Goat Rocks (PCT Days 144-147)

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The clouds gathered ominously as I headed towards Goat Rocks… Rain definitely was not what I wanted on this section of trail, a section renowned for both it’s beauty and its open, exposed ridgelines.

Even though the clouds had been building all day, it wasn’t until around 4 o’clock that the first drops of rain started to fall. It was a strange kind of rain… the individual raindrops were huge, more like gobs than drops, but there weren’t very many of them, and the sun was still out and shining… It’s hard to complain too much about the rain when you have to block your eyes from the blinding sun in order to see it!

As I was marveling at the absurdity of the weather, my friend Charlie Dayhiker came ambling down the trail towards me. He caught me completely by surprise! I didn’t know he was planning on yo-yoing the PCT (having completed his Northbound thru-hike from Mexico to Canada, he is now attempting to hike from Canada back to Mexico)! I hadn’t seen him in months, not since the late spring snowstorm that clobbered the High Sierras and forced us down into Lone Pine, CA to wait it out. At least the storms brewing here weren’t likely to bring us snow! As we got caught up on the events of the last couple of months the rained stopped, but neither of us had much faith in the weather.

“I think the storm is going to get you as you go North,” he assured me. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get hammered by it as you head South.” We both smiled and eyed the dark clouds that had us surrounded. We’d been watching the weather all day, and between the two of us, we’d probably hiked in excess of 10,000 miles in the last 2 years… we had a lot of experience with mountain weather. Sure, the rain had stopped, but more rain seemed inevitability so I was anxious to get moving. I wanted to find camp and set up before the deluges arrived if that was possible, so I pressed onwards and upwards into the ever darkening mountains.

The skies got grayer as I climbed, and the rumbling thunder in the distance wasn’t sounding so distant anymore… I definitely didn’t trust the weather, so I quickly gathered water for dinner from a nearby stream (I hate having to deal with getting water in the rain: all of my stuff gets wet, my hands get cold/er, and all the streams start carrying siltier runoff) and donned my rain gear.

Moments later, as I followed the trail through the beautiful highland meadows, the skies opened up and dumped some of the heaviest rains on me that I’ve ever seen. It felt like I was walking through a waterfall, but, I have to admit I was feeling a little bit smug. I’d looked at that sky and predicted that I was going to be in a downpour in less than 5 minutes, and sure enough 4 minutes later¬† the storm hit.

Trudging up the hill I saw, through the veil of rain, a group of five backpackers taking cover in a stand of trees above me… I paused to look up at them and my grin and all of my smugness suddenly evaporated. The heavy rain was turning into nasty, whipping, stinging hail. Hailstorms are my least favorite storms because the pea-sized bullets that they call hail hurt when they hammer against you 40 mph! I dashed up the hill to join my soon-to-be new friends in the only shelter around, their small stand of trees… These new friends were feasting on gummy worms and invited me to join them. I happily joined their feast, and gladly took part in the ritual beheading of gummy worms as I waited for the hail to pass.

As a general rule, whenever real hail is involved I try to hike to the nearest shelter and stay there until the hail stops… Partly because the hail stings, but mostly because hail is usually accompanied by severe electrical storms, and it’s best to wait those out. When the hail finally stopped and the thunder faded into the distance, I decided to keep hiking… It looked to me like more storms were brewing, so I needed a place where I could pitch my tent and shelter for the night, and this little stand of trees just wasn’t going to cut it. I constantly scanned the terrain around me as I hiked. If I could find a spot to pitch my tent I would happily call it a day… It was around 40 degrees out (F, 4C) with heavy rains and high winds… the kind of weather I think of as perfect hypothermia weather… Sure I could keep hiking, but I would rather curl up in my nice warm sleeping bag, in my nice dry tent, and eat a nice hot meal! Besides, this was a view I was already really familiar with… A view I’d seen at least a thousand times before… It was the view of the inside of a cloud.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing that looked like a suitable campsite… It didn’t help that in heavy rains and with thunder rumbling in the distance I suddenly get very picky about where I camp… I felt like Goldilocks:

1) This spot is too flat! – when it’s rainy the flat spots turn into puddles and have a tendency to flood, so I prefer sites that have a slight (but consistent) slope so the water won’t pool underneath or around me. Flash flooding of creeks and glacial streams is also an issue, so the sandy riverbank sites are out of the running too.

2) This spot is too exposed! – during an electrical storm I don’t want to be the tallest thing around and I don’t want my tent to be either, so the beautiful open meadows are no longer on my happy camping list.

3) This spot is too crowded! – when the weather is bad I need enough room to set up and fully stake out my tent, so I need more space (and fewer rocks, roots, and trees) than I do if I’m just rolling out my sleeping bag under the stars or doing a half-as*ed job of setting up my tent.

4) This spot is too dead! – heavy rains, especially when combined with high winds, make it even more likely than usual that the dead trees will come tumbling down (I definitely don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with a tree across my tent), so I try not to camp in burn zones (places with fire damage), in areas with heavy beetle damage, or in the fall line of any dead trees.

Nope, I definitely wasn’t running into any campsites that would work. Oh well, it was a good thought. As I rounded the next corner the landscape became much more desolate… On a good day I imagined that it would be phenomenally beautiful, but today it looked bleak and exposed… I was approaching Cispus Pass. The trail was going to be very open and exposed for the next couple of miles, but eventually it would snake down to an official camping area in what was rumored to be a spectacularly beautiful meadow with amazing campsites… There was bound to be a spot there that even Goldilocks would find “just right.”

I eyed the storm clouds suspiciously. The rain had let up again and the thunder was just a muted rumble in the distance, but the clouds to the North were awfully dark. Did I want to attempt to cross the pass in this weather? Not really. I looked carefully around me as I spun in a full circle… There certainly wasn’t anywhere to camp here, and I’d been looking around pretty carefully for the last couple of miles and hadn’t seen anywhere to camp there either… Did I want to backtrack two miles South to find a campsite? Not really, especially since that was the way most of the storm looked to be heading and it was open and exposed in that direction as well.

As I stood there contemplating my options two Southbound (Sobo) hikers approached. “How’s the weather up there, and how long does it stay exposed like this?” I asked. “The weather’s not too bad right now, but it looks like it’s rolling in. It stays pretty exposed for at least a couple of miles. How’s the weather south of here?” they countered. “Well, I got hailed on about 10 minutes ago, and it seems like the weather has mostly been gathering to the southeast all day,” I replied before returning to my contemplations…

At most I had two miles of exposed ridgeline along Cispus pass before I would get to a series of campsites scattered between the river and Goat Rocks. Two miles? As a thru-hiker, two miles was nothing… Well, I clarified to myself, two miles would be somewhere between 30 and40 minutes of hiking if I hustled… I would probably get sopping wet since storms love dumping their load of rain when they hit the ridges, but the distant rumblings of thunder were still getting further away and I hadn’t spotted any lightening at all… I should have a window of at least 30-40 minutes before any more electrical storms rolled in… I might as well get while the getting was good!

Once I’d made my decision I wanted to move quickly to get through the pass before there were any big changes in the weather. I quickly discovered that the trail was a muddy mess; criss-crossed by a series of eroded out ditches where the water from the steep slopes had tried to escape from the highlands. Despite the rough trail and the fact that it was all uphill, I was making good time. About half a mile from the pass, the skies opened up, and I found myself slogging through another torrential downpour. Ugh! I swore that if the rains got much heavier I’d have to call what I was doing swimming and not hiking!

Ping! Ping! Smack! “Motherfu**er!” I grumbled… “Hail!” I was getting hailed on… Again. I almost sprinted to the next clutch of trees… Well, maybe it was really just one tree, but it would provide some shelter from the whizzing hail. It wasn’t far, but by the time I got there I was out of breath and desperately trying to suppress the asthma attack trying to escape from my lungs…. “Dammit,” I thought. One thing I’d learned over the course of my two thru-hikes was that my inhaler was completely useless during severe thunderstorms after the humidity reached 100%… Yet here I was… in the middle of a deluge… Wishing I could use my inhaler… If I’d used my inhaler 20 minutes ago, I would have been fine. Why hadn’t I thought to use it then?

I silently cursed some more. This wasn’t the first time this had happened… You’d think that by now I would remember that I have asthma… That I’d remember that every time I try to run up a hill during a thunderstorm/hailstorm it triggers an asthma attack… Well, at least I remembered the disaster that repeatably results if I try to use my rescue inhaler during those situations… Emergency drugs in aerosol cans have some definite drawbacks! I rested under the tree and watched the bouncing hail as I carefully regained control of my lungs… Perhaps I shouldn’t hustle quite so much… I may be a thru-hiker, but I’m an asthmatic thru-hiker, and thunderstorms (especially the ones that come with torrential downpours) are repeatably a problem for me… I focused on nice slow breaths… in through my nose, out through my nose… In through my nose, wait a sec, out through my nose… Until my lungs decided it was ok to stop spasming…

By the time the hail stopped my lungs were ok again, and I made a new deal with them… I wouldn’t go more than 3 or 3.5 mph up the hill, and they wouldn’t spasm anymore… It was still a solid wall of rain out there, but as long as it was done hailing and there was no sign of an electrical component to the storm, I wanted to keep hiking. No more running though… Maybe this time the “no running during thunderstorms” rule would stick and I’d be able to avoid putting myself in this situation in the future.

Though it felt like an eternity, I only rested under that tree for a couple of minutes before continuing on. Despite my new, slightly slower pace, I easily made it to the top of the pass 5 minutes later and didn’t have any more problems with my asthma. There was no lightening, no thunder, and nowhere to camp anywhere in sight. There was, however, a group of 5 backpackers huddled together in a small copse of trees at the top of the pass.

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“You’re completely drenched!” They exclaimed as I approached. “Yeah,” I confirmed, “it’s pretty wet out here, and the hail is keeping it interesting.” “Come and join us for a bit,” they insisted as they shuffled their huddle around to make room for me. It was surprisingly dry in their copse of trees. “Did you see a group coming up behind you? They’re with us.” I knew exactly who they were talking about and told them about the earlier hailstorm, the gummy worms, and the progress their friends were makings, “They were probably half a mile behind me when the second hailstorm rolled through, a bit more than that now, but somebody in bright yellow rain gear is fast approaching.”

“Oh man!! Those guys must be bummed. A couple of them don’t have any raincoats or anything!” I was absolutely horrified, a backpacking trip, in Washington state, with no rain gear? And then caught in the same storms I’d been caught in… They must be sopping wet and cold. I wondered if I had extra rain gear that I could give them… I did have an extra raincoat, but it was an XS, which I was pretty sure wouldn’t fit any of them. “How come they don’t have raincoats?” I blurted out. I couldn’t help but worry that they were getting hypothermic! “Well, I’m not sure about them, but I just forgot mine at home. All I have is this hoody, so I figure we’ll just hang out here until the storm passes and then we’ll head out again.”

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I looked out at the clouds blowing around us and the rain that just wouldn’t stop, “I’m not sure that it’s going to stop raining anytime soon, but I am sure that it’s going to get colder and darker, so I think I’ll get a move on,” I said through almost chattering teeth. I was getting cold just standing around, I needed to either get moving, or to get into my nice warm zero degree (F) sleeping bag.

The rain definitely hadn’t let up at all, but it felt good to be moving again, and to be going downhill instead of uphill. Below me, below the clouds, I could see vibrant green meadows and tons of rushing water. Beside the nearest river there were four tents set up in a meadow… I desperately hoped that they hadn’t been forced to camp there because the river had flash-flooded… With electrical storms threatening, that was the only reason I could think of for camping in an exposed meadow like that. As I approached it became clear that the storm was causing lots of erosion damage to the banks, but that the river was still crossable. I breathed a sigh of relief, and crossed it without a problem. Clearly the tenters in that meadow had a different set of campsite criteria than I did.

Going downhill I wasn’t generating nearly as much heat as I had going up, so I was getting colder and my desire to find a campsite was getting stronger and stronger with every step. Maps and cell phones don’t get along well with rain, but I was tired of just hoping to stumble onto a good campsite, so I decided to check my phone. I crouched over it, trying to protect it from the rain, as it slowly acquired satellites and figured out my GPS coordinates. There was a campsite in just 0.2 miles!! I shoved the phone away and set off into the rain with renewed energy. Soon I would be warm and dry in my cozy little tent.

“Hmmmm…” When I got there I found that I wasn’t the only one stopping early to try to get out of the storm. There were already three tents set up in the little campsite. Even though it was a little crowded I decided to poke around a bit. There was a smattering of trees, a waterfall nearby, and it looked like there might even have a nice view if the storm ever decided to clear out. All the flat spots were taken, which suited me just fine. The tents set up in those spots were already in puddles and the only signs of movement were the muddy hands that periodically reached out under the flaps of their tents in a futile attempt to dig ditches to drain the growing puddles that had them surrounded. The resulting moats seemed to effectively keep the occupants inside their tents even if they didn’t keep the water out. I never did see the people attached to those hands.

Eventually I found a spot that met all of my criteria. The only downside to the spot was that I would be pitching my tent less than 3 feet away from a tent full of strangers… Normally I try to give myself and everyone else more privacy than that, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I was close enough that I could hear everything that they were saying inside their tent, but the din of the rain on their tent fly made it so they had no idea I was out there. “Hi, I just wanted to let you know that you’re going to have a new neighbor.” I shouted to be heard over the rain.

I quickly pitched my tent and scurried inside. Sure, I should make dinner before going to bed, but my zero degree sleeping bag was calling to me… besides, I could make dinner later. Right now I was going to luxuriate in the puffy goodness of my sleeping bag. As I lay there, in my sleeping bag, I listened to the rain ping against my tent and to the incessant laughing and giggling coming from the two women in the tent next door. I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Laughter is infectious, even when you have no idea what the laughter is about… As a solo hiker, laughter wasn’t something that I heard very often… Laughter is something that you do with friends, it’s something that you share, it’s not something that you tend to do when you are hiking alone through the woods… I daydreamed about taking family and friends on backpacking trips with me, about the shared moments and laughter that would result, and despite the rain, I was incredibly happy to be exactly where I was.

Eventually the sun began to set, the rain slackened, and the rumblings in my belly convinced me that it was dinner time. As I prepared dinner from the safety and warmth of my tent I heard the unmistakable sound of hikers trudging through the rain at the end of the day. The two groups of 5 that I’d seen earlier had coalesced into a group of ten soggy, miserable hikers still pushing towards a distant camp (2.5 miles away). It was already 7:45 pm, so there was no way that they’d get there until well after dark. I remembered how much they were struggling 3 hours ago and was glad that I decided to change my plan and cut my day short. The wet and beleaguered hikers trudging off into the night gave me flashbacks to some of the backpacking trips of my youth… the ones my dad had called “character building”… the ones that were cold, wet, and interminably long… the ones where the hours dragged on and on and on… Backpacking can be a brutal sport at times, how is it that we come to love it despite those long miserable days? Why is it that decades later when I asked myself the simple question, “If I could do anything in the world right now, what would I do?” the answer had been, “I’d hike the PCT!”

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The next morning I awoke to a breathtakingly gorgeous day and one of the most beautiful stretches of trail on the PCT. As I hiked across the sparkling white snowfields and the rough-hewn ridges with the sun on my face and the wind at my back I was at peace with everything… At peace with myself… at peace with the weather… at peace with the world… I took a deep breath and looked around… It was just me, the mountains, the rocks, and the sky… This was why I endured all of those long, cold, miserable days and kept coming back for more… I did it because even on those really long, hard days there was always something for me to learn or discover about myself or the world around me… I did it for the days that were filled with wonder, joy, peace, and light… I did it because I loved it all!

***

P.S. Did you know that thunderstorm associated asthma is a known thing? I didn’t, but after 2 thru-hikes I’d figured out that certain weather patterns triggered my asthma attacks. Now I use my rescue inhaler about 20 minutes prior to the peak of those storm, which makes all of the difference in the world! Though it’s easy to find the research showing that other people experience thunderstorm associated asthma too, it’s been much harder to find information about why my inhaler ceases to function properly at the very moment when I need it most. Part of the problem is that aerosol inhalers are designed to be used at room temperature (68-77F, 20-25C), and I’m definitely using my inhalers outside of that range when I’m doing a thru-hike, but I think the biggest problem during the thunderstorms is either the pressure difference between the contents of the canister and the contents of my lungs or the 100% humidity… The problem I end up having with the inhaler is that the ejected plume from the inhaler feels like it burns my lungs and it triggers even more severe bronchiospasms. If I fire the inhaler into the air instead of into my lungs, the ejected plume extends for 3 feet before dispersing instead of the more typical 4-6 inches… So, in the case of my thunderstorm-related inhaler issues either the plume velocity has gone up or the particle dispersion rate has gone down or maybe both. The big question is why? What’s different about thunderstorms than the other weather conditions that I deal with on the trail? Why is it only a problem during torrential downpours? Why is it only a problem during the peak of the storm?

As I hiked I kept thinking about the ideal gas law, PV=nRT. I was dealing with the expansion of gases, the answer had to be hidden in there somewhere, could I derive it from first principles?… What’s changing in the thunderstorm? Thunderstorms come with severe low pressure areas… At sea level, fair weather is predicted by a steady barometric pressure of ~102kPa, and a thunderstorm might drop that atmospheric pressure by 3kPa… would that be enough to cause the problem? No, that didn’t seem likely since I’ve successfully used my inhaler at high altitudes (I used it on Kilimanjaro when I was at 15,000 ft elevation where the air pressure is only 57kPa). For this incident I was at an elevation of 7000 ft, which has a normal atmospheric pressure of 78 kPa. What else was different? Well, the humidity… It seemed like the torrential downpours were required for the inhaler to fail so annoyingly. Was 100% humidity the problem? What does the humidity do? As the number of water molecules goes up, the number of molecules of air goes down, so, the n in my PV=nRT goes down when the humidity goes up, was that it?IMG_1807.JPG

I hypothesize that in the failure condition the linear velocity of the spray increases and results in a greater plume distance prior to dispersion (3ft vs 6inches). Now all I needed were some equations and I’d be happy… I searched the internet high and low and eventually found much of what I was looking for in a book called Inhalation Aerosols: Physical and Biological Basis for Therapy edited by Anthony J. Hickey, which gives the equatios that directly link the pressure differences between the inside and outside of the inhaler canister with linear velocity.

I further hypothesize that the 100% humidity is crucial to the failure condition. Using Rault’s Law and Dalton’s law, the vapor pressures within the inhaler can be determined based on the solvents used and the mass of the drugs/surfactants. Dalton’s law can then be used to determine the impact of humidity on the pressure outside of the canister. In the case where 100% humidity is achieved, the air is considered to be saturated with water for that temperature and pressure. How would that impact the rate of expansion/evaporation of the medicated droplets and solvents in inhaler’s plume? My research seemed to suggest that the droplet size was key to the efficiency of my inhaler.

I was happy to finally find some of the equations that I could use to model the physics of my inhaler, but what I really wanted for now was a simple rule that predicted the failure condition for my inhaler that I could share with other people. Could I come up with a home experiment that would help me determine whether it was the changes in pressure associated with the storm and the linear velocity that caused the failure, or if it was the 100% humidity? Are there times that I experience 100% humidity other than in middle of thunderstorms with torrential downpours? Suddenly it dawned on me… I do that all the time… I absolutely love hot showers when I’m in civilization… I turn the shower on, close the bathroom door, and step into my saturated solution of water and air… The temperature will be much higher than it is in a thunderstorm and the atmospheric pressure will be much higher, but the high humidity? That I can model at home! If I try to discharge my inhaler in the shower will it generate the characteristic 3 foot plume that I associate with the failure condition? What do you think? I guess I’ll find out the next time I take a shower :)

Interesting links:

Thunderstorm associated asthma.

Inhaler science project.

The effect of extreme weather conditions on asthma.

 Atmospheric pressure and altitude.

The definition of rain? (PCT Days 143-144)

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Rain… On the AT, it rained 50 of my first 60 days on the trail, and I developed a whole new concept of the extent and variability of rain… It misted, it sprinkled, it drizzled, it rained, it poured, it flooded, and it was wetter than I could have ever imagined. Even though it hasn’t rained on me as much on the PCT as it did on the AT, I’ve still managed to see my fair share of rain… And the state of Washington has reputation to uphold… A reputation for rain!

West coast weather (and rain) has been very different than what I was used to on the East Coast… Here are my thoughts about the regional differences in rain so far:

East Coast Rain: Heavy rain that rolls in and hangs out for a while… Maybe a day or two… Maybe a week or two… And during that time you never catch a glimpse of the sun. A week or two later, after the rain stops, things might start to dry out… If you’re lucky, you’ll dry put by the time you get to Maine!

California Rain: A light mist, making a pathetic attempt at being real rain… Often when the rain finally appears it is just intermittent sprinkling, or maybe light rain/ice pellets that completely evaporate within 5 minutes. Usually the storm doesn’t last more than a few hours, and things dry out quickly afterwards (by the end of the day, if not before).

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Oregon Rain: Fire, what they really mean when they forecast rain in Oregon is fire. The thunderstorms move in, dump torrential downpours on you, and you get a side of lightening and hail. The water then evaporates quickly, making you think that you’re in the clear, but the lightening leaves hundreds of wildfires and felled trees in its wake. The fires may last for months, and leave you choking on their smoke forever!

Washington rain: TBD. So far Washington rain seems to be a cross between Oregon Rain, and East Coast rain. It often comes with a side of lightening, hail, and fire, but the moisture and dampness seems to want to hang out and things take forever to dry out again after the rain stops)…

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Trail Crews (PCT Days 145-147)

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I encountered some folks up near Goat Rocks doing trail maintenance, trying to fix some erosion damage, and making the glacier more cross able. Trail crews are my favorite people to meet on trail… they are my heroes! They also inspired my most recent pop quiz: name the artist and the song!
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Hikers, there’s a trail near your town
I said, hikers, pick a small stretch of ground
I said, hikers, ’cause the trails wearing down
It doesn’t need to stay crappy

Hikers, there are things you can do
I said, hikers, we’re relying on you
You can help out, and I’m sure you will find
Many ways to volunteer now

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Get away from all the harshest city noise
Turn the trail back into a joy

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

You can help clean the trail, then they’ll feed you a meal
We can all help our trail heal

Hikers, are you listening to me?
I said hikers, will we just let it be?
I said hikers, make the trail of your dreams.
Just remember one thing

The trail will erode by itself,
I said hiker, donate your time or wealth
Or just get there, to the P C T A
Start helping, as soon as today

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Get away from all the harshest city noise
Turn the trail back into a joy

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

You can help clean the trail, then they’ll feed you a meal
We can all help our trail heal

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Hiker, I was once in your shoes
I said hiker, I suffered from big city blues
I felt so trapped there, trapped on the inside
I had to get to the outside…

That’s when I chose a whole new life
A life hiking, the pacific crest trail
With trails maintained by the P C T A
They can get you hiking today

It’s fun to work with the P C T A
It’s fun to work with the P C T A

Get away from all the harshest city noise
Turn the trail back into a joy

P C T A… Working with the P C T A

Hikers, hikers, there’s a trail near your town
Hikers, hikers, pick a small stretch of ground

P C T A… Working with the P C T A

Hikers, hikers, there’s a trail near your town
Hikers, hikers, pick a small stretch of ground

P C T A… Working with the P C T A

Hikers, hikers, there are things you can do!
Hikers, hikers, we’re relying on you!

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Root Beer Floats (PCT Days 142-144)

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“Wow,” I thought as the naked trail runner approached me, “not only is he naked, he doesn’t have any tan lines! He must do this a lot!”

He’d just crested the hill that I was doggedly climbing, and was beginning to descend towards me. I was glad it was a rather straight stretch of trail and I had a couple of seconds to get over my surprise at having a naked guy running down the trail towards me at 6:30 at night… Especially since I was in one of the deep, dark, forests of Washington…

Naked trail runner on the PCT… very tan… no tan lines… I smiled as I realized that I probably knew who he was… I stepped out of the trail as he approached and said “Coppertone?” I was pretty sure that was the trail name of the naked man approaching me…

“Yes,” he replied with surprise and slowed to a stop in front of me. He was wearing a hat, shoes, socks, and was carrying what looked to be a kindle in his right hand… That was it. “Have we met before?” He asked.

“No,” I replied, “I’m Patches.” He then asked if he was almost at the next road crossing. I assured him that he was, you could see the road from about five feet behind me… It was a steep descent to it, but it was close.

“Well, I’m going to continue my run down there and then head back to the road crossing up ahead. I’ll have a root beer float waiting for you when you get to that road,” he said as he continued his run.

I’d been hearing rumors about Coppertone for almost 2000 miles. The first time I’d heard about him I was a little bit north of Deep Creek Hot Springs in Southern California. “Did you see the naked guy with the shovel doing trail maintenance near deep creek hot springs?” Asked a fellow thru-hiker. No, I hadn’t. There were lots of naked people at the hot springs, but I definitely hadn’t seen anyone that was naked and doing trail maintenance. “We’ll, there’s this trail angel, Coppertone… He’s a nudist, and, well, he gets his name because he is tan all over… I mean *all* over!” They emphasized the ‘all’ with with both intonation and a widening of their eyes… There was no mistaking what they were getting at. “He meets people at road crossings with root beer floats,” they continued. “You must have just missed him at the last road crossing.”

The next time I heard about Coppertone was just North of Walker Pass. All the hikers zooming past me were talking about the root beer float serving nudist, “Sometimes he wears a short denim skirt, but only when he has to… When nudity would be inappropriate.” I wasn’t sure about the whole nudist thing, but a trail angel providing root beer floats at road crossings in the dessert? That sounded absolutely amazing. I love root beer floats! Even when I’m not hot, thirsty, and calorie deprived, root beer floats are one of my favorite extravagances.

Having a naked man in the middle of the woods in Washington offering me a root beer float definitely would have been a little disconcerting if I hadn’t been hearing about this guy for months… As it was, I still shook my head in amazement as he jogged passed me… The rumors were true… A nudist that trail magicked root beer floats… You never know why you’re going to run into on the PCT!

Even though I knew he’d be coming back, I was still startled a few minutes later when he hiked up behind me… I’d gotten used to having the woods to my self and was still making my way up that seemingly never ending steep hill.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said as I let him pass in front of me. “I hadn’t counted on this hill,” he explained, “it’s too steep for running.”

“How’d you know that is was me?” He asked as we continued hiking up the hill. The internal filters between my brain and mouth apparently still exist and I paused a second before answering. Truth? Yeah, truth. “The nudity. I haven’t seen anyone naked on the PCT since hike-naked day.”

“Oh,” he seemed surprised. “I’ve been hearing about you and your root beer floats ever since Deep Creek Hot Springs,” I continued. We then chatted about the different places along the trail that I’d missed him by a day or two, and about the other thru-hikers that he’d met along the way. Before I knew it we’d made it to the top of the hill and the terrain had flattened out. Since the hill had flattened out Coppertone set off at a jog again saying, “See you at the road,” as he disappeared down the trail.

It occurred to me then that he must have been cold… I was wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and I was definitely cold. So cold that after he jogged off I stopped to put on my jacket and a hat. I idly wondered whether or not he would be clothed when I arrived at the road… Since it was pretty chilly out, I was willing to bet that he would be.

It would be at least an hour before I got to the road, and close to the time I usually set up camp. I checked my map, it looked like there was a spot to camp just north of the road that would be perfect. I try not to camp near the roads when I’m alone, but in this case I knew that Coppertone would be camped at the road, so I felt better about it.

When I finally arrived at the road I met Coppertone again, this time fully clothed, and he had the promised root beer float waiting. I plunked down on one of the chairs he had out and joyfully took a sip of my root beer float. It was an amazing thing! I asked if Coppertone knew if there were any campsites tucked into the woods right across the road. He said he wasn’t sure, but as I ate a big spoonful of root beer soaked ice cream he jogged off to go check.

When he got back he said that he hadn’t see any, but I was welcome to cowboy camp under his truck if I wanted to. While I contemplated my options and finished off my root beer float he offered me some hot tea (it was getting colder and colder as the sunset) and cookies. “Absolutely!” I smiled. I was in the middle of a 150 stretch between resupplies, so all of the extra calories I could get would help… Also, relaxing in a real chair, in the woods, enjoying a cup of hot tea with a new friend… That’s a pretty awesome way to spend a summer’s evening!

I really enjoyed hanging out with Coppertone. I have to admit, when I first heard about the naked guy who gave out root beer floats it sounded a little bit… Odd. Though most of the trail angels are amazing people, some of the established trail angels have reputations for being creepers too… For making people, especially women, feel uncomfortable… Rumors and gossip run rampant on the trail (sort of like they do in any small community), but the rumors about Coppertone on the trail had all been positive… Sure, nudity is culturally uncomfortable, and the fact that he’s a nudist meant that he was frequently talked about on the trail, but everybody said that he was a great guy and not a creeper. I’m glad to report that that was my experience as well… He was a great guy, and even hanging out with him by myself, at a road, at nightfall, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

Eventually I finished my tea and cookies, and with 15 minutes before full dark I reluctantly said goodbye and disappeared into the woods. The offer to sleep under his truck was tempting, but I didn’t think I’d sleep well on the gravel out in the open like that… Not when I had the option of sleeping in the woods!

Ode to California

I’m not sure that this qualifies as an ode, but I figure that before I post what I wrote as I was leaving Oregon, I should post the one that I wrote as I was leaving California.

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California, they said it
Was a mythical place
It’s where people headed
Done with the rat race

California is where dreams
Or nightmares come true
Hurry up and come join us
We’re waiting for you

My friends all head westwards
Abandoning the east
Heading to California
Where they hope to find peace

Now that I’ve been here
And seen it up close
It’s not all that different
Here on the wrong coast

I’ve walked through your deserts
your mountains, your plains
I’ve dealt with your weather,
Your heat, wind, and rains

I’ve been welcomed into your homes
Both fancy and poor
And wherever I’ve turned
Someone’s opened a door

California I’ve seen you
What you have at your core
Now I see what it is
That they all adore

Though I don’t want to move here
It’s too hot! It’s too dry!
I as I head into Oregon,
I’m not ready for goodbye!

The beginning of the end (PCT Days 139-141)

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It’s funny, we still have 500+ miles of trail left, but crossing the Bridge of the Gods and entering the state of Washington… it feels like the beginning of the end… People are starting to make plans for what comes next, people are scheduling flights home… The nebulous finish time is starting to coalesce into a fixed date when people are going to meet us at the border.

Though part of me looks forward to the end, looks forward to the soft beds, the running water, the smiling faces of loved ones… Part of me rebels against it all. I love this life, the freedom of it, the adventure of it… I’m spending everyday out in the woods, on the trail, on an amazing journey of beauty and discovery… I’m not ready for this dream to end… I’m not ready to seek new dreams yet… I’m still in love with this one.

I took a zero day (hiking zero miles) in Cascade Locks to eat, to rest, to recover, and to delay the inevitable… Entering Washington was the beginning of the end of this journey, and I knew it.

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I watched a bunch of Disney movies as I lounged around in the oh so soft bed. They all seemed to have the same theme… Leave home, go explore the world and have grand adventures (growing up in the process), find your Prince Charming, marry your Prince Charming, and live happily ever after (ie create a new home and have kids so that your kids can repeat the cycle).

As I watched Tangled one scene seemed particularly apropos: “What if it’s not everything I dreamed about,” Rapunzel asks. “It will be,” replies the ever suave Flynn. “And what if it is? What do I do then?” asks Rapunzel. “Well, I guess you go and find a new dream,” replies Flynn.

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Right after their dialog there is an amazing display of floating lights, which is, in fact, everything that Rapunzel dreamed it would be… Just like my thru-hike has been everything that I dreamed it would be, and more.

I wish that the movie had ended at that moment… The moment where Rapunzel was filled with happiness and amazement, at the culmination of her journey, and where *her* dream had led her. Instead, the movie had to move beyond that to the societally prescribed dream… Apparently a Prince Charming is still required in order to have a happily ever after…

They were so close to being on the mark… If they’d let the happily ever after be her discovery of her new dream, or the beginning of her journey to find her new dream, that would have been amazing! Telling young women that they can be amazing, and have amazing journeys, and amazing lives regardless of whether or not they find an awesome partner to join them on their adventures… That would be truly revolutionary!!!

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Hiking both the AT and PCT solo has been incredibly empowering. I am a woman, and I can have incredible journeys, adventures, and dreams on my own. Would I like to find someone to share my dreams and adventures with someday? Yes, that would be awesome. Am I going to put my life and my dreams on hold waiting for Prince Charming to come charging into my life? No!

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I’m going to keep living and keep dreaming… I don’t know which dreams await me, but when this dream is done, I’ll find another dream to chase after… The happily ever after is in embracing the journey, finding your dreams, chasing them, and recognizing and cherishing all the beautiful moments that you find along the way… And that’s something that you can do alone, or with other people by your side.

I crossed the Bridge of the Gods and left Oregon behind. I was in Washington and it was the beginning of the end, and it was hard, both emotionally and physically… Just 550 miles to go… Then what? Then it will be time to celebrate and to find a new dream. Until then, I will try to cherish and enjoy all of the beautiful moments I have left on this amazing adventure!

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