Do Unto Others, and Neighborly Advice (PNT Pt. 9)
The Fourth of July
Arlie, at the Historic Washington Hotel, set me up with a room. He was a thinly stretched man with swirling white hair and a thick mustache. The building, on the inside, had a rustic charm, of weathered wood floors and antique furniture. It had a feeling of history, quiet and subtle.
I went out to get groceries and discovered that it was the fourth of July. There was a free barbecue being held in the town park… in Metaline, a mile and a half from Metaline Falls. The cashier at the store told me it was an easy walk. My hips and knees begged to differ.
I came back to the store a few hours later to get a bucket of ice cream and some more chocolate milk. The cashier told me that the old man buying an entire cooler full of ice cream sandwiches was heading back to the park, and if I asked nicely, he would probably give me a ride. So, I walked up to him.
“Excuse me sir. Do you think I could get a ride with you to the park?”
The old man looked at me askance, the way old men do when irritated, from beneath heavily hooded eyes. “No, the front seat of my car is full,” he said.
“Oh, ok,” I said.
I walked out a moment after him and we made sustained eye contact from where he sat behind the wheel of his car. There was nothing in the front seat beside him. I could see the “oh shit,” in his eyes. Pulling my gaze away, I wandered back to my hotel room to eat ice cream and watch Netflix. People are funny.
Slow to Leave
The next day, I picked up a package from the town post office. It contained a few items I had asked my parents to send me, a couple shirts and a new hat from American Backcountry, who has been sponsoring my hikes for the last three years, my compass, and permethrin to treat my clothes. No more ticks for me.
The rest of the day I spent working on blog posts. That is pretty much all I do while in town. I pointedly forgot to treat my clothes. Something about me thinking that the permethrin was wash in, and then not realizing the town did not have a laundromat, but then realizing it was spray on and thinking I should wash my clothes before I sprayed on the insect repellant treatment.
Arlie had offered to wash my clothes for me the day before. Apparently, he offers so that hikers do not wash their socks in the sink. I had to track him down to see if that offer was still on the table.
And So You Procrastinate Another Day
As the day went on, I realized I would be getting out of Metaline Falls late. My clothes were clean, but I still needed to treat them, and I was still putting the finishing touches on whatever media I was working on. Arlie came back around and I soon found myself paying for another night. It might be that I am a little weak willed for the draw of a bed.
With another night secured, I readily procrastinated chores, like treating my clothes, until the next day. It rained through the night, though Arlie had forecasted clear skies, and in the morning I had to use the back porch because of the constant cool drizzle still coming from the sky. Not ideal conditions for treating clothes with wet chemicals that need to dry to set.
I gave up on hoping the clothes would dry after a few hours and Arlie let me throw the garments into the dryer. I assume that is not something you are supposed to do, but I was getting impatient. The extra day in town was more than I needed.
When I finally started walking, it was around two or three o’clock. Some other hikers came in as I was leaving; the first hikers I had met for the whole trip. I do not remember their names, but they had just started from Priest Lake.
I hiked out along the highway, until the trail curved up along logging roads that climbed back into the mountains. Around nine o’clock I stopped for dinner at the trailhead and used my new wood stove for the first time. The mac and cheese that I thought I had grabbed from the hiker box at the hotel turned out to be beans and rice. I burned half of it to the bottom of the pot.
Strangers in the Morning
Afterwards, I pushed on through the dark, stopping around eleven o’clock, having managed about fifteen miles. The spot I picked was a small alcove, beneath a tree, barely big enough to set up my tent. In the morning, I woke late to hikers passing by me on the trail. Their footsteps were heading east into Metaline Falls.
“Good morning,” they said, hearing me moving around.
“Uh, good morning.”
I packed up and made my way to the top of the ridge, right below the summit of Abercrombie Mountain. The clouds were low in the valley, crashing against the ridgeline in diasporas waves. As I descended below the tree line it began to drizzle, and I was soon soaked to the bone by brush choking the trail.
What am I Listening to?
In town I had downloaded “The Three Body Problem,” by, Cixin Liu; a slow burn, first contact story, that by the end gave me a classic Asimov vibe. It was a real slow burn, and enjoyable; not just one of those science fiction stories that never has a real climax and then ends abruptly. Though not the best story I have ever read or listened to, I think I can recommend it.
Are You Sure You’re Okay?
As I was listening to my audiobook, I saw a figure walking ahead of me on the road. Well, they were sort of dancing. It was a heftier guy with a short walking stick and he was twirling it around and swerving back and forth as he strolled along the way.
I gained on the guy fast, and I could tell that he could not hear me walking behind him. He swayed back in forth in his step, claiming the middle of the road. As I came up on his side I tried to make myself known without startling him. We were in the middle of nowhere, and I was naturally suspicious.
“Hey there! How’s it going?” I called out, not too loud.
The kid, I could now see he was quite young, though taller than me, stopped twirling his stick and turned. “Whoa! You really came out of nowhere,” he said with a slow drawl, looking me up and down.
“Yeah, I guess I did. Didn’t mean to startle you,” I said. “Where’re you headed?”
“I’m walking to Northport,” he said. “I’m meeting some friends there. I’m just going to keep going until I get there. Even if that’s tomorrow.”
“That’s where I’m headed, too!” I said. It was my turn to look him up and down. We were still at least sixteen miles out and it was around four o’clock in the afternoon and balmy. He had nothing on him but the walking stick and was drenched in sweat. “Do you need some food or anything?” I asked, realizing this kid might succumb to the elements before he ever got anywhere close to Northport.
“Oh, no… I think I’m alright,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “Are you sure?”
“Uh… Actually. Could I get some water?” He pulled a crumpled cheap plastic water bottle from his sweatpants pocket.
“Yeah man, let’s get you some water,” I said, dropping my backpack.
I thankfully was carrying about three liters on me, out of my own water paranoia. I started filtering water into his bottle as he held it outstretched to me. He kept trying to take his bottle back when I would unscrew my filter to let air back into the Smartwater bottle and fix the O-ring.
“Sorry, no, we’re gonna fill you all the way up,” I said. “And even then, I don’t think that’s going to be enough water to get you there. This filter is just a bit finicky and I have to fix it every time I unscrew it.”
“Filter?” he asked.
“Yeah! This is a water filter. You can get ‘em at Walmart. They’re for taking harmful bacteria and stuff out of the water.”
He nodded. From the look on his face, I wondered if he had just been dipping his bottle in the runoff streams running along the road. We were at low elevation and there were a lot of cow pastures around.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“My name is Michael. What’s yours?”
“Jack,” I said, going in for the awkward hiker fist bump that turns into a handshake and then to a fist bump at the last minute because I am dirty and do not want to shake a strangers hand. You all know the one. “It’s nice to meet you Michael. Are you sure you don’t need any food?”
“I’ll take some food,” he said.
I nodded, grateful, and reached into my hip belt pocket to hand him the four granola bars I had stashed in there. He took them and quickly secreted them away into his pockets.
“Maybe I’ll see you in town,” I said with a wave, pushing forward again at full pace.
“Thank you for the food, Jack,” he said.
“It’s no problem. Happy trails.”
“And thank you for the water.”
“Like I said,” I called back to him. “Oh, and don’t be afraid to stick your thumb out for a ride!”
Down the Road
In a very short period of time, I was around the bend of the road and out of sight of him. He was not moving very fast.
Another thirty minutes passed and a car turned around to come see if I needed a ride. I declined, explaining to the driver what I was doing.
“Aw, man! That’s so awesome!” he said.
“Thanks,” I replied.
He started to do a three point turn in the road to head back the way he came, but I stopped him.
“Hey, actually, there’s a kid up the road trying to get into Northport and he doesn’t have anything on him. Could you go see if he needs a ride?”
The man hesitated for a moment and sighed. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” he said.
I thanked him as he left. I am not sure why I thanked the driver, but after I left Michael I was beset by this dread that something bad would happen to him because I forgot to tell him it was still sixteen miles to Northport. The guy drove by a few minutes later and Michael was not in the car with him. I shrugged it off, assuming, Michael, like me, preferred to walk. A few minutes after that, a battered silver sedan drove by with Michael in the passenger seat. “Oh good,” I thought. “He got a ride.”
Another fifteen minutes passed and I came around a bend to see the old sedan pulled off on the side of the road. Michael stood in the little gravel lot, looking up the road as if waiting for me. Beside him was a grizzled older man holding a long stemmed glass pipe.
“Hi Jack,” said Michael.
“Hey Michael,” I said. “I see you got a ride.”
“I’m Michael’s father,” said the older man. He had on a stained white shirt and was missing some teeth. “Michael told me you gave him some water. Thanks for doing that.”
“Yeah, made sure he had some water, and I gave him some food,” I said.
“You didn’t tell me he gave you food,” the older man said, shooting Michael an accusatory look. Michael said nothing, but looked abashed. “You smoke?” the older man asked me, holding up his pipe.
“I do, on occasion,” I said, “But I’m okay right now. I appreciate it. You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette though, would you?”
“No cigarettes,” he said. “If my wife was here, I’m sure she’d give you one. You want any bud for later or anything?”
“I would, but I don’t have anything to smoke it out of,” I said with a shrug.
We talked for a few minutes and I came to understand that Michael was actually doing the walk for exercise and his dad was following along in his car to make sure that he was okay. I said earlier that Michael was a heftier guy, and I was not exaggerating. Maybe he really did have friends in Northport, but he was not going to see them today. In fact, the five miles he had managed from his house was the farthest he had ever made it. I thought that was pretty cool.
“So, are you gonna keep walking?” Michael’s dad asked him before I left.
Michael took a long moment to think. “No. I think I want a ride home,” he said.
“You sure?” his dad prompted.
“Yeah, I think so,” Michael replied.
I waved to them as they drove away and tried not to be inwardly frustrated that I gave Michael an entire days worth of snacks so he would not die, just so that he could get a ride home an hour later. I instead told myself that at least the kid was not going to perish walking the road.
Before I left, I had told Michael and his dad that my plan was to walk all the way into Northport that night. Having asked if they knew of any place I could set up a tent, Michael’s dad told me that he used to camp under the bridge across the Columbia when he was homeless. That seemed like a pretty good option to me.
Another hour or two passed and I came to a little country store on the side of the road, right where the cliffs drop off and you can see the Columbia River for the first time. I decided to walk up to the store to see if I could get a drink before continuing on. Before having walked even a few steps into the parking lot, a woman came out of the RV parked in front of the store and called out to me.
“You look like you could use something to eat!” she said.
“I will never say no to food,” I replied.
In seconds she had led me inside, sat me down at a table, served me up a plate of gravy and biscuits with green beans and noodles in beef broth. She poured me a red solo cup full of homemade ice tea from a pitcher and then went and grabbed me a beer from their cooler; a Space Dust IPA from Elysian Brewing. Talk about magical. On the table before me was a big tray of cinnamon rolls and the woman scooped one out for me and put it in a little to go container.
The woman introduced herself as Candy and I chatted with her and her husband Wayne while they watched Audie Murphey westerns on their little CRT television. Candy tried to barter with me for my Appalachian Trail hat, offering me an Alaskan bush pilot hat. She showed me her pilot’s license and her instructor’s license so I would know that it was the real deal, but in the end I had to turn her down because the whole hat was made out of heavy cotton.
Talking Yourself in Circles
Later in the night, the conversation turned when Candy asked me if I was vaccinated.
“Why would you do that?” she asked, quite serious.
Because we are in a global pandemic and you need to be vaccinated to hold a job, travel, and not infect other people, Candy.
She then went on to try and debunk vaccination.
“They’re experimenting on you,” she said. “Don’t let them experiment on you. Vaccines have never worked. I grew up during the polio vaccine and my mom didn’t know any better. She made sure we all got vaccinated and it crippled me and all of my siblings.”
“What did it do to you, if you don’t mind me asking? How were you crippled by it?” I could not help myself. She was so insistent. “I’m pretty sure a lot more people were crippled by polio itself,” I said. “Also we used vaccines to pretty much eradicate Small Pox from the planet. It only exists in, like, little vials in research labs now days.”
“It’s all a lie. That’s what they want you to think. They haven’t gotten rid of Small Pox,” she said, indignant.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure. I’m a biologist. I’ve been studying microbiology for twenty years.” She held up a text book on immunology that had been lying on the floor in front of her. “And I can tell you, vaccines don’t work. What works is focusing on your immunity. Eating fruits and vegetables and getting exercise.”
“She reads a lot about this stuff,” said Wayne.
“Okay, I can agree that living a healthy lifestyle can help improve immunity,” I said. “But, like, do you not believe in the function of white blood cells? Like, do you believe that after getting sick your white blood cells can recognize a virus and attack it to keep you from getting sick again?”
“Yeah, that’s the… the autonomic immune system,” she said.
“Okay, sure. So then, why don’t you believe that a vaccine can trigger the same response; introduce a ‘dead’ virus to help your body recognize it in the future and help fight it off?”
“Vaccines don’t work!” she insisted, getting a little louder. I think she was a bit drunk. “They’re experimenting on you. Don’t let them experiment on you.”
I was a little drunk myself off my one beer and, reading the political feel of the room, decided to take a different tact. “Okay, so my opinion on the American medical industrial economic complex, or whatever, aside, uh, what about George Washington during the Civil War? Shit, I meant the Revolutionary War.”
“The Revolutionary War,” Candy and Wayne corrected me, together.
“Right,” I continued. “George Washington ordered all of his troops to be immunized against Small Pox. He knew that the English soldiers mostly had immunity and that his rag tag army made up of farm boys were way more susceptible. They used, uh, what’s it called… variolation!”
“That’s not true!” Candy said. “George Washington would never have allowed any of his troops to do that. He was terrified of the idea!”
“We can google it,” I said, shrugging.
“Let’s do that,” said Candy. “George Washington did not do that. Would you like another beer?”
“Yeah, I’d love one,” I said.
Jack Needs to Learn to Shut Up
While Candy was away, Wayne turned to me. “Do you believe in god?” he asked.
My brain panicked for a moment. “I would say that I do,” I said. “But not in a religious sense. I would say I’m more spiritual than religious.” Yeah, that sounded good. I figured that would hold him off.
“So what do you believe, then?”
“So, like, I believe in evolution and the big bang, science is important to me, I guess. But, like, I don’t think these things preclude the nature of god, but not god in like the Christian sense of the word. Uhm, I guess if I were to believe in that kind of god I would view it as more of a deist figure. Instead, I kind of think of it like, science shows us the possibility of an infinite reality, and the existence of all things and all consciousness is god in a sense, though I don’t think that’s the right word. And, uhm, I’ve learned over the years from talking to other people that, that is kind of a spiritually incomplete view of existence. So, though I don’t really believe Jesus was more than a man, I appreciate the allegorical significance of some of the stories religions tell, and I think the value of the golden rule is a good idea to live by.”
“That’s a beautiful view of things,” Candy called out from around the corner.
Wayne looked at me solemnly, but that was also just how he looked. “The golden rule? That’s ‘do unto others?’” Wayne asked. “I talked to a hiker once, and he said he didn’t believe in god. Can you believe that? I can’t even imagine.”
I sighed. “Yeah, hard to believe…” Crisis averted, I guess.
“Are you a bible reader?” Wayne asked.
“Uhm, no, I have read parts of the bible, but never the whole thing,” I said.
“Do you need to charge your phone?” Wayne asked.
“I do actually. Where is there an outlet I can plug into?”
Wayne showed me around the corner to an outlet. I knelt down to plug in my phone and, whiled crouched, googled “George Washington Small Pox.” The entire google page were links to articles about George Washington immunizing his troops. I read one of the articles to Candy when she came back out with the beer.
“That’s a lie. All of those articles are lies. Seventeen seventy-seven?” Candy said, incredulous. “He couldn’t have. Vaccines were not even invented until seventeen ninety-six.”
“Well, he didn’t vaccinate them,” I said. “They were inoculated through the process of variolation.”
It was too late. She got hung up on that detail and would not debate any further. Only insisting that she hated vaccines and that the only way to resist getting sick was to “focus on your immunity” by living a healthy lifestyle. I googled how old the concept of variolation was and Google’s first result told me the idea had been around in India for three thousand years.
A Place to Lie Your Head
At this point it had gotten late and Wayne offered to let me sleep in the garage at the edge of the property. I readily accepted, Candy offering to cook me breakfast in the morning and the idea of walking ten more miles in the dark being less than appealing. Wayne took me over to the garage and showed me the massive concrete gun safe that was left, a permanent fixture, by the previous owner.
Wayne thought I was a bit odd for wanting to sleep out in the open as long as I had a roof over my head. He kept trying to figure out how to give me more privacy, but I assured him that all I needed was a place to sleep. We chatted for a bit as the twilight turned to dusk.
I learned that Wayne and Candy were not the owners of the property. The owner had bought the store from the neighbor, who had stripped it of everything before sale, even though what had been stripped was promised in the original sale. Wayne and Candy had moved down from Juno, Alaska to help build out and renovate the store, which was not yet open. The couple had only moved down a couple months prior, but they had been living out of RVs since the eighties. They had years of stories from doing trail magic for hikers and other adventurers on their cross country trips. Now that they were on the PNT, they were super excited to help out hikers coming through and made sure that I posted a comment about them on FarOut.
Here’s My Proof
We went back inside and the three of us chatted for awhile longer. I ate another cinnamon roll. Candy, definitely a bit intoxicated by this point, brought out a folder with all of her degrees and certifications. They were indeed in Microbiology, but they were all from some online school from the last ten years. I was a little confused, but went through them with her because I think it made her happy.
I went to bed shortly after, blowing up my pad and crawling under my quilt in the mouth of the garage. A squirrel woke me up at five in the morning, chattering angrily at me from the rafters. Ignoring it, I slept for a few more hours and got up to say goodbye to Candy and Wayne. Candy was not going to be making breakfast it turned out, which I did not mind because they had already done so much for me. Wayne kept trying to hand things off to me. Before I left I had been given a jar of peanut butter, another cinnamon roll, several boxes of raisins, a handful of butterscotch candy, and several Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets. What a delight.
Wayne also sent me an article about the creation of the first vaccine that Candy wanted me to read. He told me I could read it later, but I skimmed through it and told him that I did not think it proved what she thought it did. The article went on to talk about the older concept of variolation in the second half. I was sober at this point and ready to get out of there, but I appreciated there hospitality nonetheless.
A few hours later I walked into the tiny town of Northport and was introduced to a cupboard full of kittens. But that is a story for later.
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