Washington: Fairy Bread, Free Socks and Mosquito Murder
Fog has rolled in and the temperature is cool.
It’s evening and I (basically) run the last ten miles. I am alone on the trail and I sing along to The Little Mermaid and Celine Dion. I get to the water and stop. Downhill Daddy turns up looking ragged. I ask him if he’s okay and he says ‘I just chased you for ten miles’. I am smug. After months of being the slowest person in any given group, it’s nice to be able to keep pace. Then he tells me that he was actually hiking quietly behind me for several miles listening to me sing. I am no longer smug.
We set up camp in the dark in a clearing that looks like a logging base camp. It starts raining and we cook dinner sitting in our tents, passing pots and m&ms back and forth across the gap between them.
It’s the first consistent rain I’ve had the whole trail. It’s also cold. I don’t have my warmer things with me. – they’re waiting for me in a box in Leavenworth. I try to hike faster to warm up but I’m freezing and damp all morning. I make hot tea when we break at the water (I only have peppermint left, which is devastating). I’m so distracted by the cold that when I leave the water I hike south for half a mile.
South is the wrong direction y’all. Canada is definitely north. I bump into a hiker I know is northbound, I’ve seen him a few times in the last week.
“YOU’RE NORTHBOUND” I yell at him. He has no fucking clue why this is a surprise to me, or why I am yelling at him. He smiles at me, confused and then walks past me warily. I turn around and follow him back to the water source.
By mid-afternoon the wind is like knives.
I’m hiking fast when I come across the rest of my group at the most insane trail magic I’ve ever seen. These men not only have hot meals for us, they also have fresh socks. And dehydrated borscht, larabars and so many fucking treats that I’m mildly overwhelmed and hobble in wobbly circles around their camp, gently fondling things with random content and confusion.
When I arrive I’m wearing wet, dirt-caked, threadbare socks. Putting on a pair of brand new, dry, squishy socks is the kind of heaven I fear does not await me in the afterlife. My feet feel like rich newborns swaddled in excess layers of fancy plush blankets made made from children’s tears. It’s incredible. A few days later I will also get new shoes at Snoqualmie. The final pair.
The rest of my group stays at the trail magic for dinner.
One of the angels is a chef and they have quite a spread planned. But I am too cold on the ridge and I decide I can’t stay; I have to keep moving. I hike another ten miles, through damp brush and under open sky where powerlines buzz in the evening light. I camp in a foggy hollow and pick huckleberries before bed.
When I wake up in the morning Downhill Daddy presents me with pasta and homemade rhubarb pie. He stayed for dinner and then night hiked to cowboy camped on the wet ground next to my tent. The trail magic chef grew the rhubarb himself.
I scarf down the pie cold (delicious) and then heat up the pasta in my pot. I have a three course breakfast. I stew the huckleberries I picked the night before and we eat them hot.
We make it to Snoqualmie.
I pick up a box that contains several kilos of home dehydrated food sent by three of my friends from Australia (yes, Australia). It includes beans, lentils, curry pastes and an actual entire pumpkin grown in my garden at home. It’s a Queensland Blue, the superior sub species of pumpkin. Americans don’t understand the pumpkin situation. What I call a pumpkin, they call winter squash. But squash is a little yellow zucchini thing with serrated edges. And there’s more kinds of pumpkin than butternut or jackolantern. Anyway.
I start eating beans and rice for every meal and make it my personal mission to convince everyone I meet on trail that dried kiwi fruit is the best dried fruit. They agree.
It’s Heaps’ birthday and so when I notice organic sprinkles in the bougie deli I decide I need to make fairy bread for her party. Multiple Americans ask us if fairy bread is cake. So I’m here to perpetuate the myth that Aussies and Kiwis don’t even know what birthday cake is. We only celebrate with white sandwhich bread, margarine and artificially coloured rainbow sugar.
There was a bubble of plague on the trail near Snoqualmie.
As we climbed out of town in the heat of the afternoon we passed a woman collecting water without a pack. She’d hiked a mile down from where her partner was camped. He has Norovirus and they’d tried to make it the six miles back to town that day and failed. We walk past him a mile later, sitting on a log. He sits completely still, head hanging halfway down his chest, radiating malaise from every pore.
Late in the afternoon I get a little nauseous and spend the rest of the evening in a state of mild panic. I have had gastro while camping before and I would rather dig out my own fingernails with a sharpened birch twig than go through it again. Mercifully, it passes. Just that last ice cream right before a 7 mile climb, not Noro.
The next couple of days are long and hard, with steep climbs.
We end up hiking into the dark every night. The trail is super crowded. We keep having to pass by full campsites before eventually giving up and throwing our stuff down in the dirt, cowboy camping in whatever flat spot presents itself.
One night we wake up at 3am in a swampy meadow to rain splashing gently down on us. We’re using Downhill Daddy’s tent as a ground sheet. We yank it out from under our mats and pull it over us.
One evening, I’m determined not to set up camp in the dark and trying desperately to outrun insane mosquitos. I hike 5.7 miles (9.1km) in less than two hours, inluding 1750 feet (533m) of ascent. I am cold and hot at the same time, sweating and itching. I am powered by Disney and crankiness.
A mosquito lands on my eyelid and I smear blood in my eye as I wipe it away. Two mosquitoes meet their death IN my ear canal. I hear the second one pop when I murder it with a bloody fingertip.
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