Day 155: Beautiful Washington

Now that we finally can see this state, I have to say — it’s kind of amazing. Seeing Mount Rainier yesterday was its own kind of spectacular, but today was filled with lots and lots of everyday beauty. The mountains up here afford so many good views, and the slowly-changing seasons mean that the plants are displaying a gorgeous spectrum of yellows and reds. It’s really quite something, and I’m so glad we’re here.

This segment of hiking, from White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, is also, blessedly, less-difficult hiking than what we’ve been in recently in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. (And I don’t just mean because it’s finally sunny here!) We do a little bit of climbing here, a little bit of descending there, but largely it’s wonderfully flat and makes for good cruising. Our days still are long, as we push on hard for Canada, but it feels good to make solid progress like this.

We had an unexpected visitor on the trail this evening that entertained and surprised us for quite a while. About a hundred feet in front of us, we noticed a rather large animal sitting there…that we soon realized was a porcupine! And not just any porcupine, but the largest, and most unbelievably fat, porcupine that I’ve ever seen. I mean, this guy was several feet long and easily two feet high. When I saw him at first, I seriously thought it was some kind of monkey, because that was the only thing I could imagine that could be that size. (Not that it would make any sense for a monkey to be out here.)

When he saw us, I’d like to say he turned tail and ran…but that would be a complete lie. It’s more like he turned tail and waddled in the other direction as fast as he could. His waddle was also incredibly comical; even at “high speed”, he looked like one of the more ungainly creatures I’ve ever seen. But his “other direction” wasn’t off the trail — it was right up the trail, in the same direction we were headed. He went maybe twenty or thirty feet, then stopped to try to start eating plants again. He clearly wasn’t actually scared of us at all, too: it was obvious that he understood he was covered with nasty-looking quills, and that he’d learned that pretty much nothing out here would mess with him.

This process repeated itself quite a number of times again: we’d walk up slowly, getting closer to him; he’d get a little alarmed, waddle hilariously up the trail twenty or thirty feet; he’d decide he was far enough away not to need to go any further; he’d turn and start eating again; and we’d get tired of just waiting, and approach again.

We followed this porcupine for quite a distance in this cycle — maybe a quarter-mile, laughing at his waddle every single time. Only eventually, we decided it was time for us to keep making progress up the trail, so we just kept walking. That’s when he turned around, looked at us…and started waddling straight at us. (I’d say he charged us, except can you really call it “charging” when it’s so slow and ungainly?) We were actually a bit alarmed, because we didn’t actually want to have to get into a fight with a porcupine (for many obvious reasons)…but letting loose a loud roar and banging together my trekking poles turned him from aggression to fleeing in short order. He finally went sideways off the trail, and we passed; he watched us from the base of a tree, maybe ten feet off the trail, the entire time. I don’t know what he did after that, but I loved the chance to see this happy, incredibly fat, porcupine.

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