I knew Washington was well-known for being a wet state, but I didn’t actually expect the difference to be this dramatic. After literally not feeling a single drop of rain our entire time in Oregon, it started to rain about an hour before we crossed the border into Washington…and kept raining on and off for our entire afternoon’s hiking here. I know it’s just coincidence, but it’s certainly a dramatic introduction to the state. We’ve even heard that we could get as much as two inches of rain overnight tonight, which is a huge amount, so we’re prepared to face whatever comes down. Honestly, as much as it isn’t very fun to hike in rain, it’s more than worth it if it helps put out all the forest fires burning across the state, so I’m just going to try to appreciate it in that context rather than complaining about it or feeling unhappy.
This morning, we hitchhiked from Hood River to Cascade Locks…and got picked up by fellow through-hikers! But not through-hikers from this year; these were people who’d hiked the PCT in 2005 and the Continental Divide Trail in 2010. “Fellow hikertrash”, as they put it. They were on their way to Trail Days, an annual event thrown by the PCT Association that just happened to be in Cascade Locks this weekend, while we were passing through. Before they stopped, we were easily passed by two dozen cars (although traffic was heavy, so it didn’t take that long); we certainly felt glad to get the ride.
When we got back to Cascade Locks, we went down to Trail Days. Essentially, it’s a big outdoor gear fair, with booths from maybe three dozen different vendors of hiking gear of all types, along with a few food trucks and probably a hundred different tents from people staying there. It took me a while wandering around before I really got why it exists — it isn’t really for people hiking the trail this year (although you’re more than welcome and treated a bit like royalty); rather, it’s for all those people who’ve hiked in years past and who want to relive some of the culture and experience of through-hiking.
It’s an odd thing, really: while you’re through-hiking, you really are treated like royalty by people who know what’s going on, and are an object of fascination and admiration, generally speaking, by anybody who talks to you. You’re doing this crazy thing, you know? But just as soon as you’re done, this becomes something you did, and that makes all the difference in the world — most people don’t really want to hear about it for more than about thirty seconds any more than they want to hear about your pet hamster or coin collection for more than thirty sections either. It’s not denigration, it’s just a very natural change in reaction from something you’re currently doing to something you have done.
And once you’re done, too, for most people — aside from, that is, the small cadre of die-hard through-hikers who basically just do things like this year-round — you are more-or-less immediately lifted from the culture, process, and people of through-hiking and put back in “reality”, whatever that means to you. Generally, those days are gone forever. So Trail Days is a way for people who’ve through-hiked previously to relive some of that experience for a day or two, to immerse themselves in the culture and experience of the crazy thing they did, and keep in touch with it. I can easily see myself wanting to go next year, or another year in the future, for the exact same reasons.
Well, after visiting Trail Days, getting a burger, and trying in vain to get in touch with some friends we haven’t seen in far, far too long — Sarge and Stump were already over in Hood River, getting a resupply, and Dilly and Dally were hitching into town but wouldn’t be there for many hours — we headed out. This meant one last stop at the local ice-cream stop for one last round of milkshakes, and then hiking through back streets in the town to rejoin the PCT and head for the Bridge of the Gods.
The Bridge of the Gods is a big deal on the PCT, and I now understand why. The Bridge of the Gods is an old, cantilevered automobile bridge across the Columbia River, and walking across it (and dodging traffic, albeit at 15 MPH, because there’s no shoulder or sidewalk at all) is your entrance to Washington and the final state on your hike. The Columbia is no small river, and it’s quite a walk from one side to the other. (To my dismay, because of my acrophobia, the bridge’s surface is made from a kind of woven steel that lets you easily see hundreds of feet down to the water below. I tried hard not to look.) You get waved at by all the cars heading towards you, who generally are very good about giving you wide berth, and…well, it’s a walk you’ll never forget. There are beautiful views off both sides of the bridge, and you know that this is the start of your final phase of this trail.
Once we were safely over in Washington, we soon met up with the actual trail and headed off. It’d been raining off and on a bit ever since we were at Trail Days, and it stopped for a while later in the day, happily…but, then, just as we went to set up our tent, it started really pouring. This is where I’m so glad we have our tarp-and-net-tent combination, because we can easily set up the tarp by itself right off the bat, immediately giving us a large dry area to work under to cook dinner, unpack our packs, and so on. It’s also kind of nice to hear the rain coming down outside while we’re (mostly) dry and warm under here.