Friday, July 13, 2012

Trail Angels: Joel and Pam (PCT October 2010)

I am currently reading a book called "The Man Who Quit Money" by Mark Sundeen. My PCT hiking pal Indie brought the book to my attention. The book is about a man named Daniel Suelo who has chosen to live his life without money, and has been successfully living in a cave outside of Moab Utah since the year 2000. He also keeps a blog which can be found here. So far its a fascinating read. In the book, "The Man Who Quit Money," Daniel is often forced to confront the idea of having faith that the universe will somehow conspire to provide him with what he needs at certain times. The book describes several stories when Daniel received just what he needed at just the right time. The book triggered a memory when Indie and I were in need of some divine intervention near the finish of the PCT in 2010. 
While hiking the trail, Indie and I met a fellow hiker who went by the name"Stumbling Norwegian." Tall, with a beard halfway down his chest, the Stumbling Norwegian would often say "The trail will provide..." So often this was exactly the case. One such moment occurred at Rainy Pass in Washington, October 2010: 

Rainy Pass is the last main road to civilization before the PCT enters the final 40 miles of wilderness to the trails northern terminus in Manning Park, Canada. Indie and I were two days from finishing the PCT when we encountered a huge dilemma. It was already the second week of October, temperatures were plummeting, winter was on the doorstep. All around us were nature's signs of change. Snow was seen in the upper elevations, water was freezing at night, leaves were falling and changing colors. We had just enjoyed two weeks of Indian summer in Washington, and knew that the weather could change any day now. In fact, we should not have been on the trail this late in the season. For all intents and purposes, were among just a handful of 2010 thru hikers bringing up the rear.  

We had just endured two full days of rain where we did not even break down camp. It had been pouring buckets, and the temperature was dangerously low.  We were stuck. We were soaked. We were exhausted.  Two days away from finishing. Finally, we experienced a break in the rain. Indie and I broke down camp and started hiking, but we couldn't agree what to do next. Indie wanted to hitch into the town of Mazama and spend the day drying out, resting. He wanted to get a weather report. I was in complete agreement with him in that regard, but felt like taking another day to rest was too risky. If we were going to finish the trail, we had to do it now. (At least that was my line of thinking.) If we got a good weather report, we had to go for it.

To make matters more complicated, when we reached the highway, Indie and I talked to two different groups of folks who were parked in a lot near the trail. They gave us conflicting weather reports. One group said the weather was supposed to be good the next few days, the other group said it was supposed to snow that night and they did not advise hiking into the higher elevations. 

Indie and I could not decide what to do, and the frustration grew. 
"I just have a bad feeling in my gut about this," Indie said.
"Ok, let's hitch into Mazama." I said. Gut feelings are usually good to go by in my book. Besides, we had to get a weather report. Indie and I were in complete agreement that we would not attempt the final 40 miles if we did not have the confidence that the weather would work in our favor. To get caught in a snowstorm in this final stretch meant certain death. (At least in our minds.)
Indie and I stood by the highway for about an hour, thumbs extended. No body would give us a ride. It was getting really cold standing along the road. It felt like hypothermia was settling in. Indie and I were in bad shape. The trail straddles the highway for about three miles or so, so Indie and I decided to hike the three miles up to Rainy Pass and hitch there. The hike would warm us up. Rainy Pass would be our last chance. We also heard of a rest area near there. Perhaps we could inquire for a ride if we became desperate. Indie and I knew deep down that "The trail would provide," but this philosophy was being put to the test. If we couldn't get a ride, there was nothing else we could do. 

Our situation became more confusing when we reached Rainy Pass. A hiker by the name of Pig Pen arrived on the scene in a car. He had just finished the trail and was leaving a cache of food and supplies for a small group of hikers a day behind us. He had not heard a weather report, but offered to give us a ride 40 miles the opposite direction. While Indie and I contemplated this option, Pig Pen disappeared into the woods to prepare the cache for his friends. The frustration increased. Maybe it was exhaustion, fear of the unknown, who knows? For some reason, Indie and I could not make a decision. Indie began taking his frustration out on the cars that sped by on the highway, waving his hand in disgust. 
"You are in no shape to hitch Indie, let me take a turn," I said. Within five minutes, I was in the same emotional state as Indie, cursing at the cars as they sped by one by one. This was no way to get a ride. We did not deserve to get a ride at this point. Humbleness was gone, replaced by an anger at the universe.
"Move over," Indie said. "We can do this. The trail will provide."

While I was cursing our indecisiveness, all of a sudden a white Prius pulled over with what appeared to be two angels, a woman who offered a kind smile and a man with white hair and  a cheery disposition.
"Where you guys headed?" asked the man.
"Mazama!" Indie said excitedly.
"Jump in, I'll give you guys a ride if you give me a story! My name is Joel, and this is Pam."
 It felt like we had been rescued. Literally and figuratively. Indie and I were headed to Mazama, where we could rest, dry out, and hopefully get an accurate weather forecast. We began our descent out of the North Cascades into a picturesque valley and warmer temperatures. Indie and I tried our best to tell a few good stories. Joel and Pam were incredibly warm and friendly despite our stench and filth. When we arrived at Mazama, Indie and I spotted the hotel where we were going to stay. Joel pulled his Prius into the lot and we began unloading our packs. Just then, Joel spotted the price for a room written on a board on the front deck of the hotel.
"Seems kind of expensive, don't you think?" Joel asked.
Pam looked at Joel and whispered, "Why don't you ask them to stay with us for the night?"
Joel heartily agreed. "Why don't you stay with us for tonight? We'll cook you dinner, you can get a shower, and I'll drop you off at the trail first thing in the morning?"
"Yes!!" Indie responded without a moments hesitation.
It was too good to be true. Joel revealed that he was a "foodie" (Indie was as well,) and offered to cook us anything we wanted. Indie and I were in a sort of awed silence at the question when Joel offered,
"How's a stir fry sound to you? Chicken or beef?"
We stopped at the grocery store in the town of Twisp and picked up the necessary ingredients. Indie and I were also able to pick up a few more trail supplies, the main supplement being butter.

(Pictures coutesy of Indie)

Not long afterwards we arrived at Joel's homestead in Carlton, Washington. It was a beautiful home located in the middle of a long grass filled valley. Joel had built the house himself. He told us to make ourselves at home, showing us the location of the shower, washer and dryer, and a sauna that was also built by hand.
"You have to try the sauna before the night is over..." Joel instructed us.
The hospitality was overwhelming. Indie and I began drying out our gear on the lawn and threw in a couple loads of laundry. After getting showers, Joel, Pam, Indie, and I all helped prepare the evening's feast. It was a fantastic evening of story telling, laughing, delicious food, and fantastic company. Not only that, Joel offered us his computer to check the weather. The forecast showed three full days of sunshine. Indie and I were going to finish the trail. Before the night was over, Joel fired up the sauna. After a good sweat, there was nothing left to do but rest. Indie continued to blog until midnight. I was fast asleep. Joel woke us up first thing in the morning and drove us the hour and a half back up to the trail. The kindness was too much. Joel and Pam were the final string of a long line of incredible folks, strangers who quickly became friends, that Indie and I would meet on the PCT. Who are these folks who open their hearts and homes to strangers? Will I ever be so caring and generous to others I meet in my life? The trail provided after all that cold, rainy day in October. Thank you Joel and Pam!

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