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.

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