We walked down the one main street in Northport in the blazing sun toward where we were told a trail angel house was. A woman called out, making sure that we had somewhere to stay for the night, and offering up her place if needed. After our godsend ride into town, and a pleasant time at the post office (the air conditioning was heavenly), this interaction left us believing that we had just found ourselves in the most wonderful of places. So far, we had been met by so much kindness in these little towns!
We came to the house of Jami and Josh, welcomed by a sign on the door. We followed the instructions and made ourselves at home in their backyard, with their two goofy dogs and ‘mama’ cat as company.
Then, food. We ventured back out and found the essentials in the sparsely stocked store – carrots, strawberries, and ice cream. Sitting at a picnic table in a small spot of shade, we were surprised when Z and T wandered through town – from the visitor log at Jami and Josh’s, they had left this morning. We learned that their attempts to make it around the fires ahead hadn’t worked out, so they were back to reassess.
Fires. We had heard that they were in our way ahead, and the air had been growing steadily more hazy as we had marched west. The acrid smell hung heavy. As we sat eating our pre-wrapped ice cream cones we were juxtaposed against the traffic of tankers, trucks of equipment, and buses of wildland firefighters traveling through town.
The rest of the evening included the following:
-A tent city in the back yard – the fires had stalled some of the faster folks, so we were together again. The pups loved having extra people around and raced around like wrecking balls.
-Z’s soapy corn dogs – the tragic combination of hunger and a half-cleaned pan (he still ate 18 of them, despite the unwanted condiment).
-Logistical dilemnas – maps strewn about, fire reports, and troubleshooting.
-Our host Josh smiled on, in the craziness of it all.
8/1 Getting around the fires
Our planned trip around the fires involved making new friends and getting rides from them. We caught a ride out of town with a lady who “picked us up because we were two girls” (Jared was glad to be associated with us.) Our next lady, Angela, said our awesome PNT sign was what led her to stop (impressive, because it was made from two small pieces of paper from my journal). Our final ride was a lady, Deb (in my journal described as a “distinguished stoner”) who picked us up while eating a corn dog and vented to us on how upset she was that her family was “going all conservative on her” before launching into how great medical marijuana was. Deb dropped us off right back at the trail (we had circumvented the burning part). We had made it, and it had only taken us a few hours – we couldn’t believe our luck.
Onward we hiked, in a burned area from a recent year. Unfortunately, our timing and the mileage meant that it was impossible not to camp in this area – and burned areas aren’t prime for that, as falling trees can be a hazard. We found a spot that was moderately flat and had small trees that looked as if they’d stay upright. The gray forest was a bit eerie to begin with, and then we heard it.
A weird, belching/yawning sound that echoed from the woods around us – from big animals, at least two, calling back and forth to one another. Animals big enough that they could eat us. They didn’t sound like cows. I hadn’t ever heard that bears could make sounds like that. The most likely candidates, judging by the timbre of the call and how quickly the sources changed location, were Sasquatches.
Uncomfortably we cleaned up, thankful that our cooking area was a long distance from where we were sleeping, and glad that we had already “circled the wagons” with our tents. In my journal I closed with, “We might get eaten, but I’m real tired.” Deciding that we’d just have to deal with it if it became an issue, I quickly fell asleep.
Not eaten, thankfully. The sounds started up again around 4 am – Sasquatch must be crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). Our trail today was an immaculate and scenic roller coaster, despite the smoke. We made our way from water to water and had stopped for some lunch when T came zooming past, like an Olympic speed walker, calling that Z was just behind him and that to pass on that he was going to start hitching when he hit the highway (into Republic). We assumed that he was going to try to get to the post office before it closed for the day and waited expectantly for Z to come through. Fifteen minutes later Z came wandering in, as casually as if he was out for a Sunday stroll, and stopped and chatted for a bit before leisurely strolling on. Those two couldn’t be a funnier duo!
We made it to a Forest Service site near the highway. We planned to stay on trail and get a bit farther before we found a ride into Republic. As we were at a high point, I decided to turn on my phone to see if I had any messages. I did! My credit card company was informing me about suspicious activity on my account. Shoot.
I called them as we cooked dinner (I was very glad the call didn’t drop as I sat on hold) and learned that someone in California had been Uber-ing around with my number! My talk with the credit card guy went something like this:
“There are multiple Uber charges on your account. Do these trips sound like ones that you charged? (listed off charges).”
“No, I’m in the middle of the mountains, and I’ve been hiking for the last few weeks. There are no Ubers here.”
“Ok. We’ll lock your card and refund you the money.” (no additional comment)
A locked credit card isn’t ideal, but it is better than paying for other’s rides while you’re hiking. I was glad it was taken care of so quickly.
After a few full days, and the uneasy rest of last night, I was glad to crawl into my cozy nest of a tent.
A long, but wonderful day. I’ll post my actual log from my journal (please excuse the messiness, misspelled words, and language. This day had everything, starting with the beautiful Kettle Crest Trail, a short but simple bushwhack, rain, huckleberries, and, as an exciting conclusion to our day, catching our friend Nick, who we hadn’t seen in weeks.
8/4 To Swan Lake
Our party headed out this morning, rejuvenated by the addition of another friend. We walked through open parkland for a bit, continued on a rather scenic highway road walk.
Then, after our lunch stop, terror. We were hiking along, in the zone, when suddenly BAM!
A giant rattlesnake that Jen, of all people, nearly stepped on. Coiled up, completely blocking the narrow path, it refused to move its thick body, staring at us in silent challenge. As the trail cut across a steep hill, it would be difficult to get around it safely. Looking around, we saw a deer on the adjacent ridge, watching us intensely. There was an ominous rumble of thunder. Jared gently pushed the heavy reptile off the trail and it languidly slid down the hill. Whew.
Despite this scare, our day ended fabulously at Swan Lake campground. It took some more road walking to get there, but Nick shared some music with us, so our party had a reggae vibe as we walked the last few miles.
We settled into our campsite at the campground and went for a swim at the beach. Connor (Monkey-meal), another friend we hadn’t seen in weeks, wandered in. A very jolly family reunion also taking place at the beach, and we chatted with them in their floaties before staggering out of the lake (turns out your muscles tighten up in cold water). Finally, just when we thought life couldn’t get much better, Katherine showed up with her fantastic self and a car full of salad, snacks, and beer. With full bellies and surrounded by friends, we fell asleep looking forward to making it into Republic in the morning.
Thanks to Jared Steward for the pics. I highly recommend checking out his blog, if you want the more hilarious version of these stories (link to his wonderful blog here: hike-minded.com)
Thanks also, again, to the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, for their work on the trail as well as the map shared above.