A Little Stop in Republic, Part 2 (PNT Pt. 11)
I just want to start off apologizing for being MIA for the last month.
I made it to the coast and completed my thruhike of the PNT. And, it was fucking awesome. I pushed really hard for the second half, barely staying in towns to save money. I think I had a total of three zero days for the second half of the trail after Republic; in comparison to the nine or ten, or actually, probably more, that I took in the first half, leisurely pushing twenty-five plus miles a day, and zeroing hard so I could get these blog posts to you. It was a point of stress for me that I wanted to arrive home in time to maximize how much I could work before heading to New Zealand. I make ample promises that I will being going a little slower out there and trying not to leave you with such a large gap in publication. I now have two full blog updates typed up, this among them, and am planning on doing weekly posts about the rest of the PNT until I catch my flight to Auckland on December 2nd. That, instead of the frantic catching up I was previously doing every time I took a “break” in town.
With that said, I humbly ask your forgiveness for the delay. Here is part two of Republic. I hope you enjoy.
At Republic Brewing
So, there I was, sitting at the brewery in Republic, chatting up Jhett, the bartender. Jhett was chatting me up, I should say. Very friendly chap; good charisma, tall, broad, and with a mane of ginger curls enshrouding his face.
Anyway, I told Jhett that I came into the brewery hoping to find a place to stay and he tells me that his friends are trail angels. How wonderful! Jhett’s boyfriend Rupert, a smaller man with a strong jawline, trimmed beard, and a wizened crinkle at the eyes, came to the brewery a little later and we all had a drink together. A discussion of finding me a place to sleep was had, and before we all departed, I got Rupert’s number with a promise that he would text me when all was confirmed.
Talking to Strangers
I made my way down to the creek, where several people had told me I could probably get away with camping if I did not find anything else. However, Rupert eventually contacted me, and I climbed the bank to meet him. While I waited, I had a conversation with an old woman and a young man sitting in their car. The young man rolled me a cigarette while I told them a little about what I was doing. Trying to make small talk I asked where they were from. The young man told me he was from the area.
“Some questions are better not asked,” said the old woman.
“Fair enough,” I said.
“It’s been what, thirty-five years?” the young man asked her. “The statute of limitations has probably run out.”
My mind was a little taken aback and I had to ponder the implications of that for a minute. Perhaps she was an Eastern European refugee who did not go through the immigration process? This is the United States, I am not sure that “statute of limitations” is the right term, but I feel like there are not many protections for illegal immigrants, even if they have been here for decades. Shit, I’m a hiker, not a lawyer.
As I was talking to these nice people, one of the local homeless spotted me and approached to kindly let me know that there was plenty of space for me to set up down in their camp by the river. I thanked him awkward smile and told him that I had a friend whose yard I would be sleeping in. At the time I felt like a big, gaping, grinning asshole.
A moment later, Rupert pulled into the lot and the young man I had been speaking to before handed me a rolled spliff and wished me luck on my adventure. Rupert came up and offered pleasantries to the people I had been talking to. I then dropped into the front seat of his car and heaved a sigh of relief, officially heading for a place to sleep for the night. I am not always so lucky.
Sleeping in the Garden
Rupert drove me just outside the main downtown strip and we pulled into a drive. The place was adorable, a split level propped up on the hill, a towering maple spreading its canopy over the backyard. I absolutely adored it. Rupert led me around the side of the house to a little garden surrounded by a chain link fence “to keep the deer out.” Fucking deer.
We said our goodbyes and I went about setting up my tent in the little patch of garden, having been told that the owners were coming back from Oregon and should return around midnight. It was a pleasant night, if perhaps a little bright from the near full moon. I woke up around eight o’clock the next day, hot and humid, and rolled out of my sleeping bag to go say hello to the owners before they left for work.
Mike and Chad
Mike and Chad were instantly two of my favorite people, and not just because they immediately got me set up in their Airbnb downstairs. I do not even remember if I had planned on staying the day in town, but after our whirlwind introduction, I guess I was vortexed. They told me when they would be back and then they left me alone in their house.
The rest of the day after that was of little consequence, I spent most of it working on my next blog post and later that night we went out to dinner, Jhett, Rupert, Mike, Chad, and I. After a nice evening, board game night was proposed for the next, and I talked myself into staying another day. My excuse in my head was that I could get a lot more blogging done. Not.
The next day rolled around, and night came on, and I may or may not have been as productive as I had hoped, when I came upstairs, and Chad poured me a glass of wine in preparation for game night. Chad, Mike, and I chatted for awhile as we waited for everyone else to arrive. The first to show were Artie and Mike, who I considered the head trail angels of Republic after everything I was told. Between them and Mike and Chad, they spoke of how in previous years they had a competition over how many zero days they could get hikers to spend in Republic.
For board game night, Artie and Mike brought along a pattern game called “Azul, the Queen’s Garden,” and after Jhett and Rupert arrived, we went through the long and tedious process of trying to learn the game. That endeavor is perhaps the most challenging thing I have experienced on this hike. I cannot say if alcohol was a boon or burden in the process.
Several times throughout my stay Mike and Chad said something along the lines of, “if only you came on the weekend, we would have taken you on a river float.” While wine buzzed and playing games, I did some mental math and promised everyone that I would be back in Republic on Saturday.
You Should Come Crash On Our Couch
Chad brought me back to trail the next morning on his way to work. A car was parked on the pull off at the Highway Twenty crossing, and as Chad drove off, the guy in the driver seat got out and walked up to me.
“A bit of an odd place to get dropped off,” he said.
I laughed and explained about the PNT. He thought that was interesting and after talking for no more than a minute he gave me his number and told me that he lived on the San Juan Islands and when I got out there, I should call him, and he and his wife would let me crash on their couch and shower. That did not happen, as, as soon as Giusepi gave me his phone number, his wife interceded. She had not been consulted before all of the pleasantries and promises had been exchanged. She spoke to me briefly from the passenger seat of the car, an exasperated smile plastered across her face.
“Oh, were not going to be home the rest of this week,” she said.
“That’s alright. I won’t make it over there for at least another three weeks,” I said. I know a polite “go fuck yourself” when I see one. I reached out anyway when I eventually got into that area and was smoothly brushed off.
Back On Trail
From there I moved north, a few hundred feet up the road, to where the trail crossed back into the woods. Most of the rest of that day was insignificant except perhaps for a series of older women I met from a hiking club out of Republic. The most interesting part of the section occurred the next day, when I chose to traverse a bushwhack on the main route instead of doing the given alternate. Most of the bushwhacks on the PNT have an alternate and are, honestly, rather overrated. Who loves stumbling through blackberry briars in the sodden heat of midsummer? Except, from time to time, I find myself coerced by the sense of challenge and adventure, as was the case on this occasion. That, and the bushwhack on the main route was more direct by several miles…
Everything started off wonderful. I had loaded up on three liters of water for what I knew would be a fairly dry stretch. I had “The Dark Forest” playing on audible. The route ran up a grassy field, narrowing, and cresting a rocky ridgeline that I ran to the top of Cougar Mountain where I stopped for lunch. Spectacular views of the area spread out in all directions; grassy, straw yellow mountains, smooth and rolling, were cleaved here and there by gorges of rugged grey stone. During lunch I even had enough service to download the third book in the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series, as I finished “The Dark Forest” while I was eating. All things were good.
I continued along the ridgeline until it started to dip between intermittent hills. This was not terrible in itself. A couple times I had to descend steep rocky slopes, into the dense packed briars and deadfall choking shallow valleys between quick, steep climbs. I went slow and picked my way through. What ended up troubling me were the last two miles of the bushwhack.
Read the Fine Print
After cresting a low rise, I spotted a pond, completely overgrown by algae and other muck. A long descent lay before me, and I pulled out my phone to check Farout. I saw that I was at a warning icon along the main route and clicking on it I read the following. “Bushwhack @ Dry Run Pond (not recommended) Fall risk due to loose rock between Hwy 21 and this point.” I had not previously checked that warning icon, because I am an idiot.
There was not much to be done about it at this point, and I was not about to turn around, do not be ridiculous. I have dealt with enough scree slopes that I felt confident; an unfounded confidence as one scree slope is not like another, and I began to descend through an open meadow. The sun blasted my skin and I longed for any shade I could snatch from the narrow copses of trees that I travelled through, a worry of overheating creeping up on me. I had a liter and a half of water left; plenty for the less than two miles ahead of me.
Into the Gorge
The meadow led down into a valley that, then further down, became a gorge with high jagged walls. The gorge split and I followed Farout’s red line route to the left, where I soon came to where the route wanted me to traverse the steep scree slopes of the gorge to the exit. “Not recommended” did not seem like strong enough wording at the time. I stared at it for a long moment, noting the narrow footing, the steep drop into the gorge, the way it ascended and then turned around a rocky cornice before disappearing out of sight. I looked into the bottom of the gorge and wondered why the route did not go through it. It looked much less half-baked. Dehydrated and generally dismayed, I decided to try my luck through the gorge bottom.
The first challenge of doing so, was to descend. Perhaps, the easiest thing to do would have been to turn around, backtrack to where I saw the route split. That, of course, was out of the question. I, instead, chose to scramble straight down, clinging to shrubs and brambles as I tried to keep from tumbling forward.
A Tangled Mess
The bottom of the gorge offered only a brief reprieve. Young saplings sprouted up in a dense thicket that forced me to be slow and selective in my movements. Just ahead, the undergrowth grew dense once more, obscuring holes from layers of rockslides and decades old rotting deadfall. As my body drained of energy weaving a path through, I was subject to several nasty falls into briars, and one unfortunate loss of balance where I lightly impaled my hand on an obscured log, reflexively reaching out to catch myself.
Bitter feelings about rocks and thorns filled my thoughts as I impatiently sipped my water, eyeing the dwindling contents of my water bottle greedily. I began to repetitively check the distance to the highway on the GPS. I have dealt with worse, but that did not keep me from being absolutely wiped out, nor worrying that I might be about to stumble upon a cliff and be forced to backtrack. I felt fairly confident from checking the topos that the latter would not be an issue.
My audiobook kept me preoccupied the whole time and I went slowly as I tried not to think about how much further I had to go. Every time I checked I had made it just a little further, a mile left, nine tenths of a mile, eight tenths, seven tenths, and so on. I strained to think how slow someone could possibly do half a mile of hiking.
The Last Push
Eventually, I broke out from the gorge to a relatively humble slope. I had to cut sharply to the right, crawling under a large deadfall, sliding awkwardly on my side to slip through its branches. Wide piles of smaller debris threatened to trip me up and I had to continue to go slow until I reached the bottom of the slope.
There I found myself in a tight, shallow ravine. The soil was damp around the roots of the low tangled trees that grew in it, and the ground was otherwise choked with the grotesquely thorny “devil’s club.” On the PCT several years before, while going through Washington, which I will note, I was having much less fun and was much colder than I was at the present, I had grabbed a solid stranglehold on a stalk of devil’s club to save myself from a fall. It, of course, is a fairly flimsy plant, and all I managed was to yelp in pain as I splatted into the mud, rising to find a hundred hair like thorns embedded deep into my numbed and stinging hand. Hate the stuff.
Determined to keep my feet dry and avoid getting pricked, I scrambled up into the low branches of the trees and stepped from one tree to the next, stepping along winding branches that grew parallel to the ground, until I found myself stuck. There was no maneuvering any further. I was choked in on all sides. It could have perhaps been easier were I not lugging around a tortoise shell on my back. Often times, I find that barriers while bushwhacking are psychological, especially while I am moving slow. I simply do not want to push through something. I will search out an easier way until I find the past of least resistance, like any animal. However, all paths here were fraught.
I ended up squeezing myself through the branches and pushed into the thorny undergrowth. Honestly, I think I blocked the memory out. After that I had to squeeze behind a boulder and push through high reeds, crossing several narrow streamlets and climbing a muddy slope before finally coming out onto the river. I stepped out into the middle of it, the water, cool and refreshing around my bleeding calves.
From the side of my pack, I pulled my water bottle and filter. Fuck, I was thirsty. I stood in the middle of the water and chugged a liter straight from my filter, screwed to the top of my water bottle, before moving to the bank and filtering another liter, and grabbing an extra dirty liter before I pressed on.
After another press through high, dense reeds, I emerged onto the highway. Laughter escaped from me as I felt the relief of open space. I stood upon a narrow shoulder of the road, a steep rock wall climbing towards the sky on the other side. There was nothing to do but walk north to where the trail crossed. The thought of going back into Republic to get a beer after all that was tempting, and I stuck my thumb out as I walked.
I did not really want to go back into town. I wanted to get to the Highway Twenty West crossing as quickly as possible so that I could go back into town and go float the river. Man, that sounded good. Fuck hiking.
I arrived at the campground where the trail began to ascend the mountain back into the woods. I sat for a moment in the pull off and determined that I would keep my thumb up for another five minutes and if no one came, I would keep hiking. So far, hardly half a dozen cars had driven by in twenty minutes, and I was not expecting much. With regret, I put my thumb down early and crossed into the campground.
Across the Road
A stream ran through a large pipe under the road, and I stopped to fill up another liter and eat a quick snack. There was a beautiful man, barefoot and shirtless, off in the woods with a hatchet, collecting firewood. I watched him with interest while I ate my snack, before continuing on. I passed his campsite, and he had one of the largest tents I had ever seen, and no means of transportation. He also had a trash bag full of split kindling with a sign reading “free firewood.” Though he was the only person at the remote campground, I considered this a generous act and regretted the absurdity of me carrying logs up the ascent ahead of me.
A Considerable Lack of Caution
Several miles later I took an alternate instead of braving another bushwhack and walked logging roads until I arrived at Swan Lake, where I turned off the alternate to eventually regain the main route. As I ascended through a recent burn zone; recent, as in within the last year or two, pungent wafts of smoke kept coming to me on the wind. Anxiety began to creep up on me, thoughts of accidentally walking into an active burn. I became convinced it was just on the other side of the ridge. The pockets of warmth that form around nightfall, in my mind, became heated air coming from the flames just out of my sight. I finally came over the ridge and could hear voices from the Swan Lake campground. The road became paved, and I walked up it, noting the large groups, each and every one with their own, big, private fire. The combined smoke had been enough to convince me there was a forest fire. I sighed with relief and searched for an empty site in the dark but found nothing.
Hiking into the Dark
Inevitably, I made it to the end of the road. I picked up the trail and after a few hundred feet turned back to the parking lot. My headlamp was too dull to navigate that night, especially since I had read that the trail became hard to find on the other side of the lake. For a while I contemplated cowboy camping in the parking lot.
While experiencing some executive dysfunction, I observed the International Space Station rise above the trees and cross the sky above me. A soft roar accompanied it, from some other source, and though I was familiar with the light from the ISS, I had a thought of a nuclear missile launch from the backwoods of nowhere Washington; the horror of coming back into service to discover a doomsday scenario parading in my mind. It was a little past my bedtime.
Otherwise, the lake seemed pleasant. I regretted not engaging any campers to see if they were friendly. At this point in my hike, I regretted every missed opportunity to interact with human beings.
Cowboy camping in the parking lot did not appeal to me in the end. I knew that if I tried to do that I would sleep horribly. However, it was getting late, and I was not sure where I would stop. I got my bag of miscellaneous items from out of my pack and dug around for my spare AAA batteries. With the batteries replaced in my headlamp I grudgingly continued into the dark.
The Ever Present Challenges of Burn Areas
On the other side of the lake the trail split, and I followed down an old, overgrown, abandoned logging road. That road continued on, but when I checked the GPS route, I saw that it branched away from the main line. It was, in fact, over a hundred feet off of the main line. All around me was burn and deadfall and I sighed as I climbed the slope to where the GPS was telling me the trail actually was. In the dark, an off trail bushwhack like that can feel like forever, but I came out into the wide clear gap of old logging road and relaxed. I was exhausted. There was still nothing but burn around me, nowhere safe to set up. I pushed on for over another mile before deciding to finally just set up in the middle of the trail, widow makers or not.
The Path Back
The logging roads I came upon the next day seem long abandoned. They were grassy and overgrown and lent an air of mystery to the surroundings; like I was traveling labyrinthine fairy paths to fields of wildflowers instead of an established trail. That morning, a family out cutting kindling, gave me a big bag of trail mix, the good kind, with M&Ms, and a couple of cold bottles of water. When I made it to the road, I was given a ride by an old man driving a restored fifty’s model Ford truck. He had replaced the transmission to make it an automatic and the passenger side door did not seem to latch all the way. We would round a corner and I would lean slightly against the door and, to my horror, feel it starting to open. It never did, but the sensation was unnerving. The old man admitted there were some bugs he still needed to work out.
In town, the old man dropped me off in the grocery store parking lot. I thanked him for the ride and went about trying to get in contact with my friends to let them know I was back in town.
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