The Lovely Town of Oroville, WA (PNT Pt. 14)
Discreet as Always
I woke up, baking in the infernal heat of my tent. Even after setting up camp at the end of my long day into Oroville, I stayed up watching Tik Toks. Its hard to explain the perpetual loneliness, the simple need for some kind of distraction. My brain was fried from a lack of sleep and locals were out for their morning walks along the trail down to the river. I inspected my site after crawling out of my tent and determined it had been hidden enough for my purposes.
Around this time, I was coming to understand a fundamental aspect of human psychology that I was calling the “Homelessness Effect.” The gist of the Homelessness Effect is that the more vagrant you look, the more people want to ignore you. Many people are frightened of you if you are unshaven, dirty, and have a backpack on. I had noticed this before, especially on trails less well travelled, such as the Florida Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. However, on this trail in particular, I was noticing the use of that effect, especially when it came to unfortunate sleeping arrangements.
I packed up my tent and headed back into town. The first thing I did was head to the post office and wait for it to open. I had a pair of new shoes waiting for me and I was excited to swap into something a little less worn. Unfortunately, I had trouble finding a second pair of Salomon XA Pros before leaving, so I was swapping into a pair of X Ultra Fours that I was not excited about, and in truth, ended up performing terribly.
I walked up and down the main street for a time, looking for a place to breakfast, and finding that everything was closed. I returned to an espresso bar near the grocery store that I was uncertain served food. I was pleasantly surprised at the cost and the quality of the food, ordering myself two breakfast burritos and a smoothie, and sitting down to work on my blog—the last entry I would make before finishing the trail almost a month later. Grey’s Anatomy played on the TV in the background, and I found myself consistently distracted by the never-ending drama unfolding around Meredith Grey and all of her associates.
After eating, I figured I would go to a little town park, sandwiched between two buildings, that had some outlets and a picnic table I could work at. On the way there I grabbed a half gallon of chocolate milk. The sun was broiling down in the valley, and I found myself hiding in the diminishing shade of the side of one of the buildings, getting little work done. The outlet did not work, and I felt like I could vomit after finishing the half gallon of milk on top of everything I had already eaten. From the corner of my eye, I saw a couple walking up the street. By their backpacks, clothes, and the package one of them was carrying, they were unmistakably hikers. I got up and ran to them.
“Hey hikers!” I shouted as I came up behind them.
“Hey,” said the woman with close cropped hair. The man standing next to her had a beer gut and blue mohawk.
“I think we met in Metaline Falls,” he said.
“Ah! That was you guys! I remember. Captain Jack,” I said, reintroducing myself with a slight bow.
“You’re Captain Jack!” said the woman. “We’re the ones who found your tent stakes. Did you get them?”
“That was ya’ll!” I exclaimed.
“Yup, I’m Matthew,” said the guy with the mohawk.
“Kira,” said the woman.
“Oh my gosh, thank you guys so much. I was using iron nails I had picked up at the hardware store. Kind of defeated the purpose of carrying a UL tent. Speaking of, that giant nail you left me is living at the brewery in Republic from now on, I didn’t take it with me.”
“That’s okay,” said Kira.
Before my return trip into Republic, Matthew had messaged me on Instagram and let me know that he had found my stakes at the waypoint I had left a comment on, on Farout. I had asked them to leave them at the brewery for me and told them that I would pick them up when I came back into town, which I did. Bless the light.
Since We’re Friends Now, Let’s Hangout
I asked Kira and Matthew if I could join them, and we fell into easy conversation as we continued walking up the road. They were looking for a place to eat and I led them back to the espresso bar after they discovered the place they had been headed was closed. There, we sat for a while, getting to know each other, talking about hiking and Dungeons and Dragons. Kira and Matthew had met at a nontraditionally styled college in Washington and were just generally cool people. Kira herself had recently recovered from breast cancer and going for this hike was part of her way of branching out for new experiences after her battle.
We hung out at the espresso bar for several hours and I drank lots of peppermint tea while working on the blog. Eventually Kira and Matthew left to get food somewhere else, but they came back a few hours later to get me, having brought me cake and saying they were going to move to the library. Most of their day was spent trying to figure out permits for North Cascades National Park, which we were coming up on in just over one hundred fifty miles. I debated doing that as well, but saw the struggle they were going through trying to get in contact with someone over the phone and chose to opt for hitchhiking into Marblemount and getting a walk-in permit from the ranger station there.
We moved to the library and got our stuff set up and charging in the back. The librarians were super kind and knew what we were doing, leaving us to do our thing. I tried to continue working on the blog but struggled to keep focus. Eventually Kira and Matthew packed up to leave. The people at the Camaray Motel nearby, had said that we could come and shower in a room that they were in the process of renovating. I told Kira and Matthew that I would meet them over their as soon as I finished editing the blog. The moment they left, I promptly fell asleep sitting up. Thirty minutes later I woke up and followed after them.
Kira and Matthew had a good time of it while I had been sitting at the espresso bar. Not only had they been offered the place to shower, but they also said some people hanging out by the motel pool were having a barbecue and had invited all of us to join. When I later met with Kira and Matthew at the motel room, Kira gifted me with an unopened Sawyer Squeeze filter she had found in the motel hiker box, as I had been complaining about the degradation of mine earlier in the day. Then, while lying on a plush, bare mattress, somehow, I managed to finish editing my blog post and upload it without falling asleep again.
We walked across the parking lot to the pool, which was surrounded by a high wooden fence. When we entered, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was not quite what I found. The pool was drained, several cigarette butts floating in a brown puddle at the bottom. In the corner of the patio was a group of old timers, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, a massive plate of ribs loosely covered by tin foil sitting on the table between them. Music boomed from a little Bluetooth speaker; hits from an era that I can say with certainty I was never a part of.
They welcomed us with open arms and told us to eat as much as we could. For me, that was not much, as I still felt a bit sick from all the chocolate milk and multiple breakfast burritos that morning. The old timers were all characters and several of them were plastered. We soon found out that they had been there since that morning, and that for some of them, coming to that pool for that barbecue on that day was a long-held tradition going back years. The gentleman DJing the music, with the long hair and leathery sunbaked skin, however, was a newcomer to the group and had joined in upon meeting the original group. He was the most boisterous of the lot.
We stayed for a while, happy to chat and drink the cheap beers offered to us. The oldest gentleman of the group sat in the shade of an awning in the corner of the fence, smoking cigarettes and making passing remarks. I spoke to him for a bit and quickly discovered that he was quite senile. He offered me several drinks from his flask, and each time I had to decline, preferring to sip Coors Lite with the intention of still hiking out. He was crotchety and very happy to smoke cigarettes with me, and I almost never knew what he was saying. The younger woman with him explained that he only had a few more months that they expected him to live, and they were just trying to give him a good time. He kept trying to get me to eat more ribs and I kept having to decline, those with him trying to convince him that we had all already eaten some. The tray was mountainous, and there was not much that could be done about it as it was.
Heading Back Out
When the time came, Kira, Matthew, and I all mutually began trying to excuse ourselves. The hours were passing us by, and we still needed to road walk several miles into the dark to make it to camp. Unlike the others, I had not even resupplied yet, spending my entire day focused on hashing out a blog post that I was only half awake to write.
We gathered our things, and I parted ways with Kira and Matthew, promising that I would catch up with them by the time we arrived in camp. They then made their way to the river while I headed into the grocery store. When I came out, I had a local come up and start chatting with me. He seemed very curious about what I was doing and when I tried to explain he did not seem to entirely comprehend it. I was polite, though I was trying to focus on getting all my food organized and packed, and I was getting anxious to be going. The man speaking to me was yet another interesting character; another recovering meth addict, ghostly pale with alopecia baldness and most of his teeth missing. He was very genuine and inquisitive and seemed to be on the up and up. I patiently answered his questions before finally getting all my things together and excusing myself.
The trail led down the road, past the post office, RV park, and into a gravel lot at the edge of town. A sign at the trailhead I had missed when I woke up that morning, denoted that I was at the official halfway point of the PNT. How very exciting for me.
The trail was a wide gravel greenway, snaking back through tall yellow grasses along a wall that turned to the right along the river. It went on for just over a mile before turning uphill to the right and depositing me onto the highway. The road was almost entirely empty and only one or two cars passed me the rest of the night.
As I made my way up the hill away from the river, the river itself fell below me as I rose upon the heights of a deep gorge. Built into the side of the gorge was an expansive home. The home had a log house aspect, separated into two full size dwellings connected by a large, covered patio walkway and a steep winding driveway that ran down to it. Orchards spread out along the hillside and atop the gorge around the building. The curated trees were staked up and protected behind chain link fence marked with yet another sign denoting the active and proud use of the owner’s second amendment right. A road running through the trees led onto a bridge that crossed the gorge to the isolated orchards spanning the flank of the mountain on the other side. I found myself awestruck by the show of wealth, the idea of having a personal bridge fifty feet in the air, spanning a river to your private mountainside groves being too much for me to grasp. I cannot say I understand money, but I certainly do not even begin to comprehend the wealth gap between myself, who spends most of their meager funds living in the woods, and someone like that.
Roadwalking Into the Night
I sped down the road at a brisk pace, six days of food heavily ladening down my pack. The section coming up was the Pasayten Wilderness, one hundred and fifty-five miles to Ross Lake, where I would make the thirty-mile hitch into Marblemount to resupply and get my North Cascades permit. I had only heard good things about the Pasayten and was very excited. Little did I know how amazing and absolutely frustrating this next section would be.
Just after dark I caught Kira and Matthew on the road. I slowed down to keep pace with them and we walked, mooning over the perfect stars above us. Eventually, we dropped back down to walk beside the river. The mountains of the valley surrounding us were rocky and bare, climbing up to low jagged peaks until later on where they would ascend to much greater heights.
It was late when we came upon the campsite, a dispersed camping area off the side of the highway. We went down together and set up separate camps. The next day, the next section, would be trying. I would not see Kira and Matthew again after leaving camp the next morning.
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