A Little Stop in Republic, Part 1 (PNT Pt. 10)
Alright, I’m going to try my best to give a proper update, but my brain feels like a stick I am spinning as fast as I can, trying to get sawdust to light. Of course, I’ve never used a drill to start a fire in my life and probably never will. So, the probability that we will have a roaring fire is miniscule.
Why do my brain cells feel like stretched parchment being scraped away? Well, I’ve been sleeping like shit, thanks for asking. My sleeping pad has a hole in it, so I have come to terms with the texture of the earth. The sun rises at five in the morning, and I wake, on rough ground, having slept for about six hours. I’m a human who needs ten hours, at the minimum.
I’ve been doing big days; sixty-six miles total in the last two. However, I am not very fast, so I do those miles over stretches of fourteen hours, eventually climbing into my tent after the darkness that comes at nine-thirty at night. For, how else would I see the stars?
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Candy, Cigarettes, and Kittens
I found myself in Northport, WA, after a long road walk from the base of Abercrombie Mountain. I looked around town for a place to resupply, noting that the grocery store had been closed for quite some time. I eventually wandered down fourth street to the Murphentile. Candy, who had housed me in her garage the night before, had written rough coordinates for me on a napkin during our drunken conversing.
The Murphentile had a charming quality, mostly selling pet supplies and acting as a post office for Canadians coming over the border to use the American postal service; a common practice. There was also a corner full of hiker supplies. I met Heidi, the owner, and purchased a packet of ramen and some cliff bars to help support the business. Heidi was very excited to have the first hiker of the season come through and brought out a thick log book dating back to twenty-fourteen.
Heidi then introduced me to a drawer full of kittens.
“Pick them up,” Heidi said. “It’s good for them to be held at this stage.” The kittens were only a week old and just beginning to open their eyes for the first time.
Before I left, I bummed a cigarette and spent thirty minutes trying to solve a blacksmith puzzle. When I completed it, Heidi told me that I was the first person to do it in one sitting. I then had to go through the troublesome task of putting the two pieces of metal back together.
What to Eat?
On my way out of town I went to the gas station to resupply, as the Murphentile only had minimal food stuffs. I resupplied on a frozen bag of tater-tots, a frozen bag of chicken tenders, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly, and a box of Pop-tarts. All perfect for the one hundred and fifteen miles ahead of me.
What am I Listening to?
I crossed the Columbia River on the way out of town. Wide and dark, I watched the eddies form and swell around the pillars holding up the bridge, tiny maelstroms, their chaotic potential forever unrealized. While I walked, I listened to the rest of “The Three Body Problem.”
When I finished my audiobook I was out of cell range and could not download the next in the series. Instead, I put on a five hour commentary on “The Wealth of Nations.” I mistakenly thought it was the actual book and listened, on two and a half times accelerated speed, to a discourse of the conception of the book, what economic scholars debated were the meanings behind Adam Smith’s words, and how the book was received. Riveting stuff. As I listened to this I met my first eastbound PNT flip-floppers. I believe their names were Bug, Wolverine, Skunkbear, and Sashay.
Later that night I listened to a collection of short stories by Andy Weir, whose writing I love dearly, and cooked up a Pasta Side with ramen. And… That is my last journal entry. July eighth; it’s been almost two weeks since then. The only things after that are a page simply dated, “July 9th,” a drawing of a moose on the page after, and my seven leaf clover that I pressed in packing tape later on when I got into Republic.
Through the Shattered Forest
I recall a long stretch through a burn area. I crested a pass and instead of stopping at the clear but mosquito infested spot at the top, I continued on. As such, I had to push for hours longer than I would have wanted in an attempt to find a campsite. “It’s too early to stop,” I always tell myself.
I missed my turn and backtracked half a mile as dusk fell. Ahead of me I spotted a large black dog in the gloom. It took me approaching closer for my brain to register that it was a young black bear. It watched me until I got close and then bolted up along the dead barren slope.
Eventually I came to a pull off in the gravel road, flat enough, but disconcerting. The long thin spires of dead tree trunks, no branches left, just pillars, towered above me menacingly; I a flea and them stalks of grass swaying in the breeze. I circled the spot for over an hour looking for the best spot to place my tent and knowing none would truly provide safety. I circled, and I stared at the sky. I stared at the tops of the dead trees and listened to them groan. I listened to the wind as darkness fell deeper and deeper and the cool air of space chased away the sun warmed air of the day. The wind howled.
I tried to sleep, and though I managed it, I woke every hour or so to a gust of wind. Rain drops began to patter on the tent roof and I waited with baited breath for the gust of wind that would send a tree crashing down on me. “The probability is low enough that you can sleep through the night,” I told myself. “You can sleep through the night. You will be fine.” Though I was tired from walking twenty-three miles, I wish I had pushed on until I had found something else. Anywhere else besides that spot.
The next day was hot and exposed. The burn spread for miles in all directions. The valleys to either side stretched out, ridge after ridge, forming a dynamic landscape; a bucolic painting in earthen tones, as out of a dream. I sat and admired the scene as I could. I sat, and enjoyed the cell service that I received, ignoring my surroundings. It is such a shame sometimes, the way I get distracted. I do not use social media in my daily life, but on trail I redownload apps to share content with people interested in my hike. Recently, I have started realizing how much I have been avoiding just listening to my own mind.
I came to the top of a ridge in the burn. The wind wrapped around the trees in ghostly screams, the mournful wailing of a forest full of the dead. I pulled out my headphones for a moment to simply listen to it, transfixed. Wildflowers bloomed all around and leafy shrubs took up the rest of the visible space coalescing and parting in movements like the surface of the sea.
Onward, the mountainside was choked with debris, becoming more difficult to traverse before it grew better. At the end of the day I climbed up to the top of Copper Butte, the setting sun suffusing the landscape with red and golden hues. I found a perfect, flat spot and went to set up my tent.
“FUCK!” I roared. My tent stakes were missing.
“Did that make you feel better?” I asked myself, internally.
“No, not really,” I thought.
“FUCK!” I screamed again, even louder. There was no one around to hear me.
“Okay, maybe I feel a little better,” I thought.
I broke apart a long abandoned fire pit, putting sticks through the stake loops of my guy-lines and putting rocks over them to keep tension.
“Just like the Hayduke,” I thought. “I should get a freestanding tent.”
Down the Mountain, to the Road
In the morning some women past me before I got up. I wondered if they heard me shouting the night before. They were headed the other way and I soon forgot about it, beginning the long downhill to highway twenty east.
By the time I reached the road I had travelled seventy-three miles from Northport. A number of bushwhacks lay ahead of me before I could reach highway twenty-one. I sat down on my pack and stared up the road, then back down it. I put away my headphones so that I could take a moment to think.
“I should keep hiking… I just need to walk up the road and continue up the trail and then I’ll keep going… I’m out of pb&js and snacks, though. I could probably make it on what I have left. In fact, I’ll just spend more money than I need to and have to carry more if I go into town now. I could go into town now, though, and then just carry a couple days of food and come back into town later.” So my brain went, so on and so forth.
And Why Shouldn’t I Hitch into Town?
Eventually, I resolved to stick up my thumb for fifteen minutes and if someone picked me up, then so be it. Not many cars were driving up the pass. As the time drew near to start moving, a beat up red sedan came back after having passed me and did a u-turn into the pull off. I got up and waved to the driver. It was an old man who got out and walked around to make space in his trunk for my pack.
“Don’t you even think about robbing me,” the old man said gruffly.
“I wouldn’t do that, sir,” I said.
His hands shook as he moved things around and I grew a little nervous but got in the car anyway. The ride down into Republic was another interrogation as to where in the world the trail was headed; a request for more geographical knowledge than I possessed. The old man drove fast and spent more time looking at me than looking at the road, drifting casually back and forth between the white lines. Despite this, he seemed nice enough and he dropped me off at the hardware store in town, telling me it was likely the best place for me to find new tent stakes. I thanked him and went inside.
I walked up to the front counter. The man behind the counter had a jovial smile. He looked to be in his mid-forties, his black hair receding at the top of his head. I presented my inquiry to him.
“Yeah! I believe we do. Over here.” He led me one aisle over to a small camping section. “Oh, maybe we don’t,” he said, a mild dejection in his tone. “No, wait! There it is!” He pulled a large plastic packet off the wall and handed it to me.
“That’s not gonna work,” I said. The packet he handed me was full of large plastic stakes, almost a foot long. I described to him the problem and he took me over to a series of drawers filled with large iron nails, pulling out six that were about the size of the stakes I had lost, though much heavier.
“And if those are too small, you can use these,” he said, pulling out iron nails over nine inches long.
“Nope, that’s okay.” We exchanged currency and I hefted the purchased nails with a sigh.
Republic Brewing Company
From there I headed to the brewery where a conversation with the bartender would spark a series of events that would eventually lead to me spending five nights in the town of Republic.
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