If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

PCT WA section - the hike that wasn't.

To the 2.5 random folks who still occasionally stumbles upon this blog and decides to linger long enough to scan across the page - and to the other 2.5 folks I force my posts upon (a.k.a. email and text the link) - here is our escape from the never-ending Texas summer to a beautiful PNW...

If the memory serves any purpose, this summer I wanted to do two sections on PCT: one in CA (originally from Tahoe to Yosemite, flipped due to high snow and river flows to Tahoe to Lassen NF edge, 210 miles) and first half of WA (from Bridge of the Gods to Snoqualmie pass, which during that first hike first transpired into "50 miles North of OR border and up" to "Heck with leaving my husband behind and being in the midst of through-hikers"). But, there were tickets (yay, SouthWest and the change of dates and places!), so I switched mine from PDX to SEA and aligned it with the date Larry was to come and get me - and just like that, we have a mini-vacation in the making!

As the days dragged after my CA hike, I questioned the sanity of the decision. Please, no disrespect to Texas, Texans or anybody who simply loves Austin. This city has nothing for me (for us), and the weather is just killing every cell in my body AND brain! Instead of getting re-energized, I got depressed - and frankly, Larry seemed to have been going through his own spell. We both just dream about mountains day and night...a sorry existence, if you ask me, because there is nothing we can do for another 1 year and 10 months, so we keep snapping each other out of it as good (or not very) as we can.

Anyway, the first couple of weeks I did feel extreme fatigue setting in, whether from the aftermath of the 210 miles with a backpack, or affects of heat and humidity. Slowly, though, some running returned, and the following 2 weeks I was doing runs 5 days a week with 2 Saturdays going for 8 miles each at - get this! - 10:40 and 10:20 average paces! (I don't have a Garmin, so I time the watch, the divide the miles from the mapmyrun.com website). No, no trails. Just the usual, boring local streets. But still, it was a breakthrough that allowed me to start thinking about setting a goal - more on that later.

During that time I also managed to work EVERY DAMN DAY for 4 weeks straight - when my day off finally arrived and I realized how long it has been, I almost died a little. I think it affected me more mentally than physically, although my hand, shoulder and back were at the breaking point as well.

It was 4 days after that silly day off that we were on the earliest plane to Seattle airport. jumping in the car and driving straight to a trailhead. Larry did all the search work, and we picked Mt. Si, a local feature for trail lovers, to conquer.

And the trail - we went via Old Trail - took us straight up! It turned out to be 2.5 miles (to the crags of the view, not the Haystack top) with 3,300 feet of gain! No joke here. The day was HOT, we started at noon, and it was humid. Like we never left Texas...but the trees around were tall, and we focused on muscles we forgot we even had. Hard breathing and twitching calves were in store for the next 2.5 hrs.

We made it, though, and on the rocks there were lots of people (taking a more benign regular route from a different trailhead). The views were smoky - wild fires all around - and too much urban for our taste (roads and cities underneath), but still, it was a mountain, and we were not in Kansas (I mean, Texas) anymore.

We stayed in Cle Elum, where the hotel was super-nice, but the town itself sucked big time (ask me how I know next time we meet). We just hoped the next day would be worth it...

And it was! We drove to a PCT trailhead at Snoqualmie pass - the one I was to come out of if I were to hike the WA section, and took it North. The day began at 7:30 am, the temperature and humidity much lower, and YES, CLEAR SKIES! Hallelujah! The climb itself was also more mellow, I believe all together in our 8.5 miles out or so we got may be 3,700 feet total of gain (it rolled in a few places). And there was nobody around us for pretty much the whole way up! The views! The air! The mountains! No wonder people say North Cascades are the most beautiful in PNW, and we weren't even that much North! The combination of craggy peaks of all colors, far-away snowy peaks, including Mt. Rainier, and the lush green with tall trees and dense bushes around, with wild flowers blooming - a pure paradise no words can describe.


Our projected turning point was Joe lake - we reached a saddle in the mountain with a shade and a gorgeous view on it by noon, and spent 30 min just soaking it all in. It was hard to leave.

But we knew we had to - the way back was still a long one, and we are fully aware how "out of shape" (by our own trail standards, not conventional normal people's ones) we are. Off we go.

The trail has a wonderful quality of seemingly chenging to be a totally different one, as we turned the other way, with sun giving different angle of light, mountains aligned completely anew to us, and terrain changing the climb and descend with each other. The one thing that was sad - we saw a fresh burst of fire not far, on a horizon, and it made us think about all the firefighters, trail workers, and people living near-by.

At some point, where the last 5 miles were more or less all going gently down, we thought we'd try our legs in some running - I let Larry go ahead. The first 5-10 min were fun, and I got to him very soon. I can't claim it felt fluid, but it was something, and hopefully we were getting faster down to the car. As we parted second time, the trail got a bit rockier, and I thought: shamefully, I really lost my ability to blast downhill (my staple!) and should probably be more careful (trust me, I was already hardly shuffling). Literally 10 seconds after that - my foot catches something, and I am reminded of good ol' times...with a flat-out Superman. I know I am clumsy, I used to trip a lot, though more often than not catching myself, yet kissing dirt enough times in my hay-days. Well, since I haven't "RUN" real mountain trails in 4 years, I forgot how it feels - to Superman. And it hurts! I tend to slap the ground with my whole body - this time the side of my body also landing on the edge of a sticking out 2 feet long rock. Luckily, a whole inch below the rib cage!

I gasp (I always get surprised how many thoughts pass in my head on the way to the ground during a fall's short time), scream, and lay for a second. Nothing seems to be broken, I think. I slowly pull myself back up, and check the damage. Nice! Bring in the camera, because if it ain't photo'ed, it didn't happen! We all know that!

The wounds sting - between dirt and sweat, it really does hurt - and I think about crying for a bit, but then again: what's the point? Nobody's here to save me. Gotta hobble down. The knee swells up (it later bruised a lot), the shirt brushes against my side, and the arm - the deepest scratch - sort of hurts as it shakes with the steps. I eventually reach Larry, who's eyes get wide - and he feels so bad for me, I start calming HIM down that I'll be OK. Couples are funny like that!
Keeping my arm up to not touch the bushes
We make our way to the car, and I shiver with an anticipation of the shower. In my old days, I'd be a wuss and avoid washing the wound altogether, but I am a big girl now, and I have a very seriously neat husband who likes to do things as they should be - so I don't want him to be disappointed. I made it through - without cussing - and I gotta say, it helped with healing (and stinging). So, thanks:)

We took a better approach to our evening than the day before, and drove to the next historic town of Roslyn, which has an amazing coffee shop (and a great coffee, and I am one snob, for sure), and ate a totally delicious mama-made from scratch pizza - don't I and pizza look good together?

And just like that, 2 days were done and over with. Next morning met us with insane fog (thank God we were not hiking in this, it would SUCK!), and we drove to the airport. As we cleared the altitude, the best view said good-bye to us from PNW...
What are the thoughts on all this? When we hiked the first day, I kept thinking - and saying - that the conclusion of my latest trips is: time to truly say "goodbye" to PNW and its trails, and find new places to explore. As easy and convenient as the PCT is, well researched, safe, marked, populated...time to part ways. I kept digging in my brain for "what's next", for at least one more summer before we move away from this place without mountains and have all the opportunities at our hand's reach...And then the second day's hike threw it all off. PNW definitely has my heart, it captured it, and it holds it captive. I have to fight the "I will be back" tooth and nail - because it is, indeed, time to stop going back. 

As I set at the airport, it dawned on me - why do I want to wait until we move to CO, to hike Colorado trail? Why not now? And just like that, a new dream was born. CT, 485 miles of it, next summer.

We returned just in time for hurricane Harvey to hit the Texas ground. Austin was spared the damage, we only got hit with a day and half of high winds and a driving rain. Our heart goes out to Houston and its flood victims, coastal towns that took the most of the hit, and all involved in rescue and recovery. Mother-Nature and our precious land is like that. It's beautiful, and one day everybody is gasping at the full eclipse of the Sun, and then another it sends us a reminder: we are not the rulers. It's never calm. Fires, hurricanes, tornado...the disasters are hard to deal with, but this is a price to pay  to live on the planet Earth.

Trying to settle into a first full week back, my legs are fatigued, yet again. The 3 and 4 miles shuffles are back to "over 11 min/mile" pace. I am patient, though. And I have a dream. A goal. I needed one, so I decided I'll just go for it. I am going to register for Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 mile in OR in April - and then for River of no return 50k in ID in June. I have no clue whether I'll be able to run, by then, again - or if I do, how long my "runs" (and how slow) will be. But I figured, I gotta crawl out of this mediocrity. I can hike, and if I DNF - that'll be OK. At least I'll try. I'll see places, people. I am almost a hermit by now...I'll put out a good effort. Otherwise I'll slip into "sad existence" for this reminder of "1 year 10 months", and I don't have much time to waste in existence, just dropping years into the abyss. Buckle up, butter-cup.


Unknown said...

Nice trip, Olga....and Co Trail next Summer, awesome! Best of luck with the running and races, I am more of a hiker these days, too, but I still try to go out for a run almost daily. Getting older can be a good thing if you accept it ;-)

JeffO said...

It's Jeff O! Remember me?! (I still exist.)
Thanks for that awesome post, with awesomer photos. It was almost like being there.

Anonymous said...

yaayyyyy!!!!!! loved the north of Cle Elum pics... so gorgeous and I've not done a step there... looking fwd to facilitating your CT adventure in any way I can!
Kristin Z

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