| August 15, 2016 |
Mind over matter, mind over matter, mind over matter… I found myself having to channel my inner optimist with a great deal of effort for the second portion of my backpacking journey into Olympic National Park. With being deep in the woods and recognizing the only way out was to continue walking, I had to maintain some degree of sanity. Being that I didn’t know too much going into this journey, and I also was unsure of my current fitness level, I wasn’t entirely confident I had the capabilities to persevere. I was doubtful, and it consumed me in bits and pieces. I met this doubt with tears, and I met it with declarations of my ability to succeed.
This 30-mile hike into the depths of Olympic National Park on a path less traveled revealed some greater truths about my love for nature and ability to maintain mental sanity–even in times of intense physical fatigue.
We left off this story a descent from 4,000 feet of elevation and my realization that turning back was not really an option, and all efforts put forth on day one would need to be repeated on day two…
Once the views from the top of Appleton Pass were appropriately absorbed, Simon, Sarah, and I began 4,000-foot our descent. Fortunately, we were not too fatigued from our climb, and we were able to push on in the decline without too many stops. The valley began to swallow us, as the path changed from open creeks to uncontrollably long grasses, wildflowers, and shrubbery.
Not long after being consumed by the greenery, the leader of our single file line gasped as she peered unto a GIGANTIC PILE OF BEAR DROPPINGS.
With bearly (teehee, no pun intended) ANYTHING covering the droppings, we knew it couldn’t have been much more than a day old, and so we started looking out for a bear sighting vigilantly. As the rear of our single-file line, I was assigned one of the two cans of bear mace. We were distracted from the task of NOT getting attacked by a bear when we paused for our own yummy treat–salmonberries!
These were amongst the ripest we found on our hike, and we were thankful nature had supplied us with some snacking.
The day started feeling longer at this point. Gosh, we had already ascended AND descended 4,000 feet… We needed to refill Sarah’s water on the stream… and we were beginning to talk a lot about food. Once we reached the end of the bushwhacking path, we figured we were REALLY CLOSE to our campground destination. It had to be about 1.5 miles or less, right? We were already at approximately 9 miles of travel… and this path was supposed to be 10 miles in, 10 miles out.
We reached a sign pointing toward our campground at the end of Appleton Pass. When we paused to compare mile markers on the signs to the map to Simon’s GPS tracker, we reached a harsh realization…
We still had about three miles OR MORE to go.
How could this be?! We thought we were SO CLOSE! The trail markers suddenly revealed themselves to be slightly inaccurate in true distance. At this point, we had no choice but to push on to our destination. It was about 5pm, and we couldn’t possibly turn back. We re-entered the tree-covered forest with a bit of confusion and frustration. I felt my body beginning to shut down. My fuel for the journey was slowly diminishing to nothing, and I was shaky with hunger and fatigue, but just wanted to GET THERE. I also really, really, really had to pee. My head was spinning and my body was telling me to STOP… but I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t.
We met more trickery along the way, and the distance seemed to get longer… and longer… and longer. It was official that we were hiking more than we intended, and mayyyyybe this wasn’t the most opportune place to introduce me to backpacking. Every time we thought the campground would appear, we were met with more meandering paths.
Words cannot accurately describe the relief we felt when we were greeted with our campground sign. I also can’t describe the relief I felt when I saw the outhouse pit toilet, and I mustered up whatever strength was inside me to SPRINT to the toilet while Sarah and Simon claimed a campground. We had traveled a long 13 miles to our destination, and we were anxious to prepare our food and then jump into the Olympic Hot Springs. Our reward for the journey awaited…
I took a “quick walk” to get water from the creek I remembered we labeled as our water source as we approached the campground (turned out to be 0.5 miles, hah!). I walked back with three jugs of water filled to the brim, splashing water on my shirt with every few steps, and watching the ground beneath me as to prevent any tripping and massive water casualties. As I was about to cross a small bridge back to the campground, I peered up for a second and my eyes met the gaze of a large deer. She was grazing in the shrubbery to the right of the bridge, and after she saw me, I froze in my tracks. She waited a few seconds, wondering what I would do, and when I didn’t move, she resumed eating. I watched her, motionlessly in a trance. She was beautiful, and glowing as the evening light shone through the trees onto her muscular frame. She kept peering up at me, but took no action against my presence in her forest. When she no longer cared if I was a threat or not, she crossed the bridge onto the other side of the shrubs, and I decided it was safe to pass in front of her. We maintained eye contact while I approached the bridge, and she walked further into the trees to my left, continuing her mealtime and forest wandering. I whispered thank you to her because our private moment together seemed so magical.
I arrived back at camp with three full jugs of water, and my companions were a little worried because of the amount of time that had passed. Apparently, there was a closer water source I could’ve accessed. Oh well! With two jet boils, we had boiling water in no time (camp fires were NOT allowed). The three of us shared a smorgasbord of backpacker meals and inhaled the contents of four surprisingly delicious freeze-dried bags of food. Sarah’s choice of Mountain House lasagne and Simon’s sweet and sour pork were definitely the top two meals, but I also enjoyed my pad thai. I could feel my stomach absorbing the nutrients from the food–refueling my body, and renewing my soul.
Full and happy, we tied our food up to the camp’s communal bear wires, and headed toward the hot springs. Being that we were the only ones on the campground, we didn’t fret about our belongings at our site.
The Olympic Hot Springs were EMPTY, and we were READY to indulge and relax our tired muscles from our day’s work. We were met with the smell of sulfur and running creeks of warm water as we walked toward the springs.
We saw one small hot spring (above), but decided to continued toward a less visited spring, per recommendations of someone we passed during our hike into the campground. We walked uphill for a wee bit to an area that could have revealed a spring…
Beyond the fallen tree lay our own private spring. I’ve never seen hot springs like this before–so truly natural! The only other earthly hot springs I’d enjoyed were in Costa Rica, and there were quite different. In fact, they were a bit odd… As we dipped our toes into the springs, the surface was warm, but the deeper water was a little cooler. My foot planted on the bottom, and was met with a slimy texture from the algae, which I admit wasn’t entirely pleasant.
We each found a rock to sit on, and wiggled our butts onto more slimy surfaces, with slight discomfort but overall pleasure in the warmth, which acted to soothe our tired muscles. We drank from small boxed wine, and our tired souls endured an hour in the springs until it began getting darker and our exhaustion set in.
Back in the tents, Simon and I traded sleeping pads because the Therm-a-rest I purchased proved to be awfully loud and uncomfortable compared to Simon and Sarah’s REI AirRail. Once all settled in, we all drifted off to sleep in anticipation of another 13-mile return hike come Sunday morning.
Unfortunately, my sleep was restless. I awoke a few times with an undeniable fever, and my body was aching deeply. I used my lavender and peppermint oils to soothe my body and continue my slumber, which was eventually interrupted by the morning light around 7:00am.
Simon headed to refill some water in order to prepare coffee and oatmeal breakfast. Sarah and I exchanged glances of frustration and exhaustion. Were we going to be able to make the 13-mile trip back to Sol Duc? Did we REALLY have to repeat the same path? Did we have ANY other options.
The reality was that we had no real other options. We aimed to set forth on our path again, this time with slightly lower spirits. I would recount the entire emotional rollercoaster I endured this day, but we’d be here for a while.
Our fearless leader, Simon, provided constant support and strength for our group to push on. He has certainly earned his beard, as he would say. He’s incredibly tough and rugged, and an inspiration. Coming from a family with history of lumberjacks (therefore, grandfathering Simon into the world of deserved beards) and having been a hunter/mountaineer himself, Simon earns the recognition of being a bearded nature warrior. He never ONCE complained, or offered negative connotation to the events. Sarah and I were certainly in lower spirits and endured bodily pain during our return hike, but Simon seemed to push on with a different mental strength. He exclaimed how badass (pronounced “BED-ahss” in his kiwi accent) we were for our conquering 26 miles in two days.
During our trip back, I focused my energy on breathing and maintaining positivity despite the pain in my left knee and my ankles. I was feeling weak, but had to maintain mental strength. With the two poles Simon kindly lent me, I spoke various mantras to myself. I repeated, I – Feel – So – Alive, with alternating foot and pole placements. I had periods of intense bursts of energy, in which I let go of control and ran down the mountain, followed by dismally slow walking on the varied terrain.
Conversation was not flowing as freely as the first day, but the presence of my companions was heartwarming. We took turns leading the way and, at one point, Sarah exclaimed how easy it was to navigate the path… only to realize 2 seconds later she didn’t know which way to go! Silly Sarah. Intermittently, we told tales of our travels, and our hopes for our futures. We shared a communal desire to experience ALL the world has to offer, and never to miss out on opportunity.
We were gifted one miraculous view during our trek back. On the first day, we had been presented with ominous clouds in the distance at the top of Appleton Pass. On our second day, the clouds were vacant and our eyes feasted on the summit of MOUNT OLYMPUS. Just barely peeking over the tree line, we saw Mount Olympus and inhaled its beauty from afar. Simon had just summited Olympus, and pointed out different portions the route he took. I stared in awe at the glaciers and snow-covered peak…
When we got closer to civilization and the Sol Duc Falls area, we passed individuals who looked WAY too rested and put together. The tourists were walking toward the falls to take pictures with their loved ones, and us three walked past them–our faces reflecting exhaustion from the 48-hour, 26-mile journey. Of course, I know there are greater feats in the world than this small success. I know a girl who once did a 50-mile endurance race in about 7 hours and 42 minutes (specifically, Rock the Ridge in the Mohonk Preserve, NY). Physical fitness and the capabilities of the human body never ceases to amaze me. From rock climbing to mountaineering to scuba diving, I have been inspired by stronger, more decorated adventurers.
I have vowed not to belittle this accomplishment. Despite my feelings of weakness and occasional thoughts of self-defeat, I am proud of my first backpacking trip. I now feel as though I can accomplish anything. I know the power of my mind, and the strength of my body, are not to be underestimated. I now recognize the limitlessness of my life’s possibilities.
Simon was unnecessarily apologetic for taking us on a lengthy, not-too-scenic route to the hot springs, and therefore decided to sponsor an incredible meal in Port Angeles on our way home. At Kokopelli Grill, we sat in a booth and ordered three beers, three cups of water, and three appetizers upon arrival. We warned our waiter of our extreme hunger and exhaustion, and prepared for the feast.
Our first round of appetizers (crab cakes, fried calamari, and grilled oysters) disappeared off the table faster than I could snap a photo of their delicious presentation. In the midst of enjoying the seafood, we realized it was National Tequila Day, and ordered the Queso Fundido (above), consisting of tangy cheese mixed with tequila. The food was disappearing incredibly fast. We strategized our dinner meals, and ordered three different entrees to share.
Steak, chicken alfredo, and more seafood made for a pristine meal. It made all the pain of the previous two days disappear, and we topped the weekend off with positive vibes and good food.
I am forever thankful for the amount I learned during this trek with Saran and Simon, as they were invaluable company. The doors of possibility are now ajar, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures lay ahead. I am so incredibly happy I live in a place where Mother Nature can challenge me in ways I could never have imagined.
Thank you, Pacific Northwest, for welcoming me.