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The Wonderland Trail: Part IV
Volume 65: Tues October 11, 2005
The conclusion to the daring adventures of Rick and Ryan thru-hiking the Wonderland Trail
You can probably guess by now that Rick woke up at the crack of dawn to hike out while I lounged around a bit longer to enjoy the comforts of my nice, toasty sleep bag.
Eventually I got myself up, however, when a call of nature was in order. I ate breakfast, packed up camp, and moved along. Oddly, my ankle started hurting for some unknown reason. Must have slept on it oddly when I accidentally fell asleep. Nothing serious, mind you, just an annoying stabbing jolt of pain in my ankle with no known cause. =)
I hiked through Devil's Dream where some lazy campers were still lounging around. And I thought I was bad about sleeping in late! This site is allegedly a mosquito haven. I cannot attest to that since I didn't see any mosquitoes, but the flies in the area were thick and anything but desirable.
Insects seemed to really enjoy this part of the mountain, in fact, as they'd be buzzing around for the rest of the day during my hike. The only good thing I can say about them was at least they didn't bite, and as long as you walked briskly, they pretty much left you alone.
At the Indian Henry patrol cabin, several people were sitting out on the porch. So I dropped by to say hi, eat some snacks, and kill some time. The group had spent the night in the cabin—a perk that only rangers have, and one of them was a ranger who invited her friends. Their conversation centered on books they had read in a book club, mostly titles I had never even heard of—though I have little doubt they were riveting books with thoughtful themes and won lots of awards. Listening to them, I felt completely illiterate.
However, at one point, one of the girls mentioned one book she had read earlier that summer which was her "guilty pleasure": A Time Traveler's Wife. I'd actually read this book several months earlier and it was one of the best I'd read in a long time. It's a complicated book about a man who time travels, and the interactions with himself at various times and states are wonderfully clever and thoughtful. It was not a guilty pleasure for me—that's a book I'd be proud to admit I read! So I found it kind of disconcerting that this girl admit to reading it like she was ashamed to read such low-life trash. A bestseller. What a waste of time! Unless less than 1,000 people from around the world have read a book, it's just not worth reading....
It was kind of strange listening to such logic. Why do all books have to be intellectual to these people? Can't you just read for the pure fun of, well, reading? Enjoy a book for the riveting suspense? Well, I guess they do think it's fun, but it just seemed so wrong to me to discount as a book as 'trash' simply because it's a bestseller.
The group really seemed more interested in talking among themselves, and I felt like an outcast. So I sat down and read the register for the cabin instead.
It was a lot like the registers found on the Appalachian Trail, and that was riveting reading. =) The usual remarks about how beautiful the area was! Lots of comments about DEET being one of the ten essentials. Plus one crude young man who wrote about fornicating with nature. One person pasted in a photo of a Himalayan mountain that he was training to climb in another week or two, and that THAT was a REAL mountain.
Afterwards, I wrote in my own entry, then said goodbye to the group and continued on. Since the hike today was fairly short, I decided to lengthen it by hiking out to Mirror Lakes off on a side trail. It led through a meadow of dying flowers—the flowers by now were way past their prime and overflowing with annoying flying insects—to a couple of sad looking lakes that were murky brown in color.
Not really impressed with the view or the bugs and continued along to camp. The trail, at one point, became rather slippery from loose rocks so the going was slow. Better late than never!
Just short of South Payallup Camp I found the group from Southern California washing themselves and their clothes in a small stream where I stopped to chat. The stream was actually the camp's water source, though their bathing and washing clothes in it didn't bother me much since it was easy to collect water above the point where the trail crossed. I took of my shoes and soaked my own feet in the water, in fact, which was painfully cold and therefore did not proceed any further than getting my feet wet.
Back in camp, Rick had already set up his tarp and I followed suit. We started chatting with a couple of older men who turned out to be pilots for United Airlines. Sam, that was the older one of the two, thought we were nuts for not filtering our water and using a primitive tarp. Out of our minds, we were! At one point, he also asked if we knew about the Appalachian Trail and I modestly explained that I was "familiar" with it. Sam had done quite a bit of backpacking on the AT at one point planning to section hike the whole thing, though he ended up deciding that section hiking select parts of the trail that were especially noteworthy sounded better. Later I told him that I had thru-hiked the trail and he slapped his knees exclaiming, "I knew you were crazy not filtering your water! Only crazy people thru-hike the Appalachian Trail!" I agreed completely, then we swapped war stories from various parts of the trail. Rick, I think, tuned out at some point and started his own conversation with the other pilot.
Near the end of our conversation—of course, Amanda had come up in conversation given the fact that she's a flight attendant and I had mentioned my unemployed status—Sam tried to talk me into becoming a flight attendant for their airline saying they needed more people like me. Whatever that means. =) And they were hiring! Which was actually somewhat surprising news to me since I knew they were in bankruptcy and still trying to cut costs. In any case, there's at least one pilot at United Airlines who's batting for me to become a flight attendant there. =)
Night finally arrived, and Rick and I went to sleep. Just as I was settling into my sleeping bag, a small rodent of some sort wandered up near by head and I shooshed it off with a stern, "Get out of here!" and some serious arm waving. Rick asked what I was doing and told him about the nocturnal visitor. He laughed at my plight, and I wished him nocturnal visitors of his own.
And that was that. I went to sleep. Later, must have been well after midnight, I woke up briefly and noticed a light coming from Rick's direction. A strobe light. On. Off. On. Off. What the heck?
"Hey, Rick! What's up with the light?"
"You got your wish!" he cursed me. "A rodent ran across my face! I'm leaving the strobe light on all night to scare them off!"
A strobe light? He's leaving a friggin' strobe light on all night to scare off the rodents? I chuckled at the thought, then turned away from him and the blinking light and went back to sleep. Those pilots were right—he is crazy! Can't imagine how Rick went to sleep with a strobe light blinking every other second in his eyes. I shook my head in pity. Rick really needs to get used to rodents running over his face in the middle of the night. =)
I'm happy to report, however, that no rodents bothered me for the rest of the night. Oh, I'm sure they were out there, but they knew I meant it when I shooshed them off and decided running across my face wasn't a good idea. *nodding*
I woke up exceedingly late this morning since I only had to hike a piddling seven miles to the next camp. Rumor had it that this west side of the mountain was some of the most strenuous section of the Wonderland Trail, and since I needed to set up a permit over a week in advance, I decided the last few days would be short and easy. I might have been suffering from swollen and twisted ankles, painful blisters, or any of a number of other maladies that would make hiking long miles a challenge. As it turned out, I was feeling great and was more concerned about not becoming bored out of my mind hiking a measly seven miles or less a day. And the first way to beat the boredom in the morning is to be unconscious. So I slept. And slept. And slept.
The camp was completely clear of people by the time I got up. I also decided to kill some additional time by slackpacking to the Westside Road along the South Payallup and Round Bend trails. This side trail connected to the Wonderland Trail directly where the campsite was situated. Additionally, my map had a cryptic and mysterious marking on the Westside Road that read 'Marine Memorial Airplane Crash Monument.' No explanation, no details. Clearly, the only way I'd learn more would be to hike the 2.1 miles to the monument to check it out. Then I'd hike back to the campsite and continue my journey along the Wonderland Trail. The extra 4.2 miles of hiking would do me well! =)
I hung my pack and food bag on the bear pole—this was an out-and-back operation and there was no sense carrying anymore weight on my back than was absolutely necessary. I filled my fanny pack with a camera and snacks and carried a small water bottle for the 4.2 mile, round-trip hike.
Just beyond the privy I got my first pleasant surprise—a spectacular rock wall made up of large, volcanic pillars. I had no idea this little lesson in geology would present itself, and I felt rather pleased with myself for discovering it on my own. And nobody else from camp—including Rick—would ever see it unless they were hiking to the Westside Road. And only idiots would do that.
The hike was largely boring other than that one interesting location. I popped out on the Westside Road, a gravel road where I didn't expect to see anyone since my map warned: "Westside Road closed to vehicles beyond this point due to recurring flood damage." And the point the trail pops out was beyond that point labeled on my map. Therefore, it's unlikely I'd see anyone.
And I didn't. However, I did find a small tent city spread out along the road. About a dozen or so tents, an outdoor shower, and a kitchen area. Clearly, there was a work crew in the area doing some trail maintenance, but I didn't see anyone.
I found the memorial a short distance away. It was a large bolder with a plaque on it that read:
Of the 32 marines who lost their lives in an airplane crash on
December 10, 1946 while under orders and enroute from San Diego,
California to Seattle, Washington, and who now lie on South
Lots of names here
The flight has landed. They are now in thy keeping
Several things went through my head. First, did I read that right? The 32 bodies are still on the mountain?! Why weren't they retrieved? The date of the crash—December 10, 1946—would easily explain why the bodies may not have been immediately retrieved. Mount Rainier can be quite a vicious mountain, and even more so during the winter. Avalanches are quite common in the depths of winter, but surely they could have retrieved at least some of the bodies by spring or summer at some point in the last 59 years?
Second thing I wanted to know was which glacier was the South Tacoma Glacier and if the plane wreck was actually visible from the rock. I pinpointed the glacier on my map, but I was way too far away to be able to identify a plane wreck.
And, it was odd, but I couldn't help but wonder who would write such a grammatically incorrect sentence. Am I the only person who ever learned in elementary school that fully written out dates are supposed to have a comma after the year if it's not the end of a sentence or that fully written out cities are also supposed to have commas after the state name? I was willing to let the periods at the end of the paragraph slide, but the commas too? Sorry, but I have to draw the line somewhere. *nodding*
And the last part about 'The flight has landed' just seemed kind of morbid to me. The flight crashed, it didn't land. It almost sounds like they died peacefully in their sleep.
I was still left with a lot of questions about the crash, however. Why did they crash? What orders were they under? Why were the bodies never retrieved? This mysterious memorial left me with more questions than I had before.
Later, I did some Google searches and found a wealth of information that answered most of my questions. The crash happened during a bad storm and the pilot had been navigating solely by instruments and was far off course from where he thought he should be. Ten feet of snow fell on Mount Rainier during the next eight days effectively burying the plane and making it impossible to find. It wasn't until seven months later, in July of 1947, the plane was finally found by an off-duty ranger. Most of the plane was still covered in snow even that late into the year.
Three weeks later more pieces of the plane were found more than a mile further up the glacier, just emerging from the snow. After surveying the area and dodging rather large boulders crashing down around the aircraft, it was decided that recovering the bodies would be too dangerous and they would be left there on Mount Rainier.
The full story, if you're really interested, I found online in an article called Ghosts of Rainier: 'God's monument' to 32 Marines. A related story I found called Ghosts of Rainier: A majestic tomb for 65 men.
This second article is about the 65 known bodies that still lie unrecovered on Mount Rainier when the article was written. I stress the known part of that sentence. The article ends with a story about a plane crash found on Mount Rainier in 1992. The plane crashed twenty years before—twenty years!—and nobody had any idea it had crashed on Mount Rainier until a hiker inadvertently found it during a hike in 1992.
And the last paragraph reads: "'I have no doubt that there are planes that we haven't found, people who we don't even know are missing,' says Kirschner. 'But my own gut feeling is that we'll find at least a couple of them.'"
That's right, there might more unknown and undiscovered plane crashes on Mount Rainier. What kind of mountain can swallow up whole planes without a trace for decades? Had I realized this during my hike, I might have kept an eye open for dead bodies or something suspicious like, say, a plane wreck!
As tragic as the deaths were of all these men over the years, I do have to admit, Mount Rainier does make for a pretty spectacular final resting place.
After it was decided to leave the bodies of the marines on Mount Rainier, that section of the mountain was closed off to climbers having been deemed too dangerous. Didn't want any potential souvenir collector to kill themselves wandering around such a dangerous area.
I took a last look at Mount Rainier from the marine memorial wondering about the location of their final resting place. It seemed like I should do something in their honor, though I wasn't sure what. An awkward moment. Maybe a salute or something. But I didn't—I just turned around and hiked back to the previous night's campsite, retrieved my pack from the bear pole, and continued my hike around the Wonderland Trail.
The Wonderland Trail climbed to Aurora Lake, a scenic lake well above tree line with incredible views in every direction. And a quick look at the lake indicated that this would be the perfect swimming hole. It had no inlet or outlet for the water so it was unlikely to be ice cold from snow melt. And as shallow as the lake was, it might even be quite warm. I tore off most my clothes and waded in. The bottom of the lake was clearly very muddy, and I didn't want to stir it all up so I was going to get into the lake slowly.
What a disappointment. The water was FREEZING! What a cruel joke to play on someone who hadn't showered in over a week by this point. My Waldies nearby got sucked up in the mud at the bottom, and I imagined tadpoles nibbling my legs since I could see hundreds—thousands perhaps—swimming around until my walking in stirred up all the dirt.
I wadded in as far as my knees before I stopped, and since I was already there, washed and rinsed the clothes I had carried out, then washed and rinsed myself with one of the shirts. Man, it was cold, though. How does water sitting out in a nice, hot day in the sun stay so darned cold?!
I would have been happy to lounge around on the side of the lake for the rest of the afternoon except for one thing: flies. They were out, they were big, and I had a strong suspicion they were looking for revenge after the massacre of flies I left in my path for the last several days. I put my clothes back on and continued on.
The trail dropped rapidly down to camp passing areas of the trail that clearly suffered from a landslide in the recent past. And evidence of major trail maintenance could be found along the way. Large trees that fell across the trail had been chopped up or the trail directed around. I wondered if these were the same people who's camp I found at the marine memorial earlier in the day, but at the time I passed through they must have already finished for the day. No trail maintenance workers were around.
This night would be spent at North Payallup Camp. Our friends from Southern California shared the site once again. Rick went to get water and came back several minutes later exclaiming that he didn't get any water, but he saw a bear cub! He figured it was in his best interests to go back later for water.
I also learned from the Southern California group that they had seen the trail maintenance workers and that they were from the WTA or, for those who aren't familiar with the acronym, the Washington Trails Association. What a pleasant surprise! I had done volunteer trail work for the WTA a few years previously before I became unemployed and started my wandering ways, and was actually hiking for their annual Hike-A-Thon at the time. I wondered if I knew anyone in the work party who I had met previously.
I made spaghetti for dinner, and Rick asked about the possibility of hiking out the next day. There was still one more night on our itinerary before we were supposed to hike out in two days, but the next day's hike was an embarrassing four-or-so miles. It would have been quite easy to hike out the next day to Mowich Lake, and at this point, I was ready for a shower and civilization. Let's do it!
The one problem was how to get off the mountain once we reached Mowich Lake. Amanda, our ride, wasn't expecting us until the next day, and she was actually working at the time so wasn't even in town to pick us up even if we could somehow contact her. This, however, did not bother me in the least. My plan, scarce as it was, was to hike out to Mowich then try to get a ride down into civilization. At that point, we'd play it by ear. Perhaps we'd find a hotel to stay at. Maybe we could take the bus all the way into Seattle and stay at Amanda's place. And even if all else failed, we still had our packs and plenty of provisions to spend the night at Mowich Lake. No problem!
Rick, however, wasn't especially happy with that plan. "What if we can't find anyone to give us a ride into town?" He didn't like the idea of spending an entire day at Mowich Lake with nothing better to do than wait for Amanda to pick us up. No, problem, I explained! We'd do a day hike out to Spray Park! It's beautiful up there!
What if we got a ride into town but there wasn't a hotel to stay at? Then, I told him, we'd take a bus further into civilization until we found a hotel. What if they bus didn't come out as far as where we were stranded? Then we could camp in the woods.
Rick didn't like all the uncertainty in my plan, and I tried to explain it's the uncertainty that makes such stuff an adventure, but I couldn't sway him. As it turns out, I learned that Rick had never even hitchhiked before! A real backpacker depends on hitchhiking at some point during a long backpacking trip. It's often the only to to get on or off a trailhead, and I had done it several times during my AT hike. Rick wasn't too thrilled on the idea of depending on strangers for a way out.
So I finally made an executive decision: We'd stick to our original itinerary. Rick wasn't too happy with that choice, but then he wasn't thrilled with the idea of going on either. I had the impression he wouldn't be too thrilled with any decision I made and he probably felt that there were certain flaws in my ability to plan ahead. But you know, I didn't really care. =) At least if we stuck to the original itinerary, we could hike at our own pace and I wouldn't have to listen to him complain about what to do.
And on that note, we went to sleep.
With a measly four-or-five miles to hike to our next campsite, I really needed something to kill the time. Badly. I'd go crazy if I could only hike four miles! What was I thinking when I got this permit?!
Rick and I discussed how to measure the circumference of the earth with nothing but our brains and what we could find in the wild. It's kind of been a long term dream of mine to measure the circumference of the earth, but I've never really gotten around to doing so. Rick pointed out we could figure out a surface was flat and horizontal by filling a depression with water and gravity would lay out the water in a perfectly flat, horizontal surface. Clever, indeed, huh? =) Took a bit longer to figure out how to measure a completely vertical line, though in a fit of inspiration I dangled my trekking pole in the air. Gravity made sure the trekking pole stayed completely vertical. We were so cool. =)
Rick left camp fairly late—even he knew four miles would make for a very, very dull day. I decided that another hike out to the Westside Road seemed in order. The North Puyallup Trail lead 2.8 miles to the end of the Westside Road at a place called Klapatche Point, which sounded suspiciously like a place that might have a good view.
I haven't mentioned it before, but this campsite we stayed at was clearly accessible by cars in the distant past. A strong, rock wall protected the wide, now-overgrown trail from the river hurtling through the valley, and the remains of an old bridge could be seen crossing the river at this point. Today, a small footbridge crosses the river, and we suspected that the Westside Road used to end at or near this campsite. I would love to find old photographs of what the area looked like before nature reclaimed the area like it has today.
As a result, however, this old, overgrown trail was completely flat and very well graded. Fast, easy walking—my favorite! Often a rock guard rail would overlook the canyon alongside a deep cliff reaching down to the fast-dropping river below. Very cool stuff, indeed!
But otherwise, the 2.8 mile hike to the Westside Road was largely unremarkable. At Klapatche Point, as I suspected, there were amazing views to the north and west, though a steep ridge blocked the view to the southeast. Also, I found, another large camp of the trail work party. Perhaps a dozen or so empty tents scattered about, an outdoor shower, and a couple of Honey Buckets where people could do their thing in style. And, most notably, I found a large tub of sodas. The root beer seemed to be sending off subconscious messages to my brain saying, "Drink me! Drink me!" Oh, it was so tempting. Nobody was around to see such a theft. In that big old tub, nobody would even notice the drink was missing. And I bet—remember, I've worked with the WTA in the past and was currently raising money for their Hike-A-Thon with every step I took on this hike!—if there was someone around to ask, they'd be more than happy to offer me a drink.
But there wasn't. They had already left to do their maintenance projects, and I was left standing there with a tub full of delicious looking sodas and a guilty conscious for even thinking about taking one. I walked back to the campsite sad and with my head hung low.
At camp, I retrieved my pack from the bear pole and took my time hiking to the next camp at Golden Lakes. Rumor had it that the last good water source was a creek less than halfway to the Golden Lakes camp, so I filled up all of my water bottles there. Golden Lakes, of course, had water, but the water would likely have been more polluted with people swimming or washing their clothes in it. Best to get the good water while I could.
The Golden Lakes Camp is one of the prettier ones out there. Not as nice as Summerland, perhaps, but very scenic overlooking the Golden Lakes and also had a view stretching all the way out to Tacoma. That night we watched the lights of Tacoma twinkling in the distance.
I paused briefly at the ranger cabin in front of one of the lakes where I read the register and learned more information about the washed-out bridge we'd be facing the next day. Reports about the washed-out bridge started as early as the year before, so this wasn't a recent thing. Additionally, it seems the spring snow melt made the river almost impossible to cross for most of the day. Even more recent entries had people describing harrowing accounts of crossing the Mowich River. I decided that crossing the river early in the morning—when snow melt was at its least—was probably a smart and prudent thing to do.
One person I passed explained that some people were working on fixing the bridge earlier that day, though that was still a far cry from saying it was now fixed. In a nutshell, I really didn't know what to expect when it came to crossing the Mowich River. I might have to ford through choppy knee-deep water, or maybe if I'm lucky, the bridge will be fixed and I could walk across without getting so much as a drop of water on me. Just didn't have enough information to know what to expect.
Rick, being a newbie to long-distance backpacking trips, hadn't yet mastered the art of yogi-ing. That's where you try to get what you want without actually asking for it directly. Usually yogi-ing consists of getting free candy bars or sodas, but I had something better in mind: A ride into town from Mowich Lake the next day. And I had recently learned that our new friends from Southern California we'd been tracking the last few days were going to be picked up in a 15-passenger van. And there were only four of them. Doing the math in my head, it seemed quite possible they could give us a ride into town saving Amanda a trip up the long, windy, dirt road to Mowich Lake and expediting our entrance into the world of showers and flushing toilets.
I even had a bribe to go with it, though I didn't call it that, of course. =) I pulled out the chocolate bars that had been left at Snow Lake and I'd been carrying all this time. I wouldn't dream of eating them—I had one and it tasted awful! But then, I'm not really big on chocolate. I suspected at the very least, the two young girls in the group could appreciate them more than I would.
So I sauntered down to their group site and offered them the chocolate bars. The two girls, almost too predictably, let out shrieks of pleasure and seemed stunned that anyone wouldn't want them. The girls each ate a chocolate bar raving about how great they tasted, and the two older men split the third bar between them.
Then I told them of our plans for the day—hike out to Mowich Lake then wait around all day until seven or eight o'clock when Amanda was expected to arrive to pick us up. And they said they'd be picked up in a 15-passenger van and could take us down the mountain as far as Maple Valley if we wanted. YES!!! Score!
Maple Valley was about halfway between Seattle and Mount Rainier and would easily cut out over half the travel time we'd have to sit around waiting for Amanda to pick us up. And I had little doubt Amanda would be thrilled to death to avoid driving that narrow, windy, dirt road up the mountain.
The one catch, they explained, was that their ride would be waiting for them at the Mowich Lake entrance station a couple of miles down the road from Mowich Lake. When they originally planned to hike out, they were planning to take a side trail to the entrance station than go all the way back to Mowich Lake itself, but after hiking the 90 miles around the mountain, they felt they needed to do that last few miles of the Wonderland Trail instead of cutting off to the entrance station. So they were planning to hike to Mowich Lake, then one of them would walk down the road to the entrance station to get their ride to drive up the rest of the way.
That's still a vast improvement over waiting until nearly sunset for Amanda to pick us up. I'm game! Heck, I'd even be willing to hike down the road and retrieve the vehicle if none of the others really wanted to do it. I was hiking for the Hike-A-Thon anyhow and needed the miles. =)
I chatted the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening away with this group. Besides their usefulness for getting us off the mountain, they really were a friendly group of people I enjoyed chatting with. =) And after following each other around the Wonderland Trail, we felt like comrades of sorts.
After dark, I wandered back up to our own camp where I found Rick gazing over the twinkling lights of Tacoma. The stars were twinkling too, and I decided once again to sleep under the stars and pulled down my tarp before heading off to sleep.
The next morning, I took my time in leaving. I was anxious to finally return to civilization, but rushing off to Mowich Lake wasn't going to get me there any faster. On the other hand, I wanted to leave early enough to cross Mowich River when it was at its lowest early in the morning. I waited until after the group of four from Southern California had left (though by now I learned that one of them was actually local to the Seattle area and worked at Boeing)—I knew I could catch up to them easily enough since they were carrying some pretty big packs and didn't hike as quickly as I did during the day.
I did pass the group a few miles outside of camp just before reaching the bridge-less South Mowich River. I climbed up on a log and walked slowly across using my arms to balance and made it to the other side of the river easily enough. Or so I thought. Turns out the water had split into several smaller streams through this area and I had to cross it at three different places. The last river crossing had a small bridge less than a foot above the fast-churning waters of the river which I suspected was the one I heard reports about it being worked on the day before. Happily, I had no trouble crossing it, though I suspect later in the day when the water level was higher it may have been a bigger problem.
The rest of the hike to Mowich was largely uneventful. The trail came out where we had camped with Amanda our first night out. We asked someone there to take our picture in front of the tree that Amanda had taken our picture together before we set off on our adventure. Then we waited for the group from Southern California to arrive and whisk us away into civilization.
Two of the four arrived about an hour after I did. The other two were having a harder time of it and couldn't go as fast, so they split up so the faster two could hike down to the entrance station and get the van to drive up and be waiting for them by the time the slower two arrived. I was itching to walk—I wanted more miles for the Hike-A-Thon and what can I say, I love to walk. =)
We decided that Rick and one of the Southern Californians would stay at Mowich Lake to watch our packs and relax, and the other guy and me would hike down to the entrance station, first following along the Grindstone Trail, then along the windy, dirt road that cars use.
The hike was all downhill and very fast. Hiking on the road wasn't as fun—every car that drove past blew up large clouds of dust that was impossible to avoid. And at the base, the van was already waiting. It was the wife of the guy I hiked down with who drove it up, and they hugged and seemed quite happy to see each other. =) She also told us that the space shuttle had landed earlier that morning safe and sound. When we left for the Wonderland Trail, the space shuttle had launched for the first time since the Columbia disaster but there was concern about a piece of foam that fell off during launch. And him having a job at Boeing, I think he was particularly concerned about the shuttle landing safely.
The wife offered me some string cheese and a cold soda from an ice chest which I happily accepted, then we all got in the van and drove back up to Mowich Lake to pick up the rest of the slackers. ;o)
Once we were all piled in the van, we drove down to Maple Valley. They stopped briefly in Wilkeson where I called Amanda and left a message on her voice mail telling her we were off the mountain and on our way to Maple Valley, and I'd call her again when we reached Maple Valley. On the off chance she was able to drive up to Mount Rainier earlier than expected, I didn't want her to drive up to Mowich Lake and wonder what happened to Rick and myself.
At Maple Valley, we asked to be dropped off at a bus station so we could investigate the possibility of arranging a ride all the way into Seattle, but the next bus for Seattle wasn't going to leave for a couple of hours. So we said goodbye to our Southern California friends, thanked them profusely for giving us a ride this far, then we walked over to Taco Time to order lunch and kill some time. Taco Time, I explained to Rick, was the Pacific Northwest version of Taco Bell, so he had to try it. =)
Oddly and annoyingly enough, they had their radio tuned to a country-western music station. That just doesn't seem like something you should hear in a fast food establishment. After eating, I walked to a phone booth across the street and tried calling Amanda again, who answered this time. She was on the 520 bridge but would be on her way immediately to pick us up in Maple Valley. Excellent! I went back to Taco Time and told Rick the news. We wouldn't be taking the bus into Seattle. However, depending on the traffic on I-405—which is notoriously bad—it might be a couple of hours before Amanda arrives to pick us up. I hoped her arrival would be considerably faster since it was so early in the afternoon. Hopefully, Amanda would get through I-405 before the afternoon rush-hour traffic was in full force.
We settled in for our wait for Amanda. I got a refill on my drink. Rick eventually left to use the payphone for his own purposes—probably to call my sister, his wife, Tierra. I'd stick around Taco Time to watch our packs and listen to the country station and the intermittent traffic reports in an attempt to figure out how long Amanda's arrival would take.
The first traffic reports noted problems all over the area, but did not note anything about I-405. I took that as a good sign. Just the usual, run-of-the-mill backups. Nothing serious.
Until almost an hour later. That traffic report said that I-405 was completely closed down. Someone ran into a cop car that caught on fire and it was feared the ammunition in the trunk might explode so the whole highway was shut down. That was so not good news.... I hoped and crossed my fingers that Amanda had passed the scene of the accident before the highway was closed, because otherwise we'd likely be waiting there until long after sunset before she could make it.
When Rick got back, it was my intention to call Amanda again and see what was up. If she was stuck on the closed-down highway, Rick and I would try taking the bus into town after all. It never came to that, however, because about five minutes after I heard the horrible news, Amanda drove up! Rick limped back shortly afterwards having seen Amanda drive up while he was on the phone across the street. Amanda had also heard about the wreck on I-405 and we high-fived the fact that she had passed by mere minutes before the highway was shut down. Woo-who!
I got one last refill of my drink before we loaded our packs into the trunk and we headed back to Amanda's place in Portland. My first task after getting back was to take a shower and shave. After all, my last shower and shave was over 100 miles of hiking ago (the Wonderland Trail is about 93 miles, but I hiked significantly further than that on my side jaunts along the way) and 11 days before. We faced rain, cold, and sun. By now both Rick and I were limping—Rick with his bad knee and me with an unexplained sore ankle and a couple of small blisters.
And you know, it was a lot of fun watching all that dirt and grime swirl around the drain and out of my life. =) Rick and I had conquered the Wonderland Trail. Life was good.
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