. That feeling can only exist when us humans are gone or one is solo in isolation where that wilderness encompasses one’s presence and presses that emptiness atop insignificant and puny shoulders. We, humans, are no match for all of this wilderness. Nevertheless, we must go and dive in, the deeper we dive the more we succumb to the power of vulnerability and drown in the spirit of the wild. 

Sun bleached bones littered the drainages and slopes near the springs, scattered about as if fallen from the sky by ravenous birds. We stumbled onto an elk carcass, the pelt exploded around the bull’s skeleton as if the skin had suddenly popped, each individual strand of fur outlining the carcass. The skull and antlers had long dried meat, purple from the dryness and decay. We studied the death site and could envision the throes of death in the Winter in an empty landscape, no person to hear the wails, probably most other animals giving a wide berth. This carcass was not here in the Spring of ‘20. This seemingly agonizing death felt recent and natural.

Fortification Range

Beneath the range, we skittered along braided horse trails in a crescent-shaped divot, a cove in the valley that rose gradually and protected into the range. The Gouge Eye formation fortified the range as much as the ramparts did. Elk grazed here alongside the wild horse. At the namesake spring, we find the copper pipe dry and rusted, the dried-out pool signifying the drought we all knew the West is under. I felt disappointed to find this spring bone dry. Last year, at this spring a chickadee alighted on the pipe inches from my hand and face. I felt that moment to be a good sign, one that pervaded the long waterless stretches and the intimidation of the high desert. We stood almost tongue-less, parched, with thirst encroaching on our survival. I had filled up an extra liter, just in case, at the previous potholes, but I expected water here. We schemed out a plan that would push us forward while in search of water. Temperatures were cooler in the night and the morning. We would make miles then.

The search for water put a strain on our threesome immediately. We all had different experiences with these situations. Being I was sort of leading this expedition, I felt confident we would find water. I tried to maintain some calmness and sternness. We needed to keep forward progress while managing our conditions. We woke up to chilly temperatures that morning in Smiley Canyon and ambled along a forested wash. Eventually, we found water and lavished in the rich coolness of refreshment, really only having to go 12 or so miles without water in very modest temperatures. Deep down I had hoped this would set a tone - do not take this environment lightly.

Water and Mapping

After our indulgence of water, we scrambled up, over, into, and back up in the Wilson Creek Range. The route gets wooly here, the very thickness a pioneering sense of progress. Our group mentality rebounded positively with the prospect of plentiful water, yet we needed the overgrown patches to forge our fortitude - we were in it, committed. Finding a way through with Woody and Pep blended our skill sets together. We pushed our unexplored way through together discovering a new isolation. Huge conifers thickly lined the sharp angled drainages, aspen quaked in a slight breeze, and the cold night up on the high plateau and ridge brought a beautiful and brittle reality to our momentary lives. In a mahogany thicket, cluttered and tunneled out, we camped on a saddle, the cold air sinking, the dark sky shrouded by the branches. At one point in the night, the deafening silence was broken by a far-up airplane soaring by. I could see the stars twinkling in between the arms of the mahogany. Down below, I could see a sliver of a shimmering white light in the basin, a lone vehicle miles away hovering in the blackness. The three of us, like at the edge of an inland world, drawn together into the oblivion, we felt the loneliness of a unit rather than a lonesome solitary plight, a sullenness of torture brought on by isolation, as if we the travelers were left to roam the only emptiness left in this world. I forgave myself for my past obsession of traveling solo; I was grateful to have them with me. I leaned over and faced them from my bedroll. We all faced each other, our whispers breaking the silence, our beings in good company in this random and remote ridge.

In Pioche, we settled up for the night in a haunted motel and saloon. I moseyed up to the bar and drank cold, cheap beer. Something nostalgic traveling through a dusty old mining town, like itinerant travelers back in the Old West, moving through and headed to where temporary work was. We left the next morning and set our sights on the Highland Ridge. Once atop, amid the communication towers and repeaters, we on-sighted the southern ridge descent. Woody marveled at the limestone summit and told us to keep an eye for some rare astragalus or something or other, maybe even claytonia. Every once in a while, I would hear him whoop at a rare find or a beautiful plant specimen. I got a kick out of it. I asked him questions, a ton really. Pep did the same. We navigated, Pep and I, while Woody scoured the hillsides and ridges for rare plants.

Highland Range ridge

Pep is in his element in these situations - no trail, cross country, his vision piercing through land blocks, his calmness finding a good way through, the most fun way. I liked having him in this trio. He led from the back, quietly. He only says something if he means it. And, I trust his instinct. When he asked if he could join us on the GBT, I eagerly accepted his request. I knew he could make the GBT better and ultimately provide an improved vision that would appease any exploratory hiker. He is a visionary, while I am the results-oriented masher. Woody is the scientist that would lend to a deep and intimate relationship with the land. I knew the route while they provided assets and skills to improve the design on the GBT route. We had already improved the Wilson Creek Range traverse, and now, up on Highland Ridge, with a panorama as wide as any on the GBT, I already saw the GBT route improving, finding a better line than the one I originally took while ground-truthing. Now, with Pep and Woody, we were ground-proofing.

I find the water; that’s what I am good at. I have a nose for water. But, even with all my research prior to hiking the GBT the first time, I had to dive into this vast expanse of the Great Basin with a relatively unknown sense and security in what the water sources would actually look like. I was willing to take the risk, to go thirsty for a couple hours or 10 miles. I knew I had trained for that, even having a belief that I am built for waterless endurance. It is a mind set I have been working on for years. Even so, I had water caches planned at a couple locations, sometimes stashed with our food buckets, to buffer any real serious issues like drought or hot temperatures. I knew what to expect, like how far the next source would be, how likely the next source would actually have water, etc. This second time around the loop I held a firmer confidence in knowing the sources I had hiked to the previous Spring. 

At Cyclone Spring, thirsty, hot and dry, all of us, I blatantly walked past the dugout spring area fully believing nothing was there. But, I turned back to investigate the area further, realizing I should exercise patience and observe more of the possible changing conditions. Maybe I missed something? Nevertheless, I decided instantly to maintain a level of exploration out here, like I had not hiked across here before, like I was new to the area. I mustered deep into the well of curiosity to seek what we needed, to provide for our survival in a sense, to stay on task. The dugout proved to be nothing more than a dug out pit of where someone kept digging to find water, as year after year water kept seeping deeper and deeper into the basins below.

Then, we stumbled upon an iron vat, a large tank with a heavy lid. I opened the lid not expecting anything. To my bewilderment, crystal clear and cold water flowed out of a pipe, a strong flow pulsing into the voluminous tank. I looked up at Pep and Woody, smiling from ear to ear. We found water. We found unexpected water. Clear and refreshing water, an oasis discovered by our stumbling and aimless direction. We splashed in sheer excitement, like in cartoons where the characters find water in the desert. Our tongues rolled out to the floor, our eyes bulging out of our heads, this tiny discovery filled our gullets and stomachs with joy, with utter refreshment, so much so, I relished the quench of this water more than any other water I have ever gulped.

That evening we walked into a sunset amongst a tall Joshua tree forest. The Great Basin Trail travels through a small northern section of the Mojave Desert ecosystem. Joshua trees flourish in groves in the angled slopes of the basins - just between the peaks and the valleys. The sunset, purple and orange, a palette of dusk, spanned across the whole western horizon, as we walked towards it, facing the end of a day in dramatic fashion, as behind us the looming darkness of night began to pull the cord on the curtain on this stellar and empty stage. We were small characters, tiny actors, in the wide expanse of the Great Basin, meandering across the desert in amazement, the blooming of the desert still fragrant, air teeming with the fragrance of the ephedra and the sage, an impending thundercell encroaching towards us flashing lightning up in the clouds while the last rays of orange turned to purple that silhouetted the layers of endless mountain ranges, a seemingly sea bottom in the desert simply bountiful with wonder. We laid down our bedrolls among a tiny grove of Joshua tree as the thundercell rolled on through. Woody looked upward in marvel yet with a nervousness that he set up his tent. Pep and I just let things happen, open to the possibility of a tiny drenching of a spring rain. My gaze went from the western horizon to a fixation on the roving clouds above. The lightning flashed directly above us, not reaching the ground, although sparking a circular bulb instantaneously, so fast that if I blinked I missed the heavenly sparkler. As my eyes fell into a slumber, we never got wet, the virga never touching the ground, the electric orbs signaling a beacon eastward for the next lonesome traveler.

Mojave Desert ecosystem with Joshua Tree

In the end, when my time is up and I have left everything behind, I want to believe I contributed to something, to a community, that for a small era in my life I passed a piece of shared work behind that can help people attain a valuable experience in an incredible landscape. I witnessed such immersion that evening: watching Pep’s eyes bulge in excitement at the flashes of lightning above, observing Woody’s passion for intricacies in the plant life of the Great Basin. I can see their marvel in the panoramic vision into the emptiness of the Great Basin. This is as unique an environment as any place in the world. I just believe in that. And, I truly hope I can pass that forward. The Great Basin Trail is my contribution for the thru-hiking community.

Limestone cliffs buffeted the summit of Mt. Irish making the peak seem unattainable. Once through a notch in the cliff band, we stumbled into a scattered ponderosa forest. The tall pines looked old from the appearance of the thick and jumbled red bark. Woody had his eyes peeled for a rare plant up here, Lewisa maguirei. Limestone led to his curiosity, limestone encouraged his learned experience. He just knew he was going to find something. This Great Basin landscape, the freedom of space intertwined with the natural exploratory character of being a walker, of Woody being a botanist, of our human instinct to rove, to be nomadic and take a keen eye to the landscape, will all influence one’s hike. We all have a purpose out here. We all have skills that benefit the meandering movements of our threesome. The freedom of space and movement within this landscape only bonds together a route that is personal to the walker, like a form of survival, a thriving of the wild spirit that taps into our genetic code. Free form, adapt, do what you feel - you do not have to walk anyone else’s path. My intention is to develop this route to immerse you in the Great Basin. I encourage you to loosely follow what I have created to form your own experience, to fulfill your own curiosity from what the empty landscape inspires. Our common thread, as the traveler, is the unbelievably immense and empty landscape of the Great Basin.

Woody yelled out. ‘Oho! Oh SHIT!! Maguirei! I found it!’ Woody had just extended the known range of an endangered plant species by a couple hundred miles, the only known places being the Spring Mountains and the Quinn Range, some distances away in the Great Basin ecosphere. Damn, I felt enthused by Woody’s passion, his excitement. I felt it in my veins. Pep rushed over to observe the discovery. He leaned down, crouched like Woody, and snapped photos in the same eager way as he. We were infected by the bug, this microscopic view of the dirt and limestone that brought another intimate layer to this wide place, that brought a pulsing life to the terrain.

I scoured the dirt beneath me, the chossy limestone broken apart atop raspy shelves. I found one Maguirei, then a couple more. Woody had me trained now to see even the tiniest of plants. I knelt down and imagined the sprout pushing through the chossy surface. How tough and resilient, I thought, the gall to live and thrive excruciatingly. One forceful stem shoving through the gravely dirt showcasing its tiny self to the sun, exposing its smooth skin to the dry air. Then, one leaf pops open slowly, tumbling over a moat of dry air like a controlled and chained bridge, finally splaying out. The leaves cup for water, begging for the clear sustenance, surviving in the harshest of climates, the ancient species still stubbornly persistent.

Thundercell moving through the desert

I found it hard to leave the high limestone shelves beneath Mt. Irish. I wanted to dig more, to scrounge around and look for more rare plants. I felt like I was on a hunt while at the same time trying to traverse through. I ultimately kept my head up and forged my way to the top. All three of us sat under the communication towers atop the peak. We were afforded the usual wide views of the surrounding areas. We could see our next larger target: the Quinn Range about 50 miles away as the crow flies. In the foreground sprouted the Worthington Range, a gnarly craggy range short in length but precipitous in its jutting fault line. Pep eyed this closely. I could see it in his squinting brow. He sees something in the landscape most travelers do not. I could tell he wanted to traverse the range. I interjected his train of thought in a more conservative way. I even quelled my urge to stick with my plan of a harder crossing up and over the hogback. Instead, I vouched for my original crossing of the range in the northern and gentler graded slopes of the Worthingtons. I did not trust the water availability, as well as the amount of food we had left until the next resupply. The Worthington traverse would take time.

We focused all of our thoughts at the immediate craggy ridge line stemming off the northern point of Mt. Irish. Woody found a couple of bristlecone with roots hunkered into the chossy and exposed slopes. He mentioned how the bristlecone just loves cold and windswept ridges, how impressed he was that this particular scattered stand grew slowly and firmly in the lowest possible elevation for the tree’s life. He took a trip down ancient history and told us of how the basins below were filled with a vast inland sea. Ancient peoples navigated through the sky islands above the sea and probably saw this bristlecone stand as saplings. From our lofty view, I could only envision a past filled with unknown marvel and peril. I drifted off into a story I have read about, heard about, and now trying to walk about. I longed for that wild simplicity of purely existing. Instead, I trundled along soft talus that trained my focus to the present footstep.

Woody continued to teach us about the plants of the Great Basin. In every basin or valley, whether large or small, the plant life exhibited the blemish of the weather of the previous Winter and Spring. Various plants inhabited these lowlands depending on elevation, aridity, and alkalinity. Sagebrush is ubiquitous in the Great Basin. Sagebrush encompasses more often than not the basins around the Great Basin. One’s view is often glorified by the purple and greenish color of the sage. Once in the sea of sagebrush one’s nose perks to the sweet smell of the aromatic shrub. But, other shrubs dwell here in the Great Basin. We roved from greasewood to bitterbrush, sagebrush to salt brush, black sage to rabbitbrush. Huge forests of juniper and pinyon pine belted the foothills in between the basins and the highest parts of the ranges. In this belt and in the ribbons of creeks plummeting from the crests, cottonwoods colorfully lined drainages. The highest elevations held the occasional ponderosa, aspen, douglas fir, limber pine, and bristlecone pine. Woody rifled off names in such a stunning fashion that I ended up fumbling over my words and just fell into a trance gazing over the landscape. My descriptions above of the plants and trees of the Great Basin pale in comparison to the human guidebook that is Woody.

I began to look at basins differently because of him. As the GBT route creator, I am in constant search of a better way through, or a way that may hold more water for the hiker. I want to see how the seasons are different and how the seasons vary year after year. I am trying to envision a water record, to anticipate the quenching of the land through the needs of plants and shrubs, wild horses and trekkers.  In the end, the greatest gift Woody taught was how to read the color of the plants to understand the water content of the plants, water levels of the basins, and how the storms of the previous Winter and Spring moved over the landscape. I developed a pattern in my mind’s eye in how the water fell and I began to understand in confidence what would lay ahead. This inadvertent teaching immersed me deeper into a desert landscape. I now saw the desert differently, more intimately.

I was not shocked, then, to enter the Quinn Range and find running and pooled water scant in the first couple creek drainages we entered. No geologist here, but I tied the layer of rocks the Great Basin ranges were made of together with the health and vibrancy of the plants and shrubs. With limestone being composed of carbonate I could fathom the erosion of the brittle rock either soaking up or percolating the water through; I expected flowing water to be in lower elevations, but not as the creek bed entered a different rock layer at the upper edge of the basins. Either way, even if I could indescribably see water underground flowing like an electrician sees an electric current flowing through wires, I felt so ecstatic to present Pep and Woody the first perennially flowing creek on the Great Basin Trail. At a break, we lazed around in the pools amid the cascading cold water. We splashed our faces and necks, our skin rising up in tingling pricks. We even rinsed out our dusty socks and our salt-stained shirts. 

Normally, I am in the front leading the hike, especially on the climbs. Sometimes, though, I want to linger behind and observe how Pep and Woody choose the way through the route. However, I found this difficult to do based on our vastly different styles. Pep really took his time absorbing the landscape, as if he was figuring out some code, deciphering the secret of the terrain, while Woody would be scouring the ground for rare plants. I found myself ‘leading’ too much most likely because of my personality and my intimate knowledge of the route. I really felt engaged when I did, in fact, have the opportunity to observe my two friends navigating their way through. I relished those moments when our brains worked together as one and we, together, had decided which way to go. Within a week or so of our start, I understood how fortunate I was to hike a big route with two new hikers unfamiliar with the region as I was. 

In the Quinn's

Normally, I am not one to hike with anybody. Usually, I find myself more driven than the person beside me. Generally, I hike for myself and my own experiences. I do not feel the urge to seek out socially driven experiences, too. It is just my general nature. But, to be very open about this, the GBT and this particular hike with Pep, Woody, and eventually Katie is about their experience and the experiences of future GBT hikers. I read people just as well as I read a desert landscape, and I am so lucky to have the chance to observe Pep and Woody weave and meander through this grand Great Basin. I know them, too. I know the ‘feels’ they get out here under the big, giant sky. I see the fervor behind their smile. I can feel their hearts balloon up with their immersion in this place. I am happy to be out here with two friends hiking a route I envisioned and created that I truly have not thought about my own personal time out here. I am enjoying seeing them do this. These two are talented, smart, and really, really care about an endeavor of this sort. Occasionally, I would well up with emotion looking back at them or sharing a vista with them. Them joining me and I leading them means so much to me. And, I will help them in any way I possibly can. Mainly this means adapting my route and my schedule to the group needs whether physically, emotionally, or route-driven. All I know is that to see Woody geeking out on a rare plant and to spy Pep gazing out over the Great Basin from some random spot means the absolute world to me.

Atop the ridgecrest of the Quinn Range, we attained the best view of the whole GBT thus far. All around us we gazed in excitement at the profound distance we could see. We looked deeply into Area 51, looked intently back east at Wheeler Peak, squinted strongly towards the west and the Toiyabe - could we see the High Sierra? - and trained a furrowed brow to the north - could we see the Ruby’s or Diamond Peak? Massively impressed, our energies felt at an all time high. Pep lined his vision to the enormous canyon below us of the westerly ramparts. He looked up at us deviously: Should we take it? 

The heart of the Quinn's

Here’s the effused freedom I envisioned a hiker would pulse with out here on the GBT. This landscape beckons the traveler on foot to trample across the terrain where one’s curiosity pulls and tugs at our exploratory and nomadic nature. Impulsively, we must go that way; instinctively, we need to go that way. The wide open and unwalled space of the Great Basin unlocks a movement that flows with our needs and creative wants - free-form, adapt, do what you feel - you do not have to walk anyone else’s path. My intention is to encourage the lengthy immersion within the Great Basin, to loosely follow what I have developed to create your own experience, to forge our common thread of exploration in this unbelievably immense and empty landscape. 

‘Hell yea, Pep.’ ‘Let’s do it.’ Woody and I chimed in, responding to Pep’s enthusiasm. 

‘What do you see, the line? The way?’

We scampered along the ridgecrest weaving around piles of rock and in between clinging limber pines. At a ridge node we took the one most craggiest and slid down talus chutes and rocky limestone outcrops. At a low saddle, 500 feet below us, a negotiable descent began through a thickly sagebrush mountainside. The three of us split up following winding and twisting elk paths. Quickly, the peaks around us loomed steeply above, the gullies and shaded areas filled with crunchy snow. We reconvened at a wide and funneled pan directly above three creeklet forks that came together. Pep pointed out the canyon pinch point right around where the thick forest began. We aimed for the slopes adjacent to the small gorge. We ambled the elk trail that became straighter and etched through the rock and snow detritus. Large tumbled boulders and rolled logs laid stuck in the aggregated mess, but we moved swiftly. Soon enough we began an undulating traverse over a series of gullies, but not before running into a wild cow and her calf. Rough looking, wild-blazed, the horned cow trampled through the mahogany and pinyon pine thickets, the calf zig-zagging in any direction of least resistance. These two lived a quiet life up here. Branded, but probably forgotten, or known as too much trouble to capture, we envied the roaming and roving life of these mountain cattle in this wilderness.

In the dense forest, we lost the game trail. We kept a closer eye on each other through here to avoid any wrong turns or unfortunate off-chutes. Even though we wanted to be like the cattle, uncaptured and free, we were each other’s responsibility. Giant ponderosa pines lined the gouged-out creek drainage and sloped flats. We stopped to marvel these tall stands knowing that the pines were old and hardly ever had human eyes look up at their high canopy with needles draping from long branches, or had human hands touch their thick and red jigsaw puzzle bark, or had a human nose smell deeply in that same thick and jumbled bark the sweet fragrance of butterscotch or vanilla. Woody understood how rare these ponderosa stands were. With hardly any access to this canyon and this part of the Quinn Range, this surrounding forest was protected from any human impact. As we descended the drainage, sometimes we would hit a clearing on a rocky point, or attain the ridge bump between gullies, and see the tallest of the ponderosas sprouting up through the forest, just towering over the smaller trees.

We followed the flat banks of the creek that bounced us along atop ponderosa pine needles and duff.. Dry for some time, the creek bed had round boulders with a ‘clean’ patina. Yellow smudges showed the water mark, long ponderosa needles most likely the culprit of the stain. I wondered why this creek would be dry for most of the year. You could tell that maybe something cavernous fell below the channel or a porous characteristic drained the water below. With ample shade and the occasional pockets or pool of water, this canyon felt unoccupied, as if we felt the spirit of something residing here in this sanctuary that had not been here for a long time. At the confluence of the two major canyons, still hopscotching along rolling boulders, we found a cove tucked beneath a sedimentary textured rocky outcrop. Pink turrets poked up from the top just beneath the tallest of the ponderosas. A steep ramp led up to the cove. Woody eagerly spoke: ‘Let’s go look!’ 

We found a small overhang with a flattened and dug-out surface beneath, a small and indiscernible fire ring up against the lower parts of the wall. We looked around investigatively, especially Woody, the trained and educated eye. A shelf from the wall had splinters of rock and charcoaled wood. Arrowhead points and flints, tiny and broken, littered the shelf in a worn bowl within the rock. Woody found the best specimens directly on top of the dust and powder. He looked down at his feet and began picking through the thicker dust splinters of wood. He lined up his best finds. We had stumbled upon something, we knew it. We had found a cave long ago used by tribes. He looked up and saw pack rat midden glued to the roof of the cave, the amber gunk spackled into the potholes. He had studied, funnily enough, pack rat midden in recent summers. He understood that pack rat midden can tell us the timeframe of usage of this cave through the detritus stuck in the midden. Pine needles, charcoal, bones, whatever you can think of, if it was small the pack rat collected it and used it for its nest and the area of the pack rat’s shit and piss froze these small remnants in its amber. And, since the generations of pack rats kept the same nest, the pack rats shat and pissed in the same chambered room. Over time, these middens kept inadvertent track of the cave's history. 

Our skin tingled, our spirits swelled. This is why we walk a long way. We only hope and dream of something occuring like this, a discovery of our past, of a life much rougher and simpler, of less mainstream and electronic clutter, of no conveniences and fluff, of a tight knit family and tribe all geared towards survival. Woody felt the walls, poked at the ground, and gently caressed rocks while Pep gazed in wonder, his eyes wide and sparkling. I could not stop looking in circles, overwhelmed by the moment, envisioning that epic past life while trying to find the tiny remnants of that past life. My intelligible mind felt unaligned with my imagination, my heart and feel disconnected from my touch. Woody trained his eyes on something up high towards the outward side of the roof of the cave. Blurred and almost smeared in ochre, Woody spotted a pictograph, a figure. Our discovery continued on. 

After eyeing the pictograph for another few minutes, we trundled down the canyon until stumbling onto a giant ponderosa grove. The largest and most robust ponderosa had a crystal clear spring flowing from its exposed and massive root system. Again, for a moment, I lost track of our place and blurted out: ‘This cannot be Nevada.’ Awe-inspired, I gawked up at the glamouring giant tree. The isolation, the lonesomeness, the island-in-the-middle-of-an-ocean feel is what made that tree so special. A ton of other places out West with a similar feel would be overrun by hikers, climbers, hunters, off-roaders, mountain bikers - all recreation users - yet here in a sky island range in the middle of the Great Basin the grove and canyon felt unseen and untrammeled, just too damn hard to reach, the most faraway of all places. We tanked up and slurped the cold water that slaked our high desert parchedness on the altar of isolation, upon the shrine of individuality - this wilderness. 

Down canyon in the Quinn's

Moments later, maybe a mile or so, our wilderness shield shattered when we stumbled upon an old marijuana grow operation. Rows had not been furrowed or plotted, however, the remnants of a future grow operation laid under the canopy: coiled hoses of a couple different types, tarps, litter. Something foiled this attempt and the grower left in a hurry.

‘Damn,’ I thought, ‘I thought we found an unmanned place.’ We left the area quickly with Woody shook, Pep nonchalantly looking down-canyon, and I apathetic to the situation. We have seen this shit before: the wilds taken advantage of and used by man, a special place tarnished by our greed and egos. 

Out in the sprawling Railroad Valley, we walked across the basin far enough away from an agricultural ranch. The ranch seemed out of place with huge circular fields, at least half a dozen of them, growing green alfalfa in an otherwise dry world. Long and gangly sprinklers sprayed water out over the fields, the mist reflecting a peaceful and vibrant rainbow. So much life existed in the Great Basin ranges, but we were not expecting a sprawling agricultural ranch in the middle of nowhere. With Area 51 to the south, a massive, empty, and inaccessible landscape, civilization felt lost, or away from here. Our nights had been filled with a chunky Milky Way draping our camps with a stellar ceiling, almost blinding us from a deep sleep. We had hardly seen any track of civilization other than the scant towns we had walked through or crossed or walked upon the occasional dirt road. A couple houses were scattered about the property and looked separated from each other for privacy. Antelope jumped and roamed through the alfalfa fields, their heads poking up with abstract horns. Who contradicted the place more? The illogical presence of a sprawling ranch in a vast and wild area? Or, the wild antelope, primal and fiercely wild within a groomed field? Seemingly absurd and out of place, tamed yet flamingly wild, munching on alfalfa, poking sprigs out of their mouths, their jaws incessantly ruminating the green cud of vibrancy, the antelope still held the startling and wary look of precariousness. 

Railroad Valley

We were just as absurd as that ranch, just as privileged as that ranch too. I can tell myself as much as I want to believe that I walk with some sort of primordial favor, something deep-rooted, when mainly we walk out here because we can. We have the money, the public land, the time - we are just passers-thru with a lot of fortune and freedom. I abhor seeing our scars on the landscape when scars need not be present. I sometimes envision being back in the Altiplano of Bolivia while hiking out here in the middle of the Great Basin, the feel of the landscape so similar: both feel empty, both feel at bay to a wild nature. Yet, one has indigenous people while the other has colonizers, settlers in recent history. Something felt cheapened, something off, when walking across the basin near that ranch. We sat at Abel Spring, probably named for some Mormon settler, shadeless and hot. Our views widened as far as the eye could see. We lounged near the gurgling pool of hot water bubbling out of the ground. Alkaline plants and salts dotted and colored the area with greenery and acidic colors known of geothermal areas. A couple of cattle tanks nearby doubled as sipping and sitting troughs, one for cattle use and the other for human leisure. Surrounding the springs, in the areas where cattle hardly grazed, shards and splinters of arrowheads and points laid scattered around the dry and sandy floor, simply there innocuously and unseen. I was surprised that the artifacts had not been picked over, more signs of a past and forgotten people and time, more signs that this landscape has been utilized for centuries.

Looking towards the Worthingtons

I sat in a morose state trying to relax in the blaring sun, trying to rest my legs and slurping up warm and salty water. I tried to find reason within the scars and in the presence of this wide open landscape, within the fathom of the incredible amount of people in this world with limited space. Would any voluminous population of man or culture destroy the inherent nature of a landscape? The shards of arrowheads tell me the people were a part of the landscape, working and living in unison. The ranch tells me a story of bullying, of barging a way in to force a home and way of life. They are no different than a corporation in a big city letting off exhausts that only pollute the world. I picked through the splinters of various kinds of tips and arrowheads, a palette of earthy colors and textures, probably traveled and carried from other areas. I was transported to a place and time I wanted to be in, away from here, in a more tangible sphere where I am truly connected to the land and spirits of this place.  

We walked on into the tablelands to the west, some short distance away, walking away from a familiar memory now blurred, now a mirage of heat waves, the valley so flat and wide that even a small rise would obstruct any object of considerable height. The heat of the day began to blister the air making the heat upon your skin a scorched tingle. We sought the refuge of shade beneath the cliffs of a mesa. We walked between the layers of rock and dirt. To the east Railroad Valley ramped to an incredible flatness of lowness, while to the immediate west the Pancakes sloped upwards to another incredible flatness, this time in the form of mesas. Chutes and tiny alcoves lined the eroded cliffs and each of us found our own nook to recline under the shady overhang. I closed my eyes and I sat in nothingness only hearing the wind blow making the clouds whisper. I again was transported to a past time. I would be doing this a hundred years or a thousand years ago, lounging in the shade in relief of the blaring sun and gazing over the landscape and horizon. 

Below the cliffs seeking shade and respite

An hour went by and I slowly woke up from a nap. I stood up and began to explore the base of the cliffs. Few people have been here with this area being fairly remote and almost inaccessible. A rugged jeep track was within spitting distance. Maybe the wind had blown away all the footprints in the sand, maybe the rugged road kept the driver engaged enough to just get through; either way the alcove of the cliffs prevented the buffeted poundings of the wind and heat and this respite site provided temporary protection. I found more flakes and splinters near the base of the small alcoves, as if the knapper utilized the alcove as a shelf or a table to flake rock to pass away time during their respite from the sun. 

I am obsessed with nothingness. To find these areas that are characterized by an enormous sky and wide horizon that lie within emptiness - that’s what I am after. Away from the agricultural ranch and buffered by the cliffs I was taken into nothingness. Then, we found ourselves walking across Lunar Lake, a dry lake bed in the middle of nowhere. Maybe my ultimate dream is to be on the moon, or to continue to explore places with lunar characteristics. This world is filled with these pockets. I absolutely need to seek those places out.

Spread out on the Lunar Lake

We spread out, some hundred yards between us, each of us marveling along at our own place, our heads craning up towards the roving clouds in the sky to the mud-caked tiles our feet were stepping on lone streakers across the plains of the Moon within the galaxy of the Great Basin. Tiny volcanic marbles poked up from the tiles, signs that this barren area at some point and time in the year is filled with water and moves objects around. The power of wind and water in unison was present on the western shore of the dry lake bed. Piles and ribbons of volcanic rock filled in the nestled shore that pushed up against cinder cones. Beneath our shoes on each tile had footprints of sandhill cranes and herons, migratory birds in search of water to wade in, frozen in time proving this place held disappearing water. The flatness of the lake bed made the surrounding mesas seem tall and jagged. Enveloped in this globe of light, the tiles gleamed in the sunlight, the flatness of the lake bed shimmered with heat waves, and the wind careened in unabated and cooled our skin. The walk across the lake bed was only 3 miles or so, but that immersion in that emptiness felt like an eternity, just walking on the metaphysical plain of thought and emotion, the unending tube of hyperspace - Am I even existing in this spiritual essence of nothing?

More empty and openness

Bah, I am so hokey, even though I find myself inspired by these barren landscapes where I find beauty in harshness, I know this is what I was born to do. We snapped out of our transfixed gait as soon as we crossed from the caked-tiled shore and into the scraggly salt brush and rocky pumice ground. Woody now scanned the ground for a rare buckwheat that is endemic only to this Lunar Crater area, this place separated by barren land from the ranges to the north, an infertile desert island. He found the skeletons of buckwheat from last year’s growth. He said this desert area had most likely seen no trace of  water. Everything beneath our feet crunched and snapped to exclaim the dryness of the ground. This area seemed devoid of life, not even a lizard. But occasionally we would cross or follow a cattle path that wiggled through the alley way of cinder cones. 

We walked into the sunset and to the rim of the Lunar Crater, a 500 feet deep divot plunging unexpectedly below us. A stunning sight to stand and gaze over. The wind rockets up from the depths and disrupts the peacefulness of the potential stillness one might assume. Turns out NASA had trained astronauts here in the early ‘70s, as the area resembled what scientists believed to be similar to Mars and the Moon. A dirt road lined the rim on the east side, but we had walked here to this lonesome and isolated place. That felt different and unique, our own little astronaut training in venturing towards the most untrammeled areas, only on foot, simple as that.

Lunar Crater

Under a cool and exposed night, I slept like a volcanic rock wedged in hardened mud. Cozied up within the dryness and staleness, I awoke a couple times to feel the abomination of blackness deprived of any superficial light. The stars hung up there as if caked into a black wall, spackled as an ornament and definitely not a part of the black mass. It was so dark out there that you could tell that space is the overbearing entity of everything, the utter black backdrop the ruling force, the stars just mere freckles. Nestled among the spindly greasewood I felt the cold sink into the barren openness. I woke up replenished and groaned a morning wail under the purple dawn. Woody and Pep sat up from their greasewood pockets. We knew the day would end with us in a proper town. 

Off we went with a spring in our step. Some 16 days or so into the Great Basin Trail trek, we were seared dry and wrinkled from the Great Basin, hardened from our wanderings, a little town relief would suit us well. A few beers, multiple meals, a bed, couple showers, all would suffice. At Highway 6, the lonely highway that bisects the GBT, we sat on a picnic table under a dying ash tree. We drank water from a non-potable hand-cranked pump and lounged for a bit. My mom was to meet us and drive us to Tonopah, her offer of help to isolated travelers. After lining out our meet-up point, we crossed the highway gazing into more rugged country to the north and west, the skyline imprinted in my brain the toil of much effort. I wondered what Pep and Woody felt - of what was behind us, of the unknown pathway ahead of us. I knew what they felt about town. We were ready to satiate our hunger and slake our thirst eagerly, to plump back up properly.

I continued to gaze north and west towards a pointy skyline, as we walked a short ways on. My mind cleared with a familiarity of place, a cadence of emptiness, the stream of faraway footsteps pitter-pattering and echoing into the corridor of nothing. I continually find my ‘nothing’ out here in the Great Basin. The year before amid the beginning of the Pandemic, I saw not a soul for 3 weeks before getting into Tonopah. I had released the strain of the world with that stream of faraway footsteps. To walk far and long, remotely and in isolation, the walking erases the mind into nothing. I could start over. I could start from scratch, calmly. This is what nothing means to me– completely present that connects the mind with the place that taps into my innate nature of wandering. Bring me nothing or nothing at all. It is my chance to struggle and persevere within myself and elements around me.

We drove to Tonopah, the highway whizzing by the barren desert, the blurring of nothing. We entered the stream of nearby humanity. I immediately felt the longing to be back in nothing. I had hoped Woody and Pep felt that same notion, or that fleeting feeling of what that long and empty walk meant. I had hoped they felt ‘nothing.’ I kept on looking outward to the north and west as we neared Tonopah. I knew a couple days in town would be good for me, to refuel, replenish, to feel the need to re-clear again. We would be diving back into nothingness soon enough anyways.

More of the Fortification Range

Southern Great Basin

A typical barren southern basin

More of the Lunar Lake

The Big Empty

Hazy craters

Saturday, September 11, 2021

PNT Sections

 PNT Sections:

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.

Eureka to Feist Creek Resort:

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. camped that night at Boulder Lakes, where things became eerie. 

Arriving at the lake, I quickly set up a bear hang and tarp, for the mosquitoes were out in full force. Under my mosquito netting in my tarp, I tried to shut my eyes as the lingering twilight dissipated. This far north in July the days are incredibly long. Around 10pm I began to somewhat fall asleep. Shortly after 11pm, my eyes popped open to sudden darkness surrounding me. The night sunk in pitch black. but, I had heard something. Since the established camp had limited space, my tarp felt too close to the fire pit and to the lake shore, but no other established space was nearby. Luckily I was considerable distance away from my food hang, however. I think you know what I am getting at...

I heard splashing in the lake, like lumbering footsteps splashing in the shallows. I could tell the sloshing was of a bear---grizzly or black I could not be sure. I yelled out, 'Hey bear!' and the sloshing stopped. One more assertive yell and the steps splashed about as the bear ran away. I had pulled the safety tab on my bear spray and nestled the canister close into me. That bear was that close. I laid my head down with one eye open and both ears alert. 

Another short time later, one eye sprang open and I heard steps quietly walking through the outlet of the lake. The wet steps dripped with water and the bear was sneaking its way towards me. I figured out by this time that the bear probably took this pathway every night, probably to check on the food it smelled. This moment felt ritual, habitual. I deduced from this behavior that the bear out there was a grizzly bear---territorial behavior versus the predatorial behavior of a black bear. Again, I yelled out assertively to let that bear know I was there. With my bear spray ready to go, I took deep breaths and tried to remain calm. This was unnerving, to say the least. After seemingly forever, but probably a minute, I yelled again and whistled this time, my whistle reverberating throughout the dead basin air. The bear turned and sprinted away even faster this time causing a louder ruckus with the splashing of the water.

I stayed alert for some time now. At some point, though, I drearily fell back asleep and woke up with my bear spray canister nestled into the crook of my arm. I drifted in and out of sleep until I was again woken by the soft movements of a large animal in the shallows of the lake. This time, however, I caught the sounds later than I had before, for the bear now seemed super close. I grabbed my empty water bottle liter and smacked the bottle onto the ground excessively which made a raucous noise which I hoped would be unfamiliar to the bear, The bear stopped. In deafening silence I could pinpoint each water droplet falling from its stringy, wet fur onto the surface of the lake. I took out my headlamp and unzipped my tarp. I needed this bear to see me. I shined my light into the blackness of the lake and saw two eyes beaming back at me, glaring in an intense reflection. I zipped back up my tarp making a cluttering noise of what I hoped would be another unfamiliar noise. This whole time my bear spray remained cocked. I was ready, regardless of what was going to happen.

Suddenly, in a split second after I had smacked my tarp, the bear bolted off making an even louder escape in the water. My heart raced but I control my fear with deep breaths. I was not going any where until dawn glowed about.

An hour or so after that third encounter, I heard the bear again. I doubt I had fallen back to sleep. Regardless, I heard the same stealthy approach of the bear lumbering in the lake shallows. 

Finally, frustrated, I yelled out, 'Just give me goddam 30 minutes!' 

I was not going to leave my shelter, my entrenchment of safety, until a sliver of light existed. This fourth and last encounter lasted about 20 minutes. The bear now seemed to be pacing back and forth in the water. I unzipped my tarp and in the dark purple twilight I could fathom a shape, even a color! I saw a blonde bear, huge in stature. I could see the tremendous snout of a grizzly bear. The enormous bear glared at me and glided around like a phantasm hovering over the water. Dawn slowly emerged over the basin. Dark plum purple became the color of a deep bruise, the sky ominous in injured light, the premonition of a fear past yet soaked through a bruised spirit. Once bright enough I incredibly quickly broke down my tarp, my bear spray clipped onto my collar of my button up shirt. After packing my pack with my gear I alertly and briskly walked over to the bear hang and untied the knot. My food bags slid down easily and I crammed the bags into my pack. I walked cautiously through the overgrown forest making noise, talking loudly, with my bear spray on my sternum strapped with the safety tab unclipped. 

I walked in the small town of Yaak the next day and went to get some grub, to attain some type of feeling of a safe haven. After some relief and respite of my nerves, I walked out feeling at ease. Shit, I held my ground against a grizzly. 

Up next on the PNT is the Northwest Peak area of the Yaak Mountains, more intensely filled grizzly country. Alas, nothing to brag about in this area with any more bear encounters, but I did finally have some scenery despite even the smoke-filled skies. Each day I moved swiftly and I walked into Feist Creek Resort after 32 miles and just in time for dinner. The resort is important for an efficient resupply point in between a very long stretch which eliminates the need for a hitch into the town of Bonners Ferry. The owner and workers of the resort are super-hiker friendly. They held a package for me, cooked me up dinner and breakfast even when they were supposedly closed, and let me crash in the pool area. I did not linger long, just the night and early morning. Enough to get a full belly, a full charge on my phone, and a full head of calm nerves enough to let me have a decent night of sleep without a bear pfaffing about.

Feist Creek Resort to Metaline Falls:

7/16-7/20, ~121 miles

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 fa├žade. 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.