With a long weekend and our packs packed, Mud and I set off to find a place to walk. Our plan is to hike on the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) as far as possible. This is the trail that connects the Continental Divide Trail with the Pacific Ocean, traversing the mountains of Montana, Idaho and Washington. It's 1200 miles long, and practically in our backyard! On Saturday morning we find ourselves on the Olympic Peninsula with maps in our hands. We compare the GPS dot on our phone to the red line on the PNT maps. The PNT goes through the town of Port Townsend, down the highway and cuts into the Olympic National Forest through a small gravel road. We drive around, chasing the trail until hours later we find ourselves at a trailhead.
And we're off! Except that we've driven so far that we're off the maps we originally printed and not quite on the PNT. We're at the trailhead for Mt. Townsend, a place we never intended to be. But then again, we were never quite sure where we intended to be. Anyway - there's a trail, and our packs are ready, so we walk.
Soon we're climbing above the clouds, quads burning, propelling ourselves with our trekking poles past the day hikers. The trail takes us higher and higher and is completely snow-free out here on the Peninsula. The landscape is moody and dramatic. At the top we cross a ridge with howling wind and sporadic raindrops. The cold wind that was my most hated enemy on the PCT in the desert now feels like an old friend. It pierces through all our barriers, forcing a connection. To the earth. To reality. This is exactly where I want to be.
Then we walk down and there is no wind, no rain. Just sun and shadows following us as we navigate against the pull of gravity. I slip in the loose dirt and gravel, my legs too weak from climbing. If I didn't have my poles I'd probably tumble down the entire way. So steep! At the bottom we find a creek, a wooden shelter and a fire ring and call it a day. It's quiet here in the woods. Silent except for the rushing sound of water. I try to soak in the silence. I wish I could bottle it up and take it with me to keep me safe against the noise and distractions. Everything seems too loud since we left the desert last November.
In the morning we walk the velvet, wooded path lined with moss and ferns. Before we know it we're climbing out through a canyon, speckled with wildflowers! Everywhere we look is beautiful and exciting. This is why Washington is so amazing. The trail constantly changes and entertains. We climb to a forest, then a meadow, then straight up relentless switchbacks before we're at last walking the crest of Marmot Pass. We are tiny specs in the panoramic expanse. Mountain peaks tower just bellow a bed of clouds in every direction. A grumpy old mountain goat resides up here - we saw him last time. We look for him now but he must be hiding. We hide too, in an outcropping just before the pass, to eat lunch.
Down the other side we go, as if descending back into the life of a city-dweller. The views become less and the people become more. Like waking slowly from a dream. We arrive at a trailhead where our car is not parked and spend a few hours walking on the gravel road. We eventually put our hitchhiking skills to work and get a ride the last 5 miles to where the car waits.
And then we have wheels again and suddenly the power to go anywhere, at any time, oh so fast. It is both wonderful and burdensome. We drive back to our front-country lives to play the games we play. Just waiting for the next hike.
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Other Neat Things:
My friends Harpo and Groucho are some bad-ass thru-hiking vegans. Read their blog here.
Idyllwild is a favorite trail town for many PCT hikers. This online magazine has featured a few hikers and also keeps up with mountain-town happenings.
Future Dad is thru-hiking the Pacific Crest, Te Aurora and Appalachian Trails back-to-back-to-back, all in one year! He's also a really awesome story teller. Read his stories here.