Living in Limbo

February 11, 2019

Six months ago, a crashing tree branch interrupted our Pacific Crest Trail hike. After choosing foot travel as a major form of transportation for many weeks, we entered the city of Seattle by ambulance.

Thus, our time of limbo began. Recovery in the hospital quickly led to more recovery time in an apartment near the hospital. As I healed, we progressed to visiting family in Oregon, returning regularly to Seattle to check in with the doctors.

That rogue tree branch had dealt quite a wallop. I felt as if I were in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the fractured occipital condyle and carotid artery pseudoaneurysm to heal in order for the surgeon to reassemble the eight pieces of my jaw.

While in Seattle, we explored our new home.

A ride on the ferry provided a porpoise eye view of the Seattle skyline.

The Fremont Troll, one of the better known denizens of the city, lurked beneath a bridge.

Christmas sparkles enhanced an already gorgeous winter sunset peeking between skyscrapers.

Who could resist playing next to the fountain at the Seattle Center?

One day we saw dancers getting filmed in front of a street mural.

A tugboat pushed a barge full of gravel through the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks, much to our delight.

One charming result of limbo time included meeting old friends and hikers from our travels. I still giggle when I think of the dinner conversation we had with Specs, a 2017 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, now living in Seattle.

We traded tales of experiences on the trail. Specs described the odd looks given by other hikers each evening when he pulled out his after-dinner wine, packaged in a juice box with a sippy straw!

“It’s wonderful how hiking a long trail makes one appreciate the finer things in life,” I exclaimed.

Specs burst out laughing. “Yes, the perspective gained on the Appalachian Trail is what makes one designate things like wine in juice boxes as ‘finer things’ of life!”

Each time I visited the neurosurgeon, he told me my body was healing admirably, and then he’d send me off to go heal some more. When the neck brace was removed in December, I celebrated! Maybe now, four months after the accident, I would get my jaw operation!

I could scarcely contain my joy to be rid of the neck brace!

The craniofacial surgeon had other ideas. “The broken pieces in your jaw bone have grown together. Yes, there is nerve damage, and yes, none of your teeth meet, but your body has been creating new bone. We could operate, but it would put your healing back a good bit.”

“But I can’t chew, with my teeth not meeting,” I told him.

“I think orthodontics might help,” he told me. “It’s been such a long time since the accident, it might be better to look at different answers.”

He sent me to an orthodontist who had much experience with trauma victims. She was sure she could give me chewing capabilities again, possibly without surgery at all!

My mouth was measured and x-rayed and photographed. Teeth molds were made. Our most recent visit brought the fascination of seeing a digital model of my skull, with the jaw healed crooked and none of the teeth meeting.

Jay put my thoughts into words. “One wouldn’t even know how to begin to get those teeth aligned properly.”

The nurse responded encouragingly, “That’s why we have Dr. Chen! She’ll be using all this to make a plan for your teeth.”

This uncertain period, awaiting decisions and action, is almost over. My braces should arrive the last week of February, and I’ll embark on the final phase of healing. The orthodontist estimates it will take two years to put my teeth in order.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy a bit of winter in Seattle. And begin making plans for more adventures in the spring!

City people, in general, don’t talk or even smile at one another when walking. But with snow came new opportunities. I found a temporary friend.

Seattle Sojourn – Part 2

August 28 – September 16, 2018

While still in the hospital, I asked the question uppermost in the mind of every injured hopeful thru-hiker.

“How soon can I start walking again?”

I was delighted with the physical therapist’s answer. “You can walk every day, at least 30 minutes a day. Don’t overdo it, get plenty of rest as well, but walking will help you.”

I also received advice on eating, another topic dear to a thru-hiker’s heart. The hospital dietician told me in order to promote the healing of so many broken bones, I should consume approximately 2,000 calories including at least 130 grams of protein each day. I devoured this many calories each day on the trail! It seemed incredible to me that laying around, healing broken bones, would require as much energy as hiking ten hours per day!

After leaving the hospital, I did find myself taking frequent naps and eating often. During the first few weeks of recuperation, my eyes refused to play nicely, each insisting that her view of the world was most important. My beleaguered brain would usually give up and show double vision. This, combined with shaky balance, created many spills in the kitchen. The great thing about wiping up a spill when one has doubled vision is that one only needs to wipe half of what is seen, and suddenly the whole spill is gone!

Walking became a major source of relaxation for my soul. Of course, walking in a neck brace could be a little tricky. It’s impossible to see ones feet. The ability to balance came and went for no apparent reason. Holding Jay’s hand solved my erratic balance. It also provided much needed support whenever my enthusiasm for exploring overcame the stamina of my healing body.

Our explorations were short at first. It took fifteen minutes to slowly and carefully creep to a fountain just a quarter of a mile away.

This fountain at Seattle University remains a favorite destination!

Often after enjoying the fountain, Jay and I would swing by a dog park. Sitting on a comfortable bench, we delighted in watching deliriously happy dogs run around and around!

We also discovered St. James Cathedral, home of a huge pipe organ dating from the early 1900s. I enjoyed the beauty of the cathedral, its thrilling organ music, and the time to listen for that still, small voice inside my soul.

St James Cathedral

As bones slowly knit and stamina increased, outings became more adventurous. One day we took the monorail to Seattle Center.

My very first time ever on a monorail!

Outside the Seattle Center, we discovered an interactive sculpture called Sonic Bloom, five “flowers” towering forty feet high. Motion sensors set off harmonic notes when each metal flower was approached. Jay and I immediately participated, reveling in the sequence of harmonies. With a few more friends, I’m sure we could have composed an impromptu tune!

We also discovered two paraboloidal dishes, set approximately 60 feet apart beside a busy and very noisy street. The instructions directed me to whisper into a designated focus point, and Jay would be able to hear it far away at the other paraboloidal dish. The paraboloid shape launched sound waves from the focus point and aimed them across incredibly noisy space to be collected at the other paraboloid. Jay’s disembodied voice emerged from the focus point, a clear whisper in my ear! I was amazed!

As the pain of my injuries faded and I became stronger, I did not think of myself as a convalescent. I felt I had improved greatly, striding down sidewalks holding Jay’s hand. However, Reality raised her head the day Jay and I were passed by a man in a wheelchair. Perhaps my vision of myself was a bit skewed by hope.

Seattle Sojourn – Part 1

September 11 – 27, 2018

The night of September 10, I peacefully drifted to sleep in our tent, anticipating 20 more miles of nature’s beauty before our next town stop.

As far as my brain was concerned, I woke from that night to find a nurse putting a finger bowl in front of me, urging me to clean my fingernails. I looked around fuzzily. Obviously I was in a hospital. I’d been hiking without a shower for five days, so it made sense that my hands and fingernails were not up to a hospital’s standard of hygiene. My sense of humor rose to the surface. ‘A finger bowl?’ I thought. ‘Is cleanliness that important here? What would they say if they could see the amount of grime we are exposed to on the trail!’

It took a bit for me to get the events of the accident straight, including the fact that, unbeknownst to my brain, I had been conscious and lucid for hours.

Human brains are truly amazing. Reaction to extreme stress varies from one person to another. I am grateful that PTSD is more widely acknowledged and better understood now. I have total amnesia of the 36 hours after the accident. My brain only decided to check back in when my funny bone became engaged! Jay was also reliving the nightmare at odd times, many things acting as triggers.

While at the hospital, we requested and received some very good advice from a therapist. She told me not to stress about the amnesia, it was a common reaction. She told Jay that his “flashbacks” were also a common way for his brain to try solving the problems the accident presented him. She told us to take charge of our brains. Later, when we found ourselves in a safe and secure place, it would be good for us to discuss the details and the feelings from the accident. But while we were still in the accident’s aftermath, it was important to compel our brains to stay in the present.

“When you begin to feel stressed, or your brain begins to tramp a circular path, you can force it to stop by finding something in your surroundings that takes your attention. Stay in the present. Even if you just look for five red items in your environment. It’s important to stay in the present until you’ve had some time to heal.” The therapist’s words stayed with us.

Another wonderful help was an email to Jay from his sister, Nancy. She gave him a tremendously superb list of things to do for me and for himself.

Of course, the hospital personnel had done a number of vital things to me before awakening my sense of humor with a finger bowl. They had stitched my neck closed, restored a good bit of my lost fluids with an IV, and determined the presence of a small bleed in my brain, a pseudoaneurysm in my carotid artery, a bruise on the right side of my brain, eight broken bones in my face and a shattered left jaw, as well as an occipital condyle fracture (a fracture of the bones where the spine joins the head). The jaw bones required surgery, but the (now stopped) brain bleed and the occipital condyle fracture prevented surgery. The doctors finally determined that I had to wait for the occipital condyle fracture to heal and get off the aspirin that had been prescribed for the pseudoaneurysm, then I would require reconstructive surgery to put my jaw back together. I also had extensive bruising both on my face and inside my mouth, causing swelling which led to temporary problems with swallowing and breathing. That tree branch had a lot to answer for!

Jay and I cannot say enough good things about the staff at Harborview Medical Center. Nurses and doctors both explained things very clearly and listened and responded to our concerns. Several of the nurses also listened to my flights of whimsy as my beleaguered sense of humor struggled to stay with me.

Many specialists were involved in my care. One nurse taught me how to swallow with the very swollen throat. An occupational therapist made sure I could walk. Jay was given lessons in the care and changing of my neck brace. A physical therapist checked my ability to turn in a circle, climb up and down stairs, squat and stand without use of hands. As I obediently struggled to stand up from a squat without pushing off from the floor, my sense of humor observed, “you couldn’t even do that reliably before the accident!”

On the last of my five days at the hospital, a speech therapist was tasked with checking my cognitive function. I was asked many basic questions such as my current location and the date. Then I was instructed to listen to a story and retell it. The story was a very simple but unbelievable tale of a woman who lost her purse in a store, only to eventually get it returned by a little girl. I couldn’t resist giving my opinion of the events in the story as I retold it. The speech therapist was not impressed. Later in the cognitive test, I was asked to remember and retell the story. I did so, with even more embellishments. I could see the speech therapist did not appreciate it when I went “off script”, so each time I would reassure her, saying, “I know, that wasn’t part of your story.” When I finished, I tried to explain that I had been raised by an award-winning storyteller, and I couldn’t just leave the story in its implausible simplicity. The speech therapist wasn’t listening at that point. Instead, she gave a little talk concerning how Traumatic Brain Injury can cause a person to have difficulty in focusing on a story line or task. She conceded that I perhaps showed awareness of my inability to focus when I acknowledged that my asides were not part of the story. She also said that if my family thought this behavior was normal, there wasn’t as much concern.

“She’s been that way always,” Jay told her.

“She’s always done that,” my sister, Helen, added.

A few minutes later my son, Daniel, walked in and was told that the speech therapist was testing me by having me retell a story. “Oh boy,” he said with a little shake of his head. Everyone laughed. The speech therapist finally relaxed a little, saying she liked the way our family interacted in this situation.

Jay requested help from our son and sisters early in the hospital stay. We remain very grateful for their prompt and loving response.

Our son, Daniel, was the first to arrive, his smiling face making my cup of joy overflow. Daniel brought Velveteen, his childhood toy, as well as our duffel bags of non-hiking clothes. Velveteen has had decades of practice at banishing nightmares, and he truly helped me stay “in the present” for the duration of the hospital stay. Daniel’s quiet common sense often meant that he had taken care of something before it could even be noticed, much less become a problem! His practical help and effervescent sense of humor were the perfect medicine!

Jay, Sarah, and Daniel with Velveteen, walking down the hospital corridor.

My sister, Helen, was the next to arrive. She found a furnished apartment just four blocks from the hospital where my three care givers could get much needed sleep. She also took over night duty by my bedside at the hospital. (Jay had been awake nearly 48 hours by the time Helen arrived!) Her medical knowledge helped Jay not to miss anything important that the doctors told us. She also was an excellent advocate and facilitator of information between the many medical teams involved in my care.

At the suggestion of her husband, Mark, Helen brought a stuffed teddy bear to keep me company.

After I was released from the hospital, Daniel and Helen returned to their normal lives.

Jay’s sister, Nancy, arrived next. With her home health care training, she was a huge help as we adjusted to living in an apartment. Nancy assisted with my personal care, such as showering. She brought comforting reassurance when helping Jay with the daily change of my neck brace, a four-hand job. She quickly helped us fall into a schedule which included lots of sleep and a daily walk for me. She also provided a blender, such a practical and necessary gift!

A selfie of the three of us from our fun convalescent walks!

When it was time for Nancy to return to her own family, my friend and sister of my heart, Linda, arrived. Linda is a veterinarian, so once again we were able to benefit from specialized medical knowledge. Linda’s visit helped me transition to doing simple actions for myself. Mostly, we were blessed with her unique and fun point of view.

Linda and I, with Jay, spent many hours laughing – the best medicine ever!

Sixteen days after the accident, our last helper went home, leaving Jay and me on our own in the big city of Seattle! My convalescence continued…

Things That Go Whump in the Night!

This narrative was not easy to write. Most of my blog posts are light-hearted celebrations of life. Though this post is definitely a celebration of life, it is not in the least light-hearted. However, I felt it was important to write, in order to let others see how valuable it is to think logically, without panic, during an emergency.

Jay wrote much of the content of this narrative. But I put the narrative in third person, in an effort to bring some emotional space between us and the events of August 11.

August 11, 2018

3:00 a.m.


Jay’s eyes fly open to a confusion of darkness and collapsed tent. “A bear?” he wonders. “No, nothing is moving.”

Suddenly he registers a steady, burbling exhalation coming from beside him. Urgently, he reaches for Sarah. She lays still, face down under his questing hand. Something heavy rests upon the tent material on her back. A tree branch. Jay throws it off, shouting Sarah’s name. No response. He reaches out, suddenly feeling a warm, greasy liquid pooling around her head. Horror envelops him.

Struggling to his knees, Jay lifts Sarah’s face out of the blood. The gurgling noise continues below her, and he realizes he is hearing air escaping from the punctured sleeping mat, burbling through her blood.

Sarah begins to moan and struggle in his arms. Blood is pouring from a large tear in her neck. Thinking he must stop the blood, he presses fingers into her neck. Sarah cries out in pain, and Jay feels sharp bone fragments inside. Blood continues to pour out.

He struggles to lift Sarah to a sitting position. Realizing that he needs more hands, and remembering the hiker camped just a few yards down the trail, he shouts for help. The hiker, Jeff, answers. While he is coming, Jay fumbles through the tangle of collapsed tent, sleeping bags, and gear. He finds a glove, then a buff, which he tries to press against Sarah’s wound. She resists, so he hands it to her, and she holds the cloth below the upper cut.

He finds a flashlight and gets his first good look at Sarah. The bleeding has slowed. “Is she running out of blood?” he wonders. “No, she’s still conscious. That’s got to be good.”

“Do you hurt anywhere else?” he asks anxiously. He’s not sure whether to believe her when she answers in the negative. The tent and sleeping bag are so tangled around her lower torso and legs, he can’t tell if she is hurt there or not.

Jeff arrives with another flashlight. Together Jay and Jeff find the emergency locator and activate it.

“There’s a trail angel parked just half a mile from here,” Jeff tells Jay. “I’ll go see if he can help.”

Sarah is still conscious with only slowly seeping bleeding. Worried about shock, Jay tries to lay her down. She shouts in pain, and the bleeding starts again. Quickly he raises her back to a sitting position.

Jay remembers that there is phone service here. He searches through the jumble of downed tent and supplies, finding his cell phone. He kneels with Sarah leaning against him, and calls 911.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?” The dispatcher’s voice is calm.

“My wife is bleeding out.” He blurts his biggest fear.

The dispatcher leads him through a litany of questions and answers. Though Jay tells her three times that they are on the PCT, 20 miles south of Snoqualmie, he can tell that she doesn’t really understand. She finally takes his number and tells him she will call back after initiating a rescue.

Sarah’s bleeding has slowed considerably, so he tries to lay her down. Again, the bleeding surges out afresh and Sarah moans in pain. Jay raises her, and this time sits back to back with her, giving them both some rest and support.

Jay sees the first signs of dawn as rain begins. Sarah is getting cold, and he awkwardly holds his sleeping mat over her. The 911 dispatcher calls to say help is on the way, but when asked for an ETA, she doesn’t know.

Jeff returns, but, concerning the trail angel, he can only say, “He’s incapacitated.” Jay figures the man must be drunk. Jeff calls 911 to try to give the rescue party directions. He asks Jay what else he can do to help.

“Do you have an extra tarp?” Jay asks. “Sarah is getting pretty cold.”

Jeff assembles his own tarp over Sarah and Jay as the rain continues, then leaves to try to meet the rescuers at the nearest dirt road.

There is nothing to do except wait. Sarah needs to pee. Worried about moving her and restarting the bleeding, Jay helps untangle her from the tent. As she moves to do her business, he is able to see that there are no other obvious injuries. They settle back together under the tarp, sitting on Jay’s sleeping pad. Jay texts his sister, Nancy, for moral support. She answers, which is a great comfort to him.

Four hours after the tree branch fell, the rescue team arrives with several strong young men, one EMT, and a stretcher/gurney on one wheel.

“You can’t lay her down. The bleeding will start again!” Jay is anxious that they understand. Though the rescue team has never transported a seated patient, the EMT immediately grasps the importance of Jay’s information, and directs the others to prop up Sarah with the backpacks.

A few of the rescue crew look at the branch. About four feet long, five inches at its thickest diameter, one end is a tangled weaving of branchlets and twigs. It doesn’t really look sturdy enough to have caused this much damage. Appearances are deceiving.

They trace it’s fall back to a very tall tree some distance from the tent, with a screen of healthy greenery between the tree and the tent. We would have never have seen this hanging “widow maker”. The crew reckons it was a combination of the extreme height of the tree and the light wind which brought it all the way to our clearing.

“You know, it’s very good that you activated that emergency locator beacon,” the sheriff tells Jay. “It helped us find you, and cut our response time considerably.”

Sarah is transported for an hour on the gurney, up very steep trail, across rocks, between trees. It’s rough work for the rescue crew. Another hour in a four wheel drive vehicle across bumpy dirt roads brings them to an ambulance. There the EMT takes Sarah’s blood pressure, and Jay sees relief on his face.

The ambulance negotiates small back roads, then stops at a major highway. Another ambulance driver comes aboard, and suddenly the vehicle is going at high speed, sirens flashing, often in the carpool lane, weaving down the freeway to Seattle.

The ambulance arrives at the Harbor View Medical Center, an excellent trauma hospital, at 10:00 a.m., seven hours after the tree branch fell. From here, Sarah’s health is in the hands of trained professionals.

There were so many times during this narrative when panic threatened Jay. His ability to think rationally saved my life that night. He is my hero! Calm, logical, rational thought is a skill a person can practice and learn. We will probably never go into the woods again without an emergency locator. But also, from here on out, I am going to try to practice rational thought more often. For one never knows!

Creeks and Berries

August 6-10, 2018

Whenever the trail comes off a ridgetop in Washington, I know we will be hiking past lakes and crossing streams. Some of the streams are tiny, merely requiring a hop and a skip. Others have worn deep gullies through the trail, and sturdy bridges facilitate our forward progress. Well placed boulders have allowed us to cross some creeks dry shod. But two streams were too big to hop, with no man-made route to help. On those, I sighed and waded in, preferring several hours of wet, squishy shoes to the alternative of stubbing bare toes on slick underwater rocks and possibly falling full length into the water.

Bumping River, named for the habit of tumbling and grinding huge boulders down its length during spring snow melts, loomed large in my thoughts. A hiker named Relish had posted the note, “Had to do some hopping worthy of a billy goat.” The nimbleness of a goat is far beyond my capabilities. I’ve been known to trip on smooth surfaces and take a dive into the ground. As we approached the river that morning, I gloomily predicted another day of wet, soggy shoes. I just hoped the current of a full-fledged river wouldn’t knock me off my feet.

The path forded Bumping River in a wide, shallow swath. I eyed two deeper spots, wondering about the force of the current. Then I noticed a faint trail leading upstream to a large log crossing a deep, narrow bit of rushing water. Hmmm, if it worked, I would have dry feet! If I fell, I would be a lot worse off than if I had waded the ford. I looked carefully, noting the width of the log and the number of footprints across. “I’ll go slow and steady,” I promised myself. A few moments of concentrated work brought me to the other side of the river!

More miles brought us to yet another small creek. Empty water bottles directed my interest to finding a deep pool or a small spout of water. Sure enough, a small waterfall under a log offered the perfect place to fill bottles.

I balanced on two rocks, bending at the hips and stretching my arm, holding the open bottle. Success! Still bent in half, I looked up, thinking to set the water bottle on top of a boulder. Suddenly, I was eyeball to eyeball with a very large frog! He didn’t move, even when I stood up and took his picture.

“Maybe he wanted a kiss,” Jay suggested when I later told of my encounter.

“That’s okay,” I responded. “I’ve already got a prince. Two princes would just be complicated!”

We met many hikers during these five days, and saw lots of flowers!

One day I caught my first glimpse of Mt. Ranier! “We’ll get closer to it,” Jay assured me. I couldn’t resist taking a picture anyway.

One evening, we were enjoying the trail so much, we walked into dusk!

Once, as we crossed a scree field, I heard the distinctive high-pitched “Eeep!” of a pika! These incredibly cute relatives of rabbits live at high altitudes and don’t hibernate. Instead they spend all summer harvesting, drying, and storing grasses, to be ready for winter. I fondly imagine them spending the winter cozily in their burrows, eating summer hay, telling stories, and playing bobstones!

We passed Sheep Lake early one morning. The still water provided a perfect reflection, prompting frivolous thoughts such as, “I wonder if animals are ever startled by their own appearance when they come for a drink?”

Just past the lake, I saw a small ground squirrel sitting atop a boulder, busily eating seeds. He was much too busy to bother with silly things such as ephemeral, watery reflections!

For two days we hiked through patches of burned forest and sections of old clear-cuts. Huckleberries abounded in the older clear-cuts, slowing forward progress considerably. I also discovered that blueberries taste rather tart after I’ve been grazing on huckleberries! In the newer burns, soot worked through socks and shoes, coating my feet in fine black powder.

On the fourth day, we met a trail crew, the North 350 Blades, a volunteer group who cares for the PCT from the Canadian border south to White Pass. Paul told us more than 200 trees had been cut after last year’s burn in order to make the trail passable. When I expressed my heartfelt gratitude, they laughed, and Annalise told me, “We do it for fun!”

Paul, Rosemary, Annalise – these volunteers know how to find the fun in hard work!

I loved all the fireweed busily colonizing last year’s burn!

On our fifth day, we found the most gigantic mushroom I have ever seen!

We also saw a great deal of elk sign. I learned that elk poop smells like horse manure.

Our fifth night, we rounded a corner to see a hiker erecting his tent in an adjacent flat spot. A smooth, even area just down the trail invited us to stop also. Though the day still had two hours of light, we couldn’t resist such a lovely clearing, surrounded with green trees, a welcome sight after all the burned areas we had hiked through. As I prepared for bed, I was amazed to see that rare commodity – phone service! I delightedly sent emails to family before contentedly drifting off to sleep…

Of Pipsissewa, Pinedrops, and Pink Polkadot Pussypaws

July 31 – August 4, 2018

The sun beat hotly upon my hat, and a scant half inch of water sloshed in my virtually empty bottle. A trail intersection came into sight, with Jay waiting for me at the sign. “Shall we get water here?”

“Yes! The map says Cascade Creek is just a quarter mile down the Round the Mountain Trail.” I gave a little skip of relief, already envisioning pouring half a liter of clear, cold water into my dusty throat.

We turned off the PCT, walking along the edge of Horseshoe Meadow. I could hear the creek gurgling ahead. Rounding a clump of trees, the much anticipated water came into view – a surging, splashing stream of brown silty mud!

Cascade Creek with Mt Adams in the background

“Oh!” I exclaimed, my shoulders sagging in disappointment. “We can’t drink this! It must be coming from a glacier on Mt Adams.” I consulted the map. “The next water source is Riley Creek, 4.5 miles away. It looks like it comes from Mt Adams also. What if all the creeks are full of glacial silt?”

“Maybe, if we collect a liter and let it sit, the mud will settle, and we can decant the top part into another bottle.” Jay, ever the practical problem solver, didn’t seem phased by this set back. “I could use some sitting time. We’ve been hiking for a while!”

We sat, enjoying the beauty of sunlight and meadow. After ten minutes, the upper half of the liter was definitely a lighter brown than the lower half. We decided to go ahead and decant it, treat it with Aquamira, and see if more of the mud settled out as we walked.

We continued hiking, and happily found clear cold water in a tributary of Riley Creek. Our silty liquid was poured onto thirsty plants, and we refilled with much more palatable water.

Over the next 66 miles, we would see many types of water sources. Here are just a few pictures.

Crystal clear water flows through a flower strewn meadow.

This pounding waterfall liberally sprayed me while crossing at its base.

There’s nothing quite like dipping water from a melting snow field!

We also had the privilege of dipping water from Lava Springs, an achingly cold pool emerging from the bottom of an ancient black lava flow. I didn’t get a picture because I was too busy picking blueberries and joking with Scott and Teri, two PCT hikers we had met several times.

As we climbed higher into the mountains, scenery enchanted!

After days, weeks, months of sunshine, on Friday we awoke to lowering clouds, spitting just enough rain to coat leaves with glistening water drops. We donned rain gear and began hiking, leaving the morning’s first footprints on the trail.

We climbed into the clouds.

We crossed a very large snow field which went from flat …

… to rather steep!

At the top of the snow field, we met Lazarus from Cambridge, England, and Sonia from Seattle, WA. Sonia was a bit nervous about our route, climbing 1600 feet into Goat Rocks, walking along the top of a ridge known infamously as “the knife edge”. The wind had picked up a bit, turning rainy mist into horizontal mist.

“I don’t have to do this,” Sonia said. “Unlike the younger hikers out here, I have nothing to prove.”

In the end, Sonia decided to continue, the other three of us assuring her that we would all stick together.

I thought about her words as we climbed onto the ridge top. I was no young kid, needing to prove myself to the world. But I did need to challenge myself, facing once again my fear of heights, slowly whittling away at the acrophobia that plagued me at inopportune times. I needed to walk the knife edge for myself, no one else.

The knife edge of Goat Rocks …

… continues …

… this is one long challenge!

Jay stopped to photograph polkadotted pussypaws, an elaborately ornamental flower in this stark rock landscape!

A rococo embellishment!

After several miles of ridge walking through fog and mist, it was such a relief to finally descend below the clouds. The landscape opened, with sunshine chasing shadows in an extravagant game of tag.

My three companions pulled ahead, becoming tiny dots upon the earth.

We stopped for lunch, enjoying a last moment of camaraderie, talking of ourselves as the “fearless foursome”, the “Goat Rocks Gang”. We had encouraged and helped each other for several miles, and felt a bit celebratory.

Ten miles from our early morning beginning, we reached Tieton Pass, to be met with a wall of green florescent tape and a sign informing us of a fire closure, necessitating a nine mile detour down the Clear Fork Trail to Hwy 12. Our adventurous day was not over yet!

Sonia and Jay look at the map to orient themselves with the fire closure and alternate route.

The Clear Fork Trail sloped steeply downhill from the PCT, and was often overgrown. Yet the loveliness of this little used trail began to give Jay and me a second wind as we were challenged with obstacles and charmed with beauty.

There were several log crossings.

We ate blueberries, huckleberries, salmonberries, and – wait! Were those black salmonberries? Jay and I had never seen such a berry!

We found two flowers completely new to us also.

Woodland pinedrops, from the Indian pipe family, often grow to be four feet high.

Pipsissewa, also known as umbellate wintergreen, was scattered through the forest.

Salmonberries grew next to yet another log crossing, causing Jay to pause and pick a few.

Some of the downed trees were incredibly large!

On Saturday, near the end of our detour, we met two members of a fire crew, heading into the forest in search of a lightning strike reported by a helicopter. We chatted for a few moments. I was in awe of all the heavy equipment they had to carry. They warned us that there was a forest-wide ban on fires. Since we were in the midst of a detour to avoid a forest fire, the fire ban made sense to us. Wishing them good luck, we continued on.

When we reached Hwy 12, we were lucky enough to get a ride to White Pass, where we planned to take a zero day. We were amazed to see a whole fire command center set up.

And so the summer continues. We hike. Firefighters chase smoke and flames. And beauty continues to bloom in the forest, whether people are there or not.

The Magic Table

July 29, 2018

Dawn comes quickly in the summer, waking us at a ridiculously early hour. Forest Service Road 23, which would lead us to the town of Trout Lake, 17 miles away, had no cars and no phone service. Philosophically, we began walking, and were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise from behind nearby Mt Adams.

The second car to pass us on this seldom used road was going away from town, but stopped anyway. The couple were taking hiking friends to the trailhead, and assured us that they would pick us up on their way back!

They dropped us at Trout Lake Grocery, wishing us good hiking. Jay and I walked around the corner to eat breakfast at the only cafe in town, then asked at the grocery for lodging options.

The cashier kindly pointed to the wall which sported a list of five places. “I know for a fact that the first two are already full,” she told us.

I began phoning, and was delighted to make a reservation at Trout Lake Cozy Cabins.

“Check in time is 3:00 p.m.” I was told as I made the reservation. I looked at my watch. We still had six hours!

“Hmmm,” I was thinking fast. “We need to buy supplies, but after that, is there a shady place on your property where we could wait?”

“Oh sure,” the lady on the phone assented. “We’ve got tables and a hammock. And we could probably let you check in a bit early, once the cabin is cleaned.”

I grinned. She knew just what a tired hiker needed!

We bought food for the next week, then began loading our packs at a table beside the grocery. Scott and Teri, PCT hikers we had met two days ago, arrived, having hiked five miles to the road and gotten a ride from a local trail angel. We traded hellos, glad to see familiar faces. As we shouldered our packs, the cashier came out of the store.

“Did you find a place to stay?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you. We made a reservation at the cabins a mile away.” I smiled as I adjusted my hip belt.

“You’re not walking there, are you?” She looked concerned.

I paused, unsure of what to say. How else could we get to our destination?

“There’s a trail angel inside. I’ll just tell him to take you!” She turned and whisked away.

A few minutes later a man came out of the store and lowered the tailgate of his truck. What could we say? “Thank you,” seemed inadequate.

A couple minutes of pleasant conversation brought us to Trout Lake Cozy Cabins, a lovely place with gorgeous cabins nestled between shady trees and beautiful flowers.

Knowing we would have wait time, we had succumbed to temptation and bought a locally made huckleberry pie to keep us company.

A maid kindly loaned us dishes so we didn’t have to eat hiker-style, with our hands.

Just as we began eating, a man approached, carrying a quarter of a chocolate cake.

“We’re packing up to leave. We’ve had a family reunion here this weekend. I was wondering if you would like some of our birthday cake?”

Who could resist an introduction like that? We enjoyed talking to Jeff for a few minutes, telling him about our adventure, hearing of hikes he had taken in the past.

As he stood to go back to packing his car, he asked, “Look, we’ve got a whole watermelon. Could you use it?”

“Sure!” My mouth watered at the thought of one of my favorite summer foods. “We can always share it with other hikers. Let me walk back with you so you don’t have to make two trips.”

Back at his cabin, Jeff introduced me to Yvonne and Samantha. They asked more questions about our hike, while Jeff handed me the watermelon. Then he came out with a whole armful of groceries! “Maybe you could use these sandwich makings?”

A few minutes later, Jeff’s grown son came over with more food! He sat and talked with us, asking questions about our hike and telling us of his favorite outdoor adventures. Such friendly, generous people!

When he left, Jay looked at the bounty spread before us. “It’s as if we sat down at a magic table!”

So began two days of rest, with delicious food, friendly people, and a very comfortable place to stay!

Forest Primeval

July 25-28, 2018

Jay and I were privileged to walk through sections of old growth forest during the last several days. The girth and height of the trees are incredible!

This huge Douglas fir provides shade for the Pacific silver fir. Eventually, the Pacific silver fir will outcompete the giant beside it and become the dominant species.
The western red cedar can grow to a diameter only surpassed by the giant sequoia.
We couldn’t resist looking up, and up, and up, to see the branches of this gigantic Douglas fir touch the sky!

A forest is more than trees, though. Here are a few pictures of other sights from our days of walking.

What a breakfast view!
Mt Adams collects thunderheads.
I’m very grateful to the Mt Hood Chapter of the PCTA for all the trail maintenance they have done on this section of trail!
We walked across scree fields…
… we crossed bridges…
… and we passed many lakes.
We met hikers daily. Here, southbound PCT hiker, Twist, gives us advice on the next town.
We saw insects. (I have NO idea what this is!)
On our fifth day of hiking, Jay saw two young martins! I was SO excited when he quietly pointed them to me! We both heard the two martins “talking” to each other, and Jay later told me that he heard the mother talking to the two young ones when he first came upon them.

Berry Buffet

July 24-28, 2018

I closed my eyes as I placed the blackberry in my mouth and slowly bit down. Sun warmed juice flooded my mouth with intense flavor. My eyes popped open. “Oh my gosh!” I gasped. “Jay, these are incredible!”

“Mhmm,” Jay nodded, his mouth full, hand reaching for more berries.

A bank of blackberries had greeted us as we crossed the Bridge of the Gods. Little did I know, the next few days would bring a smorgasbord of berries!

Jay picking fruit from a bank of Himalayan blackberries (rubus armeniacus)

Two weeks ago, the forest was adorned with flowers everywhere – and mosquitoes to match! Insects (including mosquitoes) having done their job of pollination, now many flowers have gone to seed, producing berries for mammals and birds. I was delighted to participate in the harvest!

Thimble berries, sparsely scattered through the forest, were delicious!
Twisted stalk was a new plant to me. My good friend, Wikipedia, informed me that eating too many of the berries could have a laxative effect. I was glad I had not tried them!
Smooth sumac also did not look edible to me. Wikipedia later told me that a drink high in vitamin C could be made from the berries. However, it is ALWAYS good to err on the side of caution when it comes to eating wild foods.
I was delighted to see salal berries. I first ate them as a teenager, and it has been decades since I’ve had the pleasure of their subtle sweetness.
Blueberries! Sweet, tart, juicy, fortifying!
Queen’s cup, in the lily family, is a favorite food of ruffed grouse, but not edible to humans according to the US Forest Service.
We also found the queen’s cup lily still in bloom at higher elevations.
Devil’s club, used as medicine and for spiritual purposes by Native Americans, grows very slowly and is mostly found in old growth forests.
The gold and red mottled berries of false Solomon’s seal are beautiful, but not edible to my knowledge.
Salmonberries are a thirst-quenching treat on a hot day!
As Jay and I walked through a fairly recent clear-cut, we found a sizeable crop of mountain blackberries, rubus ursinus, begging to be picked! These berries are much sweeter and smaller than their more numerous Himalayan cousins!
Purple huckleberries, the sweetest berry in the forest!
I was delighted to find one bush of red huckleberries! These can be easily confused with the red baneberry and other poisonous red berries, so don’t eat them unless you are sure!
Red baneberry. Very poisonous!
Oregon grapes are edible, but should be eaten with restraint. Too many can cause an upset stomach.

One can learn a great deal about edible plants from the internet. However, it is very easy to make a mistake when harvesting wild foods. I urge anyone who wants to begin to pick wild berries, make sure to accompany an experienced forager on your first several times!