An interesting social life develops as we walk in this linear fashion among other free spirits. Whether headed north or south, word travels fast on the trail.
We have enjoyed the company of a handful of other Southbound (SoBo) hikers. We pass each other on the trail and catch up in towns for resupplies. After passing the entire herd of Northbounders, stranger after stranger, it's always nice to see a familiar face again.
We started to pass the first speedy northbounders in central Washington. Many times we simply exchange a hello, sometimes we talk about water, snow or fires ahead (or behind), and in rare cases we receive news of free margaritas and burritos at the next road (trail magic!). Other encounters leave us wondering...
Our first curious encounter occurred just north of White Pass. As Anna was racing down towards the road, trying to beat the mosquitos that were chasing her, she passed a clan of NoBos. They chatted briefly and one of them asked her name. "Bug", she replied. "Oh! Is Mud with you?" "Yeah, he's just a few minutes back". We had never met this person, but he already knew us. A few minutes later he passed Ross, says "Hey Mud", and walks on. Apparently, some SoBos ahead have been talking about us.
It must be that our trail names are so simple that no one forgets, as we certainly haven't done anything remarkable to be recognized as we are. Scott Williamson, however, is one of the most remarkable hikers on the trail. He was the first to do a successful "yoyo" - hiking from Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico in one season. He also held the record for the fastest unsupported thru-hike of the PCT until last year when it was broken by Heather Anderson. We heard that he was on the trail again this year, headed south like us. We were excited for the day that he would pass us and hoping we wouldn't miss him as we took time off in Bend.
Finally, after dinner one evening next to a swampy lake in central Oregon, a man walks into our camp site and says "Are you headed south? Are you Mud and Bug?". Scott! As we greet him, he tells us how happy he is to finally meet us. He's been hearing our names since the beginning and has finally caught us. HE is happy to meet US!? How crazy.
Scott is incredibly humble and laid back, as most trail celebrities are. He is out to break the record, having already hiked the trail 13 times, and averaging above 45 miles per day, yet still not attached to the idea of success... Simply marveling at the beauty he sees every day, as we all are. Despite his high mileage days, he takes time to talk to almost everyone he sees. We chatted for about 15 minutes, asked him what he ate. Three pounds of food every day. Refried beans, homemade bars, beef jerky and snickers bars. Maybe next year we can be his diet consultants. He'll be flying.
A week later we read in a trail register that Scott had left the trail, as it was mostly on fire for the next 300 miles. He will be back again next year. Even trail celebrities are no match for the whims of nature.
And so we sit here in Ashland, facing fires ahead. For many of these fires, there is no alternate route and the best option is to hitch around from the nearest road, which we have already had to do for one 50 mile stretch south of Crater Lake. Alternatively, we could rent bikes and ride the roads around the fire... stay tuned for a decision about our strategy!
Fires aside, we are thrilled to have made it through the first 900 miles. Ready for California. A new state! New sights, new towns, new adventures. Now we're really thru-hiking.
Ask any hiker what they think about on the trail and the answer is usually the same: food. Beer, milkshakes, burgers, pancakes. Or if it's me, beer, smoothies, veggie burgers, sweet potato biscuits with cashew gravy, smoothies, smoothies, smoothies...
Mud and I have been quite happy with our food supply so far. We have not yet gone hungry and are still feeling healthy and strong. All the hard work put into preparing date bars, organizing boxes, cooking and dehydrating high quality dinners, has certainly paid off. Dinner is one of my favorite parts of each day. I find myself looking forward to it sometimes even before 9 am. Curry vegetables and rice, sweet potatoes and beans, pasta primavera, spiced lentil stew... But aside from these wonderfully delicious evening meals, there is still much more eating to be done. We eat constantly. Mostly while walking. This limits our options to what we can pull out of our hipbelt pockets and eat with one hand (the other hand holding trekking poles). And that means bars. Date bars, clif bars, pro bars, zing bars, granola bars. There are times when the right choice of bar really hits the spot, but most of the time I am just eating to make the hunger go away. Experiences like that give fuel to my food fantasies.
A few mornings ago, I let my cravings get the best of me. Climbing through the alpine meadow of northern Oregon up to Timberline Lodge, my thoughts were once again drifting away to the perfect meal. Reality changes when you're on the trail. Without distractions, we find who we really are. Ourselves, our thoughts, and the nature surrounding us are the center of the universe, for better or for worse. In that moment, the center of my universe was a sweet potato biscuit with cashew gravy and a side of sautéed greens.
Timberline Lodge is famous in the hiking community for having the absolute best meal on the trail. I've been hiking on the PCT for three years now, and heard rave reviews from multiple people every year. I even experienced it myself last year. Despite knowing what the meal would be like first hand, the food had been so talked up that it was hard not to get my vegan hopes up again this year. I was absolutely convinced that this year, this morning, I'd find something other than potatoes. That is what we eat the most when in town. Potatoes and vegetables. Potatoes and fruit. Potatoes and toast. Potatoes and salsa. Potatoes are everywhere. They're a wonderfully nutritious food, but can grow old after a while.
We walked into the dimly lit dinning room of the lodge and sat down at a table after surveying the buffet line. Sure enough, there were the potatoes, alongside other chaffing dishes full of eggs, cheesy eggs, sausage, bacon. My hopes weren't shattered yet. I saw glasses full of smoothie at the end of the buffet table. Smoothies- one of the other centers of my hiking universe. But alas, they were made with yogurt. The disappointment set in. I enjoyed a meal of potatoes, some darn good fruit, fresh squeezed orange juice and by far the best coffee on the trail, but my spirits were low.
My disappointment was not only due to my own desire to eat food other than potatoes, but from the blatant reminder of the state of things. Sitting at a table closest to the buffet line, I watched countless people go through the line, choosing a meal heavy with animal products without giving it a second thought. At the "slice your own salami" station, a father's only concern was that his son not get his fingers too close to the blade as he turned the lever, not the effect of the fat-laden carcinogenic food, or that by encouraging this eating behavior he is reinforcing the disconnect between innate human compassion and gastronomic enjoyment. That people can be so distant from the reality of what is on their plates is disheartening. I was ready to go right back to the trail where the world is my own.
So, back to the trail we went...
I wouldn't trade my challenges as a vegan thru-hiker for any other experience. I feel stronger and healthier this year than any other, largely due to a diet of a higher standard. On previous section hikes, my diet leaned toward plant-based, but I still considered M&Ms a reasonable snack and ate cheese pizza in town. Trading in my M&Ms for dried fruit and cheese pizza for potatoes, I am a new hiker. Injuries that once got me off the trail are non-existent, I'm never sore in the mornings when I wake up - even after a 30 mile day, blisters never stay around to bother me (okay, maybe that's also due to the right combination of shoes, socks and tape), I am capable of anything. Most of all, I am living, walking and eating with integrity.
I have renewed hope that when I finally re-enter society after this trek, I'll be coming into a world that is moving towards a solution rather than blindly perpetuating the problem. As a future dietitian, I'll do my best to inspire change. Mud will do his best. We'll be working alongside hundreds of others all doing their best. I remind myself to stay inspired and stay positive, and keep on walking.
As exciting as it was to walk through all that snow, we were happy to find the section between Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie 90% snow free. Though the terrain was steep, we enjoyed some more relaxing days and what views we could through the clouds. The cloud cover made for some cooler days and eventually culminated in a thunder storm. On our last morning before reaching the pass, we found ourselves waiting under a tree on the trail, not wanting to climb up to the ridge until the storm had passed. Hearing the thunder get more distant, we decided it was safe to proceed. Unfortunately, this was not the case. As we walked over the exposed ridge, the wind picked up, flashes of lightning became more frequent and the thunder was once again loud. We made the decision to leave our packs and head for cover underneath a grove of trees off the trail just seconds before the rain started. We sat in our rain coats, hugged our knees and ducked as marble- sized hail fell relentlessly from the sky. Fortunately, the hail only lasted a few minutes and we were left with simply rain for the next few hours. Soaking wet, cold, and hungry, we flew 9 miles down the mountain, motivated by thoughts of warm coffee and finding joy in splashing through every puddle in our hopelessly soggy shoes.
The nice thing about hiking through Washington, close to home, is the opportunity to see friends and family. We enjoyed a couple rainy days off with Anna's visiting family, soaking in a hot tub and relaxing in a cabin outside Mt Rainier National Park.
Upon our return to the trail, we were happily joined by friends and dogs for the better part of a day.
We still struggle to find the perfect balance between just enough food and too much. Walking into town still carrying three meals, Clif bars and gorp means that our packs were heavier than they should have been, a burden we carried the past 100 miles. On the other hand, not having enough food makes for lighter packs but can be a bit nerve wracking. We had just begun rationing our food, wondering if we had enough to make it, as we approached Chinook Pass at Highway 410. Two women day hikers climbed up as we walked down. We stopped to chat briefly, and before we knew it they were offering us food out of their packs. We had heard of such kindness of strangers occurring on occasion on the trail, but never experienced it first hand. They generously donated us a half loaf of whole grain bread and pieces of raw vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and carrots. We were elated as we continued our walk down. We ate our surprise meal in the shade of the outhouse at the Chinook Pass parking lot. Never have fresh vegetables ever tasted so good.
The moment we got our surprise meal was also the moment we began to be meals ourselves for mosquitos hundreds of miles to come. On and off for the next several days, we ran into long stretches of trail laden with these tiny, vicious, blood thirsty creatures. They would land on our arms, legs and faces three at a time while we walked and swarm us by the dozen if we tried to stop. Our best defense was to wear long sleeve clothing, even during the hottest parts of the day, and keep our pace as fast as possible. If the mosquitos fly at 3.1 miles per hour, we were sure to walk at 3.2 miles per hour or faster, climbing mountains in record time, covering upwards of fifteen miles without stoping. Nothing like being chased by hundreds of buzzing vampire bugs to get you where you're going.
We had the pleasure of climbing some of the steepest terrain yet, along a rocky ridge called the "knife's edge", in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, to some of the most amazing views on the whole trail (seeing Mt Adams, Rainier and St. Helens all at once).
Finally, despite frequent stops for berry picking (huckleberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries!) and a few dips in the river, we made it through the endless forest of southern Washington. Last night, we walked across the Bridge of the Gods to cross the Columbia River into Oregon. We are celebrating 500 miles with a much needed day of rest.
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