I split a hotel room with two friends for a night at Snoqualmie, Inventor and Goldy. They both planned to stay the night then get into Seattle the next day. We hung out in the room, airing out our smelly gear and talking about our plans for the next day. I didn’t know if I would see either of them again but I was beginning to realize that this is how life goes on trail. Transient. Temporary. And it was good. To embrace the moment while it is there and not worry too much about what would happen tomorrow.
Inventor and I were discussing our takeaways from the last section. I told him, “I’m just trying to figure things out.” Which is such a simple and broad statement, but he knew what I meant.
“That’s why we’re all out here,” He told me, and I could almost hear the “no duh” he meant by it. And again I realized that I had found a community that understood me and welcomed me like no other community I had ever had.
I had a long Epsom Salt bath the next morning, and clipped my nails, I told Goldy that I felt like I had just been to the spa, I was so pampered. I picked up a new book at the gas station and met my mom a short time later when she dropped off my food resupply. It wasn’t an extended visit, despite my trepidation at setting out alone I wanted to be on trail. I soon said goodbye to her and my friends and took off up the ski slope, cutting across a slope of wildflowers a local told me to go up and I quickly regretted. I zigzagged up the slope and finally found the trail, setting out with a quick wave at the known, heading towards the undiscovered.
I hiked about 8 miles and camped at a beautiful alpine lake for the night. I saw a lot of day hikers and weekend trippers. I felt really good, my mom had brought me some insoles designed for plantar fasciitis that made my shoes soft and springy. I did feel lonely, I was so used to taking breaks with my friends and having people to camp around and eat with and crack jokes. I pitched my tent by the lake and set about making dinner by the shore. I watched the fish leaping out from time to time and watched the sun sink down behind the mountain. There were other people camped around, I heard kids playing just a little ways down shore and it was comforting to remember that other people did exist, even if the hikers out for just a night or two seemed to exist in a different universe. I knew my one of my friends was only half a day ahead, maybe I could push and try to catch up to her in a couple days.
I remembered my conversation with Ratz in the hotel hallway. She had asked me two questions: What do I do for business, and what do I do for passion? I didn’t have good answers to either question and I thought maybe that was something to consider. I thought on it for a while, what did I want to do when I got off trail. The end of the trail seemed so far away still though, I thought for awhile, and then I put the subject down. Lots and lots of time.
The next morning I hadn’t even hiked 5 miles before I ran across Bullet – a hiker I had met way back at the Dinsmore’s then bumped into again at Snoqualmie. We hiked the morning together then ran across a seasoned thru hiker named O’Well! The three of us would hike the rest of the section to White Pass together. My brief period of solitude hadn’t even lasted 12 hours. And I didn’t spend much time thinking about Ratz’ questions after that either.
Back before Snoqualmie Inventor commented on the large quantities of snot rockets I blew. My nose runs when I hike, what are you going to do? I wasn’t sold on the trail name at first, “I mean I can’t just walk up to someone and say ‘Hi I’m Snot Rocket, nice to meet you.'” The other alternatives though were less ideal though, the best being “America – fuck yeah.” After both O’Well! and Bullet commented on my habit of forcefully blowing snot out of my face at regular intervals I decided to test it out though. There have been weirder trail names.
“I mean, I am kind of low key gross. I like things that are a little bit gross.” I told them
“Low Key Gross could work.” Bullet mused.
“If you like gross things you’ll like thru hiking.” O’Well! assured me.
O’Well! hiked the Appalachian trail in 2017, and hiked most of the PCT southbound in 2018. He had to get off trail in Truckee, California however due to having Giardia, which he had had for most of the trail. This year he decided to come back out and rehike the sections he missed, getting on trail at Snoqualmie the same day Bullet and I hiked out.
The three of us met another couple finishing up miles from the year before, Radio and Cayote. We had a campfire one night, and O’Well! showed us a video of the tiny house he built by himself back in North Carolina out of mostly salvage materials. The next night we all stayed at a cabin built in a truly picturesque meadow. We had a good time hiking together, coming across my first trail magic a mile before our destination for the day. An older guy who hiked sections of the PCT had set up lawn chairs with soda, fresh fruit, donuts, and beer to hand out to passing hikers.
“Three weeks on trail and suddenly I turn into a cheap date,” Bullet joked as he stumbled trying to throw away his beer can. A beer can go a lot further than you would think when you’re hiking 20 miles every day and consistently running a caloric deficit. The weather was good, spirits were high.
The next morning as we were packing up at the cabin a couple of photographers wandered through the area, we were quite close to Forest service roads. Bullet was chatting idly with them, calling me out in the conversation.
“Snots over here says…”
The trail name stuck.
Trail magic, it turns out, is not just benevolent strangers leaving caches of food and water beside the trail. It’s possible to make your own trail magic, a lesson from Bullet.
Back before Snoqualmie Pass he had somehow broken his vape. It wasn’t the only thing he broke, 2 pairs of sunglasses, he lost a hat, his stove, and his water bottle at various times. But his vape pen was a real tragedy for him, so he bought a couple packs of cigarettes at Snoqualmie Pass. They needed to last him till White Pass where he could buy more, but his nicotine habit proved more forceful than he first thought. We were only halfway through the section when he ran out of cigarettes. Desperation was ramping up, but luckily this was a more popular section for people out for a short time. He conned 5 cigarettes out of a bunch of dirt bike riders, and another one off a girl going Northbound another time. A couple weekend hikers didn’t have any cigarettes, “I’ve got cigars though,” the guy says and hands over two very dry, but smokeable cigars to Bullet. He was just laughing at the look on my face which I’m told was priceless. I joked that we should change his trail name to Magic, since he seemed to have a knack for creating his own. The other alternative was Train Wreck.
“People just feel sorry for me, they look at me and go, this guy needs some help. Poor bastard.” Bullet joked. And he did look like he’d just come out of a warzone half the time.
Just a few days after we met, O’Well! and I spent most of the morning hiking together. We talked a long time about vulnerability on trail, how much easier it is to make connections with people in this environment. There’s a lot of concentrated time with nothing to do but talk, and the stakes don’t seem so high. You’re dirty, you stink, you’re pushing your body to extremes on a daily basis. And all the other crazy “hiker trash” out here on trail are going through the same thing. People on trail understand you on a level that is hard to find elsewhere, and that is just one reason this community is so wonderful. That day I knew without a doubt I was exactly where I was supposed to be, precisely as dirty, smelly, and vulnerable as I should be.
I could feel myself growing, there as we passed through burned out trees, saw views of Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams, met other hikers with incredible stories and shared parts of ourselves that only make sense to share with a pack on your back and a trail at your feet. It was sunny and hot, and anything I tried to worry about I found I just couldn’t care.
Section I – Fin
The last day of the section was cloudy most of the day, rainy at times. Bullet was worried it would rain overnight, but I had one of my most profound realizations on trail that day.
“Nothing really matters.”
“That’s the spirit!” O’Well! grinned.
It didn’t matter if it was raining, the sun would come out again. It didn’t matter if the mosquitos were bad or it was windy, if there were a lot of mice at the campsite or the water source wasn’t the best. If I’ve learned anything on trail it’s that if you don’t have one problem, it’ll be something else, so you may as well find satisfaction in the problems of the moment rather than fighting them.
We got to camp about 5:45 and jumped in our tents quickly, the mosquitos were very bad and it’s a little drizzly. The next day we would hike 6 miles in to White Pass, but that day I smoked a cigar with Bullet, read in my Mosquito free tent, and laughed at the memory of the boys trying to build a log bridge over a creek that was perfectly crossable via rocks. Silly.
“I was having fun!” O’Well! insisted.