To the Towers of my Dreams (PNT pt. 6)
This is the exciting recap of my walking travels between the PNW towns of Eureka and Bonners Ferry. I hope you enjoy.
Descending from the Ridge
As I descended from the ridge beneath the Highline Trail, I came back into service and took a lunch break to reconnect with the world. There is something exceptionally valuable about being able to see what is going on in everyone else’s lives while I am travelling alone. At the very least, if I have not had any human interaction in a few days, I can look at a meme and feel my own humanity. That may sound silly, but when there is no one else, you always have the humor of strangers on the internet.
Eventually, the trail dumped me out onto a forest service road. I had looked over these roads on my maps, not entirely certain that they led to the highway. Headed for the valley, when faced with the decision of left or right, I chose downhill. The road had blowdowns every few hundred feet, and at a certain point someone had come up and started clearing the downed trees. I picked up what couldn’t have been more than a sapling, just a little taller than me, and about the width of a half dollar. Snapping the narrow end off, I began to strip the bark. The cut was so fresh that the bark peeled like the skin of a banana, not a hint of rot.
Satisfied, I strolled down the road, picking up my pace along the now clear path. I came around a corner and a old man sat in his truck, smoking a cigarette and looking off, up to the tops of the surrounding mountains. He waved me down and I stopped to talk to him.
“You from around here?” I asked.
“I grew up at the bottom of the hill. I just love it up here. Something special about this place,” he said.
I nodded and asked for a cigarette. He obliged and I presented him a four leaf clover from my hat before saying farewell.
The road led into a neighborhood. I felt the mixture of off grid suburbanite to be rather odd, and walked, as the truly off grid just met the backwoods suburban. One guy pulled over to let me know that he had seen a grizzly on the hill above us, just the day before.
As I approached the main highway some teenagers in a lifted truck chose blow their exhaust and try and choke me out with the black fumes. I hate pubescent males; the kind of little shits that throw their Big Sip and Arizona Ice Tea cans on the side of the road. Probably virgins. I just smiled at them and shrugged as they blew by.
More on Road Walking
The highway walk into Eureka was short and hot. I stopped to read the sign describing the Tobacco Plains, the name for the region, formed by the glaciers moving out of the region and ice clogging the basin, causing it to repeatedly flood. Just down the hill from the sign was the largest weed dispensary that I had ever seen. I mean, it was in a veritable mansion, and in the middle of nowhere, no less. I left a comment on Far Out for any partakers who were interested. A dispensary on my alternate seemed like a draw.
Now, not much really happened in Eureka, so I am mostly going to gloss over it. After walking into town I walked a couple miles up the road to a hotel where I dropped over two hundred dollars for a zero day, so that I would not have to wake up in the morning, then spent the next day producing internet content and doing chores. Way more walking on my off day than I would have liked. I resupplied for eight days, plus my zero, and ended up spending more money in Eureka than I have in any trail town, ever, save Kennedy Meadows south, but that is another story.
When I was not editing videos, posting pictures, and writing these sumptuous blog posts for strangers on the internet, I caught up a bit on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Namely, I watched Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which was odd. I appreciated some of the hype, but was ultimately disappointed. Then I started watching Ms. Marvel, which is paced a bit off, but is cute, and I’m enjoying it.
So, anyway, getting out of Eureka. I had to walk two miles through town to get to the hotel in the first place since no one would give me a ride. I began to think I would have to walk the two miles back to get to the spot the trail turned out of town, when, after a few minutes of walking, a trail angel pulled up, heeding my outstretched thumb.
“I take it you’re thru hiking the PNT?” He asked.
“I am. Thanks for stopping.” I said.
He drove me to the other side of town and was about to continue driving up the road to where actual tread picked up again, when I stopped him.
“Whoa, whoa, sorry, but this is further than I walked,” I said. “Will you drop me off in the lot there?”
“An every-step-of-the-wayer,” he said. “I love that”
I looked at him quizzically, but said nothing, thanking him again as I got out of the car.
Back on Trail
The trail led up the road and then turned straight west along the river. The walk was calm, flat even, if you can imagine, with a number of locals passing to and fro on their morning runs.
After a time, the trail emptied into a little campground commons with a market and a bar. I had missed the path to continue walking along the lake, and having just left town, did not much fancy a beer. As such, I continued walking through, admiring the rich houses that I walked by in the small hilltop neighborhood I entered further on. God, second homes make me sick. Only because I will never even own one, but I think the irony is poignant.
Most of the rest of the day consisted of a road walk along the highway. It was actually quite lovely, as it overlooked the waters below. I listened to Lord of the Rings and played my ukulele and was content. A massive bridge spanned the waters and I walked out to the middle of it. Taking my shoes off to let my feet breathe, I just sat, staring out at the shimmering green, like verdant cloth embedded tightly with gems, laying beneath the even richer hues of the jagged mountains surrounding.
In my weakness, I had bought a pouch of rolling tobacco in Eureka. So, I rolled myself a cigarette and appreciated the moment. The certain peace of sitting and smoking, letting go of cares, including, just for the moment, the damage I was doing to my lungs.
To Climbs and Distant Places
I continued on from there and at the other side of the bridge the road began to climb slightly to the left. I followed it for two miles until I came to a trailhead. A car sat in the small lot and I wondered at it, it being so late in the day. I figured no one else would be off enough to be out only an hour or two till dark in such a random place.
The trail climbed straight up the side of the mountain for a way before beginning to switchback. I had my head down as I tried to pump up the mountain as fast as I could, racing the light and shooting for the fire tower that sat at the summit. A movement of some large animal in the trail ahead of me caused me to jump and let out a half gasped, “oh shit!”
The dog that I had startled leapt back and started barking furiously at me. The owner rolling down the hill behind it yelled out.
“Don’t worry! She’s friendly!” he said. “I thought you were a bear, and realized I left the bear spray in the car.”
“I also thought you were a bear,” I said, trying to relax.
The dog, some small Shibu mix, growled at me with her hackles all raised up her back. I tried talking to her softly and moving out of the trail to let them by. Her owner walked forward and passed, but she would not move. I gave an exasperated sigh as I moved further out of the trail and she flinched and moved backwards.
“It’s probably the backpack,” said the owner. It is true, backpacks seem to make a lot of dogs nervous.
I moved a little further up out of the trail, trying to walk the slope around the dog.
“You’re okay,” I said softly. She looked at me, and then bolted down the trail past her owner like her life depended on it. I just shook my head.
“Where you headed?” the dogs owner asked.
“the fire tower at the top. I’ve got another three miles, I think.” I said.
“I walked up that way for a good two hours. There’s nothing up there,” he said.
I shrugged, saying, “happy trails,” and continued on. He did not go nearly as far as he think he did, I thought mildly.
The climb was steep, and felt prolonged. I picked up a fist sized rock and carried it with me for a mile for no reason. It felt good in my hand.
The First Tower
Eventually, I crested the tree line where the trail spilled out onto a forest service road. There on the hill above me sat the fire tower, and I moved towards it with a longing. My legs hurt.
Climbing the steps in deep satisfaction of a night spent indoors, I reached the door to find it bolted. “Well, fuck me.”
The comments on Far Out said people slept in it.
I stood on the porch, pulling two ticks off my pant legs and watching the sun descend towards the tops of the mountains to the northwest. It occurred to me that the porch was covered and the clouds sparse. Raised in the air as I was, the wind would keep the insects down, and the cell service I was receiving was pretty decent. Without much more thought, I began to set up my pad and sleeping bag on the porch. I, of course, first checked that the big fancy privy was not serviceable as a better place to sleep. It was serviceable, I would say, and it even smelled like chemical products instead of sewage, but alas, I thought better of it.
The Second Tower
The whole next day I felt sluggish, but there was another tower only fifteen and a half miles away. I pushed my way to it and arrived early enough in the day that I was able to type up an entire two thousand word blog post. Before I started writing I skimmed the log and found that someone had hidden tequila beneath the steps. I, therefore, decided to enjoy a drink while writing.
Afterwards, I stood outside in the cold, brushing my teeth and enjoying one of the best views of the trail, yet.
The Third Tower
I lounged about the next morning in the warm interior of the tower. On Far Out I saw that there was another tower twenty seven miles away. I did not think to look much further into the details of the tower and departed. A great deal of road walking along forest service and logging roads allowed me to push and before dark, I came to the side trail to the summit. It had not occurred to me that the lookout would be off trail.
I now looked up further information on the tower and saw, in no plain view to see for anyone with an ounce of patience, not only was it another mile off trail, it was a paid shelter that you had to rent from the forest service. I did not have any cell service, of course, so that was not happening, but figuring that it would be empty anyway, I did not see any harm in summiting the mountain to see what I could find.
That last mile was exhausting, and I ran it, so as to beat the sunset. Sucking air at the top, I saw the tower. It was beautiful, and I was tired. We were a match made in heaven. I climb the steps, which were much steeper than the previous two towers, and at the top I found that a number lock held fast the trapdoor. Well, that made sense. I had been wondering how they could keep out travelers who came across the tower without the inconvenience of having to climb the mountain back and forth with a key. Here was my answer.
I tried the lock to see if the last occupants maybe had not changed the tumbler. Then I tried tinkering with it a bit, guessing years to input. After no avail, I turned and saw the game camera pointing right at me from behind the rafters and realized it was time to take my leave.
Ticks, Insects, and Other Ailments
There was no energy in me to descend back down until I found a campsite, so I roved the mountain top till I found a spot to my liking. The mosquitoes swelled in aggression to the worst point I had seen yet on this trip. Repeatedly, I found ticks on my pack and legs while I tried to set up. Crawling into my tent was a reprieve, but I felt sick from exhaustion. When I stripped to sleep I found a puckered red circle on my thigh that eerily reminded me of a Lyme bulls eye. It was small, however, and I was tired.
I slept through the night to the familiar sound of angry buzzing and woke to find ticks clinging to the mesh outside my tent door. I packed amidst the onslaught of mosquitos and tried to make it down the mountain out of the swarming chaos.
Rock Candy Mountain
I planned to do twenty five miles. It was my intention to try and push hard to get to town to get a Lyme test and perhaps antibiotics. Having had Lyme before, the thought of getting it again terrified me, but I pushed it aside as I tried to keep moving forward.
Around noon I hit snow and my progress slowed. The bowl below Rock Candy Mountain was easy enough to traverse, and I hummed the tune to myself as I came around it.
It was on the other side of the bowl that the angle grew steep and I felt I had to get out my ice axe. There was a precipitous drop below the drift and some trees that had fallen on top of the snow pack, making the navigation across one step trickier. I angled upwards above the branches and as the angle of the slope grew even steeper, I climbed straight up, clawing my way up onto the pass from below the four foot wall of snow that had piled up on the top.
I took a break for lunch at a saddle further on and tried to decided what I would do, whether I would drop down into the valley to pick up a backroad or keep pushing along the snow covered side of the ridge. Dropping down seemed like a fool’s idea to me, so I kept on pushing, but soon, growing tired, I began to head straight down the side of the ridge toward the road.
I bushwhacked for a mile, sliding through snow, and fighting through brush, as I found the easiest path to the bottom. The pollen has been thick in the air and my clothes were coated heavily from crashing through whatever lie in front of me. Spiderlings, recently hatched, blocked every route, and their webs covered me as I pushed forward without heed. When I finally reached the bottom of the valley and the gravel road, I felt relief, and satisfaction, but it was not to last. A few snaking turns ahead, the road became covered in snow and I found myself fighting uphill through what I had despaired of in the first place.
Sunsets and Cell Service
I reached the end of the day and was still walking across deep snow pack. I had managed to cover over twenty one trail miles and, as the sun was beginning to set, decided to find a place to make camp. I walked north, away from the trail, coming to a rocky outcrop, clear of the trees. Cell service there was excellent and there were rocks to hold out the corners of my tent, so I made camp and enjoyed the last faltering light of the setting sun.
New Friends, Cold Beer
The next day, after traversing over snow for awhile, I started to descend and the trail cleared up. I had seen warnings of dirt bikes on trail in the comments on Far Out. The trails were open to motorized travel and I kept an eye out, but I did not expect to see anyone. That was, until I heard the roar of a motor coming up the trail towards me. I stepped lightly out of the trail and waited.
A man on a dirt bike ripped around the corner, his legs outstretched to keep balance on the rough terrain. He saw me and seemed to start, shouting, “One more!” as he hurtled by.
I stood and waited, but heard and saw nothing. After a while I began to suspect I misheard him. His engine had been quite loud.
I continued walking and was soon met by the roar of another motor. I stepped out of the trail in ample time for the next rider to cruise by me, not even spotting me in passing.
The lead rider passed me on the way down, right before I came out at the trail head. The other followed right after, and they called me over to see what I was doing. When I told them they offered me a yellow Poweraid, which I accepted and drank greedily. As we sat there talking, they asked me about my gear.
“Is that a Garmin?” one of the guys asked, pointing to the InReach on my belt.
“It is,” I said.
“See, you need to get one of those,” the one said to the other. “That way if you crash again you can call for help.”
The guy being poked fun at then told me he had broken his collar bone eleven times from crashes.
They gave me a beer and some almonds and we continued to chat for awhile. The beer was ice cold, where the Poweraid had not.
“It’s called knowing your priorities,” I was told.
What Am I Listening to?
When I left, they wished me luck and I made my way to the road, heading north to where it crossed the river. While I walked, I hummed Big Rock Candy Mountain and then started back up my audiobook, “He Who Fights With Monsters 6.” It had released the night before and shown up in my library when I had service at campsite.
Somewhere along the line my audiobook addiction turned into a LitRPG addiction, and now here I am. Honestly though, who does not like a good Isekai? Alice in Wonderland? Chronicles of Narnia? Never Ending Story? The Matrix? Just to name a few of the genre for Americans who may not be as fully engrossed into anime as some of the rest of us. Anyways, you like escapism? Try walking really far and listening to character displaced into fantastical reality fiction.
Feist Creek Falls Resort
While I had been talking to those generous gentleman back in the parking lot, we talked about the bar up the street, a place called Feist Creek Falls Resort. It is, at its core, a hostel for American train conductors for when the trains cross into Canada, less than ten miles up the road. Apparently the trains are run by two different companies at that point, or some such thing, so they switch the American Conductors out for Canadian ones at the border and then vice versa when the train comes back around.
The guys had some theory that the owner of the resort was a Russian Immigrant in league with the Mafia and that he was helping mule drugs across the border. I met the owner, and as far as I could tell he was not Russian. Nice guy, in fact. The people there were all great. Despite being closed they let me in and served me a burger and a beer. Then they let me at a very well stocked hiker box that covered me for most of my next resupply.
I got to talking with them and learned that the owners once had a whole host of animals. Including a pet mountain lion. Jay, the nice lady serving me my food and keeping me in conversation, brought over a picture of a woman lying outstretched on the couch with a full grown cougar.
“What happened to the mountain lion?” I asked the owner later as we sat together at the bar.
“She got ahold of a house cat. House cats carry disease and it made her sick. She died not too long after.”
“I see. That’s awful.”
One More Mountain to Climb
I left from there later than I would have liked. It was getting on into the afternoon and I had a bit of a climb to overcome before reaching the highway. I reached camp after dark and set up along a ridge beneath Tungsten Mountain.
Bushwhacks and Bull Moose
In the morning I cruised down the long, steady downhill towards highway ninety-five. I passed a trail crew and then a long stream of older folk, all part of a local hiking club out of Bonners Ferry. They were excited to meet a PNT thruhiker, but did not want to hold me up.
Shortly after that, I hit a gravel road, turning to the right and following along it for a mile and a half before ducking into the woods for a bushwhack. This was the first official part of the trail that followed an overland course with absolutely no tread. I followed my GPS through a densely bracketed meadow before dropping down into a ravine and crossing a bog with grass growing over my head. In my head, I imagined the chittering gurgles of velociraptors hiding just out of sight, and whispered softly to myself, “everyone’s favorite scenario; walking alone through a field of high grass.”
The bushwhack inevitably brought me to a trail that ran along Brush Lake. It started to drizzle and I sighed with delight at being so close to town. A rope swing over the lake caught my eye, but I felt the rain on my skin and the pull of town on my legs, so I continued on. Rounding the end of the lake, I came across a bull moose, up to his flanks in the water and munching on reedy aquatic plants floating on the water’s surface. The bull snorted at me, and I tipped my hat too him as I continued on, he himself returning to his grazing.
It’s Good to Have Friends
Two more miles further on and I reached the highway. I whooped and walked across the street to fling my pack down on the ground and sit. There were no cars coming. Worse than that, most of the cars that would be coming, would be coming from Canada. That is an essential problem with the Pacific Northwest Trail. All the towns not on trail are south of it, and it runs along the border almost the whole way.
After sitting for thirty minutes and being ignored by everyone who drove past, a red truck came down from the road to Brush Lake. The man at the wheel waved me over and I raced across the road, heaving my pack into the bed and hopping up front. It was the hiking club I passed earlier and five very enthusiastic elderly folk greeted me with smiles and questions.
“It’s good to have friends, isn’t it?” said the man behind the wheel.
“I suppose it is,” I replied with a grin.
So, like, I understand that a lot of people in my trail accounts lack names. In part, I’m pretty sure that is because every single male human I have met on this trip has been named Tim, and now I’m getting them confused. Usually, I just make names up, and that’s always fun. You will note that I did not. Well, maybe next time, or in a future edit. I hope you will note that this is over 4,000 words long and I wrote it in an afternoon. If you have read this far, I’m happy I was able to hold your attention. However, there are just certain things that I have to let slide to be able to make these updates while on trail. One of those things is in depth editing. Happy Trails.
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