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Spinstera by Gretchen Howell - 1M ago

October 26

2207  – 2229

Sucks waking up to rain and a low gray sky. I camped next to a pond but there’s no way to get water from that stupid pond. The entire shore is shoe-suck mud and there are no logs to walk out on. Stupid pond. I felt pretty sorry for my pitiful self and popped open a couple hand warmers. And toe warmers. If there ever was a morning for warmer packs, this was it. Thanks Caroline!

I found a stream flowing over the trail in less than a mile and filled up my bottles. Didn’t bother making coffee because I didn’t want to dig through my big burrito in the rain. Even though every single thing was already slimy wet. I didn’t want to spend the time it would take to boil water, because the only way to stay warm was to keep walking.

The one thing about rain, tho….

Mushrooms! Really darling ones, popping up out of the soil and clinging to logs. I just can’t get over them. I could’ve taken dozens of pictures. Should’ve. But I don’t like taking my phone out in the rain. Every time, I’ve got to unzip two jackets and mess around with my gloves, and everything gets damper.

The mushrooms that look like a coral reef are the trippiest. I saw a couple that were football-sized. And also the tiniest, smaller than my pinky finger red mushrooms. They were so small, I couldn’t get a clear picture of them.

Also I found this clever little froggie, peeping out from her frog cave. I wish I had a little cave like that.

 For lunch I sat on a slippery log and ate the can of chili I found last night. I added the rest of my avocado and some cheese. Tasted fantastic.

Towards the end of the day, I started running. First just in bursts on the downhills.  Then longer on the flat parts. It felt nice. I was moving fast and pumping up my body temp. I focused on keeping my center of gravity low, feet flexible. It wasn’t raining much and I was fine, totally warm enough. Also, fooling myself that I wasn’t worried about camping that night. 

I didn’t want to hitch at night, nor would it be a good idea to roll into a tiny town late at night.  At the forest road leading to Trout Lake, I found some campsites. I pitched my sopping wet tent in the rain. It got wetter. I jumped inside and then realized I’d brought along a giant wet horse turd on the bottom of my shoe. That made me yell a little bit. I blew up my new mattress and got inside my sleeping bag liner, still wearing all my rain clothes. I just have to make it through one night. It will suck, but I will be fine. I told myself this over and over. I thought about other sucky nights. I changed into my last pair of dry (ish) socks and shirt.  I arranged my quilt so it wouldn’t touch the tent walls. I was cold and wet but I comforted myself with fantasies about car heaters and bathtubs to come.



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Spinstera by Gretchen Howell - 1M ago

October 23

Gillette Lake – 2166

As usual after a day off, it took me a long time to get going. My new mat felt super comfie but it was hard to roll up and stuff. On the path, I ran into a parade of fellow hikers and their dogs. I played leapfrog with one dude, all the way to the turn off for Tabletop Mountain. We kept passing each other when one of us was paused to take photos of mushrooms. Because the mushies were poppin!

I dragged myself back up into the mountains. That’s the price of days off. There’s always a climb to get back into it. Only 3000 feet over 10 miles. So many reasons to stop and enjoy the foliage. It was another spectacular fall day, overcast but good light and no rain. 

At least, I tried to tell myself it wasn’t raining. Until it was. By then I was up on a windy ridge, negotiating another pass in the night. The swirling mist got progressively wetter until I could no longer deny the rain. My headlamp beam bounced off gallons of floating water droplets. Usually I’m pretty comfortable finding my way in the dark, but here I nearly lost the path a few times.

In the middle of the path, I met the largest salamander I’d ever seen. It was longer than my hand and girthy. Strange wet creatures in the dark.

I stopped for the night next to a river. The bridge was unbearably stank with the stench of creosote. The tarry scent was nauseating. Did someone carry out too much stinky oil and decide to use it all instead of carting the excess backdown the hill?

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October 20

2139 – Cascade Locks

I got a late night message from some old friends last night. They want to come meet me! We haven’t seen each other in more than ten years. Meet me by the Bridge of the Gods at noon, I texted back. 

In the morning I started my downhill walk. Pretty soon I realized that noon was a little ambitious. And instead of giving myself enough time, I texted that I would be there at 12:30. Then I started running. Well, trotting. Not so hard on a downhill, but there’s a lot to think about. 

I got to the bridge with whole minutes to spare. The bride looked narrow. Like not even wide enough for two lanes of cars. I hoped they weren’t on the Washington side. I got a text that they were on the the Oregon side, at the base of the bridge. I trotted across a wide lawn and down a hill for some sweaty hugs.

“Lunch and catching up” turned into “coming over to spend the night.” Then two nights. Especially after I found out about the treehouse. Caroline and Wei are old friends from Taiwan. They’ve been having nice adorable babies while I’ve been out spinstering around. 

We went to Portland REI (no sales tax in Oregon!) where they said I could return my busted exped mat for store credit. The kids helped me pick out a new Big Agnes AirAxl. And I got another pair of Altras. 

We had hot pot for dinner. So yummy, especially that sauce, which I’d completely forgotten about until the first taste. Funny how taste triggers the memories. We used to have so much fun, eating delicious food while squatting on tiny plastic chairs, butts inches away from mad scooter traffic. Pretty soon we were deep in old pictures of the Best New Year’s Eve Ever, when we all went to see the fireworks at Taipei 101. Great times, but why were our digital photos so blurry back then?

The next day we rode bikes to go grocery shopping. I found out about Winco and all the bins. Perfect backpacking food. They have bulk dry potatoes and refried beans. Also circus animal cookies and Halloween candy, which made it no further than the treehouse.

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Spinstera by Gretchen Howell - 1M ago

October 19

2118 – 2139

The person in the tent next door was still zipped in when I packed up in the AM. I felt pretty bad for intruding on their wilderness experience like that. I bet they thought they were in the clear since it was well passed hiker midnight when I rolled up. Who hikes at night? I was also displeased when I saw the reflectors on their tent. I do not like camping by other people. 

Looked to be a flattish sort of day. The route ahead looked hilly on Guthooks, until I realized the scale. Those weren’t big bumps.

In the morning I had a dry stretch. The first water was a trickly little spring. The water was hard to gather. I MacGyvered up a water spout with some trash from my pocket and felt mighty impressed with myself. Just another example of my incredible skills of invention and self-sufficiency that I’ve obtained out here on the trail.

I had lunch at a haunted lake. Maybe it was the all-over shade, maybe it was the nearly inaudible shouts of children playing in the woods. Either way, for sure haunted.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s a pretty exciting moment when I get cell coverage again after a couple days of no connection. I don’t really want to be a disconnected monk in the woods. Now’s not the time in history to be aloof of what’s happening in the world. As I walked through the scars of a year-old fire, I started seeing the lights from Cascade Locks. I set up camp far above the gorge, leaving me a short downhill in the morning before town day!

Just as I settled in for the evening, my mat make a funny squeak and got more lumpy. Another baffle popped. Any more pops and my mat would be a banana boat. So comfie.

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