August 6, 2004.
Washout on the Hoh River TrailIt rained all last night at Hoh Lake... it rained hard. Most my gear is tolerably dry, although the high-schoolers next door didn't fare so well. Their bags (and everything else) is soaked through, and they've decided to pack out today instead of finish up the last four days of their trip. All things considered, they're in high spirits, and bid farewells as they head up the trail.

My boots have been wet for days in the incessant weather, and my toes complain to me as we traverse the neverending switchbacks down to the Hoh River. Fallen Giant on the Hoh River TrailThey don't call this a rainforest for nothing! Steady showers persist, turning the mosses & leaves of the Hoh Rainforest to a shimmering lively green. Surging rivers engulf their banks today, and I'm thankful that this weather system held out until after I'd completed my journey up the Queets. My feet are soaked in my squashing boots, but I care little, whistling the tune of "All You Need Is Love" as I amble down the trail. I take lunch under the porch of the Olympus Guard Ranger Station, and meet a pair of climbers, on their way up to summit Olympus via the Blue Glacier (standard route). One of them is suffering miserably in a pair of rented boots (ouch! ), so I offer my moleskin (which I haven't used) and my duct tape (which is nearly out). I give them my provisions (they need it worst than I do), say goodbye and continue onwards, down the River.

Trailside logBy mid-afternoon I reach the turnoff to Five-Mile-Island, and knowing that the PNWH Posse won't meet me here 'till tomorrow, I try to find a spacious campsite to set up. A hundred yards in, I see two people standing in a campsite, huddling under a makeshift tarp from the rain, talking to each other. They turn around to see who's coming, and pause for a moment to confirm recognition.

"Mike?" they ask, not quite sure for a second.

"Jeremy! Lynne! Holy cow!!!" Hugs all around. It turns out WrongBridge and Fogduo (along with her nephew Cody) came out a day early, intending to make a pleasant weekend out of meeting me on the Hoh River. They're as surprised to see me early as I am to see them.

The rest of the night I spend with friends, relaying stories (endless stories) of the backcountry, drinking wine & hot tea under a steady rain. They've been worried about me... it turns out everyone has. Jeremy, a couple weeks after our beach hike, came down with a dehabilitating case of Giardia, and is just-now beginning to recover. Imagine if I'd gotten the same thing, 10 days out in the Queets Valley! Foggy notices immediately that I've lost weight... my ring hangs loosely on my left finger. After commenting on the remarkable smell my feet have acquired (*phew!*), we pass the night away in laughter and peace.

August 7, 2004.

Sunrise on the HohToday, I officially run out of food. Thankfully, the rest of the Posse (a surprising number of them!) are hiking down the trail (as I speak) to find me here, and Dicentra has promised to bring drinks and provisions for my last day out (thanks, T! ). The clouds are clearing (finally!) and as Cody, Foggy & WrongBridge take a dayhike up the Hoh River Trail, I spend time kicking my feet up around camp. I rinse my shirts in the river, and see a notable "cloud" of salt dissapate into the current (gross!). With my gear drying on the line in the ever-welcome sun, I sit back and amble the morning away aimlessly, content and thankful for this long-sought chance to relax.

By mid-afternoon, Cindy comes walking down the trail, shortly followed by Dicentra, Pixie, Jay, and StrykerHyker (am I forgetting anybody?). I'm disappointed to hear Sarbar couldn't make it, and I hold onto her borrowed blue-lexan spoon that I'd been planning to return to her on this occasion (but that's a-whole-nother story. For now, I still have it! ).

Well-Worn BootsWine, fresh salmon (mmm!!!), pasta, foccacia bread (double-mmm!!), candy, and more wine are passed around as the evening hours pleasantly wane away. I refuse nothing offered to me for food, and fill up on the best meal I've enjoyed in weeks. Telling my stories repeatedly, I relish the companionship of much-missed friends. Upon seeing everybody's fresh gear, I'm quickly aware of how much abuse my stuff has suffered through this trip. My pack is falling apart at the seams, my trekking poles are nearly busted, my tarp seams are pulling apart, I have holes in my new pair of rawhide gloves, and my boots are literally coming apart at my feet. My wife will not enjoy hearing this, but when I get home, it's time to go shopping again.

Jeremy takes a dipRelishing the company, and WrongBridge's homemade dandelion wine (strong stuff, Jeremy!), I share my stories (as WrongBridge commented "jeez Mike, you like to talk, don't you?!" ). It is a feast for me, in all possible ways. Sitting around the jubilant circle, I have an out-of-body feeling, as if staring at myself from a distance. This is my last night living out in the backcountry... a life I've known intimately this past month. How will the days feel when I get home? Will things seem different? I don't know. Either way, I'm ready to find out.

August 8, 2004.
Final Morning on the HohDespite the festivities last night, I awake early, an hour before dawn. Crossing a log to the extensive sandbar at Five-Mile-Island, I sit quietly for hours, watching the sun rise over the Hoh River Valley at night slowly fades into day. In the city, I rarely take the time to see the sun rise... out here, it's the best alarm clock I've ever known.

Today, our group packs up over a friendly breakfast and heads the last five miles of flat trail to the Hoh Rainforest Visitors' Center. It's an easy walk, and we pass legions of happy tourists and dayhikers enjoying the forest for a day or two. Emotions and memories surge through me at unexpected times. I look down at the wedding band on my left hand, remembering the moment I collapsed above Upper Service Falls. I doubt I should ever forget it. "I'm coming home to you, baby" I whisper silently to my wife as I force back tears from deep inside me. The fear, the jubilation, the many conflicting emotions of this trip are surfacing at once as we head down the trail, and I struggle to keep them contained.

End of the TrailWithin an hour or two, we reach the trailhead sign. Just beyond it is the Hoh Visitors' Center and adjoining parking lot. Taking an obligatory "after" shot, I chuckle lightly, wondering how different I must look than the bright-eyed hiker I was when I started this trip.

In the parking lot, we load up our gear, and Fogduo graciously offers to chaperone me. Several miles down the road we stop at the Hard Rain Cafe, a hardy little grill outside the entrance of the Hoh Rainforst. For the occasion, WrongBridge raffles off a small Quinault Indian painting he's made (he works seasonally for the Quinault Indian Nation), which goes to Cody (foggy's nephew). My eyes are as big as saucer-plates at the counter, and I order a large BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, double the onion-rings, and an orange cream soda. It's difficult to wait patiently as the orders cook, and once served, I engulf mine like a small rowboat in a hurricane. Dicentra finished only half her salmon-burger, and offers the rest to me. I swallow it without thinking. Pixie gives me the rest of her onion rings, as does Jay, WrongBridge and Cody. It becomes something of a small spectacle... long after everyone else has finished, a half-dozen trays are stacked before me as I devour the scraps of every meal left uneaten. No calorie is spared. (For the next two days, I eat almost constantly, never feeling full. Having lost 12 pounds of bodyweight [and not having been fat even then], I calculate later that I went on a nearly 45,000 calorie deficit this trip... that's a lot of fries! )

After a round of hugs and cheerful goodbyes, I begin my journey home. Fogduo kindly drives me to a nearby truck-stop in the defunct little town of Queets, WA. I enjoy a lengthy shower and scrape off a shaggy month's beard with a disposable razor, while she and Cody wait patiently in the car (thanks, Foggy!). Several hours later, I sit at a Greyhound Bus station in downtown Olympia, donning a flannel shirt and an oddly smooth face, waiting for a ride back to Portland. In-between customers, the desk clerk calls the police for an elderly woman. Her car was just stolen from the curb outside, and an officer takes a report as shirtless shifty-eyed bums in the park stare from across the street. Everyone here seems noticeably tense and cautious, subconsciously wary of the world around them. I keep an eye on my backpack in the station, and have to ask the attendant for a key to use the restroom (Customers Only!). The LED sign warns that my bus arrives in exactly 39 minutes... why is everybody in such a hurry? It's clear I'd long-since shed the familiar stress of the city. This feeling, experiencing it again, is oddly surreal... I'm not quite sure how to react.

It's a quiet bus ride home... folks seem strangely content to avoid eye-contact and steer clear of conversation. As the Cascade foothills roll away on the horizon, my thoughts wander from the trail to home, and back again. A queen sized-bed, running water, and an endless supply of food await me at home. Questions of my immediate future fill my head as we bullet south on Interstate 5, back to the land away from the woods, where concrete and computerized schedules once again rule. I fall asleep, content for the moment, feeling ready to face it all once again. At least, for now...

Before and After
These pictures are at the start and end of my journey, 31 days apart. I walked out that day twelve pounds lighter, my gear torn and muddied, my muscles strong and hungry, and my soul thoroughly tested and cleansed. I was satisfied. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I'm not sure I'll ever do that again.

"To a Safe and Glorious Journey, Aprost!"