A short entry on our best of times and worst moments on the Wonderland Trail.
(**A continuation of our 2020 year in review newsletter**)

Mount Rainier in all her glory; surrounded by wildflowers

Our worst day on the trail:

It only rained one day while we were out there. And as luck would have it, I happened to be having an existential hiking crisis that same day.

Let me elaborate: 

Shortly after eating our lunch in the rain we resumed hiking up a steep incline. We were shivering, our feet were wet, and we weren’t even halfway through our hike for the day. That’s when I decided I was miserable and my calves were on fire and this hike was really freaking hard. I fantasized about ordering takeout for dinner and sleeping on a real mattress which only made my mood worse. 

After that I had made up my mind to quit. I had it all planned out: I would hitch a ride with a park ranger back to our car on the other side of the mountain (at least a two hour drive) and then I’d drive back to pick up Clay in a few days. 

I assured Clay I wouldn’t regret it (I would have). I declared that making it to Day 5 was respectable (it is); that I gave it the ole’ college try and that was the best I could do (it wasn’t). 

The element of the aforementioned ‘existential hiking crisis’ arose when I realized that some sick, twisted part of me was actually enjoying this: the cold, the wet, the burning muscles. …But why? Why did I agree to this? Why do I knowingly put myself through this torture? Why do I like backpacking? And for the love of cell service, WHY HAVE WE NEVER TRIED CAR CAMPING? 

I began to wonder if maybe I was only out there because a past version of myself liked it and I never stopped to ask if I still did. (I do.) Then I earnestly wondered, out loud to Clay, if maybe I was just doing it “for the gram,” as they say. (I’m not.) 

I didn’t quit. 

But my plan to do fueled me long enough to make it to camp that night, to sleep it off. The next day, when push came to shove at the ranger station, I kept my mouth shut. Clay looked at me, expectantly but I just pretended as if my elaborate plan to bail had never been conceived. “Quit? Who me? Nah….”

(By the way, how cute is it that I thought quitting was ever really an option? “Um hi, excuse me, Park Ranger? Would you kindly drive me 2 hours around this mountain back to my car? Oh no, everything’s fine…I’m not injured or anything, I’m just really craving pesto pizza, and running water, and a warm bed, that’s all.” 

P.S. This was also Clay’s worst day. He wanted to quit too, for many of the same reasons. But neither of us felt like writing his side of the story. :)

Day 5, Clay crossing a suspension bridge (an hour before our meltdowns)

One of our favorite days on the trail (there were many): 

The Wonderland Trail, like most hikes, is a giant metaphor for life; it’s more about the journey, and less about the destination. In this case that means that the hike around Mount Rainier is stunning, but many of the campsites are not. Instead of hiking as fast as possible just to arrive at a plain, dark campsite, a common strategy is to take long breaks to enjoy the waterfalls, lakes, and views along the way. 

We really started to understand this by Day 6. Rather than get to camp an hour earlier, we perched ourselves on a spacious rock island in the middle of a small river. Aside from a pair of day hikers that passed us, no one else was around. Clay filtered water while I iced my legs in the freezing cold water and did trail laundry.* Then I filtered water while Clay washed up and iced his legs. Then we sat there and iced our legs some more while we laid our socks out to dry in the sun. That’s it. That was one of our favorite days. 

It’s impossible to point at one thing to explain why this was a favorite for us: it’s more of a feeling we had, that at that moment in time there was no place else we’d rather be (and no place we had to be). I’m addicted to the simplicity, stillness, and slowness. I love when those three things converge into one perfect permission slip to just…be. To sit with my legs dangling in the freezing cold river, watching the reflections of the sun hit the water, enjoying each other’s company, and washing our underwear in a ziplock bag. 

Apparently, for us, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

*A note on biodegradable soap: Do not misinterpret the word biodegradable for “no repercussions because it’s natural.” In other words: it is not okay to put soap, of any kind, back into a water source, ever. Biodegradable, in this case, means: take your soapy water far away from the lake, river, etc., and make sure it lands on the ground where all the chemicals and things have a proper chance to break down and biodegrade. 

A few pictures:

Day 2, the ascent to Spray Park

Day 4, taking a break at St. Andrews lake. (The day before our ‘worst’ day)

More thoughts on our Wonderland Trail adventure coming soon :)