Last week I made my way down out of the clouds and into the town of Packwood. Once a major lumber center, the industry has all but died off and the mills all shut down about fifteen years ago. With a population standing at less than a third of what it once was, there was an almost dismal feeling to the place. I was, however thrilled to find a room at the Hotel Packwood for a great price. The owner was an incredibly kind woman who took my laundry and gave me a pair of loaner clothes so everything could get washed. I expected Andy to arrive that next morning and so went to bed by eight.
At 12:30 that night there was a knock on my door.
"House keeping," the voice called.
I stumbled to the door and cracked it slightly. There stood Andy!
The next morning he somewhat timidly reported that he had sprained his ankle some three days before, but hastened to report that it was feeling a lot better and was healing quickly. We took the rest of the day in town, buying food, going over his gear, and testing out his ankle.
The next morning we headed up to Chinook Pass. With him, Andy had brought good weather; clear blue skies and ideal temperatures blessed us. Also, the terrain was quite forgiving and the floor of peet was easy under our feet. By 5:30 we arrived in camp. We built a fire and roasted brauts and then had hot apple cider. The next day we tried a few more miles and again, all went well. We arrived at a beautiful cabin, open to back country wanderers at a spot called Government Meadow. Inside we found a five gallon bucket with all the fixings for pancakes. The next morning we built a fire. As we tried to get the wood dry enough to burn a bow hunter and his son appeared out of the trees. Aside from other hikers, these were the only other significant group of folk I have seen out here. Always moving quietly, camouflaged, and knowledgeable about the trail and thru-hikers, they were exceptionally pleasant folk to chat with. This gentleman in particular was clearly very familiar with the area. He spoke of 'patterning' the animals and was clearly a very responsible steward of the earth. I was proud to get to spend the morning chatting with he and his boy. As they prepared to leave, he gave us a few chocolate bars and snacks. Yummy.
Not having taken a trail zero day in some time, we decided to enjoy a day of lounging and to make sure Andy's ankle healed up well. A few other hikers moved through and I began to sense our community banding together, encouraging each other through these final stretches. Truly, no matter how the time has been spent, anyone who started the trail at the beginning of the summer and is still out here, has some serious gumption in them and we are all celebrating that.
The next day, the Washington weather was back and Andy pushed his first 20 mile day (over much more challenging terrain than we had yet encountered. He persevered like a champ.
The next morning we climbed again, with only 8 miles left to the pass. A few miles before we stopped at a road crossing at windy gap and a buddy from Philmont years past, Also Andy, and his wonderful lady, Leda, and their ever charismatic dog, Hobbes, rolled up and did trail magic for the afternoon. Feeding hungry hikers is no easy task! Not only are most of our road crossings rather remote, but the weather is not always ideal. Yet, here they were, all smiles and hugs. As my hiker friends moved past I began to feel so saturated with good people. Truly, my friends and family are the most wonderful people and to think of how much support and love they have given. Well, it is overwhelming to say the least.
As Leda put it, she and Also Andy kidnapped Andy and I, bringing us down to their house and feeding us some of the biggest, juiciest, most delicious burgers I have ever encountered. Today we ate an incredible breakfast scramble and they gave Andy a ride to the airport. I have been sitting at their computer for some hours now working on the posts and other business.
It is difficult to conceive but I must come to terms with the fact that I will be finishing the trail in less than two weeks at this point. I am beginning to work on some of the details of homewardness, etc. and that is actually what I am going to do right now.