If you are new to this Blog about our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), please read our previous blogs which you can find under the “Travel” category in AgingTopic.com
The end at last, except not how we expected it to end at all… After jumping back on the trail at the Oregon/Washington border we had a blast getting back in the routine together. Walking through lush green forests surrounded by shade and water, Washington appeared exactly the way I imagined, but she had an exciting surprise in store for us.. Berries! We walked straight into berry season and ate our way through blackberry vines, blueberry fields, huckleberry hills and thimbleberry bushes (picture below). While it was truly heaven, Ryan knew to limit my picking or else we wouldn’t get anywhere close to finishing on time.
Coming out of the forest about four or five days into our hike, we hit a burn area that nobody had warned us of. Typically, you read about burn sections and dry water sources through the app most hikers use, but sometimes some things slip by unnoticed. All of the sudden the wet, cool weather that had treated us so nicely for days turned into scorching sun that we couldn’t retreat from. In comparison to the hot sections we experienced together earlier, this was nothing – it was barely in the high eighties – but in comparison to the perfect weather we had experienced so recently, it taunted us with every tree line.
Stretching on for what seemed like miles in every direction were red and gold fields of blueberries. You couldn’t see an end to them; they were absolutely everywhere. My first thought (after eating a few handfuls) was what a perfect spot this would be for a bear, and I got lost in the thought of being a bear with no worries… just laying around eating all these berries. As we continued through the gem-colored hills covered in armless black trees, we could see the incredible Mount Adams, the mountain we would be skirting around for the next few days.
The first water source we hit after beginning the burn section was a lovely little spring, and it was our first and only unfiltered natural water during the whole PCT. It ran cold and clear and felt better than you could imagine both inside and out. When the weather is hot and the water source cold, you forget about the lack of shade, and relish in an oasis state of mind. Soon, the groves of trees appeared more often and lasted longer. This side of the mountain had plenty of water, and views of massive glaciers sliding down above us. At times, Mount St Helens and Mount Rainier would peek out at us from afar. There were around 40 miles between us and the next town when my feet started coming apart with terrible blisters…
Walking 20 miles barefoot, the problem had practically vanished although we were not making ideal mileage. We took a turn off the trail and walked to a tucked-away lake campground. Eventually finding a ride to Packwood, we hitched in to grab new sandals, food, and a night of rest. Taking advantage of being in a town earlier than planned, we decided to do laundry and resupply some items the next day just because we could. Around noon, smoke started settling all over town. Having walked through plenty of smoky sections due to distant wildfires, we didn’t think much of it beyond a quick Google search. Google said we were fine… (this is Packwood a couple hours before evacuation)
Deciding it was best to get moving ahead of this fire, we tried to hitch back to the trailhead. An hour later, someone pulled over to inform us that a semi had flipped across the highway ahead and that if we hitched now we would be sitting in traffic for at least a few hours. We were grabbing pizza while we waited it out when our phones went off and alerted us of a Level 1 Evacuation Notice (suggesting to gather your things in preparation of an evacuation). Knowing that it was wildfire season and we had been around a few so far, we didn’t panic. We continued to wait out the traffic. *BUZZ BUZZ* Level 2 Evacuation Notice – Be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. The waitresses asked everyone if they needed anything else as they would be closing in 15 minutes. *BUZZ BUZZ* Level 3 Evacuation Notice – Grab everything you can and get out of town, now. Heading outside with our thumbs out, people passed us by – over and over – with their cars full of belongings. Finally, a wonderful woman stopped to help us, and gave us a ride. We went around 40 miles out of town and camped on a lake for the night. Smoke still loomed on the horizon.
After doing research the next day, we concluded the smart decision would be to finish our trail efforts going north. There were at least one to seven wildfires in every section remaining, and no hope of it getting any better. Flashes of memories all along the trail played on a reel in our minds. The desert was behind us, the high altitude of the Sierra far away, the lava rocks of Oregon but a distant memory, and the rest of Washington lay ahead of us. This was the state we looked most forward to walking together, but not while wearing face masks and squinting our eyes through thick smoke. No amount of desire to complete this trail would or should outweigh decisions for safety. Reluctantly, we made the smart decision to end our journey for this year.
Having spoken to a few trail veterans who hiked before the PCT route was even complete (1993), we are constantly questioning whether a full through-hike will even be possible in the coming years. Is it possible today? From some hikers’ perspectives, it isn’t possible anymore and it might be worse in the future. Having the privilege to hike what we could of the PCT this year is something we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
Dreams and goals like this inspire us to go further. Hopefully, sharing it with the public will instill dreams and goals for others to chase and catch one day. This won’t be the last journey we take like this together, and I’d love to share future stories with you all. If you enjoyed this short series, feel free to email a story of your own and we can help you be a Guest blogger on AgingTopic – you could save it for your children and grandchildren to read for years to come – and for now, you will have an audience of over 4,500 readers in 46 states across the country! Email me and we can get started: [email protected].