Saturday, August 31, 2013

Part 184 - Don't Slip Off the Log

I have no qualms using prayer to resolve problems; it has worked for me every time I’ve employed it.  And after reading trail journals from other thru-hikers, I see that it’s not all that uncommon for hikers to ask for help and assistance from God.

After kneeling in prayer beside the small pond, I arose and started backtracking on the trail that led me to the pond.  Almost immediately, the impression came to me to take the first secondary trail I came to, with the assurance it would lead me back to the Pacific Crest Trail. When I came to the first trail, I followed my impressions and turned left, and after walking a short distance, I found myself back on the PCT and soon after reached the trail junction with the wooden sign nailed to the tree.  And this time, I went left.

I was grateful beyond measure for the help I had just received; it provided additional testimony, to my already strong testimony, that my Father in Heaven is real, that he cares about me, that he knows me by name, and is more than willing to grant help and assistance when called upon.
As it is written, “All things are possible to him that believes.” (Mark)

I only hiked a few miles farther before camping for the night above a small lake with no name on a soft bed of moss.

After leaving camp early this morning, the trail continued to climb two thousand feet in elevation, only to lose the same amount of elevation a few miles later.  There was a major bridge crossing at Delate Creek beside cascading falls, and another crossing at Lemah Creek.  The bridge at this latter crossing had been washed out by flood waters, and its remains could still be seen piled in heaps on either side of the stream; the only way to cross now was on a log that just happened to be long enough to span the stream.  Just as I was prepared to step onto the log and start the crossing, Trout showed up.  I stepped off the log and encouraged him to cross first so that I could snap a picture of this unique stream crossing.  He made it fine, and now it was my turn.

The stream was running fast as it coursed down the steep mountainside.  Huge boulders lined the streambed and a fall into the water would be catastrophic, causing severe injury, if not death.  I started across, trying to stay focused on the log itself, and not let my eyes wander to the water below.  Five feet from the opposite shore, I lost my balance and started to fall.  Knowing I was going in, I made a frantic and death-defying leap towards the steep bank leading to the water’s edge, and made it – my shoes landing in the dirt just at the water’s edge.

After another two-thousand-foot climb, the trail began a long sweep around the north side of Waptus Lake, followed by another fifteen-hundred-foot climb to Deep Lake.  Somewhere along the trail, south of Deep Lake, I encountered an older trail hiker, who appeared to be very casual and laid back.  He was older than the average hiker, whose age is thirty-four, and he didn’t appear to be moving very fast.  He gave me his trail name, but I can’t remember it.

Stuffed in his shirt pocket was a pipe, and from the smell of it, I would judge it to be his marijuana pipe.  In conversation, he told me he was heading for Deep Lake, where he anticipated hanging out for a few days, just to do a little smoking and daydreaming.  I don’t think he made it to Canada.
Climbing the cliffs above Deep Lake, I could see why the laid-back hiker wanted to spend a few days at the lake.  It was in a breathtaking setting, situated as it was in a basin against a headwall that rose hundreds of feet above it.

Above Deep Lake sat Cathedral Rock, a monolith that overlooked the Cle Elum River Valley and Hyas Lake.  Just as the PCT approached Cathedral Rock from the south, a spur trail led off to the right and descended two thousand feet to the Cle Elum River, past Hyas Lake, and reconnected with the PCT nine and a half miles farther up the trail. 

This spur trail was the old PCT and was still used by equestrians and hikers if the trail through this section happened to be closed due to deep snow.
At mile 2,452, I found a nightmarish stream crossing.  For northbound hikers, who passed through in September, the stream was passable, albeit without some increased heart palpitations. Flood waters and erosion had carried massive rocks from the cliffs above, and a crossing of this rock-choked stream took some serious planning.

As I stood at the water’s edge, like a chess player, I plotted my every move to ensure that my route across the rocks would not leave me stranded somewhere in the middle, with nowhere to jump.  It was not a matter of getting my feet wet; it was a matter of making it safely to the other side without slipping or falling and being washed over the falls.

Even after making a safe crossing, the trail didn’t immediately start at the water’s edge; rather it started three feet above the flowing water, on a narrow ledge that required precise placement of the feet on slippery rocks to ensure the climb up; otherwise, a slip will send me over the edge and into the rumbling waterfall.  I made it, but I didn’t like this no-name stream crossing.  I considered it an intimidating one.  And regardless of the water level, horses would not be able to negotiate this trail; they would need to use the older PCT that traversed around Hyas Lake.

At Deception Pass, the old and the new PC Trails came together and continued their journey north towards Piper Pass.  The trail for miles had been across the steep slopes of the mountains, with nary a single flat place for the placement of a ground cloth and sleeping bag.  At the top of Piper Pass, I located the only flat spot available to bed down for the night, and even then it was on the side of a steep cliff.  I searched all around the area, to make sure I hadn’t overlooked a better spot, but everything was sheer cliffs and forested slopes, so I felt grateful for what I had.

As I was finishing my evening meal, which included a supply of frosted animal cookies sent to me by my lovely wife in my last resupply package, another hiker arrived at the pass.  It was just minutes from getting totally dark, and I felt bad to have to inform him that there were no other spots available for camping.  He listened to me, but decided to make his own reconnaissance of the area, and was gone for a good fifteen minutes.  When he returned, he said nothing, but continued down the other side of the pass.  I suspected that the downhill side would be just as steep as the uphill climb, and he would have to go a long way to find a decent camping spot for the night.

The approach to this un-named stream crossing.Look close, and you can see the trail heading up the other side of the stream.

This is looking back at the stream after having ascended to the trail on the other side.

The middle of the stream crossing. Horses can not come this way. There is a lower trail several miles distance that they must travel.

As I was about to make this stream crossing, Trout showed up. I let him go first so I could take his picture. When it was my turn, I almost fell in, at the far end of the log.

The great wilderness scenery from the trail.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Part 183 - Lost, Meaning it's Time for Prayer Again

From Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass, it’s seventy-five miles and a four-day walk, and over the course of these four days, I will climb a total of 18,771 feet, or the equivalent of three and a half miles, and descend 17,711 feet, just less than three and a half miles; it’s going to be a real roller-coaster ride.

I was on the trail by six thirty this morning, and right out of the chute, it was a steep, strenuous three-thousand-foot climb to Ridge Lake.  Often, the trail was nothing more than a sinuous line blasted from the side of a cliff, which then followed along the craggy crests before dropping two thousand feet to meadowlands.

The first ten miles of the trail from Snoqualmie Pass to Ridge Lake was popular with day hikers, and there were a lot of them on the trail today.  I found it pleasant to visit with each group I passed; many hike with their dogs, which made me a little leery considering the run-in Brownie and I had with the German shepherds several days ago.

Rugged high peaks, steep slopes with trails carved from the side of the mountain, crystal-clear lakes in basins far below the trail, were all reminders of the resplendent beauty of California’s John Muir Trail through the High Sierras.

After traversing the rocky trail along Chikamin Ridge, the trail began a gradual descent to two lakes called the Park Lakes.  Before long, I found myself standing at a trail junction, with a Forest Service sign tacked to a tree that read Horse Camp and an arrow pointing off to the left.  The trail on either side of the tree was equally well worn into the dirt and either could be the actual PCT.  My prior experience with signs that read Horse Camp meant that a special camp had been set aside for equestrians, and riders and horses should proceed there if they wanted to camp for the night.

Normally, it didn’t mean that the official trail went through the camp and continued on.
With that thinking in mind, I opted for the right-hand trail and followed it some distance. As I did so, I noticed that a number of other trails began branching off from the trail I was on and eventually my trail just wandered into the brush and petered out.  I now realized that the trail I had been following was not the PCT and I would need to backtrack to get back to the wooden sign nailed to the tree and the trail junction.

This backtracking should take me back along the trail I had just hiked on and return me to the trail junction, only it didn’t.  After walking a bit, I passed a small pond that I knew I hadn’t seen when I first descended the trail, which meant I was lost.

Lost – the very thought of the word sent terror spreading through my mind and body.  I was experiencing my worst fear concerning my hike; I had read trail journals of other hikers who had been lost and how they just started bushwhacking through the undergrowth until they reconnected with the trail.  I know this was not something I could do.

I had passed many trails on my return trek; where I went wrong, I didn’t know, as the trees and bushes all looked the same.  I tried to visualize what things looked like when I first descended the trail, and then tried to recreate in my mind how to get back on the same path, but it was hopeless.
There were high, rocky cliffs all around me and the subalpine forest stretched on forever; besides that it was dusk, with not a lot of daylight remaining.  I knew I couldn’t spend time frantically searching for the correct trail; I would only become more confused.  My thoughts returned to the missing person’s notice I had seen taped to the glass window of the entrance door to the Summit Inn about the eighty-year-old woman who hadn’t been seen in two weeks
I was fearful and knew I must control my rising anxiety.  The correct trail couldn’t be far; I just needed to find the right secondary trail that would surely lead me back to the official trail.

There is a famous painting by Arnold Friberg depicting George Washington at Valley Forge; the painting is titled The Prayer at Valley Forge.  In the painting, it is winter and Washington is kneeling in the snow in the attitude of prayer and supplication to God, presumably asking for guidance and inspiration with the war effort – the American Revolution.  His horse is standing beside him, frosty breath stealing from its nostrils.

I remembered a passage of scripture that has always been an inspiration to me, and it reads:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.”  (James)

At this moment, I needed wisdom; I needed understanding; I needed inspiration.  In short, I needed to know how to get back on the trail, and quickly, before it got any darker, and my anxiety levels went through the roof.

Like Washington, I knelt on the ground, and poured out my heart to my Father in Heaven, pleading for guidance and inspiration, that I might know, without hesitation, which of the secondary trails I needed to take, in order to get back on the official PCT.

I’ve had enough experience with prayer to know that my request would be answered.  It may not be in my time frame or in the way I desired it to be answered, but it would be answered, as my Father in Heaven knows what is best for me.

The rugged and beautiful mountains between Snoqualmie and Steven's Pass.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Part 182 - Old Washer Woman

After securing a room, I walked over to the Chevron station and inquired about hiker packages.  The station attendant pointed to a walk-in freezer in the back of the building and told me to look through the boxes until I found mine.  The freezer was not in use and there were more than a hundred boxes in it; it took some time to move boxes around, but I finally located mine.

On the way back to my motel room, I noticed a food wagon made from an RV trailer selling food, and around the trailer, sitting at picnic tables or resting in camp chairs, were a half-dozen hikers either eating or resting.  I inquired about the menu and Laptop and Trout assured me that, although the food was different, it was good; they both said they had had an oriental meal seasoned with mild curry.  After eating a familiar breakfast meal of pancakes, eggs, and bacon at the Summit Inn Pancake Haus, I returned to the trailer, which was called the Aardvark, and ordered another dinner of rice, chicken and curry.

From a hiker on the trail, I heard that Yabba Dabba Dude had medication for Giardia. While waiting for my food at the Aardvark, I found him, Hot Wings, and their two dogs sitting at a table on the backside of the food trailer.  I approached Yabba Dabba and inquired if he had Giardia pills and, if so, would he be willing to sell me one.  He said he did, and that he would bring one to my motel room later this evening – at no charge
As with most motels, my room was located in a long corridor that gave access to all the rooms.  At the end of the corridor was the laundry room, and after checking it out I discovered that it had one coin-operated washer and one coin-operated dryer.  The washer was in use and I guesstimated that it would be fifteen minutes or so before it would be available.

I returned in fifteen minutes with my clothes and found the washer had finished its cycle, but the clothes were still in the washer.  What to do?  What to do?  Should I wait for the owner to come and remove the clothes and put them in the dryer?  That could be a long time if the owner was not conscientious about time.  I decided to take action rather than waiting to find out.  I returned to my room and retrieved a clean towel, then back in the laundry room, I placed the towel on the floor and removed the clothes from the washer and placed them on the towel.
Now the washer was available for the next batch of clothes.  I put my clothes in the washer, along with the packet of laundry soap, deposited eight quarters in the coin slots, closed the lid, and returned to my room.

Later, when I returned to check on the status of my clothes, I found the owner of the clothes I had placed on the floor.  To say she was not happy would be an understatement.  She was fuming and had some choice words to say to me.  Not to be derogatory, but she had the appearance and size of a woman who wrestled alligators in the swamps of Louisiana.  I probably shouldn’t have done what I did with her clothes, but at least I kept them clean by putting them on a towel instead of just dumping them on the concrete floor of the laundry room.  

I let her rant, and then she stormed off.  Moments later, the manager showed up; she didn’t have much to say and I apologized to her for my actions.  But secretly I was thinking, at least I didn’t have to wait and wonder when the owner would return to remove the clothes from the washer.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Part 181 - Hidden Tunnel

While studying my maps, I found the name Stampede Pass, which showed the three power lines running through the woods, and then in really tiny letters beside two parallel lines shown as dashes were the words Stampede Tunnel.  At the moment, they didn’t have any meaning for me, and it wouldn’t be until I got home and had a chance to do a Google search, that I found meaning for the words.

What I found was that there was actually a railroad tunnel under Stampede Pass.  It’s 1.86 miles in length and was completed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1888.  At the time, the owners of the company didn’t want to wait for the tunnel to be completed, so they authorized an overland route across Stampede Pass which was completed in 1887.  The overland route had a number of switchbacks on each side of the Pass, including two enormous S curves.  With the completion of the tunnel, the overland route fell into disuse; the tracks were removed and much of the rail bed is now hidden from view by forest growth and the clear-cuts made for the construction of the three high-tension power lines. (Macintosh)

Originally, Stampede Pass was named Garfield Pass after the recently inaugurated President Garfield.  The name Stampede Pass came about after an incident that happened in 1882:

Virgil Bogue, a civil engineer working for the Northern Pacific Railway, wrote the Washington State Historical Society's William Pierce Bonney about the naming of the pass in 1916.

"I had a trail cutting party camped near Stampede Lake; this party was controlled by a foreman who I thought did not accomplish much work.  When the other party which had been cutting the trail from Canoe Creek up Green River to my camp near the mouth of Sunday Creek finished its work, I sent its foreman to the camp occupied by the former mentioned party then at Stampede Lake, with a letter authorizing him to take charge.  A large number of the former mentioned party then stampeded.  There was quite a large fir tree at this Stampede Lake camp, which had a large blaze out on it by the men remaining and with little piece of charcoal from the campfire they printed on the blaze the words Stampede Camp.” (Bogue)

 Bonney, who worked for the Northern Pacific on Stampede Pass, added,
"When the men quit work about the middle of the afternoon, the day of the stampede, they repaired to camp where they were busy waiting for supper; when the foreman came and announced to the cook that the food in his charge belonged to the railroad company and was furnished to feed men that were working for the company, these men had severed their connection with the company, hence were not entitled to be fed; then was when the real stampede began." (Bonney)

Within a half mile, I was at the Stampede Pass road crossing and encountered trail magic being offered by two former PCT hikers, Bumble Bee and Stumbling Norwegian.  They had been at this location for several days and were in the process of packing up; however, food was still available and I opted for two hot dogs, even though I had just eaten my biggest meal ever.

Brownie and Left Overs were also at the lunch spot, both having come in the night before, but were still hanging out when I arrived, each having imbibed a little too much the prior evening.
Where the trail crossed over the road, there was a small, trailhead parking lot, and as I came out of the woods, I saw four men and three dogs just leaving the parking lot and heading up the trail.  When I asked Brownie if he knew anything about them, he said,

“No,” but then added that they were taking a full week to walk eighteen miles to Snoqualmie Pass, and they had already started drinking.

After finishing my second lunch for the day, and thanking the hosts for their generosity, I left the lunch spot before Brownie and Left Overs.  Within a mile, I found the four men sitting on the trail, taking a rest.  One was carrying a guitar, and another was swigging from a gallon-size jug of vodka, and all were carrying oversized packs that reflected their knowledge, or lack thereof, of camping skills.  The dogs were two German shepherds and a golden retriever.  The retriever was tuckered out and was lying in the middle of the trail, while the German shepherds were eyeing me suspiciously; fortunately, the dogs were being restrained by their owners, for the younger dog was aggressive and ready to pounce.  I slipped by without incident.

Brownie wasn’t so fortunate when he passed by a short time later.  By then, the younger, more aggressive dog was not on leash and attacked Brownie as he passed by.  He sustained a nasty bite on his hand which really aggravated him; he said he wanted to kick at the dog, and/or hit it with his trekking pole, but then thought twice about doing either, in view of the fact that there were four somewhat less than sober dog owners who might not take kindly to his actions. He walked on, feeling somewhat grateful at not sustaining more serious injury.

Today was Monday, September 9; I camped last night at mile 2,401, leaving me 264 miles to the Canadian border.  It was so close, yet still so far away.  I really was exhausted and was slowing down; I found myself stumbling more and more over rocks and tree roots; I rested often.  It was only ten miles to the ski resort of Snoqualmie on Interstate 90, and long before I arrived there, I could hear the traffic on the Interstate, for the highway curved around the resort as it traversed through Snoqualmie Canyon.

Around noon, I began the descent down the ski slopes of Snoqualmie.  Hillsides that were once vibrant with wildflowers stretched before me, and the fragrance of damp earth and dry grass was a subtle reminder that summer was fading fast and would soon be followed by winter.

I walked under several chairlifts and found a dirt road traveled by four-wheelers and ATVs that led down to the parking lot at the bottom of the ski slope.  The motel and the Chevron gas station where I would pick up my resupply package were on the north side of busy Interstate 90.  I waited for a break in traffic and then quickly hustled across.

My original plan was to pick up my resupply box, upload the contents to my backpack, and continue on up the trail, as I felt I needed to make another seven or eight miles for the day; however, I arrived at Snoqualmie later in the day than anticipated, and decided that I deserved some pampering, as opposed to punishing myself by continuing on the trail.  The trail would still be there tomorrow, and taking a few hours off to rest and clean up wouldn’t noticeably slow me down.

The Summit Inn was the only real motel in town, and it was a very nice one.  As I crossed the parking lot in front of the motel and put my hand out to open the front door, my gaze was directed to a notice taped to the inside of the glass door.  It was a missing person’s notice, and I took a moment to read it.  It described a woman from the community, in her eighties, who had been missing for several weeks while in the mountains picking huckleberries. 

 Her car was found at the trailhead parking lot, but she had gone missing; As I contemplated her dilemma, I doubted that after two weeks, she was still alive, and I could sense her feeling of terror at realizing she was lost in the woods, and had not the foggiest idea where the trail was or how to get back to her car.  She wandered, and invariably moved deeper into the woods, until she was totally disoriented, completely lost and far from the trail.

Trail angel camp at Stampede Pass hosted by Bumble Bee and Stumbling Norwegian. In the tent were Brownie and Left Overs. The vehicles belonged to the yahoos who had the dogs.

Coming down the mountain into Snoqualmie. In the distance is the Summit Inn. I had planned on just retrieving my resupply package and moving on, but I got sucked into the vortex of a hot meal, shower and clean bed. 

Tomorrow, the trail will wind its way to the tops of the crags across the valley.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Part 180 - Assassinated in Dallas, Texas

Fast forward twenty-five years to 1989, during Reagan’s presidency; the Berlin Wall came down, followed shortly thereafter by the demolition of the rest of the East German border fence, and the reunification of the two Germany Nations.

One year later, in 1990, I returned to Germany, with my sixteen-year-old daughter, Susan.  I wanted her to see some of the unique cultural features of Bavaria that I had seen and known.  And yes, we visited Coburg.  The Grenze – the border, had completely disappeared; the roads were no longer blocked, but continued north into East Germany, as did the railroad lines. The barbed wire fences, the no-man’s land with the mine fields, the metal fences and automatic booby traps had been dismantled.  Only the guard towers remained, but given time, they, too, would be taken down.

As a side note, the Bavarian State Opera House, a much-beloved theater of the citizens of Munich, was badly damaged in a bombing raid on October 3, 1943, and although not completely destroyed, the roof had fallen in, and the interior was gutted. 

 Almost immediately after the cessation of hostilities in Germany, plans and preparation were initiated to begin the restoration of this national treasure.  The reconstruction and restoration period lasted eighteen years.  Finally, opening night was scheduled for November1963; the premier opera for the night’s gala opening was Richard Wagner’s five-hour-long production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. 

Tickets for this first night’s performance had been sold out for months, if not years.  The anticipation for opening night was ecstatic.  The long-awaited event had finally arrived; the guests were excited to again see and hear opera in their world-renowned theater that had been silent for almost twenty years.

Opening night was November 22, 1963; with all the guests seated in their seats, a hush fell over the audience as the conductor walked solemnly to the center of the stage, and with microphone in hand made the announcement that President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Out of reverence and respect for the fallen president, who was much beloved by the German people, the opening night’s performance was cancelled, and it was with heavy hearts that the guests exited the newly refurbished and restored Bavarian State Opera House, and dispersed into the crowds and streets of the city that had fallen quiet.

Other than the dirt road, there weren’t a lot of flat places to camp around Richard’s makeshift kitchen, so I elected to set up my tent on the road just in front of Richard’s car.  Richard cautioned me to be careful as it was still deer-hunting season and there were a lot of hunter vehicles traveling the road at night.

Other than making a few runs to the bushes during the night, it passed without incident, and I slipped out of camp before the sun was up.

It was only eight miles to the next pass, which was Stampede Pass, and I was there by noon.  As I approached and crossed over the pass, I was greeted by expansive clear-cuts that provided a thoroughfare through the dense forest for three overhead high-tension power lines. After walking under the third set of power lines, I took time out for lunch and sat down on a grass embankment next to the trail.  Knowing that I would be in Snoqualmie Pass tomorrow afternoon, which had a superb motel with an outstanding restaurant, I decided to eat everything left in my pack.  I ate a packet of Top Ramen, a packet of Idahoan Instant Potatoes, several peanut butter and jam tortilla sandwiches, dried fruit, trail mix, and a candy bar, and I still had food left over.  This was the biggest meal I had eaten on the trail in twenty-four hundred miles, and I enjoyed every morsel of food; I should, for I’ve shrunk considerably in body weight.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Part 179 - Ich bin ein Berliner

The only major ascent on the trail today was the climb up the west ridge of Blowout Mountain, but once at the top, it was a relatively easy descent to Tacoma Pass and camp for the night.

Just before reaching Tacoma Pass, I came across a hand-carved wooden sign propped up against a tree that said water, with an arrow pointing in the direction to walk.  I needed water, so I dropped my pack at the spur trail, grabbed my water containers and walked the short distance to the flowing stream, but I neglected to heed my own advice about observing landmarks when leaving the trail.

With water bottles full, I turned around to head back up the trail, and in a frightening moment of déjà vu, I realized that the forest all looked the same, and I was not a hundred percent sure of the way back, even though the faint trail lay before me.  With real trepidation, I moved up the trail, paying close attention to the placement of each foot, to make sure I didn’t step off the spur trail and head in a different direction.  I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about getting lost in the woods, but it’s easy to do and it truly does frighten me. 

Within a short distance, I arrived at Tacoma Pass and found a heavily used dirt road, labeled on the maps as Road 52.  A hundred feet from the road was a small sign that said trail magic ahead, and upon reaching the road, I found trail angel Richard Lee who went by the trail name of "Not Phil’s Dad," set up to dispense trail magic.  He had canopies and tarps erected to protect his camp from the rain, which included camp stoves, camp chairs, and food tables; he was serving hot dogs, hot chocolate, fruit, and other snacks.

I greeted Richard and he invited me to sit down and enjoy the services he had to offer.  He was the one who had carved the wooden sign and placed it on the trail that pointed the way to water.  Lounging in camp chairs under the tarps was Biers and Ranch, who had arrived a few hours earlier.  Biers said he was still not feeling well, and might stay another day in camp with Richard Lee.
While I waited for the hot dogs to cook, I visited with Biers, who was from Berlin, and told him about my service as a Mormon missionary in Bavaria, Germany, home to the Munich Oktoberfest from 1962 to 1965.  I couldn’t help but ask him about the grammatical correctness of the famous statement President Kennedy made on his visit to West Berlin in June 1963, when he spoke before a crowd of four hundred and fifty thousand and declared to the populace, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which translated literally means, "I am a jelly-filled donut."

In Berlin, the citizens don’t refer to themselves as Berliners, as that term is reserved for a confectionary called Berliner - a jelly-filled donut.  I asked Biers if Kennedy was correct in using the term the way he did, or if it would have been more correct to say, “Ich bin Berliner,” – interpreted to mean, “I am a citizen of Berlin.”  Biers said that even though the crowd had a good chuckle about the expression, they understood the intent and were very appreciative of the support the American people were displaying to the beleaguered citizens of West Berlin, who, at the time, were surrounded by the Soviet-backed East German government, a government who just months before had erected the Berlin Wall.

In the thirty months I lived in Bavaria as a missionary, I served in three different cities – Munich, Schweinfurt - which interpreted means Pigs Crossing, and Coburg, on the East German border.

Schweinfurt was the location for several ball-bearing factories, which were vital to the Nazi war effort; subsequently, the city was repeatedly bombed during the war, and even eighteen years after the conflict, when I was there, there was still massive war damage to be seen around the city.

Coburg was renowned for its world-famous Hummel figurines which were produced in factories in the city, and although the city was the first to fly the Nazi flag on an official building in 1931, the city had no heavy industry or strategic value for the war effort, and thus escaped relatively unscathed from aerial bombardment or fierce tank battles.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the allies divided Germany into four sections – the British in the north, the Americans in the south, and the Russians in the east.  Eventually, France acquired a section in the far west from territory ceded by the British and the Americans.

East Germany, under Russian control, was named the German Democratic Republic, or GDR, while the British, French, and American sectors unified and became known as the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG.  Up until 1952, the border between the two opposing ideological governments was quite porous, but in that year, it all changed.  The GDR, under the pretext of keeping out spies and foreign undesirables, began to fortify their border from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Czechoslovakian border in the southeast.  

The border was defined by minefields, watchtowers, automatic booby traps, anti-vehicle ditches, alarms, high-metal fences and walls and barbed wire, plus fifty thousand troops.  In reality, the East German government was trying to stem the heavy exodus of East German intelligentsia to the west.

Living in Coburg in 1964, and so close to the border, I and several other American missionaries decided to ride our bicycles to the border, to see what it actually looked like.  We saw the usual border signs that said,

“Halt, Grenze, nicht weiter gehen.” (Stop, border, do not proceed farther.)

Streets that formally had continued north were blocked by concrete barriers or earthen berms; the railroad lines had been cut; three barbed wire fences stretched forever, in both directions; a no-man’s land, studded with mines, lay between the second and third fences, and guard towers had been erected every six hundred feet. In the distance beyond the guard towers, we could see farmers working in their fields.  Undoubtedly, those people had many friends, family, and relatives living in Coburg who they hadn’t seen in years.  It was quite impressive, and for a nineteen-year-old kid still wet behind the ears and just a year out of high school, it was an unprecedented eye-opener to the realities of world politics.

Trail angel Richard Lee, also known by the trail name, "Not Phil's Dad," a kind and gentle man with a big heart. Thanks Richard for your service.

Richard Lee's camp set up beside the road at Tacoma Pass.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part 178 - Please, Not Giardia

It’s never fun packing up a wet tent while standing in the mud as rain continues to drizzle, but it is what it is and complaining wouldn’t make the task any easier.  Breakfast is only a snack this morning and then I was back on the trail at 8:00 a.m. – extremely late.  As I walked, I keep my eyes peeled, hoping to spot where Frank and Brownie might have camped, but I never do locate their campsites.  Where the trail crossed a scree slope, the rain from last night’s storm had done significant damage to the trail, washing it down the mountain, and leaving many small gullies behind.

My goal for the day was a shelter called the Urich cabin located at mile 2,355 in Government Meadow, and it took me until 7:00 p.m. to reach this location; that was eleven hours of hiking to only go fifteen miles.  It continued to rain on and off throughout the day, so I never had a chance to take my rainsuit off.  All day, I was plagued with bouts of diarrhea, thanks to my Giardia host.

Once having contracted Giardia, it takes about two weeks for the first symptoms to make their appearance, and left untreated, it can stay with a person for a long time.  The only medication I had with me was Imodium, and it helped, but didn’t solve the problem. 

For this foul weather, the Urich cabin was a lifesaver.  There were fifteen hikers already at the cabin and most had claimed a spot on the cabin floor or in the loft above to lay out their sleeping bags.  The cabin had a large wood stove in the far end of the building and a toasty fire was blazing which provided adequate warmth for the structure.  Along the ceiling crossbeams and sides of the interior of the cabin were nails and hooks on which to hang articles of clothing, sleeping bags, tents, and ground cloths to dry out.  I found several nails close to the stove and hung my sleeping bag up to dry.  The cabin was full of mice, but nobody paid them any attention.  These little guys had to eat too.

Most of the hikers at the cabin were no strangers to me.  After twenty-three hundred miles, I recognized most of them.  Ranch and Biers were here; in fact, they had been here for several days.  Biers said he had been quite ill, and trail angels Beaker and Dragon Fly, a hiking couple I hadn’t seen or heard from since our meeting on Mount San Jacinto in Southern California, had been taking care of him.  I knew that Biers only had one kidney, but I was not sure that this was the cause of his ailments.

My Giardia was in full activation mode, so I chose to sleep outside on the porch so as not to disturb anyone on my nightly runs to the outhouse.  Giardia waits for no man or woman.

The cabin was built by the Sno-Jammers Snowmobile Club out of Puyallup, Washington, and was constructed in the fashion of a log cabin.  The entire structure was assembled off-site, then disassembled and ferried by helicopter to the building site, where it was again re-assembled.  The cabin was named for Mike Urich, a trail worker in this area during the 1940s and1950s, and attached to the outside wall above the entrance door was a warning sign that said the wrath of Mike would descend upon anyone who did harm to the trees.

In the middle of the night, during one of my treks to the outhouse, the cloud cover had disappeared and the nighttime sky was ablaze with twinkling stars, but by morning, gray skies had reappeared, obliterating the sun that was rising in the east.  I was up early, gathering my equipment from inside the cabin, and trying hard not to disturb anyone.

One by one, the other hikers also began to rise, and several immediately began cooking their morning breakfast.  My breakfast consisted of a package of Pop-Tarts, a small bag of nuts, and a little tub of peanut butter; that was enough to get me going for the day.  Of the fifteen hikers at the cabin, I was the fourth to leave, but within a few hours the rest caught up and overtook me, and then I had the whole trail to myself.

The Urich cabin could be accessed by numerous logging roads that crisscrossed the mountains in this section of the PCT.  Indeed, as I pressed on up the trail towards Green Pass and Blowout Mountain, I crossed many of these logging roads, and from the high ridges that the trail kept to, I had a panoramic view of vast tracts of forestlands that had been clear-cut by loggers, much more so than seen in previous national forests.

And there was a reason for this, and that reason was the Burlington Northern Railroad.  In 1880, the railroad was granted land subsidies amounting to every other square-mile section of land as compensation for laying tracks across Stampede Pass. Eventually, the timber interests of the Burlington Northern were spun off as a separate company, known today as Plum Creek, the largest private landowner in the continental U.S.  Much of the timberlands that the PCT passed through in this area had been logged and were awaiting reseeding.

The views from the trail crests were stunning; Mount Rainier dominated the skyline, but Mounts Adam and Saint Helen could also be seen in all their majesty and glory.  The storm of the last two days had moved out of the area, leaving behind blue skies and warm sunny days.  It was a great time to be on the trail, and I was enjoying the hike, except for lingering bouts of Giardia.

This was the only clear shot I could obtain of Mount Rainier. As you can see, it is one massive mountain/volcano.

Highway 410, Chinook Pass  and the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. It was here that I first encountered Frank.

After last night's bone chilling rain storm, the Urich cabin was a most welcome respite. It offered dry shelter and a chance to dry sleeping bags, tents and wet clothing. I slept on the porch.

Two hikers preparing their breakfast prior to setting out on the trail.

 Same two hikers.

The actual trail goes just behind the cabin and heads off into the woods.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Part 177 - Frank, Made of the Right Stuff

There was so much water on the ground that I had serious concerns the flowing water and associated mud and forest debris would flood into my tent, and then what would I do?  Which would be worse, to stay in my tent with mud and water flowing into it, or pack up and head out into the storm and search for a different camping spot.  I simply cannot imagine myself being forced outside in such a ferocious storm, and then I remember I had Giardia, a serious form of violent diarrhea. 

I prayed with fervent intent that I would be spared the necessity of having to exit my tent and attend to nature’s calling; my prayers were answered in the affirmative.

Eventually the thunder and lightning portion of the storm moved down the valley and out of the area, but the rain continued throughout the night.  Never, ever in my life have I experienced such a violent storm, and I was grateful beyond measure that I was able to remain in my tent throughout the duration of the deluge.

But Frank, the hiker who passed me yesterday just before dusk, was forced to experience everything I have described and hoped I would never have to endure.  When I caught up with him later in the day, he gave me this account of his terrifying night, wandering about during the height of the storm.

I don't know where he camped last night, but it could not have been an ideal spot.  He said it was dark when he set his tent up and he hadn’t noticed there was a slight incline that sloped towards his tent. After the tent was up and he was settled inside, he prepared a few items for dinner, and then settled in for the night.

As the rain increased in intensity, it began flowing down the slope, flooding the inside of his tent.  He said there was water, mud, pine needles, and tree bark floating about inside the tent, and more kept coming.  His sleeping bag was thoroughly soaked as were all clothing items not inside his pack.  It was useless to remain in his tent as it no longer provided him with any shelter. With great reluctance and apprehension, he exited his tent, put on his down jacket, which by now was also soaked through, and his rain jacket, took the tent down, and as hurriedly as possible, stuffed everything in his pack and set off up the trail.

The rain was unrelenting, the thunder and lightning deafening, and he only had the weak beam of his headlamp to see the trail.  Where was he going, he wasn’t sure.  He had a vague notion, derived from reading his maps, that there was a shelter located on a spur trail leading to Big Crow Basin somewhere up ahead.

The trail continued to contour around the steep slope of the mountain where it crossed a scree slope; the trail in many places had been washed away.  One slip and he’d be down the mountain.  Frank is sopping wet and cold and he knows hypothermia is setting in.  He stumbles through the night hoping to find a trail sign that will give him an indication of his location.  After several hours of walking, he finds a trail sign that reads Big Crow Basin, and out of desperation follows it, hoping it will lead him to shelter.

Not far along the trail, Frank comes across a hiker’s tent.  He calls out to its occupants, asking them if they know of a shelter in the area.  Inside the tent were Samba and Tallywa; they said they didn’t know, and Frank stumbles on.  He’s becoming delirious and confused.  He knows his body and mind is shutting down, but he doesn’t know what to do.  The rain continues; the thunder and lightning have abated somewhat, and Frank is becoming desperate.

The trail opens up into a clearing, in which stands a hunter’s canvas wall tent.  Without hesitation, Frank opens the flaps of the tent and steps inside, only to be met with a rifle pointed at his chest.  There were several hunters inside the tent and the one with the rifle demands to know what he’s doing here.

With great difficulty because he can’t talk due to the numbness of his body, Frank explains his situation to the men staring at him.  The hunter with the rifle lowers the gun, and sensing that Frank is in desperate need of help, leads him to another wall tent that has a spare cot and sleeping bag, and puts him to bed.

The next morning, the hunters feed Frank, and as they all sit around the campfire conversing and enjoying breakfast and hot coffee, a coyote wanders into the clearing and is promptly shot.  The hunters cut the tail off the coyote and present it to Frank who attaches it to his ball cap.  They tell him that in all the years they’ve been hunting in this area, this is undoubtedly the worst thunderstorm they’ve ever encountered.

After hearing Frank’s story, I seriously don’t know what I would have done had I been in his shoes. The rain was so incredibly cold and miserable and to have to walk through the night seeking shelter of any type would have been unthinkable.  Besides that, my headlamp had quit working.  I have great admiration for Frank and his perseverance to carry on under the most trying of circumstances.  In my estimation, Frank is made of the ‘right stuff.’

Friday, August 23, 2013

Part 176 - Massive Thunder and Rain Storm

I wish I could say I was on the trail early this morning, but I didn’t make it out the door until 8:00 a.m., which was really, really late for me.  I passed Brownie at the store, and other than him, there were no other hikers around, although undoubtedly there will be numerous hikers coming in within the next few days.

From White Pass to the Canadian border, it’s only 362 miles; it seemed like a lifetime ago that I set out from Campo on the Mexican-U.S. border to begin this journey, but in the last twenty-three hundred miles, I’ve matured significantly as a human being.

I’ve endured a lot of physical discomfort; I’ve known total despair; I’ve experienced the sweet feelings of deep gratitude; I’ve been humbled by the tender mercies extended to me by my Father in Heaven as a result of honest and sincere prayer; I’ve come to realize that every hiker is a special person, with an interesting story to tell; I’ve come to feel tenderness and gratitude to an extent I never knew possible for the graciousness and kindness of every trail angel I’ve had interaction with, on or off the trail; I’ve gained exponentially in empathy such that I never again will look upon a homeless person in the same way as before the start of the trail journey; I’ve come to realize that every hitchhiker deserves a second consideration, and I’m more fully aware that relationships are more important and enduring than the acquisition of stuff.

Swiss Army took quite an interest in my ocean voyage, so I had my wife send me a few brochures about the journey that I had printed a few years ago.  At the trailhead where the trail crossed Highway 12, I found a Forest Service bulletin board and I attached a brochure to it that I first placed in a plastic Ziploc bag.  I was confident he would find it in a day or so when he passed this way.

The trail between White Pass and Highway 410, the road leading into Mount Rainer National Park, was relatively flat and passed through meadowlands filled with bogs and swamps. The trail builders went to great lengths to avoid these areas, and when possible, always kept the trail on the crest of the mountains.

Judging from the number of horse biscuits and pulverized dirt on the trail, I deduced that this section of trail was a favorite with equestrians, and indeed, I encountered a few on the trail.  I always stepped aside so they could pass.

Being September, it was the bow hunting season, which will be followed by hunters with rifles.  I questioned a few bow hunters I encountered and asked them if they were lucky enough to bag a deer, how would they get it out of the mountains?  They told me they would gut and skin the deer, then separate the front and hind quarters from the body, and pack only those items out.

Long before I came in sight of Highway 410, I could hear the dim noise of vehicle traffic on the road, and then when I did see it, it was a long way from the trail.

As I was about to cross Highway 410 at Chinook Pass, a fast-moving hiker slipped past me.  He stopped long enough to tell me his trail name, which was Frank, and I had to assume that it was part of his full given name.  After crossing the highway, I kept to the trail as it skirted above the road, while Frank dropped down to the restroom and picnic facilities at the roadside rest stop.

It had rained on and off throughout the day, and now as I passed the rest stop, the clouds become more ominous, and it looked like a heavy thunderstorm was brewing.  Wet mist rolled down the mountain in front of me and floated across the highway and down into the valley on the other side of the 410 Highway.  Despite the unpleasantness of the weather, there was no way to stop, rest, and dry out, and I don’t think I would if I could have, as I was still trying to make mileage for the day, and the inconvenience of the weather was just part of the total trail experience.

A mile up the trail, from Highway 410, was Sheep Lake; I stopped for water and was quickly passed by Frank, and shortly thereafter by Brownie.  From the lake, the trail climbed straight up the mountain to Sourdough Gap, followed a few miles farther by Bear Gap.  Between these two gaps, I began an anxious search for a place to camp, as the trail was confined to steep mountain slopes and rain was imminent.  My fear was that Frank and Brownie would take the first camping sites they came to, and I would have to keep going. 

At Bear Gap, which as its name suggests was the top of a high ridge, I found a semblance of a flat spot, and though exposed, determine to make camp for the night.  It was very late in the evening and rain was minutes away from falling; already wet misty clouds were congealing on the downhill side of the ridge.  I was amazed that neither Frank nor Brownie hadn’t taken this spot.  In only a matter of a few minutes, the tent was up and I was inside just as the skies open up.  My backpack was inside the vestibule, everything was zipped down tight, and I smiled as the rain began to pound my tent.

As I snuggled inside my down quilt, the full force of the thundering and lightning storm commenced with an onslaught of rolling thunder, followed by gigantic lightning bolts that lit up the entire nighttime sky; my tent was constantly aglow with light.

Then, like an oncoming freight train, gale-force winds rushed up from the valley floor, whipped across the exposed ridge, and flatten everything in its path. The winds were so fierce that I genuinely feared they will rip my tent to shreds.

The roaring thunder and blinding flashes of lighting reminded me of scenes from old movies where the Greek gods of heaven did battle with one another by hurling bolts of lightning at each other in an effort to destroy the opponent.  And amidst the thunder and lightning and hurricane winds, the rain descended in torrents.  The storm lasted for several hours, and all the while, I expected my tent to totally disintegrate.  One tent peg did pull out of the ground, allowing the wet end of the tent to come in contact with my down quilt, and eventually soak that part of the sleeping bag.