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End of the road

Safe and sound back in Portland Oregon with my buddy Doug. Once we got back to his home from a hearty pasta lunch and a trip to Zupan’s he got straight down to the business of resuming his life and the things that bring him joy. This included making a wonderful dinner for the three of us. It’s one of my last nights here at the tail end of nothing short of a transformational journey. One that started, for me, last year. Well really, it started three years ago last April actually. Regardless, his husband asked a question of Doug, “do you think you could have done this without doing all the preparation work you did? Carrying your pack six miles a day across the bridge and working out?” The answer was of course yes. But what I held back to myself was a counter. I think that all the work that we both did in advance of the single hardest physical challenges he and I have ever faced could not have been done without each other for one. But mostly, without the mental preparedness for the harshness of the backcountry. While beautiful, and worth every hardship, it’s a lot like running a long distance race. Like the 20 mile race I did a couple years ago. That one taught me that I am a tough son-of-a-bitch. I just didn’t know it at the time. There are challenges that we face where we, sometimes, find ourselves. This trip? This journey? Well, it was definitely one of those for the both of us.

I used the word “transformational” earlier. I set out on this trek with the goal of putting fear in my path, setting my sight on it and then, walking by it. That’s exactly what happened too. I am already planning a trip in my head to see Fall colors in a place called Dolly Sods in West Virginia on a solo 20+ mile backpacking trip. A trip to the Smokies, 30 miles in and out to see Clingmans Dome and do a small portion of the Appalachian Trail. And, possibly, some more of the National Park systems through regions that my mom and dad introduced me to as a kid on our cross country treks to California while I was growing up. That’s another thing. Through all this, I realized I owe them a huge debt for fostering a sense of enjoying the outdoors in me as a kid. Yeah, I hated it at the time. But damn if I don’t think back to both of them every time I am sleeping outside and saying “thank you.”

The text below was a note I sent out to my own husband, family and friends back home before the last day of our trek. Before we’d face the toughest challenge on the trail before us. One that brought my friend Doug to tears at the summit of his mountain some 5700 feet above sea level shoulder to shoulder with an entire range of mountains lined up like jewels in a crown before us. To be honest though, I had my moment of tears when I collapsed on the ground after I unfurled my bedroll in the dirt on top of another mountain where we reached Hoh Lake after the most extreme climb I ever summited in my life. That is until, of course, the last and final ascent to Hurricane Hill – which turned everything inside me upside down and inside out.

Lastly, I want to thank my best friend Doug for going on this journey with me. I could not have done it without his planning, preparation, and enthusiasm. You truly are my brother in every sense of that word and I love you. To Char and Gary for their hospitality and the pink spork. My husband for letting me go and pushing me toward the many and varied doors that my crazy life purpose frenetically points toward. Eddie, my heart starts and ends with you. Always.

On to the synopsis.

Note; The use of “today” below refers to Sunday August 2nd before we headed back out for the final and most grueling/rewarding day of the trip.

So, as planned, we hiked out of the Elwha dam (webcam from what is left of the dam facing outward) territory yesterday and got picked up by Doug’s friend Char for a night of comfort before we tackle the last hike of the trip today. One of the motivators all week was the idea of having a good meal at a local restaurant called Nourish. Gluten free, but on par with a popular place in a larger City that Sequim, small that it is, has a quality and flavor that denotes a marriage between the simple and sublime. All in one awesome little waterfront town. Of course, true to myself, I criticized them for several points of service quietly, for once, to Doug… you can take the boy out of the restaurant but you can’t take the restaurant out of the boy. Anyway, I will write up all of my notes and share some of Doug’s photos in the coming weeks. But for now, here are some highlights.

We walked through a real rainforest, with massive trees covered in dense mossy vegetation that looked as if it were dripping from the enormous branches reaching far higher than anything I have ever seen in person. Made friends with the elk, along the trail, at a distance. Filtered water from the beautiful Hoh River nestled between the mountain peaks we were about to climb in the coming days. My one regret is that I cut my audio recorder in favor of saving on pack weight as the sound of this place was absolutely wonderful. I would love to have brought that home to my dad who is blind not to mention capturing a moment that even a photo can’t hope to frame.

We faced a massive climb from there up to Hoh Lake. Serious. This day was probably the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life. 33 switchbacks, according to one guide, up 4500 feet above sea level in just 5 miles. It nearly killed us. But we had these views of not so far off peaks like the glacier-covered Olympic Mountain and it’s sisters all around. Clouds were literally touching our heads as they rolled over the heavily forested summit we were walking across.

At that elevation, we started to encounter clusters of black bears who were 100% focused on eating as much of the loganberries which were all over the mountainside, ripe and sweet, as they could in order to fatten up for winter. We walked from Hoh Lake down 3000 feet through this nearly J.R.R. Tolkien forest which was lit by golden light falling through the distant treetops tinting the sunbeams with a greenish yellow hue as it hit the reddish forest floor with a shimmer of summer promise along our path. There were so many streams and rivulets that it was almost like walking through some forest orchestra playing soft movements of sound and life to entertain us. Or at least give pause to think about how a forest system works like a single organism.

We had to trek back up 4000+ feet to Heart Lake, part of the Seven Lakes Basin, the “jewels of the Olympics” as Doug described it, where we broke camp in a hurry as it was raining, cold, densely foggy and our spirits were low. This was our short day where we were at camp early so we could try to continue to recover from the Tuesday hike which left us both decimated. Anyway, it was still raining and so I rolled the tent cover into my bedroll which hung off the back of my pack and we headed off to a place called Appleton Pass. It included walking between two peaks of two mountains with a huge climb up to 5200 feet. The maps said we were in for about 11 miles. Wrong. We tracked about 20 miles on foot that day to arrive at a place called Boulder Creek. This was our last night of camping in the Olympic National Park.

Our trek out the next morning was a walk through the closed Elwha dam network. The dam had been destroyed in 2012 to help promote salmon habitats. We walked down a now unused and blocked off paved road the whole 3400 feet to an elevation of a mere 100 feet of elevation where we walked to a parking lot where Doug’s friend Char picked us up. She’s this amazingly warm and wonderful being who truly reminds me of Ruth Gordon’s character from the film “Harold & Maude.”

We are shedding our 45+ pound backpacks, mine full to capacity with two bear cans, the big one and a smaller one for trash, his with a four-person tent and a whole lot of other bare minimum essentials for a trek like this. Both flirting with 50 lbs thresholds and heavier than anything we’ve done to date. Our packs today are just day packs with a water bladder, lunch, and some small supplies. Like maybe 7 pounds with any luck with trek poles as our climb today is back up 5800 feet up Hurricane Hill. A link to something that may not be exact but looks like our hike today.

It’s been an incredible effort but totally worth the time in planning, expense in equipment procurement, time away from home and the people I love given that I feel privileged to see something that won’t exist for much longer as climate change and lawmakers continue to erode habitats like the varied and unique ones I have walked in, over ~80/90+ miles, through this week.

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