Drunk Trail Angels

As I’m not doing all that much hiking these days, I felt like reminiscing a bit about some of my outdoor adventures from a few years back.  Here’s a post I wrote for one of the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenges:


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It had been raining for two days, the kind of cold onslaught that comes with steaming breath in the lower elevations and snowfall in the mountains.  The rain began the day after J and I crossed the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River.  We were hiking the 2600-mile Pacific Crest Trail that stretched from the Mexican border to Canada.  After several months of hiking, we had reached Washington.  It was early September, and this was the last state between us and our finish line.

J and I had heard a system was coming in and had been anticipating, if not looking forward to it.  The rain had begun on a Saturday morning, just as we had finished packing up camp.  Lunch that day was in a spot under some conifers by a little lake.  Every once in a while the branches above us would move, shaking water down on our heads and gear.  Within five minutes of sitting down, I was shivering, ready to be on my feet again.

On the second day of rain, J and I were scheduled to hike along the shoulder of Mount Adams.  Wanting to avoid snow, we opted instead for a parallel route that was lower in elevation.  All day we hiked on the shoulder of a road, staring at a long strip of pavement lined by soggy trees.  Everything was soggy.  My shoes were soggy, and water had somehow worked its way up inside the sleeves of my rain jacket.  Drips fell off my rain jacket hood and the exposed brim of my Gilligan hat.

Despite the weather, there were a lot of folks out in their RVs, camping out the Labor Day weekend.  We walked past camp after camp in the fading light, keeping up our pace and trying to cover a few more miles before setting up our tent for the night.  All of a sudden a couple of vehicles pulled up behind us.

“You look cold.  Need a lift?” a couple of middle-aged guys in a truck asked us.

Behind them from an RV I heard the sound of a gunshot, and a voice hollered, “WHAT’RE YA WAITING FOR??”

One of our would-be trail angels leaned out the window of his truck and yelled, “WE’RE PICKING UP SOME HIKERS!”  He sat back in his seat, chuckling.  “So, do you want a lift?”  With some trepidation J and I climbed into the bed of the truck, emphasizing that we only needed to be dropped at the next road intersection.  In the truck bed, I tucked myself around my pack as well as I could, making space between the dozens of empty beer cans scattered around.  The truck took off fast, and the rain stung even harder against my face.  God it was cold.

At the road intersection we climbed out of the truck and proceeded to have a long and confused conversation with our benefactors.  “You’re hiking what?  The PCT?  Why are you walking on the road, then?”  We explained our reroute due to the weather, our suspicions about the snow levels, and said that we would be back on trail again tomorrow.

“So you’re going that way,” our driver said, pointing one direction.  “It’s two miles to the PCT down this road.”

“No, no,” we said. “We’re going this way.”  We pointed another direction.  “See here on our map?  We can hook up with the PCT half a mile down this road.”

Our driver insisted that this was not the case.  We insisted that it was.  Then one of our other benefactors said, “No, I understand.  The trail actually hooks up with that road a half mile down.”  I groaned inwardly.  These guys were trying to do us a kindness, but they were drunk, and the amount of time it took us to have a logical conversation with them was making my body temperature drop to dangerous levels.

When we finally were able to extricate ourselves, J and I were both shivering and it was dark.  I wished they had never stopped in the first place.  “Look, why don’t we just walk a couple hundred yards and set up the tent?”  I suggested.  That’s what we did.  Our campsite was pretty pathetic: a lumpy, cramped spot under a thicket of trees.  All of our gear was painfully wet, since we had packed up our tent that morning in a downpour.  Usually climbing into a tent in the evening makes me feel immediately warm and protected, but not so that night.  No water was leaking in but the tent walls and floor were wet inside and out.  Both J and I had wet sleeping bags – wet down sleeping bags – and my super lightweight Thermarest Z-lite, which I had loved earlier on the trail, seemed like an inadequate buffer between me and the ground.  I looked over at J’s thick, inflatable Thermarest with some envy.  He had opted to keep it while I had, in an effort to lighten my load, purged my own nearly identical model at the end of southern California.  I didn’t say anything, but we did zip our bags together so we could share one other’s body heat.  Then we tried to sleep.  I didn’t even want dinner.

I awoke, shivering, a few hours later.  My bag was still wet and cold, but somehow on J’s side everything seemed to have dried.  I jammed myself against his sleeping form and tried to breath slowly, think warming thoughts.  It wasn’t working.  I squirmed a little closer, draping myself over one half of his body. “Hey,” he murmured.  I was practically on top of him.  “Hey sweetie, are you all right?”

“No, I’m not,” I said.  “J, I can’t stop shivering.”

He traded sides with me, and within half a minute of re-situating myself I felt okay.  Better than that, I was warm.  I felt my panic receding.  “Are you going to be able to stay warm?”

“Jeez, your sleeping bag is wet,” he said.  “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”  He rolled over and went back to sleep.  I was amazed in the morning to discover that my sleeping bag — now on his side — was mostly dry.

How I wish I too had such a strong internal heating system!

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