M Hiking Through Hyperbole: A Walk in the Clouds

by Ryan Linn

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Article Summary:

Several years ago I spent two summers in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, working at a camp and falling in love with the wilderness there. The mountains, the forests, the rivers, and lakes - it all reminded me so much of the landscape back home in New England, but everything was on a larger scale. Mountains towered into the clouds, alpine lakes sat serenely below the peaks, waterfalls cascaded next to the trails, and, most surprisingly, the sky was clear for weeks on end.

With those memories fresh in my mind, I anticipated my first steps out of Oregon and into Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail. I had come almost 2,200 miles in just over four months, friends had come and gone, plans had been altered, and now I was about to cross the last major dividing line. It was hard not to notice one important parallel between the last state of the PCT and that of the Appalachian Trail: both garner a great deal of respect from the thru-hiking community. I had already seen some of the parallels in my previous trips to Washington - the rugged beauty, the pine forests, and plentiful water. Like everyone else, I was filled with a mix of excitement and fear.

Something unexpected happened as I waited in Cascade Locks, however. "It's looking like an early fall this year," the locals said, referring to the constant drizzle that saturated the town. A few days earlier there had been intermittent rain, but it didn't worry me much. The summer had been bone dry, so a few light showers mattered little to me. But on my second day off in Cascade Locks, with the forecast showing a week of wet and cloudy weather, I started to wonder. According to the locals, September was usually a very dry month, just like those two summers I'd spent in the Cascades. I hoped this would be a passing system.

I waited in town for three days in order to let some old friends catch up, which paid off pretty well. Most of the hikers left at different times, but I stuck with one, trail named Tangent, for the rest of the state. After so much time spent alone on the trail in the past month, I didn't want to have the end of such a journey be a solitary experience. As far as I was concerned, the joy of the end of the trail was best shared with friends. Little did I know that friends would also be key to finishing the trail at all.

As I set foot on the Bridge of the Gods, Tangent right behind me, the first omen from Washington hit me, almost literally. With no sidewalk along the narrow bridge, hikers have a hair-raising walk between Oregon and Washington, but there is usually little traffic. I started across, the only automotive activity an RV heading into Oregon. I walked toward it, close to the edge of the roadway, as I normally would walking along a road with narrow shoulders. I expected the RV to move over a little in order to avoid smearing me into the railing or knocking me off the hundred foot high bridge. Instead I relearned a lesson on assumptions. I squeezed into the edge of the railing at the last second, and the side mirror of the RV whipped by less than a foot from my face.

At this point I should have been a little shaken, but my optimism still shone through. I happily strolled the rest of the way into Washington, while Tangent voiced his opinion that maybe there was something wrong with my head since I hadn't made a mess in my pants moments earlier.

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